Z: Kurt Zehe

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Kurt Zehe

(Also known as Gargantua)

Jim Moran is remembered by fans of the 1960s as Gargantua, and a very credible and enjoyable one he was too. But there was life for Gargantua before Jim Moran. Kurt Zehe was a giant of a man, the original Gargantua of the ring who began wrestling in the mid 1930s.  

Born on January 12th, 1913 in the then German city of Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad)  he was brought to the United Kingdom in 1952 by Atholl Oakeley in the promoter’s continuing attempt to revive the all-in style, and his business, following the Second World War. His presence in British rings was short lived, but he made his mark with national newspapers reporting his movements.

The year before his visit Zehe had lost to former World heavyweight boxing champion Primo Carnera in Frankfurt.  That Zehe ever made it into the wrestling ring in the 1940s was something of an achievement. Imprisoned by the Russian Army towards the end of the Second World War he came close to starvation. On release he worked in a slaughterhouse and resumed his wrestling career. 

Posters claimed Zehe towered eight feet four inches above his opponents and weighing 50 stones. That may have been something of an exaggeration, Oakeley wasn’t known for modesty.   The boy was certainly big, and reputed to have stood at 7 feet 2 inches. That seem about right to German historian Gernot Freiberger, “Zehe in real life was not larger then 2m 15cm. He was the last winner of a tournament in Vienna before the war. Later he played some minor roles in films.”

A huge amount of national publicity led up to Zehe’s 1952 contest against former champion boxer Jack Doyle. When the German arrived in London photos of Zehe lifting Doreen Oakeley, wife of Atholl, were published not just in Britain but in newspapers around the world. After all the advanced publicity the bout inevitably proved  a huge anti climax and it did nothing for the reputation of  Oakeley or the all-in style. 

Zehe  found more capable heavyweights like Bert Assirati, and tall ones like Primo Carnera, a tougher proposition. 

Nevertheless, whatever the size of the opponent Zehe's stature made it very difficult for promoters to find convincing opponents - see him in the photo above towering over one of our big heavyweights, Strangler Ed Bright, in their 1952 encounter at the Royal Albert Hall.

Zehe’s appearance made him sought after to make numerous small part appearances in a dozen or so films.

Kurt Zehe died in 1969.