3D: Dick, Destroyer, Doctor X|
Remembering CAC's Beloved Heart and Soul, Richard John Beyer,
88 Years Young and Gone Far Too Soon
by Dr. Mike Lano
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 the early days when club founders Mike Mazurki and Art Abrams were running CAC, Dick had been a big supporter. In his famous, booming, gravely "work" voice, which sounded like Curtis Iaukea mixed with a dose of Fred Blassie & Dick the Bruiser, he would mock-shout, "I flew in from my frigid Buffalo homebase." Yep, that voice!
He said he was born (July 11, 1930) and raised in the Buffalo area, and his birthplace was so ingrained in his very fiber that he never really left the 36-mile-square Buffalo to Akron area, other than during historic 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 his passing. He taught not only amateur, but pro wrestling, as well as swimming and other sports, and voted "best liked teacher" in New York prior to his wrestling career start.
He was married to not one, but two wonderful Wilmas, 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 legging 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. I came back with that one [mask], but I wasn't crazy about it at the time. It got in the way. Right after that match, 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 called it that 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."
Historian and one of our greatest records/results book geniuses, Steve Yohe, sent me a fantastic 1964 Japanese video with Dick and Baba, but on opposing sides since Dick was still in his heel prime there; well before he turned face and Japanese fans embraced him. Steve e-mailed me to say that 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 became a lifelong fan of pro wrestling and, ultimately, one of the top historians of the business.
Steve captioned the video match by saying, "Dick here when he was the greatest wrestler on the planet," which was true. Many of us agree with Steve. By that point, Dick had mastered every nuance, every aspect of the biz. Thesz might have been amongst the first in 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 with the at-times caricatured, bragging American Gaijins (foreigners). Japanese wrestling fans flocked to the arenas in the hopes of seeing Rikidozan, Baba, Kintaro Oki, Kanji/Antonio Inoki, Yoshinosato, and Toyonobori (a legit Sumo "Rikishi" there) vanquish the hated the foreign invaders. That was the heel/face dynamic of that time, and it worked in the States, as well, when Dick opposed heels like Charlie (Mr.) Moto in Los Angeles. Dick finessed his masked gimmick in Japan better than anyone before or since and set the standard for the Machines, Ultimo Dragons, and Sasukes many decades later.
Dick easily proved to be one of the best talker/promo guys ever. He bellowed so loudly that he didn’t need a microphone, and even fans in the nosebleed section could hear his every word. I have audio (sadly, no video exists) of Dick masterfully jawing and trading promos with both babyface foe Fred Blassie (only in Los Angeles where Fred was our ultimate beloved face after his turn against The Sheik in 1970) and teaming with John Tolos in a post-Coliseum show in September 1971, in which Dick verbally trashed upcoming opponent in Bearcat (Gene Lebell, please don't stretch me!) Wright. John so respected and loved Dick that, when teaming with him on our KCOP-TV 13 Saturday night TV show, he wore "The Golden Greek's Golden Mask." John had never worn a mask before. He was still billed as John, but wore the mask "to fit in with his shoot pal, Destroyer Dick." It was magic. That scenario helped Tolos gradually turn face after being our territory’s top killer heel.
During a time when the WWA was highly respected, and in the minds of many, second only to the NWA, Dick, Carpentier, Rikidozan, Thesz & Blassie were the face of the promotion. 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, and other legends spilled over from L.A. to Japan and are regarded as classics. The matches that exist are still studied extensively by top wrestling athletes everywhere. NJPW's Hiroshi Tanahashi, Keiji Muto, and European future hall of famers like Melissa Anderson, Will Osprey and Zack Sabre Jr., have discussed Dick's legendary career (the word "legend" can never be overused when one talks about Dick Beyer).
Dick never had a run with the WWWF/WWF, but that makes the fact that he was inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame a truly amazing accomplishment. That speaks volumes for his celebrity, and being awarded Japan's highest honor (The Order of the Rising Sun) "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 — the best of the best — and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat."
(above, left to right)
1) The Destroyer magazine feature, 2) Terry Funk & The Destroyer, 3) Mil Mascaras & The Destroyer
Photos by Mike Lano
Dick’s friend Buddy Rogers used the figure four leglock, as did Handsome Johnny Barend later (they had some great wars at the Honolulu International Amphitheatre, now Blaisdale Arena), but Dick perfected his own version of the hold when his masked Destroyer character took off in L.A., pinning Blassie on July 27, 1962, to win the WWA world title. He retained the strap for an impressive ten months against the top names. The following year, Dick had three sold-out main events with Giant Baba at our Olympic Aud, and in May of that year, 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). Dick the Bruiser had an absolute classic match with the Destroyer in June 1964. "When Riki was murdered in 1963, I felt like I lost a brother," said Dick. "I was devastated. We all were. He was such a wonderful guy." Dick then traded the WWA world title back and forth with Cowboy Bob Ellis and lost 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 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 he explained it. I eventually understood. Verne was kind of ahead of his time in wanting to cinch his own gimmick for me and others in case marketing took off. 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 names. This didn't happen much in the 60's until Verne did it with me."
Dick went on to win the AWA world heavyweight title, and Dick’s first AWA loss was 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 "cinched 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, Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Red, 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 & 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 to the mainland from Japan with layovers. So why not work, get paid, and have a great time?!"
One can’t say it enough. As a pro wrestler, Dick was truly one of the absolute greatest ever and excelled on every level. That's probably why he was the favorite wrestler of my fellow historians — Steve Yohe & George Schire — and he was right up there for the late Jim Melby & J Michael Kenyon, who said there was nobody else like Dick Beyer.
For me personally, his Los Angeles/Japan feud in the ‘60s, and later at the Olympic Aud in early 1973 with his real-life pal Fred Blassie, were my favorite feuds of all time. Of course, coming close to those were Blassie/Tolos, Destroyer vs Bobo, Monsoon or Morales. Dick's 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 Dick was advertised, 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 saw America's champ Victor Rivera team with Blassie, Bobo Brazil and John Tolos to defeat the Destroyer, Lars Anderson, Paul DeMarco & Black Gordman.
During the battle royal itself, Dick was eliminated early-on, but came back out later to help eliminate Blassie. Two weeks later, Fred defeated Dick before a packed Olympic Auditorium in a highly advertised and long-awaited blowoff to their feud. That was Dick’s last match with 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 for TV." Dick, Blassie & Tolos all demonstrated their professionalism with state-of-the-art promos and had the highest level of psychology in the ring.
Years earlier, in 1963, Dick had retired the original Gorgeous George (Wagner) in the Olympic. George's turkey ranch wasn't fiscally productive and he allegedly nagged Jules Strongbow for a good payday to lose his hair after having lost it to Whipper Billy Watson.
"You know, I may never have left Buffalo, which I've always loved dearly, but Korakuen [Hall in Tokyo] and all the clubs (venues) in Japan were my home. 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, "And there were few promoters I didn't love. My career was never work. It was always a blast. Always fun with my closest friends, the boys."
"I always tried to help others if I could," Dick continued. "When I returned to Baba starting All Japan in '73, and stayed there the next six-plus years, we had that Greatest Masked Man tournament there where I beat everyone who came over; from The Convict [Stan Frazier] to the Spoiler, and I beat ‘em. That is until we later had Mil Mascaras debut, and I thought the world of Mil."
Dick's famous seven-match feud with Mascaras crafted Mil's legend there, and to this day, Mil always thanks Dick for doing what he did to help him get over. "Dick made me in Japan. He did it all for me to have a lifelong living there."
Dick held All Japan's PWF title until 1979, and when he left, that title was abandoned in tribute to him. Dick 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.
When he was awarded Japan's Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays award ("Better than Queen Elizabeth had she knighted me."), Japan's government said it was "for a lifetime spent promoting goodwill and bicultural exchanges between Japan and the United States."
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 to see 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 now-bulldozed Riviera. If you were there, you will never 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 others. Dick was everything and everywhere at Cauliflower Alley.
Dick, who published his autobiography in both Japanese and English, helped 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 person was Yoshihiro (Ultimo Dragon) Asai, who joined CAC and came to one of our L.A. reunions in 1992 just to see his idol Destroyer. And I was impressed when I heard him speak Japanese with both Thesz & Blassie at our only Springfield, MA CAC around 1994.
Dick was and meant many things to a zillion people, if not a bazillion. He can be summed up as a stellar husband, father, world traveler, golf course entrepreneur, TV star, friend, and class human being.
(above, left to right)
1) Jim White, Buddy Rogers, Treach Phillips & The Destroyer, 2) Ric Flair, Reid Flair & The Destroyer, 3) The Destroyer & Nigel McGuiness
Photos by Mike Lano
When WrestleCon's Mike Bucci asked me to do a welcoming event for his 2012 fan convention in Southern California, Dick & Wilma were the first to agree to trans out, on their dime, when I asked them to attend. Everyone who was still alive who worked on our circuit was there — including Billy Graham, the Guerrero family, and many others, Behind the scenes talent like Gene Lebell, Jeff Walton & the great Art Williams), our lead Hispanic announcer, Miguel Alonso, and my ringside pro photographer sensei Theo Ehret. Dick’s presence made it seem extra-special, and the ever-creative gimmicks never failed to please his global fans. He was amongst wrestling's first to really grasp "branding" and what brands he built off and for himself.
There are so many things about Dick that need to be remembered. He was the very first pro wrestler to 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 from the biz. 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, 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, and ever-growing, or waiting for him to come out to sign autographs and, as he said, "snarl at them. It was kind of insane, and when my son 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. Boy, I just loved being in Japan any chance I could get. 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. 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 you ask Japanese wrestling writers and fans, they will all concur that Dick meant the world to them and 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 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 his accomplishments as one of the greatest ring psychology tacticians. Who would ever predict that this great, albeit quiet, amateur would be destroyin' the boys all those decades?
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.
Note: Dick himself came up with his 3D title in the last few years — Dick, Destroyer, Dr X — which was intelligent and sensational fun.
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