NWA Member: Don Owen
Admitted to Organization: September 1951
Eugene Office: Route 5, Box 183
Phone Number: 4-9394 (1955)
On September 21, 1949, Johnny Doyle of Los Angeles wrote a letter to Ted Thye in
Portland to discuss a meeting of promoters to be held later in the year. A date had yet to
be established, but the location was to be St. Louis. Doyle explained that a meeting had
been held the year before "for discussion and pooling our ideas for benefit of the
wrestling business," but "this meeting will be more in the nature of a social get together
as there aren't any factional disputes such as was the case last year."
Doyle invited Thye to this important gathering, and noted that if Thye knew "of any
promoters who would like to come to this meeting," to invite them as well. Among the
others notified about the convention, Doyle added, were Tony Stecher, Lou Thesz, Joe
Malcewicz, Fred Kohler, Eddie Quinn, Bill Lewis, Karl Pojello, Leon Balkin, "Toots" Mondt,
Paul Bowser, Cliff Maupin, Sam Avey, Billy Wolfe, Jack Ganson, Al Karasick, Jerry
Meeker, Al Haft, and George & Tom Zaharias.
Notably, Don Owen's name wasn't on the list.
Jerry Meeker (Great Falls, Montana) attended the 1949 convention, joined the NWA, and
booked to cities in Washington State under the Alliance banner. Because several of his
promoters left his umbrella for the Meeker organization, Thye began to feud with Meeker,
and it was a point of contention in the Alliance with many members urging cooperation.
Meeker's Montana to Washington to Canada operations didn't last long and by 1950,
there were continued talks of Thye joining the NWA. However, at the same time, Don
Owen's name came up as a potential member.
In 1951, Owen submitted an application, but he had to wait until the annual convention
for it to be approved. Thye also applied for membership, and Sam Muchnick informed
the organization that members were "free" to send talent to Thye. Thye then asked for a
copy of the NWA By-Laws, and was reportedly refused, so he withdrew his application.
Because there was no longer a debate of who from the Portland area should get
approved for membership, Owen was admitted to the NWA, as was Bob Murray in
Seattle. Thye later told the Department of Justice that "they had gradually taken over
and squeezed him out of all arenas in Washington and Oregon."
In his June 9, 1955 inverview with Stanley Disney, Thye explained that "Owens (sic) had
tried to induce the commission in Portland to refuse him, Thye, a license, but that the
commission had been afraid to do so."
Thye also went on record about a May 1955 situation in which Owen purposely tried to
injure one of his shows at the Municipal Auditorium by advertising NWA World
Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz several weeks in advance of his local appearance.
Thye also claimed that Owen paid a wrestler to leave town to prevent him for working for
While doing any amount of research on the Pacific Northwest, you get the impression
that Don Owen was an exceptionally talented booking agent and promoter. He provided
great stability to a region that needed it, and wrestling thrived under his management.
On Monday nights at the Labor Temple, his shows featured many talented workers.
Beginning on July 10, 1953, he added a live television show from the Portland Armory on
KPTV. Owen brilliantly used the television show to build up angles and feuds for his live
programs, which contradicted the normal belief that TV hurt live arena shows. For
example, he had a tournament to find a challenger for Thesz in May 1955, and viewers
saw Luther Lindsey beat Mr. Sakata on the TV show to earn the shot. The title match,
however, was on Monday at the Labor Temple. Any fans who were drawn into the drama
were forced to go to the event to see the anticipated match.
The announcer for the television program was Bob McAnulty and the Heidelberg Brewing
Company was the sponsor. It was noted that this was the "first regularly scheduled
remote telecast in Portland" of professional wrestling. It was shown from 10-11:00 p.m.
on KPTV, channel 27.
Also in his interview with the Department of Justice in June 1955, Ted Thye "said that
Owens (sic) in Washington (sic) wants to be a power, and has tried to run him, Thye, out
of business, but that Owens does pay off well to the wrestlers."
Owen was dropped from the National Wrestling Alliance membership roster as of October
15, 1955 for failing to pay his organization dues and assessments for 1955-'56.
The success of Owen and the struggles of Thye was leading toward a possible
Department of Justice intervention. Things sparked up during the summer of 1957 when
Thye's license to promote was rejected by the Portland Boxing and Wrestling
Commission. In response, he sent a letter to Commissioner William Bowes at Portland
City Hall, explaining: "It is very obvious to any business man that with one promoter
[Owen] permitted to promote two acts weekly in Portland as well as such performances in
various cities throughout our state, this is a one man trust or monopoly. I shall not agree
to use any of my money to compete with such a monopoly."
