TIM HORNBAKER ARTICLE ILLUMINATES ORIGINS OF JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS

Tim Hornbaker (author of "National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling") has completed a fascinating article on Jim Crockett's earliest involvement in professional wrestling in Charlotte in 1934. It appears on his website Legacy of Wrestling which features info on his book, as well as articles and historical research on wrestling going back to the early 20th century.

The article primarily focuses on the promoter who proceeded Crockett in Charlotte, one John Francis "Irish" Horan, and his shenanigans (as Hornbaker calls them) that almost killed wrestling in Charlotte in the early 1930s. When some of Horan's fraudulent credentials were exposed by the Charlotte sports media, it left the door open for Jim Crockett.

There is much to be digested here, including nuggets of information woven into the article of  Crockett's involvement in wrestling in Greensboro before coming to Charlotte, that one of his three brothers was involved in the wrestling business with him, and that long time Richmond VA promoter Bill Lewis partnered with Crockett in getting a foothold in the tumultuous 1934 Charlotte wrestling scene.

Check out the article on the Legacy of Wrestling website:

The Prelude to a Wrestling Empire – The Introduction of Jim Crockett to Charlotte

by Tim Hornbaker.

- D. Bourne

December 2007

Updated July 2011


Earliest Promotion of Pro-Wrestling

by Carroll Hall, "All-Star Championship Wrestling"

 

Pete Moore and James Allen Crockett formed the Southeastern Corporation in Bristol, Virginia during 1931 with Pete Moore as President and Jim Crockett as Vice-President.

Jim Crockett came to Greensboro, North Carolina in December 1933. Mr. Crockett converted a warehouse into an arena. He promoted his first Greensboro wrestling event there on December 20,1933. Mr. Crockett donated a percentage of the proceeds from that event to the Empty Stocking Fund.

On January 3,1939, Bill Lewis of Richmond, Virginia and Jim Crockett bought out Pete Moore for the reported sum of $8,000 dollars, dissolving the Southeastern Corporation. Bill Lewis and Jim Crockett then began promoting as the Bill Lewis Athletic Corporation.

Newspaper articles that I have researched that are related to Mr. Crockett's history are on the front page of my blog. http://allstarchampionshipwrestling.blogspot.com/

Bill Lewis and Jim Crockett, 1939

 


 In 1985, Jim Crockett Promotions, then led by Crockett's sons Jim Jr. and David, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company, 1935-1985, with special cards throughout that year. Recent research has shed further light on Crockett Sr.'s history as a promoter which began at least  four years earlier in 1931 in Crockett's hometown of Bristol, VA. Crockett apparently promoted several towns in southwest Virginia and east Tennessee, including Kingsport, reflected in one of the articles below. According to his obituary, also below, he came to Charlotte in 1934 and set up shop there and established the wrestling dynasty known as Jim Crockett Promotions. We don't know for sure, but we're guessing the 1935 date as established by the Crockett family in their silver anniversary celebration was based on the date when the company was incorporated.  - D. Bourne

 

Early Office Locations

from a 5/25/87 article in the Charlotte Observer by Tom Sorenson

"Crockett first worked out of his home. Then he owned a series of restaurants - the Queen's Soda & Grill, a predecessor to the Town House on Providence Road; the Ringside Soda Grill in Elizabeth; Wesley Heights Grill; Jim & Jake's. The restaurants were his office. And they fed his 300 pound frame."


JIM CROCKETT PROMOTES TENNESSEE IN 1933

Two powerful and ponderous mat men, Leo Walleck, German sensation, and Jack Sexton, Indiana plowboy, have been signed for the mat card to be presented at the American Legion Carnival Thursday night. These two men will meet in a 45 minute match, one fall.

Another match will be arranged for the evening. The card at the American Legion is being staged by the Legion through Main Street Arena promoters Jim Crockett and W. S. Waddell.  Mr. Waddell and Mr. Crockett are cooperating with the local Legion post this week and there will be no match at the Main Street Arena Saturday night.

Kingsport TN Newspaper Clipping, September 21, 1933


SUCCESS STORY

Jim Crockett was making news early in his career. This is from the nationally syndicated "Sports Round-Up" column found in the Reno Evening Gazette newspaper on August 5th, 1936:

Success story: Five years ago Jim Crockett, Charlotte NC wrestling promoter, borrowed $50, hired a hall, and put on a match in Bristol, TN. Today he features the grunt and groaners in twenty leading cites between Norfolk and Miami. He has offices in five cities and pays three publicity men $100 a week each. Jack Curley, dean of all wrestling promoters, thinks well of Crockett.

