Wild Red Berry
Remembering Red Berry and the quests that he traveled will be a monumental task left to the ages of time. Not many people actually knew the real Red Berry. The man. The family person. And the giver.
Aside from the groups that he admitted to, Red was a Mason and was involved with the Shriners, those beautiful fez-wearing, parade-going people who put their own families behind their work of helping kids with medical problems.
Red and I first became friends in New York in the late 60's. It wasn't much later when he decided it was time for him to retire to his home in Pittsburg, Kansas. I never got a chance to travel much with him, but I did later meet with him again in Kansas at a card in a town not far from where he lived. We did keep in contact with each other by mail on a regular basis.
Wild Red Berry was born Ralph Berry in 1907 and began his colorful career as a boxer in 1923. He won the Kansas State Middleweight title after defeating everybody he faced. Brittle hands caused him to change professions to wrestling. By 1937, he had won the first of many titles.
Despite his lack of height (he stood 5'8"), he managed to gradually pack on weight until he could tangle with the larger men. He was a guy who did a lot of different stunts to attract attention to the wrestling arenas.
One time, he climbed a tree in front of Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas and stayed there for three days. The Kansas City Star dubbed him "The WILD MAN", and thus the name Wild Red Berry was given and hung on him for the rest of his life.
He captured the World's Light Heavyweight title from Hugh Nichols, the Texas Heavyweight crown from Blackie Guzman, and the Junior Heavyweight diadem from Danny McShane. In his years of wrestling, Red met most of the top stars and developed a technique that made him one of wrestling's most colorful performers. He became known for his pet hold, the "Gilligan Twist."
In his younger years, while developing his body to be the athlete he was to become, Red recalled, "I'll bet I painted the Pittsburg YMCA a dozen times. It was the only way I could pay my dues."
Born in Pittsburg, Kansas, he grew into political circles until he held the job of Commissioner of Parks. He also had been the acting mayor on two occasions. He was usually introduced in the ring as The Mayor of Pittsburg.
It was during World War II that Red toured the Army camps giving Judo and hand-to-hand combat exhibitions. He also published a book on the subject that attained popularity.
In the third stage of his career, Red became a manager of wrestlers. He will never be forgotten as the flamboyant, fast-talking ballyhoo mentor of The Fabulous Kangaroos, Al Costello and Roy Heffernan. They were quite a trio, and they ran rampant right to the top of the heap.
Red became one of the best after-dinner speakers on the grappling circuit. His appearances on radio and television brought squeals of joy from his host of followers. Red once said, "I like to talk. I like to express myself to the best of my ability. Despite my not having a formal or college education, I consider myself vociferous and most articulate." Red only went to the seventh grade in Pittsburg, but was self-taught and could do anything he set his mind to do.
Red also did the movie thing and was in a show called "My Wife's Best Friend," where he played the part of a trainer at a men's conditioning camp.
Red passed away in 1973 of a heart attack at age 66. He was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Tulsa just the year before.
Wherever lovers of the spoken word gather, Ralph "Wild Red" Berry will never be forgotten. He was a pixie-like man who loved to talk and loved life. He loved people, and they, in turn, loved him back.
Rest in Peace, my Brother.
Percival A. Friend, Retired
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