L: Ski Hi Lee
Ski Hi Lee
a sport where giants are two a penny the heavyweight with unruly hair
that matched his wrestling style stood head and shoulders above the
rest. Whether it be six feet three, six feet seven, six feet nine or
whatever was claimed on the night, he certainly towered over most of
his opponents. It wasn't just the hair and the wrestling that were
unruly, Ski Hi Lee's colourful lifestyle, fuelled by excessive
alcoholic drinking, was the stuff of legends. In 1973 when Ski Hi’s
wife Wendy filed for divorce it was revealed the wrestler was already
married at the time of their marriage. He
led “a chequered matrimonial career” declared the judge.
Above all else Ski Hi Lee was an outstanding regular rabble rouser in Britain through the 1960s. Fans were intrigued by his height, emphasised by his leanness, but never failed to boo and jeer him in epic battles with the likes of Mike Marino and Judo Al Hayes. Dave Sutherland watched Ski Hi three times at the Newcastle St James Hall, working for Norman Morrell, “I can remember him arriving at the Hall along with a number of wrestlers travelling with Ernest Baldwin; he looked the typical American wrestler with his cowboy hat on and chewing on a long unlit cigar and a huge pipe sticking out of the top pocket of his lumberjack jacket.”
Eddie Rose recalled: “One night in Tommy Mann's Club Roma (Manchester) Ski Hi Lee took centre stage with a series of stunts including eating a razor blade, chewing a light bulb, and, for the grand finale, he took off his shirt, borrowed a lipstick from a woman and asked her to draw a target on his back. He then produced a set of darts and invited her to throw them into the target on his back. He did all of this without a grimace or wince of pain. He then put his shirt back on and started drinking again. He had a reputation as a consumer of large amounts of whisky.”
The late Bob Leonard colourfully described Lee as a great big, raw boned wrestler with the look of a corpse left hanging around for days! A brawler rather than a wrestler he was certainly a man who made an impression.
Born on 3rd February, 1910 as Robert Leedy, this date taken from his registration of death is ten years earlier than that cited by some sources. The place of birth remains a bit more of a mystery with Toronto being the most likely candidate. He was almost certainly not the Texan that he was always claimed to be.
A former circus strongman, rancher and professional boxer bewhiskered Lee featured regularly on independents and Joint Promotion bills. Seventeen matches have been recorded for his boxing career in 1945-6, following which he turned professional wrestler.
SaxonWolf told us, “Ski Hi Lee appears in the words of a song from the early 1960's, from South Africa called "Ag Pleez Deddy" (Afrikaan for "Oh Please Daddy"), about a young lad who wants to go and see local Wrestler, Willie Liebenberg take on Ski Hi Lee, but his Dad won't take him.” Dave Sutherland added "Ag Pleez Deddy" was written by the folksinger and satirist Jeremy Taylor, as Saxon Wolf states above, in 1961. This was when Taylor was living and teaching in South Africa before he returned to England in 1964 due to his work (he was a staunch opponent of apartheid) being banned there. He found a welcome in the folk clubs and satirical venues in the UK and I met him, very briefly, in 1975 after a folk club gig in South Shields. It would therefore suggest that this fight did take place and Sky Hi Lee did tour South Africa during the time mentioned.”.
Contrary to popular opinion the man responsible for bringing Lee to Britain was not Paul Lincoln, Jack Dale or Ted Beresford. We have to go back much further to discover that it was Atholl Oakeley that matched Lee with Tiger Joe Robinson in 1952, a match imaginatively advertised as an eliminator for the World Heavyweight Championship. Heritage member Ray Hulm recalled Tiger Joe telling him that he rated Ski Hi Lee as his best ever opponent, the two of them working well together.
It was another nine years before Ski Hi returned, working for Joint Promotions in 1961. This time he settled in the country and lived in Britain until the time of his death in a London hospital. A main event-er from the outset Ski Hi shared a ring with all the top heavyweights of the day. Then, in the summer of 1962 the most high profile independent promoter, Paul Lincoln, made his move and from August, Lee was part of the oppositions cavalcade of colourful characters. His personality and ring persona fitted the Lincoln Promotions like a glove and it is for his matches against Mike Marino, Judo Al Hayes, Rebel Ray Hunter and Dr Death that Ski Hi is mostly remembered. Lincoln effectively used a small roster of wrestlers effectively, complemented by visitors from the north of England, Scotland and overseas. Consequently Ski Hi also worked with overseas visitors Harlem Jimmy Brown, Rene Lasartesse, and Crusher Verdu. Ski Hi returned to Joint Promotions in the autumn of 1965. With the Lincoln merger with Dale Martins in January 1966 this marked the end of Lee's relationship with Lincoln, just three years out of a decade, but a memorable three years that are the ones that stand out for us.
More than ten years working for Joint Promotions, a regular main eventer who wrestled every big name in the business, but for Ski Hi Lee there were no regular television slots and no more appearances at the Royal Albert Hall. Maybe his temperament was just too hot for high profile appearances. The daughter of his good friend Tony Cassio, who remembers him only with fondness, did recall that Ski Hi was known to consume a bottle of whisky before getting in to the ring.
By his mid fifties time was catching up with Ski Hi. He returned to the independents for a few matches in 1967 and retired shortly afterwards.
Ski Hi Lee died on 31st May, 1974.
Page added 30/05/2021
Page reviewed 25/05/2022