NWA Member: Bill Lewis
Admitted to Organization: September 1951
Richmond Office: Route 3, Box 14 A
Phone Number: 5-1127 (1955)
On May 10, 1957, a representative of WXEX-TV, an NBC affiliate in Petersburg, Virginia
with offices in Richmond, wrote to Phil Zacko of the Capitol Wrestling Corporation in
Washington, D.C. The station representative informed Zacko that their plan was to
broadcast wrestling in Petersburg beginning on Saturday, May 25 on an alternate week
basis, from 10-11:00 p.m. The payment for the telecasting rights would be $450 "if the
program is completely sponsored by one advertiser or divided by two advertisers." Also,
the station does "not pay any royalty rights for any half-hour which is not sponsored."
Initial plans was for Joseph R. Kirkland of Peteersburg to promote the show, and
apparently get workers from Washington. It was believed that the National Brewing
Company would perhaps be one of the first sponsors.
Lots of griping went in the mid-to-late 1950s about the corruption of the National
Wrestling Alliance, but after the final judgment and Consent Decree in 1956, the
Department of Justice only took a handful of criticism seriously. A situation that arose in
the territories of Bill Lewis, "Toots" Mondt, and Jim Crockett was almost cause for
prosecution for breaking the 1956 agreement. It marked the closest the Alliance came to
being brought to trial again for antitrust violations, and would've likely been a crippling
blow to an already hindered organization - and seriously damaged professional wrestling
as a whole.
The entire story revolved around wrestler William Victor Olivas, who was known as a Jack
Pfefer regular under the guise, "Elephant Boy." Since about 1957, Olivas had “been
wrestling primarily on the East Coast for Jim Crockett, and while in Virginia, he became
interested in the promotional side of the business. He inquired about the possibility of
running shows in such places as Virginia Beach, Petersburg, and Elizabeth City, North
Carolina. Lewis and Crockett, National Wrestling Alliance members in the Mid-Atlantic
territory, were not interested in any plan to promote involving Olivas.
Unwilling to accept that decision as final, Olivas went to the Virginia State Athletic
Commission and asked about obtaining a license to stage matches in Virginia Beach
during the summer of 1959. Bill Brennan of the commission told him that there wasn’t a
monopoly held by Lewis or Crockett locally, and that anyone could apply for a license.
The only thing was that the individual had to live in the state for at least a year. Based on
that, Olivas didn’t qualify. Brennan, however, told him that there wasn’t a stipulation to
apply for a “booking agent or manager’s license,” and Olivas applied, receiving it on June
Olivas went to work to build a coalition on the periphery of the NWA, gaining licensed
promoters in Petersburg, Hampton, Virginia Beach, Hopewell, Lawrenceville, Suffolk,
Hancock, Hague, Richmond, Portsmouth, Newport News, Williamsburg, West Point,
Chatham, Rocky Mount, Staunton, Clifton Forge, South Boston, and Tappahannock.
Many of these cities, if not all, were being avoided by Lewis in the promotion of matches
with Alliance talent. With the promoters and towns in place, Olivas now needed to find the
wrestlers to make them available for shows.
Dr. Jerry Graham, a well-known personality of the ring and member of the notorious
Grahams tag team, met with Olivas and formed a union, telling the latter that he’d help
him obtain wrestlers for his agency. At the same time, Lewis contacted Olivas and
explained to him that Virginia was his territory, according to the FBI interview, and that he
had “plenty of friends” in Richmond that would help him win any head-to-head war. Olivas
also claimed that one night, Lewis came to the hotel he was staying at, and nearly
banged down the door of his room, as he yelled, “Elephant Boy, I know you are in there!”
On another occasion, he was confronted by a knife-wielding associate of Crockett, who
was trying to pressure him to abandon his promotional plans.
