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Manitoba History: Winnipeg’s “Quiet” Man: The Early Public Life of Film Star Victor McLaglen

by C. Nathan Hatton
Department of History, University of Waterloo

Number 67, Winter 2012

Victor McLaglen was one of Hollywood’s great leading men and character performers, winning the 1935 Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Gypo Nolan in The Informer, and receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his depiction of Squire “Red” Will Danaher in John Ford’s 1952 classic, The Quiet Man. With a career spanning four decades, McLaglen was able to transition successfully from the silent to the “talkie” film eras, a feat that was not readily duplicated by all screen actors of his generation. McLaglen often portrayed bombastic, rough-and-tumble characters that bawled and brawled their way through some of the most memorable scenes in celluloid history. Unquestionably, his unforgettable performances were inspired by his own exploits during his tenure as a policeman, wrestler, and boxer in pre-First World War Winnipeg. McLaglen achieved local fame—and a measure of notoriety—for his exploits in and out of the ring in Manitoba’s capital.

English-born Victor McLaglen (1886-1959) acted in scores of Hollywood films, often portraying drunks, toughs, or Irishmen. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in the 1935 film The Informer.
Source: www.oldukphotos.com

Victor McLaglen was born in London, England in 1886, the son of Londoner Lily Marion Adcock and native South African Andrew Charles McLaglen, a clergyman with the Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England. The third of nine children (eight boys and one girl), he grew up in London’s East End, a traditionally working-class region of the city. [1] During his adolescent and early adult years, wrestling, which already had a long and storied history in the British Isles, experienced a remarkable surge in popularity. Increased free time, brought about by a reduction in the work day, allowed a larger proportion of the population access to leisure pursuits. Once associated primarily with rural life in various regions in the country, wrestling became one of many commercial sporting enterprises offered to paying customers in growing urban centres. Although spectators appreciated wrestling for many reasons, part of its appeal derived from its perceived merit as a spectacle that exemplified specific virtues such as strength, physical endurance, and heightened muscular development. Wrestlers and those who promoted the sport were able to capitalize on widespread concerns, particularly among the middle class, that modern comforts and a sedentary work life were producing a weak, physically feeble male population. [2] Through their well-developed musculature and demonstrable physical prowess, wrestlers represented a celebration of a more robust model of masculinity than what was feared to be the growing norm. The very social and economic conditions producing the modern malaise were, therefore, the same ones that allowed wrestling to emerge as a viable commercial enterprise by the beginning of the twentieth century.

The foremost exemplar of this physical ideal in Great Britain was Estonian-born “Russian Lion” George Hackenschmidt, a Graeco-Roman champion who performed exhibitions in some of the country’s most prestigious public venues, including London’s Royal Albert Hall. Hackenschmidt’s considerable grappling expertise (under the tutelage of Manchester’s Jack Smith he adapted readily to the English catch-as-catch-can style) was complemented by remarkable strength and a heavily-muscled physique which made him reminiscent of a reincarnated Heracles. Thanks to a growing market for sports journalism, he was already well-known by the time he first arrived in England in 1902, and his matches attracted thousands of spectators. [3] In the context of heightened public interest in male muscularity, Victor McLaglen could not have helped but to be buoyed by his own physical development. Standing well over six feet tall and weighing in excess of 200 pounds by adulthood, he epitomized the muscular ideal then coming into vogue. Although it is unknown if he engaged actively in competitive wrestling while in England, it was later claimed that he had lasted 45 minutes in a match against the redoubtable Russian Lion. [4] It is certain, however, that, like so many of his contemporary Britons, the young McLaglen developed a keen affinity for the sport. He also took an early interest in boxing, and in 1902, reportedly participated in a novice amateur competition open to athletes from England, Scotland, and Ireland. [5]

