The Montreal Screwjob has been done to death, and we know that the Spider Lady turned out to be Moolah, causing Wendi Richter to leave WWE forever. But how about a screwjob against wrestler Chief Don Eagle from the Golden Era of wrestling where the promoter denies nothing and gladly elaborated the reasons for his actions to the Justice Department? Oh, and the one and only Gorgeous George was in the middle of it all.
What Led to the “Chicago Short Count” Screwjob?
Fred Kohler, who was a member of the NWA, was feeling the heat with competition from independent promoter Leonard Schwartz. The NWA tended to call promoters infringing in their established territories: outlaws.
Schwartz would mostly run shows out of the Rainbo Arena in Chicago, Illinois, of which he was an owner as well. On February 3rd, 1950, in an event headlined by Jim Londos, Schwartz set an indoor attendance record at Chicago Stadium with 13,877 people, which translated to a gate of $53,744.60 ($572,590 in today’s money). This was co-promoted with another rival of Kohler, Ray Fabiani. Schwartz used talent provided by Jack Pfefer, who notoriously used names that sounded like the genuine article, but were actually cheapened imitations of the stars of the moment. He used wild gimmicks, little people, women, oddities, and most had fabricated ethnic backgrounds to boot. He turned to these tactics in the years when he was ousted from the NWA or other close-knit promoting circles. Schwartz was soon able to begin using NWA talent as explained by Jim Wilson in his book, CHOKEHOLD: Pro Wrestling’s Real Mayhem Outside the Ring.
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“Justice Department files suggest that 20 years before he waged war in ‘The Battle For Atlanta’ [vs. Ann Gunkel], Barnett learned wrestling’s war tactics during Kohler’s nasty Chicago fight with outlaw promoter Leonard Schwartz. When his application for the NWA was rejected, he established a secret partnership with “Toots” Mondt, Jim Londos, and Ray Fabiani, who persuaded NWA (Ohio) promoter Al Haft to supply talent to Schwartz.”
Fred Kohler had been using the popular Chief Don Eagle for his shows through fellow NWA promoter and vice president Al Haft, but Haft was playing both sides of the fence by lending out wrestlers, including Eagle to Kohler’s rival Leonard Schwartz as well. The “personal management” contract Eagle had with Haft ultimately made it difficult to secure his services in the Kohler/Barnett territory, which was mainly Chicago.
Kohler had his wrestling TV show that aired on the DuMont Television Network and was broadcast from the Madison, Marigold and Rainbo arenas, but was also seen outside of Chicago. In 1949, DuMont programs aired in 32 cities that competed directly with NBC and CBS, including important markets such as New York, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh. It was at this point that he hired Jim Barnett as his business partner, and in the process, they bought the Indianapolis promotion. Barnett became an official NWA member in 1954, but at this time, he was the recording secretary at their annual meetings. Anybody working for Kohler had the potential to be a national star because of the extensive reach of the DuMont, it certainly helped Don Eagle.
Don Eagle Becomes AWA Champion and Then Faces Gorgeous George
On May 23rd, 1950, from the Cleveland Public Hall in Ohio in an event promoted by Fred Kohler, Don Eagle defeated Frank Sexton for the AWA World title, which he had held four years and 315 days. It seemed like a fast count on behalf of referee Freddy Weidemann. “A look of pained surprise came over Sexton’s face, as Eagle went into his Mohawk victory dance, and after a few seconds of disbelief, the crowd responded with cheers.”
The AWA title mentioned throughout this article is not the same as the one who’s lineage began in 1960 with Pat O’Conner and later Verne Gagne after the AWA’s permanent secession from the NWA. It’s the AWA started by Paul Bowser in 1930 who was a veteran promoter in the area of Boston, Massachusets. He didn’t immediately become part of the NWA in 1948 when it formed, and therein lies some of the complexities with the Gorgeous George and Chief Don Eagle double-cross.
