Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Leaping Larry Chene best Michigan wrestler


            "Leaping" Larry Chene was my friend and teacher.


"MR. HOLLYWOOD" was the name I was using, way before Hulk Hogan used it.

A&E cable television aired a special on the history of wrestling. although it proved wrestling is a show, many of the wrestling secrets weren't revealed. I always liked to watch wrestling matches and I guess it was like show-business to me.

When I was eleven or twelve my Uncle Charles Spivey used to take me to the ARENA, which was a small brick building in the north end of Flint, to see wrestling matches. This was the only sport I liked. We used to go nearly every Saturday night. We'd take a trolley and then go to the Bouquet Ice Cream shop next door to the Arena and buy a multi-colored and flavored, ice cream cone. They were delicious. They had a Juke-box that showed singers singing songs that were played. This was many, many years before videos like today. It was actually film that ran on a screen inside the machine.

The Arena was owned by Leo Donoghue, a former wrestler and a cousin, by marriage, to my Aunt Donna Spivey. It looked small but it could seat close to 2,500 people. A few times we sat ringside but most of the time we were in the general admission bleacher seats, because they were cheaper. I remember a wrestler called Farmer Jones, whom my uncle liked to see. He would be dressed in bib overalls and he would bring a baby pig into the ring with him, as a sort of mascot. When he wrestled, he used to jump down with his hands on the mat and kick his bare feet into the opponent's face. This was called the "donkey" kick. And invariably, the bad guy would would often kick the Farmer's pig when he came into the ring, to make the Farmer mad.

Gorgeous George, was one of the biggest names in wrestling. He had long curly, bleached blond hair and was the first, so called sissy wrestler. Perfume would be sprayed in the air as he came into the ring. He would always wear a satin robe and would toss gold, bobby pins from his hair, into the audience. He would prance around in an effeminate way, but when wrestling started, he would be rough. Well, he looked and acted rough.

Another wrestler called THE SHEIK was a big draw. They said he was from the far east. Well, the far east was East Lansing, Michigan. When he came into the ring, an assistant would lay down a rug so he could kneel down and pray. The assistant would also burn incense into the air. He wore a turban and his trunks and pointed boots, had a camel emblem embroidered on them. He acted real nutty, hitting his head against the ring post, yelling and screaming and looking wild eyed. He would rip the Judge's bell off and use it to hit his opponent. He would often grab a folding chair, from the Judges and hit it against his opponent's head. There would always be a lot of blood coming from his opponent's face.

His biggest opponent, wasn't a good guy, but bad-ass "DICK THE BRUISER." His real name was Bill Afllis. He was a large muscle bound guy, with a crew cut. He would often go though tantrums similar to the Sheik, yelling and screaming. He would take chairs into the ring to use and he would often have something hidden in his trunks, that he would use, a piece of lead pipe or brass knuckles. The Sheik had a gimmick where he would throw a fireball into his opponent's face. These so called fireballs can be purchased in any magic or trick shop. One time the match at the Arena, ended up on the sidewalk in front, where one had chased the other, and, supposedly, were beating one another's head on the sidewalk. When they came back into the building they would be covered in blood. Of course this led to a rematch, not in the Arena, but at the I.M.A. Auditorium in downtown Flint, that would seat 5,000 people. These guys were showmen.

When I was older, in my teens, I used to go alone or I would take my cousin Sharon, who also liked wrestling. Gorgeous George was replaced by Percival E. Pringle. He was another bleached blond who wore black tights and a leotard tank top. He would prance around the ring and do things bad guys wrestlers were supposed to do. I would sit ringside and be rootin' for him to win. If I would see an opening for him, I would encourage him to use it. And I would yell it out loud enough for him to hear me when I suggested he "pull their hair, pull their hair," which he would do, when he would be pinned down on the mat and his hands would be free. Or I would say, "kick him, kick him," and he would. But, the little old ladies sitting next to me used to hit me and I would get it as bad as the wrestler, but it was fun.

