The 2020 CAC James Melby Award Winner Greg Oliver just posted a terrific editorial on Slam! Wrestling about the quest to chronicle pro wrestling history. After reading an advance copy of the Andre the Giant biography, Oliver was struck by the incredible depth of research in the spook, especially when compared to an infamous earlier bio on the Eighth Wonder of the World. Oliver suggests we’re living in a golden era for wrestling historians and research, thanks to the resources that are not only now available but being utilized by writers and researchers everywhere.
I share this because I absolutely could not agree more. I have only been at this game for seven years, having taken my first dive into the newspaper microfilms at the Louisville Free Public Library in January of 2013. The access to such archives has improved tremendously in that short time, thanks in large part to archives such as newpapers.com. In 2013 I was hunting and rooting, scrolling through film after film and then scanning the weekly Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and occasionally Friday and Saturday sports pages. Just a few short years later I was finding results much faster from my home office, scanning the same Courier-Journal newspapers but using the advanced search features available online. In less than four months, I had a complete 22 year record of the Allen Athletic Club. Between my work schedule and family life, it would have taken me years to compile the same data at the library.
Every year it seems more wrestling fans and history buffs are jumping in the waters. As a community, we are uncovering, recording, and preserving the history of professional wrestling faster than ever thought possible. This is a golden age for the wrestling historian. It’s also a golden opportunity for fans and especially workers to learn that history for themselves.
This past weekend, when a wrestler at PPW told me about the stack of wrestling books he was reading, I added to it and gave him a copy of the Black Panther book. I always love hearing that a wrestler wants to know the history of the business because that tells me, this is someone who wants to learn from the past. This is someone who appreciates those who came before. This is someone who might just discover something that hasn’t been done in decades and use it (making what is old new again) to become a star.
Whether you’re a wrestler, a referee, a manager, a student, or just a fan, I encourage you to do the same. Read the Andre book. Read Have a Nice Day. Read Lou Thesz’s incredible autobiography Hooker. Read Queen of the Ring. Read Adnan Al-Kaissie’s hard to find/ harder to put down memoir. Your favorite past time has an incredible past. More and more, it’s there waiting for you to discover.
Jordan Rose summed up the mood in the Sellersburg American Legion Post on Friday night for all the fans in attendance at Paradigm Pro Wrestling’s January event. After losing their building just a few weeks before, thanks to a suspicious phone call placed to the nearby city of Clarksville, the powers that be at PPW were able to find a new home quickly. Not only were all the previously booked wrestlers in attendance, PPW likely drew a few extra fans thanks to the cash bar at the back of the room. In a spirit of defiance and pride, Rose directed his gaze at the steadi-cam perched on the announcer’s table and sent a message to the man or woman who not only evicted PPW from Malice Manor but managed to get Girl Fight’s most recent offering canceled:
“WE’RE STILL HERE!!!”
The recent incident is not the first one of its kind. Not in wrestling, not in Kentuckiana, certainly not in recent memory. It was just a few years ago that two more phone calls successfully shutting down IWA Mid-South at Jammerz Rollerdome while unsuccessfully attempting to close the Arena in Jeffersonville. The so-called snitch was identified as a rival promoter who has since vanished from the area, along with his promoter. The identify of this recent caller remains anonymous, and in all fairness, it could just as easily be a local do-gooder rather than a promoter will ill intent. Nevertheless, it’s worth sharing a thought I’ve spoken only privately up until now.
If you are running 5000 fans a week, you have a territory to defend.
If you are running under 200 a week, as all the local promotions on both sides of the river are, you do not have a territory. You have NOTHING to defend.
Run your shows, and let everyone else be.
Be thankful for the loyal fans you have, and remember – even out of those 200, at least half are patronizing the other guys too.
