On Wednesday, November 26, 1997 Greg Oliver sat down for a one hour chat with the legendary Stu Hart at the Hart House in Calgary. The first part of the interview is mainly questions sent in by readers of SLAM! Wrestling. The second part is Stu remembering wrestlers of days gone past for our Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Highlighted names will take you to the corresponding page in the Hall of Fame.
As always, we welcome your feedback. My apologies for not keeping track of who sent in which question.
OLIVER: Would you like to see more submission wrestling, more technical wrestling get back into wrestling? Or is there a place for it anymore?
STU: There’s some place for it. Sometimes submission wrestling isn’t spectacular enough because nobody’s doing a triple somersault in the air or going into the ringpost upside down. Good submission wrestling can be fairly quiet. If I get my hands on you, you’re not going anyplace. You’re not moving too fast either. Maybe your forehead is on your bellybutton and your elbows are rubbing the back of your head. Your face is getting blue from being under pressure in tight quarters.
OLIVER: One of the wrestlers that seems a little bit like that to me is Chris Benoit.
STU: We broke him in here. Beautiful wrestler. He does nice moves and it’s hard to find fault with his wrestling.
OLIVER: Do you have any good stories about him being here?
STU: He was an Edmonton kid originally. Mike Hammer kind of took a liking to him and he was a boy who came out of St. Louis and worked up here for me. He met him in Edmonton and then kind of got him broken into wrestling. He finished his career, polished himself up and then came down here. Bruce and Owen, Keith and Bret worked out with him a lot. He became one of the better wrestlers in the industry. He learned it right here in my yard. Mike Hammer certainly gave him a good start. Mike came from a wrestling family. He was a great friend of Joe Millington and knew Lou Thesz when he was a young fellow.
OLIVER: Who would you consider to be your prize pupil? Someone who exceeded beyond your wildest dreams. Besides your kids.
STU: Dynamite did everything and everything pretty well. The only thing is he needed to absorb the abuse that he took and it eventually caught up to him when he had his spinal fusions in his back. Spinal fusions in the neck. It took some of the flexibility out of him. He used to be one of the top flyers in the industry. There wasn’t anything Dynamite couldn’t do or wouldn’t do. He was a gutsy little fellow.
OLIVER: Who else stands out in your mind?
STU: Well, Davey. Davey Boy’s pretty good. My son Bruce met Dynamite over in England and Bruce sent him out here. He liked the way he handled himself. In come Dynamite Kid. Then later on, a month or two later, Bruce sent Davey Boy out here. Davey liked it so much out here that he ended up marrying my youngest daughter [Diana]. Davey was a one of the better built kids in the industry. He had an excellent body and was a pretty strong, gutsy guy. It took a pretty good horse to pull him down.
OLIVER: When you have 12 children, how did you manage to spend enough quality, one-on-one time with them?
STU: They grew up in this big old house and I had every type of wrestler coming down here to wrestle. I had a lot of football players, a lot of bodybuilders, fellows who had desires to become wrestlers. I was somewhat qualified to be a wrestler. I started amateur wrestling in 1930 and went through three or four years of being a guinea pig where the good wrestlers would grab me and shove my head between my knees and pull my knees up over my head and knock me out if they could and rub my elbows together behind my head. Sometimes my forehead was down touching my belly button and make my neck three feet longer than it was. And see how many times I could get twisted around. I finally, after three or four years, the world started turning, and I was directing traffic a little bit. And finally I got to the point where the boys who used to use me as a practice dummy, I was using them. That happened with a friend of mine, Luther Lindsay. And Joe Scarpello. He’s was national amateur champion. And Ruffy Silvertstein was another national amateur champion and good wrestler. They started working out with Luther Lindsay, who was a pretty powerful little fellow. They guzzled him for about six months steady where Scarpello would have one part of the night, and then they’d both switch back and forth on him. They did everything but kill him for about six months. Finally after a while, Scarpello had trouble taking Lindsay down. Then Ruffy would rather not scuffle with him because he was embarrassed that he couldn’t handle him. Luther went through that grind where he became one of the better wrestlers in the world then. I think that George Gordienko and Lindsay were two of the best young wrestlers in that day. Then there were wrestlers like Rube Wright. I knew him was a, well he never was too young when I knew him. I never heard anybody who could do actually do my switchthrough right. He was a big man. He and this Doc Hall were well-schooled and spent hours and hours and days in the gym. Waiting to catch some aggressive young guy who wanted to become a wrestler. They’d polish up all of their moves on some young fellow who couldn’t quite handle themselves. After a while they’d get so skilled that even the great wrestlers would fall under their power.
