B: Billy Bartush
By Ron Historyo
1931 had been a difficult year to get the new wrestling going in England. Atholl Oakeley had gone out to America in the summer to take a look for himself and Irslinger, fresh from launching in Australia in the late 1920's also had South Africa to contend with. Imports were needed fast and new wrestlers were needed if 1932 onwards was to be a success.
The London Syndicate managed to get shows on in London and wanted big venues such as Hull and Nottingham to expand the message, but also there was the question of the rules. Was it also going to be real or not, as in Catch Wrestling or Westmorland or for that matter Cornish? Johanfesson was still trying to promote shows where he was throwing people inside so many minutes, as was Peter Gotz in the Music Halls. Doug Clark was wrestling in the North and was basically our champion having beaten Oakeley. The north also had the likes of Billy Riley, Billy Moores, Harold Angus and a lot with potential.
London's most promising potential was Bert Assirati, Jack Pye (who at this stage was not heavy), Norman Ansell, Black Butcher Johnson, Carl Reginsky, Fred Keyes, King Curtis. These guys were just finding their feet when more were found and also more imports came into the country. Many of the imports were veteran wrestlers from around the world who had experience of the game before it even got going in this form in England. A few were actually young, such as Ben Sherman.
Billy Bartush was another young man, like Sherman, born in 1908, birth date of 21st August.
It was to be November 11th, 1932, when Bartush arrived with the man who discovered him, Karl Pojello, on the Auqitania. Wrestling and it's colourful promoters don't exactly help when it comes to being clear about the ethnicity of the wrestling stars. How Italian was Bert Assirati? How German was Reginsky? How Swedish was Anaconda or Lagren?
The story of William Bartush really starts in 1900 with his parents going out to find a new life in America. Joseph Bartush and Billy's mother, Petronella, were young and not much past age twenty. The language they spoke was Polish.
The history of the borders and rule of the Slavic peoples is very complex and I have tried to get a grasp of it. Poland was not really a country at all until 1919, some say. For at least a couple of centuries it was a commonwealth with Lithuania. This area had many invaders and rulers and was partitioned into three at the time of mother and father Bartush. Some was under Prussian rule (German), some was under Austria and some was under Russia. Ukraine's problems with Russia were in the same mix. Consequently Billy's parents would state that they had arrived from Russian Poland.
After independence, whatever area they were actually from may have been in Lithuania, but formally it had all been a commonwealth. Billy did not really have this problem as he was always going to be Billy Bartush of Chicago. The advertising through his career was bang on. He was actually born on Kensington Avenue in the Roseland District. He had a sister, Victoria, who was older, and dad was a Finisher in a Car Shop in 1910, and a Freight Handler in 1918 when he died. This left Billy without a father at age ten.
Billy was a collegiate Wrestling Champion at the University of Chicago who allegedly turned pro in 1929. I don't dispute this as I can easily find him in 1930 wrestling the likes of Dick Shikat and it was Pojello who was training him. As early as 1931 I found him wrestling Gino Garibaldi in bare feet, at Madison Square Garden.
England was going to get a well polished powerful young Pojello trained wrestler.
Up to this time Bartush had been working as a furnace hand and living with his married sister Victoria in Chicago now married to Charles White. To take Billy to the best level he could reach Pojello offered to take him overseas, and they went for eighteen months. It was no wonder I found gaps in Billy's tour as I found a Newspaper report for 1941 in America stating that he had toured England, Europe, South Africa and Egypt. I could smell that the report was a little exaggerated as the claim was that he had wrestled 300 matches and returned unbeaten.
One match in Antwerp he had beaten Gustav Gerstmann for the Championship of Europe. (Greco Roman Style) That name rang a bell because in summer of 1933 our own Doug Clark beat Laurent Gerstmann for some concocted version of the world championship. A real big Dude that Gerstmann.
So my trail this time is to see what sort of billing he got and to check the facts from the fiction. Weighing in at 16 stone 4 pounds Bartush tackled Half Nelson Fred Keyes at Nottingham on 21st November 1932. Keyes was a big man of 17 stone and the sort of man that stood out on the syndicate roster. He became a busy wrestler who got to quite a good standard. No luck in this match though as he went down 2-0 to the Chicago Express.