With all that said, let’s go to the show and talk a couple of highlights:
First, let’s talk about the Lost Boys. I’m thrilled to see Hoodfoot has connected with Adam Slade and what appears to be a great faction. If you get the chance to see (or book) this group, do it. Adam Slade, Bradley Prescott IV, Hoodfoot, and the rest are hungry, talented, and most of all – fun. These guys are fueled by a love of wrestling and entertaining. Great to see so many of them on the show.
I finally got to see Warhorse Friday night, and wow, that was a fun match with the aforementioned Bradley Prescott IV. I love this guy’s look, too. His promo photos remind me of Zartan. He’s got a great gimmick, and he really connects with the fans. I’ll go see him any day.
It was great seeing Reed Bentley again, but I have to admit, I’m questioning these stories he told me when we first met. Reed tells me he trained in an actual ring, but he spends so little time wrestling inside a ring, I don’t know if I believe him. Joking aside, it was fun seeing him in a singles match again. Much as I love him with John Wayne Murdoch (who I will get to) and their all-out wars as the Rejects, it’s nice to see both those guys show what they can do as singles.
Billie Starkz is a superstar in the making. The girl connects with the fans like another young lady I first saw wrestling locally back in 2014 who just made her third appearance in the Royal Rumble. She’s already where Crazy Mary was skill wise at that time, and she’s five years younger than Mary was at that time. Enjoy her while she’s young, fans. She won’t be in this area for very long once she hits 18.
Calvin Tankman is a monster. He is big, strong, agile, and OVER with the fans. Not sure why he is “unsigned” but that’s a status I would expect changes before the end of this year.
The PPW title match went on second to last, which is what happens when you have John Wayne Murdoch scheduled in a street fight. The Duke of Hardcore can do no wrong in the eyes of fans around these parts, and everyone was thrilled to see the doors, steel chairs, and other implements of destruction set out for the main event. It’s almost a foregone conclusion in these moments that JWM is always going to win this type of match, and you could feel the shockwave ripple through the crowd when the referee counted three and raised the hand of…. Nolan Edwards? Yes!! It was Edwards who defeated John Wayne Murdoch in his own specialty match. Edwards has scored several huge wins as of late across the region against top stars, not the least of which was Kongo Kong, and now he has a huge statement win at PPW. PPW has already proven to be a launch pad for young stars, introducing fans to guys like Corey Storm and Ace Austin. Nolan Edwards is poised to have a breakout year in 2020.
Oh, and speaking of break out stars, PPW fans better enjoy every chance they get to see Dominic Garrini up close. The bare-footed shooter has an invitation to the eight man tournament that kicks off the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame festivities this July in Waterloo, Iowa. Other competitors include Colt Cabana, Mad Man Fulton, Mr. Anderson, Gary Jay, and the man Garrini most wants to get his hands on – Ken Shamrock. This is a high profile tournament and an incredible opportunity for Garrini.
It’s fitting that I am packing up a copy of Bluegrass Brawlers just purchased from my website tonight. Fitting because the first wrestling book I ever wrote has been the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did Bluegrass Brawlers lead to opportunities to work with Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin, “Dr. D” David Schultz, Mad Man Pondo, Hurricane JJ Maguire, and Tracy Smothers, it inspired three more books on its own.
By the time I finished Bluegrass Brawlers, I knew I wanted to write at last three more books: one on Heywood Allen, one on Jim Mitchell, and one about the wrestlers of the 1880s. I wrote a thorough history of Heywood Allen’s promotion in the book Louisville’s Greatest Show, and I released Jim Mitchell’s biography The Original Black Panther earlier this year. Now, finally, there’s a book about the circus wrestlers and barnstormers of the 19th century on the way.
Grappling by Gaslight is not a history, but historical fiction based on the real life stories from the time. It’s a collection of five short stories inspired by the exploits of Ida Alb and her sister Mademoiselle Marcia; former slave Viro Small; strongman Robert Pennell and his rival Charles Flynn; and many more. I wanted to capture the spirit of the times, allowing readers to see these legendary wrestlers through the eyes of the fans, and early reviews have been very positive.
