Monday, April 6, 2015

Wrestling in Lake Charles - Part 2

(The following series is adapted from a Facebook discussion that took place last week. The information presented here is definitely incomplete, and I am certain there are mistakes. However, I wanted to put this out there for the public to inspire further research by people who are more interested in the mat game than yours truly and more resourceful in digging up its history. To see the entire series, follow the tag "lake charles wrestling.")

IV
Cecil McDonald was the wrestling promoter in Lake Charles in the 1960s. He was born in 1915/1916 on a watermelon farm in Sugartown, LA. He served in the U.S. Merchant Marines at some point. A contemporary account refers to him as a "real estate dealer" in Lake Charles, but it has also been written that he owned lumber companies in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The latter can definitely be established.

The first instance online of McDonald's name turning up in a sporting context (at least that I've seen) is an unlikely one - JET magazine. The May 21, 1959 issue includes the following report:

Is this the impetus for pro wrestling in Lake Charles? It's not hard to make the connection that McDonald began to promote both wrestling and boxing due to the dissolution of his basketball team. Both sports by their very nature could neatly avoid the segregation issue. And no matter how McDonald felt about race relations, it is indisputable that he booked black wrestlers for his shows. In fact, Tiger Conway defeated Dory Dixon in a 1962 match at the McDonald Sportatorium to claim "The World’s Colored Championship." Conway is said to be the last claimant to that particular title.

(As an aside about the basketball/wrestling connection - it's not as unusual as you might think. P.L. "Pinkie" George was one of the founders of the National Wrestling Alliance, and even the guy who came up with the name. He was also the owner of the National Basketball League's Waterloo Hawks. George was one of the men who merged the NBL with the Basketball Association of America to form the current NBA.)

The McDonald Sportatorium filed as a business corporation on June 22, 1960. McDonald was listed as the registered agent and the address was 709 McNeese St Lake Charles, LA 70601. This is at odds with the 715 McNeese address seen in many ads, but it's the same location regardless. Given McDonald's stated connections in both real estate and lumber, it's not hard to imagine work began on the project shortly after the end of the McDonald Scots. And if there had been pro wrestling promoted in town prior to 1960, by McDonald or other parties, no evidence surfaced when I went looking for it.

My gut feeling is that dubbing his arena "the Sportatorium" was very deliberate on McDonald's part. I *suspect* the wrestling program airing on KPLC (either at McDonald's behest or as something he saw and decided to promote off) was the TEXAS WRESTLING syndicated show. Many if not all of those films (profits from which were split between Ed McLemore's Dallas office and Morris Siegel's Houston office by this time) were shot in Dallas - at the Sportatorium. So why not give Lake Charles its own Sportatorium?

Wrestling was presented at the McDonald Sportatorium until at least May 4, 1967. I have not seen anything after this date for the city until the mid 1970s. I don't know how long McDonald stuck around Lake Charles, but he had definitely relocated to Texas by September 1971. Possibly, this was to attend to a lumber yard he had started there in 1967. So his days of promoting wrestling in Lake Charles were probably over by the time the 1970s began.

In addition to all of this, Cecil McDonald is credited as the developer/founder of Rio Bravo, Texas, and El Cenizo, Texas. He passed away Thursday, May 15, 2008, in a hospital in Laredo, Texas. He was 92.

V
The Lake Charles cards I've found booked out of Houston are actually not bad. They aren't stacked, but there's no reason to expect they would be for essentially a tank town. Early shows featured Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon prominently. Established stars like Bull Curry and Danny McShain showed up often. Both Pat O'Connor and "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers defended the NWA World Heavyweight title there. Heck, even Paul Boesch (THE name synonymous with Houston wrestling) made the trek pretty regularly. So the Houston office did all right by Cecil from 1960-1965.

Lake Charles ran Wednesday nights. There were occasionally shows that ran on Thursday. During 1964, they switched to Saturday night. For whatever reason, it went back to Wednesdays in January 1965. This will be important to remember.

The last Houston-booked show on record for 1965 is April 21. The next show I have seen a clipping for is May 1 (a Saturday). It features wrestlers from the Gulf Coast office in Lafayette. Most of the rest of Lake Charles 1965 I've seen (May-Sept.) is run on Saturday night at 8:15, with the boys having to drive directly from Lafayette after doing live TV starting at 4:30.

To backtrack, Lee Fields bought out Harry Romero's Rome Promotions in April 1964, and got a good portion of Louisiana by doing so. But he was an active wrestler too, so he needed local promoters. Cecil McDonald's obituary is suitably vague in that it states "...he was also the promoter of boxing and wrestling in the early ’60s in Lake Charles..." So, did Cecil sell to Lee Fields in 1965? Or to someone else who booked though Lafayette instead of Houston? I don't have an answer, but it took over a year after Fields bought out Harry Romero for Gulf Coast to makes its way into Lake Charles. McDonald's name as promoter is noticeably absent from the 1965 Gulf Coast show clippings, and even the building is referred to simply as "Sportatorium." However, some of those same clippings remind people to "See live wrestling - Channel 10 KLFY every Saturday - 4:30 P.M." The connection had been made.

And don't forget - even if Cecil McDonald wasn't still the promoter, he did own the building they were running.

No comments: