Baron von Raschke, with his militaristic goose-step and infamous “brainclaw” submission hold, was one of wrestling’s most nefarious and memorable heels.
Though born in Nebraska, he fanned the flames of postwar resentments by portraying a Nazi and left a trail of bloodstained canvases as he enraged audiences in his wake over a decades-long career.
With a shaven head and wearing a crimson-red cape, he snarled in his best German accent: “I am ordered to win” and “Dat is all da people need to know.”
What jeering American audiences didn’t realize was that the Baron had a stellar amateur background and, behind the heel antics, he was a perfect villain to showcase the heroism of all-American babyfaces like Bruno Sammartino and Verne Gagne.
That’s why Baron von Raschke will be presented the prestigious Iron Mike Mazurki Award, the highest honour in the professional wrestling business, at the Cauliflower Alley Club’s 53rd reunion in Las Vegas, April 30-May 2.
SLAM! Wrestling recently caught up with The Baron for an in-depth chat about his amateur wrestling career, breaking into the business, and the legacy of his dreaded brainclaw.
Below is part two of our interview in which The Baron discusses his friend and tag team partner, Mad Dog Vachon, his managers Freddie Blassie and Bobby Heenan, and his life with “Mrs. Claw.”
SLAM! WRESTLING: How did you meet Mad Dog Vachon?
BARON VON RASCHKE: Part of my job early on in the AWA was watching the TV wrestling at the Calhoun Beach Manor hotel and the guys who came to the wrestling, they dressed in the basement of the building, or downstairs somewhere. I didn’t even get to go into the locker room, I was just upstairs in the director’s room with Al DeRusha. I was in this little dark room with all the monitors and lights, buttons and knobs that I was told not to touch, so I didn’t. We looked out the window and could see the ring and the wrestlers and everything taking place, but they had to leave the door open because it would get hot in there. As the guys were being introduced by Rodger Kent they would walk through the hallway from the elevator, because they were downstairs and they’d come up on the elevator and walk through.
I would hear Rodger Kent announce, “‘Pretty Boy’ Larry Hennig and ‘Handsome’ Harley Race!” and they would walk right past that open door and walk to the ring and then their opponents would walk by and the matches would start and then they’d leave the same way. Every week all the wrestlers would walk past that door, but nobody ever looked in and bothered with me or looked at Al, they just walked past. So, one day after several weeks, one of the wrestlers were being introduced and he stopped right in the doorway and looked in and he looked right at me and he said, “You’d make a good German!” He was backlit by the light and I’m in the dark, and he looks like this monster, and he didn’t say anything else. And every week for about four or five weeks he did that. And that was Mad Dog Vachon, the one and only.
He said, “You’d make a good German!” and I said, “Well, I am German.” That’s my background, both my folks are mostly German. Anyways, he came into the territory, I think he had been working in California, and just doing the TV and flying in and out, so I got to know him in the dressing room and refereed some of his matches, and he was as scary in the ring as he was walking past the director’s room. So, I was a little bit nervous about being around him but it turned out he became one of my best friends, and he asked me if I wanted to go to Montreal with him in the summer months and I said, sure. I had just gotten married to my wife Bonnie — we just celebrated our 51st anniversary on February 13 this year — and I told her about it and she said she’d go, so we packed up our little Mustang in the spring and headed up to Montreal.
But I was so naïve. I didn’t understand that Canada is bilingual and I’d be living in a community that basically spoke all French, so that was enlightening to me. We got to Montreal and met Johnny Rougeau and Jack Britton and the other people from the office, and that year was the year of the Expo (67), so everybody was charging big bucks for any kind of house. We got a little basement apartment in Saint-Bruno across the river from Montreal, and that’s where Mad Dog lived, so that’s where I became Fritz von Raschke, just for the time I was in Montreal.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Did you ever wrestle out West?