Grappling by Gaslight will be available by Christmas through this website and Amazon. It’s a short book, less than 110 pages of actual story, but it’s laced with romance, humor, and even a dash of murder. It’s going to be a treat for anyone who loves a good rasslin’ tale.
Someone on Facebook recently posed an interesting question: if you had a wrestling time machine and could go back to see any wrestling match, what would you go back to see?
I didn’t have to think about my answer. As a hug fan of the Black Panther, I’d want to go back to the night he is most famous for: the night he and Gorgeous George incited a riot at the Olympic Auditorium. Then I got to thinking, what other matches would I want to see if I could return to any night in wrestling history?
Here are my top five, in order:
August 24, 1949, Los Angeles. Gorgeous George vs. The Black Panther Jim Mitchell at the Olympic. George was one of the biggest heels of his day, and the Panther was a beloved star. On a hot summer night, George went too far. He tossed Mitchell from the ring and refused to let him back in. One fan jumped in the ring to give George some payback, and George leveled him. In an instant the entire crowd was on its feet, and a riot raged on for hours. Mitchell and George escaped to the back, but several people had to be hospitalized. One woman even sued George and Mitchell for her injuries. I have the program from that night and a letter summoning Mitchell to answer for his part in the riot that evening. They are the prizes of my wrestling memorabilia collection.
February 1, 1944, Louisville. Mildred Burke vs. Elvira Snodgrass at the Columbia Gym. If Mitchell is my all time favorite grappler, Elvira is a close second. I’d love to see the greatest women’s champion of all time against the toughest, meanest, scrappiest heel she ever faced in front of a hot Louisville crowd. This wasn’t the only time they faced one another in Louisville or the biggest crowd in Louisville to see them do battle, but it was the night they were the main event attraction. How incredible would it be to see Heywood Allen chomping on his cigar, overseeing the action in the Columbia Gym?
Jerry Lawler vs. Andy Kaufman in Memphis. The Kaufman/Lawler feud is one of the most fascinating stories in wrestling history, both for the in-ring action and the behind the scenes machinations. It’s the greatest work of the modern era and a blueprint for how to do kayfabe in an era when kayfabe is supposedly dead. Some how, some way, I’d have to have a ringside seat so I could see the back and forth after the match with Danny Davis telling Jerry that Andy will pay for the ambulance.
The Road Warriors vs. The Midnight Express, Night of the Skywalkers. Cornette has been a friend and a great asset in my research of Louisville wrestling history. The scaffold match was far from the best work either of these legendary tag teams did, but just to see it all unfold and watch poor Jimmy slip through the arms of Big Bubba (RIP) would be priceless.
When Hero Met Punk, IWA Mid-South, Clarksville, Indiana 2003. Before Punk made it to WWE or even Ring of Honor, he had some of the greatest battles in the modern indy era with Chris Hero, now NXT’s Kassius Ohno, in front of one of the most passionate crowds in wrestling today. Matches like these are the reason CM Punk said his ideal place for Wrestlemania would be the old warehouse in Charlestown, Indiana, where many of their brawls took place. This particular match went almost 93 minutes, and for the last 15-20 minutes, the entire crowd was on their feet. Watch this, their Tables and Ladders duel, or their 60 minute brawl, and join me in hoping that when Kassius Ohio reaches the main roster, WWE will make amends with CM Punk and give these two one last battle – at Wrestlemania.
Honorable Mention: The 1951 Derby Eve Show, Jefferson County Armory, Louisville. I’m going to cheat here, but this has to be one of the greatest cards ever presented in Louisville. Francis McDonogh, who took over the Allen Club from Heywood Allen in 1947, made the annual Derby Eve Show and the Police Benefit Show that took its place a monster even every year. Have a look at the card and tell me you wouldn’t want to be one of the 8000 in attendance that night:
Wild Bill Longson vs. Dutch Heffner
Bill Longson, Fred Davis (of the Chicago Bears), and Freddie Blassie vs. Ivan Rasputin, Stu Gibson, and Dutch Heffner
Mildred Burke vs. Mae Young
Lou Thesz vs. Green Dragon
If you’re a fan of wrestling history, be sure to catch today’s episode of the Jim Cornette Experience. I’m on the show today talking about a few of my favorite things: The Allen Athletic Club, Elvira Snodgrass, and The Black Panther Jim Mitchell.