OLIVER: Back to the kids. Do you think that having a large family helped them in their own lives?
STU: Well I think it helped. I used to kid when I first got married that I was going to have twelve kids. I don’t know what my wife thought of it. I suppose we’re compatible and we had kids. They came, I suppose a year apart. They all came one after another. I was in the wrestling business pretty well steady. My poor wife came in fairly handy. She was a private secretary to the school board in New York and I put her to work here writing letters and sending out line-ups and stuff for whatever promotion I was working with. I would be on the road and she always had a kid in the basket and a kid in the crib. I would leave her here to answer the phone and I would be on the road a lot of the time. Organizing, you had to be a kind of a one-man-gang. I controlled this whole area from Salt Lake City as far north as Anchorage and Fairbanks. Vancouver. Seattle. Spokane. I never went into Minneapolis. That was Tony Stecker’s territory and I respected him. I exchanged boys with him. He’d send me good talent in and I’d sent him talent that needed to get a little rest.
OLIVER: Do you think that wrestling could go back to the territories like that?
STU: It could come back but television is the key. That’s the thing that shouldn’t be abused too much either. There shouldn’t be too much fantasy on television. If you’re watching a very good baseball where it’s a close, hard-fought game, or you’re watching a hard-hitting football game where they’re played hard, tough ball. It’s something to watch. But if you watch a sloppy game, with lots of missed tackles and nobody seems to be too serious, I find it not interesting to watch. But if it’s a tough, hard-fought serious game I want to watch it and not miss a minute of it.
OLIVER: There have been rumors that Stampede is starting up again. That one of your sons may be doing it.
STU: I hadn’t heard that rumor. All things are possible. I wouldn’t be doing it. I like money and like to have clean money, easy money to make. I would have to have a pretty respectable television show going coast-to-coast or something like that. And then if I had the proper talent, something that I could offer the people. You need proper, serious operators giving hard-fought, serious dedicated wrestling.
OLIVER: Do you think there’s still a market there in all those little towns the WWF doesn’t go to, like Red Deer?
STU: We ran them every so often. We always had a good crowd in Red Deer. We ran there once a month, maybe. Lethbridge every couple of weeks.
OLIVER: But even Calgary only gets the World Wrestling Federation maybe for times a year, if that.
STU: We used to run Calgary every week and have a sellout crowd every time we came down here. Same in Edmonton. They were probably the two best towns in Canada for wrestling. Vancouver was a good time. We always seemed to do pretty good money there.
OLIVER: Tell me a little about wrestling schools these days. You’re not really running the school here yourself.
STU: They’re like dancing schools. The ones who are teaching the dancing, or the wrestling, aren’t qualified themselves to be a serious wrestlers. They don’t know enough about amateur wrestling or professional wrestling or even very seldom do they know anything about wrestling. They picked up a few little moves and promote themselves as a wrestling school. Even the people that they bring in, they take the lessons no more than the mentors do.
OLIVER: Are there any that you would recommend?
STU: I broke in maybe more than most of them. I never took a nickel from any wrestler who wanted to become a wrestler. I had fairly good athletes come in here, like a football player, or fellows like Bob Lueck and John Helton. Wilbur Snyder was another one that broke in here. Joe Blanchard. They were all good amateur wrestlers in their day. They picked up professional wrestling from me. Most of the boys, I think, respected me because I could wrestle. I coached wrestling at the University of Alberta during the middle 30s, and I had some good qualified amateur wrestlers then. A good amateur wrestler could make a excellent professional wrestler because they knew enough that some high school wrestler wasn’t going to jump them on the street and kidnap the rent. You get some of these boys who’ve spent a lifetime in the gymnasium, they will take the kinks out of anybody who any aspirations or grandeur about wrestling. Toots Mondt was a
OLIVER: He was the guy who taught you?
STU: Well, he didn’t teach me. But I went down and worked for him. I got qualified by wrestling many hours as an amateur. I wrestled with some of the best submission wrestlers in the world and picked up a bit of moves and polished up on them. I have enough confidence in myself that I could take an Olympic-type wrestler and make a fan out of him. I have some things that don’t know because they weren’t allowed to use in top-grade amateur wrestling. Those good submission wrestlers can make believers of you, and it doesn’t take them too long either. There’s a lot of little things. Once your neck plays out, the ballgame is over for you. Some of these masters lean on you and tire your arms out and your neck and you can’t hold your neck up off your chest. Then they’ll take you down and play with you after that.
OLIVER: Next we’ll do a little name association. I’ll give you a name and you give me your thoughts. Let’s start. Hulk Hogan.
