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Bobby Shane – In Memory of a Legend

The young boy sat quietly with his parents in the darkened arena, intently watching the action in the ring. With each move the wrestlers made, the fans roared with approval as their heroes struggled to victory. The excitement and emotion that filled the arena that night made an indelible impression on the boy. “Someday,” he thought to himself, “I will be in that ring.” It was a childhood dream, but one that was destined to come true. That boy, Robert Lee Schoenberger, known to wrestling fans asBobby Shane, indeed stepped into the ring, and became one of the most memorable wrestlers of his time.

Bobby was born in St. Louis, Missouri on August 25, 1945. The only child of Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Schoenberger, Bobby was at the tender age of five when he first fell in love with wrestling. His father came from a family of wrestling fans, and it was only natural that Bobby would inherit their interest in the sport. For Bobby, however, it was more than an interest. An intense love of wrestling was borne in his heart, and he became quickly obsessed with the drama that took place within the squared circle. If wrestling was on television he would have his eyes glued to the set, and he never wanted to miss the cards at he Kiel Auditorium. As he got older, he collected all the wrestling magazines and newspaper clippings he could find, he made scrapbooks of his favorite wrestlers, and he corresponded with fans in other parts of the country.

With wrestling deeply imbedded in his blood, Bobby was eight years old when his father took him to the YMCA and signed him up for the wrestling program. He remained in the program for the next few years, and then when he was a teenager, he started spending much of his free time at Harry Cook’s gym in downtown St. Louis. This was where the pros trained, and Bobby eagerly sought them out. He excitedly told them of his aspirations to step into the ring, and he asked that they help him train. Though his enthusiasm was admirable, the men did not pay much attention to him. Bobby was small and skinny, and hardly appeared well suited for the mat game. Bobby refused to be deterred, however, as his desire and his determination made him strive to change the wrestlers’ view of him.

During this time as well, Bobby had become acquainted with legendary promoter Sam Muchnick. Muchnick was quite impressed by Bobby’s passion for the sport, and he offered him a job as an office boy, a job that Schoenberger readily accepted. A couple of years after that, Bobby became a second, and was often seen on “Wrestling at the Chase,” accompanying the wrestlers to the ring and taking their robes and jackets back to the dressing room. Bobby was thrilled to be so close to the action in the ring, it intensified his ambition to be part of it someday.

He continued going to the gym and his persistence finally began to pay off. Some of the wrestlers agreed to work with him, but initially, it was to get rid of him by showing him just how tough one had to be in their world. Bobby surprised them, though, by absorbing the punishment they handed him and coming back for more. The men soon began to admire Schoenberger’s determination. He earned their respect, and they now agreed to help him train.

Wild Bill Longson, a former NWA world champion and a top trainer for the St. Louis Wrestling Club was greatly impressed by Bobby’s guts and his willingness to learn. He took the teenager under his wing and handled much of his training. Leaning Bobby to a small room in the gym, he would start the sessions by demonstrating various holds and counters. Then, he would call one of the pros into the room. “I’ll be back in an hour,” Bill told Bobby. “Meanwhile, defend yourself as best you can.” For a solid hour, Bobby and the pros would wrestle, and he learned more in those sessions than he did anywhere else. As rough as it was in the “torture room” as he referred to it, Bobby made the most of the opportunity he was given and he learned all he could. He learned to handle himself quite well, and the pros knew that they had a future main event wrestler on their hands.

The wrestlers, among them Dick the Bruiser and Rip Hawk, also helped Bobby with cardiovascular and weight training, and advised him on the proper health foods he should be eating. Under their guidance, Bobby grew bigger and stronger, and in a year’s time, he had the look of a wrestler.

Once he graduated high school in 1963 (where he was on the wrestling team), Bobby was ready for his pro debut. As the laws in Missouri stated that one had to be at least twenty-one years old to wrestle, Sam Muchnick got Bobby a spot wrestling for Don Owens in the Pacific Northwest.

Under the ring name Bobby Schoen (which could be pronounced as “Shane,”), Bobby made his debut in Seattle. Though he lost, it was still an indescribable thrill for him to have realized his dream of stepping into the ring. His earliest opponents included such notables as Pampero Firpo, Pat Patterson, Tony Borne, and Haru Sasaki, and he greatly benefited from facing such a wide array of opposition.

