- 07/26/2005 (2:25:24 pm)
- Georgiann Makropoulos
Iaukea appears from 1 to 3 for Hawaii All Collectors Show….
|Iaukea reminisces about 50th-state wrestling
Sunday, July 24, 2005
The Honolulu Advertiser
Advertiser Staff Writer
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.
Enter the cast of 50th State Big-Time Wrestling:
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.
"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.
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."
"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.
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 [email protected].