WWA-Indianapolis #2 Page #2
Sam set up shop there for several years, and they did great business, bringing in top U.S. talent like Bob Ellis, Mark Lewin, Killer Kowalski, King Curtis, and using talent such as Mario Milano and Spiros Arion. They even had Bruno Sammartino make a visit.
In 1970,Sam left Australia and came back to the U.S. For a time, he worked for Leroy McGuirk's office in Louisiana.
In late 1971, local Indianapolis TV commentator Chuck Marlow, got a new partner at ringside to call the matches as Sam had been hired by Dick and Wilbur as general manager. It was during this time that Championship Wrestling,Inc., invaded Detroit against the established N.W.A. Office of the Sheik. Whether Sam was brought in to give a more experienced, established voice to the show, or whether Sam was a part of this expansion remains to be seen, but there were several changes made to the format of the wrestling show and to the booking department as well. Eventually, Marlow was dropped and Menacker took over the sole commentator role.
Chuck Marlow had been the voice of wrestling in Indianapolis since the early 60's, working first for Estes (succeeding Joe Blanchard) before going with the Bruiser's promotion. Marlow was a WTTV Channel 4 employee, in a time when local TV stations scrounged to fill TV time, and station employees were asked to perform many different chores around the station. One of Chuck's gigs was wrestling, and even though he was never a real knowledgeable announcer, wrestling wise, he always treated the business with an air of seriousness, and always tried to put the focus on the action in the ring. Bob Luce often co-commentated with Chuck, as the tapes were shown in the Chicago market as well. Marlow, in fact, had been a high school buddy of Dick's at Shortridge, and at one point several years ago, had been up for a job at the fledgling ESPN. They missed out on a good one as Chuck's passion for college sports, particularly basketball, has never waned.
With Sam at the helm, there seemed to be stronger angles, and since they were still taping in WTTV's studios, and were shipping the tapes up to be shown in Detroit, they had to make the local angles coincide with the angles in Detroit. One that comes to mind is when they switched the W.W.A. strap from Bruiser over Baron von Raschke on the first Olympia Stadium show in October of 1971,and so they switched the strap in Indianapolis, because much of the TV show was shot live, including promos, and they would have had a big continuity problem in the days of kayfabe. To rectify this, they switched from WTTV to WFBM channel 6 (soon WRTV) who came out to the Tyndall Armory to tape a house show, and promos could be added in later. They could get two weeks worth of shows at the bi-weekly armory shows, and have their once a month house shows at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. Once they did this, they started working separate angles for the Indianapolis and Detroit markets, putting the strap on Art Thomas to try and draw in Detroit's large black population, while putting the strap on Billy Red Cloud in Indianapolis, as Billy was a solid draw in that area. (Too good, in fact, and found himself slowly seeping down the ladder once his "reign" ended. You can't get over more than the bookers.)
During this period, Sam started playing his usual role of "crusading commentator", only the ire of his wrath was the Blackjacks, and particularly, their no good manager, Pretty Boy Bobby Heenan (that's Bobby "the Brain" today, a handle no doubt inspired by Sheik's manager, Eddie "the Brain" Creatchman). Occasionally, he even found himself in the middle of things, especially in Detroit, where he refed the cage match where Bruiser and Crusher beat the Blackjacks for the W.W.A. Tag team titles. (Oddly enough, they worked roughly the same finish in Indianapolis with just one of the regular refs. Why not Sam in that one is a mystery.) Sam and Bobby's feud finally came to a head in 1973, after building it for roughly 2 years, with Heenan assaulting Sam, and Sam punching Bobby's lights out. They had several matches, both single and tag, all over the territory, and it was a license to print money. Sam would come on TV and do many of his strongman stunts. like breaking bricks (legit) and tearing phone books in half, and that helped give the matches credence. Sam also received the announcer of the year from the Wrestling Writers Association of America during this time, and was presented the plaque at an Olympia show by Norman Kietzer, the editor of Wrestling Revue.
Indianapolis started importing top talent, and had talent exchanges with Sammartino's office in Pittsburgh, and with the Bearman (Dave McGinnity) in Ontario and Carpentier/Vachon/Rougeou's office in Montreal. Houses were at a high that had not been since the Doyle/Barnett/Estes days in the early 60's. Several performers defected from the established Farhat Detroit office.
For the first time since Wilbur and Dick went into business in the 60's, they had a major territory. They had their own magazine, t-shirts, and were getting major publicity in the national magazines. How much of this was down to Sam's input, or if it was just the right place at the right time is not known. But it started to unravel as soon as it began.
The first problem, when you look at it, was that they booked the territory like a series of spot shows. Having different champions in different towns had gone out for the most part with the 50's. To keep the product current, they need angles that coincided with each other in the different towns. Then they started to tape their house shows at the Convention Center in Indianapolis, and it made it real difficult in later times to try and establish new talent and new angles. The fact that the tapes were being shown in so many areas and with the differing angles, no matches that were televised could be announced as title matches, as the champs might be different on another part of the circuit. And then just the fact that they gave their best product away for free started to take its toll after a while.
