Professional wrestling in California has always offered fans the best matches by
the most determined promoters. Going back to the 1910s, up until the current
tours through the major venues by the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion,
wrestling has remained a pivotal athletic art and entertainment form on the West
Coast. Although facing many trials along the way, from promoter battles to the
public aring of previously unbeknown wrestling secrets, to the high success at the
box office with the biggest names in the sport, the fans of California, in general,
have seen it all.
The Great Daro from Hungry was a fixture in the winter 1915 International
Wrestling Tournament promoted by Jack Curley and Samuel Rachmann at the
Manhattan Opera House in New York City. On the night Greaco-Roman World
Champion Alexander Aberg tossed Wagner in 4-minutes and Charlie Cutler, Tom
Draak and Ivan Linow made appearances, Daro faced off with young Wladek
Zbyszko, brother of Stanislaus. In 49-seconds, Daro was defeated. On Monday,
March 6, 1916, Daro was one of seven men to face Ed “Strangler” Lewis at
Madison Square Garden. He was thrown in less than a minute.
Louis Elias Daro was born in Austria on March 15, 1884 and immigrated to New
York with his family. Legend has it that, at the age of 10, he left his home to join
the Barnum and Bailey traveling circus. Lou was a naturally strong youth and
worked performing stunts, known in some circles as “Daro the Strong Man.” He
was courted into professional wrestling, which was very common in those days,
but he found that work on the mat was not to his liking. In fact, there was no way
he could hold his own with the greats, or get promoters to give him the master
Masked Marvel “push.” Daro found that he was far more interested in what was
going on behind the scenes by the men wearing suits overlooking the
Settling in Boston, Daro became a promoter and presented his first athletic
shows in a region that also saw George Tuohey and Paul Bowser actively
promoting wrestling. He remained in the northeast through 1921, and decided it
was time to find a territory he could control. He relocated to Los Angeles, where
he began promoting at the Orange Grove Theater, and reportedly earned $220
for his first show there. Wrestling in Los Angeles prior to Daro’s debut had seen
appearances by all of wrestling’s greats, from Frank Gotch to Joe Stecher, but
what the city’s wrestling scene lacked was stable leadership.
On the evening of August 19, 1922, Pete Ladjimi went to the office of the Los
Angeles Times to complain about his recent match with Joe "Toots" Mondt at
Santa Paula and the reporting of it in the newspaper. The article reportedly
claimed Ladjimi was defeated "five falls in twelve minutes," where the latter said
he'd only been really thrown once. During the other falls, the referee called it
over anytime his shoulders "came within a foot of the floor," Ladijimi claimed. The
article concluded by stating that "nobody seems worried except Ladjini (sic)."
Construction for the Olympic Auditorium was finished in 1925, and the grand
opening was on August 5, 1925 with a five bout boxing show.
A wrestling war was making news in the summer of 1925 between the Lou Daro
enterprise and the tribe of Kenneth Dix in Los Angeles. Dix was aligned with Billy
Sandow and Ed "Strangler" Lewis, and planned to run shows at Jack Doyle's
Vernon Coliseum. Daro was affiliated with Jack Curley of New York City, and ran
the Exposition Park Armory, and later the Olympic Auditorium. Among the others
grouped with Dix and Sandow were "Toots" Mondt, John Pesek and Wayne
Munn. Daro's stars included Joe Stecher, the Zbyszkos, and Jim Londos.
John DePalma promoted Los Angeles at the Vernon Arena in 1926.
1929 was a tremendous year for promoter Lou Daro. Approximately eight of his
wrestling shows that year drew about $250,000 in gates, and with headliners
Sonnenberg, Lewis, Stecher, Stasiak, and Malcewicz, enthusiasts were overjoyed
by the quality of entertainment being displayed. At one point, Sonnenberg and
Stecher drew close to a $40,000 gate, and may have been the most anticipated
wrestling match in California in years.
As of 1931, Don McDonald had refereed more than 5,000 wrestling matches,
establishing himself as the top official in California. Among those bouts were 141
championship contests. He was a graduate of the University of California and
was an amateur wrestling champion between 1915 and '17. He reportedly won
held the Pacific Coast AAU championship as a middleweight. When he wasn't
refereeing in Los Angeles, he worked as a bail bondsman in Long Beach and
was a dog enthusiast.