Olivas continued to charge forward, as determined as ever, and secured a 13-week
television contract with a station in Norfolk. He took civilized meetings with both Crockett
and Lewis, trying to come to a mutual agreement that all would benefit from, even
agreeing to a deal which would sent Charlotte talent to Norfolk for Olivas’s TV program,
and even put spots promoting Lewis’s live events. These plans quickly fell by the
wayside, and the feud continued.
Olivas was being frozen out despite his successful attempts to build a circuit. He
explained to the FBI in his 1960 interview that a number of wrestlers were contacted
directly by NWA members and told to quit appearing for him, and even given cash and job
opportunities elsewhere – just to leave town. He also complained that he was getting
poor newspaper coverage in Richmond compared to Lewis. It seemed that Lewis was
right, he did have connections in all the right places. But was Olivas being given a fair
shake? The odds were certainly against him.
Olivas also had to contend with powerful Capitol Wrestling and its honchos Toots Mondt,
Vincent McMahon, and Phil Zacko. After wrestler Chief Little Eagle wrestled on his
Norfolk TV show, he was reportedly blacklisted by Capitol. Jerry Graham was also leaned
on to sever his ties with Olivas, or face the consequences.
On November 25, 1959, the Virginia State Athletic Commission held a hearing to
determine whether or not a full scale investigation should be opened. "This preliminary
hearing has been adjourned to December 15 at which time it will be resumed at the King
Carter Hotel, Richmond, Virginia," according to Robert A. Bicks (Acting Assistant Attorney
General, Antiturst Division, Department of Justice) to the Director of the Federal Bureau
of Investigation on December 3, 1959.
Bicks continued: "We are advised that the testimony and evidence which has been or will
be presented to the Commission will establish that Bill Lewis effectively prevented Olivas
from securing wrestlers for promotions which he desired to schedule in the State of
Virginia. It is said that Bill Lewis on August 24, 1959 appeared in Washington and talked
to a Mr. Vince McMahon, who promotes matches in Washington, D.C., under the business
firm Capitol Wrestling. It is further asserted that Capitol Wrestling is partially owned by
Todle (sic) Mondt, the New York promoter; that through Mondt, Lewis brought pressure
on McMahon to cancel certain bookings for a wrestler by the name of Richard Thomas
Bryant, who wrestles under the name of Chief Little Eagle. This cancellation is said to
have been brought about because Bryant had appeared in a televised match in Norfolk,
Virginia, promoted by Olivas."
As expected, Lewis, in an FBI interview (7/6/60) denied ever having a problem with Olivas
in Richmond or any other Virginia city, and said that he had always tried to be “friendly”
with him. He also said that he never told any wrestlers to not work for Olivas or to prevent
him from being altogether successful in his endeavors.
Investigators for the Bureau continued to delve into the situation, and interviewed a
number of wrestlers, some of whom corroborated Olivas’s story.
The talk of violations of the Consent Decree had NWA President Sam Muchnick prepared
to go to Washington, D.C. to talk to Government officials in the Department of Justice
Antitrust Division. Muchnick explained in his January 11, 1960 letter to William Kilgore Jr.
that he'd be able to go to Washington in early February to discuss the Lewis situation and
the matter of Eddie Quinn trying to use a contract to force the NWA to stop using their
heavyweight champion, Pat O'Connor.
In the end, after numerous public and private conferences, an assortment of conflicting
stories, and a thorough examination by the Department of Justice, it was decided in
November 1960 to forego any suit against Lewis, Crockett, Mondt, and McMahon for
antitrust violations. However, in one office memorandum to the DOJ Chief of the
Judgment Enforcement Section, an official wrote:
“The facts fully indicate that there has been a deliberate violation of the Judgment by
Lewis, Crockett and Mondt with the aid and assistance of McMahon, who admittedly had
full knowledge of the Judgment. I am confident that a verdict of guilty can be obtained
against Lewis and Crockett. The evidence against Mondt and McMahon is weaker. The
industry is not of too great importance or significance, economically it is true, but that very
willfulness of the violation makes it significant, I believe, and one that we ought to bring.”
Research by Tim Hornbaker
January 1, 2011
|Richmond Booking Office