In this, the second part of a question and answer session made up primarily of questions from the SLAM! Wrestling readers, the great German heel Waldo von Erich shares more stories from his career, including about Stampede Wrestling, his castle in Belize, life after wrestling and his inventions — and much more.
In this two-part interview, comprising more than 100 questions, von Erich (Wally Sieber, originally from Toronto) is at times humble, other times boastful, sometimes the details elude him, and in other circumstances, he’s bang on. It was conducted by telephone at the end of January 2009 from his home in Elmira, Ontario.
Enjoy the question and answer session, which is presented in the order asked, but note, unless specifically credited, the remaining questions are by the interviewer, Greg Oliver, who has known von Erich for many years and interviewed him previously.
Q: The first wrestling match I ever saw live was you versus Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie at the Edmonton Sales Pavilion. I was 14 years old and there was so much adreneline rushing through my body, I thought my heart would explode. I remember both of you bled profusely and that you used your riding crop extensively. Did you enjoy your time in Stampede? [John Campbell]
A: I was the one that made the territory, you know that. Before I came up, there was nothing there. I worked an angle with Tex McKenzie. They had those two brothers, the Scott Brothers, they were more or less running the show. I said, “I’ve got an angle here. We’ll bring in Tex McKenzie and work an angle with him.” Well, they were pissed off, because they wanted everything built around them. I worked the angle and boom! On television, they had a little, small studio, and I guess the production guy, he said, “Christ, you’re going to lose the channel! Get him off there!” Stu [Hart] says, “You’re crazy.” The week after we were running the big studio in the arena because they had so many people there. Those two assholes, the Scotts, they left because they were so goddamned stupid, they didn’t have enough brains to realize that after Tex McKenzie they would have been next! That’s why I say they were so goddamned stupid and selfish, worried about themselves. That was the whole thing that made the whole territory, was me.
Q: What was it like wrestling with Archie? [John Campbell]
A: Archie was a pretty good guy. I turned him babyface, naturally.
Q: That’s certainly the biggest run he ever had as a babyface, was in Calgary.
A: I guess, I don’t know. I hear he’s a police chief, or something like that.
Q: He was never the police chief. He drove the paddy wagon, essentially. Down in Tennessee. He’s retired now.
A: Huh. I’d heard he was sheriff or something like that.
Q: Well, the U.S. is so different, maybe he was deputy sheriff, or something like that.
A: I was a deputy sheriff too! As a matter of fact, I was looking for my deputy sheriff’s license and I couldn’t find it. I don’t know what happened to it.
Q: Where was that?
A: Out in Oklahoma. One of the wrestlers down there, he was a detective or something, so he got me an honorary detective card or whatever.
Q: The other question related to that is, what was Tex McKenzie like to work with? He was a big awkward, wasn’t he?
A: Oh, he was a big, clumsy clown. I remember one time he dropped his wallet down the toilet, and couldn’t get it out! (laughs)
Q: But as far as love from the people, he was really loved.
A: He was a great character, you know what I mean? He was a character, a loveable character. I don’t know whether he did anything after he left Calgary.
Q: He did do some stuff for sure.
A: He looked after the name.
Q: He didn’t have the longest career of many of the guys.
A: He totaled a trailer, or something like that.
Q: Yeah, he had an accident in Calgary, where his wife died. Is that the one you’re talking about?
A: That’s what I was thinking of.
Q: I was talking to his sister yesterday, actually.
A: What did he die of?
Q: He was 71 and had an aneurysm while they were out on a boat.
Q: Yeah, there was nothing they could do because he was out on the boat.
A: I just went down to the gerologist the other day. He gave me a few tests, and then a few more, and that’s when he said I’d had a couple of small strokes. Right now, I’m very nervous now, my legs are swelled, shit like that.
Q: Related to retirement, you once talked about a castle in Belize. [Laszlo Takacs]
A: Well, I still have it. I want to sell it. I have a little problem down there right now. A guy is trying to say … the guy that lived across from me, he’s got a lawyer down there, trying to check into it. Nothing big. They have things that if you own properties and you want someone to look after them, you pay them so much a week, or something like that. He asked for $25 a week, and that was too much. This was after, and I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” I had somebody else, which was true, looking after the property. He’s just a goddamn scumbag trying to get a few … I haven’t been down for seven years. If worse comes to worse, I’d owe about $5,000, which is a bunch of goddamn bullshit. But they’re just trying to grab something for nothing, because I put a sign up there, For Sale. They had a storm there a while back, knocked down a bunch of my trees in the mangrove. He went in there and cleaned it up a little bit, and I guess he figures he can get away with saying he looked after my property and all this shit. It’s just a pain in the ass.
Q: Did you actually build the castle in Belize? [Laszlo Takacs]
A: It’s down there now. I’ve got pictures of it.
Q: Did you have it built, or was it already there?
A: What it is, I have an acre right on the water, a lagoon, which opens up right on the Gulf of Mexico, and right out into the open ocean. It sits up on a high mound, about 10 feet high off the ground. It’s a two-storey tower, with an open, the rooms are 20×20, two of those 12 feet high. I’ve got that, and that’s about all I’ve got, and the turret on the top.
