A detailed look at Fred Kohler is featured in the book: National Wrestling Alliance: The
Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling.
Legendary Chicago wrestling promoter, Fred Kohler was Hall of Fame caliber in all
regards. His status as one of the best of all-time is hardly disputed, and accomplishments
speak for themselves. In 1961, his promotion of a show headlined by Buddy Rogers and
Pat O'Connor drew the largest gate in history.
Reports going around the National Wrestling Alliance in 1949 claimed that wrestler Andy
Rockne ran out on some dates for Kohler, and owed the promoter $75. Kohler had given
Rockne a $25.00 loan, paid $38 for photos, and the wrestler overdrew in Waukegan on
September 24, 1949. In a letter to an unknown individual dated October 13, Kohler said
that he'd appreciate if the person could get the money from Rockne, then "kick hell out of
him for I would do the same for you."
Sam Muchnick, in a bulletin to members on October 4, 1949, stated that Rockne was
currently wrestling for Jerry Meeker in Great Falls, Montana. Muchnick wrote, "as Meeker
is not a member of the Alliance, we have no jurisdiction over him," and continued by
stating, "however, until Rockne straightens himself out, it is adviseable (sic) that he is not
booked in any of our towns." He also wanted Orville Brown to write to Meeker regarding
Kohler wrote a letter to Muchnick on September 1, 1950 and explained that he had a
"revolutionary idea" that would serve to help further bond the members of the NWA, and
make them "less apt to leave the Alliance." He didn't go any further in this letter, but said
that he wanted his lawyer to draw up a memo, and wanted to mail it to Muchnick, Tony
Stecher, Orville Brown, and Morris Sigel before the annual convention. What was this
"revolutionary idea?" I don't know at this point. Maybe there is further indication in
another letter, and if I find out, I'll post it here.
There was plenty of heat between Kohler and Muchnick through the years. Beginning in
late 1950 until the early part of the 1960s, their rocky relationship was met with venom,
bitterness, and backstabbing. Other times, they were friendly and willing to work with each
other without a second thought. After Kohler resigned from the NWA in late 1950,
Muchnick wrote a letter to Jack Pfefer (12/16/50) saying: "I still say Kohler was a fool
pulling out of the Alliance. He had nothing to gain by doing it and might have benefitted."
Muchnick wrote to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice on July 11, 1955 and
explained that he'd recently gotten a call from Kohler, who'd told him that he was planning
to engage in live television studio wrestling in Las Vegas. He wrote that Kohler "never had
worried before about ethics, as long as it suited his pocketbook." Apparently, according to
Muchnick, Kohler was going into a deal with Johnny Doyle to do a live program televised in
Los Angeles and San Francisco, sponsored by the "Los Frontier Night Club." He'd also
gotten rumors from a wrestler that Doyle was predicting the demise of the NWA later that
year, and Muchnick stated that "it is beginning to look to me that certain wrestling people
are determined to break up the Alliance for their own selfish gain," and that he wasn't sure
the information was correct or not, of if it was important, but thought he should pass it
along to the Government investigator.
It is an interesting point that Muchnick was reporting on the dealings of Kohler and Doyle
in 1955, especially as the latter two bookers were enterprising in Las Vegas.
The comments to the Antitrust Division regarding Kohler by Muchnick continued the
following month in a letter dated August 19, 1955. Muchnick reported that Kohler was
"trying to spread out from coast to coast" by expanding to Las Vegas and into Los
Angeles. Additionaly, Kohler was doing business in Denver and Albuquerque with Mike
London, and "just a few days ago, allegedly, paid $15,000 to Billy Thom for the promoting
rights in Indianapolis."
Indianapolis, according to Muchnick, had been booked by Toledo and St. Louis for the
past 15 years, and Kohler was "allegedly" told by the Indiana State Athletic Commission
that he had exclusive rights to the city to promote. Muchnick said that because of this
situation, tensions might rise at the upcoming annual convention and cause the
organization to break up.
Kohler was definitely an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He was expanding even
though his television situation was diminished greatly, and trying to keep his empire
strong. However, his enterprising was no different from when Muchnick was trying to buy
into Los Angeles early in 1954. But now that Kohler was ruffling more feathers by taking
Indianapolis away from Muchnick, and cutting into the NWA President's business, there
were more issues at the surface of a very shallow pond. Muchnick felt very comfortable
telling the Justice Department what Kohler was doing.
The loss of television in 1957 equated to a loss of $50,000 a year in revenue.
In 1960, Kohler was celebrating his 31st year as a wrestling promoter. Things had revived
in Chicago after several tough years, and over 13 shows, he'd drawn a record 156,543
fans. 10 of those shows were at the International Amphitheater and three others were at
Comiskey Park. The total gate for all of these programs was an astonishing $495,731 and
he paid $49,000 to the Illinois State Athletic Commission, according to the Chicago Daily
Kohler attributed the revitalization to regaining television exposure for his wrestling shows,
particularly the use of "taped film shows in Bridgeport, Conn," which were being done by
his partner Vincent J. McMahon of Capitol Wrestling. According to the Tribune, Kohler
was paying sponsors $2,000 a month to promote his shows during the Bridgeport
presentation on WNBQ, and obtained the top talent shown on the program for his live
events - all of which bolstered attendance greatly. Chicago wrestling fans loved the new
imports, and the days of Verne Gagne and Dick the Bruiser appearing regularly were
over. Now it was Budddy Rogers, Bearcat Wright, and Johnny Valentine.
Beginning in 1959, a promotional war for Chicago sprouted up with Eddie Quinn of
Montreal entered the city with a Saturday afternoon TV show and regular events at
Chicago Stadium. Striking at Kohler when the latter was in a weak spot financially, Quinn
used many well known headliners to garner attention. Kohler was on the ropes until
working out the arrangement with McMahon to bring in talent from the northeast, and he
quickly went from being in danger of being forced out of business to becoming "wrestling
promoter of the year" in 1960.
The Quinn promotion ran its course, ending in August 1960.
In 1961, Kohler was elected to the presidency of the National Wrestling Alliance. Read
more about some of the turmoil going on in the NWA during his time at the head of the
organization here. Some of the major controversies included Jim Barnett and Johnny
Doyle trying to obtain Alliance membership and Kohler pushing to have a vote to dissolve
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Fred Kohler Wrestling History