Sports Round-Up, Reno Evening Gazette, 8/5/36


OBITUARY

From the Charlotte Observer, April 1973

Susan Jetton, Observer Staff Writer

 

The Promoter

He would survey an arena with eyes scanning like a radar scope. The blips indicated empty seats. Vacancy was a nasty word to Jim Crockett.

 “It’s raining up the road,” a confederate would console. “Some of these people in the mills don’t get their payday this week.”

 Jim, after his hasty count of the house, would shake his head sadly and say, “We didn’t give them what they wanted. The people come when you give them what they want.”

 He was a man of few words, a paradox as a highly successful promoter. He shunned fanfare. His office was as unpretentious as a janitor’s closet in a low rent apartment. Crockett had the size of two pro tackles welded together, but he was impeccably neat in his dress. Dark blue was his favorite color.

 A call to Jim Crockett usually resulted in Jim Crockett answering the telephone. He ran a million dollar business off the top of his head and without a secretary. Wrestling tonight, Victor Borge tomorrow, followed by the Harlem Globetrotters.

 Crockett died this week at 64. He was a remarkable man.

 

Wrestling and the Big Bands

 It began in the early 1930s when Jim was seeking a business and Charlotte was hoping to find that rarest of individuals, an honest wrestling promoter. Crockett came into the city with very little money, a clean-cut Virginia face and a pledge to offer a fair count and an honest billboard.

 So he became THE promoter. It wasn’t a business like IBM, but it rallied its weekly faithful and each year it grew. The names were changed, but the faces were the same. The good and the bad and the ugly. The bad and the ugly often drew better than the good. They still talk about Cowboy Luttrell as the king of the rat pack.

 Jim Crockett got his footing and once his head was above water, he tried a bit of everything. He began dealing in the big band business and his dance nights filled the old Armory.  He was on first-name terms with the Dorsey brothers, Stan Kenton, Ben Bernie and the ageless Mr. Lombardo.

 Satchmo Armstrong called him Big Jim. Jack Dempsey wrapped an arm around his thick shoulders.  Joe Louis referred to him as “a great man”. Ray Charles gave Crockett some headaches and full houses.

 

No Fat Cat Looks

 Jim had a friend in Gene Autry, the western star, and James Brown, the singer. He often booked shows he knew were bad business to do a friend a favor – realizing he might be on the hook sometime. He would sit off-stage and monitor a performance. It was his personal thrill.

 Crockett drove comfortable automobiles, but he would pale at the sight of a Cadillac salesman. He’d explain, “It’s a great car, but I don’t want my customers to see me driving to the show looking like a fat cat. Not when they’re having problems digging up $1.50 for a balcony seat.”

 He lived in the same home for 25 years until his children were grown and he could relax a bit. He then built a handsome residence. He occasionally took trips, but his vacation time was the only slim thing about him. In recent years, he had visited Europe and Japan. Jim’s real joy was his wife and his business.

 He was a big man, but few people called him fat. Maybe he weighed 350 or 400 pounds at one time. He wouldn’t have been Jim Crockett had he worn a Ray Bolger body.  He once went on a strict diet, losing 100 pounds and the mirror still wasn’t flattering. Jim said to hell with starvation after that ordeal.

 

Honesty and Hard Work

 Some years ago, he was convinced that televised wrestling would stimulate business. He began screening his gladiators weekly and the ratings zoomed at the station. So did his live box office.

 A Crockett diary would fill a bookcase on show business dates. He presented ice shows and boxing bouts and fishing tournaments and the roller derby. He offered a bear that wrestled and a boxing kangaroo.  It was the Crockett touch that brought “My Fair Lady” to Ovens Auditorium as an artistic success.

 “I’ve never seen a better dressed or more appreciative audience,” Jim told Paul Buck. “I’ve never  made less money for the work. Shows price themselves out of business. So do many of the name stars.”

 The Crockett empire grew on hard business facts, an ear to the public pulse, and a baker’s honesty. Said Jim:  “If you promise them Andy Williams for two hours, make sure Andy’s out there early and see that he doesn’t leave for 122 minutes.”

 Jim hadn’t been feeling well. Last Friday morning, he found it difficult to breathe. Mrs. Crockett got him to the hospital and his sizable family couldn’t hide its concern. In the emergency room, he called to John Ringley, his son-in-law, and whispered, “Look after them.”

 Jim Crockett had seen too many curtains fall not to recognize his own.

 

DEATH ENDS AN INSTITUTION

Susan Jetton, Observer Staff Writer

 Jim Crockett, the man who brought wrestling, “My Fair Lady”, the Lone Ranger and Lassie to Charlotte, died early Sunday morning in a local hospital. He was 64.