Q: And it’s for sale, if one of the readers wants to buy it?
A: They could.
Q: What’s it going for these days?
A: I don’t know. Two miles from me, they’ve got, up near Mexico, they’ve got three, let’s see, they’ve got three gambling casinos and they’re building a big one. Now, whether they’ve got the big one, a gambling casino with 40 yachts able to go in there, the whole area up there is a duty free zone now. But the guy, the Re/max, put it up there for $250,000 in property. He said that might be a little much. We took it back off because of the economy right now. There’s always people that have got money. It’s a beautiful spot, because I’m right on the water there, and you’ve got the main highway going right down.
Q: Did you bring the family down very often?
A: I never brought anybody down there.
Q: It was just a private refuge for you?
A: Well, the thing is there’s nothing in there now, it’s just an open shell, that’s about it.
Q: We’re jumping again here. Did you like being a babyface? [John Mozuke, Worthington WV]
A: It was a little different. It was just around Toronto, and around Texas, that’s about it.
Q: On the opposite end, he wonders, did you ever fear for his life during any one match? [John Mozuke, Worthington WV]
Q: Were you ever attacked by a fan(s)? [John Mozuke, Worthington WV]
A: Like I said, there was a riot one time, and they brought out the dogs, squad cars, there in Baltimore. (laughs)
Q: You were never knifed, or anything like that?
A: No. I never farted around after my match. I was out and gone. I didn’t play to the crowd.
Q: Did he ever get threats from the Jewish American Community? [John Mozuke, Worthington WV]
A: No, no. Not that I know of.
Q: This is a long one. My name is Roger Baker. I was a wrestling photo journalist for about 15 years, from 1958 to around Aug. of 1973. He knows he’s met you over the years.
A: Where was he out of?
Q: Sounds like it’s just north of Toronto.
A: The guy writes a column or something like that?
Q: He says the first time he met you was when he was about 20 years old at the old Sunnyside swimming pool which was at Lake Ontario, we didn’t know one another at the time, but I said hello, and told him that I saw him wrestle at the old Thornhill Farmer’s Market. The next time we met was at a dance in Jacksons Point, this was several summers after Sunnyside pool. There’s no way you could possibly keep track of everybody you ever met, right?
A: No, that’s for sure.
Q: I’m trying to see if there’s a question here. Then he says he met you again at Maple Leaf Gardens when you were fighting Bruno. He wandered into his locker room to see if he could get a few poses, and you offered him a chiropractic adjustment on a large bench, and I guess Frank Tunney walked in while you were doing the assessment. My question for Wally is, did he ever give any other wrestlers or wrestling reporters spinal adjustments like he did for me back around 1970? [Roger Baker]
A: I don’t think so. See, my friend was a chiropractor, you know the guy I was telling you about, we were partners. I used to be down there at the Chiropractic College, and I learned a lot of things. And for a lot of things, they used me as a guinea pig. That’s where I learned a lot of the different procedures and stuff.
Q: That’s interesting.
A: You know I worked at Kinetex [Innovative Assessment & Rehab Centre Inc.] up here. For 15 years, I treated patients for three doctors.
Q: I definitely want to come back to that, and your health products. The next guy asks about your time wrestling with The Spoiler, Don Jardine, as a partner. He says he loves the idea that both you and he were at one time a tag team — a nefarious one I’m sure — and I especially like the idea of you both using your own version of the Iron Claw. [Marshall Ward]
A: I didn’t use that, Fritz [von Erich] did.
Q: He’s asking what you remember about working with Don Jardine.
A: I didn’t work with him too much. He was pretty tight with his bucks and apparently when his wife left, she took a lot of it. He died didn’t he?
Q: Yeah he died, two years ago, I guess. Do you have any Andre the Giant stories? [Marshall Ward]
A: One of times I worked with him was in a little town, I think in Australia. One time, it was so funny, they had a ring on top of a pole, and it was a battle royale, and I guess the guy that got the ring won the match or some damn thing. We’re all wrestling, and he got over to the pole, went up to reach it, and there was no one around to pull him down, so he said, “What do I do now?”
Q: Did you socialize much with Andre?
A: I didn’t socialize with anyone because I didn’t have the time to. I was always on the go.
Q: But you heard Andre stories over the years?
A: Not really. But when he farted, it sounded like a bomb going off. That’s about all I know about him. The only guy I really socialized with was Schmidt, Hans Schmidt, in Japan.
Q: Where did you work as El Tigre? [Terry Dart]
A: In New York, they had these commissioners, and they were all a bunch of assholes. They were all honorary sheriffs, you know. If you got cut or bled, you were — I think it was New York — they would suspend you for a while, or something like that. So I went away and came back with a mask on as El Tigre. That’s about it. It wasn’t for too long.
Q: So it was just to get back in?
A: Yeah, just to get back in.
