Wrestling Then and Now

by Dale Pierce

DALE PIERCE: You began wrestling in the early 1950s, correct?

DON CURTIS: Yes, the very early 50s. In fact, my first match was in 1951, and it was either against El Silento or in Erie, Pennsylvania on May 26th against Jackie Rogers. I was then known by my birth name Don Beitelman. It wasn't until 1957 that I started using the name Don Curtis. My first time as Curtis was in Texas. Dizzy Davis told me they changed my name because Texans didn't trust anyone with names over two syllables!

DP: There are of course major differences between then and now. How did wrestling change over the years you were involved?

DC: Well, first of all..... a lot of the pros came out of the colleges. I was scouted in the University of Buffalo, and my first test on the mat with a pro was with Lou Thesz. What has changed, is the use of steroids and the lack of amateur wrestling. The concept today is big and gimmicks that are so dangerous.

DP: Do you even bother to watch it now?

DC: Not if I can help it. It really disturbs me to see these kids today, taking hard bumps and beating themselves up for the sensationalism.

DP: What have you done since retirement?

DC: Oh boy...what haven't I done is really the question. I was involved with amateur wrestling, was on the US Olympic Wrestling committee, had my own real estate business which my wife now actively runs. I managed the Coliseum, was Chief of the Gator Bowl complex, was a city manager for the Civic Auditorium, and then after finally retiring, took care of my grandson for eight years, and we flew airplanes, played golf, threw footballs, and just had a ball. I flew airplanes from single engine to corporate jets, got my seaplane license, and now, at 77 years old, I am sort of slowing down thanks to the injuries sustained by being a jock all my life.

DP: When then was your last match?

DC: Well, my career started slowing down when we moved to Jacksonville to take over the promotion here, but my last match was probably one of my most memorable matches because of the place and my opponent. Two of the best. My last match was in Madison Square Garden in March 1973 against one of the greatest wrestlers, who I had the most respect for, Hiro Matsuda.

DP: You worked several years for Cowboy Luthrell down south. I have heard both good and bad things about the man but did not know him, so maybe you can clarify. What was your impression of him?

DC: Cowboy was the greatest! A word comes to mind: cantakerous. But he ran a tight ship, and he always treated me fairly, even after I broke his pinky in a contest in Tampa. He challenged me, with those bony fingers, and he usually won those contests, but I hooked pinkies with him and twisted it. His only comment was, "Damn, Curtis, you broke my finger!" and then he went back to eating his food.

DP: You teamed with Mark Lewin for a long while. What are your memories of him?

DC: Mark was fantastic. He was like a brother to me. We did everything together. Our teamwork in the ring was precise. We just thought alike and moved like a well-oiled machine. I had some great partners like Joe Scarpa and Abe Jacobs, but Mark and I were connected! I still miss him.

DP: You never won the World Title, but didn't you have some title shots with Lou Thesz and Buddy Rogers?

DC: Well, now you are testing me. My memory doesn't serve me well at times, but I will never forget my two title shots at Thesz in Jacksonville, Florida. We broke the attendance record and the fire marshall actually shut the doors and left hundreds of people outside the arena. The promoter was astute enough to get some sound systems outside so the people who were turned away could at least hear the match....and I don't think anyone left the premises that night. Great matches, and he was probably my toughest opponent.

DP: You held some tag team titles and some other singles titles, correct?

DC: Yes, yes and yes. NWA world Tag Title, So. Tag Team Title, la. Brass Knuckles, Southwest Tag Title...to name a few.

DP: You also had a series of matches with Hans Schmidt.

DC: Oh, yeah! You haven't lived until you get the boots put to you by Schmidt. I think he must have worn a size 20, from the feel of them. I called him "Footsie!"

DP: You also had some matches with "Big" Jim Wright. He is obscure to most people now, but for the record, died in the ring in Phoenix in the 1960s. What do you remember about this man?

DC: I wrestled Jim in 1957, in Arizona. I don't think I had but a few matches with him, and I don't remember much, I am sorry to say. I do know he had a tough reputation.

DP: You also had some very hectic matches with the Grahams. Your impressions of them?

DC: I have to say that some of the best tag matches ever were Mark and me against Jerry and Eddie. They didn't give anything, and you had to fight your way to the finish with them. I just wish I had some of those films from those days in 1958 and 1959. Probably some of our greatest contests!

DP: The world today is changing. More profane, meaner. Wrestling has changed with the times. I did not say it is good, but just that it has changed. If you were young enough, would you get involved now, knowing it is not the same, if you had to do it all over again?

DC: If you are asking me if I would wrestle with todays standards, absolutely not. That is hard to say, because I loved my profession, and I loved then and still love wrestling, but I would never have given it a second thought if it had been presented to me as I see wrestling (or the lack of it) today.

DP: A it stands now, looking back with everything as it HAS been, would you do it all over again if you could?

DC: If I could go back to my first match and do it all over again, I wouldn't hesitate a minute. Wrestling has been good to me. It not only provided me a way of life, it opened the doors to so many opportunities in life that I would not have otherwise had. Absolutely, positively, a big yes on that one!

DP: There are of course many people you know whom we have missed here. Are there any particular people you'd like to mention?

DC: Oh, of course. I belong to the Cauliflower Alley Club, I attend the Gulf Coast Reunion, and I see some of the greatest every time I am there. We had pride, we were tough, and we did something that I see lacking today.....we respected our profession and we respected wrestling! It would take pages for me to name all those, but to drop a few names, Les Thatcher, Johnny Walker, Red Bastien, Bob Orton, Duke Hoffman, Larry Simon, etc., etc. I could keep on going....

DP: What about personal memories or such involving things that happened to you?

DC: I had a great career, I had great friends, I met the love of my life in New York, and I had the opportunity to teach young people to be great sportsman with my AAU coaching and refereeing. I met my best friend Gordon Solie and we shared a lifetime of memories together. I was on the Olympic Committee. I still have people come up to me to shake my hand and thank me for things that changed their lives because of my caring. I am losing a lot of my memory these days, due to my lifestyle and my aging, but I have pictures on the wall in my office of some of the greatest to help me remember, Milo Steinborn, Lou Thesz, Stan Susaki. You'll have to buy my book if you want more :-)

DP: Closing comments?

DC: It never ceases to amaze me that every day people contact me and want to know more about my life. I am especially amazed at the young people who never saw me wrestle, and want to know about me. That makes me feel that I have accomplished something special in my life, and I thank you so much for taking the time to put together a lot of good questions, and I hope that I have been able to give you the answers that you were looking for.
Yours in Sports,
Don Curtis

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