 “It is a great loss. He is an institution. It’s like taking away Trade and Tryon,” said close friend and business associate Paul Buck, the Coliseum manager.

 Crockett came to Charlotte in 1934 with about $5,000 in cash and a budding reputation as a promoter. He built himself into “the premier promoter in the Southeast.”

 “He had everything it takes for the business. He was honest, he was tough, and he was direct. But like one of the secretaries out here said, ‘He was the sweetest big man I’ve ever seen,’” Buck said Sunday afternoon.

 From his office at 1111 East Morehead Street, Crockett – who tipped the scales at 300 pounds plus – directed hundreds of shows yearly across the Southeast. He brought the big bands in the ‘30s and ‘40s, rock and roll in the ‘50s, country and western, Broadway plays and musicals, the Harlem Globetrotters, and cowboys and Indians.

 “He kept us in business here when we were just beginning,” said Buck of the shows brought by Crockett to the Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium.

 But his first love was wrestling.  And Crockett made wrestling a weekly ritual in the Carolinas. About ten years ago, however, he stopped his practice of stepping into the wrestling ring.

 What happened was that one of his wrestlers went berserk, and Crockett climbed into the ring to cool him off. The wrestler floored Crockett with one blow.

 Funeral services will be at 10 am Tuesday at Hankins and Whittington Funeral Chapel. A graveside service will be at 4:30 pm Tuesday at Glenwood Cemetery in Bristol, Tennessee, his hometown.

 He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, who lives at the family home at 4023 Arbor Way. Other survivors  are a daughter, Mrs. John R. Ringley, and sons, James Allen Crockett, Jr., David F. Crockett, and Charles J. Crockett, all of Charlotte, and three brothers, Raymond Crockett of Bristol, Tennessee, Walter E. Crockett and Claude H. Crockett of Bristol, Virginia.

 Honorary pallbearers will be some of Crockett’s best friends – area sportswriters, radio and TV announcers, promoters and arena managers.

 In keeping with his wishes, friends may send memorials to the Shriner’s Crippled Children’s Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina, or to the Mecklenburg Association for Retarded Children.

 That was the side of Crockett he tried to hide from the public – his regular signing of three-figure checks for charities.

 “That’s how I knew him.  As a quiet man who, busy as he was, had the time to help someone in need, to offer advice, or to help those less fortunate,” said City Councilman Jim Whittington.

 Whittington related a story of a friend of Crockett’s who went broke after several bad business ventures. “Nobody else would even speak to him,” said Whittington.  But Crockett got the man a job at which he is “now very successful.”

 Crockett was born on the Virginia side of the street in the mountain town of Bristol. He played football at Bristol  High with Gene McEver and Beattie Feathers, both of whom went on to become All-Americans and members of football’s Hall of Fame. It was in high school that he began setting up boxing ”battle royals” to warm up crowds before the main matches.

 He continued on the sideline while starring on the baseball team at Norman Park Junior College in Norman Park, Georgia. But he quit college when his sideline became a main and successful activity. Crockett came to Charlotte as a full-time promoter a year after leaving college.

 In Charlotte, he was a member of  Joppa (Masonic) Lodge and the Oasis (Shriners) Temple.

Charlotte Observer NC April 1973


Dory Funk Jr. on Jim Crockett Sr. weighed in at 300 pounds and was a dominating personality. He ran his territory with authority from an old house on Morehead Street in Charlotte, North Carolina. The first time I met Jim, I walked into his office as NWA world champion in my second week. He looked at me and said, "I just want you to know you are our champion and you are not a f*cking recruiter for your father. Keep your hands off my talent." I knew not to recruit his talent. Crockett's territory was one of the largest in that he ran four towns a night throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina and kept a large number of wrestling talent. In the Mid Atlantic territory I faced Johnny Weaver, Paul Jones, Bronco Lubich, and J.J. Dillon in world title matches.

http://www.kayfabememories.com/Stories/doryfunkjr/df1-2.htm



The Mid-Atlantic Gateway is working on a feature to eventually be published here on the the patriarch of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, Jim Crocket, Sr., as well as the entire Crockett family.

If you have photos or biographical material related to the Crocketts that you would like to share with others on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway website, please contact us at midatlanticgateway@gmail.com .

Thanks to Carroll Hall, Mark Eastridge, Jared Neumark, and Peggy Lathan for their assistance with this feature. Special thanks also to Tim Hornbaker.

Research by Carroll Hall, Mark Eastridge, and Dick Bourne.

 

LINKS

Jim Crockett 1940

Jim Crockett & The Becker Brothers 1954

The Introduction of Jim Crockett to Charlotte

Early Charlotte Booking Office Information