STU: Hogan. Hogan’s a big, strong, he shouldn’t be taken too lightly. The man weighs 280, 285, close to 300 pounds when I knew him. Even if he didn’t know anything, he’d be pretty hard to take down and sit on. In fact I remember one promoter that decided that, he was bickering about some dissatisfaction about his payoff or something, and ended up with the guy making a pass at Hogan and Hogan caught him in an arm and front-face lock and wore him down. Finally, the fellow had to reach up and pat Hogan on the back and say ‘okay, you bastard, let’s get on with the television. Let me up.’ He’s a strong enough fellow, he’s got pretty big arms on him. He’s wrestled enough that even if he doesn’t have the moves that maybe Ken Shamrock has, he might be big enough that it might be pretty hard to get around him.
OLIVER: Let’s jump into some of the older wrestlers then. Abdullah the Butcher.
STU: I can’t say anything but good about Abdullah the Butcher. He worked for me here and I never had an empty house while he was with me. I wrestled him myself several times and on the coldest day of the year, I had them lined up 17th Avenue trying to get into the building. And the place was jammed, you couldn’t put three-times the people into the building. I never ever saw him in an empty house. He and Archie ‘The Stomper’ [Gouldie] had some great matches. They were both jealous of each other too. Archie didn’t have anything good to say about Abdullah and Abdullah, he’d make out that he couldn’t remember Archie’s name. He’d say ‘What’s his name? Thing, thing. You know what I mean.’ Archie’d calmly refer to Abdullah as ‘the black bastard’ or something like that. They weren’t really in love with each other and yet every time they came together, the people were turned away. Archive and Abdullah went home with a good, full wallet too.
OLIVER: Dick Brower, who recently just passed away. The Bulldog.
STU: Oh yeah, Dick Brower. I broke him in here. He came out here when he was just a pup. Whipper Watson was out here working for me at the time and Whipper says ‘Who’s that kid that you just had in the opening match there? Is there any chance of me borrowing him when you’re finished with him?’ I sent him down to Toronto then, and Bulldog Brower became a superstar. He wrestled Whipper Watson about 500 times. Watson got rich wrestling him, the same with [Gene] Kiniski. Kiniski was a big, hungry high school kid that I was coaching wrestling a bit and was helping with junior football a bit up in Edmonton. This kid come up and says ‘Is there a chance of you working out with me little a bit?’ So I had this big, hungry Gene Kiniski wrestling with me. He became one of the biggest box office attractions in wrestling.
OLIVER: Bulldog Bob Brown. Another Bulldog.
STU: Yeah Bulldog. I knew him. He wrestled for me quite a bit too. Then Kerry Brown worked for me a lot too.
OLIVER: His nephew. His son David [referee David Putnam] worked for you too, right?
STU: Yeah. Bulldog did a good job for me … Kiniski, he must have wrestled for turnaway crowds with Watson. They may have been two of the highest paid athletes in Canada at that time. I wrestled them in Halifax, Vancouver, Victoria, Cranbrook, Kamloops, Lethbridge, Seattle. Every place they wrestled, there were turnaway crowds.
OLIVER: John Foti.
STU: John Foti. He was one of the best artists that you could find. He was a gifted, talented artist. I still have some of the drawings that he did. Headshots he’d draw. Very talented. Kind of a high-strung kid. He had a lot of box office appeal. He worked for from a young pup right up until he died. He’s been dead ten or fifteen years now. Kind of unfortunate. Somebody forgot to pick him up. He was supposed to go to Lethbridge. He missed it. He might have had a little spat with his wife and he got despondent. I don’t know whether he just collapsed or what but it was something like Brian Pillman’s situation. I was the last fellow who talked to him on the phone. He called me and said he missed his ride. Then he went into the bar and had a few drinks. Then I got word that …
OLIVER: Tell me a little bit about Brian Pillman then.
STU: Brian, he was playing football. He was a pretty good football player. I think he was All-American out of Ohio … He was interested in wrestling and I had the privilege of breaking him in to wrestling. My son Bruce, he took to Bruce somehow or other. Bruce worked out with him a lot. Then Owen helped him a little bit. And Keith. He did well in wrestling here. I think he had a bad ankle, or something like that. Got hurt in football and was off for a while. Then he come over here and worked out with me. We got him the basic groundwork for wrestling with working out with Bruce then tagging up with Bruce. They were tag team partners together. Maybe one of the best tag team combinations. They were quite entertaining. They were, I think, champions here a couple of times.
OLIVER: How about another champion you had here in Stampede. Gil Hayes.