I used to wear a blue, college type jacket with white leather sleeves and I had WWF WRESTLING embroidered on the back. I used to wear it to all of the matches. One time at an outdoor match in the Beecher district of Flint, I was so taken up in the action, when the good guys would be getting beaten up by the bad guys, that I started to get into the ring. I would have been killed! My emotions were out of control. So, after that, the only way to control my emotions was to be for the bad guys.

I had my magazine shop, Le Stag Shoppe, and was making good money but decided I wanted to become a wrestler. I had already contacted Bert Ruby in Detroit, who was a wrestling promoter and a manager of many wrestlers. Bert was the first person to train midget and women wrestlers. And they were always a big draw. He introduced, Little Beaver (an Indian type wrestler), Fuzzy Cupid, Sky Low Low, and Irish Jackie.

I used to arrange interviews for wrestlers whenever they came to Flint. I would drive to the W.T.A.C. radio station where they would be interviewed "live" the day of the wrestling matches. It helped business as well as helping the radio station by announcing they would be doing a live interview and people would tune in. One time The Beast came into Le Stag with his manager. The Beast was a real hairy guy but bald like the actor, Tor Johnson, who was also a wrestler. The Beast was from parts unknown, and didn't speak or understand any English. When his manager asked me how long before we could go? (I was waiting for an employee clerk to come in), I told him and then I noticed the Beast, looked at his wrist. He forgot he wasn't wearing his watch and that he wasn't supposed to understand English. Anyway, his manager did the interview at the station, while the Beast stood by watching. Of course their presence in my bookstore, helped my business too.

The best, good-guy, was "Leaping" Larry Chene. He was a well built, muscled wrestler but, on the short side. Like Hulk Hogan used to be, Larry was the King. He was called leaping because he used what was termed as the flying head scissors. He would flip-leap at his opponent, wrap his legs around their neck, then flip them over. It was skillful and dangerous and hardly ever used by wrestlers today. I believe Ricky Starr, on the West Coast also used this trick.

I got to know Larry pretty well and one time he said he had promised a fan, who owned a pizza restaurant, that he would stop in sometime. So, we drove there together and boy what a reception. They freaked out that Larry, unexpectedly, was there in their restaurant. He signed autographs and we ate pizza and then left to do the radio interview.

I had bought some weights and started weight lifting in my apartment. I wanted to become a wrester, a villain, and would use the name "Mr. Hollywood." (Sorry Hogan, I thought of it first.) I wanted to peroxide my hair and do all of the other showy stuff. Uncle Charles was working at the Foot Health Clinic, where he made custom leather shoes for persons with deformed feet. I think they were called space shoes. He would make a mold of a person's foot and then build a leather shoe around it. They were made of the finest leather and would last for years, and of course they were expensive. At that time, they were the only place in the country that made shoes like that. But he and his wife, who worked with him, would develop health problems because of the fumes from the glue they had inhaled over the years. There was never proper ventilation and they both died at an early age. Charles wanted to make me a rattlesnake skin, skull mask. Unfortunately, the snakeskin wouldn't mold right, and it didn't fit.

There was a muscle bound Russian, by the name of Tytar, who lived in Flint and he wanted to become a wrestler. Another friend, Bill Newstead, had introduced us. Tytar was one of those lucky people who had a natural, muscled physique, and didn't have to work out much. He had a gorgeous body but a rugged face, and would have to be a villain. I was to be his manager. In those days, wrestlers came into the city early, the afternoon of the matches and they would teach wrestling. Larry Chene and a Mexican wrestler, Ricky "Crusher" Cortez, were the main teachers. In wrestling matches, Larry was always the good guy and Ricky was the villain.

