June 22, 2011

Wrestling Comes to Chicago

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent
June 22 2011

In about 1948, TV came to Chicago, which really didn't do anything for us kids until it brought wrestling with it. I still don't know if wrestling made TV popular or TV made wrestling popular.

I had never seen a wrestling match in my life until I saw one through the store window at an appliance store on Broadway next to the Riviera theater.

One day I went down to Barney's Tavern, which was on the N.E Corner of Leland and Kenmore. I knew my dad was in there and drinking; I also knew he was a soft touch depending on the amount he had to drink. Well, I walked in, and there he was, his usual place at the end of the bar, talking with some long haired, strange looking guy. This guy had his middle two fingers missing. Dad introduced him as Tarzan Zimba. Wow, Tarzan Zimba right there in front of me. Problem was, I never heard of Tarzan Zimba.

Dad said him and I were invited to watch Tarzan Zimba wrestle that night at the Rainbo Arena. We went on the Lawrence Ave street car up to Clark St. and walked in with Tarz. I could call him Tarz, now that we were buddies.

Tarz fought some guy; I thought they were going to kill each other. Tarz was the mean wrestler, and he was disqualified, then we all took the street car home, even the guy I thought Tarzan tried to kill. They were laughing and telling jokes and it took me too long to figure out what was going on.

Tarzan Zimba who's real name was Eddie Pottsman; he came from Canada. Sometimes he wrestled with his brother Jack as a Tag team. Jack Zimba. I would think anyone using a name like Zimba could come up with a more exotic name than Jack.

Wrestling hit Chicago big time. Three nights a week the Rainbo Arena, Marigold Arena, and the Chicago Stadium. My dad even bought an Admiral 9" TV From Goldblatt's to watch the matches.

Tarz lived on Lawrence Ave Between Kenmore and Winthrop; he had a one room apt. and my job was to make sure he was awake in time to get to the arena.

Now, most of the wrestlers had a gimmick to set them apart from the other wrestlers.
And Tarzan Zimba was no exception. He had long hair around the sides but was bald on top. He had three toupees made, one was red, one black and one blond. He had a pair of wrestling shoes to match each wig, not to mention matching robes and trunks.
So if he wore a blond wig, he had golden shoes and a golden robe and gold-colored trunks.

Tarzan would enter the arena to jeers of the fans. My Sister Edwina would follow, carrying a small pillow. I came behind her with a folded towel.

Tarz would climb in the ring and make a big display of taking off his top piece, this he made look more difficult than it was, because of his missing fingers. He would place the wig on the pillow, held by my sister; he would then take off his robe which he gave to me as I handed him a small towel to mop the top of his head. I would fold his robe. Sis and I would sit near Tarz's corner. After the match, I would give him his robe, Sis would give him his hair, and we would march back up the runway.

Now, I never made any money with this wrestling gig, but I had every autograph of every wrestler that came through our area. Well, almost all, and because of this I was the envy of my class.

Tarzan was one of the few wrestlers to have a contract; he made three hundred a week and wrestled who, when, and where they told him.

There was always a grudge match going on. This one night Tarz was going to fight the wrestler who bit off his fingers (he actually lost them in a wood cutting accident,
but stories mattered and facts didn't).

I miss Tarz and I wonder whatever happened to him.


Toffer said...

He grew older and wiser, with his kids and eventually time caught up with him.

Thank you for the story that account some of what my grandmother use to say about him. Though I sometime wished I was able to see him when he wrestled. Just to see the dreaded flying toe hold in action would be hilarious to witness.

Anyways, thanks again for the story.

bill Matteson said...

sounds like he was a relative if so I want you to know he was a great guy,he would eat at our home a lot and drink with my Dad he also was pretty good with a YoYO which looked clumsy because of the missing fingers
if you read this please contact me


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