From an early age, the future film star exhibited a penchant toward travel. In 1901, he sought to follow his brother Fred to South Africa, where the elder McLaglen was stationed during the Boer War. His large size allowed him to pass for an older man when enlisting, although being assigned to His Majesty’s First Life Guards prevented deployment overseas. [6] Similar to many of his generation, economic necessity, in this instance his father’s decision to declare bankruptcy in January 1903, likely nurtured a desire to seek opportunity beyond Great Britain’s borders. [7] McLaglen emigrated to Canada in 1905, and worked variously as a silver prospector in Cobalt and as a stevedore in Owen Sound before being hired as a policeman with the Grand Trunk Railway. [8] By early 1907, he had ventured westward, part of a larger Canadian settlement movement which saw a massive increase in Prairie population before the First World War. The immigration boom enhanced the region’s ethnic diversity which, until then, was overwhelmingly Anglo-Protestant in character. [9] However, as was the case with McLaglen, the largest proportion of new arrivals continued to come from Great Britain. [10] Winnipeg served as the nexus through which all new arrivals from the East passed, and although many left the city to pursue homesteading, its population more than tripled between 1901 and 1911. [11] In particular, British immigrants who arrived in the region during the period were typically drawn from urban, non-agrarian populations, and lacked both the inclination and skill for farming. [12] As a result, many resettled in urban centres such as Winnipeg. [13] Although his early activities in Canada demonstrate that he was not altogether averse to rural life, similar to many of his fellow countrymen, McLaglen’s urban background and lack of agricultural experience made city living a more palatable prospect than homesteading.

The East Londoner’s arrival in Winnipeg not only occurred within the context of a rapid population expansion, but also a correspondingly dramatic increase in public interest surrounding sport. [14] The growing concentration of sporting enthusiasts provided the opportunity for commercial athletic enterprises, including professional wrestling, to prosper. As in Great Britain, from which Canada derived many of its sporting traditions, early twentieth-century professional wrestling was typically conducted according to catch-as-catch-can rules. Cards were commonly staged in community halls and theatres throughout Winnipeg and, by 1909; even large indoor venues such as the Walker Theatre were hosting wrestling in addition to their regular stage attractions. [15] Although containing an element of showmanship, matches during the period lacked much of the in-ring histrionics that would later become emblematic of the sport. Instead, the focus was on mat-based grappling and the application of pinning techniques and submission holds. Wagering on the outcome, both between the athletes and the spectators, was very common. Winnipeg audiences, similar to those throughout the English-speaking world, also appreciated wrestling as both a competitive (or ostensibly competitive) pursuit and a celebration of vigorous manhood. With his massively muscled frame, McLaglen was undoubtedly cognizant that his physical attributes represented a potentially saleable commodity. His first foray into local athletics, however, was tentative, and perhaps even serendipitous.

Early pugilist. McLaglen was a well-known Winnipeg boxer and wrestler in the early 20th century.
Source: Manitoba Free Press, 29 May 1909.

On 20 February 1907, McLaglen attended a professional wrestling match between W. Priem and Thomas Dixon, staged at the German Hall on Heaton Avenue. [16] During the event, Dixon, who would later become the Winnipeg YMCA’s first wrestling coach, injured a rib three minutes into the contest, rendering him unable to continue. In order to provide some entertainment for the spectators, McLaglen offered to put on a ten-minute exhibition with the much smaller (145-pound) Priem, who agreed to last the prescribed time limit without being pinned. Priem succeeded in his task, although their impromptu conflict failed to meet public expectations for aggressive displays of athleticism, the Manitoba Free Press describing the event as “rather a tame one.” [17] Nonetheless, McLaglen’s imposing physical presence earned universal notice. [18]

Despite his initial unspectacular venture onto the Winnipeg athletic scene, the Londoner attracted considerably more attention when he accepted an open challenge being offered by professional wrestler and strongman Hume Duval. During late May and early June of 1907, Duval was giving wrestling, jiu jitsu, and muscular posing exhibitions at Winnipeg’s Happyland Amusement Park in the city’s West End. As part of his act, Duval was offering $20 to any person who could remain on the mat with him for fifteen minutes without being defeated. [19] Challenges of this nature were a common way for wrestlers to attract publicity and remained a staple with travelling carnival athletic shows until as late as the 1950s, giving local athletes and aspiring “tough guys” a chance to prove their manly mettle. [20] Duval’s declaration proved to be an attractive drawing card at Happyland, and under the moniker “Young Tom Sharkey” (a name borrowed from former heavyweight boxing contender “Sailor” Tom Sharkey), McLaglen agreed to meet Duval on the evening of 8 June. Appearing before what the Winnipeg Telegram described as “a tremendous crowd”, McLaglen held off his more skilled (although considerably smaller) opponent for the prescribed time limit, earning the $20 prize. [21] In contrast to his previous mat venture, McLaglen’s performance generated considerable excitement among those in attendance. [22]

Local strongman and wrestler Hume Duval was one of the opponents taken on by “Young Tom Sharkey” during his time in Winnipeg.
Source: Winnipeg Tribune, 5 September 1907.