Daro was engaged in yet another wrestling war in 1932, and this one was
engulfing the nation. The conflict was evolving weekly with wrestlers choosing
sides between the Bowser-Curley syndicate or the group that Daro was affiliated
with, which was led by heavyweight champion Jim Londos and promoters Ray
Fabiani of Philadelphia and Tom Packs of St. Louis. The war presented
interesting possibilities for promoters because they could milk the appearance of
a shoot match between two wrestlers on opposite sides of the fence. For
instance, in the case of John Pesek - many fans didn't know that he was a card
carrying member of the Londos syndicate. Many people had known him as being
more closely associated with the Ed Lewis and Billy Sandow organization, and
with the careful crafting of words in publicity pieces, it seemed logical that Pesek
was going to give Londos (or any of his henchmen) a true test on the mat. It
wasn't just the same old opponents that fans had seen a million times before.
This presented a unique situation that hadn't previously been available. These
avenues for Daro's promotional scheme were nothing compared to when the
"Trust" was formed and erased all major syndicate battle-lines, but certainly
livened things up in Los Angeles. In August 1932, he was working the
possibilities of a Pesek-Ray Steele match, with Pesek trying to get at Londos.
Also, Joe Stecher and Hans Steinke (formerly of the Bowser and Curley group)
also wanted shots at the heavyweight champion.
In the early 1930s, several top amateurs in the Southern California area broke
into professional wrestling, three of whom went on to have great careers. The
first was Vic Christensen, born on May 6, 1912 in California to Viggo and
Josephine of Danish-American descent. Vic attended Glendale High School and
wrestled extensively as an amateur, following his older brother Theodore “Ted”
into the sport. Ted was born on November 25, 1909 and had trained with the Los
Angeles Athletic Club in the 175 pound weight class. He worked out with Ed
“Strangler” Lewis prior to the latter’s April 1931 World Title match with Ed Don
George at the Olympic Auditorium. Vic notched up 300 victories as an amateur
before making his professional debut in 1932. He would have a career of more
than 20 years, including a run as the MWA World Champion.
The third amateur was named Clifton A. Olson, who trained at the Hollywood
Athletic Club in the heavyweight division. Born on December 7, 1908 to Carl J.
and Anna Olson, Cliff grew up in Baudette, Minnesota. He played basketball and
football at the University of Minnesota and moved to Southern California to train
as an amateur wrestler for the upcoming 1932 Olympic Games. He was scouted
and trained by the legendary Ray Steele, and later George Bothner in New York
City, making his professional debut in early 1932. Olson claimed the World
Heavyweight Title after claimant Yvon Robert suffered a broken leg during a
match in Washington D.C. on November 12, 1936 and was backed by the Jack
Curley-Rudy Dusek combine. He dropped the championship to Steve Casey on
February 8, 1937 at Madison Square Garden.
Daro found his next superstar in a former college football player and full-blooded
Navajo Indian from Las Animas County, Colorado. Benjamin Tenario, born on
September 25, 1911, attended Haskell College, and played halfback with the
college in 1927-’28. He made his debut as a professional wrestler in the early
1930s under the guise “Chief Little Wolf,” competing on the West Coast, but he
failed to find success. In late 1934, a repackaged and colorful version of the
Little Wolf emerged with the support of Lou Daro and “Toots” Mondt. He took the
measure of Man Mountain Dean on December 11 in San Diego, and forced the
big man from the main event of the next evening’s show at the Olympic
Auditorium. The Chief took his place against Nick Lutze, and not only beat his
opponent in two-straight falls, but become a top contender to Jim Londos’s World
Title. In the weeks that followed, Chief Little Wolf defeated George Zaharias, Ray
Steele, Pat O’Shocker, Howard Cantonwine, Jim McMillen, Gus Sonnenberg, Paul
Boesch, and Joe Savoldi.
