Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

August 12, 2012


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:13 am






I once heard someone ask the question, “What one word can cause a room full of little old grandmothers to start cursing?”  The answer was “Bingo!”  That may be true, but I have found another phrase that will turn grandmothers and even children unto raving maniacs – “Pro Wrestling”.  I discovered this phenomenon way back in the early 1970s while living in Houston, Texas.

My young son, Doug, was a fan of professional wrestling at an early age.  Instead of watching cartoons on television he would turn to channel 39 and watch the pro wrestler’s bouts for hours.  I would remind him that most of the matches were rigged and merely a show, but he would counter with, “I know, Dad, but I still  love to watch them.”

When Doug was around ten years old he told us that all he wanted for his birthday that year was a trip to the Sam Houston Coliseum to watch the wrestling matches.  We had not even considered this but he kept begging so much that we relented and took him one Friday night.  It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.

The four of us, Clara, Kay, (the older sister), Doug and I entered the old coliseum that evening and were somewhat disappointed at our surroundings.  The Sam Houston Coliseum was a dark, dingy, smelly old municipal building in downtown Houston that was used mostly by heavy metal concerts, religious revivals, second rate circuses, and….pro wrestling.

Paul Boesch was a wrestling promoter who would bring in just about any wrestler if the guy could draw money.  Wrestling in Houston goes back before the First World War, and between 1915 and 1923 there were matches at irregular intervals.  In the mid 1920s, Julius Sigel started Houston’s City Auditorium.  Soon the top wrestlers were coming to Houston on a steady basis for the Friday night shows.

Paul Boesch started his career as a professional wrestler.  After a serious car accident in 1947, the Brooklyn, NY born Boesch had to hang up his wrestling tights to become a successful promoter of wrestling in Houston.  He was the radio announcer at ringside and when TV came to Houston in January of 1949, he graduated to the boob tube, without ever having seen a television himself.

For the first nine months of telecasting he started with the Star Spangled Banner and wound up when the lights went out.  The early days of wrestling were exciting as people stood in front of TV sets placed in store windows to watch wrestling.  Finger Furniture store in downtown Houston always had a crowd of wrestling spectators watching their strategically placed television sets. Always Friday night was wrestling party night in someone’s home.

Back to the coliseum.  The four of us located our seats fairly close to ringside.  I could not help but gaze around at the spectators.  I whispered to my wife, “Looks like a pretty motley crew here tonight.  Hang on to the kids.”  I noted what looked like sweet little old grandmotherly types at ringside  I was somewhat surprised at the large number of them.

Soon the matches started and the mood of the crowd changed, including the grandmothers and my two kids.  As the matches wore on I was surrounded by fanatics yelling, “Kill him!  Tear his head off! Throw him out of the ring!” Even my usually quiet daughter was getting into the action.  Fans behind us constantly stood up showering us with popcorn, drinks, and foul language.  Cigar smoke wafting through the air made seeing the ring difficult.  My eyes began to water.

The sweet little old grandmothers at ringside went berserk.  They yelled at the wrestlers, spat upon them, threw anything they could find into the ring, a few of them even tried to climb into the ring with the wrestlers.  Man, were they having a good time.  After a couple of hours of this mayhem, the matches mercifully came to an end.  The four us made a fast trip back to our parked car and headed home.  Doug was wide-eyed with excitement after seeing his wrestling heroes, Playboy Gary Hart, Red Bastien, Ivan Putski, Billy Graham (no, not the preacher) , and Tony Atlas alive and in the flesh.  “Dad”, he said, “I want to do this again next year.” All I could think of to say to him was, “We’ll see, Doug.  We’ll see.”


A footnote here.  After 55 years of working in the industry as a wrestler, announcer, and promoter, Paul Boesch retired in 1987 due to health reasons.  He died on March 7, 1989 after suffering a heart attack in Sugarland, Texas.  Those who know about such things say that Houston wrestling has never been the same since Boesch retired.  I do know that my son, now grown with children of his own has been known to drive to Greensboro Coliseum to watch professional matches in recent years.  I still say the same thing to him, “Doug, you realize that these things are just a show.  They are rigged.”   He reply is always the same, “I know, Dad, but I still enjoy watching them.  It takes a strong man to stand up to the beatings they receive.”  I am too old to argue with my son now.





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