Pro wrestling had a hold on Walter J. Moore that was tighter than a full nelson and a figure-four leglock.

For nearly 40 years, he served as a promoter for the Akron Armory, entertaining generations of fans with “the world’s greatest wrestlers.”

He booked such stars as Gorgeous George, Killer Kowalski, Lou Thesz, Bobo Brazil, Argentina Rocca, Buddy Rogers, Fred Blassie, Verne Gagne, Dick Hutton, Bruno Sammartino, Bearcat Wright, Yukon Eric and Angelo Poffo.

He introduced Akron to Lord Athol Layton, Fritz Von Erich, Irish McGee, Haystacks Calhoun, Hans Schmidt, Chief Don Eagle, Johnny Powers, Ali Baba, the Sheik, the Masked Marvel, the Crusher, the Zebra Kid and a young Andre the Giant.

“Those were the good years,” he reminisced in the late 1970s. “The rasslers and me trusted each other. We’d split the take in the dressing room after the matches and everybody was happy.”

Moore was gruff and tough, a colorful character who stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 275 pounds, blending in easily with the wrestlers he promoted. He was funny, too.

“I might lose 25 pounds and feel good, but if I drop below 250, hell, I feel like I’m losing my balance,” Moore said of his girth.

He was born in 1905 in Tennessee near the state line with Alabama, and moved to Akron in 1924 with only $7.35 in his pocket. He landed a job at B.F. Goodrich, rising to the position of foreman.

Moore and his wife, Angeline, and their son, Walter Jr., lived on a farm in Copley, and he supplemented his income at the Akron Armory, working as an assistant to promoter Carl Singleton in the late 1930s and taking over full time in 1941.

For his first show in 1942, Moore grossed a paltry $35 with tickets selling for 75 cents and $1 in the mostly empty 2,500-seat venue.

“A bit later, I brought in Two-Ton Tony Galento,” Moore recalled. “I threw a big dinner for him before the show — and more people showed up for the dinner than the show.”

He stuck with it, though, and by 1943, he started grossing $900 (nearly $16,000 today), eventually drawing capacity crowds.

One of Moore’s claims to fame was talking Gorgeous George into going platinum blond in the 1940s. Moore got the idea after hearing Beacon Journal sports editor Jim Schlemmer ask the Gorgeous One: “What makes you think you’re gorgeous?”

“Well, that got us to thinking and I finally convinced George that he ought to change the color of his hair, which was coal black,” Moore said. “We decided on either canary yellow or snow white and so we flipped a coin. I won and voted for snow white.”

George got his first permanent at the Black and Silver Beauty Shoppe on South Main Street. Next up were lavender robes and perfume mists.

“After that, George got bigger and bigger,” Moore said.

The promoter had hundreds of stories. One day, boxing great Jack Dempsey was in town to serve as a wrestling referee. As the pugilist dined at The Met downtown, he was introduced to a boy whose father had been killed in World War II.

“Well, when that boy came into the room, Jack pushed his dinner aside, took the boy up on his lap and had some pictures taken,” Moore told the Beacon Journal. “Yes, Jack Dempsey was something special.”

Less impressive in Moore’s view was Primo Carnera: “All he wanted to do when he came to town was eat spaghetti and drink wine.”

Once when Moore was working as a referee, he nearly got flattened by 625-pound Blimp Levy, who fell on him during a six-man Rassle Royal. The other five wrestlers piled on, too.

“My God, it was awful,” Moore said. “I thought sure I was gonna meet The Man. You could have picked off my eyeballs with a baseball bat and I must have throwed up for an hour after they finally peeled the Blimp … and the other fellows offa me.”

During a benefit for the Shriners, Moore refereed a match between Bull Montana and Jim Bradley, who wanted to put on a show for the women in the crowd. First the grapplers scratched and battered Moore.

“Next thing, they tear my pants off me and I'm wallowing around in the ring in my skivvies,” he said. “Them women were enraged.”

Moore hired police officers to keep the peace at the hot, smoky armory because crowds often took the matches too seriously. In the event that a villain beat a hero, lusty boos rained down, disgruntled fans threw trash and angry grandmothers shook their fists.

Assistant Police Chief John Struzenski tried to shut down the fights after a near riot in 1954, but Mayor Leo Berg refused to intervene.

“You know how wrestling fans are,” Berg said. “If I ordered the bouts stopped, you can just imagine how they would come down on my head.”

When pro wrestling experienced a lull in the 1960s, Moore put his shows on WUAB-TV (Channel 43) and explained: “You need live TV these days and this could get us going again.”

He quit the armory in 1971 to work with the Professional Wrestling Alliance, but returned a year later, saying there was too much running around. In an unlikely plot twist, Moore won $300,000 in the Ohio Lottery in 1975 — roughly $1.5 million today — and didn’t need to work again.

“Money comes in handy in this day and time,” he said. “If you ain’t got money, you’re in bad shape.”

Unfortunately, the Akron Armory lost its fight. Inspectors ordered it closed over faulty wiring and a broken sewer main. The building suffered the ultimate piledriver in 1982 when a wrecking crew tore it down to make way for the Ocasek Government Office Building.

Walter J. Moore retired to Alabama and went to that big ring in the sky April 15, 1987, at age 81.

He lived to see superstars Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant lead a wrestling revival in the 1980s.

As Moore had vowed in the late 1970s: “Wrestling will come back. It always does.”

 

 

 

Mark J. Price can be reached at mprice@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3850.