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The WAWLI Papers by J Michael Kenyon


Seattle Times, March 6, 1940
Reprinted in The WAWLI Papers, Volume 2, Number 33

Chief Little Wolf Tenaro, 28-year-old professional wrestler, today "stopped" the coroner's inquest into the death of John Stevens, wrestling referee, by declaring that he "did not get these cauliflower ears answering telephones," then stripping to the waist and permitting a spectator to pummel him in the stomach.   Tenaro's appearance on the witness stand followed testimony yesterday that the "horseplay" of the wrestling "stage," which includes fisticuffs between wrestlers and referees, is prearranged in defiance of an order from the State Athletic Commission.

Tenaro, well-known in Seattle rings as one of the most colorful wrestlers, provided a highlight of today's inquest session when Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt asked the witness to show the jury how well-developed a wrestler had to be.   Smiling, and bowing an apology to the women on the jury, Tenaro slipped off his coat, brown shirt and white undershirt.   "You don't think a man has to be tough to be in this business? Tenaro asked, flexing huge biceps and tightening the muscles of his abdomen.   Come on up here and take a punch at my stomach.   Hit me as hard as you can.   Come on.   Hit me any place."

Harry Pittson, 4524 33rd Ave. W, a wrestling fan, stepped forward.   Pittson swung hard blows with his right fist into Tenaro's abdomen.   The wrestler smiled during the exhibition, shook hands with Pittson, then replaced his clothes.

Of a more serious nature, however, was Tenaro's statement that the State Athletic Commission should never have permitted Stevens, who had a weak heart, to enter the ring.   Stevens died in a Civic Auditorium dressing room Friday night (March 1, 1940) after LaVerne Baxter, Monroe, Ore., wrestler, staged "horseplay" fisticuffs with Stevens after the referee had awarded the bout to John Katan, Montreal.

"Nobody else is to blame but the State Athletic Commission," Tenaro, who wears his coal-black hair in long curls over his neck, said.   "They never should have let him in the ring.   When a wrestler gets funny with a referee, the commission should slap a heavy fine on that man.   I couldn't get away with it in other states."

Under questioning by Mittelstadt and Prosecutor B. Gray Warner, Tenaro declared there is much horseplay in wrestling but insisted matches are not faked to any great extent.   "I've played all sports," the witness said.   "You call it horseplay and baloney.   I call it color.   Max Baer, the boxer, has horseplay, only people call it color.   But when the going gets tough, you can bet I'm in there to win.   If a wrestler is not on top, he doesn't make money."

The coroner asked if arrangements were made prior to bouts as to which wrestler is to win.   "Never," was the indignant answer.   "I punch them in the nose if they talk that way.   You know, everybody thinks wrestlers are bums.   They're all high-class men.   Most of them are college graduates.   They've all got nice homes.   I'm known all over the world.   I don't owe anybody a dime."

Tenaro said the pay wrestlers receive "depends on the house." Spectators, who filled the courtroom, laughed when he said sometimes he wrestled "for peanuts." In New York City, however, he sometimes is paid $5,000 a match, he said.   Tenaro declared he is not "controlled" by anybody, adding that "some promoters try to get funny, but I just walk out of town.   Anybody who thinks wrestling is all hooey, doesn't know," Tenaro testified.   "Wrestling is serious business."

First witness of the forenoon session was Mrs. Jack L. Zander, 175 Dravus St.   She said she saw the match Friday night, her second visit to a wresling show.   She insisted that Baxter was not engaged in horseplay when he struck Stevens, pulled his shirt off and kicked him when he fell to the mat.   "I stood on my chair and yelled that he was killing him because you could see that the referee was unconscious," Mrs. Zander testified.   "I don't see how any man stand those kicks without injury, or death."

Asked if she thought the fisticuffs were not part of the regular wrestling horseplay, Mrs. Zander replied:   "That was no show.   Baxter was so angry, he lost control."

A different view was taken by Everett Mathews, 4226 Brooklyn Ave., another spectator.   Mathews, who said he saw many wrestling shows because he enjoyed them, declared Baxter's treatment of the referee looked like "part of the show." He said he did not see Baxter kick Stevens.

Gordon Hopkins, radio sports commentator, testified Stevens "had absolutely no business in the ring after awarding Katan the bout."   Stevens met his death through "his own negligence," Hopkins, who broadcasts the matches, testified.   Baxter's actions toward Stevens were not "malicious" but part "of the show," the witness said.

Hopkins compared Baxter's roughness to Prime Minister Chamberlain's umbrella and the underslung pipe of former Vice President Charles Dawes, all of them being "stocks in trade," according to the witness.

W.C.B. Fisher, 1611 Eighth Ave. N., member of the audience who has witnessed wrestling bouts for fifteen years, said he did not believe Baxter was angry when he hit Stevens.   Detective Lieut. James Lawrence said police investigation resulted in a report that Stevens died a natural death due to excitement.

Contrasting testimony was given late yesterday by Harvey Donaldson, wrestler's second, and John Katan, wrestler, Montreal.   Donaldson frankly said professional wrestling is prearranged and the agonizing "grunts and groans" of wrestlers are faked.   Katan, however, declared he did not know of prearrangements for the horseplay and that he did not know of predetermination of the winning wrestler.

Also featuring yesterday's afternoon session was the declaration by Dr.   Gale Wilson, county autopsy surgeon, and Dr. Alfred L.   Bailie, pathologist, that the 50-year-old referee died of heart disease and not from kicks and a fall he received in a crowd-luring tussle after officiating the match Friday between Katan and Baxter.

Although Katan was noncommital in response to most questions about wrestling "secrets," he declared that Ted Thye, Portland, Ore., wrestling promoter, arranges bookings for most wrestlers in the Pacific Northwest.

Typical of Donaldson's disclosure that wrestling is not a competitive sport but a show for the spectators was his use of the term "stage" for the wrestling ring.   Donaldson, one-time national amateur featherweight wrestling champion, said he prevented a spectator from hurling a whiskey bottle at Baxter and Stevens in the after bout melee.   Donaldson said he told the spectator, "Don't get excited.   It's only entertainment."

Prosecutor Warner asked Donaldson if the fisticuffs between referee and wrestlers after bouts is prearranged.   "Usually we do," Donaldson said.   "We have orders from the commission not to do it, yet we do it to help out the show."

Donaldson, declaring the only place in Seattle to witness real wrestling is at the University of Washington team matches, said wrestlers often cry out in simulated agony but "are not getting hurt at all."   Howard E. Foster, attorney, had testified earlier that in two years of witnessing wrestling matches regularly, he had never seen anything other than clean, comp;etitive wrestling except in two instances, yet Donaldson testified: "I don't see how anybody could be fooled."

Millard Douglas, 23, Katan's second, said he was "not in" on any prearrangements.

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