If you’ve already listened to today’s show, you can follow the links below to read more about the books and stories I’ve been working on.
The Champ vs. the Human Orchid… it happened in Louisville. Thesz and George met on November 27, 1954 at the Jefferson County Armory (now the Louisville Gardens).
Thesz and George split the first two falls, but George refused to come out for the third fall while a “physician” examined George’s injuries. The unidentified medic said he believed George could go on, but George was reluctant. He finally decided to go to the ring, but as he was making his way to the ring, referee (and LPD homicide detective) Ellis Joseph was already raising Thesz’s hand, declaring him the winner.
Earlier in the evening, “The Mask” defeated New Albany native Stu Gibson via DQ, Sonny Meyers drew with Johnny Valentine, and Billy Blassie defeated Sgt. Buck Moore. 4200 attendance.
Below is the Saturday newspaper ad for the big event, plus a page from a notebook kept by then-teenage fan Jim Oetkins, recording the results from the night.
Wrestlers give so much of themselves for the business the love and the fans who follow them. In less than two weeks, OVW fans will have a chance to give back to one of the greatest stars in the promotion’s history.
If you don’t know Matt Cappotelli’s story, it’s both inspiring and heart-breaking. Matt was on the verge of realizing his dream and becoming a WWE Superstar when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought the disease and beat it, but earlier this year, cancer returned for a re-match.
OVW is hosting a benefit show on Saturday, September 23, to help Matt pay his medical expenses as he fights cancer a second time. A number of current and former OVW stars will be on hand that night not to collect a pay check, but to support their friend as all proceeds will go to Matt’s medical fund. Jim Cornette has already announced he will be there, signing anything you bring for any donation you want to give. More announcements are on the way.
Indy wrestling isn’t about sports entertainment. It’s about family. If you’re in the area, please be at the Davis Arena Saturday night, September 23. This is a show you can’t miss.
For those who are wondering why so many people are saying, “The money is in the rematch,” after last night’s fight, here’s a story from Louisville’s past – all the way back to 1881.
In that year, a Louisville “resident: named Robert M. Pennell went to the Courier-Journal newspaper office and issued a challenge. Pennell, who was locally known for his feats of strength in weightlifting, offered to fight for any sum of money against any citizen of the United States or Europe brave enough to step into the ring with him.
On August 21 the Courier-Journal published a response to Pennell’s challenge from Chicago grappler Charles Flynn. Flynn sent a man named Edward Morrill to Louisville to negotiate terms for the blockbuster match. Morrill and Pennell’s representatives agreed to a Greco-Roman contest with each side putting up $250. The contest would take place on September 17 at Woodland Garden, a popular beer garden located on Market Street. A number of stipulations were added to the contract, and the most significant one was the promise that no matter how long the match went, there would be no draw!
When Flynn arrived in town on September 7, people were eager to learn all they could about Pennell’s challenger. Billed as as champion wrestler of the Northwest, Flynn stood at five foot nine and a half feet tall and weighed 182 pounds. Flynn was fairly new to the sport of wrestling, but in less than five years he had racked up a number of notable wins in his adopted hometown of Chicago. He was so confident he would win, he offered to double the stakes of the match to $500. Flynn also wanted the winner to take all the gate money, but Pennell refused, insisting the loser get one third of the box office.
A crowd of eight hundred, mostly young men, gathered at Woodland Gardens on the 17th to witness the battle between Pennell and Flynn. What happened was an unexpected and disappointing finish. Pennell was clearly the stronger of the two, but Flynn proved to be the superior technical wrestler. Flynn took the first fall, but after falling, the fans could see desperation in the challenger’s eyes.
