Found: Chattanooga wrestling treasures from the 1960s

When wrestling great Jackie Fargo died, I wrote a tribute, and got some great responses from folks around the nation who fondly remembered The Fabulous One.  Jackie and his fellow wrestlers had a huge following in the 3-channel universe of the 1960s, when Harry Thornton’s weekly wrestling show was must-see TV in Chattanooga, along with the sold-out shows at Memorial Auditorium.

I mentioned in that story that I never got to meet Jackie.  But while I was fumbling through my memorabilia boxes looking for something else, I found a fairly well-preserved Chattanooga wrestling autograph book that Thornton published and distributed in the 1960s.  It turns out that sometime during my wrestling-obsessed childhood, I met Jackie and got his autograph.  How could I have forgotten that?

fargoI have also told thousands of people another false story.  During my 100-plus presentations to churches and clubs about my local radio-TV photo history book, people have often asked if I ever met Harry Thornton, whose Morning Show I eventually hosted on WDEF after his death.  For decades, I have maintained that I never met Harry.  Around the time of his retirement, I wanted to interview him for my radio show, but we were never able to link up.  I think he figured I was a smart-aleck disc jockey who wanted to “rip” him, in his words.  That wasn’t my intention, but I guess he’d been ripped one time too many.  Looking through the autograph book though, there it is in black and white: Harry Thornton’s autograph.  I was probably 7 or 8 when I met him, but obviously I did.

wrestling-harryIn communicating with several wrestling fans after my Jackie Fargo story, I learned a lot about my childhood obsession.  As mentioned in my previous story, many of the wrestlers were not who they claimed to be.  While some used their real names, many were acting out a role, even going so far as to pretend to be German or Japanese so they could assume a villainous persona.  I used to have great sympathy for guys who seemed to come on TV each week, and lose every single match.  An older guy billed as “Rowdy Red Roberts” comes to mind.  If he was wrestling in the TV show opening match, he would find a way to lose.  It turns out these guys were called “jobbers” in the wrestling trade, and their job was to make the other guy look good.  The other guy was usually younger, fitter, and with more charisma.  He would build up enough “wins” to eventually become a headliner.  Thanks to the hard-luck, often out-of-shape jobber, the show could go on.

I also remember a soft-spoken gentleman named Norman Veazey who served as Thornton’s ring announcer.  I remember going to some smaller matches, maybe in Trenton, Georgia where Veazey assumed Thornton’s role, sort of running the whole operation.  I never knew much about Veazey, but I’ve learned he was a minor league baseball player and manager in the Washington Senators organization, even playing in Chattanooga in the 1940s.  Evidently that’s where he met Thornton, who was doing morning radio and sports for WAGC radio.  Veazey became Thornton’s “road agent,” a term for the guy who traveled with the wrestlers, making sure everyone behaved, did their jobs, and got paid.  I wish I had a picture of Norman Veazey, but I can’t find one anywhere.

I do however, have a photo, and autographs from the Scuffin’ Hillbillies.  Willie, Slim and Cousin Alfred cashed in on the Beverly Hillbillies craze of the 1960s, traveling from town to town in their overalls, toting their moonshine jugs.  It was a novelty act for sure, and they sauntered in and out of Chattanooga a couple of times a year to liven things up.  They were fan favorites to say the least.

hillbilliesMy final photo from the wrestling autograph book is unsigned.  Although I’m pretty sure I saw Tojo Yamamoto (real name Harold Watanabe, Hawaiian, not Japanese) wrestle live somewhere, I was probably afraid to go up and ask for his autograph, in fear of him hitting me with one of his wooden shoes.  After all, he did that to Jackie Fargo all the time.  Still, he was a good athlete and an outstanding pro wrestler, doing his job well.  He got the crowd stirred up.  I will always remember the face of a regular audience member, a middle-aged woman who was ringside for every TV match at Channel 12.  She would always try to hit Tojo with her purse, and she yelled louder than anyone else in the audience.  I don’t have a photo of her, but her face is indelibly etched in my mind.  “Tojo”(standing in the photo below) and most of the other wrestling stars of the 1960s are long gone, only a few remain.  But Fargo’s recent death sure ignited a lot of memories of live TV, hero worship and lots of rolling around on the playground, playing the roles of grown men, who were quite often doing a great job of role-playing themselves.

wrestling-tojo

 

 

 

 

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

11 thoughts on “Found: Chattanooga wrestling treasures from the 1960s

  1. Joe Shirley

    Len Rossi is the only one of the old time “rasslers” with whom I have contact. He runs a vitamin shop / nutrition store in Franklin, TN. He was my favorite back in the day, and learning the “Rossi Sleeper” was the highlight of my athletic career (i.e. wrestling in my friend’s back yard when I was 9)

    Sad to see Jackie go. He was one of a kind.

