Missing Our Friends
– Dr. Mike Lano
Losing some giants in our industry recently like Lord Roger Littlebrook and Mr. Fuji weighed heavily on my mind. I’d interviewed Roger about 5 years back; aided by his two sons he trained and booked around the country for years. Roger had suffered a stroke or several prior to this, and had difficulty speaking. But I could easily tell he still had his “200% passion and love for the biz,” as he used to put it to me. I believe he was still based out of the KC area and had trained quite a few other “little people” stars as well as helped book them en-mass but in an honest, caring way. That’s a real rarity in wrestling. I was blessed to have photographed him as well as Harry/Mr. Fuji in their primes, many times. Littlebrook was absolutely one of the greatest midget (I still hate using that word but most still refer to themselves by it) world champs in the Little Beaver and Sky Low Low era, but well past Fuzzy Cupid and some of the great 40′s-60′s stars that Beaver and Low were a part of via the prior Montreal booking office with some aid from classic wrestling photographer, the great Tony Lanza who graciously mentored me a few times when I went up there for some of the awesome Grand Prix and Rougeau magic.
Meltzer/Wrestling Observer wrote a great Mr. Fuji tribute including his breaking in in Honolulu (he was a native Hawaiian, not Japanese) and of interest, his singles main event days in Australia and San Francisco. I didn’t get to shoot him in the former, but was there for many of his bigger matches, shooting ringside at the Cow Palace. Especially when he won the 1976 battle royal, which I thought boiled down to him tossing Don Muraco out (Dave, who I actually went to the show that January with, said Fuji threw salt into Pat Patterson’s eyes to win the thing. And man, was it a loaded card. Andre and Peter Maivia beat the Invaders with Godfather (he went from a heel Nazi manager to an Italian godfather, only creative booker Roy Shire could pull that off in short time) Gary “Gearhardt” Kaiser. Also shot Fuji defending the area’s U.S. title against Lonnie Mayne in an insane blood bath at the Cow Palace. Pat worked quite a bit with Fuji in my other home base territory of Los Angeles at our venerable Olympic Auditorium. As great as he and Massa Saito were as a team (Saito doing all the tough work as a former Olympic type legit amateur wrestler), my favorite memories of Fuji were of him teaming with Prof. Toru Tanaka. They were just so colorful and I believe the only WWWF team to be managed by all their classic managers at one time in Albano, Wiz and later Blassie (who for some reason maybe our Wrestling Phantom of the Ring can remind me, was primarily given foreign, or allegedly foreign wrestlers to manage starting with Nicolai Volkoff and extending to Spyros Arion, Peter Maivia, Victor Rivera (well, if we consider Puerto Rico as somewhere sorta outside the U.S.) That doesn’t include Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody however (maybe we could figure they’d later be billed as “Japanese stars” which makes sense on a few levels).
*Whenever we lose friends like the above, it reminds us of others we’ve lost. Really classic fans like Georgiann Makropoulos, the ultimate Philly fanatic in gentle Richie Mershon, Professor Elliot Maron. Georgie was of course more than a fan and the queen of wrestling insiderness. She was the ultimate connection between not just fans but the boys in the biz, the McMahon fan, Meltzer and Keller and yup, even John Arezzi and everyone. Professor Elliot could drain us and loved to call and talk the way the great Brian Hildebrand might call Dennis Coralluzzo, myself or others up at 1 am just to talk Japanese or Mexican wrestling for 2 hours back in the 80′s. And what a character longtime indie promoter Dennis was. Those nights when I was flown in by the mags to shoot his fierce rivals TWA shows in Philly (ECW predecessor shows promoted by Joel Goodhart aided by Tod Gordon!), Dennis insisted I stay at his home in Deptford, NJ. Joel transed in all the greatest talent from Sheik, Abby, Kevin Sullivan, Funks of course, etc; but those guys would join Eddie Gilbert and Cactus/Mick along with Hildebrand, Scott Goldstein, me, Jim Cornette & Bobby Eaton I believe, and others to watch Dynamite vs Tiger Mask matches, etc. for hours on end. Just mentioning Ed Farhut’s ring name (I ran I believe his only 60′s fan club) brings a smile. Greatest heel of all time in my opinion and that of many others. And we’re talking globally – Japan and Canada of course. If you were ever in the arena with him in his 60′s and 70′s heydays – say Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, All Japan and later FMW, Atlanta, Dallas, etc…. it was an experience not to be believed. Colorful as all hell, especially when paired with the great Ernie Roth this time as Weasal Abdullah Farouk (later WWWF’s Grand Wiz). Them’s were the days, and these were some of the people. Great ones each in their own way and I want the ones we’ve lost to know we will never forget them. They are all supremely missed, and that of course includes Frank/Brody too of course. Lord James Blears, John and Chris Tolos. And I don’t want to forget about Coralluzzo’s fave wrestler of all time in Eddie Gilbert who was always at our tv viewing events that I think usually began about midnight. IMO, no one loved the biz more than Eddie and wrestling’s true genius/historian/greatest promo in Jimmy Cornette who has some upcoming big UK dates, even though he still hates flying. Many of us would love to hear what Ernie Roth thought of Corny’s work. I know he’d be proud Jim has done his best at keeping all of wrestling’s magic and traditions going for all future generations.
Before I forget, longtime indie wrestling great and former NWA champ several years back in Scrapiron Adam Pierce, moved up from his major time at NXT to become a full, main roster agent. He was involved along with Fit Findlay in the ramp pull apart last Monday between Kevin Steen/Owens and Seth Rollins. Emailed to congratulate him (not sure if this was his first time on WWE tv) and he said he had fun. Congrats to the former genius booker (one of several) at ROH and just a terrific person who attends CAC every year with us in Vegas.
NOTE from The Phantom:
When Fuji and Tanaka toured Japan, they were billed as being from Hawaii. Blassie was given foreign wrestlers or those new to the biz and not yet mic-worthy because of his great skill in getting them over. When he managed Hansen, who was practically unknown at the time outside the Deep South, he said he found him on the plains of Texas turning over boulders and squashing the Mexicans that ran out from underneath. Arion was never good on the stick, nor were Fuji and Tanaka, or Maivia. (Remember how they billed him in the Bond flick as “the smiling killer”? That was because he couldn’t keep a straight face during his scenes and was so bad delivering his lines that the producer, Cubby Broccoli, simply cut them.)
NOTE from Karen Belcher:
Lord Littlebrook, one of the best known midget wrestlers in wrestling history, died Sept. 9, 2016, in St. Joseph, MO, at the age of 87, after a long illness. His real name was Eric Tovey, and he was born Jan. 3, 1929 in England. He was an innovative performer, and was one of the first wrestlers to use aerial attacks against his opponents. He traveled extensively and was very popular all over the world, including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Thailand. He gained the most fame when he worked for the WWF. He held the All-Star Wrestling Alliance Midget Championship and the National Wrestling Alliance Midget Championship, and was inducted into the Canadian Wrestling Hall of Fame, and into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Article & photos by Dr. Mike Lano
Comments by The Phantom of the Ring & Karen Belcher