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Fritz Von Erich: Master of the Iron Claw
By Ron G Mullinax
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
From the 3th Chapter of the book, Fritz Von Erich Master of the Iron Claw
Following the naming of the Iron Claw, I went down to the patent office in Minnesota and had the name and the hold patented. I knew I was on my way to the top and I wanted to make sure that everyone knew the Iron Claw belonged to me.
In Canada, at that time, major wrestling was taking place in Toronto. If fans and promoters wanted you in Toronto that meant you had arrived in the business. Finally, the day came when I got the call. Believe me when I tell you I was done past ready for that phone call when it finally came.
At the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto matches were televised live each week by network TV to every major market in Canada. Television was still in its infancy in the late 1950s and the country was looking for national stars. Naturally I wanted to be one of them, so me Doris and Jack Jr. packed up our mobile home and headed for the big time in Toronto.
We would finally decide to settle in at Niagara Falls after moving from one city to another. A beautiful city we would call home for the next several years. That move became a giant step forward in my career. I became an instant success on Canadian National Television. I was in very big demand all over Canada and the Northern United States and the big money finally started coming my way.
I got hold of my tag team partner from Calgary, Walter Von Sieber and we began performing together in Toronto. He and I continued as tag team partners but this time on prime-time national television as opposed to Moose Jaw on a weekend. Most wrestling fans would later know Walter as Waldo Von Erich my brother. Of course, he was not really my brother but he had a German routine that I thought was a lot like mine and he and I had both started up north together so we became the Von Erich brothers from Berlin.
When I pulled up at the Maple Leaf Gardens the Toronto promoter was standing in the parking lot. He had needed me to come up to his office for a minute. For a brief moment, I thought the worst of what could be. When we got up to his office he told me to have a seat and then he started telling me how all the wrestling fans around the Toronto area really wanted to get a look at me and my feared Iron Claw. The promoter told me that they had really been building the publicity up on me for the past couple of weeks and were expecting record crowds at the box office.
Then he told me that it looked like I was going to be a big star there, and if I was going to be a star I had to look like one. He told me to go out and buy a Cadillac and some new suits. Well I almost fainted, a Cadillac! I cannot afford a Cadillac. Thatís when the promoter looked me in the eye then told me I could not afford not to have a Cadillac. He gave me the name of a local Cadillac dealer in Toronto who just happened to be a friend of his and I went down and financed a brand new Cadillac.
When I got back to our trailer and told Doris she could not believe it. That is when I told her that the payments were $120 a month. I thought I would have to take her to the hospital. That was more money than I had made in some months.
Wrestling matches were very different back in those days. People in the audience did not wear jeans and t-shirts. In Toronto and New York all the men sitting around ringside would be wearing suits and ties and the women would be dressed in their best dresses.
We settled in Niagara Falls but were still very homesick for Texas. It had been a few years since Doris and I had seen our families so since I was making good money we loaded up the Caddy and drove down to Texas.
When we got back up north I tried Minnesota and St. Louis but soon returned to Niagara Falls. By this time, we had another addition to the family, a baby boy born in Belleville Illinois whom we named Kevin Ross.
We were doing very well up north and things could not have been much better. One day I got a call from a promoter from Houston, Morris Siegel who offered me a very good deal to come to Texas and wrestle. Doris and I were so homesick for all of our friends and family that we jumped at the chance. It seemed too good to be true . We had just traded in our old mobile home for a new 50x10-foot mobile home which I had to hire a truck and driver to pull it down to Texas at a cost of more than $1,000.
Now, here we are with a very large car payment, mobile home payment, and a new baby and we were heading down to Texas with neither of us knowing exactly what to expect. When we got to Houston the deal fell apart. Morris Siegel had suffered a heart attack two days after we had talked on the phone. He had been admitted to the hospital after suffering from severe chest pains. The hospital had listed him in critical but stable condition which meant that no one but family and the doctor could get in to see him. As it turned out no one else had any prior knowledge of the deal Morris Siegel and I had made over the phone, which put Doris and I in a very bad situation.
