To some, the Golden Age of American professional wrestling came in the late 1950s, as television began to give national exposure to what had been a very regional endeavor, with certain promoters "owning territories" throughout the country, carving out their specific geographic niche. As TV pushed into importance and territories shrank or merged, national stars began to take shape. By the late '60s and early '70s, a number of wrestlers schooled in the regional ranks were still around, pushing middle age, perhaps, but possessing the holds, ring skills and charisma to make them more than entertaining as nationwide performers. Add in some young bloods and the scene of three decades ago was pretty impressive, with St. Louis at the epicenter of the activity.
No lie. St. Louis drew the best stars, the biggest crowds. St. Louis was a dream night for wrestlers, who might pound the mat in front of a couple of hundred diehards in another town. Here, they were known, recognized faces in the saloons of Gaslight Square or the DeBaliviere strip.
Gorilla Monsoon. Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Gene Kiniski. Ox Baker. Harley Race. Bulldog Bob Brown. Bobo Brazil. Baron Von Raschke. Killer Kowalski. The Funks. The Von Erichs. All took part in matches in St. Louis, whether at TV tapings at the Chase Park Plaza home of Channel 11, or in crowded halls like the Kiel Auditorium. Titles changed hands here; reputations were built in front of packed stands. Promoter Sam Muchnick brought the best of the trade to St. Louis, a city that produced plenty of pros itself, including a wide-eyed wrestler who would later go by the ring name of Doctor Blood or (for a shorter stretch) Buddy Frankenstein.
That youngster was none other than the notable Wayne St. Wayne, a fellow known to do a bit of painting on beer bottles, records, walls and even canvas. As a teen, St. Wayne traveled to the Kiel and the Chase, snapping some wonderfully evocative shots of the top stars of pro wrestling, getting several of his vivid, you-are-there, black-and-white pictures into the wrestling fan mags of the day.
These days, you can find St. Wayne, most nights, at MoKaBe's, Mangia Italiano or the Creepy Crawl. He usually carries a few of these great shots with him. If you like them enough, he'll paint one up for you. At the very least, he'll tell you in detail about the moments leading up the photo, the crowd that night, the title implications, the cigar smoke hanging in the air, the lifelong impressions made on a kid with a camera...
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