Ed Wheatley is a local author, film producer, sports historian and a weekly sports commentator on St. Louis radio. His book, The St. Louis Browns – The Story of a Beloved Team, received numerous awards. He has now shifted his attention to another key moment in St. Louis Sports history – Wrestling at the Chase -- highlighting how St. Louis came to be the professional wrestling capital of the world.
“Too often these days, St. Louis doesn’t get high praise due to issues with politics, crime and other factors. But during the time of Wrestling at the Chase, St. Louis was proudly recognized as the professional wrestling capital of the world, due to Sam Muchnick’s oversight of the National Wrestling Alliance,” explains Ed.
“The story of Wrestling at the Chase is not just the story of big athletic men engaging in the ring. It is so much more. It's the story of the evolution of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel becoming the most opulent place in St. Louis where kings, queens, presidents and other prominent people would stay. Its Chase Club was one of the top nightclubs in the nation where greats like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole would regularly perform. In time, the hottest ticket in town was not for their shows, but instead it was for wrestling under the spectacular chandeliers of the Khorassan Room. Wrestlers were used to dark, dank arenas but now were here in a place most people only wished they could be. Joe Garagiola, the program’s first announcer, commented on how his family would drive by the hotel in awe of its magnificence, dreaming of one day getting to go in.”
Also part of the story of Wrestling at the Chase is the history of the evolution of television in St. Louis. Harold Koplar, owner of the Chase, had been looking for exciting new programming for his new TV station, KPLR. He happened to be on an airplane flight with Sam Muchnick who was looking to expand wrestling in a new way, and thus formed the marriage of Sam's wrestlers and Harold's hotel and television station that would span three decades.
“Back in that day, you had a single television set in the home, with three channels to watch; people didn’t have all the entertainment alternatives or life’s distractions like they do now. That’s why there are such great memories of the program gathered with the whole family watching this entertainment together on Saturday nights or the re-airings on Sunday mornings. Too often brothers would try to emulate a move made by Dick the Bruiser or Cowboy Bob Ellis and a lamp or coffee table would take the hit,” adds Ed.
But, as Ed points out in the his book, what's most important is that Wrestling at the Chase became "the great equalizer."
“In our nation’s history, this was a time of civil and racial unrest. However, Wrestling at the Chase was all about equality and entertainment. Blacks and Whites would be sitting next to each other cheering together, not worrying about protesters or anything outside the Chase,” says Ed.
Like his other books on St. Louis sports history, Ed says this book is about reliving great memories of a prominent, proud town so they're not forgotten. It is currently in the process of being turned into a film that will premiere on the PBS network this summer.