Intelligent, Sensational And Global: 3D: Dick Beyer, Destroyer, Doctor X
Remembering CAC's Beloved Heart and Soul, Richard John Beyer, 88 Years Young and Gone Far Too Soon
Whether he was that great amateur "champeen" from Buffalo, the Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer (also Sensational and Intelligent), or later Doctor X; Dick Beyer was long the heart-and-soul of Cauliflower Alley Club. From nearly CAC's earliest days when club founders Mike Mazurki and Art Abrams first came up with CAC held informally at downtown Los Angeles restaurant lunch sites; Dick was always a big supporter. In his famous, booming, gravely "work" voice, which sounded like Curtis Iaukea mixed with a dose of Blassie & Dick the Bruiser, Dick would mock-shout, "I just flew in from my frigid Buffalo homebase and man are my arms tired!" Yep, that voice and there was no other like it.
He said he was born (July 11, 1930) and raised in the Buffalo area, where his birthplace was so ingrained in his very fiber that he never really left that 36-mile-square 'Buffalo to Akron area homebase,' other than during his historic family stint living in Japan.
Dick, of course, started out as a decorated member of Syracuse's varsity wrestling and football teams, and played in the Orange Bowl in 1953. He received his Master’s Degree in education there, which he used to help others until we lost him. He taught not only amateur, but pro wrestling, as well as swimming and other sports, and was voted "best liked teacher" in New York prior to his wrestling career start.
He was married to not one, but two wonderful Wilma's, and he'd talk anyone's cauliflowered ear off about both of them. How the first one crafted his iconic mask out of her own leg stocking material when booking genius Jules Strongbow told him in early 60's L.A. that he needed a gimmick. Dick said Jules told him, "Like a mask. You need a mask. So I came back with that one home-made mask, but I wasn't crazy about it at the time. It got in the way and I really couldn't see well with it on. Right after that first match with it on, we went to work on a more comfortable, better character-identifying mask." And anyone who ordered Dick's masks in the early '70s from the ad pages of Norm Kietzer or Stan Weston's magazines knows how instantly recognizable they were beyond being treasured collectibles. Dick knew how to market! When any of us were one-on-one with him, his booming (have I mentioned it yet?) work voice would come down to a normal, wise, introspective tone. This was one brainy guy behind "the sock," as Dick called it. Not a hood, but "the sock." And even though when he turned up the volume, he'd "destroy" our ears, no one ever complained. He was magical, just like most of his peers including Thesz, Rikidozan, Baba, Inoki, Blassie, Dick Hutton and basically everyone in the earliest television graps era.
Fine historian and one of our greatest records/results book geniuses, Steve Yohe, sent me a fantastic 1964 Japanese video bout with Dick and Baba on opposing sides of a 6-person, with Dick in his heel prime there in Japan; well before he turned face years later and Japanese fans embraced him royally. Steve said he wouldn't have gotten interested in wrestling had it not been for catching the Destroyer wrestle early in his Los Angeles Cal Eaton/Jules Strongbow career. Steve then became a lifelong fan, CAC-lifer and later historian of pro wrestling as several of us did as well. All thanks to this magnificent athlete and more, Dick Beyer.
MANY CALLED THE GREATEST IN THE STATES AND JAPAN Steve captioned the video match writing, "Dick here when he was the greatest wrestler on the planet," which many of us agreed with. By that point, Dick had mastered most every nuance and creative aspect of the biz. Thesz might have been amongst the first to tour Japan, along with the Dusek Brothers, Sharpes, etc., to help Rikidozan get his Japan Wrestling Association promotion off the ground, but Dick Beyer and Blassie really helped cement the relationship of Japanese wrestlers with the at-times caricatured, bragging heel American Gaijins (foreigners). Japanese wrestling fans flocked to the arenas in hopes of seeing Rikidozan, Shohei Baba, Kintaro Oki, Kanji/Antonio Inoki, Yoshinosato, and Toyonobori (a legit Sumo "Rikishi" there) vanquish the hated foreign invaders. That was the heel/face dynamic there at the time. And it worked conversely in the States, as well, when Dick opposed heels like "the evil" Charlie (Mr.) Moto in Los Angeles. Dick finessed his full masked gimmick in Japan better than most anyone before or since, setting the standard for the Spoilers, Solitarios, Super Machines, Lygers, Ultimo Dragons, Sasukes and countless others who came along decades later. All greats who idolized Dick Beyer.
