John James Doyle was one of the most successful and controversial professional
wrestling booking agents in history. He was the son of James G. Doyle, one-time
publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Frank Doyle was the nephew of legendary sports promoter Jack Doyle, who'd promoted
boxing at the Olympic Auditorium. Doyle, in September 1936, debut as the main
promoter at the Eastside Arena in Los Angeles. Neither one of these Doyles were related
to Johnny, but Johnny, incidentally, would also promote at the Eastside Arena in the early
In September 1938, Johnny Doyle was working for Ray Fabiani in Philadelphia.
By November 1941, Doyle was the manager of the Eastside Arena Corporation at 3400
E. Pico Boulevard. He boasted about his draw at the facility in a letter to Jack Pfefer on
November 14, 1941, stating that "the only headaches I will have will be from drinking
champange." He claimed that business was bad everywhere else in Southern California,
and stated that Jim Londos was the "Greedy Greek."
The Los Angeles Times (1/21/1945) reported that Mary Evelyn Doyle of Beverly Hills was
getting married to Air Force Captain John N. Rode of Wisconsin. Doyle was the daughter
of the late James G. Doyle, former publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the
sister of Mr. John James Doyle of Malibu.
In late February 1948, Doyle's former partner and a legendary booking agent for
wrestling, Floyd A. "Musty" Musgrave passed away at the age of 47.
Doyle represented about 98% of professional wrestlers in Southern California in 1950,
including Gorgeous George, Baron Michele Leone, Primo Carnera, and Antonino Rocca.
On January 24, 1950, Doyle received a letter from KNBH (channel 4), an NBC affiliate out
of Hollywood, stating that it was to "confirm our telephone conversation of January 23rd
whereby you agree to grant television station KNBH of the National Broadcasting
Company a thirty day option on the Saturday night wrestling card at the Jefferies Barn."
The letter was signed by Robert V. Brown, Program Manager of KNBH.
The Los Angeles Times reported on September 15, 1950 that Kitty Doyle, the wife of
Johnny, conjured an idea to get the latter's wrestlers to donate blood to the Red Cross
for the "boys at the fighting front in Korea." Johnny gathered up 35 volunteers to donate.
While Doyle was president of Ring Talent, Inc., a wrestling booking agency, he listed the
stock in the name of his young son. The booking agency, at times, held the valuable
contracts of "Baron" Michele Leone, Primo Carnera, Gorgeous George, Mr. Moto, and
Indications were that the business relationship between Doyle and Eaton had gone bad,
but Doyle denied the moving of his booking office out of the Olympic Auditorium had
anything to do with it on March 11, 1953. "Sure, Eaton and I have had, and have now,
differences of opinion on operational procedures, but they had nothing to do with moving
my office," Doyle told the Los Angeles Times (3/12/53). Doyle explained that most of the
wrestlers live on the west side of town, and the move was a matter of "convenience."
More of the personal dirty laundry of Doyle was aired in the local press, including the Los
Angeles Times on July 25, 1953, when his wife Kathryn filed for divorce the day before
after more than 22 years of marriage. Mrs. Doyle claimed that the promoter would
sometimes be gone from home for more than a week without an explanation, and Johnny
would tell her it was none of her business when she asked. It was also claimed that he
"used vile gutter talk" and drank excessively. Doyle's housekeeper, Edith Pope,
corroborated Kathryn's statements, and admitted that Johnny received calls from women
at the house. A settlement was reportedly being worked out with terms that were
amicable for both. Johnny's wife was going to have custody of their eight year old son,
John Michael Doyle.
The July 25, 1953 article also made mention of the January incident between Johnny and
actress Catherine Monroe, who claimed that the promoter beat her up "for resisting his
advances," the article stated. Doyle was said to have settled that case for $2,500.