Chief Little Wolf, an exponent of the Indian Death Lock, was booked to challenge
Londos for the championship on February 27 in Los Angeles, but Jim decided to
unschedule himself without the proper authority. When the champion did not
appear, Little Wolf went ahead and threw Sonnenberg, while the State Athletic
Commission pondered their next move with a little nudge here and there from
Londos’s old friend Mondt. On March 2, the commission handed down a
suspension to Londos, and subsequently stripped him of recognition as World
Champion. The Daro-Mondt clique had their own plans for Los Angeles, and
announced an international tournament that would see 70 competitors battle for
In the strategy for Los Angeles and the tournament saw the emergence of
Vincent Lopez. Born Daniel J. Lopez on July 24, 1908 in Meridian, Idaho, he
attended high school locally before attending the University of Idaho. Lopez was
a member of the wrestling team under coach Noel Franklin, a student instructor,
and on Saturday, March 5, 1932 the team went to Pullman, Washington for a
meet against Washington State. Lopez wrestled another future pro wrestling
champion Frank Stojack, and both men were regarded as Olympic candidates.
Dan graduated that year with a BS degree in business. After turning
professional, and adopting the name “Vincent Lopez,” he joined the Los Angeles
office under Mondt and Daro, and was presented as a top heavyweight. Billed as
being from Mexico City, the 6’1” Lopez saw his impressive push begin early in
1935 and continuing right into the tournament that began on April 24. That night
he beat Joe Savoldi. Additional victories came over Joe Malcewicz, Hans Steinke,
Chief Little Wolf, and finally, on June 19, a win over Ed “Strangler” Lewis.
The streak continued as victories came over Chief Little Wolf, Pat Fraley, Ernie
Dusek, and Ivan Managoff. On July 24 in Los Angeles, he beat Man Mountain
Dean in the tournament finale for the vacant World Heavyweight Title. Days after
the victory, “Strangler” Lewis announced that he was going to retire and train
Vincent in the finer points of grappling. The announcement was taken for what it
was worth, and Lewis failed to fullfill his end of the bargin, making dates
throughout North America. The Lopez-Lewis merger ended on bad terms. Lopez
continued his winning ways in California, going over Jim Browning, George
Zaharias, Juan Humberto, Sandor Szabo, Gus Sonnenberg, and Gino Garibaldi.
On May 23, 1935, the Los Angeles Assistant Prosecutor Newt Kendall charged
Lou Daro and Frank Doyle of the Olympic Auditorium with overcrowding the
facility, permitting as many as 2,000 more than the official seating capacity at a
In conjunction with the promotions in Los Angeles, Ray Fabiani staged an
international tournament of his own between November 1935 and February 1936,
to decide a top contender to the world title. This was an effort to boast the
market value of Dean Detton, a product of Utah.
Once Detton became the tournament victor over Lewis, the Mondt-led
organization had two young, rising superstars whom they had the rights to:
Vincent Lopez in Los Angeles and Dean Detton in Philadelphia. The next move
was to attain the rights to the “Trust’s” World Championship, and it was known to
all that Danno O’Mahoney’s stay at the top was nearing an end. Little did anyone
know that things were about to take a strange turn. Negotiations back in the East
leaned towards Detton being the successor of O’Mahoney, possibly until another
titleholder could be lined up, maybe Ernie Dusek or Yvon Robert.
Richard Shikat double-crossed O’Mahoney before a title switch could take place,
and walked away with the championship. As legal procedings took place in
Columbus, heavyweight champions of all kinds began to appear in most major
cities, and the general fan base of wrestling became disinfranchised. Promoters
were losing order, and it was time to do whatever was necessary to maintain their
audience. On April 27, 1936 in Los Angeles, before newspaper reporters and
President of the Civil Service Commission, George Lyon, who was acting on
behalf of Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw, Lopez was presented with the “Lou
Daro” World Championship Trophy. Jack Daro and “Toots” Mondt had arranged
the ceremony to remind the wrestling public in Southern California that despite
what was going on in the East, they had a credible and strong wrestling champion
in their midst.