STU: Oh, Gil was a pretty good little performer. He was with Bob Sweetan, tagged up together. They were a pretty strong tag team, I think they may have been champions a time or two. Gil was might have been a little bit egotistical. He liked glory. He liked having his hand raised. Getting recognition meant more to him maybe than anything else.
OLIVER: How about Don Leo Jonathan.
STU: Oh, Don Leo was one of my favorite men. That big man at 330 pounds could do a backflip and somersault and nip-ups like a cat. I’d hate to get mad at him at 330 pounds. He worked out a lot with this Luther Lindsay who was one of the top submission wrestlers at that time. Lindsay worked out a lot with Don Leo. Don Leo in Lindsay’s words, he didn’t know enough people who could get close enough to Don Leo Jonathon to even take him down. That at 330 pounds, 6’6″, one of the best big built men in the industry.
OLIVER: While we’re on the topic of big men, how about Andre the Giant.
STU: Oh Andre. I knew him when he weighed 290 pounds or so. When I first got him. Then later on he went up to around 450. He’d be very sentimental. You had to handle him with discretion. If you got ugly with him, rude to him, you’d break his heart. He’d pout all night. A nice, big guy. I don’t know how many people could actually whip him, either. You’d have to do a pretty good job just to get him onto the ground. If you hold him down, he could get up and walk off with ‘ya. You didn’t know where you were. You’d be on his back someplace. And if he got you tied in, and fell back on you, it’d be like a tree on your back.
OLIVER: Okay from big men to little men. How about Little Beaver
STU: Oh Little Beaver was an unusual … [laughing] He and Sky Low Low, they were two outstanding midgets. That little Sky Low Low was a very well built devil for his size. Very short tempered. One time I was wrestling up in Anchorage, Alaska. They invited us to enjoy their hospitality at the hotel. We’re in the bar there and somebody was bothering little Sky Low Low, patting him on the head. Next thing, he upped and dropped the fellow flat on his back. Then his wife takes her purse and tries to hit Sky Low Low in the head with the purse. Sky Low Low gets mad and he drop-kicked her too. Then Sweet Daddy Siki grabbed him under his arms and he’s yelling at Sweet Daddy ‘put me down! Put me down!’ That little weasel tried to get away from Sweet Daddy and everybody’s laughing. It tore the house down. Then the people that he had drop-kicked got out of there, saying that this is a bunch of nuts here. He grabbed his wife and opened the door, grumbling about what had happened. And Sky was on fire. He was such a little weasel, you know. [laughing] You know Sweet Daddy Siki a bit?
OLIVER: Yes actually. I’ve met him a couple of times. He lives in Toronto. He was one of the other guys I was going to ask you about.
STU: Sweet Daddy … he had Sky under his arms. I suppose he weighed 80, 90 pounds. Short-grained. Short tempered. Impatient little devil. And Sweet Daddy, he had the blonde, white hair and beautiful mirror. He was the black Gorgeous George of his day. He did everything Gorgeous George did, except he was black. I’d never seem him in a bad wrestling match either. He was pretty colorful. He wrestled that Dave Ruhl a number of times. The ‘pig farmer’ he called him.
OLIVER: What are your memories of Dave Ruhl then?
STU: Dave was a very solid wrestler. He wasn’t as spectacular as some of the boys we had. They believed in him. He had a full-nelson that was pretty hard, not too many people broke it on him. Once he got it, he did a pretty good job on you. Putting a full-nelson on a guy like Don Leo Jonathon, you’d have to have a ladder to do it. If you could take the liberty of trying to knock a guy like Jonathon down to get the full-nelson on him. He was so big, not too many people bothered him.
OLIVER: How about Mad Dog Vachon.
STU: Mad Dog a pretty tough little package. He was pretty chipper amateur champion, which is a credit to any wrestler. He might have been a silver medalist in the Olympics, so he could actually wrestle. He kind of broke in up here with me. Around ’54 or ’55 or around in there, ’53. He worked a lot up here for me then. I have nothing but good to say about him. It was very unfortunate for him that he was out jogging in Iowa, and lots his leg in a car incident where a car hit him while he was jogging. And he lost a leg out it then, and his party was over. He was well-respected among the wrestlers and the promoters.
OLIVER: How about Tiger Tomasso.
STU: Ah Tiger. Tweet Tweet. He was one of Ed Whalen’s favorite boys. There was big Tor Kamata, ‘No chance you, Mr. Whalen’, and Joe Tomasso. They always had a little feud going with Ed. Ed had more fun with those two guys. Tweet Tomasso would get real upset with Ed. They always had a little running battle with each other. Joe was a kid that we broke in. He came out of Hamilton, Ontario. He wrestled with me here almost ’til he died. He had a sudden heart attack, and succumbed in bed.