BARON VON RASCHKE: In the latter part of my career, the AWA ran shows in San Francisco and Las Vegas, so I did work out there a few times. At that time, the WWF was fairly loose about things that were essential to the business while we took kayfabe very seriously. Verne especially valued guys with a wrestling background, and we had plenty of guys who were just really, really good. We really had guys who were the best in the business as all the great wrestlers went through the AWA because they basically paid pretty well and it was a good working environment.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Working for the WWWF you were managed by Freddie Blassie. Can you share a memory of “The Fashion Plate of Professional Wrestling”?
BARON VON RASCHKE: In the WWWF, they told Freddie to let me talk some, so it was a little different for Freddie because he was used to doing all of the talking. But we got along pretty good and one of the towns in Pennsylvania where we did TV, all the top guys would be invited to eat a meal with Vince McMahon Sr., who picked up the tab. We would show up for free food, and one night we were getting a really, really heavy rainfall, which you would sometimes get in New York and New Jersey, and Freddie lived in White Plains, New York. He was married to a little Japanese girl, and I think her name might have been Miyako, and he was really worried about her and would call home about every 10 or 15 minutes while we were having this meal in this restaurant. So, he’d call her and come back to the table and say, “Miyako said there’s two inches of water in the basement!” And he goes back 10 minutes later and tells us it’s up to four inches. After the third or fourth time he comes back to tell us about how the water is still rising in his basement and I said, “Freddie, I can get you a good price on a used diving board if you’d like.” And boy did he get hot! But he got over it and we got along really well. We didn’t spend that much time together though because at that time, the managers there didn’t travel and make all the towns.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Tell us about Bobby Heenan, your manager in the Indianapolis territory?
BARON VON RASCHKE: I left Montreal and went to work for Eddie Farhat in the Detroit area and from there I went to Dallas, and from there I went to Indiana with Dick the Bruiser. Bobby Heenan had been there and he started in the business a few years beforehand, so he was somewhat of a veteran, I guess. Bobby was kind of a manager to all the heels, and he’d be out there speaking and he and I got along great. He was a young single guy and I was three or four years married to “Mrs. Claw” and we had a daughter and our son was born in Indiana, so he was just wild and crazy and he’d tell us about all of his adventures with his four or five friends that he was really close to every night.
But Bobby lived with and supported his mom and took care of his grandma all those years, and one time he was telling us all, he and I were riding in a car somewhere with Mitsu Arakawa, who was one of the top guys at the time. Bobby was telling us about this crazy adventure he had with booze and women and all this stuff and Mitsu said, “Bobby, if I didn’t know you took such good care of your mother and your grandmother, I’d kill you!” (laughs) And we always got along well and of course, everyone knows Bobby was one of the funniest guys in the business and an all-round good guy.
SLAM! WRESTLING: You’ve had several tag team partners over the years as well like The Crusher in the AWA, and Ivan and Nikita Koloff in the NWA.
BARON VON RASCHKE: Ah yes, The Crusher, I was misunderstood by him for many years as well and eventually he wanted to be tag team partners. We won the AWA World tag team championship and he turned out to be a really good guy and we got along great.
And the Russians, they were great, both Ivan and Nikita. Years earlier, Ivan came into the Montreal territory after I left and then they had me come back and wrestled him once, and that’s when I met him. So, I had already known him for quite a few years. In Jim Crockett Promotions, I got the opportunity to go in because Krusher Kruschev (Barry) Darsow had got hurt, it was very serious and they needed someone to fill in and they picked me and that worked out really good too, they were good guys and fun to work with.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Your greatest tag team partner of all would be your wife Bonnie, though…
BARON VON RASCHKE: Yes, “Mrs. Claw,” she had the bad luck of picking me and I had the good luck of picking her (laughs). She’s been a good mom and a good wife and we still get along good after 51 years of marriage. We still have fun together.(Note: he shouted this in his Baron voice again, reviving the character in “kayfabe”) But I want all the fans to know this, dat is all da people need to know about Baron von Raschke!