THE WAY IT WAS
by Percival A. Friend

(The EPITOME of Wrestling Managers)

Percival's Photo Of The Week

Bobo Brazil 1947
Bobo Brazil, breaking into wrestling as Bubu Brasil at age 24
(Photo courtesy of the J.G. Savoldi Collection)

The Birth of Bubu Brasil

This past weekend we lost two more greats of our business. George "Two Ton" Harris and Tim "Mr. Wrestling" Wood's. The banquets won't be the same without these two gentle men.

Please remember these men and their families in your prayers.

This weeks column is a guest writer by the name of J.G. Savoldi , Grandson of Jumping Joe Savoldi. Please welcome his thoughts and memories of Bobo Brazil.--Percival

Guest Column by J.G. Savoldi

As a young boy growing up, I have a lot of fond memories of stories my Dad would tell my brother and I about our grandfather, Jumping Joe Savoldi.

During our visits to Gramps' house, we would always give him a big hug and then run to the special room that held all of his wrestling posters and autographed pictures of other famous people he knew during his career. When we finished gazing at all the pictures and wrestling posters that covered the walls, we would sit down and open his scrapbooks and study his sports career. We would read about his 1929 and 1930 undefeated national championship teams playing under Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. We would read about his brief professional football career with the Chicago Bears, where he started at right halfback in the same backfield with Red Grange at left halfback and Bronko Nagurski at fullback. We would work our way through his wrestling scrapbooks and clown around trying to "dropkick" each other and then go to my Dad with a hundred different questions about the articles and pictures. On one visit, we came across a picture of a tall black man wearing a cape. It definitely stood out among all of the other white wrestlers in the scrapbook, and the man was also noticeably younger than the other wrestlers. As we studied the photograph, I noticed my grandfather's handwriting on the bottom of the page. It said, "South American Giant, Bubu Brasil, Height 6 feet 6 inches, Weight 240 Lbs. Age 24." I didn't recognize the man in the picture, but the name was very similar to a current wrestler I had seen on TV called "Bobo Brazil." When we asked my Dad about the picture, he proceeded to tell my brother and I the rest of the story.

In 1947, Jumping Joe was working to get his Chicago based promoting business off the ground. The goal was to get exclusive rights for wrestlers appearing in the Chicago area. He had signed a few big names, including Don Eagle and his old friend Sandor Szabo, but he was always on the lookout for new talent. He was also interested in managing a stable of young wrestlers. One day while working out at the local Armory in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a young man walked in and introduced himself to Jumping Joe. His name was Houston Harris. He said that he was working in a steel mill but was interested in getting into professional wrestling. Jumping Joe was approached by hundreds of men with dreams of entering the ring, but he liked Houston's good nature and sincerity, so he decided to take Houston under his wing. At 39 years of age, Jumping Joe could still hold his own in the ring despite the fact that his body was badly ravaged by arthritis. He worked with Houston, teaching him the basics of wrestling just as Ed "Strangler" Lewis had taught him in 1931. In exchange for the lessons, Houston was expected to help with working the events and other odd jobs at Joe's Harbert mansion overlooking Lake Michigan. During the summer of 1947, Jumping Joe's only son, Joe Jr., was home from Howe Military Academy. Jumping Joe had plans to travel with a group of young wrestlers on a route along US 12 covering Michigan City, Indiana, New Buffalo, Bridgman and Stevensville, and winding up in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The small towns loved wrestling but didn't have indoor facilities, so Joe purchased a portable ring along with bleacher seating to accommodate the customers. Houston drove the truck carrying all of the materials used to build the wrestling ring and seating, while young Joe rode along to help with the set up. Young Joe and Houston would unload all of the materials and spend hours setting up for the show. The ring was held up by a series of ropes, which were tied to spikes driven deep into the ground. As Houston would swing the sledgehammer to drive in the support spikes for the ring, Joe Jr. would hold them in place and pray that Houston wouldn't miss the mark. After everything was assembled, young Joe would sell Coca Colas to the crowd, and Houston would watch the wrestlers and dream of one day entering the ring himself. After the matches had been completed, Joe Jr. and Houston would start the long process of breaking down the ring and bleachers and loading the truck to move on to the next town. As Jumping Joe, Houston and Joe Jr. traveled that summer, they began to form a friendship, and Jumping Joe became even more committed to helping Houston pursue his dream.

After the wrestling circuit was completed at the summer's end, Jumping Joe sat down with his wife, Lois, and told her that he wanted to surprise Houston by creating a ring name for him and then managing and promoting him. Jumping Joe had always been very creative, so he and Lois talked about it for a while and finally came up with "Bubu Brasil, the South American Giant." Lois was very fond of Houston as well, and she decided that he needed a new look to go along with his new name, so she went to work for weeks carefully sewing colorful sequins on the back of a royal blue satin cape. When the cape was completed, Jumping Joe presented it to Houston and proceeded to discuss his new ring name along with the background story that would be released to the public. Houston's face lit up as the former World's Champion painted a bigger than life story of "Bubu's" past in South America. Houston loved the flashy cape donning his name in bright sequins, and he put it on immediately. As he posed for the camera, Jumping Joe snapped a few shots, and the career of "Bubu Brasil" was off and running.

Jumping Joe was always too much of a nice guy to make any money promoting, so, after another year, he went back to wrestling full time and publishing his sports periodical. He also hosted a weekly sports radio talk show on WHFB 1060. Joe Savoldi Jr. went back to Howe Military School and later to Michigan State, where he was a world-class high hurdler and decathlete on the track team. At some point, Houston changed his name from Bubu Brasil to Bobo Brazil, and after wrestling around the Benton Harbor area for a while, Houston was approached by another promoter and taken away to other cities and eventually Canada to pursue his fortune in professional wrestling.

In 1950, Jumping Joe Savoldi wrestled his final matches during a farewell tour of the U.S. promoted by Ray Fabiani. The headliners were Jim Londos, Joe Savoldi and Primo Carnera, with Jack Dempsey as the acting referee in Chicago Lakeside Stadium. He followed that circuit with a trip to Caracas, Venezuela, where he wrestled one of his final matches in a bull-fighting arena. Today, as we re-examine the important career of Houston Harris and the history of professional wrestling, it may be fair to conclude that he was as important to his profession as Jackie Robinson was to the world of professional baseball.

 

Percival A. Friend, Retired
The Epitome of Wrestling Managers

Percival, Tim Woods and Danny Hodge
Percival, the late Tim Woods and Danny Hodge at Newton, Iowa in 2001. On Percival's shoulder is one of his favorite Three Stooges ties, which he gave Tim just a few moments before.

(MIDI Musical Selection: "As Time Goes By")

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