Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When Men Wrestled Bears

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - like, Florida, circa 1970 - the noble sport of wrestling was once undertaken by bears in Sarasota. That's right, bears, those crazy huge furry animals that stand up on their hind legs like a gorilla but have a head like a dog and bizarre clawed hands like a sloth.

Sometimes, I stare at the 1970 newspaper ad above, announcing a wrestling match between Bruiser Ben, a 650 pound bear, and one Eduardo Perez, and ponder what motivates men to wrestle bears. Especially having viewed videos on the Internet of TV hosts and news reporters being attacked, live on the air, by bears they had been assured were totally trained, docile, and safe. And another video of a circus where a trained bicycle-riding bear suddenly decides he's going to hop off his bike and go eat one of his fellow performers, a trained bicycle-riding monkey, to the utter horror of the audience. (No, I'm not going to link to these. Google 'em yourself if you must.)

But apparently, wrestling bears is as old as the Bible and as American as apple pie. Consider this news report from the Idaho State Journal, November 29, 1953:
Gorgeous Gus, a 300-pound black bear, got a bit temperamental Friday night and disappointed an estimated 700 wrestling fans, the biggest crowd of the season. Gus was scheduled to tangle with Dr. Jerry Graham, a hypnotist and wrestler, in a feature event at the National Guard armory. The big bear, however, refused to let handlers put on his muzzle and mitts and the match had to be called off.

And from the Evening News-Journal, Clovis, NM, May 18, 1932:

Dutch Mantell beats Big Andy, man vs. bear: The crowd screamed with laughter when the Dutchman chased the bear out of the ring, and the bear consequently chased the spectators from the ringside seats on the stage ... (Mantell) actually pinned the bear's shoulders to the mat.

And from the Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, NY, November 18, 1877:

The tendency of the age is surely retrograde. In the days of side arms and dueling, a prize fight would draw an audience of the aristocracy. Nowadays, to secure immunity from the police, the bruisers must wear gloves. The Greco-Roman wrestling match has superceded even the latter, and now again we have variety in the form of a Pyrennean bear, who wrestles all comers under the rules. We are going back to the days of St. Paul, who "fought with wild beasts at Ephesus."

While you chew over all that, I'm going to go lay down and think about the phrase "hypnotist and wrestler".

No comments:

Post a Comment