A meeting with Jack Pfefer in New York secured a chance for Mondt to regain a
piece of that stolen championship, which had been taken so convincingly by
Shikat. The powers of the “Little Trust” had put the strap on Ali Baba in what was
seemingly a transitional spot, and the Turkish grappler was making some
headway in the New York area for Jack Curley and Pfefer. Mondt and Pfefer
concocted a plan to double-cross Baba, and the ploy worked perfectly at
Meadowbrood Field in Newark on June 12, 1936 when Dave Levin was awarded
a win over the titleholder by disqualification. Pfefer, who owned Levin’s contract,
sold the rights to the new claimant to Mondt, who proceeded to book into Los
Angeles as Lopez’s rival. The California State Athletic Commission would not
back Levin’s claim, but newspapers never allowed the public to forget that Dave
was a champion in some parts, thus making great headway towards a unification
On Thursday, August 6, 1936, Levin signed a contract to wrestle Lopez for both
titles on August 19 at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field with the winner receiving 60%
of the purse, and taking the $10,000 championship belt. Fabiani was in town to
work with Daro and Mondt to help broker the deal. The well crafted match set-up
resulted in a house of 15,321, and a gate of $20,723. Lopez won the initial fall
over Levin in 15:35, and Levin took the second by disqualification in 25:53. In
the third fall, Levin pinned Lopez and captured California recognition in 6:11.
The California Athletic Commission indefinitely suspended referee Don McDonald
on July 22, 1937 after disqualifying Gino Garibaldi in a bout against Vincent
Lopez the night before. McDonald rendered his decision after Garibaldi put his
hands on the official, and it isn't clear what the basis for the commission's
suspension of McDonald - unless Garibaldi had been booked to win the match
and the Daros put pressure on the commission to send a message to McDonald
and other licensed referees to follow the script.
On July 27, 1938, Bronko Nagurski was scheduled to appear against Sandor
Szabo at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, but at the last minute, notified
Jack Daro that he wouldn't be able to appear. Daro wanted Nagurski indefinitely
suspended by the California Athletic Commission.
In December 1939, those Southern California professional wrestling promoters to
have licenses issued by the California State Athletic Commission were:
Jack Daro - Olympic auditorium
Hugh Nichols - Hollywood American Legion Stadium
Ed "Strangler" Lewis - Glendale American Legion Post No. 127
Mike Hirsch - Ocean Park Arena
Huntington Park Stadium - Gene Doyle
Coliseum A.C. of San Diego - Lin Platner
Bakersfield - Steve Strelich
Visalia Athletic Club - Louie Miller
El Rio Athletic Club - Henry Oliva
Long Beach - Ken Barton
Mission Athletic Club of Santa Barbara - C.D. Lyons
Orange County Athletic Club of Anaheim - George Lois
Wilmington Bowl - Byron Carpenter
The downfall of the Daro-Mondt organization in Los Angeles was significant in the
history of professional wrestling. Wrestlers formed the "American Wrestlers'
Association" and appealed to the California Athletic Commission on July 26,
1940, claiming violations of the state wrestling code. One of the most glaring
claims were that wrestlers were not being paid for their services, a notorious
allegation often associated with "Toots" Mondt. In reaction to the negative
comments toward the local wrestling syndicate, the Calfornia State Athletic
Commission approved the booking license of Nick Lutze. Lutze, incidentally, had
much support from wrestlers at this point, and it was thought he'd help the
Jack Daro had reportedly lost $70,000 over a 17 week period in the wrestling
business, but wanted to continue, hoping for things to reach the heights it had
during the 1930s.
The Daro-Mondt ship was sinking, however, and there was going to be no turning
things around. A more in-depth look at the last days of the Daros can be found
in this article.
In early September 1940, Mondt dropped his Los Angeles booking affiliation, and
Lutze grabbed up all the available talent. In the Los Angeles Times coverage of
the situation, Lutze claimed he'd be different from Mondt, and not be a "czar."
Around August 1940, George Zaharias took over promotions at the Olympic
Auditorium. Zaharias, however, also found it tough to make money in Los
Angeles, and was losing money. He was also finding it hard to obtain talent, and
it's not known whether or not there was an issue between Zaharias and Lutze, or
if Lutze wasn't doing a good enough job in suppling workers.
Tom Zaharias was suspended by the California Athletic Commission for "five
days" for rule violations on July 27, 1940. Among those reinstated were Buddy
O'Brien, Billy Weidner and a "Stockton boxer" by the name of "Joe Benincasa."
There was a Joe Bennicasa who wrestled professionally in the 1940s and '50s,
said to be from San Francisco. I didn't know he was a boxer previously, and if
these are the same person, it would offer a little more insight into one of the
lesser known wrestlers of the era.