The clock ticked passed midnight, and at 12:10 AM, Flynn shocked the fans by withdrawing from the match. The fans were outraged! They were assured there would be no draw in this contest. Edwin Morrill announced to the fans that Flynn had agreed to wrestle Pennell on September 17. Since it was now September 18, the written contract had been fulfilled. Flynn was done with Pennell.
The crowd was livid. They screamed for Flynn to finish the contest. The referee, hoping to appease the crowd, announced Pennell as the winner, but Pennell gallantly refused to accept the win. Ignoring the cry of the masses who wanted him to take the win and the $500, he told the crowd that Morrill had out-foxed him, and he agreed the match should end in a draw. But he also took the opportunity to demand a rematch, two weeks hence, for double the stakes – a $1000 purse! Flynn agreed to the rematch, and the evening was over.
The very next day, Flynn backed off from his promise of a rematch. Flynn said he had no objection to wrestling Pennell again in private, but he had no desire to step into a ring in Louisville with the city’s fans against him. Flynn had no immediate plans to leave town, stating he had made many friends and intended to stick around for a week or so, but the public rematch was out.
The next day, Flynn put up a deposit of $50 at the Courier-Journal to show he was sincere about the private rematch. He announced his intention to remain in Louisville until the races were concluded at Churchill, but he reiterated his stance he would not face Pennell in a public exhibition.
On September 22, Pennell met with Edward Morrill again to negotiate terms of a public rematch. With Flynn’s blessing, Morrill agreed to a second match. This time, Pennell closed the loophole. The match would continue until there was a winner. There really and truly would be NO draw this time!
On September 30, a crowd of more than 1000 gathered to watch the strongest man in the world take on the champion of the Northwest. A good number of bettors and sports enthusiasts from Peoria and Chicago came in for the match to cheer on Chicago’s own, but the crowd was largely local and largely in Pennell’s corner.
When the opponents disrobed, it was clear Flynn was in better shape than his opponent that night. He was also much cooler and patient than in their previous match as the two locked up. Pennell matched Flynn’s caution, and both men took a defensive posture. Flynn took the early advantage when Pennell went for a neck hold, dropping him to mat, but when Flynn went for a hold, Pennell powered out and dropped Flynn on his shoulders, scoring a fall and drawing a roar from the partisan crowd.
Flynn came out more aggressively for round two. His scientific knowledge of the sport gave him the edge, and in ten minutes, Pennell was on his back, struggling to keep one shoulder off the mat. Flynn overpowered him, and the match was even at one fall a piece.
Flynn looked fresh as they began the third round just before 10 PM. Pennell, on the other hand, was showing serious signs of fatigue and suffering from sprained fingers. Pennell spent much of the round face down on the mat as Flynn struggled to flip him on his back. Unable to put his “Nelson grip” to use, Flynn ultimately used a neck lock to turn the stronger man over and take the third fall.
Pennell called for a surgeon during the third intermission and attempted to treat his badly damaged hand. It was of little use, and when Pennell answered the bell for the fourth round, he appeared “timid as a child.” Flynn kept Pennell on the defensive, chasing him all over the stage. At one point, Flynn had Pennell pressed against the floodlights, and Pennell, afraid he might be tossed off the stage, was heard saying, “Don’t hurt me, Flynn, don’t hurt me.” At that moment, Flynn flipped Pennell over one last time and scored the pin, taking the victory and ending the contest.
After the crowd left, the two competitors met in the presence of the judges, referee, and Courier-Journal representatives. Flynn received his prize of $1000 plus two thirds of the gate. Pennell admitted he had been soundly defeated and congratulated his opponent.
Having won the battle, Flynn declared his intention to next challenge Duncan Ross. Pennell and Flynn would leave town together on September 7th for Chicago for they hoped would be a run in with Ross, who would soon move to Louisville himself and set up shop.
