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Old March 11th, 2009, 09:25 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Anybody remember Vern Gagne?

"Focus of inquiry, Gagne remembered as wrestler and gentleman
BY ANDREW J. NELSON
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER



When professional wrestler Verne Gagne performed in Omaha in the 1950s, he put on quite a show.




Verne Gagne, United States heavyweight rassling champion, in 1953.In a June 1958 match at the Civic Auditorium, the Minnesotan retained his championship after jumping into the ring and bashing his opponent, Dick The Bruiser, over the head with a folding chair. Later that year, he felled Edouard Carpentier with a punch to the Adam’s apple. Carpentier swallowed his tongue and a dental bridge, and was taken to the hospital.

Showcase
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Photos from the World-Herald library of Verne Gagne in his prime Out of the ring, however, Gagne was a charming, educated man. Like other professional wrestlers who performed in Omaha, he rarely cursed, drank or smoked and would not fight a regular guy.

Now 82 and battling Alzheimer’s disease, Gagne is at the center of an inquiry after a fatal altercation at a Bloomington, Minn., health care facility, the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune reports.

Gagne and Helmut Gutmann, 97, scrapped Jan. 26 in the memory loss section of Friendship Village, said Gutmann’s daughter, Ruth Hennig.

Gutmann, a scientist and musician who fled from **** Germany in 1936, suffered a broken right hip. He died 2½ weeks later.

“No one knows” what led to the clash, Hennig said. “I don’t think anyone was present when it began or even if anything precipitated it.”

The Hennepin County, Minn., Medical Examiner’s Office has not certified a cause of death. Bloomington police are determining whether they will recommend that charges be filed, Deputy Chief Perry Heles told the Star Tribune.

Hennig said family members have yet to discuss whether they want Gagne prosecuted.

A native of Corcoran, Minn., Gagne wrestled for the University of Minnesota and was an NCAA champion. He began wrestling professionally in 1949 and for most of the 1960s was the world heavyweight champion of his American Wrestling Association. For years, the popular weekly TV show “All Star Wrestling” was produced in Minneapolis.

“I know it sounds like I’m talking about someone who’s gone, and I know I shouldn’t do that, but because of this insidious disease, he’s not our Verne,” said Billy Bye, who had been a University of Minnesota athlete with Gagne.




Wrestling legend Verne Gagne watches a WWF program on television in 2006. Gagne, a Minnesota pro wrestling legend, had an altercation with a fellow resident of a Bloomington health care facility, leading to the man's death, a relative said today in Bloomington, MinnesotaThat squares with the memories of Eugene “Speedy” Zweiback, 71, of Omaha.

Zweiback’s father, Joe, operated the Vitamin Store at 305 S. 16th St., and sponsored many of the local matches in which Gagne participated.

As a youth, Speedy would watch from the side as performers grappled and hit each other with inanimate objects.

“You and I would say no human being on Earth could take this punishment — this is all fake,” Zweiback said. “But you would look at that crowd .¤.¤.”

Staged or not, Gagne and his fellow wrestlers considered themselves professional athletes. Many, including Gagne and Dick The Bruiser, had played professional football. They tended to be health nuts. Gagne got to know Joe Zweiback by patronizing his store.

They were not brutes, Eugene Zweiback said. Gagne attended Minnesota; Dick The Bruiser (whose real name was William Afflis), Purdue.

“These guys, with rare exceptions, were all college graduates,” Zweiback said. “They were never going to deliberately hurt each other .¤.¤. Everyone was friends, and everyone helped each other out the best they could.” After the matches ended and the crowds left the Municipal Auditorium (located where Omaha’s Central Police Headquarters now stands), the performers and their associates would pile into a couple of cars and drive a few blocks south to dine at an Italian steakhouse. Cascio’s was a frequent stop.

Once there, they would eat huge steaks and heaping piles of spaghetti and fries.

"Those guys could eat,” Zweiback said. “They were hungry guys.”

If a drunk confronted them, wanting to see how tough they really were, the men would not oblige.

“The thought that those guys would ever physically retaliate was unacceptable,” Zweiback said.

The World-Herald once described Gagne as “a poor loser” when, after losing a 1952 match at the Municipal Auditorium, he pouted and stomped around the ring. He didn’t like a referee’s call. Much of the crowd apparently felt the same way. The referee left the building under police protection.

The next month, he confronted a World-Herald sports writer who had written skeptically of the athleticism of “rassling.” Approaching the writer backstage at the auditorium, Gagne proposed a session where he could demonstrate that body slams, sleeper holds, surfboards and other ring maneuvers weren’t phony.

The writer demurred.

“I didn’t find Gagne belligerent,” the newspaper’s Don Lee wrote. “He was a pleasant well-spoken lad who retained the same clean-cut appearance which has won him thousands of admirers and dollars.”



Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom

Copyright ©2009 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald."



I used to watch "All Star Wrestling" every Monday night as a grade schooler. I remember Joe Swieback's corny vitamin store commercials.

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Old March 11th, 2009, 09:36 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Yeah, I remember those old guys, Verne and George "Scrap Iron" Gadaski and the others. Used to watch them when I was a kid.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 09:45 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Really? I used to think it was just shown in Omaha (where I grew up). They had wrestling at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha on Saturday nights with all that craziness.
I loved it!
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Old March 11th, 2009, 09:46 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Yeah, I remember those old guys, Verne and George "Scrap Iron" Gadaski and the others. Used to watch them when I was a kid.
yes indeed....Gagne was my maternal Grandmother's fave.....i can remember her hollerin' at the tv waaaay back when
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Old March 11th, 2009, 10:03 AM   #5 (permalink)
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yes indeed....Gagne was my maternal Grandmother's fave.....i can remember her hollerin' at the tv waaaay back when
Wow, this thread brings back memories.