On March 1, 1941, the Daro lease of the Olympic Auditorium expired, and would
not be renewed. Instead, owner Frank A. Garbutt inked a deal with promoter Joe
Lynch (Richmond Kenneth Lynch) on the evening of February 22, 1941. Lynch
planned to stage boxing at the Olympic, and needed approval from the California
Athletic Commission. Lynch had "just returned" from Honolulu, where he worked
as a promoter.
The wrestling license at the Olympic again went to Zaharias on February 24,
1941, and was going to be renewed by the California Athletic Commission for a
period of six months. The commission also reinstated Man Mountain Dean and
told to never use his "broad jump" maneuver again, and suspended referee Don
McDonald for "inconsistencies" in his officiating.
California Governor Culbert Olson signed a bill on July 16, 1941 that updated the
state licensing fees for professional wrestlers ($5), managers ($25),
matchmakers ($25), and wrestling booking agents ($50).
On August 30, 1941, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ray Fabiani was
succeeding Zaharias as promoter at the Olympic. Fabiani had previously been
the promoter in Philadelphia, running operations there since the 1920s. The
California Athletic Commission reportedly investigated Fabiani's background
"thoroughly," and found that he was "free of any misconduct" in Pennsylvania. It
was rumored that Fabiani was in partnership with "Toots" Mondt and Jim Londos,
"but this was not confirmed," according to the paper.
Fabiani applied for a license on September 11, 1941, but approval was going to
be delayed by the athletic commission because Fabiani used the name of a
Pennsylvania corporation, and it needed to be "recognized in California." A
hearing would be staged on September 26 to finalize the situation one way or
Dr. Fred Myers promoted wrestling in Visalia on Saturday evenings in 1941-'42.
At the same time, he wrestled in other cities on other nights. Tony Bernardi
promoted shows in Huntington Park and on December 16, 1941, he was holding
a show - people could sit ringside for bringing four cans of food, reserved for two
cans and bleachers for one can.
In 1944, Cal Eaton worked as the business manager of the Olympic Auditorium.
The California Athletic Commission, on December 29, 1944, fined Ocean Park
Arena promoter Mike Hirsch $2,500 "for alleged irregular handling and illegal
disposal of boxing and wrestling tickets at the arena," according to the Los
Angeles Times (12/30/44). Hirsch also acted improperly toward investigators
when the tried to learn more about the situation.
On April 24, 1945, California Governor Earl Warren initiated a statewide
investigation into wrestling and boxing while appearing before the state athletic
commission. Warren wanted to stamp out any gamblers who were fixing matches
and fights. He wanted to keep the sports honest.
Los Angeles booker Floyd "Musty" Musgrave managed George Temple, brother
of Shirley Temple, and guided his career when George became a professional
wrestler. It was reported in April 1946 that Temple had turned to the grappling
sport because he was "secretly married" to Florence Bruce the November
before. Temple was 24 years of age. On a few months later, Musgrave was the
booking agent for Primo Carnera, and, incidentally was fined $500 for publicizing
Carnera as a wrestler before the latter had obtained the proper license to appear
If you take it all into consideration, it would appear that a wrestling "monopoly" in
Southern California safely transitioned from the Daros and "Toots" Mondt to
Johnny Doyle and Cal Eaton with a short hiatus during the war years. Much like
the complaints thrown in the direction of Jack and Lou Daro, there was steady
murmuring that Doyle and his partners were running things with a black hand and
cold heart. A stream of promoters to include Frank Pasquale (South Gate) and
Morrie Cohen (Pasadena) complained about a conspiracy in the grappling
environment that hindered their freedom to prosper.
The May 20, 1950 edition of the Los Angeles Times speculated about the various
groups possibly in the running to lease the Hollywood Legion Stadium for
wrestling and boxing at $50,000 annually. The major group was led by Eaton of
the Olympic, who wanted to install Babe McCoy as the matchmaker for boxing.
Another group was made up of Hugh Nichols and Hollywood lawyer Jules Covey
with Charley MacDonald as their matchmaker.
Mike Hirsch, in January 1951, worked out his differences with the Los Angeles
Boxing Managers Association to establish a 13 week agreement to show boxing
on TV from the Ocean Park Arena. All net TV royalties would be added to the
gate receipts and it was approximately $800 per show.