The following April, Thye mailed a letter to James M. McGrath, the Acting Chief of the
Antitrust Division (Los Angeles Office) of the Department of Justice. He wrote: "During
the last year, matters which seem clearly contrary to the final judgment in the
above-captioned case have developed in the state of Oregon and elsewhere in the
wrestling profession. It appears that wrestling in the state of Oregon is entirely controlled
by Mr. Don Owen, one of the individual parties to the consent decree. He has had
beneficial ownership of two licenses to conduct wrestling in the city of Portland and at the
present time has a license to conduct wrestling shows twice a week in Portland.
"This has been true notwithstanding the fact that Western Athletic Club, Inc., presented a
valid application for wrestling licenses for the year 1957, which application was denied,
and has renewed its application for 1958, and this application has been tabled. To my
knowledge, no wrestling show has been conducted in the state of Oregon in the past
year expect under the auspices of Mr. Owen. Further, it has been reported Mr. Owen
controls wrestling in the state of Washington."
Thye was pressing the Portland City Council and the Portland Boxing and Wrestling
Commission to investigate the matter, but up until this point, his requests had been
ignored. That was the reason for the letter to McGrath. He wrote: "I am certain that
Governmental investigation of wrestling in the states of Oregon and perhaps Washington
would disclose a complete monopoly situation, and if an investigation is undertaken by
the Government, I would be in a position to suggest areas where evidence may be
Victor Hansen of the Antitrust Division responded by saying that "we would like very much
to discuss this situation with you." He indicated, however, that the Antitrust Division didn't
maintain a field office in Portland, but if Thye couldn't get to Los Angeles in the near
future, they'd arrange to have someone come out to interview him.
On May 1, 1958, Stanley Disney wrote to McGrath, telling him that he believed that Owen
"is violating the decree if it is to his advantage to do so. In fact, in my opinion, it is quite
possible that he is violating the decree, without the incentive of personal advantage, just
to keep his hand in. For this reason I recommend that Mr. Thye be interviewed as he
requests, by a representative of the FBI, to obtain such information as he has."
The Antitrust Division issued a request to the FBI to interview Thye regarding the case.
At the same time, however, Thye notified McGrath that he'd be unable to travel to Los
Angeles to be interviewed. FBI Special Agent Julius H. Rice interviewed Thye in Portland
on June 4, 1958. Thye explained that "Don Owen's father formerly was a wrestling
promoter and booker for a number of years prior to his death and his son, Don Owen,
followed the occupation and business venture of his father," according to Rice's interview
"Don Owen operates mainly in Oregon, putting on wrestling shows at Portland twice a
week; also weekly shows at Eugene, Salem and Roseburg, Oregon, and Owen's
associates also operate at Pendleton, Redmond and put on spot shows at other Oregon
towns sponsored by local service organizations."
Thye told the agent that "Owen has been successful in maintaining a status whereby any
other person desiring to enter the field as a wrestling promoter or booker in Oregon
could not survive due to Owen enjoying two yearly licenses issued by the Portland
Commission, and Mr. Thye believes that whoever enjoys two yearly licenses in Portland
can easily control the rest of the locales in Oregon where wrestling exhibitions are held."
Stanley Disney of the Antitrust Division reviewed the interview report and sent a
memorandum to James McGrath on June 30, 1958, recommending that "the present
investigation be concluded and the matter closed." He came to that conclusion based on
the belief that Thye's complaints were more geared toward the Portland Boxing and
Wrestling Commission because the latter had issued two licenses to Owen to present
shows twice a week. Owen's two shows a week in Portland made it impossible for any
other promoter to operate in the city on a weekly basis and make any money, according
to Thye. Thye basically wanted the commission to drop one of Owen's shows to allow
him to operate. Disney didn't believe this had anything to do with the National Wrestling
Alliance as a whole or the 1956 antitrust suit. It was, basically, a local matter that was
going to be dealt with without Government interference.
When Elton retired in 1982, his son Barry Owen joined him in the promotion.
Elton Owen passed away on December 30, 1993.
Don Owen died on August 1, 2002 at the age of 90.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Eugene Booking Office