And again, no matter the territory or country, Dick also was one of the best talker/promo guys ever. He bellowed so loudly that he didn’t need a microphone, as even fans in the crow's nest, nosebleed sections could hear him. I have audio (sadly, no video exists) of Dick masterfully jawing and trading promos with first a heel, later babyface foe Fred Blassie (only in Los Angeles where Fred was our ultimate beloved face after his turn against The Sheik in 1970) and also teaming with John Tolos in a post-Coliseum show in September 1971, in which Dick verbally trashed upcoming opponent Bearcat ("Gene Lebell, please don't stretch me!") Wright. John so respected and loved Dick that, when heel teaming with him on our KCOP-TV 13 Saturday night TV show taped in Hollywood, he wore "The Golden Greek's Golden Mask." John had never worn a mask before. He was still billed as John Tolos, but wore the mask "to fit in with his shoot pal, Destroyer Dick." Yet more Destroyer magic. That scenario eventually helped Tolos gradually later turn face after being our territory’s top killer heel beginning first with the hinted jealousy teased between Tolos and Destroyer the brief time they were teaming on tv.
And back during the incredible 60's era when the WWA was a highly respected major territory(in the minds of many, second only to the NWA); Dick, Carpentier, Rikidozan, Thesz & Blassie were amongst the faces of our circuit/office. The WWA world title reached all over the West Coast and out to Hawaii, Guam, Samoa & Japan, etc. In turn, Dick's matches with Rikidozan, Kintaro Oki, Toyonobori and other legends spilled over from L.A. to Japan and back and are still regarded as classics the students of today watch. Those matches that exist on video are still studied extensively by top wrestling athletes everywhere. NJPW's Hiroshi Tanahashi, Keiji Muto, and future hall of famers like Melissa Anderson, Will Osprey and Zack Sabre Jr., have all discussed Dick's career and influence on the business.
While Dick(many times CAC-honored) never had a run in the WWWF/WWF/WWE, the fact that he was inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame is a true accomplishment. It speaks volumes about his legendary worldwide career and accomplishments and contributions outside the ring, like receiving Japan's highest honor (The Order of the Rising Sun) “which was something else again," as Dick put it. "I'm just lucky I made an impact in the biz, had great matches with everyone I respected and was fortunate enough to work with; and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. If your passion is what you love, it's never work nor a work.”
HOLD-ING PATTERN Dick’s friend Buddy Rogers also used the figure-four leglock, as did Handsome Johnny Barend later (he and Dick had some great wars at the Honolulu International Amphitheatre, now renamed Blaisdale Arena), but Dick perfected his own version of that finisher when his masked Destroyer character took off in L.A., and especially after he beat Blassie on July 27, 1962, to win the WWA world title. He retained the strap for an impressive ten months against many top names. The following year, Dick had three sold-out main events with Giant Baba at our Olympic Auditorium main SoCal venue, and in May of that year, he had his first tour of Japan for and against Rikidozan in a spectacular televised bout that drew an unheard of 70 million TV viewers (think about that for a moment; only the Superbowl could generate those kinds of numbers in it's prime). Even Dick the Bruiser had an absolute classic match with the Destroyer in June 1964 which Dick fondly discussed. "I had to have my working shoes on with Dick Afflis, but he was game to follow my lead."
"When Rikidozan was murdered in 1963, I felt like I lost a brother,” said Dick. “I was devastated. We all were. Riki was such a wonderful guy and did so much to get our industry going full-steam in Japan.” Dick would then trade the WWA world title back and forth with Cowboy Bob Ellis later losing the strap for the very last time to Pedro Morales in March, 1965. That was a great rivalry, of which Dick said, “It helped get Pete [Morales] over in a big way."
When Verne Gagne wanted to bring him into the AWA in 1966, Dick initially said he couldn't understand why Gagne wanted to create an all-new character for him. "Before I got there, I thought, ‘Why not take advantage of my Destroyer name and mask there too, which was already known and doing well around the world?’ I was befuddled, but Verne explained it and I soon understood. Verne was kind of ahead of his time in wanting to cinch his own unique gimmick for me and others there in case AWA marketing might take off and then all the royalties might go there. Now you see big conglomerates who own and trademark wrestlers’ names and gimmicks to where, when they leave there or go to work in other places, they do so under different or even their given names. This didn't happen much in the 60's until Verne did it with me. Then it became huge when Vince got going in early 1984."