At this point, we were desperate and scared. We had just spent almost all of our money getting everything down to Texas. We decided to head back to Dallas where we still had friends and family that could help us if we needed it. After arriving in Dallas we parked our mobile home in the cheapest trailer park we could find. Doris and I decided that she and the two boys would stay in Dallas while I took off for Minnesota to start all over again.
In June of 1958, after being on the road for what seemed like years, Doris called me to say her younger brother David was going into the hospital for a brain tumor operation. Seems that David had been sick the better part of his life. Doris was so upset that I dropped everything and rushed back to Dallas. I got there just in time for the operation. David never did come out of that hospital. His temperature began to climb and it never leveled off. The next day he passed away at the age of fourteen.
I later went back to Minneapolis where my wrestling career was still doing well. I was working many Main Events and was starting to save enough money to get my family back together. I missed my wife and boys very much.
One month after Dorisís brother died Doris gave birth to another boy in Dallas. She named him David Allen after her little brother. She called to tell me the wonderful news as she was going back to her hospital room. I left Minneapolis and rushed right back to Texas. I could only stay a few days so Doris, against my wishes checked out of the hospital to be with me as long as she could. She had just given birth some twelve hours before I had arrived.
I was able to stay in Dallas for almost a week and then had to be in North Carolina to wrestle for at least four months. When I got back to Dallas, Doris presented me with a tax refund check of $1,500. We used that money to have our trailer moved back to Niagara Falls where I knew there would be plenty of work for me.
By then I was really getting tired of spending so much time away from my family. When Doris and the boys got to Niagara Falls, Doris and I had a long talk. I told her I wanted to save as much money as we could and move back to Corpus Christi and open that bait and tackle shop on the Inter-Coastal Canal just outside of Corpus that we had talked about so many times. I was thinking that maybe I could wrestle part time and fly in and out of Corpus for a while until the Bait and Tackle business could support itself. I still loved wrestling but being away from my family all the time was really hurting me. Being with my wife and three boys were all I would think about. When you are in that ring thinking about something beside your opponent it is a good way to get yourself hurt.
One night I drove home about 200 miles from a wrestling match in Cleveland. When I got to our trailer in Niagara Falls all the lights were on in our trailer and a crowd of people were gathered at the front door. I did not know at that time that the Pennsylvania and New York highway patrol had been searching for me all night.
My friend Gene Kiniski, the World Heavyweight Champion at the time, saw me pull up and walk out to the car. After opening the door and setting down beside me he put his hand on my shoulder and with tears in his eyes told me that my son little Jack Jr. was dead. My first boy was seven year old when he died.
A man at the mobile home park had been trying to rewire his trailer and had accidentally left a bare wire hot. It had shorted out against the metal on the outside of the trailer. Little Jackie, on his way home from a friendís house touched the side of the wet trailer and was electrocuted. The electrical currents knocked him out and he fell face down in a puddle of water from the melting snow and drown. I was devastated I had never felt the way I felt on that night. I could not accept the fact that my firstborn son, little Jack Jr. was dead. The pain that rushed through my body was unbelievable.
I looked at Gene who was still sitting beside me in the car and thought there must be a mistake. There was no mistake. A bright light flashed in my head and before I could stop myself I put my hand through the driverís side window breaking the glass.
A moment passed and I remembered my wife and my other two boys, so I got out of the car. With blood dripping from my hand from the broken glass I went to find my wife who just a couple of months before had lost her little brother. I found Doris in the trailer house rolled up in a ball in the corner of our bedroom. Some neighbors were watching Kevin and David and Doris had just returned from the hospital. We held each other in our arms that night and cried over the loss of our first son. That hurt worse than anything that had ever happened to me in my life. That night would change not only my personal life but my wrestling career as well.
Doris blamed herself for not looking out the window or going to check on little Jackie. I blamed myself for not being there to protect my family, for not being there to teach my sons about all the dangers they would encounter in this world while growing up. It stayed on my mind for years and years afterward. Even sitting here telling you my story today still stirs an emotion and hurt inside of me that has never went away.
Site: FRITZ VON ERICH: Master of the Iron Claw
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