It seems strange that two such bitter rivals would leave practically arm in arm in pursuit of their next challenge, but a year later, an article in the Courier-Journal would shine a different light on their so-called rivalry. A unidentified wrestler gave the Courier what he claimed to be the real story of Pennell and Flynn – it was all a work.
According to the unnamed source, Pennell and Flynn came into Louisville playing a very common game used by greedy promoters. A wrestler of some repute would move into a town where people could be “easily gulled.” The wrestler, now claiming to be a local, would issue open challenges that would be answered by a pre-selected opponent from out of town. The opponent would come to town, engage in a war of words with the challenger, and ultimately square off with him in a match.
What’s more, the outcome of these matches was often decided on the fly. Observers would watch the betting on the matches, and depending on who had the most money bet by the third of fourth round, decide the finish based on who could win the more money. By doing so, the promoters and their allies could maximize their profits by betting – and winning – on the perceived underdog.
“It is,” the source concluded, “a settled fact that all the wrestlers, who are abusing each other, are very good friends in reality and put on the disguise of enmity to gull the people more easily.”
The article couldn’t have come at a worse time for Louisville wrestling enthusiasts. The champion of the world, William Muldoon of New York, was in town wrestling against the latest wrestler to make Louisville his home and issue and open challenge to the world. That wrestler was none other than Duncan C. Ross, formerly of Chicago.
The rumors of a fix, combined with some heelish behavior from Muldoon, soured the Louisville sports fans on wrestling. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that men like William Barton and Heywood Allen would succeed in popularizing wrestling in the city again, igniting a passion for the sport that continues to this day.
I had the privilege of meeting a man named Jim Oetkins today. Jim was just a kid when the Allen Club was running on Tuesday nights at the Columbia Gym in Louisville, Kentucky, and he still has the scrapbook he used to record the weekly results. It’s an incredible treasure trove of big names and priceless memories. I’m looking forward to reading through it in the next few weeks.
Jim had some great stories about that era, including a road trip he took with two local stars, Mel Meiners and Sgt. Buck Moore of the Louisville Police Department. Mel (the father of WHAS host Terry Meiners) delivered milk to Jim’s home when he was a kid, and one day, Mel stopped to invite Jim on a road trip. “He was going to Owensboro with Buck Moore and some young guy they were training,” says Oetkins. “My father wasn’t too keen on me going, but he knew Mel, and everyone knew Buck. He was as clean-cut, All-American as you can get.”
Jim rode with Meiners, Moore, and the trainee to Owensboro for a show promoted by former wrestler and Louisville favorite, “Kid Scotty” Williams. On their way into town, Meiners decided to have some fun. “He put on a wrestling mask, and he started to mess with the other drivers,” says Oetkins. “He would roll down the windows, get their attention, and grunt at them! I was afraid we’d all be arrested or something.”
Scotty Williams was on hand at the venue when they arrived along with his wife. “They were wonderful people,” Oetkins remembers. “They also had a joke waiting for Buck. Buck had some rather large breasts for a man, so his wife handed him a gift – a huge bra! ‘I thought you might need this tonight,’ she told him.”
Jim was able to confirm several things I had not been able to fully prove in my research. First and foremost was Scotty Williams’ promotion in Owensboro. I found mention that he was planning to move that way in the old newspaper clippings, but a friend in Owensboro was never able to find anything in their local papers to corroborate the story. Jim also confirmed that in the Lou Thesz-Buddy Rogers rivalry, the majority of local fans actually preferred Rogers over the champion Thesz.
Jim told me that Wild Bill Longson was also a big favorite, despite working as heel much of the time. “He was around for so many years, he was the guy to many people.” He also said there was only one true queen of the ring in that era. “There was something about Mildred Burke that stood out. You could tell she was different than the others.”
Jim was a teenager at the time, and he was old enough to know that something was not on the level with the wrestling he enjoyed every Tuesday night. He put the question to Mel while they were in the car. “Is it really fake?”
