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Wrestling Then and Now
INTERVIEW WITH "COWBOY" BOB KELLY

by Dale Pierce

DALE PIERCE: Where did you get your start in the wrestling business?

BOB KELLY: Dale, I started out in Louisville, Kentucky. It was called Big Time Wrestling. Louisville was promoted by Wee Willie Davis and at the time, I think it was owned by Jim Barnette. Later, Bruiser and Wilber Synder had it. I was putting up rings and doing some ring announcing at first. Then later on started refereeing a little.

DP: Who trained you?

BK: Willie Davis and Doug Kinslow were the first to train me. They both taught me a lot. But after a few years on the road, I met Charlie Carr and Lee Fields in Mobile, Alabama. They taught me everything that Willie and Doug didn't.

DP: Speaking of being on the road, I know you spent a lot of time in Mobile, but where else have you wrestled? And have you ever worked for Nick Gulas?

BK: Yes, I wrestled and refereed for Nick when I first started, as did a lot of boys. I also made a tour of Canada, the North Bay Territory for Larry Kasaboski. And I wrestled in Tampa for Eddie Graham, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico.

DP: I know you spent the biggest part of your career in the south with Gulf Coast Wrestling owned by Lee Fields. Tell us about that.

BK: I went to Mobile, fell in love with the weather, the people, and the Fields Family. Lee became my very best friend, he passed away June 4th 2000. I think about him every day and miss him very much. I am still very close to his widow Ida and the rest of his family. I always say I experienced two miracles in my life. The first was when I met and married my wife Chris, and the second was when I met Lee Fields. For some reason Lee liked me too, and spent a lot of time working out with me and polishing me off to be a top hand in the wrestling business. Of course, this all coming after I had spent a lot of time on the mat with Charlie Carr. I soon became the booker in Louisiana for Lee then later booked Mobile, Pensacloa, and all the towns in Mississippi for him.

DP: What titles have you held?

BK: I held state titles of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi; the Gulf Coast single title several times; the Gulf Coast tag team titles with Bobby Fields, Ken Lucas, and several others; the US tag team titles with Bobby Fields, Ken Lucas, and others; the Brass Knuckle Championship. Don Fargo brought this trophy in from Texas. I won it from him and was never defeated for it. I also held city titles in Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; Hattiesburg, Laruel, Meridian, and Gulfport, Mississippi.

DP: Tell me something, Bob, did Lee or anyone else wrestle or do anything else in the wrestling business besides Bobby? You just said Bobby was your tag partner. Bobby was Lee's brother, right?

BK: Yes, Bobby is Lee's brother. He also has a brother Don. Don wrestled until he was injured in a car wreck. He later worked in the office and promoted Mississippi. Lee's father went by the name of Speedy Hatfield. He was the best referee to ever get in the ring. Lee himself wrestled and was one of the best. Lee also had a son, Rick, and three nephews, Johnny Wayne, Randy and Shane Fields, that wrestled and refereed.

DP: Bob, you were always the crowd favorite. You never turned on anyone. Is there a reason for that? I am sure if you would have turned on Bobby Fields or, say, Ken Lucas, it would have drawn money. Right?

BK: You know, Dale, back when I was wrestling and booking, I would think about the fans and listen to them and try not to insult thier intelligence. Yes, we might have drawn a couple big houses, but where would we have gone then? I never will forget one time Rocket Monroe asked me to be his partner, and the night of the match, a litle girl at ringside said to me, "Cowboy, please don't turn on us." That really hit home with me. Back in those days, the wrestling fans were coming to see and pull for their hero, and I think if I would have turned on one of my friends, it would have broken that little girls heart, because I would have been turning on her and all my fans. No money was worth that to me. Yes, when the towns were down and needed something to pick them up, it was discussed several times. But I always shot it down and would figure another way to get the towns up.

DP: With whom did you have your greatest bout and also greatest feud?