Two crushing submissions, a body scissors and a toe hold. Keyes had fought rough but been outfought. All these years later we are getting to know wrestling. In those days news was very unlikely to travel from Nottingham to Hull unless it was of national importance. Fast forward two days to 23rd November in Hull this time and with the help of todays digital technology, I find a repeat performance. Almost the same script, most of the same moves and the result again after five rounds of mayhem in and out of the ring was 2-0 to Bartush. The old rules saw a count out then a continuation followed by a submission. Fred Keyes was being used to sell Bartush..
A fortnight later it was the same circuit, Monday at Nottingham Bartush disposed of the Golden Hawk, (Warton Johnson) and at Hull after a five round rough scrap, Jack Pye was beaten, the flying Dump winning Bartush two falls to nil even though Pye had a lot of the upper hand with tough tactics as well as tickling.
And the roster of these Syndicate wrestlers continues the week before Christmas. Monday at Nottingham and Wednesday at Hull. This time just a draw with Froehner and a return match with Keyes. The match with the German Champ was a no score draw. I don't have the Keyes result but it seems that 1932 may have seen Bartush unbeaten. So far this had been a travelling show working for one exclusive promoter. All these wrestlers were London based and it is the London scene and it's northern outposts that Oakeley tells the history of in his book.
Again I state that he hardly mentions the building of the north by people like Relwyskow and Bankier, and all the Lancashire and Yorkshire training grounds.
By this time I was starting to wonder about Bartush and his tour record so I did a bit of a trawl of Ray Plunkett's Index (Thanks Ray). A guy I have never heard of, Heinreich Hockenheim, beat him at Blackfriars, then I spot a couple of losses to Assirati and they were KO's. At exhibition level Bartush finally lost to Pojello at Nottingham. Pojello, his mentor, giving away three stone fought six ten minute rounds showing Nottingham holds that had never been seen before.
Well enacted it looked like a stalemate when Bartush rushed through the ropes after 53 minutes to lose after no other score. The syndicate were pushing their roster and threw Cordite Conroy into the mix. Conroy, although from the north, was residing in London and was one of their men earmarked with great potential. Originally Viper Conroy, Jim (Martin), was well fancied and born 1904, went to South Africa in July 1932 to get more experience.
For Bartush the legend was over. I found more losses to Pojello, Hockenheim and even double defeats to Carver Doone whose size was so sensational he had to be a short term sell. Also King Curtis. Real name Stanley Montague Curtis from Islington.
He was another big guy given a great push and sent to South Africa the month before Conroy. The game was up, a really good wrestler to have and value for money to watch. The truth, just short of the top class ability of Pojello or Sherry and he played his role working for the syndicate in the main. He had his moments, he beat Oakeley in 45 seconds in London and Oakeley was assisted from the ring in May 1933.
Another memorable day recorded by the papers was in January 1934 when in two hours he wrestled at The Olympia for Lionel Bettinson (drawing only 1500) beating Estelle of Switzerland, and later at Lanes London Club he knocked out Bill Garnon in four rounds.
Only two days before at Portsmouth Bartush was on with Curtis again, this time a more experienced Curtis after his time in with Irslinger. Promoter John Mortimer and match maker Bill Bankier had close contact with London to get this match.
Looks like the remainder of his travel was on the huge continent of North America.
A busy worker who wrestled until at least 1949. In his early days he is credited as being one of many Masked Marvels and towards his late career was The Blue Streak. The Persona of the Chicago Express was Big and Bad. Left shows a bill in Winnipeg and Fairfield Armory in California.
William Bartush died far too young on New Years Eve in 1962. He was living at 114 East 107th Street Chicago. He was buried in St Casimer's Cemetery on January 5th 1963. The informant at the death was Charles White which you will remember was the name of his sister's husband, although he had a nephew Charles White Jr, but either way sorted out by his sister's family.
The occupation of Store Keeper might just indicate that Bartush was pretty much out of the world of wrestling, but I am guessing.
A man worthy of remembering.
14/02/2022 Page added