Bowser agreed verbally to the fundamental rules of the Alliance and sent a check to cover initiation fees but refused to sign the official by-laws because of his recognition of his own champion, Frank Sexton, who had since 1945 represented his AWA. Later, he was a staunch backer of Chief Don Eagle as a holder of his world championship amid the movement of the Alliance pushing for a sole World Champion for the whole country in Lou Thesz. Ironically, Bowser, in the annual convention of 1949, made the motion for Thesz to be the one champion of the NWA after current champion Orville Brown had suffered an automobile accident, and yet he continued to promote his AWA representative.
The Chief Don Eagle Screwjob Involving Gorgeous George
“Boy, this is a shamble, and fans are throwing things into the… honest to goodness, things have really happened around here! I’ve never seen a crowd in as ugly a mood as this gang is here tonight.” – Commentator Russ Davis
May 26th, 1950 at the International Amphitheater in Chicago is the setting for the infamous double-cross of Chief Don Eagle. In his two out of three falls match against Gorgeous George, the first fall was taken by Eagle with a handstand Indian Leglock to which George submitted — a move that is rarely seen today! He applied it with his arms instead of his legs, did a handstand (a headstand really), and then went into a bridge. The second fall is where things take a strange turn because Eagle is thrown out of the ring and in events not clear for the viewer, something happens when he apparently seems to catch his breath for a moment, but then begins to run as if chasing someone. He then proceeds to get lost in the darkness of the crowd only to then be seen inside the ring in his corner, facing his father War Eagle and his back to the TV camera. This was an obvious editing of the footage because it is unknown for how long Don Eagle was gone. He was ultimately counted out, though, so the match continued with both grapplers with a fall in their favor. George won the match by rolling Eagle into a pinning predicament while locking one of his legs and bouncing off the ropes several times, until referee Earl Mollohan then counted to three even though Eagle’s right shoulder was not on the mat.
The fans began to throw projectiles into the ring and especially towards George, who initially didn’t seem to be in on the screwjob, but during the pin, his back muscles do seem to tense up as if trying to exert more force or at least keep his balance. Eagle became irate when George’s hand was raised in victory and even tried to punch the referee at least twice and later grabbed his shirt while he attempted to flee. If not for his father War Eagle who stopped him, it’s safe to say that the referee would’ve gotten clocked for sure. Eagle, still in a rage, does end up jumping outside of the ring and chases after the referee.
Eagle’s title belt is not presented to George in the ring for those in attendance to witness. He stays in the ring and, when trying to go back to the dressing room, gets grabbed and punched by the fans. Commentator Russ Davis considered George’s win as “one of the biggest upsets in the wrestling business for a long time,” and claimed that Eagle had not lost in about 135-140 bouts until this upset by George.
“An estimated 5,200 fans trashed the building, and police made several arrests, including Don Eagle, who was charged with disorderly conduct and released on $25 bail ($266 in today’s dollars). Almost 6,000 fans paid to see the card.”
Watch the screwjob of Chief Don Eagle vs. Gorgeous George from May 26th, 1950
It is a strong suspicion amongst fans that the crowd noise and the voice of announcer Russ Davis were added later. Several edited versions of the match have seen the light of day throughout the years, but in none is the AWA World title mentioned. The local promotional magazine “Wrestling As You Like It” stated that Eagle had lost the European and Eastern titles.
The loss to Gorgeous George was a way to diminish Eagle’s value to Haft and a way to punish both him and Paul Bowser for helping rival promoter Leonard Schwartz. It is said that he was being groomed to face Lou Thesz in a summer outdoors event. With his loss, the prestige of the AWA title promoted by Bowser dipped, and Gorgeous George was billed to go against Lou Thesz. He was unable to meet the date because of other obligations, so Buddy Rogers faced and lost to Thesz on June 21st at Wrigley Field instead.
