What do you do after winning a huge prize on a game show? For “Wee Willie” Davis, the $24,000 answer was, “You open a wrestling promotion.”
Allegedly standing at 6’6” and weighing 285 pounds, “Wee Willie” Davis was a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute with a degree in horticulture and a masters in mechanical engineering. Davis applied his engineering skills when he and fellow wrestler Prince Ilaki Ibn Ali Hassan invented the Glowmeter, an early version of a “heads up display” that projected a car’s speed on the windshield – this all the way back in 1950.
A football player and track and field athlete in college, Davis made a smooth transition to professional wrestling. He was often paired with Frank Jares, either as a tag team or as rivals, and he is credited with giving former boxer Primo Carnera his first cauliflower eat.
Having moved to the West Coast after college, Davis parlayed his success as a wrestler into a successful film career. His film credits include Reap the Wild Wind, Mighty Joe Young, Samson and Delilah, Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, The Asphalt Jungle, Son of Paleface, and To Catch a Thief.
Davis only made a handful of appearances for the Allen Athletic Club in the 1940s and 1950s, but it was after a pair of game show spots that Davis made his biggest mark on Louisville wrestling. Davis won $16,000 on The $64,000 Question and another $8000 on The $64,000 Challenge. An avid gardener, Davis appeared on the former show as an expert on horticulture, surprising many viewers who only knew him from his movie roles and wrestling persona.
Davis relocated to Louisville with a plan to invest his game show winnings. Less than a year after the Allen Athletic Club closed for good, he partnered with Francis McDonough’s widow Betty to open the Golden Rod Club, a new wrestling promotion licensed in Louisville.
Golden Rod was not the only show in town when they opened shop in 1958. A promoter named Kara George already held a license for the so-called Louisville Athletic Club, but George’s inability to secure a venue opened the door for Davis and McDonough. They held their first show on March 11 at the Armory featuring names like Freddie Blassie, Wilbur Snyder, and Bill Longson.
Golden Rod struggled to find an audience, and early on, Davis found himself contemplating closing the promotion. Golden Rod only lasted a few short years.
Davis found a number of ways to keep himself in the news while living in Louisville. In 1959 Davis was in attendance at a playoff hockey game between the Louisville Rebels of the International Hockey League and the Troy (OH) Bruins. During the third period, a fight broke out in the penalty box between a Louisville player and a Troy player.
Hoping to “do a good deed,” Davis intervened in the melee. He never saw the Troy goalie, John “Plumber” Craig coming as he skated in and whacked Davis across the head.
When order was finally restored, Davis and a Louisville player were taken to Kentucky Baptist Hospital. Davis required 35 stitches to close the gash in his head, and a few days later, he appeared in a newspaper photo sporting a bandage covering his head and holding the goalie’s stick. Davis sued the Louisville and Troy hockey clubs as well as the company that booked the Armory for $12,500.
Davis was the first to admit he made a mistake, telling the Courier-Journal, “I shoulda kept my nose out.” Davis likely had taught a few fans a hard lesson about staying out of the ring in his many years as a wrestler. Hockey players fight, and just like in wrestling, if you step into their ring, you’re going to pay a penalty.
“I don’t blame the guys who hit me,” he said. “I was mad at the time, but actually I had no business there.”
Davis made the front page again in October of that same hear right as the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to open hearings on the legitimacy of television game shows. In the wake of the scandal involving the quiz show Twenty One among others, Davis came forward to claim he had received “no help” in preparing to be on The $64,000 Question. “They wouldn’t even loan me a book,” he said, referring to the reference book question writers used to prepare for his appearance on the show.
In 1961 Davis reorganized under the name Wilemar Athletic Club. As Wilemar, Davis partnered with the Indianapolis wrestling office, which would soon come under control of Wilbur Snyder and his partner, Indiana’s favorite wrestling legend Dick the Bruiser.
In Bobby Heenan’s autobiography, Heenan recalls seeing just how tough Davis could be as a promoter. Heenan was sitting in the locker room back stage at the Armory when Johnny Valentine burst in and locked the door behind him. Valentine had gotten into an altercation in the arena, punching a fan and a police officer, and Valentine was not keen to go to jail. The police pounded on the door, while the teenage Heenan watched a desperate Valentine from a bench, too scared to move.
It was “Wee Willie” Davis, not the Louisville police, who ended the stand off with Valentine. Davis grabbed a fighting stick, went into the dressing room, and beat Valentine over the head until he hit the ground. The cops got the cuffs on Valentine and escorted him from the building.
Davis found himself in custody in September of 1963 following an incident with a masked man at the Armory. “The Masked Terror” had just left the ring and was walking back to the locker room when he decided to take a swing at a fan. The fan turned out to be an off-duty policeman, who was taken to the hospital for treatment.
The Masked Terror escaped out the back door, and the police demanded answers. Davis refused to break kayfabe and tell police who the Masked Terror was or where he might be. Davis was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
“Wee Willie” Davis would spend more time in the Jefferson County jail during the 1970s, but on the other side of the bars. Davis became a sheriff and worked as a guard at the jail for a few years before retiring.
Davis kept wrestling alive during a transitional era in Louisville. He never had the box office success of the Allen Club before him nor Memphis wrestling after, but Davis filled a void for the fans who had not lost their passion for wrestling in the wake of Francis McDonough’s death.
“Wee Willie” Davis passed away on April 9, 1981 at the age of 74 in his adopted home town of Louisville.