Although he had garnered a sizeable sum for his efforts at Happyland, professional wrestling did not offer an opportunity for steady income in Winnipeg. Indeed, there were few professional athletes during this period in Canada who could rely on sports for a comfortable living. Accordingly, McLaglen sought employment with the city police force, where he was hired on 11 June, just three days after his match against Duval. [23] George Smith, who joined the Winnipeg City Police in February 1905, and later served as Chief Constable from 1937 to 1947, recalled that the doctor who conducted McLaglen’s physical examination declared him, “the best developed man he’d ever examined.” [24] Employment with the local police did not, however, compel McLaglen to limit his professional activities to law enforcement.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Winnipeg newspapers were actively catering to public demand for sport by publishing pages dedicated exclusively to the subject. Newspaper challenges were a common feature in sports pages, and proved beneficial both for the publication and the athlete. The addition of drama and excitement to the daily columns potentially boosted circulation figures while fostering interest in a prospective wrestling match. On 20 June, Hume Duval issued a declaration to McLaglen in the Free Press to meet him again, without time limit constraints, in a match for a $200 side bet. [25] The following day, under the Sharkey pseudonym, McLaglen replied, stating, “I will accept his challenge if he places $200 in the hands of the Sporting Editor of the Free Press, myself to do likewise, and the winner taking the whole.” [26] On 19 July, they met for a second time at the Auditorium Rink, located on the corner of York Avenue and Garry Street. Both men gave a “fast and strenuous contest”, but at the end of one hour’s wrestling, referee Dr. Joseph Mullally declared the match a draw. Although frequently enthusiastic in their support for behaviour that they deemed meritorious, early twentieth-century spectators to wrestling bouts in Manitoba proved equally willing to voice their indignation when the situation warranted it. Matches at the time typically were conducted on a best two-out-of-three-falls basis, meaning that a contestant had to pin or successfully apply a submission hold (both termed “falls”) on his opponent twice to secure victory. McLaglen and Duval, in consultation with the referee, had agreed beforehand to declare the match a draw if neither man secured a fall within sixty minutes. The audience, however, some of whom likely had wagers pending on the outcome, was not informed of the arrangement. Considerable outcry followed the bout’s premature termination, although the dissatisfaction evidently did not erupt into violence. [27] Although not a popular decision, McLaglen’s performance suggests a growing ability to generate impassioned reactions from members of the public who were coming to see his matches.

Any resentment directed toward McLaglen for his part in the abbreviated wrestling contest evidently did not last long, and certainly did not impede his ability to gain additional bookings. During the first week of September, while still employed as a constable with the Winnipeg city police, he was contracted to appear on the stage at Happyland, wrestling all comers. Using the same publicity stunt employed earlier by Duval, he offered $20 to anyone he could not defeat in fifteen minutes. At least two men, William Keast and Jack Dewett, accepted the challenge but failed. [28] It was during his tenure at Happyland that McLaglen began to hone the loud, bombastic, and larger-than-life public persona which immortalized such roles as Sergeant Quincannon in John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Winnipeg Tribune reporter Jack Whittall later recalled:

When in a playful mood he would tip over a hot dog stand and then hold the loudly protesting vendor at arm’s length until he also laughed out loud from the very infectiousness of the big scamp’s mirth. Then he would help the proprietor retrieve the fallen dainties and by the sheer power of his rough eloquence he would sell the whole stock of salvaged [hot dogs] to the laughing onlookers. [29]

McLaglen’s final wrestling exhibition at Happyland during 1907 was on 6 September against his frequent competitive rival, Hume Duval. Evidently much improved, he defeated Duval in twelve minutes. Their rather rough encounter was declared, “perhaps one of the most interesting features of the Happyland season.” [30] While in Port Arthur later that fall, Duval protested that the referee had given him a “raw deal,” but the incident did not appear to impact his relationship with McLaglen, as the two became good friends. [31] After the wrestling match with Hume Duval, Happyland closed for the season. Just three days later, McLaglen resigned his position with the Winnipeg city police, having served on the force for less than three months. [32]

Buoyed by his early sporting success in Manitoba’s capital, the former Londoner sought out new markets to ply his fledgling skills. Despite being the largest city in the Canadian West, Winnipeg’s relative isolation from other major urban centres posed a challenge for wrestlers looking to earn a steady income in the sport. Exacerbating the situation was the dearth of talented heavyweight athletes in the region. Although many good wrestlers were beginning to frequent Winnipeg by 1907, McLaglen’s early contests bear testimony to the fact that, purely on the basis of size, few men represented appealing matchups for the public. Accordingly, he relocated to the American west coast, where he continued his wrestling career under the ring name Sharkey McLaglen before finally competing under his given name. Matched against skilled heavyweights such as Seattle physician Benjamin Franklin Roller, his lack of technical prowess became apparent. [33] Increasingly, however, McLaglen turned his attention toward boxing.