Don Eagle continued to be promoted as the AWA champion in several cities of the New England area, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, defending the title against Ski Hi Lee, and rematches against Frank Sexton. He also appeared in New York in a talent sharing agreement with “Toots” Mondt where Eagle retained his title against Antonino “Argentina” Rocca in Yankee Stadium on June 12th, 1950
On July 27th, 1950, Gorgeous George lost to NWA World Champion Lou Thesz at Wrigley Field in straight falls. In the program and the Chicago Tribune, the match was just billed as an NWA title defense, and no other title was mentioned.
On August 31st, 1950, Chief Don Eagle defeated Gorgeous George and retained his AWA World title, thus eliminating any title claim from the Gorgeous one. Promoter Paul Bowser presented Don Eagle with the belt.
The Aftermath of The Chief Don Eagle Screwjob
When Leonard Schwartz obtained a deal with ABC-TV to broadcast his shows from the Rainbo Arena, he reapplied to become a member of the NWA, and this time he was admitted. This made Chicago an “open city,” meaning that the NWA was going to allow two promotions.
At first, Kohler resigned and claimed that he had been loyal to the NWA by pushing their World Champion Lou Thesz on his TV shows while the other aforementioned promoters were pushing their own in Don Eagle and his AWA World title.
He felt that the NWA wasn’t performing its function of protecting its members’ territories from an outside invader. Soon, Kohler asked to be reinstated, and a compromise was reached where as a senior member, Kohler was given exclusive rights to the NWA World and Junior champions when in his territory. It wasn’t until 1953 that Schwartz convinced new NWA president Sam Muchnick (previously Pinkie George) into allowing Lou Thesz to appear at one of his shows, claiming that their practices were “monopolistic and in restraint of trade.” It involved a shooter named Roy Dunn, an angry WGN-TV Chicago manager, the so-called Ed “Strangler” Lewis belt amongst other hijinks. But that’s a story for another time!
In 1952, the NWA began eliminating any world title claimants amongst its members, and Bowser to take off the pressure, began to call his AWA World Championship the “Eastern Heavyweight” title. Only Quebec, under promoter Eddie Quinn, obtained a special waiver to maintain their version of the world championship for the time being.
Fred Kohler Interviewed by the Justice Department
The double-cross is a ploy that promoter Fred Kohler later admitted to the Justice Department according to Jim Wilson in his book and pointed the reader to the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper article, “Wrestling Ends, Then Fight Is On” from May 27th, 1950.
In the interview, Kohler seems to maintain kayfabe somewhat but still had to reveal inside information of what went on behind the scenes. He mentioned that The Eagles were difficult to deal with because they asked for too much vacation time to go hunting, fishing, and other special privileges. They also sometimes missed dates that cost him money as well.
He confirmed that the double-cross was intended to devalue Don Eagle and to financially try and cripple his rival Schwartz and those who continued to help him despite his complaints to the NWA governing body, “They hurt me, so when I gave them Don Eagle back, he wasn’t worth anything to them.” He claims that Al Haft had begged for Don Eagle to get pushed on their TV shows, but once he became a star, Haft tied him up so that it was hard to book Eagle in Kohler’s territory.
Kohler also admitted that he told Gorgeous George to pin Don Eagle if he could, but doesn’t mention the possibility of the referee being an accomplice, even though his strange halted three count is dubious at best to anyone who watches the match. Kohler was asked about the notorious “Chicago Short Count” – a name many fans call the match. He claimed in the interview that he had invited the Illinois Athletic Commission to look at the film to time the seconds George had Don Eagle’s shoulders on the mat, and they confirmed that it had been three.
Gorgeous George never commented whether he was or wasn’t involved in the double-crossing of Chief Don Eagle. Fred Kohler became NWA president in 1961. George would be gone two years later of a heart attack in 1963, and Don Eagle sadly committed suicide in 1966 at age 41.
Here at Pro Wrestling Stories, we continue to look behind the curtain of wrestling’s past and realize that every era is connected in some way. Even in the cherished Golden Era of wrestling, we find unforgivable acts and unforgettable moments worth learning about that will be remembered and spoken of for generations to come.
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