BK: Dale, I have had a lot of great matches, not because I was that good, but because I was lucky enough to have had some of the best opponets in the business at that time. Just let me name you a few: Eddie Sullivan, Don Fargo, Bobby Shane, "The Duke" Jerry Miller, The Medic, The Wrestling Pro, Gorgeous George, Jr., Greg Valentine, Duke Myers, Sweet Daddy Banks, Rip Tyler, Big Ron Bass, Rocket Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Curtis Smith a/k/a The Big Blue Yankee, Big Bad John, Tiny Frazier a/k/a The Convict, Dr. Jerry Graham, and so many more of the great wrestlers of that time. I would say I had three of what I would consider my greatest feuds with Eddie Sullivan, Don Fargo, and The Big Blue Yankee {Curtis Smith.}

DP: Were you ever confused with "Cowboy" Bob Ellis by the fans?

BK: No, not that I'm aware of. You know, Dale, back in my day the only wrestling the fans got to see on TV was ours, so they didn't know who Bob Ellis was. We didn't have all this cable TV like today.

DP: Did you ever meet "Cowboy" Bob Ellis?

BK: Yes, I met him in Louisvile, Kentucky in the early 60s. Then I booked him in Mobile in the early 70s, but by then, for some reason, he had changed his style and was wrestling rough and didn't get over at all. He didn't stay long. To me it was really sad. That was the last I ever heard of him.

DP: How do you feel about the major changes that wrestling has gone through, and the way they switch from clean to dirty or bad to good nearly every week?

BK: To tell you the truth, Dale, I don't watch wrestling anymore, so I really can't comment much about today's wrestling, other than they are selling tickets. And that, my friend, is the name of the game, and was in my day, too. But the promoters today just don't care what they have to do to get their money. We had more respect for our fans than to do some of the things that are done today.

DP: Do you think wrestling will ever go back to the basics, like a lot of us miss?

BK: Yes, this might be wishful thinking, but I just think that a generation of people will come along, that will want to believe in wrestling again and in the old thing of cheering for the good guy and booing the bad guy, taking their kids to the matches, and not knowing what is going to happen, except that it won't be a strip show.

DP: What advice would you give someone wanting to break into the business now?

BK: Work out, get a big body, find a costume that no one has, and don't be afraid to talk on TV.

DP: How different was it to break in when you started as opposed to now?

BK: Dale, I don't know how hard or how easy it is to break in now. But I would think it is just as hard to get in today as it was back in the old days, maybe even harder today, but for different reasons. The boys now days have to build their bodies up to get in the business, and keep them built up, after they get in. That takes a lot of work. Most of the promoters back in the old days wanted the top boys to be able to wrestle. So when you were breaking in, you got your nose rubbed in the mat a lot, until you learned, or you would go on down the road and buy a ticket from then on. I am not saying all the top boys were in the class with Lou Thesz. But most of them could handle the average guy.

DP: Bob, when did you retire from the ring?

BK: I retired at the end of 1976 when Lee Fields sold the wrestling business to the Fullers.

DP: What did you do after you quit wrestling?

BK: I went into the real estate business here in Mobile. And from that into the towing business, which I am still in. My son-in-law, Jimmy Williams, is running the business for me.

DP: Didn't you drive a race car for a while?

BK: Yes, I did drive a stock car for a while. In 1972, Lee Fields bought the Mobile International Speerway. I bought my race car that same year and raced until 1976. It's a half mile high banked asphalt track. He ran the track along with his wife Ida until his death in 2000. I raced at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola owned by Tom Dawson. Lee also leased Pelican Speedyway in Baton Rouge and I raced there, too.

DP: Don't you attend the wrestling reunions, like the CAC and GCWR?

BK: Yes, I do, every year.

DP: Tell me about the Gulf Coast Wrestlers Reunion. I hear it started out to be a backyard bar-b-que.

