FROM PLAYBOY TO FARMER:

MEN’S WRESTLING HONOREE  RIP “THE PROFILE” HAWK
By Jeff Sharkey
Photos Courtesy of
Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com;
Chris Swisher,
www.csclassicwrphotos.com

 

As the heat-seeking missile of a professional wrestler that Rip Hawk was, the self-appointed nickname of “The Profile” drew jeers from the audience.  At its core, you could take it to mean this tactic was done to make sure you viewed Hawk only from his preferred “best side”.  But a look through the eyes of those who watched Hawk and wrestled him shows that from all sides, the real Hawk, a.k.a. Harvey Evers, was pretty good.

The origin of the Profile handle came about under curious circumstances.  “The actor, John Barrymore, had used that name,” Hawk said.  “I used to hang around with John Barrymore, Jr.  At one point, we were talking about my persona and he asked me, ‘Why don’t you use my dad’s gimmick?’  So it took off from there.”

With a litany of incredible tag team partners Hawk has made runs with over the years, the younger Barrymore could very well be considered the most unlikely of the bunch.  “He sure did have a lot of balls, and he was only about 160 pounds.  One time, we were in a club with the comedian Jack Carter on stage. He made a few smartass comments about me, and I was ready to come up there and shut him up,”  Hawk said.  “But John said ‘I’ll do it for you. I’d like to hit that guy, anyway!”

Today you’d be hard-pressed to say Hawk is leading a “lower Profile” existence.  Since 1993, Hawk has coached youth wrestling at the YMCA in his home city of Hereford, Texas.  “I enjoyed teaching amateur to the kids; I’ve had some kids get scholarships to Division I schools; one of them placed sixth in the nation.  They’ve gone to the Junior Olympics and the Junior World Championships,”  Hawk said.  “And they all keep in touch; I think that’s just great.  One works for AT&T now, another is a doctor in Dallas.  I’ve enjoyed giving back.  I’m thankful that wrestling has been very good to me.”  But like all good things, the coaching will soon come to and end as well.  “I think it’s time,” Hawk said.  “I’ll be turning 80 this year.”

Timing is everything in the wrestling business.  As Rip Hawk began his training for the pro game in the late 1940s, his momentum was interrupted by the onset of the Korean War.  “I had wrestled beforehand, but then I joined the Marine Corps,” Hawk said.  “I got out in January 1954, and got restarted in wrestling.  I’d say my first big break came in Atlanta, where I had a match against Fred Blasie on television.  It happened to get over so well that fans were calling into the TV station; they wanted to see a rematch!  So the next week they put us on again, as the main event.”

The Blassie match would be only the first among many main events in Rip Hawk’s future.  Longtime St. Louis Wrestling Club office manager Larry Matysik has a well-maintained collection of Kiel Auditorium and WRESTLING AT THE CHASE results, full of detail and personal recollections.  Rip’s name began to frequent these results as Matysik’s records indicate.  “I can remember seeing this cocky little bantam rooster,” Matysik said.  “This noisy, blond, bombastic performer… and you couldn’t keep your eyes off him.  In this time period, he stood out.  He was a scrappy battler with a mouth.  It was a personality that came naturally to him, and that came through.”

Championships came easy to a man of Rip Hawk's considerable talents.

Hawk’s memories of this time are vivid as well.  “I had been working for Gust Karras out of St. Joe, and then Bobby Bruns got involved, and shortly afterward I started appearing in St. Louis,” Hawk said.  After a match with Gorgeous George in the Gateway City, Hawk’s victory cemented his place in wrestling lore.  “Sam Muchnick told me, ‘You’re never going to go hungry.’  I went on to have bouts with Pat O’Connor, Lou Thesz…many people.”

For as many terrific battles as Hawk was involved with inside the ring, it was a well-orchestrated feud outside of the squared circle that remains one of the most notable among St. Louis wrestling enthusiasts.  “Joe Garagiola was the host of WRESTLING AT THE CHASE. He and Rip had such great chemistry together, sniping at each other.  It was like two bench jockeys going back and forth,”  Matysik said.  “You could tell that the crowd at the Khorassan Room, which held sorority balls and sports banquets, knew they were seeing unique entartainment.  With Joe and Rip, their personalities made a difference.  It was something they couldn’t rehearse.  It was either there or it wasn’t…and their interaction worked.”

Hawk concurs, “Joe was a very good friend of mine; people thought we were deadly enemies.  We weren’t allowed to be seen together.”  Matysik recalls the time Hawk and Gene Kiniski were in a tag team bout against Lou Thesz and Cowboy Bob Ellis on television, and Garagiola’s commentary toward the heels was taken poorly, leading to a footrace around the perimeter of the ring in pursuit of Garagiola.  “You could tell it was totally unplanned, and Sam told me he yelled at them for it, and all the guys had their heads down,”  Matysik said.  “Then later, Sam happened to stop by Red Bird Lanes to see Lou Dietrich, the manager; lots of the sports people stopped there.  Well, Sam looks in and sees Hawk, Kiniski and Joe…all three of them bowling together!  Sam got mad at them for nothing.”

