The stability for professional wrestling in any city usually was dependant on the
credibility and business savvy of the promoter behind-the-scenes. In Evansville,
Indiana, the grunts and groans emanating from the famed Coliseum were under the
auspices of the veteran handler Leon Martin Balkin, a Ukrainian transplant, who'd
gained tremendous esteem working as a matchmaker in places like Philadelphia,
Houston, and St. Louis. If that resume wasn't impressive enough, Balkin also worked in
New York City, Newark, Memphis, Shreveport, Cleveland, and Baltimore.
Finally in the early 1940s, Balkin settled in Evansville, and until his retirement around
1961, he worked to give local fans the best professional wrestling imaginable.
Around 1927, Balkin worked with Julius Sigel in Shreveport, where he got his start in
Balkin featured a live television show in Evansville for four and a half years.
At some point, Nick Gulas of Nashville began to book Evansville for Balkin in
conjunction with Sam Muchnick in St. Louis. Balkin had been a longtime friend of
Muchnick and Tom Packs before him, even working as a matchmaker for the latter
during the early 1930s.
Muchnick and Jim Barnett bought Balkin out in 1961, and Barnett used TV Studio
wrestling to build up local wrestling events. Barnett and his partner Johnny Doyle were
using that same scheme in many towns including Indianapolis, Detroit, and Denver,
and had been very successful.
On November 30, 1961, Balkin wrote a letter to Jack Pfefer, telling him that he'd been
out of the business since July and that Muchnick and Barnett were in control of
Evansville. Balkin wrote that Barnett "has the whole state of Indiana." He added that
things had gotten bad, "out of hand," as he put it and had to leave the business
because of rising debts. He told Pfefer that he had to sign a 10 year contract not to
promote within a 75 mile radius "and not even allowed to work for someone in that
area." Balkin noted that it was a "stiff sentence" for someone who had spent 34 years
in the business. He asked Pfefer for a job in his "office."
Balkin revealed that it was his belief that Gulas, when he booked the town for him, only
wanted him out of the business. He felt that Gulas "won't stand for me to make a living
in our business," despite his clean track record and longevity.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Evansville Wrestling History