Mel thought a moment and answered. “Let me put it this way. I’ve got a wife and several kids at home. And most of the guys I work with, they have kids at home. I’m out here doing a job to help put food in their mouths, and so is the guy I’m wrestling. I don’t want to ruin that guys’ chances to provide for his family, and I hope he doesn’t want to do that for mine. We’re out there to wrestle, but we’re also out there to do a job. And we want to keep on doing that job so we can keep taking care of out families. You know what I’m saying?”
“He didn’t need to say any more,” said Jim. “I thought it was a wonderful way to put it.”
If you’d like to know more about Louisville’s golden age of wrestling, the era of Mel Meiners, Buck Moore, Scotty Williams (not to mention Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Bill Longson, Jim Mitchell, and Mildred Burke, you can find it all in Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club, now available in paperback and on Kindle.
Louisville, Kentucky is unique among wrestling cities because it is one of the few cities to have a female promoter. Teeny Jarrett never served as the booker for Memphis Wrestling, but there was no doubt she was the boss. She kept the fans happy, the wrestlers in line, and the Kentucky Athletic Commissioner at bay for more than two decades. She even gave breaks to a few of Louisville’s most famous wrestling faces, including a Louisville police officer named Dean Hill and a a young teenage photographer named Jim Cornette.
It’s unusual for a city to have one woman serving such a powerful role in a wrestling promotion, but Jarrett wasn’t the first woman to do so. Thirty five years before Teeny’s son Jerry began running at the Louisville Gardens, a pretty young Kindergarten teacher signed her name on the dotted line, becoming a partner and owner of a professional wrestling promotion.
When Heywood Allen went into business for himself, forming the Allen Athletic Club in 1935, a Betty McDonogh made a pretty big leap of her own. The newlywed bride of Allen’s press secretary, former Louisville Sports writer Francis “Mac” McDonogh, left her chosen vocation to become the ticket office manager for the new wrestling promotion. It was a huge risk for her and her husband, but it was a risk that paid dividends for the McDonoghs and the Allen Athletic Club.
Miss Betty, as she was known by the fans, was a remarkable woman with a keen nose for business and marketing. Over the years Betty created and maintained a massive card file of the regular wrestling patrons. She not only had names, addresses, and telephone numbers, she knew where they preferred to sit, what type of matches they enjoyed most, and other details that helped her sell more tickets and keep everyone happy.
Betty kept a relentless schedule, managing a family at home as well as running the business of the promotion. In the late 1940s she gave an interview to the Courier-Journal and outlined a typical day:
7:15 AM – Prepare breakfast.
8:30 – Drop her son Allen at school, return home for house cleaning.
9:15 – Leave home and head to the ticket office.
11:40 – Pick up Allen at school and take him home for lunch. After lunch, drop Allen with his grandmother and return to the office.
1:30 – Back in the office.
5:30 – Leave the office and head home to prepare dinner, unless it’s a show night.
On show nights, Betty was there before the fans to run the ticket table. She greeted everyone personally, many by name, and after the last patron was admitted, it was her job to count the gate. Betty usually stayed until 12:30 or 1 AM to finish up Club business before returning to the McDonogh apartment in Shawnee Park, only to get up at 7 AM the next day and start again.
Betty loved her job, and even as business grew, she refused to cede her responsibilities to anyone – save for a brief hiatus in 1942, when she became a mother to Allen, who was named after Heywood. Betty rarely got to see any of the matches, but she met everyone who worked for the Club and enjoyed their company, describing them as “always very courteous and intelligent nowadays since most are college graduates.”
Fans were often surprised to learn that it was Betty, not Mac, whose name was listed as one of the owners of the Allen Club. From the very beginning, the McDonoghs held a stake in the promotion, and Mac made sure their ownership was in Betty’s name. Betty more than earned her keep as a valued member of the team, especially in the late 1930s.