In the blood. Art McLaglen (1888–1972), Victor’s younger brother, was also an active member of Winnipeg’s boxing community. He also became an actor.
Source: Manitoba Free Press, 8 August 1910.

Professional boxing was a highly popular, albeit contentious, activity throughout the English-speaking world at the beginning of the twentieth century. The sport’s ultimate prize was the heavyweight championship of the world. Until 1908, swayed by widespread racist sentiments, heavyweight champions had, as a rule, drawn a “colour barrier” against fighters of African descent. However, in December 1908, Canadian-born champion Tommy Burns broke with the longstanding practice when he fought, and was defeated by, African-American pugilist Jack Johnson at Sydney, Australia’s Rushcutters Bay. Johnson’s victory, as well as his controversial lifestyle, sparked racial indignation among many segments of white society, ultimately culminating in the search for a “Great White Hope” to unthrone him. [34] In his first ring appearance since winning the heavyweight title, Johnson fought McLaglen in a six-round exhibition match, staged in Vancouver on 10 March 1909. Although outclassed, the former Winnipeg police officer’s ability to last the time limit against the new champion further bolstered his growing fame. [35]

Even after he moved to the United States in 1907, McLaglen continued to visit Winnipeg, drawn there both by his older brother Fred’s residence in the city and his appeal as an internationally known athlete with established connections to the local professional sports market. In May 1909, he performed a six-round sparring exhibition with his brother as part of a benefit event staged for Hume Duval at the Winnipeg School of Physical Culture, a commercial gymnasium which offered “Health, Strength, Longevity” to its urban clientele. [36] The younger McLaglen received good reviews for his performance, the Free Press stating, “As a fighter, the young Vic McLaglen sure looks the goods … he is an impressive figure and, with experience, might go far.” [37] Biddy Bishop, a Tacoma, Washington, newspaper editor who managed the aspiring pugilist, later recalled in the January 1932 edition of The Ring magazine, “[I]n my thirty-five years of managing and promoting fights, I have never had a finer heavyweight prospect than McLaglen.” [38]

Despite his growing pugilistic reputation, McLaglen did not altogether abandon his mat activities, and during his visit to Winnipeg in the spring of 1909, he returned to Happyland. McLaglen’s flair for self-publicity was in full bloom by this time, and at the end of May he proposed the novel idea of meeting an entire football team and defeating them, one after another, in the span of one hour. He had originally conceived of the idea in 1908 while in Tacoma, challenging the Whitworth football club to a match. [39] Although the plan never came to fruition in Tacoma, on 29 May a North End Winnipeg team accepted the proposition. The spectacle occurred at Happyland on 4 June. Out of eleven players on the team, only eight appeared: still a daunting undertaking in light of the fact that McLaglen offered $5 to each man he could not defeat in the allotted period. His first opponent, Edwin Quist, was a local resident of Swedish heritage who later wrestled periodically in the city. Audience members took an active role in the spectacle, and McLaglen drew their ire when he appeared to choke Quist with his right arm, bloodying the Swede’s mouth in the process. Hume Duval, who refereed the event, was criticised for not admonishing the former city policeman, since choke holds were typically disallowed under catch-as-catch-can rules. The next six opponents were easily disposed of, although the final football player, Jasper Franklin, offered considerably more resistance. [40] As impressive as McLaglen’s stunt may have been, however, wrestling a comparatively untrained team of football players did not place him within the top tier of grapplers on the continent. A February 1910 bout in Spokane, Washington, against Iowa’s Frank Gotch, the world’s champion who had defeated George Hackenschmidt for the title two years earlier, cemented the impossibility of McLaglen’s ever being considered a serious contender in the sport. The champion, who would remain undefeated for the remainder of his career, conquered McLaglen with cavalier ease. [41] Nevertheless, by opposing Gotch, Victor McLaglen earned the unique distinction of being the only man in history to have fought the world’s heavyweight boxing champion, wrestled the world’s heavyweight wrestling champion, and won an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Wrestling and boxing had proven to be fertile pursuits for the young athlete, but their inherently sporadic nature did not guarantee a steady income. Newspaper reports from the period often commented more positively on McLaglen’s tremendous physique than his athletic skills, and it was on this basis that he began touring as a vaudeville strongman. He also took to the stage with his younger brother Arthur. [42] Their act drew heavily on a widespread interest in classical culture that developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Those fascinated with muscular development garnered considerable inspiration from antiquity, becoming, as fitness impresario and Physical Culture magazine publisher Bernarr Macfadden termed it, “re-born in the wisdom of the ancients.” [43] Billed as the Romano Brothers or the Two Romanos, the impressively-muscled duo of Victor and Arthur McLaglen performed on the vaudeville circuit, appearing at Winnipeg’s Dominion and Orpheum theatres in March of 1911 and 1913, respectively, as “Living Greek Statuary,” a visual art form, also known as poses plastiques, whose origins dated back to 1818. [44] Coated in white stage paint which gave the appearance of marble, they assumed various poses derived from ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. Borrowing from their own athletic backgrounds, they also enacted boxing and wrestling scenes, which, specifically regarding the former, the Winnipeg Telegram praised as “a realistic exhibition of the manly art of self-defence through a practical and scientific application as to its uses by champions of the pugilistic profession.” [45] Although classically inspired, the Romano act included distinctly modern elements, including scenes from contemporary sports such as football. [46] Local theatre critics gave the Romano act favourable reviews, the Manitoba Free Press noting that “the pair was excellent,” and the Winnipeg Telegram stating, both in regards to the entire show and more specifically, the living statuary act, “The whole show is a treat in every sense… The two Romanos posing is an attraction which should not be missed.” [47] With an active vaudeville career by the spring of 1911, Victor McLaglen was slowly inching toward a career in “show business” with ventures into the ring evidently becoming a secondary priority.