Q: But you also changed your style when you were El Tigre, to a high-flying one? [Terry Dart]
A: Well, I had to look a little different. It was funny, around New York there was a little old Jewish lady. She’d say, “I know it’s you von Erich, I know it’s you von Erich!” I walked with a little bit of a limp, and I was limping.
Q: Early in your career, you were Wally Sieber in some places, and Waldo von Sieber in others. Were you not worried about some people finding out? [Terry Dart]
A: No, I started out as Waldo von Sieber. Then when I got into Toronto, where they wanted me to take over for [Whipper Billy] Watson’s place, supposedly, that’s when I worked as Wally Sieber.
Q: So there were specific times for each?
Q: So some people would have known you as both?
A: Possibly the original people that saw me as a kid. It’s funny, I’ve got a picture here from when I started wrestling when I was 16 and later — you should see the big difference in my body.
Q: I’d love to see some of the pictures. We’re going to do up a gallery to run with this.
A: I’ve got one picture I want to get blown up. I was a decent-looking guy when I was younger. I had long hair, before I was clean-cut, you know.
Q: You once called Hans Schmidt a “phony German” while on Cleveland TV. How did that come about? In this day and age, you’d call that a shoot comment. [Terry Dart]
A: Well, a lot of stuff I’d call somebody a phony. When I was to wrestle a guy, I would always say that they were great wrestlers, but I was better. Because why would they put me against a nobody? Unless it was a handicap match on TV with two underneath guys, and I’d clean them up. Other than that, I would always build up my opponent. If you knock down your opponent, who the hell did you beat? It’s like having a race car, but you’re racing against a Ford. You can’t go anywhere.
A [Waldo called back later to further address this question]: What I said more or less is just because he was born in Germany it doesn’t mean he’s a German, you follow me? In other words, he wasn’t what you’d call a true German in the sense that he was more or less a Nazi-type of thing. It wasn’t that I said he wasn’t from Germany, it’s just that just because he comes from Germany, doesn’t mean to say he’s a real German.
Q: We’re jumping back to Stampede here. He’s asking whether you got to know Mike Bulat, who was the promoter in Edmonton, at all? [Gregor Campbell]
A: No. There were a couple of brothers who ran shows up there too. I don’t think I ever met them, to be honest.
Q: The other question then is about some of your inventions. How did that come about?
A: The inverted chair was the one that you hung upside down on. I got endorsements from Lee Trevino, the Boston Bruins, Toronto Blue Jays, the Department of National Defence bought six of them. But they were very expensive. I think I mentioned to you one time, my friend and I used to go to these chiropractic conventions every year. The young chiropractors used to be there early in the morning, waiting for treatments for their hangovers. So one time Chris asked one of them, “Why don’t you guys buy more chairs?” You know what they said? “They work too good.”
As a matter of fact, here in town, I went up to get some printing done. He saw the inverted chair, and said that he had to go to the chiropractor three times a week. “I saw the chair in the office, and I asked if I could use it. He said okay, so I only go once a month now.”
Q: Where did the idea for this come from?
A: Well, they wanted to operate on me. The only way I got any relief was when I was hanging upside down in the gym. I had a bad back myself. They wanted to operate, but less than one per cent was a success. So that’s where that came from. There was $750,000 blown into that thing. It was just too costly to do it. The newest thing I’m on, I call it The Post, which you can do a whole bunch of different exercises on it. As a matter of fact, I just put another thing on it where you can put a bicycle-type thing on it. I just finished it this week. But now I have to find out where I can get this particular part. A lot of stuff comes out of China. The more I can get out of China, which is, the only thing is the cycle part, you follow me, the link part, to get that adapted and find out where this particular small part comes from. They can make it cheap as shit. I bought one of them here from a medical store and they are normally about $50, but there’s nothing to it. I need a thing to adapt it, which I’ve already done. So if I can find out, without having to make something up, for maybe $10 — I can’t see why I can’t get it made for that — everything is just perfect. It’s going to be a big thing because you can do over 60 different modifications of exercises with it.
Q: But this is not commercially available yet?
A: Oh no.
Q: Okay, because you gave me a flyer for that one. So it’s still in the early stages.
A: The adaptation to it, the bicycling part on the bottom, that you can sit down and exercise your hip, like you’re peddling a bicycle, which I think will be great.
Q: Interesting. How much of your time does that take up these days?
A: I’ve been piddling around with it. I’ve got probably $100,000 sitting into that, into research and development. Once you see the thing done, it looks easy, you know what I’m saying? I’ve been piddling around for about six years.
Q: Related to that, did you ever have any other kind of work, besides wrestling, and these inventions?
A: Yeah, I worked with Kinetex [Innovative Assessment & Rehab Centre Inc.], there. I treated people for about 15 years. I did all the back treatments for the three doctors.
Q: That was in Elmira?
A: Waterloo. There was a Dr. Ranney, a Dr. Richardson …
Q: But you never got your Doctor of Chiropractic or anything like that?
A: Well, I got my certificate of Reflexology.
Q: And that was enough to get you the employment to do that.
Q: Was it hard living off the road, settling down?
A: Well, you do what you have to do.