Title :
KING CURTIS REMINISCES ABOUT 50th STATE WRESTLING
Author : Georgiann Makropoulos
Date : 07/26/2005 (02:25:24 PM)


Iaukea reminisces about 50th-state wrestling

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Honolulu Advertiser

Rod Ohira

Advertiser Staff Writer

Curtis "Da Bull" Iaukea, reflecting on his pro wrestling days, will be at the Hawaii All-Collectors Show today at the Blaisdell.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HAWAII ALL-COLLECTORS SHOW

Continues 11 a.m.-5 p.m. today, with appearance by Curtis "Da Bull" Iaukea, 1-3 p.m.
Blaisdell Exhibition Hall
$4; $2 keiki 7 to 11
941-9754

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Curtis Iaukea with his champion heavyweight wrestling belt. Hawaiçi became a hub for American wrestlers on route to Japan in the 1960s.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | Oct. 1968

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Remember this? Promoter Ed Francis stands with one foot on a bench, feigning disgust over the antics of "King Ripper" Collins and "Handsome" Johnny Barend, as 50th State Big Time Wrestling's outrageous live locker room interviews return from a commercial break.

A huge man sits next to Francis, bare back to the camera.

"Mister Francis ..." the wrestler growls, stretching out the promoter's name, before unleashing an insulting tirade against his opponent at the old Civic Auditorium on South King Street.

The big man is Curtis "Da Bull" Iaukea, 6-feet-5 with 1 1/2-inch lifts in his wrestling shoes and weighing 350-plus pounds, one of the headliners who made the 1960s and '70s a golden age of pro wrestling in Hawai'i. Live Saturday afternoon studio wrestling and its locker room interviews captivated a big TV audience; many today consider the show a favorite childhood memory.

Iaukea appears from 1 to 3 p.m. today at a pro wrestling display for the Hawaii All-Collectors Show.

The man known as "Da Bull," who turns 70 in September, attended Punahou and the University of California Berkeley, and played two years in the Canadian Football League before becoming full-time professional wrestler in 1959. He has plenty of reminiscences about wrestling back in the day.

As Iaukea tells it, Francis, a former junior heavyweight world wrestling champion, borrowed $10,000 to buy the local promotion from Al Karasick.

Karasick had wanted to sell the wrestling operation to Lord James "Tallyho" Blears, the man who handpicked most of the odd bunch who appeared in the wrestling ring. But "Lord just wanted to be the (talent) booker," said Iaukea.

Blears, or "Lord," as Iaukea calls him, was key to the promotion's success, Iaukea said. Hawai'i had become a hub for American wrestlers traveling to and from Japan in the early '60s, and when Henry Kaiser-owned KHVH (Channel 4) picked up wrestling for local television, it introduced Hawai'i to live studio wrestling and locker room interviews, featuring the cutting-edge character-development style developed by Blears in Buffalo and then Los Angeles.

"Lord is a genius," Iaukea said. "By creating personalities, Blears created stars."

In wrestling's heyday here, Iaukea said, "big bodies meant nothing. ... (Headliners) had a gimmick, characters who were outrageous and goofy."

Wrestling was held Wednesday nights at the Civic Auditorium in Honolulu. When the Civic closed, matches were held at Honolulu International Center, later renamed Blaisdell Center.

TV wrestling became so popular that when it moved to KGMB-TV, it aired twice a week. Taped matches and interviews were shown following the 10 o'clock news on Fridays, and live studio matches were broadcast on Saturdays.

Iaukea agreed to appear at the collectors' show this weekend to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association in Hawai'i.

"Every family in the state either has someone in their family suffering from the ravages of this disease or knows someone close to them who is," said Iaukea, who has disclosed that he is in the early stages of dementia.

WHO'S WHO

Enter the cast of 50th State Big-Time Wrestling:

  • The late Leroy "King Ripper" Collins. Married to Barbara Baker, a professional woman wrestler. Iaukea relates that Collins met Baker at a diner in West Virginia, when Baker was driving to South Carolina with two other wrestlers, Mildred Burke and The Fabulous Moolah.

    Baker asked Iaukea to talk to Blears about making Collins a wrestler. "Today, you pay to go to school to become a wrestler, but in our days, you were invited in," Iaukea said.

    Collins' break came when Blears gave him a Neighbor Island travel schedule and "Ripper" butchered the pronunciation of Hilo, Maui and Kaua'i. "(Ripper) exploded here even though he couldn't do anything but talk," Iaukea recalled.

  • "Handsome" Johnny Barend. Married Annie Lum in 1971 in the ring at Honolulu International Center. "Johnny is a former Mr. New York City, an ex-Marine who is a (Korean) war hero," Iaukea said.

