Leonard Schwartz was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance and often overlooked
as a noteworthy wrestling promoter in Chicago during the first half of the 1950s.
Because of Fred Kohler's position as the senior operator in the "Windy City" and the
many situations that involved him in history, he's usually the man talked about when
discussing Chicago's great wrestling past. However, Schwartz played a key role in the
sport as well, during a very important time period, and actually held one of the strongest
national television contracts for pro wrestling.
Had Schwartz and Kohler not gone to war with one another in 1949, forcing Schwartz into
the business as a promoter, his name may have faded into obscurity for wrestling fans
altogether. The reason was that Schwartz had just been the owner of the Rainbo Arena
in Chicago prior to spliting with Kohler, and while that is important, it really doesn't factor
in a big way into the narrative of wrestling history. So you can say that when Schwartz
and Kohler broke their agreement during the latter months of 1949, Schwartz made a
conscious decision to enter the wrestling business. He wasn't going to let Kohler walk off
and destroy all of the great wrestling tradition at the Rainbo. He was going to make it
happen without Kohler's expertise.
Why did Schwartz and Kohler break their working agreement? Money was the reason, of
course, particularly the amount of rent Kohler was paying at the Rainbo.
The key component to the Rainbo Arena, however, was the television deal Schwartz and
Kohler had. Television debut at the arena on July 10, 1946 on WBKB, then switched to
WENR (channel 7) on October 6, 1948 with Wayne Griffin behind the microphone.
Beginning on February 2, 1949, the Rainbo broadcast was shown on WJZ-TV in New
York City and other ABC Network stations.
It was that national ABC deal that made the Rainbo Arena a prized spot for professional
wrestling, but Kohler didn't care that he was walking away. He had Schwartz over a barrel
in that situation and besides, he had another national TV deal with the DuMont people.
So what did it matter to him anyway. It was Schwartz who was hurting. And what did
Schwartz immediately do in that situation? He wrote a letter to National Wrestling Alliance
President Sam Muchnick inquiring about membership in the organization on October 17,
1949. Muchnick responded, asking for more information about Schwartz's promotion,
and upon receiving that, he said he'd bring up the issue at the November convention of
the Alliance in St. Louis.
Schwartz replied on November 1, 1949, telling Muchnick that he was indeed a licensed
promoter in Illinois, was "financially stable," and a "life long resident of Chicago." In
addition to the Rainbo, he owned Sparta Stadium, and "numerous other business
ventures." He planned to offer "good, clean wrestling to the public of Chicago every
Wednesday night starting in 1950." Schwartz was also being aided in Carl Schaller, and
old-time wrestling promoter going back to the Ed White days.
Additionally, Schwartz mentioned Kohler, writing that Kohler "probably would never have
joined [the NWA] if it were not for our current situation in Chicago."
Schwartz then laid it all on the line, explaining that he had a TV contract for 1950 and that
if wasn't able to get wrestlers from the NWA, he'd have to "seek talent elsewhere from
non-Alliance members, thereby strengthening the position of non-Alliance members." By
providing a huge television outlet for a non-member, the individual booker helping
Schwartz was immediately getting a gigantic bump into the big time. "I can see and you
most likely can also," Schwartz wrote, "that it is organizing two leagues that eventually will
make it costly to every promoter and will certainly become a detriment to the promotion of
Schwartz didn't believe that the NWA was arranged to provide one guy talent and keep
another from having the same, but little did he know - that was exactly one of the reasons
why it was formed. Kohler, the established promoter, wanted security in being Chicago's
lone guy, and the Alliance was going to back him - for the time being - but little did
anyone realize at that point in November 1949 just how crazy things were about to get.
Muchnick opened the door for the problems to come in his November 7, 1949 letter,
explaining that because Schwartz was "not in the Alliance does not prevent you from
getting talent from members of the Alliance." But Muchnick didn't really have any other
recourse. He couldn't necessarily tell the man that he could not obtain talent from the
NWA and that the NWA and Kohler were going to run him out of business. But Schwartz
took the information to heart and continued to move forward.
Initially forging a deal with Jack Pfefer and then entering a combine along with veterans
Ray Fabiani and "Toots" Mondt with connections to NWA booking agents Al Haft and Paul
Bowser, Schwartz was more than able to fulfill his talent needs at the Rainbo Arena. In
return, these heavy hitters of the industry were having their wrestlers featured in many
cities they hadn't been previously, across the ABC Network. Legendary Jim Londos was
also involved in the group, making it one of the strongest independent units to buck the
However, it was strange because how could promoters affiliated with the NWA aid a
promoter at war with another NWA member? Haft and Bowser were associates in the
National Wrestling Alliance and providing help to Schwartz, who was at war with Kohler in
Chicago. NWA members were supposed to rally around each other in support against
outside threats. In this case, Schwartz was untouchable because of his television deal,
and that was more important than a local feud. But to Kohler, it was a stab directly in the
After months and months of dealing with the NWA help going to his enemy, and seeing
that the Alliance was unable to do anything about it, Kohler resigned from the
organization in December 1950. On December 11, 1950, Schwartz sent a letter to
Muchnick, indicating that he'd heard the news about Kohler's status in the Aliance, thus,
he was interested in applying again. But this time around, unlike the situation in 1949,
Schwartz had his own booking office, and had a year of promotions under his belt.