BK: Yes, that is right. One day Terry Lathan and I were talking and come up with the idea of having a bar-b-que at my house and ask people like Lee, Bobby and Don Fields, along with their families, Rip Tyler and his wife, and any of the other boys we could find. I thought my place would be big enough. Well, after we told Rip, he called Eddie Sullivan in Arizona, Eddie called Curtis Smith in Georgia, and then they all called someone. It didn't take long before we dicided my place would not be big enough. I went out and talked to Lee and told him what we were doing and that we needed a bigger place. I asked him if he would mind if we had the bar-b-que out there at the track. He said he would be glad to have it at his track. We had such a good turn out for our first time to have it. We asked everyone if they wanted to make it an annual event and change it to a reunion. Everyone said yes. Lee was elected President. I became vice-president. Bill Bowman was the recording secretary and Don Fields was the treasure. Rip Tyler was the parliamentarian for our second reunion. We have since incorporated, and last year was our 11th reunion with 185 in attendance. We are looking for a bigger turn out this year, which will be our 12th.

DP: Didn't you take over the reunion for Lee after he died?

BK: Yes, I was vice-president at that time, so I was appointed to the spot by the rest of the board. No one else wanted to move up so we elected Lester Welch as 1st vice and Bobby Fields as 2nd vice. Rip Tyler passed away, and Norman Charles has replaced him as the parliamentarian. I am so thankful that we started this reunion.

DP: How might one find out about these reunions?

BK: You can go to 1wrestlinglegends.com and click on reunions and find out all there is to know. I can tell you a little. CAC is open to all. It is currently being held in Las Vegas. The dues to belong are $25.00. The banquet tickets on saturday are $50.00 each, the tickets for friday night are $20.00 each. Last year they had over 600 in attendance. The GCWR is a little different. Our dues are $30.00 to belong, and that covers tickets for your wife/companion to get into the reunion along with meals and entertainment for both Friday and Saturday. Last year we had over 180 in attendance. BUT, you have to have been, or still are in the wrestling business in some capacity to be eligible to attend the GCWR.

DP: Eddie Sullivan was a good friend of mine, and I know you were also very close to Eddie. Tell me a little about your relationship with him.

BK: I met Eddie in the mid 60s in Lousiana. We were both trying to get a break in the business. Mine came first, as I became the booker for Lee Fields. I changed Eddie's style and booked him with boys to get him over as a rough, arrogant Mexican. Later on, I put him with Rip Tyler as a tag team and there was none better. It wasn't until the reunions started that I became very close to Eddie and his wife, Barbara. My wife Chris and I started going to Arizona at least once a year to see them. I lost both of my best friends the same year. Lee in June and Eddie in November of 2000. Not a good year for me.

DP: Lets talk about something we both did with Eddie. I'm talking about the Gunfight in Tombstone movie we made in Apache Junction, Arizona. I just had a bit part as a bartender, but you and Eddie were the stars. Tell us how all that came about.

BK: We were visiting with Eddie and Barbara, and they took us to an old 1800 western town. The saloon was a restaurant. They cooked the steaks on an outside grill with mesquite wood. The best I ever had. I saw all these pictures of people dressed like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. I asked Eddie about them and thats when he told me about the people making a movie about the gunfight at the OK Corral. Eddie said he always wanted to play Doc Holliday but no one would do it with him. I told him if I could be Wyatt Earp, I would do it with him. We checked it out. We had to wait about six months to get the parts we all wanted. My wife Chris was Josie Marcus, and Eddie's wife Barbara was Big Nose Kate. I was Wyatt, and Eddie was Doc, and of course, Dale, you were the bartender. What a fun time that was.

DP: Bob, don't you have a Web site?

BK: Yes, I do.

DP: How can we reach it?

BK: My URL is http://community.webtv.net/gulfcoastchamp/COWBOYBOBKELLY, which is at the bottom of this page.

DP: Well, Bob, thank you very much for taking your time to answer all these qustions for me, and I hope to make it down to your reunion soon.

BK: It has been my pleasure. I enjoyed going back over some of my life. When I look back, I thank God for having me in the right place, at the right time, every time. Hope everyone enjoys reading this and visiting my Web site. God Bless you all.

http://community.webtv.net/gulfcoastchamp/COWBOYBOBKELLY

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