Dick working under a brand new hood and gimmick as "Doctor X" went on to win the AWA world heavyweight title. His first AWA loss was warmly to Billy (Red) Lyons, Dick’s real-life brother-in-law. And while there, even though they'd known each other from Japan, Dick also "cemented my friendship with one of my dearest friends in Red Bastien. We had a blast, all of us on the road for Verne, and those were some tough drives when it snowed, but the camaraderie kept us going in those blizzards and freezing cold. That's why any chance I could get to pop in and work for Ed (Francis) and Tallyho (Lord James Blears) in Honoulu at the HIC, I'd take it. I loved it there, and spending time on Waikiki and Makaha Beach over the years with pals like Sammy Steamboat, Nicky Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Red, Harry(Fujiwara) Mr Fuji, Barend, Firp (Pampero Firpo), and the rest was always a treat. Plus, I could work on my tan. The HIC also was the only place I can recall, where the babys and the heels walked down the runway with flower leis around our necks. Blears & Ed Francis had the place packed for every tour and it was such a wonderful, colorful place to work. The absolute cream of the crop was there, anyway, going to or returning from the mainland and Japan with layovers in Oahu. So why not work for Ed Francis at the HIC, get paid for what was essentially a vacation, and have a great time?! We all loved working in Hawaii at the time."
Again, as a pro wrestler, Dick was absolutely one of the greatest and excelled on every level in the biz, from mat and chain work, psychology, highspots, brawling, on down. That's why he was the favorite wrestler of my fellow historians like Steve Yohe, George Schire and right up there for the late Jim Melby plus J Michael Kenyon, who said there was nobody else like Dick Beyer.
For me personally; his Los Angeles/Japan feud in the ‘60s, all the way throught to later at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium in early 1973 with his real-life pal Fred Blassie, were my favorite feuds of all time. Coming close to those were Blassie/Tolos plus Destroyer vs Bobo, Bearcat, Gorilla Monsoon, Luke Graham, Marky Lewin, Pedro Morales and more. Dick's second-to-last Los Angeles match appearance was in Mike Lebell's 22-man, "$11,000" battle royal. Returning faves and new stars for the coming year would pop in to compete in those annual royals, as they often did the same month for promoting legend Roy Shire in San Francisco. When heel Dick was advertised as returning for one last L.A. tour, along with returning hero Blassie, we knew that 1973 battle royal was going to be something special. The Wednesday night 90-minute syndicated "Lucha Libre from the Olympic Auditorium" TV show two nights before the big battle royal saw America's champ Victor Rivera team with fellow L.A. babys Blassie, Bobo Brazil and John Tolos to defeat The Destroyer, Paul Demarco, Lars Anderson and Black Gordman.
During the battle royal itself, Dick was eliminated early-on, but came back out later to eliminate Blassie, "without the ref seeing" it was Dick who tossed him out. Two weeks later, Fred defeated Dick before a packed Olympic Auditorium in a highly advertised and long-awaited final blowoff to their feud. That was Dick’s last match for our Mike Lebell promotion, and as he later said, "That was a good way to go out there … against Fred, and we had a helluva match. We put everything we had into that mini-feud and the fans reacted just like they did in the ‘60s to what we were doing. That's beyond all the promo fun we had with one another, amusing each other for TV." Dick, Blassie & Tolos all cutting state-of-the-art promos for that year's annual Battle Royal spectacular was amazing tv. Dick also said he was thrilled to go out to dinner with Bobo Brazil afterwards(along with some other name talent) at Tommy's famous hamburger restaurant near USC.
We'd be remiss in not mentioning 1963, when Dick finally retired the original Gorgeous George (Wagner) at the Olympic. George's turkey ranch farm just wasn't fiscally productive and he allegedly nagged our L.A. booker Jules Strongbow for a final badly-needed payday. It drew but it was sadly to lose his hair after having it shaved already months prior to Whipper Billy Watson.
