THE PHANTOM OF THE RING
“LIGHTS, CAMERA, ‘RASSLING!
Edited by Karen Belcher

 

This series is dedicated to our good friend, colleague, and kindred cinephile Dr. Mike Lano, who has been a steady and entertaining contributor to these pages. He is both our friend and inspiration, and we can think of no better way to honor him.

 

 

Sports have provided storylines Hollywood since the days of Edison. Baseball, football, basketball, boxing, even horse racing have all seen their share of stories come to the silver screen. Yet there has been one sport that has be mostly overlooked wrestling, in both its amateur and professional forms. Yes, there have been films made a bout professional wrestling, but these are few and far between, and except for two I can name, one made in 1950 and the other in 2008, none was of any lasting quality, most being comedies. Of course, wrestling promoters were more than OK with this, since any publicity was like a light being shined on a roach-infested kitchen floor. The code of omertà was sacred in the business and those who violated it were blacklisted. If they wanted to wrestle they had to do so overseas.

 

Of course, this didn’t stop wrestlers from working in Hollywood, especially in non-wrestling themed films. Wrestlers have worked as stuntmen from the earliest days on the movies, back before the moguls moved out West. Important wrestling matches, such as the Gotch-Hackenschmidt tussles of 1908 and 1911, were filmed and shown to fans in movie houses and nickelodeons across the country. Sadly, the only olden match that survives today is the 1920 match between Joe Stecher and Earl Caddock. It claims fame as the oldest surviving wrestling match. Reportedly, both contestants split $30,000 for the rights.

 

The reason no earlier matches have survived is due to two factors: One, the cellulose nitrate film stock used at the time required careful storage to prevent total deterioration. Otherwise, the film stock breaks down and eventually turns to a rust-colored powder. Old film stock was also extremely flammable, and if not handled carefully, could burst into flame. Many cities, such as Los Angeles, London and New York forbade the transport of film canisters aboard public conveyances. It was estimated by film historian Dave Kehr that approximately 90% of silent movies and 50% of sound movies made before 1950 are lost to posterity. Two, the main clue of lost films was the studios themselves. They often “recycled” existing films for their silver content. According to film preservationist Robert A. Harris: ”Most of the early films did not survive because of wholesale junking by the studios. There was no thought of ever saving these films. They simply needed vault space and the materials were expensive to house.” Silent films were especially prey to this wanton destruction, since after the advent of sound films they had little or no commercial value.

 

Along with the destruction of these films we lost their cast notes, which would have told us what wrestlers were working back then. Besides common sense, I’ve been told by may old time wrestlers, such as the great Lou Thesz, that many wrestlers worked in Hollywood as stuntmen to supplement the meager wages they were bring paid by promoters. While in Los Angeles in the ‘30s, Thesz picked up extra cash catching wild mustangs. He told me that many wrestlers have worked in Westerns since the studios moved out to Hollywood.

 

Some wrestlers decided to stick around and make a living in the movies. Of these, three stick out: the original Bull Montana, Constantine Romanoff, and Ivan Linow. They moved up from stunts to minor supporting parts where they were given the chance to speak lines.

 

Bull Montana

Bull Montana

 

Bull Montana was born Luigi Montagna in Voghera, Italy on May 16, 1887. He came to the U.S. as a child and would eventually come to work in the old carny circuits of New York and New Jersey, where his husky build would lead him to the AT as a wrestler. Are has given the ring name “Bull Montana” at a wrestling card held on Coney Island. In the ‘20s he was reimaged by promoters in Texas as a cowboy. His career spanned more than 30 years, mostly in the middleweight and light heavyweight ranks, though he faced such top stars as Ed Lewis, Jim Londos, Frank Gotch and the Zbyszko. As early as November, 1910, he was arrested in Beaver PA, along with future Boston promoter Paul Bowser and someone named Joe Rusek for “conspiracy to engage in a wrestling match.” (Mark Hewitt research). When his active days were over, he slid into the role of referee. His ring act, complete with menacing scowl, impressed Douglas Fairbanks, who hired him as a stuntman and later moved him up to featured extra. He would amass 90 credits in movies from 1917 to 1937, his most famous being for playing an apeman in 1925’s The Lost World and an uncredited part as Monkey Man in the 1937 serial Flash Gordon starring Buster Crabbe. In his later years Montana fell victim to heart disease and passed away on January 24, 1950 at French Hospital in Los Angeles at 62 years of age.

 

Constantine Romanoff

Constantine Romanoff

 

Constantine Romanoff, from Another Nice Mess

Constantine Romanoff, from Another Nice Mess

 

Constantine Romanoff was born Friedrich William Heinrich August Meyer on August 21, 1881 in Dielingen, Germany. He came to America in 1905 and settled in Omaha, Nebraska, where he worked as a blacksmith. It’s not known when he began wrestling, but history has him wrestling back in 1913. He used the ring name Jack Meyers as well as Constantine Romanoff, a name that was reportedly given to him by a sports writer. As Romanoff he faced Ad Santel (Adolph Ernst) for the World Light Heavyweight Championship on April 1, 1913 in San Antonio, Texas. On March 23, 1917. Romanoff lost in two straight falls in a World Heavyweight Championship encounter with champ Joe Stecher in Los Angeles, as city to where he and his wife moved in 1920.

 

He began his film career in 1921 in an uncredited role in a Harold Lloyd short titled Among Those Present. By the time Romanoff retired from films in 1951 he had amassed 126 credits, a large majority uncredited. For wrestling fans, he played the champ fought by Paul Gregory in Sit Tight from Warner Bros. in 1931.

 

Evelyn Brent and Ivan Linow in Madonna of the Streets (1930)

Evelyn Brent and Ivan Linow in Madonna of the Streets (1930)

 

Ivan Linow in The SIlver Horde, 1930

Ivan Linow in The Silver Horde, 1930

 

Ivan Linow was born Janis Linaus in Latvia in 1888. He entered wrestling sometime around 1914 and was booked in Jack Curley’s famous New York tournament in 1915 as Ivan Linow, the Finnish Lion. During his heyday he worked was billed as “the Cossack” or “the Russian Man-Eater” and faced such opponents as Ed Lewis, Joe Stecher, and Earl Caddock. From 1919 to 1926 he also wrestled under the name of Jack Linow and in his final match in 1933 against Young Sandow (Henry Roch), he was billed as Jack Leon. Turning to Hollywood in 1921 his first film was an uncredited appearance in Cappy Ricks. In a career that stretched until 1935 he racked up 57 credits, his most famous coming as the strongman Hercules, Lon Chaney’s henchman in the sound remake of The Unholy Three (1930) and as Sailor Muller World’s Champion wrestler who faces challenger Joel McCrea in The Sports Parade (1932). Linow died of a heart attack while in London on November 21, 1940.

 

This series will be a combination of reviews of wrestling-themed films and articles on wrestlers who went into the movies. There will be no chronological order. Rather it is hoped you will enjoy our efforts as a further tribute to the men who made their living stepping between the ropes.

 

– The Phantom of the Ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to “The Phantom of the Ring Presents Lights, Camera, ‘Rassling!”

[...] wrestlers and movie ongoing new column entitled “Lights, Camera, ‘RASSLIN!”   http://www.prowrestlingdigest.com/2016/08/20/the-phantom-of-the-ring-presents-lights-camera-rassling…      No one knows film from its beginnings to current than The Phantom Of The Ring.  I think [...]

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