Rip’s well-crafted war with Garagiola might well be steeped not in wrestling, but in their mutual love of baseball.  “My dad was in baseball for years, and he helped Joe,” Hawk said.  “I always picked on him and called him Spaghetti-head… and my father was Italian!”  Matysik adds, “His father was a scout and trainer for the Yankees.  And there is one of Rip’s relatives in that famous combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”

While in St. Louis, one of Hawk’s signature maneuvers took root.  “Wild Bill Longson is the one who suggested I started using the piledriver,” Hawk said.  “I didn’t know what it was, and Longson said he’d show me; it was a move that had been banned because of him.   Well, then I started to use it…and everyone yelled; the people went crazy!  Wild Bill Longson… I love that guy to pieces!  He and I went on a few car trips together, and I can’t say enough about how nice a guy he was.”

Matysik’s records show Hawk debuting on WRESTLING AT THE CHASE against Ray Spindola on May 23, 1959.  He formed a tag team with Rock Hunter which garnered some success, as well as a formidable combo with Gene Kiniski.  “Gene was something else,” Hawk said.  Matysik’s recollections of 1960 include Hawk’s ring battles with stars of the day, including Gori Guerrero, Cowboy Bob Ellis and Pepper Gomez. “Always in the main event or the semi-final bouts,” Matysik said.

December 2, 1960 was a notable headlining match for Hawk as he faced Nature Boy Buddy Rogers in front of 10,550 fans at Kiel Auditorium.  A mainstay in St. Louis throughout 1961-62, Hawk continued his string of appearances at Kiel with highlights like a match with European-style three-minute rounds fought against Johnny “Ace” Weaver.  This was a precursor to their numerous tag team wars in the Carolinas years later.  January 5, 1962 at Kiel saw Hawk fall to Johnny Valentine in front of a throng of 12,601 mat fans, with a rematch on August 17, 1962.  Hawk lost the decision the second time on a countout on the floor, after a memorable finish.  “Hawk was the reason jumping off the top rope became illegal,” Matysik began.  “At the end of the match, Hawk had Valentine down and climbed to the top rope, with the intent of leaping onto Valentine.  But Johnny beat him to the punch and hit Rip with that Atomic Elbow, while Rip was on the top turnbuckle.  He crashed to the floor, where he was counted out of the ring.”

Full-color in Florida! One strap over-the-shoulder, another around the waist of Rip Hawk.

Matysik’s records of Hawk in St. Louis started to dry up in 1963-64.  By this time, Hawk had moved into the Carolinas, where he worked for Jim Crockett, Sr., and began teaming regularly with Swede Hanson.  “I’d like to clear up the notion that we homesteaded in the Carolinas,” Hawk said.  “We went to Houston, Florida, Georgia… plus we were in Japan, New Zealand and Australia, too.  The reason we stayed in areas close to the South… was because we LIKED the South!  But the Carolinas in particular were very good to us.”

Just as Matysik had devotedly followed Hawk’s travails through St. Louis, The Profile’s new environment caught the interest of another avid wrestling fan, Mike Mooneyham.  Today Mooneyham is best known for his regular columns in the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina.  In the 1960s and 70s, however, Mooneyham sat wideyed in the arenas where Hawk and Hanson reigned supreme.  “They were such different people, and those differences are what made them unique,” Mooneyham said.  “Rip was 5’9″ and about 240 pounds, while big Swede stood 6’4″ and was over 300 pounds.  They were one of the top heels teams in the Carolinas.  Some of their greatest matches were against The Scotts, The Kentuckians, Nelson Royal and Paul Jones… and of course, their biggest rivals in George Becker and Johnny Weaver.  The area was a hotbed of tag teams, on top of every card.”  

One of the regular opponents for Hawk and Hanson during those days was Les Thatcher, known as a capable babyface foil who captured the fans’ attention through solid wrestling skill and the occasional aerial assault to mix things up.  Thatcher’s recollections are not of one particular moment in time, but rather a conglomeration of three separate periods that his travels through the territories coinceided with Hawk and Hanson’s run.  “It was always a fun match with those guys; it always went well.  Rip was a strong heel, a great ring general who built good matches.  Hawk and Hanson got their heat through being tough… and by cheating behind the referee’s back.  If you were young and worked hard, and listened to him, you couldn’t help but learn,”  Thatcher said.  “He was as smooth as silk; you never knew he was there; light as a feather.  He called it all in the ring, and I went along for the ride.  I just shut up and listened, it was that easy.  It’s what we like to call a ‘night off,’ you see.”

Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, holding yet another tag team championship during their multi-year run at the top of the cards.

Babyface opponents may have been the usual bill of fare for the Hawk/Hanson duo, but they certainly were not limited with their buffet of rivals.  “They would occasionally book something that they called ‘The Battle of the Bullies’ and Rip and Swede might face anyone from the Anderson Brothers to the Bolos, Aldo Bogni and Bronko Lubich, the Infernos, Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard… it was tag team heaven.  And those guys were on the top of the heap,” Mooneyham said.  “You know those wild matches of ECW?  Well, 25 years earlier with the Andersons against Hawk and Hanson…ECW had nothing on those bouts.  They were street fights, using boards, chairs…it was a complete, four-way bloodbath.”