Less than two years after being celebrated as one of the best and brightest wrestling
booking agents for putting together the mammoth Thesz-Leone supershow in Hollywood,
and celebrating with his peers at the Santa Monica NWA convention, Doyle shocked all
by announcing he was selling out of the Los Angeles configuration. On January 28,
1954, the statement was released to the press that Doyle was dropping his shares to
Eaton, Hirsch, and Nichols. Reports were that Doyle was going into business with Joe
"Toots" Mondt in New York City, acting as a matchmaker at Madison Square Garden.
However, business in New York City at that time was awful.
On the up-swing again, demonstrating his prowess as a businessman in professional
wrestling, Doyle worked an agreement to obtain talent from Fred Kohler in Chicago, then
got television deals in Las Vegas (KLRJ-TV) and Los Angeles (KTTV-TV). His actions
were highly threatening to the Southern California syndicate, and Hugh Nichols and Cal
Eaton worked a deal with Kohler at the September 1955 annual convention of the NWA to
get Kohler to stop sending his wrestlers to Doyle. Doyle, however, was relying on
Kohler's grapplers, and without them, he was violating the terms of his TV deals since he
promised television superstars. In fact, he told Stanley Disney of the Department of
Justice, in a letter on September 6, 1955, that "unless some action is taken to prevent the
National Wrestling Alliance from blacklisting wrestlers and threatening to blacklist
wrestlers who appear at Las Vegas, I cannot carry on."
Read more about the Las Vegas situation here.
There was no positive news. Breaking back into the business was exceptionally difficult,
especially because he was now at the mercy of those in power - and he used to be in that
same position of power. Doyle knew how it felt to manipulate the wrestling landscape as
freely as his enemies were doing, and it wasn't pleasant being on the opposite side of the
fence. On October 17, 1955, Doyle appeared before the California State Assembly
subcommittee investigating wrestling and boxing, and spoke freely about Eaton and
dished plenty of dirt. He revealed that Eaton had major political sway with the California
Athletic Commission and that he was being "squeezed out as a booking agent in this area
by Eaton." Eaton was reportedly forcing promoters to do business with him and him alone.
Doyle, at the time in October 1955, was booking wrestlers at the South Gate Arena for
Frank Pasquale and for a club in Las Vegas, which had television featured in Los
Angeles. Pasquale also testified before the subcommittee about the Eaton monopoly.
Pasquale, in October 1954, filed a $550,000 damage suit against Eaton, Robert Eaton,
Mike Hirsch, and Hugh Nichols, the operators of the main local booking agency, charging
that there was a "monopoly" in the region, and that he'd gotten no help from the
California Athletic Commision despite his complaints. Two months later, Pasquale sent a
telegram complaint with the U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, stating that the
National Wrestling Alliance was preventing him from obtaining wrestling talent. There was
also talk that the NWA President, Sam Muchnick called and told wrestler "Charles Moto"
that he'd be blacklisted if he appeared for Pasquale at the South Gate Arena.
Pasquale was vocal in his admonishing of the Eaton conglomerate and told all who'd
listen that the smaller clubs in Southern California were always being put upon. It was
nearly impossible for arenas like South Gate to obtain the necessary talent to be
Oddly, on September 26, 1956, this damage suit was reportedly settled for $20,000.
Eaton and his partners settled a separate lawsuit filed by Valley Athletic Club, Inc. (North
Hollywood) which had similar charges around the same time.
On February 15, 1957, Doyle testified before the California Athletic Commission,
explaining many odds and ends of the wrestling business, and was wiling to speak at
length about Eaton and the monopoly he was formerly a member of. Doyle also admitted
that he violated the rules of the athletic commission, saying that he promoted at the
Eastside Arena and in Wilmington while a partner in a booking agency along with "Musty"
Musgrave. This violation was one of the major bone of contention about Eaton, as he
was a promoter at the Olympic Auditorium and a partner in the major Los Angeles
Doyle explained that his booking office would "cut up one-third of [a wrestlers] earnings
after the first $200 they earned in a single week."