In 1974, with the Vietnam conflict at a close, rising unemployment brought on by out of work military personnel, and a gas shortage that drove prices up, the economy took a downswing. Houses for most forms of entertainment were down, expenses up. That was one of the explanations given for the Detroit truce between Bruiser and Sheik. In doing this, of course, a profitable part of the circuit was gone, and so were many of the stars that had been coming in. Even before this, the Olympia's houses were down, due in part to the poor time slot the TV show had, but apparently Bruiser didn't seem to think that was a problem. Sheik and Bruno were allegedly not the best of buddies either, and things started to dry up.
The first ones out the door were the Valiant Brothers, who headed up to New York to make history. Heenan, probably the backbone of Indianapolis wrestling for many years, was also gone later in the year. Bob Ellis dropped his strap to Ox Baker. The Ernie Ladd's and Baron von Raschke's and Valiant Brothers were replaced by Sgt.Jacques (Rene) Goulet, Ox Baker, and Handsome Johnny Starr. And bringing in someone like the Sheik, a mega villan first class, showed the limitations of the the new regime, in charisma and ability.
This writer started as part of the ring crew in 1974, and went to many of the smaller towns on the circuit. Back then, if Dick was running towns, a wrestler could make a living, although the big money was gone. But Dick got to where he would only book a few towns a week. Indiana did not have the major wrestling ports that many other states had, or they were poorly promoted, hence some of the boys struggled to make it.
I remember going to Richmond, Indiana in late 1975. Richmond had been a great wrestling town in years past, but the crowd this night was so poor that the show was canceled. It was during this night I first got to talk with Sam Menacker in depth for the first time, and see him out of character. He talked with affection that night, and in other conversations later, primarily about two people; Gorgeous George and June Byers. It was ironic talking about how Gorgeous George could go into a town unannounced, set up a wrestling match, and jam pack the place, while looking at an established town with an established promotion that couldn't draw 20 people. But, as he was fond of saying later, "It's a one man show".
Sam settled into his role of TV commentator, doing PR work for the promotion, and occasionally the odd match with Eddie Creatchman and Johnny Starr. But you could hear the fire in his voice slowly wane, and it became just a job. In 1982,with the business changing, Wilbur's departure, and Dick going into business with Jerry Jarrett, Sam quietly retired. He gave one last interview with the Indianapolis Star (many of the reporters there having grown up listening to Sam on Saturday morning) then, and mentioned that one of his reason's for leaving was the lack of development of new talent.
The WWA broke from its partnership with Jarrett in late 1982, and started running shows back at the Tyndall Armory, using "talent" from several outlaw promotions, including Kenny Jugan's Tri-State Wrestling out of Ohio, and Cliff Lilly's promotion in Kentucky. He had David McClane,of GLOW fame, as commentator, taking Sam's old spot. Dick would accentuate the shows with guys from Kansas City/St.Louis, like Dick Murdoch, Harley Race, and Bob Orton Jr. He booked Bruiser Brody in Indianapolis twice in 1984, who no showed both times, and the crowd didn't seem to mind. The Armory was selling out with performers like Jerry Graham Jr., Spike Huber, the World Warriors, the Great Wojo and others. With McClane, Dick started running 7 nights a week, as far over as West Virginia and down to Kentucky. While no one would ever say any of the shows were actually good, they seemed to have a charm of their own, and the crowds were totally into them. They outdrew Jarrett's bunch hands down in this area... go figure.
Epilogue: After Sam left the Bruiser, he drifted with the action, going up and working for Bruno's failed promotion in Pittsburgh, then going down to work for Angelo Poffo's ICW based out of Lexington, Ky. before going to work for Joe Blanchard in Texas, who was still on cable on the USA Network. Joe needed someone who wasn't quite so regional sounding, so he brought Sam in. I went down to the Austin Civic Auditorium to see Eric Embry, and was surprised to see Sam there, as he was of me. In July 1983, I went up to Vancouver to work, and was surprised to see Sam on Stampede Wrestling.
In December of 1983, I went to one of Stu's shows at the Agrodome in Vancouver to see a friend and he introduced me to Stu Hart, who is one of the friendliest characters I ever met. Stu asked me where I was from and when I told him Indianapolis, his first was response was "Ah, Dick the Bruiser country!, You know Sammy Menacker then?" to which I responded in the affirmative. He then proceeded to tell me the story that starts this article, then finished with this aside, "Sammy called me up from Texas and said he needed a job, and I didn't have anyone for TV, so I told him to come up. So he flew up here, (pause)........in a plane he stole from Joe Blanchard!"
Random notes on 1975,and the Legionnaires.
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