Bobby progressed rapidly and soon found himself on the winning end of his matches. At 5’9” and 224 pounds, he was smaller than most of the men he faced, but he made up for it with a great deal of heart, and his never-say-die attitude. He wrestled in an exciting style, utilizing such maneuvers as dropkicks, and flying head scissors, and his favorite finishing move was the rolling reverse cradle.

After concluding his stay in the Northwest, Bobby headed to the Central Sates territory. Appearing now as Bobby Shane (Schoen was always being mispronounced), he was introduced as a protégé of Sonny Meyers, from whom he learned a version of the sleeper hold. In addition to Meyers, Shane became good friends with Leo Garibaldi. Garibaldi was so impressed with Bobby, he gave him the nickname “Wonder Boy,” and it was a nickname that well suited him. The fans, took a liking to the handsome newcomer as well, and Bobby’s popularity grew with each match.

Bobby won the United States Championship from the Mongolian Stomper in 1966, and he feuded with such stars as Bob Geigel, “Bulldog” Bob Brown, and “Missouri Mauler” Larry Hamilton. Bobby rated Hamilton as his toughest opponent in those days, and in one of their matches, Shane suffered an almost career ending back injury.

As his run in the Central States ended in early 1966, Bobby headed to Georgia, where he formed a tag team with veteran Mario Galento. They soon won the Southern Tag Team championship and had a lengthy feud with the Masked Infernos and their manager J. C. Dykes. Shane also earned two title shots against NWA champion Gene Kiniski, making him one of the youngest men to wrestle for that title. He and Kiniski battled for nearly an hour on both occasions. As well as wrestling in Georgia, Bobby began wrestling in the Eastern States territory as well. He battled such men as George “Two Ton” Harris, a familiar face in Rip Hawk, and Swede Hanson, and he sometimes teamed with Klondike Bill and Johnny Weaver. During his say in the south, Bobby held the Southern Junior Heavyweight title, and he later captured the United States Junior Heavyweight championship as well.

Traveling on in February 1967, he began wrestling in Nebraska, and in March, he defeated Dale Lewis for the Nebraska state title, which put him in line for an AWA title shot against Verne Gagne. They had an exciting scientific battle, but the match was ended when Shane suffered a knee injury.

After losing the Nebraska title to Bob Orton, Shane wrestled for the Sheik in Detroit, and then, in 1968, he returned home for a series of matches in St. Louis where he battled old foes from the Central States, Bob Geigel and “Bulldog” Bob Brown. From there, he went back for a stint in the Pacific Northwest where he feuded with John Tolos, and joined fan favorite Don Leo Jonathan in a series of tag team matches.

In 1969, Bobby wrestled in Hawaii where he and Nick Bockwinkel won the tag team championship from Ripper Collins and Luke Graham. From there, he wrestled in San Francisco and faced such greats as Pat Patterson, Ray Stevens, and Stan Stasiak. While in San Francisco, Bobby formed an exciting tag team with Jerry Monti. It was during this time that Shane started bringing a valet to the ring. Her name was Miss Sherri, and she was a beautiful young woman who became quite popular with the fans. Bobby was one of the first wrestlers of the 70s to employ the service of a female valet. In life away from the ring, Bobby and Sherri had met in Canada during Shane’s stay in the Pacific Northwest, and they were soon married.
One of the things Shane enjoyed most about being a pro wrestler was the traveling it enabled him to do. He always had a great time going to exotic places and meeting different people. In addition to his sojourns across the U. S., Shane wrestled in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and had some very memorable trips to Japan as well.

In the summer of 1970, Bobby returned to Georgia. With Sherri at his side, he won the Georgia TV title, and he and Doug “the Pro” Gilbert won the Georgia tag team championship. Shane and Gilbert had a bloody feud with the masked Assassins, and faced such teams as Luke Graham and Skandor Akbar, and Mr. Ito and The Great Ota as well. In single action, Bobby faced Paul DeMarco, Sputnik and Rocket Monroe. He had a classic match against Junior Heavyweight champion Danny Hodge, and he had a series of grueling bouts with Buddy Colt as well.

Shane remained in Georgia through January of 1971. As he looked forward to his next stop on the wrestling circuit, he felt that a change was due. After seven years in the business, Bobby wanted something that would push him to the next level. Though he had been successful to that point, he (and he had wrestled in main events), he was mostly used in the mid-card to semi-main event capacity. His desire to be the best he could possibly be made him hunger for more than that. He knew in his heart that he had what it took to be a solid main event wrestler, and he decided that in order to accomplish that; he had to put his past as a clean-cut babyface behind him.