We started out by getting into the ring and having to throw ourselves backward, landing flat on our back. This sounds easy, but to fall flat is hard to do. And we had to stretch out our arms and slap the mat as we landed. This would spread the shock, along our arms and we wouldn't feel the pain as much. Once we got good at that, a folding chair would be placed in the center of the ring. We would have to run and somersault over and land on our back. Getting enough nerve to do this the first time, was hard enough. A few guys dropped out and quit before trying it. When you jumped into the air over the chair, the trick was to tuck your chin down against your chest. This automatically brought your body over and you would land on your back. And again you had to slap the mat with your arms to distribute the shock. Whenever you see a wrestler put his arm behind another wrestler's neck and one under his arm and he walks a few feet and seems to throw the wrestler across the ring, this is duplicating the jumping over the chair. You are actually jumping, with his help to get you high enough to do a successful landing. He doesn't even have to use any pressure. You are just walking and tumbling. But, it looks good.

We would meet in Pontiac, Michigan one afternoon and maybe be in Lansing, Michigan the next. Being Tytar's manager, didn't make me a wrestler, although I wore trunks, tights and learned the exercises. And I had to learn as much as he did. But, Tytar couldn't learn the art. He couldn't respond to the action. When Larry put a headlock on him, Tytar just stood there with his arms dangling by his side. He didn't try to struggle to get out or to get away. Larry said, "if I really had a headlock on you, where would your hands be?" Tytar just stood there. I guess he was awe struck, just to be in the ring with Larry Chene. Then Larry pushed him away, grabbed me and made me flip him, then he reversed it and threw me down. He said it was like wrestling with his wife. I was over 200 pounds. He must have had a big wife-smile! I was about twenty years old.

One of the most important things you have to learn is to take a "big fall" and land on your back. To do this, you had to climb up on the third rope, (in the corner), dive head first toward the center of the ring, tuck your head, flip over and land on your back. Ouch! And at that height, it is traumatic. Nobody wanted to jump from the third rope. They would do it from the second, but not the third. Actually, from the third, it should have been easier, since you needed height to hit the center of the ring. I loved diving and was the first to try it. Unfortunately, I didn't jump far enough toward the center of the ring and I landed on my shoulder, not my back and when my hips came down, something gave and went out of place. I could barely get up. This ended my wrestling career.

Since then, I have often had back problems but was cured through acupuncture. But, now I have a diseased lumbar disc that may have started from the wrestling training. Tytar wouldn't have made it anyway, so I didn't feel bad. Larry ignored him. Prior to this I had hurt my heels by letting my heels hit first, while doing a beal, instead of letting my feet hit "flat" instead of on my heels. That was a painful lesson. I was supposed to pad the inside back of the boots anyway, with a sponge or something to protect my heels.

They used to say wrestling was a fake. Well it is and isn't really fake. It is an art and for a show. Many wrestlers get seriously hurt by accidents. When they go over the top rope, they often hit the edge of the ring, which is wood, and many have broken their ribs. I know one who broke a rib but continued to wrestle. He whispered into his opponent's ear and told him to quickly get him down for a three count. Can you imagine a wrestler having to stop a match because he was hurt? To the public, this is what is supposed to happen to them when they get into the ring. In all reality, all of the wrestlers are close friends. There aren't any enemies. Common logic tells you that it is a show. When big names are booked, several nights a week, in big auditoriums, you know they can't get seriously hurt. There is too much money involved. Can you imagine a sell-out crowd in Los Angeles, or any other big city and then the main attraction not being there because they were hurt in the ring some place else?

There are serious accidents and many wrestlers have also died in the ring. But it is a show, a serious show. I recall one match in Los Angeles, when a "fan" had a heart attack, when the bad guy won a big match.

Years later, there had been an empty theater in Flint, called the Michigan. It was closed for a long time. Someone had leased it and had half the main floor seats removed, and built a dance floor. I mentioned this to Bert Ruby. He sent another promoter there to look it over. They decided to have a few matches there, and the place sold out. My Uncle Charles, who had taken me to the Arena, came by with his family. I introduced them to Larry and they were elated. Funny how things change over time, from watching, to being there.