What was it with those scrappy grandmas and "All-Star Wrestling"? While I was growing up in Wisconsin, my dad's mom always shushed the kids when we came over: "Quiet! Rasslin's on t.v." Then she'd spend the next hour yelling like a maniac. She didn't even ask how we were until after all the matches were over.

I actually don't think I remember any other issue that excited my grandmother as much as "All-Star Wrestling."

My dad and a friend actually took us to a bout once in Oshkosh, and I remember that after a guy got thrown out of the ring, an old lady jumped up yelling, "Use my chair! Use my chair!" She wanted the other wrestler to take her folding chair to smack the other guy lying on the floor.

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Old March 11th, 2009, 10:21 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I used to drive by his mini horse ranch west of Minneapolis years ago. His large picture window overlooking the pond was a stained glass portrait of Vern wearing his huge championship belt.
Very sad story, the home he is in is nearby. He was gentleman by all accounts.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 10:28 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Back in the early 80s, I was visiting a cousin in Chicago and we went to a rasslin' show, and Vern Gagne, who was probably close to 60, came out of retirement for a big cage match. It was kind of a letdown, because he obviously hurt his leg about 30 seconds into the bout, and the other wrestlers were very careful not to hurt him further (I think he actually owned the league, so he probably paid their paychecks!).

Still, it was amazingly cool to me to see the legend in the flesh, and now that I think about it, it was probably the last time he was ever in the ring as a wrestler!

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Old March 11th, 2009, 10:35 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Was it Gagne or Lou Thez tha Bruno Sammartino beat in 90 seconds to win the championship back in the 60's.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 11:03 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Was it Gagne or Lou Thez tha Bruno Sammartino beat in 90 seconds to win the championship back in the 60's.
Actually it was Buddy "Nature Boy" Rogers if my recall is correct.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 11:30 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Stantheman? Not Stasiak?? Perfecter of The Heart Punch??? Banned in 38 states... and Puerto Rico????????
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Old March 11th, 2009, 12:41 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I used to watch a lot of Verne Gagne on late Saturday nights from the Green Bay Wis television channel. All the matches ended with him winning with the "Gagne Sleeper" hold. I remember Scrap Iron Gadanski and the Vachon Brothers, Butcher and Mad Dog. For a while Mad Dog had a burger francise in Canada in the 1980's, Mad Dog Burger. My favorite thing about some of the matches was that the stars were always introduced as "The Fantastic!!!, The incredible!!! the Champion!!!, One of the greatest Wrestlers in the World!!!" and then they would quickly introduce the opponent... " The capable Kenny Jay....(No empahsis). You always knew who was going to win before it started....
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Old March 11th, 2009, 12:57 PM   #12 (permalink)
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They weren't always best friends. Dick the Bruiser famously duked it out with Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions and later star of Webster in a Detroit bar.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 01:07 PM   #13 (permalink)
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I used to think "Mad Dog Vachone" was awesome!
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Old March 11th, 2009, 01:31 PM   #14 (permalink)
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No, but I used to remember some Canadian wrestlers from the old days: Whipper Billly Watson, Yukon Eric, Haystack Calhoun, the Sheikh, there's others but the mind eludes. Those were the days!

My old man loved Channel 11 out of Hamilton and their Saturday noontime wrestles at the Gardens... different story today! Wish I had gone there in the day ... nostalgia speaking ..
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Old March 11th, 2009, 02:09 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Here's a few for yiz, Chief Jay Strongbow, Bulldog Brower, George"TheAnimal"Steel, Professer Toro Tanaka & Mr. Fuji, Pedro Morales not forgetting the midgets, Sky Low Low and Little Brutus.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 02:12 PM   #16 (permalink)
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I remember "The Shiek" but not the rest that you guys have mentioned.

Was "Gera- Speed" the "steroids" of that day?

Wonder of it really did anything for them?
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Old March 11th, 2009, 02:18 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Actually it was Buddy "Nature Boy" Rogers if my recall is correct.
You are correct, sir.
Rogers lived in beautiful Camden,NJ until he passed away at about 74.
But less than a year before he passed, there was an incident where a guy t4ried to mug him in the street & Buddy F'ed the guy up.
A short time after that, he came out of retirement to appear on an independent card in South Jersey or Philadelphia.
This was all sometime in the mid to late 80s I beleive.
Sad story about Verne.
I never got to see him in NJ. But I used to pick up all the old Wretling mags when I was in high school. So I was familliar with him & Dick The Bruiser & those guys from the AWA.
Edward Carpentier was one of my favorites as a kid, when he was in my area wresting in the WWWF during the Sammartino era.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 03:41 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Ahhhh, the old WWWF. If I remember correctly Vince McMahon's father was the guy that ran the outfit and also doubled as "The Grand Wizard of Profesional Wrestling".
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Old March 11th, 2009, 03:48 PM   #19 (permalink)
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I grew up in Minnesota and watched him all the time on All Star Wrestling.

Let's see, who else was a rassler back then? Mad Mountain Mike, The Crusher, Baron Von Raschke (and the claw), Dr X (with the black mask and the "Figure 4 Leg Lock"), Bobby “The Brain” Hennan, Nick Bockwinkel, , Jim Brunzell, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, , Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Blackjack Lanza, “Crippler” Ray Stevens, King Kong Bundy, Ivan Putzky.

And of course, everyone's favorite fall guy "The capable Kenny Jay"

They used to take the show on the road to all the little towns (school gymns, armories). I remember going to several of them.

And then there was this tiny little announcer - Marty O'Neil (I think)

Cheers,
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Old March 11th, 2009, 03:49 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Wasnt Greg Gagne his son?
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