OLIVER: Makhan Singh. Mike Shaw.
STU: Oh Mike. He was a fairly big, tough guy. He killed a fellow in boxing. Punched him out and the guy died in his head, because he never recovered from his boxing match. Mike gave up boxing then. He was a pretty good, tough wrestler. He had enough balls behind too. I’ve seen him stand up to somebody who had called him. Mike would always answer the bell.
OLIVER: Did you ever wrestle Bronco Nagurski? Did you know him?
STU: Yeah, I knew Bronc well. I wrestled out of Minneapolis. I think I might have tagged with Bronc once or twice. But Bronc was mainly a solo wrestler. At one time he was recognized as world champion out of Minneapolis. He was a hell of a football player. He played for …
OLIVER: The Bears.
STU: Yeah. But before that he was a Minnesota Gopher All-American in college football. He and Bob Fritz coached the first Grey Cup west in ’35, ’36 in Regina. [Editor’s note: Bob Fritz’ made the Grey Cup as head coach in 1935 and 1937.] They went to school together. They were from International Falls, Minnesota. Bronc had a scholarship at the University of Minnesota and Fritz had one, but he went to Concordia College instead. They were maybe two of the best athletes to come out of Minnesota. Nagurski was a great football player. Then he played for the Chicago Bears and was All-Everything there. He was a pretty big draw. He was pretty tough to bring down in wrestling. He wasn’t that fancy a wrestler either. But he was good enough to be recognized as world’s champion.
OLIVER: On the subject of world champions, how about Edouard Carpentier.
STU: He was a Polish fellow originally. He belonged to the Polish tumbling team in the Olympics. So he was a fairly accomplished tumbler. He could do backflips off the turnbuckles, stuff like that. He was one of the spectacular high fliers of the time. He wrestled for me many times out here.
OLIVER: How about Yvon Robert, another world champ.
STU: Oh Yvon Robert. He was right out of Montreal. Eddie Quinn was out there. He was working for [Paul] Bowser in Boston, and Bowser sent him up to promote in Montreal. Eddie Quinn became the promoter then. It seemed a good idea to have a local boy. Robert was pretty well an idol around Montreal and the Quebec area. I liked Robert. I never wrestled him, but I was on cards with him and he was well-respected and well-loved among the wrestlers. He and some of the hockey players were legends there. [Maurice ‘Rocket’] Richard and Robert. Robert was maybe one of the more popular names that you could drop there in the Quebec area, or even in eastern Canada.
OLIVER: How about Rick Martel, who came much later.
STU: Rick Martel, I think he kind of broke in out here with me. He got to be a very good performer. His brother was wrestling in Puerto Rico. Michel Martel. After a very hard match in Puerto Rico, he just collapsed and died on the way to the hospital.
OLIVER: Killer Kowalski.
STU: Oh, Killer. He’s an outstanding wrestler. Killer’s about six-foot-seven, six-foot-six. I wrestled him one time for 45 minutes and I was in fairly good shape. I was up and down, up and down, up and down for 45 minutes and he was still as fresh as a daisy at the end of the 45 minutes. I was wondering when he was going to run down. He was a vegetarian and a kind of a religious fellow too … He used to fly a plane for me sometimes. I had a Comache 250 and Kowalski would fly the plane sometimes. Kowalski was a hell of a man on the mike … Kowalski became one of the most skilled speakers, vicious speaker. He could sell a house out just interviewing him on television. He was a powerful speaker. … He’d just give Ed [Whalen] a hint of what he wanted and he would get it. He [Whalen] was a professional. He could get a good story out of anyone he had in front of him. The fellow got to thinking he was a public speaker after being interviewed by Ed. They fancied themselves as talented after a while.
OLIVER: Joe Killer Christie.
STU: Oh, Joe Killer Christie. He was a pretty fair boxer at one time. He boxed in the east. One time he boxed Tony Gallento, and I think, maybe embarrassed Gallento a little bit. Gallento was fairly heavy and bouncy. And Christie was pretty vicious. I think he proved his point when he boxed Tony Gallento.
OLIVER: How about Ben Bassarab?
STU: Ben Bassarab. He was coming along great. My kids spent quite a bit of time training him. He’s a local guy here. He wasn’t the biggest boy in town, but he was a well-schooled wrestler.
OLIVER: How about Rocky Johnson, who came through here a few times.
STU: Yeah, Rocky. I got him sent out here from Emile Dupre from Nova Scotia. Rocky became quite a good wrestler. He went down to Hollywood and became a star down there for Mike LeBell’s group in California.