    "We never wrestled but hung out together at Kaimana Beach and Hilton Hawaiian Village. One day, he sees this high school senior walking in Waikiki, she was beautiful. She always had a transistor radio to her ear so we used to call her 'Transistor Annie.' They're still married and living in Upstate New York," Iaukea said.

    The night Barend got married was also the last time Iaukea wrestled in Hawai'i. He was in the main event, matched against the legendary Verne Gagne. "I came back for Johnny's wedding," Iaukea said.

    With his knee-high wrestling boots, dark glasses, top hat and cigar, Barend adopted the TV "Batman" theme and later "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" to enhance his gimmick of a being a mysterious wacko telling fractured fairy tales about his opponents. "I think Johnny's bubble shifted to one side somewhere along the way and never came back straight," Iaukea said, laughing.

  • Pampero Firpo, the Missing Link. He doesn't recall the Link's real name, but Iaukea said the man whose "oooo-yeah" became a much-imitated war cry in Hawai'i is a professor emeritus of philosophy at University of Sao Paulo. "He couldn't wrestle; (his yell) is all he did," Iaukea said.

  • Harry "Fuji" Fujiwara. "In wrestling, you got to have people around you on the road that you like, because you're away from home so long," Iaukea said. Iaukea's sidekick and friend lives in Knoxville, Tenn., commuting daily to his gamecock farm in South Carolina. "He was goofey but talented," Iaukea said of the McKinley High grad. "He's going into the pro wrestling hall of fame because he's the only one I know of who spent 25 years (performing) at Madison Square Garden. They first brought him to New York to take care of (the late) Charlie Kalani (Professor Toru Tanaka) because Charlie was three-quarters Hawaiian and couldn't do the Japanese thing. The funny thing is Fuji couldn't speak Japanese either."

  • Chief Billy White Wolf. Adnan Kasey was an amateur wrestling champion from Baghdad whose father was head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Iraq, Iaukea said. Kasey promoted a wrestling card under threat by Saddam's regime a few years ago that drew 150,000 people, the largest ever in pro wrestling for that country.

    The Indian gimmick came because Kasey's profile resembled the chief on a nickel, Iaukea said. "He's a beautiful man who had a good gimmick," added Iaukea. "He made money with the gimmick but got his nose fixed. I remember he showed up in Australia once and the promoter was mad because he didn't look like an Indian anymore."

  • Dick Beyer. "He was teaching at Kaimuki High School," Iaukea said. "He got bald, so Lord put a mask on him, taught him Nature Boy Buddy Rogers' figure-four leglock and made him The Destroyer. He's still goes to Japan, because nostalgia is big (for wrestling) there."

  • Nick Bockwinkle. "His dad, Warren Bockwinkle, was a close friend of Lord's, so Lord trained him and gave him a gimmick," Iaukea said. "He's retired now and plays golf every day in Las Vegas. He's vice president of the big cauliflower ear club; Red Bastein is president. We have over 1,000 members and get together once a year."

  • Neff Maiava. The man who threw opponents around the ring if they grabbed his long hair is today an award-winning children's book author in Hawai'i.

  • The Masked Executioner. "The Executioner (in Hawai'i) was Vic Christie," said Iaukea. "He was 6-5 and handsome. Lord said he was too good-looking, so he put a mask on him. When people saw him on the beach, they left him alone because no one knew who he was."

  • "Tallyho" Blears. "When I used to tell people in my business that I had to check with the Lord before I do anything, they thought I was religious — until they found out it was Blears," Iaukea said. "He was the envy of the whole wrestling business.

    "Lord used to tell me everybody tries to put their face in the camera, but familiarity breeds boredom which breeds contempt. That's why he had me sit with my back to the camera."

    What made wrestling successful here ? "We had people smart enough to listen to Lord," Iaukea said.

  • Ed Francis. Iaukea believes Francis, who sold the promotion to Lia Maivia, is living in Missouri.

  • "Da Bull." He's the third in his family with the name Curtis Iaukea. The others were his father, who retired as a Honolulu police captain, and his great-grandfather, who served as a diplomat in the courts of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili-'uokalani. Iaukea wrestled part-time for two years and fulltime for 20 years before retiring in 1979. He was known outside of Hawai'i as "King Curtis" or "Prince Kuhio."

    He lives in Papakolea, but not on the street named after his grandfather. "I thought it would be too facetious (to live on Iaukea Street)," he said.

    Blears recruited and mentored only two Hawai'i wrestlers, and Iaukea was one of them.

    Over the years, Iaukea himself has chosen to mentor only one local wrestler: Maunakea Mossman, a Kaimuki High grad and state high school wrestling champion (1993 and 1994) who is a star in Japan and Italy.

    "What a life!" Iaukea said, looking back on his wrestling career. "I loved it."

    Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.



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