On February 23, 1952, Pleasant Smith, a well known wrestler throughout
California, died in Kern County, California. Smith (Pleasant L. Smith) was
originally from Hamilton County, Texas, born on March 6, 1885, and was blind in
his right eye. He reportedly had a victory over Dan McLeod and claimed the
World Light Heavyweight championship. He worked as a wrestler and athletic
trainer in Los Angeles. His wife was Mary A. Smith.
In March 1953, Phil Solomon of the Valley Garden Arena told NWA President
Sam Muchnick in a letter that "This Nick Lutze positively must be put out of
business as he would cross his own mother if given the opportunity."
A short time later, Solomon speculated that Lutze "may be out of business and
they had their weekly Saturday night show cancell (sic) as of tonight." Solomon
also said that "Lutze also had his TV show cancelled as of last Saturday night in
competition to me." Solomon expressed a need for new talent in the area,
claiming "fans are getting sick and tired of seeing the same faces every night."
Solomon was the managing director of the Valley Garden Arena in North
Hollywood at 7111 Vineland Avenue. Harold M. Gartner was the president,
Claude A. Davison was the vice president. On the letterhead of the Valley
Garden Arena were the words, "The Newest and Most Modern Arena in the
The California Athletic Commission "reluctantly" allowed Hugh Nichols on July 29,
1953 to shift his normal wrestling show in San Diego to Wednesday nights, a
move that directly hurt Eaton's business. Because the live San Diego television
program would feed into Los Angeles on the same night Eaton ran wrestling at
the Olympic, attendance at the latter was expected to shrink. On July 6, Eaton
formerly protested the decision before the California Athletic Commission, and it
was one of the first times he was actually on the losing end of a decision made by
Before the California State Assembly subcommittee, referees Al Billings and Joe
Woods testified that professional wrestling was a scripted sport, and that all
officials were told who were going to win beforehand. This came on October 19,
1955 in Los Angeles, as part of a wide investigation into wrestling and boxing.
Among those to testify were both Eaton and Doyle.
A meeting of the California Athletic Commission on November 8, 1955 saw a
petition signed by a number of area promoters protesting the assignments of
Billings and Woods at their facilities presented before officials. Aileen Eaton
even went as far as saying that they'd "close up the Olympic to wrestling before
we allow Billings to referee any of our matches." The Los Angeles Times
(11/9/55) printed a list of those to sign the petition, and they included, Eaton,
Nichols (Hollywood Legion Stadium and San Diego Federal A.C.), Hirsch (Ocean
Park Arena), Claude Bridge (Eastside Arena), Morrie Cohan (Pasadena Arena),
Roy Warner (San Bernardino Arena), and Louie Miller (Long Beach Auditorium).
Apparently, Billings and Woods had both appeared before the press, discussing
matters relating to the wrestling business, essentially breaking kayfabe and
hurting the industry.
Yet another investigation into boxing occurred in March 1956 with Eaton and his
boxing matchmaker at the Olympic, Babe McCoy testifying. During several
points, officials discussed the arrangement McCoy had in the management of
wrestling sensation (and former boxer) Primo Carnera. McCoy's alleged ties to
the criminal underworld and fixed fights were also at the forefront of the
testimony. On one of the days of the investigation, Mike LeBell, son of Cal and
Aileen Eaton, was attacked at the Olympic and robbed of $20,000.
One fighter, Watson Jones, claimed that he was "robbed" by Aileen Eaton of most
of his purses, and that he participated in fixed matches "on orders from McCoy,"
according to the United Press (3/26/56, Traverse City Record Eagle, Traverse
City, Michigan). Jones said that McCoy was like his "father," and he was the
On May 3, 1956, promoter Mike Hirsch received a divorce from his wife, Belle Y.
Hirsch, and five minutes later, applied for a marriage license with Norma
Oestreicher. According to the May 4, 1956 edition of the Los Angeles Times,
Hirsch invited 250 guests to his wedding to be held on Sunday at the Beverly Hills
Club. Among those invited were Lou Thesz and District Attorney Roll.
According to the August 9, 1956 edition of the Van Nuys News, the "California
Athletic Commission has requested transcript of KCOP (13) wrestling interviews
as evidence in the Gorgeous George suspension case."