Bobby entered the Gulf Coast territory along with Miss Sherri in January 1971. Though he still used the nickname “Wonder Boy,” this was a vastly different Bobby Shane than people were used to seeing. He grew his sideburns long and now had a handlebar mustache. His hair was a bit longer than he normally wore it, and it was bleached platinum blond. As he added the final touch of a sequined ring jacket, Shane captured the classic heel look. It now remained to be seen if he could play the heel role effectively. In hindsight, the answer is a resounding “yes,” as one of the greatest villains in wrestling history was born. On interviews, he played the cocky heel to the tenth degree. He would rant on and on, extolling his own greatness, while berating the local wrestlers, fans, and the promoters. The fans were soon eager for him to enter the ring, anxious to see if he could back up his bragging, and to see the local favorites put an end to his bragging.

The fans were elated when it was announced that Shane would soon be tangling with Gulf Coast Champion (and number one fan favorite) Cowboy Bob Kelly. They had a fierce battle and Bobby seemingly won the Gulf Coast title with a sleeper hold. He was disqualified, however, after refusal to revive Kelly enabled the Cowboy to retain his championship. The two faced off again the following week, this time, Kelly put his City of Mobile championship on the line, and Bobby won the best of three falls bout to capture the title.

Shane and Kelly feuded in singles and tag team matches as well. Cowboy Bob chose Ken Lucas as a partner while Bobby enlisted the aid of Terry Garvin, who was accompanied by his 16 year-old brother and manager, Jimmy Garvin. The duo of Shane and Garvin had many bloody battles with Kelly and Lucas. They also battled the Rising Suns (the Great Ota and Mr. Koma), and later, the Wrestling Pro and Cowboy Bob Kelly.

During this time, Bobby made another change. Prior to a tag team match against Kelly and Lucas, he and Garvin entered the ring wearing kings’ crowns and robes. Miss Sherri was absent, but Bobby had by his side a short, bearded man named Beauregard. Bobby later explained that he had put his past as the “Wonder Boy” to rest, and he demanded that all now hail the King of Wrestling! As for Beauregard, Bobby hired him
as his court jester. “Every king needs a court jester,” he stated.

In his role as King, Bobby refused to wrestle on TV. To see him in action, the fans would now have to pay for the privilege and watch him in the arenas, not free on television. He still appeared for interview segments, and one week, while Shane was in mid-tirade, Fields came out and confronted the King. This encounter resulted in an on-air brawl, and a subsequent feud that wrapped up Bobby’s stay in the Gulf Coast in June.

After his stay in the Gulf Coast, Bobby headed for Texas to wrestle for Paul Boesch. Though Shane had been hugely successful as a heel the past few months, he was used as a babyface in the Lone Star State. He racked up an impressive streak of victories against such men as Skandor Akbar, Chris Markoff, and former Texas champion Joe Blanchard. His first defeat, however, came at the hands of rugged Thunderbolt Patterson., who soon took to wearing a crown and calling himself the “King of Wrestling,” just as Shane had done months earlier in the Gulf Coast. His stay in Texas concluded in October, and the following month, he was on his way to Florida.

Shane, with crown in hand and Sherri at his side, debuted in November 1971 with an impressive victory over Johnny “Rubberman” Walker, and by month’s end, he defeated George Gaiser for the Southern heavyweight championship.
Bobby was amidst controversy form the very beginning of his Florida campaign. As in the Gulf Coast area after he anointed himself King, Shane would not wrestle on television, but he did appear each week to launch verbal attacks on his ring rivals, and to film potential opponents in the ring. As he taped a Jack Brisco/Ole Anderson TV title match, he and Brisco got into an altercation, causing Brisco to lose the title. This set up a lengthy feud between the two.

January 1972, Shane defeated Bob Roop for the TV title (Roop had defeated Ole Anderson), and he was now required to wrestle on television “just like the common folk,” as a Florida wrestling official put it. The controversial mat monarch still refused to wrestle regularly on television and he was soon forced to relinquish the title. Shane was not without gold for long, however, as he and Bearcat Wright teamed to defeat Larry O'Day & Ron Miller for the Florida tag team championship.
Bobby had many memorable battles with Boris Malenko and Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods, who had emerged as the top challenger for the Southern title. The two had an exciting series of bouts (including an incredible one-hour draw), and Woods went on to defeat Shane for the title.