I never discussed the things that were kept sort of secret. I learned that some wrestlers take a single edge razor blade,(with tape wrapped around the side), exposing just the sharp part of the blade protruding. Then they use it to cut their forehead. They just pound it back and forth on their forehead making it bleed. Eventually, this creates scar tissue. And if it is done enough times, there will be a lot of scar tissue. The Bruiser, Sheik and even Chene had scar tissue on their forehead. Then, while wrestling, this scar tissue is often broken open to make real blood come out on their face. This would be for the larger, big venue matches. Larry had a small pocket inside his trunks, where he kept a razor blade for big matches. The tape would be wrapped around the blade for an easier and safe grip. Larry was always running his thumbs around the top of his trunks, like he was pulling them up. And then he could get the blade between his knuckles. With a headlock of his opponent, he would punch them in the forehead with just the edge of the blade sticking out (and it would be hidden from the audience), and hit the guy breaking the scar tissue. Blood would be running everywhere.

They thought that the hitting, alone, had created the blood. Larry would have to quickly put the blade back into his trunks, without being seen. The crowd would always be watching the bleeding guy, and like a Magician, with misdirection, nobody would be watching Larry, so he could put the blade back unnoticed. But, one time, at the Michigan, the blade flew out of his hand, over the apron and he panicked. He didn't want anyone to see or to find it. But, he got away without anyone noticing it. I know he searched for it after the auditorium was empty as we left the building.

(Note: Telling about the razor blade is my factual story. I wrote it a few years ago, and had blogged it. The movie "THE WRESTLER" with Mickey Rourke, showed this in the film. It was my factual story. The movie people copied me, I never copied their movie.)

I heard that there were capsules filled with powdered animal blood, that would be used and when the capsule would be bitten, the saliva would mix with the powdered blood and run out, looking like real blood. This could have been another use for the pocket in Larry's trunks. I never discussed this with anyone else. Just the basics of wrestling was tough enough without learning drastic displays that would draw a bigger crowd the next time. Sometimes the doctors would inject their forehead and freeze it, like when you get a tooth pulled. Then when they would get cut, there would be no pain. I know that some wrestlers wanted cauliflower ears. Many boxers had them too. They would use a block of wood and would smack it against their ears, breaking the tissue and forming a warped ear. Burt Ruby had these type of ears too.

Many of the Michigan wrestlers had day jobs in the automobile factories. And they would wrestle at night. The wrestling pay was small, not like the big pay of wrestlers today, and they would wrestle in high school auditoriums or gyms, more for charity than making a living at it. But you have to consider the brief time they are in the ring too. When "BOBO Brazil," a black wrestler who had wrestled once at the Michigan, I remember he was paid $25. He was a big name on the West Coast but was visiting in Michigan and he would do the gig just to keep in shape, and to help out Bert Ruby.

The biggest fear for the wrestlers, is the audience. Too many people like myself, would get emotionally involved and women would often try to stick the bad guys with safety pins or hat pins as they walked past. In Battle Creek, Chauncey Pringle brother of Percival, was in a bar after the match and was stabbed by an irate fan who didn't like the bad guy wrestlers. So, wrestlers would usually leave town after the matches were over.

Larry used to wrestle somewhere in Michigan, every night of the week. One night driving back home to Detroit he fell asleep at the wheel, and the car went off the side of the road and he was killed. It was very sad going to Detroit to view his body in a casket. I took my friends Larry Koviack and Russell Skaggs, who were wrestling fans, with me.

While writing this chapter, Edward Farhat (The Sheik) died at the age of 76 in Williamston, Michigan, near Lansing. He died of a heart attack. After Burt Ruby died, he bought into Big Time Wrestling, which was the Michigan franchise of the National Wrestling Alliance. I talked with his wife and she said she would be sending me photos for this chapter, (She never did). But, I have one. I have many memories of these days, mostly good ones. I was disappointed that I never got to be in front of a real crowd. I would have loved being boo'd.


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