By Curator, Richard Johnson
While browsing in a flea market over the week-end I came upon a folder of old wrestling publicity stills. They immediately prompted the recollection of my first and only visit to the wild world of Big Time Wrestling in the presence of The Chief, one Jay Strongbow.
In the years before the proliferation of cable and satellite TV and the pay-per-view assault of that corporate Donnybrook that's morphed into the WWE professional wrestler Chief Jay Strongbow (born Joe Scarpa who died in April 2012) was a headline attraction along with colleagues such as Bruno Sammartino, Iron Mike McCord, Crusher Verdue, and Mister Fuji. Collectively they laid claim to Saturday mornings while ruling the hard bitten test pattern universe of that time honored working class kabuki known as “Big Time Wrestling.”
They endured countless nights in drafty mausoleums like those Memorial Auditorium(s) in Utica, Buffalo, and Worcester not to mention all the other assorted WPA civic relics in careworn New England mill towns and rust belt bus stops that resembled the abandoned landscapes freeze framed in black and white Walker Evans/Robert Frank contact sheets. For this was the world chronicled by the likes of Nelson Algren, James M. Cain, and Jim Thompson flecked with the flashing neon signs of bars named Blarney Stone, Kelly Square Yacht Club, Kozy Korner, Fitzy’s, The Eden, Louie’s, Mike’s and Lulu’s. Hell, The Chief himself could've penned a Baedeker of bus-bound blue collar America amidst the noxious haze of diesel fumes, Witch Hazel, Ben Gay as well as the fetid blue smoke of Kools and Luckys smoked down to the nubs of their fuzzy cotton filters.
The Chief had to know that little boys squealed with delight in his muscle-bound presence and roared with approval as he dispatched opponents such as Spiros “The Golden Greek” Arion, “Superstar” Bill Graham, and “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant with his trademark inverted atomic drop, bow and arrow stretch capped with an effective but decidedly politically incorrect Indian deathlock. Needless to say, these kids went home to change into their tread footed flannel Batman pajamas in which they’d torture younger siblings with a well choreographed hurt dance of self-styled noogies, body slams, full and half nelsons administered before bedtime on sticky linoleum kitchen floors.
As the Chief was delivered from his world of pain into a undefined spiritual dimension these five years past I don’t find it hard to imagine he stepped into the ring for a final bow before joining a cast of his bruised and broken counterparts whose limping legions include.....
Andre The Giant, Killer Kowalski, Ali Baba, Giant Baba, The Juicer, The Beast, Mad Dog Bell, Big City Mike, Classy Freddie Blassie, Bam Bam Bigelow, Chief Big Heart, Big Boss Man, Bad Boy Bozinis, Dino Bravo, Bobo Brazil, Yukon Braxton, Bad Business Brown, Bozo Brown, Boogie Woogie Brown, Hangman Cantonwine, Cowboy Carlson, Lord Leslie Carlton, Crusher Casey, Mister Chin, Little Coco, “The Scuffllin Hillbilly” Rip Collins, King Kong Cox, Slick Robbie, Devil Bhudaken, Red Shoes Dugan, Executioner, Midget Fischer, Frankenstein, Mother Smother, Two Ton Galento, Ed Don George, Ed Gladiator, Mickey Gold, Great Goliath, Gorgeous George, Bam Bam Gordy, "Dream Machine" Tony Graham, Soldat Gorky, The Masked Wolf, Hard Boiled Haggerty,The Missouri Mauler, Harlem Warlord, Lord Alfred Hayes, "Mr Perfect" Curt Hennig, Hercules Hernandez, The Medic, Irish Jackie, The Blimp, Bullwhip Danny Johnson, Tor Johnson, Farmer Jones, Junkyard Dog, Klondike Bill, Ernie Ladd, Legs Langevin, Karloff Lagarde, Ripper Leone, Strangler Lewis, Danny Little Bear, Bid Daddy Ed Lipscomb, Little Beaver, Little Frankie, Tarzan Lopez, Sky Low Low, Choo-Choo Lynn, Professor Boris Malenko, Magic Dragon, Magnificent Maurice, Handsome Johnny Barrend, Wildcat McCann, Wahoo McDaniel, Sockeye McDonald, Danno O’Mahoney, Gus Sonnenberg, Jules Mephisto, Misterio de le Muerto, Toots Mondt, Sputnik Monroe, Gorilla Monsoon, The Fabulous Moolah, Hombre Montana, Mister Moto, Sailor Lou Mueller, Drop Kick Murphy, The Green Hornet, Nouroulah The Terrible Turk, Danno O'Shocker, Oklahoma Kid, Swede Olson, The Greek, Hurt Merchant, Mr TV, Pancho The Bull, Pitbull #2, Power Mike, Crafty Casey Pye, Rattlesnake Raitz, Ivan Rasputin, Renegade, Popeye Richards, Bomber Roach, The Missing Link, Cheetah Kid, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, Billy Rolling Thunder, Playboy Buddy Rose, The Canadian Angel, Sapphire, Doc Sarplois, Whiskers Savage, The Sheik, Sensational Sherri, Joe Shimkus, Big E Sleeze, The British Bulldog, The Spider, Stan "The Man" Stasiak, Moondog Spot, The Crippler, Stumpy, Woody Strode, Big John Studd, Tamba, Texas Outlaw #1, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sailor Art Thomas, Major Tom Thumb, Fabuloso Blondy, Tosh Togo, Jumbo Tsuruta, The Terrible Turk, Victor The Bodyguard, Frank Gotch, Primo Carnera, Skull Murphy, The Grand Wizard, The Von Erichs, The Canadian Wildman, Buzz Sawyer, Dick The Bruiser, Uncle Elmer, Wally Karbo, The Missouri Mauler, Jeep Swenson, Killer Karl Krupp, Giant Haystacks, Haystack Calhoun, Tony Rumble, Owen Hart, The Sarge Donnie York, Sr, Lou Nomellini, The Blue Demon, Miss Elizabeth, Chri$ Ca$h, El Texano, Mike “Johnny Grunge” Durham, John “earthquake” Tenta, Mike Awesome, Captain Lou Albano, Villano 1, Villano 2, The Wall, Malice, Princess White Dove,Apache Bull Ramos, Sonny Myers, Chris Benoit, Bastion Booger, Nancy Daus, Kintaro Oki, Sammy “Steamboat” Mokuahi,Dandy Jack Donovan, Ken Timbs, Chris Candido, Nelson Royal, Chief Dave Foxx, Shane Shamrock, The Spoiler, Argentina Apollo, Adrian Adonis, Freddie “Sweetan” Prosser, Bearcat Wilkerson, Jumping Joey Maggs, Macho Man Randy Savage, Umanga, Doctor X, Misterr X, Xtreme, Yukon Eric and Well Dunn.
Somehow I know a baying crowd went suddenly silent for The Chief as he made his farewell entrance followed by the good professor (Tanaka) tossing a ceremonial handful of rice on the mat which cued the timekeeper whose bell sounded just as Saint Peter raised his folding chair for one final crowning blow.
Curator Richard A. Johnson sneaked out of his home on a school night and attended his first and only pro wrestling match at Worcester Memorial Auditorium 48 or 49 years ago. The attached poster is for a show in Lowell for a card identical to the one Johnson attended.