In 1958 Disney re-released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to theaters in the USA. I was in Phoenix at the time visiting my cousins with my folks. One afternoon all the kids were stacked into a 1942 Plymouth (with the velvet rope of safety across the back of the front bench seat) and dropped off at a local movie house to watch the twenty year old animated film. It was easily as satisfying as Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier which I had enjoyed for free simply by wearing my School Safety Patrol sweater one Saturday in San Diego.
Around the same time the Arizona men folk sponsored an excursion to the Phoenix Madison Square Garden for a rousing card of professional wrestling.
Rasslin’ was big in the early days of television. On the night of the week dedicated to the sport, I would sit on the floor in my grandfather’s house watching a flickering black and white image on an eleven inch television. My favorite was Alfred Lord Blears but such titanic egos as Gorgeous George were common on the card at the Olympic Auditorium or Legion Stadium.
I still remember most of the card from that night in Phoenix: Chief Jay Strongbow, Mr. Moto, Fritz von Eric,
Buddy Rodgers, Dick Hutton. If I remember correctly, Dick Hutton was the champ and Buddy Rodgers the contender and when Hutton was on the verge of defeating Rodgers, Fritz raced into the ring and smashed a folding chair across Cowboy’s face, knocking out three or four bloody teeth.
This was great stuff for a twelve year old.
Later, when I enjoyed the freedom of a driver’s license, a small group of my friends would descend on the local television station for a Saturday night with the then lesser known Regis Philbin. Regis. being an astute purveyor of talent, often had professional wrestlers on his show, Real talent like Classy Freddie Blassie. At that time The Destroyer (Dick Breyer) had defeated Japan’s Rikidozan and was all the rage. Growing up twelve miles from the Mexican border, masked wrestlers were a common sight and The Destroyer was a good one. One Saturday night Regis hosted The Destroyer and his then shadow, Don Manoukian. Manoukian always talked out of one side of his mouth like a gangster in a Bugs Bunny cartoon but that night when they went to a commercial, Don broke character and spoke like a normal person. Suddenly realizing his error, Don stuffed his well-chewed cigar butt back in the corner of his mouth and gave us his best Little Caesar: Is this the end of Rico?
Professional wrestling seems to fluctuate in popularity and currently is carefully presented as entertainment. It’s fun to review the various characters that have climbed into the ring through the years. I’ll probably never have the experiences like I had in Phoenix but the memories of Snow White and Cowboy Dick Hutton are strong and curiously pleasant.