"You know, I may never have really left Buffalo which was always on my mind and which I've always loved dearly, but Korakuen [Hall in Tokyo] and all the clubs (venues) in Japan were my home too. All of Verne Gagne's clubs were my home. The Olympic Auditorium especially, because that's basically, for me, where it all came together to start the Destroyer's career in the very beginning." In 1984, Dick told me on-air, "And there were few promoters I didn't love too. My career never felt like work. It was always a blast. Always fun with the boys. But then if you're going to break it all down for me, wrestling overall was my home."
"I always tried my best to help others whenever I could,” Dick continued. “When I returned to Baba who was starting All Japan in 1973, I ended up staying there the next six-plus years, working hard in the ring and behind the scenes helping him get Jumbo Tsuruta over, although we failed with Anton Geesink the Judo ace. We had a lot of success though with that Greatest Masked Man World Tournament where I beat everyone who came over to All Japan; from The Masked Convict [Plowboy Stan Frazier] to Spoiler Don Jardine, and I beat ‘em all. That is until we later had Mil Mascaras debut, and I thought the world of Mil and helped put him over. He always thanked me for years after in creating his legend in Japan which made him a millionaire many times over."
Dick's famous seven-match feud with Mascaras truly did craft Mil's legend there, and to this day, Mil always verbally thanked Dick in appreciation for doing what he did to help Mascaras get over. "Dick made me in Japan and from our matches there I was recognized globally also. Him putting me over helped me to have a lifelong living there in Japan which Dick taught me to love plus some of the language."
In All Japan, Dick also held Giant Baba's PWF title until he left in 1979, when that famous championship was abandoned in rare tribute to him. As we'll discuss later, Dick was the very first wrestler in any country to host his own variety tv show in the 70's well before the WWE Network, etc. Dick next appeared on select wrestling cards in upstate NY and in Canada sporadically until he "semi-retired in 1984." For the next 11-plus years, he taught Phys Ed in the New York Central school district and coached wrestling, football and swimming classes while living in Akron, New York. He also was named an honored certified toastmaster general in Toastmasters Speakers International. And even before he went into WWE's HOF, which was a big deal for all of us, he inducted his old friend and foe Gorgeous George into it in 2010. That next year, he and his second "Baby Destroyer," in son Kurt, returned to Japan to help out in the charity event All Together, which was put on as a goodwill gesture by AJPW, NJPW, and Pro Wrestling Noah. Two years later, he opened the Destroyer Park golf course in Akron. Of course, Dick promoted and talked it up at CAC! He was very proud of it and learned to love playing the links. Dick also continued to champion amateur wrestling around North America, teaching doing charity work and lecturing. Never slowing down.
When he was awarded Japan's Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays award ("Better than Queen Elizabeth had she knighted me," he added), Japan's government said it was "for a lifetime spent promoting goodwill and bicultural exchanges between Japan and the United States.” Here here.
The many titles Dick held and defended are too numerous to mention, but include the WWA world, All Japan All Asia tag titles (with Billy Red Lyons), four-time PWF U.S. champ, Champion Carnival Tour Technical and Fighting Spirit awards; AWA world title as Doctor X, as well as Roy Shire’s version of the AWA world tag straps with Red Lyons in San Francisco.
We were blessed for decades seeing Dick hold court at CAC, whether it was at the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown L.A., the beautiful Sportsman's Lodge on Ventura in the Valley, or when we moved to Vegas in 2000 at the Riviera and later our Gold Coast Hotel. Who can forget Dick cutting promos in the lobby, showing his undeniable and endless love to and for Wilma and his kids, happily talking in fluent Japanese with all his "OKooGuy" fans and friends from Japan, playing cribbage with his pals Paul Vachon, Bob Orton Sr., Bill White, and so many others. Dick was everything and everywhere at Cauliflower Alley. Again like Paul Vachon, really the heart and soul of CAC.
Dick also wrote and published his own autobiography in both Japanese and English, along with also helping others write books on him in both countries. He graciously hosted Japanese film and radio crews sent over here to cover him and CAC. Dick regularly volunteered to help interpret for American TV crews when Japanese stars came to CAC. One such great was Yoshihiro (Ultimo Dragon) Asai, who joined CAC and came to one of our L.A. reunions in 1992 just to see his long time idol Destroyer. And I was impressed when I heard Dick speak fluent Japanese with both Thesz & Blassie at our only Springfield, MA ancillary CAC around 1994.