By March 1951, the Chicago situation was apparently solved and everyone was happy.
Well, no, actually it wasn't. There was still issues, and Schwartz brought them up in a
letter to Muchnick (3/12/51). He noted that his booking office sent wrestlers to "3 or 4"
cities while Kohler ran "20 or 30 towns in our area." One of the cities that Schwartz did
provide workers to was Hammond, Indiana, a city that had been void of wrestling "for a
few years." And, of course, that was the town Kohler was invading. Schwartz wanted
Muchnick to tell him "whom is right or wrong in this matter in the eyes of the Alliance and
also your personal opinion in the matter." He personally believed it was "unethical and
also contrary to the Alliance's wishes in invading territories of fellow members."
Muchnick sent a letter back to Schwartz dated March 30, 1951 telling him that the NWA
only recognized two champions, Lou Thesz (heavyweight) and Verne Gagne (junior
heavyweight), and that he presently had clippings showing that Schwartz was billing
someone else as the junior heavyweight titleholder.
If it wasn't one thing to gripe about from one individual, it was something else from
another. Everyone had something to complain about, and no one played exactly by the
As late as October 1951, the problems over Hammond were still not clear. Schwartz
notified Muchnick by letter (10/2/51) that Kohler told him "that he had five thousand
dollars worth of expenses in Hammond and that his partners feel they should be
reimbursed." Schwartz agreed to meet with him in a few days, but he thought "after
leaving both you [Muchnick] and him on Saturday, we had reached an understanding."
However, on October 17, in a separate letter, Schwartz announced that he was done with
Two days later, Muchnick returned a letter telling him: "For a fellow who has not had the
services of either of the Alliance champions, you have been truly a loyal member of the
National Wrestling Alliance, and I want to commend you for this. I hope that it won't be
too long before you will be rewarded for you loyalty."
Interestingly, though, whether or not Schwartz had been a "good Alliance member" was
yet to be determined, as Muchnick told Pinkie George by letter on December 11, 1951. It
apparently was going to be determined "at our meeting on Jan. 5 and 6." The new
problems were addressed when Muchnick phoned Schwartz recently about Roy Dunn
and "other matters detrimental to the Alliance." Schwartz was using Dunn at the Rainbo in
December 1951, and that was an act "against the best interests of wrestling," according
to Muchnick's letter to him (12/28/51). Muchnick wrote that Schwartz advertised Dunn as
"the holder of the Ed 'Strangler' Lewis championship" and that "Ed Lewis says that he
never presented a belt to this kind to any wrestler and he has written a letter to the
Chicago Tribune to this effect."
Muchnick claimed that Schwartz was being "used" by some people in the business, but
thought highly of him otherwise. He hoped that they could talk things over at the special
meeting of the NWA in January 1952.
Although there were meetings, apparent agreements, and handshakes all around, the
difficulties between Schwartz and Kohler continued going into the summer of 1952.
Schwartz told Muchnick in a letter (5/5/52) that "it is about time that he and I fight it out in
our territory, and after it is all over, I am sure that only good will come of it, both for the
Alliance and for other members of the Alliance." Schwartz wrote that he has previously
turned down offers to invade Des Moines and Louisville in opposition to NWA members,
but would be willing to duel it out against Kohler, who was determined "to see me out of
In a letter to Muchnick dated March 3, 1953, Schwartz announced that as of February 18,
1953, he had purchased the interests of his partners, Joe "Toots" Mondt, Jim Londos,
and Ray Fabiani. He wrote: "I am now promoting Chicago on my own, but I am
associated with Jim Barnett in my booking office."
Ted Thye, a man going through turmoil in the Pacific Northwest, spoke with Stanley
Disney of the Department of Justice in June 1955 about many subjects. He brought up a
time in which he was sitting in Al Haft's Columbus office and Schwartz called him from
Chicago. According to Disney's summary, Schwartz "told Haft that he planned to put up
$30,000 to back Mildred Burke in buying out Billy Wolfe. Thye said that Haft told
Schwartz: 'You are buying something I wouldn't buy.' Thye said that he definitely
interpreted Haft's remark as a warning. Thye said he didn't know whether Haft and Wolfe
were partners, but that they did work very closely together."
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Leonard Schwartz Wrestling History