In 1940 a man by the name of Masked Superman took the Allen Athletic Club in Louisville by storm. His dirty tactics and roughhousing drew the ire of the fans who hated him so much, they turned up in larger and larger numbers every week, hoping to see him unmasked.
In early 1941 Masked Superman was unmasked by Orville Brown. The man beneath the mask was Hans Schnabel, the son of German immigrants, and a native of New York state. Schnabel was no stranger to the Louisville fans. He had made numerous appearances for the Allen Athletic Club beginning back in 1935. But the run he had in 1940 and 1941 was so successful, he launched a steady parade of masked wrestlers that would continue throughout the Allen Club’s history
Schnabel was born Herbert Moeller in Rye, New York in 1908. His parents had two sons, Fritz and Otto, who were both born in Germany. Their mother died shortly after young Herbert was born, a victim of the flu epidemic that struck New York in 1910. The family moved to Connecticut not long after Herbert’s mother passed.
Herbert contracted Polio at age 8. The disease affected both his legs, but his right leg suffered the worst. It was a long recovery for the young man, and brothers Fritz and Otto would pull him around town in a wagon for the next two years. Herbert slowly learned to talk again, but he was left with a club foot. He eventually fully from the disease and his right leg returned to a normal position, but he was always self-conscious about his legs. He wore sweats throughout his career as a result.
Herbert took a job in a factory as a teenager before embarking on a new career as an auto mechanic with his brother Fritz. They opened a garage in Connecticut and were very successful, but Herbert dreamed of two things: seeing the country, and wrestling. When Fritz saw the money that was possible in pro wrestling, he too took an interest, and the brothers decided to leave the garage for what they hoped would be a more lucrative future.
When the time came to choose a ring name, Fritz and Herbert decided to honor their mother by adopting her maiden name, Schnabel. Herbert chose to work under his childhood nickname Hans, and together, the Schnabel brothers broke into the wrestling world.
During the early 1930s the Schnabels worked for promoter Jack Pfefer, wrestling mainly in New York and Ohio. In 1936, Hans was offered his first shot at the World Heavyweight Championship, but shortly before the match, Hans became so ill, he had to withdraw. Dave Levin took his place and won the Title on a disqualification.
Later that same year, Fritz and Hans left for a tour of South Africa. When they returned to the United States, they were joined on the road by brother Otto. Otto had a tag partner from Denver who wrestled under the name of George Schnabel, but was no relation.
Schnabel worked in Louisville during the late 1930s and had his highly successful run as Masked Superman during 1940 and 1941. By the late 1940s Hans and Fritz were working for promoter Fred Kohler in Chicago as well as several promoters on the West Coast.
By the early 1950s Fritz was ready to get out of the business. He was 45 years old and didn’t have the desire Hans had to continue. Fritz came to Louisville before hanging up the trunks in 1951 for a one night stand as a masked wrestler named Big Red. He appeared once more in a tag match with Bill Longson, looking for revenge against the man who unmasked him, the mysterious “Mr. X.”
With his brother gone, Hans teamed up with his long time friend Lou Newman and wrestled as the Iron Russians. He also worked with another famous mask, “The Zebra Kid” George Bollas.
In 1952 the Masked Superman story came full circle for Schnabel in an interesting way when he appeared on television with TV’s Superman, George Reeves. Schnabel appeared in the episode “No Holds Barred” playing a wrestler working for a crooked promoter. The life long heel did the job at the end of the show for the Man of Steel.
Hans Schnabel’s final match, according to his son Phil Moeller, was in May 1960. Hans Schnabel retired at the age of 52 after a career spanning 26 years. He wrestled all across the United States, Hawaii, South Africa, and Japan. The young boy who suffered a devastating bout with Polio overcome life’s hard knocks and become one of professional wrestling’s greatest heels.
Hans Schnabel passed away on July 2, 1980. He is buried in Chatsworth, California.