When business took a dive in 1938, it was Betty, along with Allen’s wife Mabel, who pointed out the lack of females in the crowd. Betty and Mabel believed that the Club could do more to attract female patrons to the matches, and with Mr. Allen’s blessing, they went to work.
Betty suggested giveaways for the ladies including flowers, candy, and other free gifts. They also instituted a “Ladies Night,” when women were admitted free. They also convinced Allen to begin tossing out the rowdier fans who made female patrons uncomfortable. Allen admitted that he often felt the shows were no place for a lady, especially when the fans got out of hand, and he consented to policing the crowd and removing offenders.
Betty’s efforts began to pay off slowly but surely. Beginning in 1939 and continuing through the war (when many of the male patrons were overseas fighting), attendance began to rise. By the mid 1940s the Allen Club was drawing 55% women on Tuesday nights. Louisville was one of the hottest towns in the country, drawing 4000 to 6000 fans for special events at the Armory. Betty was exceedingly proud of her accomplishments.
In 1947 Betty and her husband took another risk, buying out Heywood Allen when he chose to retire from the fight game. It was a calculated risk for Mac because he knew he had a solid business partner by his side. While Mac remained the public face of the Allen Club, Betty continued to manage the box office and handle the money on show nights. The McDonoghs were active in the Louisville community, supporting numerous local charities and events. They frequently hosted wrestlers in their home, and top stars like Baron Leone were their guests at the Kentucky Derby.
Betty took time away only twice: to give birth to their son Gary, and to care for her ailing husband when Mac was diagnosed with cancer in 1946. When Mac passed away in May of 1947, Betty sold the Allen Athletic Club to former Louisville baseball player Al LeCompte. The combination of the ownership change and a forced change of venue brought the promotion to a swift end.
Surprisingly, Betty almost went back into the business a year later. Wee Willie Davis, a wrestler/ movie star/ famous game show winner moved to down and decided to open up a promotion of his own to fill the void. Betty agreed to partner with Davis on his first promotion, and the two applied for a license for what became known as the name Golden Rod Club.
Golden Rod ran for only a few years. When the business closed, Davis went on to open another promotion in conjunction with Dick the Bruiser in Indianapolis. Betty quit the business and went back to teaching, but she remained a member of the ticket sellers union. Gary recalls traveling all over town with her while she sold tickets for this show and that.
Betty made sure her boys got a great education, and both of them made her proud. Dr. Gary McDonogh is a professor of anthropology at Bryn Mawr College, and Dr. Allen McDonogh is a retired professor of political science. Allen and his ex-wife Dr. Karen O’Connor, herself a professor of Political Science at American University, have a daughter named Meghan O’Connor McDonogh who earned her doctorate in Sports Management at the University of Louisville and is now the Associate Athletic Director at the Catholic University of America.
Meghan made her own impact on Louisville’s sports scene as a graduate student at U of L. After founding a club program for women’s lacrosse at the University of Georgia, she began a similar program when she arrived at U of L. Women’s Lacrosse has since become part of the school’s growing Division I athletics program and is growing in popularity among Louisville area high schools.
“I recall a time when my daughter was growing up and she and her friends were caught up with the mega-wrestling,” Allen McDonogh told me. “All were stunned to find I knew anything about wrestling.”
Sadly, neither Karen nor Meghan ever had the opportunity to know Miss Betty. Betty McDonogh passed away in 1971, before Allen and Karen met. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Louisville next to her beloved husband.
No doubt Betty McDonogh’s proudest legacy is her family, but the legacy of the Allen Athletic Club owes as much to her as to Allen and Mac. Betty was there from day one as an owner and a partner. She knew the Louisville audience better than anyone, and her tireless efforts kept the Columbia Gym full in good times and bad. If there were a Hall of Fame for Pro Wrestling in Kentucky, Betty would deserve a place of honor alongside her husband and the Allen Club’s namesake. She is, without a doubt, the First First Lady of Louisville Wrestling.