It was during this conference that Doyle claimed that Eaton failed to pay Lou Thesz and
Leone their full amounts after their huge 1952 Hollywood contest that netted in excess of
Johnny Doyle and Jim Barnett had a wrestling circuit beginning in 1959 that either
included, or would eventually include: Detroit, Indianapolis, Denver, Angola, Omaha,
Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Cincinnati. Plus trade agreements for talent were
extended to Capitol Wrestling, and many other cities throughout the country.
As part of his national expansion with Barnett, Doyle wished to return to Los Angeles with
a TV hook-up and a promotional deal at the LA Sports Arena in 1961. Such an endeavor
wasn't going to be easy. On June 10, 1961, the California Athletic Commission "pocket
vetoed" an application for a license by the Doyle-Bill Welsh-Sidney Simmons operation
under the corporate name, Luchadores, Inc. At the hearing were Cal and Aileen Eaton to
protest the admittance of a second wrestling promotion in the area. Only one commission
member (Dan Kilroy) backed the application, and couldn't any of his fellow associates to
second the motion. Edward B. Stanton, the lawyer for the Doyle group, according to the
June 11, 1961 edition of the Los Angeles Times stated that "The Eatons have maintained
their monopoly over wrestling in Southern California and we intend to get to the bottom of
what's going on."
Doyle wanted to open up at the Sports Arena on October 7. The fight before the
California Athletic Commission resumed on July 28, 1961, and Luchadores, Inc. was
finally granted a license to promote professional wrestling in both a TV Studio and at the
Sports Arena. The TV Studio shows would be free to the public, which contrasted with
the Eaton promotion because Eaton charged admission to their television wrestling shows.
The major coup in the early stages of this promotional war had to do with television, and
again Doyle was in the center of making things happen. His outfit had originally wanted
to get onto KCOP, but then jumped to KTLA, which was long affiliated with Eaton's
promotion. KTLA was going to pay Doyle only $300 a week compared to the $2,000 a
week going to the Olympic group. The KTLA deal included three or four matches per TV
show, interviews, and commercial spots promoting their Arena programs.
Stanton told the Los Angeles Times (7/29/61) that "we'll take a loss for a while, but we
hope to make it up with the big Coliseum show which will not be televised."
This followed the Doyle-Barnett blueprint to success by using television to promote their
live spectaculars. It had worked in Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, and other places, and
there was no reason to believe it wouldn't work in Los Angeles as well.
However, in Los Angeles, the Eaton group wasn't going to give in easily. In fact, they
were going to run a big program at the Olympic on October 6, the night before the initial
Luchadores show. It was believed that this was a sure-fire way to cut into Doyle's
attendance. Eaton and his matchmaker Jules Strongbow were also promising big name
appearances at their programs, adding to the propaganda war going on to draw people's
Doyle's KTLA show had about a month's worth of programming and promotion before the
big head-to-head match-up arrived, and by the time the first weekend was over, there
was already a clear-cut leader in the promotional war. At the Olympic on October 6,
propelled by Antonino Rocca, Lou Thesz, and Fred Blassie, Eaton drew more than
12,000 fans paying in excess of $32,000. The following night at the Sports Arena, Doyle
had support from Dick the Bruiser, Verne Gagne, Killer Kowalski Bob Ellis, Wilbur Snyder,
Bobo Brazil, and Don Leo Jonathan, yet drew only 4,000 fans. The established entity
was ahead by far, but with the kind of talent Doyle was throwing at the war, the numbers
seemed guaranteed to change.
Al Wolf of the Los Angeles Times (10/5/61) wrote that the California Athletic Commission
"never should have granted back-to-back dates," and instead ordered a "compromise"
between the two promotional outfits regarding the dates for their shows. "This sort of
thing won't stimulate interest," Wolf wrote. "It'll cloy the customers and eventually lay an
egg." It can "do damaeg to all in the long run."
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Johnny Doyle Wrestling History