As his ring wars raged on, Bobby became the leader of a group of wrestlers, which included Canadian strongman Mike Webster, the masked Professional, and the Great Mephisto. Shane and his entourage would spend the next several months making life miserable for the fan favorites in Florida. The Professional was soon unmasked, revealing Doug Gilbert, Shane’s one-time partner in Georgia.

In the summer of 1972, Miss Sherri had vacated her position as Shane’s valet (she and Bobby, sadly, had gotten divorced). Bobby’s new valet was the gangly Stephen, who would sometimes join Bobby and his men in tag team matches.
Among the most memorable of Shane’s feuds in Florida were his battles with Eddie and Mike Graham. Bobby delighted in taunting the younger Graham (who had not yet made his Florida pro debut). Week after week, Bobby would goad him on, referring to him condescendingly as “Edwin’s Kid.” Mike soon made his debut, and he and Bobby went at it in both singles and tag team matches. In one encounter, Shane injured Graham, which set Eddie out for revenge, and on June 24 in Jacksonville, Eddie got revenge by “breaking” Shane’s leg, putting him out for nearly two months.

The behind the scenes reason for this was that Bobby had developed knee problems and the time off had been for knee surgery. As with any such surgery, there was a chance that Shane would no longer be able to wrestle. However, showing the same gutsy determination that led him to be a wrestler in the first place, Shane faced the obstacles now in his path, and fought his way back, returning to the ring in August for a series of rematches with the elder Graham.

Shane proved he was in top form when he defeated rival Tim Woods for the Television title (by this time, the King had overcame his aversion to appearing on television). Controversy found Bobby once again, however, as his opponents began to charge that he was wearing a steel knee brace under his long tights, and using it as a weapon. On November 28 in Tampa, Sane defeated Jack Brisco for the Florida heavyweight title. At that point, however, it was revealed that he had indeed used a steel knee brace to knockout Brisco, and the title was held up.

As 1972 ended, Shane was still a force to be be reckoned with. He and Chris Markoff defeated Jack and Jerry Brisco for the Florida tag team championship. They lost the belts to Tim Woods and Big Bad John in January 1973, but the following month, Bobby came back with Gorgeous George Jr. to win back the belts. They held the belts only one week, however, before dropping them to Mike Graham and Kevin Sullivan. Backstage after the bout, Florida boss Eddie Graham thanked Shane and George for putting over the young team of Graham and Sullivan.

Florida had become Bobby’s favorite place to wrestle, and he rented out a lavish apartment in Palm Beach. Though a heel, the charismatic Shane did have his share of fans, many of whom admired his outspoken, self-confident style. His reputation in Florida soon went beyond wrestling, and even people who knew nothing about wrestling had heard of Bobby Shane. Perhaps his greatest trademark was the cigars that he often smoked, and soon, the Tampanela Cigar Factory named a cigar after him. The cigars marketed not only in the wrestling programs, but in the mainstream press as well, and it became quite a popular brand (“Shane – A truly fine cigar,” was the ad slogan}.

In1973 Shane returned to Georgia (giving fans in that state their first look of him as a heel). He feuded with Mr. Wrestling II (Johnny Walker), Bobo Brazil, and his Florida nemesis, Tim Woods. In a memorable angle Shane was suspended for a time after breaking Woods’ leg. Later, under the management of Gary Hart, Bobby and Gorgeous George Jr. teamed to defeat Bob Armstrong and Robert Fuller for the Georgia Tag team championship. Also on the tag team front, Bobby teamed for a time with Jerry Lawler. Before leaving Georgia in 1974, Shane loaned his crown to Lawler, who was embroiled in a “King of Memphis” feud with Jackie Fargo in Tennessee.

While in Georgia, Bobby began doing some behind the scenes work. Jerry Jarrett hired him as an assistant booker, and he assisted Les Thatcher in the writing of the Ringsider - the programs that were sold at the arena matches in Atlanta. In late 1973, there was an opening for a booker in Australia and Jarrett recommended Bobby for the position. Seeing it as a great opportunity and a big move for him behind the scenes, Bobby accepted the position and headed to that country in early 1974.
In addition to his behind the scenes duties, Bobby appeared as a wrestler and manager throughout 1974. He defeated Cyclone Negro for the U. S. Brass Knuckles title, and he shared the Austro-Asian tag team title with Mr. Wrestling (George Barnes was the man under the mask, not Shane’s nemesis Tim Woods). On occasion, he was accompanied to the ring by a very beautiful woman known as Miss Channel Nine, whom he met when he appeared on the wrestling program on the television station she represented.