The McLaglen brothers sometimes performed in Winnipeg as “The Two Romanos”.
Source: Winnipeg Tribune, 27 March 1913.

McLaglen’s appearance at the Orpheum Theatre marked the last of what had been many trips to Manitoba’s capital. The former Winnipeg policeman later returned to Great Britain, where he saw service in the Great War with the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. Although he made a few ring appearances as a boxer after the War, in 1920 he retired from the pugilistic profession and began a career in silent film. McLaglen returned to North America in 1924, making his Hollywood debut in director J. Stuart Blackton’s The Beloved Brute. Fittingly, he played the role of a wrestler. In a review published in the New York Times, McLaglen, in particular, was singled out for his performance, critic Mordaunt Hall stating, “Without Mr. McLaglen’s impersonation … ‘The Beloved Brute,’ might be nothing unusual as a motion picture of the ‘Western type.’” Hall concluded that, “This is a most interesting film of its type, the playing of Mr. McLaglen being singularly natural and convincing.” [49]

After 1924, McLaglen became a cinematic fixture and one of the best-known film actors of his generation. [50] However, the door to Hollywood fame had been opened by the skills he cultivated on the Happyland stage in Winnipeg’s West End. Through his mat performances and antics at the popular amusement park, McLaglen was given a forum which allowed him to both hone his physical talents and develop a public persona that could alternatively inspire cheers and anger from those who witnessed his performances. His inaugural success in Winnipeg undoubtedly provided encouragement to continue with ventures that put him in the public eye. It was good formative training for a future career that would span almost 130 films and earn him an Academy Award for Best Actor and a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Notes

1. In 1891, the McLaglen family was living at 250 Burdett Road, but by 1901 had relocated to 23 East India Road, both in London’s East End. Many later sources list Victor McLaglen as having been born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. However, census records indicate that he was born in Stepney, London, and that only his eldest brother Frederick, was born in Kent. See Public Record Office, 1891 British Census, RG12, Piece 298, Folio 59, p. 39; and Public Record Office, 1901 British Census, RG13, Piece 323, Folio 6, p. 3.

2. Colin D. Howell, Northern Sandlots: A Social History of Maritime Baseball. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995, pp. 103-104; Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001, p. 4.

3. Originating in Lancashire, catch-as-catch-can wrestling allowed opponents to apply holds and execute techniques on the entire body, in contrast to Graeco-Roman wrestling, which only permitted grips to be taken from the waist up. Hackenschmidt’s popularity was in full evidence when, for example, he appeared before 20,000 spectators in October 1905 at Glasgow’s Inbrox Park in a match against the Scot, Alex Munro, billed as for the “catch-as-catch-can championship of the world.” Revered by the British public, Hackenschmidt took up permanent residence in England, where he died in 1968 at the age of 89. For an overview of his significant public appearances on the mat, see his autobiography, The Way to Live, 1908. Reprint, Farmington, MI: William F. Hinbern, 1998, pp. 144-170. Concerning his match against Munro, see Lloyd’s Weekly News, 29 October 1905.