Hawk recalls those matches with fervor.  “We wrestled the same way, and sometimes the crowd was split,”  Hawk said.  “We let the people choose their favorites.  We didn’t care, as long as we made money!  We knew it was a temporary thing if we were cheered; next week things would be right back the way they always were.”

There were more differences between Hawk and Hanson besides the obvious physical dimensions.  “Rip served as the brains of the team, and Swede was the muscle,” Mooneyham remembers.  “I can remember interviews where Rip would do all the talking, and then Charlie Harville, the interviewer, would try to get comments from Swede.  Rip would always interrupt with ‘Shut up, dummy!’ and would leave.  All Swede ever got to say was ‘Nice talking to you, Charlie!”

“We were Mutt and Jeff out there, but Swede was a good partner,” Hawk said.  “I did tell him to shut up; I’ll take care of business… and it got over.”  Mooneyham notes these two were a pairing both inside the ring and out.  Aside from a feud the two did together in the early 1970s, after Hanson was on the mend from a heart attack, “these two partied together…they did it all.  They were inseperable,” Mooneyham said. “Effective partners, and good friends outside the ring.  They got along together better than they did with their wives.”

Hawk’s influence over Hanson extended to aspects beyond the ring.  “I taught Swede to wear a suit and tie, and act like a gentleman,” Hawk said.  “He was a cornball; he said he didn’t own a suit… he didn’t know how to dress, so I taught him.  Swede learned… he started buying the good suits.  I taught him to drink, too.  He had been a beer man, but I taught him to drink highballs and other drinks, so you didn’t drink as much.  Eventually he liked whiskey better than beer.”

Following Hawk’s retirement, it was a long time before they would see each other again.  “There was a reunion in Charleston, and Hawk and Hanson had not seen each other in twenty years,” Mooneyham said.  “When they saw each other, they embraced… and it was so good to see them get together again.”

Sadly, Swede Hanson passed away in 2002.  “Swede’s death hit me pretty hard,” Hawk said.  “He would call me on the phone from time to time, saying he wanted us to go back out on the road.  ‘We can do it,’ he’d say… he was insisting on it.  I always told him no, our time was up.”

Hawk remembers the night he knew he had had enough.  “I was on the Oklahoma turnpike, and I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.  I’m through tonight.’  I opened my truck right there, took out my boots and threw them away.  And I wasn’t a barefoot wrestler!  I went back to Amarillo.”  Soon afterward he was busy training his kids at the YMCA, and “living the life of a real cowboy on his daughter and son-in-law’s ranch,” Mooneyham said.  “And growing corn,” Hawk adds.  “I’ve gone from being a playboy to a farmer.”

The time away from the professional ranks has not soured Hawk in the least.  “I’ve done everything I wanted to do,” Hawk said.  He looks back fondly to his early days, remembering those who sowed the seeds of his wrestling talent.  One of those men was Cauliflower Alley Club founder and longtime president, Iron Mike Mazurki.  “I had a lot of fun with Mike back in Indiana.  He and I would go to the horse races in Kentucky together; we had a blast.  He gave me a lot of tips.”

The list of golden greats continue as Hawk’s memory remains “Sharp as a tack,” as Mooneyham puts it.  “Buddy Rogers was very good to me; I can’t say a bad word about him.  And Martino Angelo, Billy Darnell, Steve Nenoff, Dave Levin… these guys were great.  Years ago, there wasn’t that jealousy…guys got along, and the veterans wanted to help the young guys.  Another great one was Jack O’Reilly, the Demon of Death Valley.  He had these old sideburns they wore back in the 40s, and he was tough-as-nails,” Hawk recalls.  “A bunch of guys wanted to fight him one time, and I offered to help.  He said, ‘Why would I need help?  There’s only three of them!’  Then there was Fred Von Schacht, and Les Ruffin… he’s one of Thatcher’s buddies!  You couldn’t get along without those guys on your side.  They always had your back.”

And although Thatcher was contacted for this article before Rip’s quotes came to light, Les Thatcher seemingly knew Hawk would be gracious and grateful toward the pioneers of the sport who came before him.  “I think it was a major compliment to Rip that they asked him to teach a young Ric Flair about tag team wrestling,” Thatcher said.  “They told him to pull the strings and teach him the ropes.”  Mooneyham remembers that time period well.  “It was 1974, and Rip took Flair under his wing.  Essentially Ric was just a younger version of Rip, and was billed as his nephew.  Together they won the Mid-Atlantic tag team championship from Bob Bruggers and Paul Jones.  That early seasoning got Ric Flair off on a good path,” Mooneyham said.

At this year’s Cauliflower Alley Club reunion, you are invited to take in the memories of Rip Hawk and share a few of your own.  His distinction as one of the 2010 CAC Men’s Wrestling honorees is deserving of a man who appreciated and respected his predecessors, honored his contemporaries, and gave back to those who would follow him.  Rip may have only shown you “The Profile” but to so many, there was an even better view of a good man.

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