Written October 5, 2010
first Wrestlemania in 1985, I was in the closed-circuit television
audience. From 1989 through 1997, I provided graphics for Vince
McMahons live wrestling telecasts from such far-flung cities as
Los Angeles, Edmonton, and London. Ive told you about
this before, in letters such as these.
havent told you is that my memories of professional wrestling
go back even further.
In 1958 I
was eleven years old, and my father was the Chevrolet dealer in our
small town in central Ohio. We watched television from the
three stations in Columbus. On one of those stations
WLW-C, the NBC affiliate on Channel 4 another Chevrolet dealer
had his very own show!
Mayers owned a big dealership on the east side of Columbus, near
the suburb of Bexley. Closer to downtown was Old Memorial Hall
at 280 East Broad Street. This 4,200-seat auditorium, with a
floor big enough for 800 additional chairs, had once been second in
size only to New Yorks Madison Square Garden.
than 50 years old and rendered obsolete by the opening of the shiny
new Veterans Memorial across the river less than a mile to the west,
Old Memorial Hall had fallen on hard times. So each weekend,
Lex brought in some used cars and parked them on the floor in front
of the stage, where a wrestling ring was set up. A couple of
black-and-white TV cameras were also positioned on the stage, where
they could get shots of the ring and the cars and the audience.
boy, three weeks younger than I, was growing up in Bexley. His
name was Bobby Greene. Later, Bob would become an award-winning
columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He remembered the
wrestling shows in his 2006 book And You Know You Should Be Glad.
For a while on
weekends when we were eleven or twelve, some of us would ride the bus
downtown, to Old Memorial Hall on East Broad Street. A local
Chevrolet dealer named Lex Mayers sponsored a television program
called Lexs Live Wrestling. It was broadcast
Saturday afternoons, and it was mainly a means for Lex to sell his
used Chevrolets. Buddy Nature Boy Rogers would
wrestle Frankie Talaber or Fritz Von Goering, Handsome Johnny Barend
and the Magnificent Maurice would go up against Sweet Daddy Siki and
Oyama Kato in a tag team match, but the underlying purpose of the
exercise would be to get each fall completed as quickly as possible
so the cameras could swing
away from the ring and down to the floor beneath, where Lex, a
rotund, garrulous man with thick eyeglasses, would be standing next
to a Chevy with some miles on it, and would announce with a flourish
what a great bargain this chariot of the highway would be for some
the show was on the air to display Lexs cars to the
viewers at home. Lex would call the action in the ring, too, he
was the main blow-by-blow announcer, but his passion lay in moving
the cars. Although the audience Lex cared about was the
audience at home, he needed an audience inside Old Memorial Hall,
too, to provide clamor and background visuals for the broadcast.
Tickets were fifty cents, and for a few years when we were young
some of us would be in the seats just about every Saturday. It
was pretty exhilarating, for a kid.
also mentioned the show in one of his Tribune columns.
The big paydays
for wrestlers were in New York and Chicago. But they'd stop in
central Ohio on their way between the big cities, to make a little
extra money. ...And then Nature Boy himself would show up in
town, and Old Memorial Hall in downtown Columbus site of
"Lex's Live Wrestling," home of the 50-cent-ticket
would feel like Madison Square Garden.
Make that Carnegie
Hall the thrill of a Nature Boy performance was so sublime
that it belonged there, not in some mere sports arena.
Unfortunately, this was a minority opinion wrestling had no
cachet back then, it was considered a gutter entertainment and
Nature Boy was virtually unknown to the more educated echelons of society.
Lex was a guilty pleasure for my father and me. We giggled at
the fellow Chevrolet dealers over-the-top enthusiasm for
rasslin and at his outlandish salesmanship. If he had a
used car to sell that had been manufactured by our main competitor,
he refused to say the four-letter word. He spelled it out,
F-O-R-D. My father sometimes affected this attitude himself.
remembered Lex on the wrestlingclassics.com message board:
He sold cars.
Some were lined up around the ring. Every once in a while Sweet
Daddy Siki would throw Chief White Owl out of the ring and dent a
hood up pretty good. Of course, old Lex would reduce the price.
It was an Al Haft
promotion. One afternoon it was [Karl] Gotch's birthday.
He was given a cake (of course), and (of course) he was
"force-fed" the cake by Handsome Johnny Barend and
Magnificent Maurice. Gotch promptly tossed both heels through
the windshield of one of the used cars for sale!
1964, Old Memorial Hall would be converted into the much more
the Center of Science and Industry. It would house this science
museum for the next 35 years.
Lexs Live Wrestling lost its studio, my father and
I got to see Chief White Owl and five other grapplers perform in our
own little town on a Labor Day weekend. As the Richwood Gazette
reported on September 1, 1960:
Wrestling fans in
the vicinity of the Richwood Fair are in for a rare and real mat
treat when the All-Star Wrestling Show takes center stage at the
The ever popular
Chief White Owl tangles with Ali Pasha, the Terrible Turk. In
the second bout, Wild Bill Scholl grapples with
Mexicos Pancho Villa. Beauty replaces brawn for the third
event as Lovely Lola Loray faces Beautiful Mary Reynolds in a
30-minute hair puller.
In the main event,
Cherokee Chief White Owl and Pancho Villa combine mat efforts against
The Terrible Turk and Wild Bill in a one hour, best two of three
falls battle royal tag team match.
obtained ringside seats, right beside the ring that had been set up
at the finish line of the harness track. As other fans watched
from the grandstand, the show began. My father entered into the
spirit of the thing, cheerfully booing and heckling the
heels as was the custom. I was the slightly
embarrassed 13-year-old boy sitting beside him.