Sad to see this in the paper today, I remember cutting my mark teeth watching Bob and 'Yukon' Moose Cholak mangle commercials for Ben's Auto Sales..
(quoted from the registration-required Chicago Tribune - hope that's okay here)
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Before America had the wrestling likes of Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Vince McMahon and WWE Raw, Chicago had Bob Luce.
Ahead of his time in the sports-as-entertainment world, Luce was a wrestling promoter extraordinaire in the 1960s and '70s.
Luce died Thursday on the eve of his 79th birthday. The one-time high school football player's passion became wrestling in general and marketing it in particular. He was literally wedded to the game, marrying a star female wrestler named Sharon Lass.
He brought noted grapplers such as Andre the Giant, Dick the Bruiser, Buddy Rogers, Gorgeous George and Verne Gagne to Chicago, showcased them in appearances, including his weekly local TV show leading up to his events, and introduced them with elaborate music as they entered the arena.
His main place of business was the International Amphitheater, where he reportedly drew 120,000 fans to 14 shows with gross receipts in excess of $325,000 in 1968, all impressive numbers at that time.
He rubbed elbows with Chicago luminaries from Mayor Richard J. Daley to sportscasters Jack Brickhouse, Bob Elson and young prospect Chet Coppock to Tribune columnist Dave Condon.
Defining and defending his line of work to Condon in 1970, Luce amusingly explained, "I match the Saints against the Sinners, and the Amphitheater is the ideal site.
"If wrestling has an odor, as some suggest, it is not readily detectable in this arena that also caters to livestock shows and political conventions."
"He was the most uplifting person I knew, the love of my life," said Lass, who works as an administrative assistant at a church in Glenview, where she lives and cared for her husband during a lengthy illness.
A master showman, Luce knew how to add gravitas to his events even while speaking tongue-in-cheek.
Before a bout between Dick the Bruiser and Gene Kiniski, Luce announced that he was hiring extra-large security guards "to ensure the safety of ringside fans." If either combatant was thrown through the ropes, Luce deadpanned, "they will be thrown back in."
Coppock, who was in public relations before becoming a sportscaster, recalled that client Luce was "very engaging, a classically robust person.
"He actually became a bigger personality than his fighters."
Lass recalled her husband concocting such stunts as driving Gorgeous George downtown in a pink Cadillac so the wrestler could throw roses to women and take their hands toward his lips before kissing his own hand in conceit.
Luce "never called it pro wrestling or grappling or the mat world," Coppock recalled. "He always called it `the business.'" And despite all the theatrics, "he would never admit to me that the business was phony."
Coppock had the impression that Luce became withdrawn after leaving the business and briefly promoting boxing. Lass said her husband told her, "Wrestling was fun, boxing was not."
Chicagoan Paul "Golden Boy" Christy not only wrestled on Luce's shows, he demonstrated various techniques on a "Hold of the Week" segment on Luce's TV show for about a year.
Recalling that Luce also wrote for a now-defunct "Tattler" national tabloid, Christy said, "Talk about a man who was creative. His energy level was incredibly high and his imagination was wild."
Luce served in China with the Army in World War II. On his return to the U.S., his plane caught on fire and made an emergency landing, and "he said he'd never fly again," Lass recounted.
He took trains and loved boating on his 34-foot cruiser "Luv-Inn," she said.
Survivors include his widow, the former Sharon Laschen, sons Robert Jr. and Daniel and daughters Robin Buch and Dawn. Visitation and services are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Heritage Funeral Home, to be followed by interment with military honors at Arlington Park Cemetery, all in Milwaukee.
I saw a lot of Luce shows - both at the Ampitheater and at the Hammond Civic Center and watched his show on 32 (it was 32, I think, or maybe 26) religiously. It was my entry into wrestling. It's why my internet name is AWArulz.
Bob Luce, to me, is really wrestling. He was really, really cool, in my opinion.
Sunday on WCIU 26 back in the early 1980's (when I first started wrestling)
11:00 AM - AWA All-Star Wrestling
12:00 PM - "Chicago Championship Wrestling"
It was the WWA, which like Teppan-Yaki said, had the tapings in Indy. I still remember the Ben's Auto Sales commercials. I could also remember the PBP announcer. David McLane, which later became involved in GLOW, POWW, and some of the other all-women wrestling promotions.
When he loses the belt in September it will technically be a ten month reign. Most people just use the total time he's held the World title though, making it eleven months. Shawn Michaels' run with the belt was just a hiccup.