Dick was and meant many things to so many(and not just those in wrestling and athletics overall). We all knew him to be a devoted husband, father, world traveler, golf course entrepreneur, TV star, friend, and class human being. Always giving back to wrestling.
When WrestleCon's Mike Bucci asked me to do the opening, welcoming event for his 2012 international wrestling convention in 2012 at the LAX Weston Resort; Dick & Wilma were the first to agree to trans themselves out and on their own dime, when I asked them to be part of my Los Angeles Territory Reunion. Everyone who was still alive who worked on and for our circuit was there — including Billy Graham who drove out from Phoenix with CAC's Billy Anderson, the Guerrero family, Roddy Piper, Jack Armstrong, Jesse Hernandez and so many others. Behind the scenes talent like Gene Lebell, Jeff Walton & CAC Honoree Art Williams), our lead Hispanic announcer, Miguel Alonso, and my ringside pro photographer sensei Theo Ehret. Dick’s presence coming all the way from New York made our event sensational and intelligent(as in the Sensational, Intelligent Destroyer), and the ever-creative gimmicks he brought with him never failed to please everyone there. He was one of wrestling's very first to really grasp "branding" and what brands he built for himself like wrestling's first t-shirt to be sold in all our newstand monthly magazines along with his Destroyer and Dr X masks, Destroyer pens, statues, toes, the works. And this started about 1972!
There's so many other things about Dick that need to be remembered and celebrated. Like being the very first pro wrestler to ever have his own late-night TV variety show (in Japan of course, called Uwasa No Channel), which got monster ratings and saw Dick sing, dance, act, do stand-up, and more, all while hosting top guests at that time in the early to mid ‘70s. Totally amazing as Dick was not only the first wrestler, but the best, to do something so mainstream. Other than Gorgeous George, Billy Varga, Gene Lebell & Jimmy Lennon Sr on TV shows like “Jack Benny” and “The Munsters,” the Huntley/Brinkley 24-minute Antonino Rocca TV special, Andre the Giant appearing on “The Tonight Show,” or Blassie’s regular appearances on Steve Allen and Regis Philbin's shows; wrestling rarely got much real-world, shoot recognition. Dick’s weekly variety show broke barriers and made his celebrity in Japan exponentially bigger. He could barely go out, as he said, to places like the Olympiad Restaurant near Shibuya Train Station in Tokyo without hundreds of fans following him, all looking in through the windows while he ate, then waiting for him to come out to sign autographs. Plus as he told me, "to gently snarl at them. It was kind of insane, and when my son Kurt years later finally came over to join me there, he got to see first-hand how big I really still was, not just as a wrestler, but as a celebrity there. It was thrilling and humbling to be loved by so many who once hated me there. I just loved being in Japan any chance I could get. Again, that really was home if we're going to talk about home for me."
All Japan held a celebratory event a few weeks before his death, and they had hoped Dick would have been able to make it with Stan Hansen and other legends one last time as he had for the massive Shohei Baba tribute after Giant Baba passed. I'm sure if Dick had been physically able (his mind was sharp as a tack up to the end), he would have been there. If one asks long time Japanese wrestling writers and fans, they'll all concur that Dick meant the world to them and to Japanese puro overall. "It might've been a very different pro wrestling industry over here had he not come and created all that wonderful history for us," said one top Japanese online magazine editor. "He's one of the top pillars of wrestling for us. He always will be."
Although this tribute is long, it barely scratches the surface of Dick Beyer's accomplishments as one of the greatest ring psychology tacticians. Who'd ever predict that this great, albeit quiet(at least at home) amateur great would be destroyin' the boys all those decades with his promos alone? Let alone his superb ring work and nuanced antics. That's why most of our top training schools have their students study Destroyer and Dr X video.
Dick, you were far more than just sensational and intelligent to your friends and family. You were everything to us. I know Cauliflower Alley Club sends its love and thanks. We were just hoping, as you'd said once, that you'd live forever. Actually, with all that you gave back to this planet, you will and Yohe has all the video to prove it. Say hello to giant Shohei Baba and Jumbo up there, and make sure Mrs. Baba comps you on your heavenly gimmix table.