    Reply
  2. Dewayne Gass

    Amazing memories.My family wasnt into wrestling, we were a Braves and Football family however my neighbor was. She was our ride to school and babysitter afterwards and on Saturdays should we stray near her house we were sure to be entertained if not scared to death. Mrs Cagle would bounce up and down on her couch, throw things and occassionally let a word slide towards the TV villians of Local Wrestling. She believed that Tojo was the most evil thing in the world and I am pretty sure she had a housewife crush on the Amazing Mr Fargo. I am grinning at the thought of this and in this world of unlimited distractions it is impossible for todays generation to understand the impact of these shows and personalities. Good stuff DC.

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  3. Jim Amburn

    I never met any of those wrestlers, but I got to know Harry Thornton very well. I was his milkman (worked for Meadow Brook Farms, Inc.) and delivered miljk to him three times a week. I got to his house about 5:30 AM and he would be sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. He used to tell me when he first got into Radio he was known as the milkman. What a guy.

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  4. T Brown

    Since February we have been filming a documentary about wrestling in Northwest Georgia. We have filmed at a dozen or so locations, interviewing wrestlers, fans, referees, and promoters. Harry Thornton always turns up in conversation when we talk with people about the project. The popularity of wrestling in this area is no doubt due to a large extent to his popularity as a television personality.

    Reply
  5. Wally Harmon

    I grew up watching Harry Thornton morning show and his wrestling show and got to see a great many big name wrestlers come on his one I remember the most was Jackie Fargo thats when wrestling has a true good guy and bad guys.

    Reply
  6. William Keefe

    I met Bear Cat Brown as he came out of the TV station. I was maybe 10 or 11. I asked (cocky in front of my friends) “Hey Mr. Bearcat Brown, is it true wrestling is fake?” He replied, “How bout I slap the shit out of you and you tell me if that’s fake.”
    He became a favorite of mine from then on.
    I managed to pat Tojo on the back as he left the ring at Memorial Auditorium and he looked back at me. Another cool time.
    I also remember the lady swinging her purse at Tojo. Fantastic memories, but by far the best memory of all was the highly touted match to see who the toughest wrestler in Tennessee was between Jackie Fargo and King of Memphis Jerry Lawler.
    It was then and is now still, the single greatest TV event I have ever watched bar none.
    Another memory I have from that era was when a neighborhood friend (Brian Vaughn) brought to our neighborhood and introduced us to Butch Thornton (Harry’s son) who at that point was just starting his own delve into wrestling himself. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing backyard football and someone had a wallet stolen and Butch got blamed although I never heard the end of the matter.
    There were two guys (reported to be brothers) who wore white masks and white tights and were fan favorite villains who fought much with the Fargos. Can anyone put a name to them?
    Also, anyone remember the name of the female blond anchor that joined Harry Thornton near the end of his career? She ended up doing a solo talk show I think.
    Love this time in my life.
    Anyone who has stories fascinates me.

    Reply
    1. eddie wattenbarger

      judy corn, she could really get harry fired up, i met harry several times in ringgold ga at the shop rite, when i was younger i cleaned tommy riches appt. on east brainard rd, i worked for a cleaning service, i also worked at burt brown ford in rossville ga and met tojo and dr shock, both were friends of burt brown, i loved working there, bert was one of the best emplorers i ever worked for,thank you eddie wattenbarger

      Reply
  7. John Suggs

    I went to a Thursday night match in Dec of 1968 and former World Champion Boxer Joe Louis was the “special “ referee. I saw him at the edge of the stage watching the matches. I walked over and he gave me an autograph. Good times !!

    Reply
  8. Carol Gore

    I loved the story you wrote I read it all and it was quite interesting to me I am not old enough to know the wrestlers you was talking about but when I was young my uncle told me about Tojo Yamamoto and said they called him toe jam did you know anything about this? You have some great pictures and you have something that is priceless. the wrestlers are growing up with was Hulk Hogan which is real name was Terry Hogan I also the Junkyard Dog The Undertaker and the lumberjack are just a few of the wrestlers I can remember I love to watch that kind of wrestling also one more wrestler I remember was The Rock who plays in Walking Tall as Chris Brown real name Dwayne Johnson I wish those kind of wrestlers will come back and wrestle again but the good old days are gone forever that’s what makes me sad I growed up just in time to see the good old days when it was about to end if anyone has any pictures all these wrestlers and where they are autographed I would like to see them if you don’t mind thanks again I had fun telling you a little stor of the wrestlers I knew.

    Reply
  9. Mike Lawrence

    David, thank you for sharing so much over the years. I especially like this story because it brings back memories for me. When I was too young to assume the responsibilities of babysitting my younger twin sisters, we often had a babysitter named Myrtle. She was an elderly woman, and had to sit four or five feet from the TV to see it. I used to ride with my dad to go pick her up on those rare occasions and I remember this: We had to pick her up to babysit either before, or after the wrestling was on. Otherwise, she wouldn’t come. She went to her grave believing that everything about wrestling was “real”, not faked. She also believed that men never walked on the Moon…that was just something they filmed in Hollywood.

    Thank you for bringing the past back to us, David. Sometimes the memories can really make you smile.

    Reply

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