By the end of the year, however, Bobby decided, that as much as he enjoyed Australia, it was time to return to the United Stats. After bidding a fond farewell to the friends he had made there, he returned just in time for the holidays. He landed in Los Angeles where he wrestled in a few cards at the Olympic Auditorium. Next, he returned to St. Louis for a visit with his family, and then he headed to the southwest, where he appeared on some cards in Alabama and Georgia before heading back to Florida.

He made his return to “Championship Wrestling from Florida” in February 1975 as he joined Gordon Solie as a special guest color commentator. In addition to wrestling, he was hired as a booker by Eddie Graham.

On February 19, 1975, there was a wrestling card at the Miami Beach Auditorium. Like so many times before, the wrestlers prepared for their matches as the fans filled the building. One of the matches featured the returning Shane as he joined forces with Buddy Colt to take on Dominic DeNucci and Tony Parisi. After the card, the wrestlers got ready to leave for Tampa, where they were due to appear the next might, and Shane was going to rent a car for the long drive north. However, there was an extra seat on Buddy Colt’s single engine Cessna 173 aircraft. Shane accepted an offer to join Colt, “Iron” Mike McCord, and “Playboy” Gary Hart for the ride. As they approached Tampa International Airport, Colt was informed that a front was moving in, and he was advised to land at Peter O’Knight Airport on the tip of Davis Island in Hillsboro Bay. As they approached the runway, the thick clouds made it almost impossible to see, and at approximately 1:30 A. M. on the morning of February 20, the plane crashed into the pitch-black water of Hillsboro Bay just off the runway. Colt and Hart were thrown from the plane. McCord’s seatbelt was jammed shut, and he had to pull himself out of his pants to escape from the plane. As the three met on the surface of the water, they looked around for Shane. Realizing that Bobby must still be down in the plane, they tried going back for him, diving into the water. It was to no avail, however, and they had to swim over 200 yards to shore. The three men were taken to a nearby hospital. When the plane was brought to the surface a few hours later, Shane’s body was found. His seatbelt was still on, and his leg was pinned under his seat. At the young age of 29, Robert “Bobby Shane” Schoenberger was dead.

Saying how incredibly sad this tragedy was is a gross understatement. Bobby left behind his parents, and a huge extended family, all of whom would miss him deeply. His many friends and colleagues would feel the loss as well, and the fans would be without one of the greatest and most colorful wrestlers to don a pair of tights.

To this day, 30 years since his passing, friends and colleagues remember Bobby Shane as an exceptional wrestler who gave his whole heart to the sport. “Bobby loved the business, and he always gave it extra care,” Nick Bockwinkel recalled. “He was an asset to the game, regardless of what territory he was in. It was a tragedy to lose him so young,” he added. “Bobby was a great pro, and a great talent,” Jack Brisco related. “He had a great mind for the business, with many great ideas for matches and angles. I was saddened when he died in that plane crash,” he continued. “Bobby Shane was in the league with the Buddy Rogers type wrestler,” Don Curtis stated. “Losing him, in the manner that he died, and at a time where he was going upwards in his career, is such a tragedy,” he added. “Bobby was very good in the ring, and a perfect gentleman out of the ring,” Cowboy Bob Kelly recalled. “He was very good for the business. In my opinion, he would have been in the same class as Ric Flair if his life hadn’t been cut so short. We lost a great one,” he concluded.

Bobby Shane came a long way from that five year old boy who sat in an arena, mesmerized by the action in the ring. He faced a long, hard road to the top, but he made it, and he always gave the fans their money’s worth in the ring. He accomplished more in eleven years than many wrestlers did in twenty, and he was rightfully proud of his accomplishments, but sadly, it ended much too soon. As many of his colleagues have stated, wrestling suffered a tremendous loss the day that Bobby died.
What is the legacy of Bobby Shane? It is the undying love in the voices of family members and friends as they recall the life he lived. It is the praise and deep respect of colleagues that he worked with so long ago. It is also the passion and the vivid memories of the many fans whom he thrilled during his spectacular, yet all-too-short eleven-year career. Bobby was indeed one of a kind, and he will never be forgotten by the sport that he loved so much that he made it his life.

Rest in peace, champ!