The end of an era at the Ocean Park Arena came with the announcement from
Mike Hirsch (10/6/58, Los Angeles Times) that the venue was going to be
converted into a bowling center. Demolition was currently underway.
In a June 27, 1960 letter to Robert Bicks of the Antitrust Division, Department of
Justice, Sam Muchnick asked, "isn't your office even interested in learning the
make-up of this so-called NAWA (North American Wrestling Alliance) - who its
officers are, if it has any bylaws, just how it operates, and the reason for its
organization." It seemed that Muchnick wanted the same regulation of the NAWA
as the DOJ had imposed on the NWA.
As part of his national expansion with business partner Jim Barnett, Johnny 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
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 attention.
The August 4, 1961 issue of the Van Nuys (CA) News reported that Doyle,
Welsh, Strongbow and Lord Blears were seen out on the town at Pucci's. Since
this were obviously two rival groups meeting up, was this a friendly gathering?
Were they discussing business or was it a social event?
In 1961, there were 845 wrestling programs held in California, taking in
$1,427,712.56 after Federal Tax was removed. 44 wrestling clubs were active in
Luchadores, Inc., an outfit run by Johnny Doyle and Bill Welch (television
announcer) sued Cal and Aileen Eaton for $105,000, claiming that the latter got
Danny McShain to back out of a contract to appear for them on November 25,
1961. Superior Court Judge Leon David dismissed the suit before going to trial,
on December 16, 1963.
The California Athletic Commission, on Friday, November 19, 1965, voted 3-2 to
allow women professional wrestlers to perform in the state, ending a 20 year
ban. The Associated Press reported that Aileen Eaton planned to stage the first
match between women grapplers on December 12 in Los Angeles, and Roy Shire
planned to feature them in San Francisco on December 26. One of the
commissioners, Harry Falk explained that "he regarded lady wrestling as
degrading, shocking and stripping femininity from women," according to the A.P.
A Texas corporation, Diversified Sports, Inc., was going to invade the Los
Angeles Territory, according to the August 6, 1967 Los Angeles Times. The
report claimed that Al Lovelock was apart of a group from Dallas that had applied
for a license to stage wrestling at the Civic Auditorium, and the new unit had
financing from the Shawnee Consolidated Oil Company.
Aileen Eaton and her son, Mike LeBell, the treasurer at the Olympic, announced
that their promotions of pro boxing had drawn $784,937 in 1967 (12/31/67, Van
Nuys Valley News).
The AWA of Minneapolis invaded Los Angeles during the summer of 1969 under
the auspices of promoter Don Fraser and Jack Kent Cooke. On Saturday,
August 2, 1969, a wrestling show taped in Minneapolis and shown on channel 13
debut at 1:30 p.m., hyping up the stars of the AWA, and building toward arena
shows at the Forum. Don Page wrote in the Los Angeles Times (8/2/69) that
Verne Gagne was "managed by Beverly Hills attorney Paul Caruso, who also
once wrestled for a Gagne promotion years ago under the classy name of Mad
On September 5, 1969, there was a major article in the Los Angeles Times on
Gagne written by John Hall. The article put over Gagne as a former football
player, and talked up the new Fraser promotion. As they had done in the past,
the Eaton-Olympic group were rushing directly at their rivals, holding a show the
same night as the article with a number of "all-star" talent.
Mike Hirsch, the longtime promoter at the Ocean Park Arena and member of the
Doyle-Eaton syndicate in the 1940s and '50s, passed away on December 18,
1980 at the age of 74. Hirsch was born in Pennsylvania on June 29, 1906.
Jules Strongbow Enterprises, Inc.
Incorporated; March 9, 1954
Address: 15650 Superior Street, Sepulveda, California
Registered Agent: William Myers
California Athletic Club, Inc.
Incorporated: November 9, 1959
Address: 30 Trenton, San Mateo, California
Registered Agent: Rolland G. Bastein
Hollywood Wrestling Office
Incorporated: August 3, 1977
Address: 1101 Crenshaw Room 104, Los Angeles, California
Registered Agent: Michael LeBell
Copyright Tim Hornbaker 2012
|Los Angeles Wrestling Territory