4. Manitoba Free Press (hereafter MFP), 28 June 1907. As the “Russian Lion” typically disposed of opponents in his British music hall engagements rather more quickly, it is conceivable that the claim is apocryphal. Additionally, research from the period has, to date, failed to uncover such a match.

5. MFP, 28 June 1907.

6. Ibid.

7. London Daily Mail, 10 January 1903.

8. Winnipeg Free Press, 7 November 1959.

9. Specifically with regard to Manitoba, Ken Coates and Fred McGuinness note, in Manitoba: The Province and the People. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1987, p. 32, that despite extensive settlement during the 1870s by Mennonites and Icelanders, by 1881 Anglo-Protestants “had all but swamped other member[s] of Manitoba society.”

10. Concerning ethnicity and migration on the Canadian Prairies during the period, see Marvin McInnis, “Migration,” in Donald Kerr and Deryck W. Holdsworth, eds.,. Historical Atlas of Canada Volume III: Addressing the Twentieth Century, 1891–1961. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990, Plate 27.

11. Population tables, by decade, are provided for Winnipeg in Alan Artibise, Winnipeg: An Illustrated History. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 1977, p. 202.

12. Ruben Bellan, Winnipeg First Century: An Economic History. Winnipeg: Queenston House Printing, 1978, pp. 62-63.

13. Between 1901 and 1911, the proportion of foreign-born residents living in Winnipeg increased from 37.8 to 55.9 percent of the total population. As evidence of the trend during the early twentieth century for British immigrants to settle in urban centres, the overall percentage of Winnipeg’s British-born population increased from 19.4 to 29.4 percent during the same period. See Artibise, Winnipeg: An Illustrated History, p. 203.

14. For a discussion on the increase in sports activities in Winnipeg during the decade and a half before the First World War, see Morris Mott, “Manly Sports and Manitobans: Settlement Days to World War One,” PhD thesis, Queen’s University, 1980, pp. 173-225.

15. See, for example, the MFP, 27 November 1909.

16. Located at 61 Heaton Avenue, Winnipeg’s German Hall was the headquarters for the city’s German Club, a benevolent society whose primary goals were the advancement of German-Canadians and the maintenance of a fund to care for sick members, widows and orphans. Construction on the hall began on 22 October 1904. Many professional wrestling matches were staged on the second floor of the two-storey building in a large lecture hall containing a raised platform and dressing rooms. See the 1908 Winnipeg Henderson’s Directory, 112; and MFP, 24 October 1904.

17. MFP, 21 February 1907.

18. Winnipeg’s three local daily newspapers all reported on the event in their 21 February 1907 editions and noted McLaglen’s large size. They were not, however, consistent with their spelling, the MFP giving his name as “McLaughlin,” the Telegram as “Laglan,” and the Tribune as “McClellan,” suggesting that he was not a “known” athlete in the city at that time.

19. MFP, 29 May 1907.

20. For further insight into carnival wrestling and its associated conventions, see Dick Cardinal, interview by Scott Teal and Dean Silverstone, in Whatever Happened to…? (36), pp. 12-18; and Billy Wicks, interview by Scott Teal, Whatever Happened to…? (38), pp. 3-15.

21. Winnipeg Telegram, 10 June 1907.

22. MFP, 10 June 1907; Winnipeg Telegram, 10 June 1907.

23. See the Winnipeg Police Museum, Police Commission Books.

24. George Smith, quoted in MFP, 7 November 1959. See also Archives of Manitoba, Paterson Collection, P3361, file 16. Concerning Chief Constable George Smith’s career with the Winnipeg City Police, see Robert Hutcheson, A Century of Service: A History of the Winnipeg Police Force. Winnipeg: City of Winnipeg Police Force, 1974, pp. 75-91.

25. MFP, 20 June 1907.

26. Young Tom Sharkey, quoted in the MFP, 21 June 1907.

27. MFP, 20 July 1907; Winnipeg Tribune, 20 July 1907. Although audiences at professional wrestling matches were frequently vocal, umbrage over a dissatisfactory show could sometimes escalate into violence as well. One such instance occurred on 28 April 1908 at the Walker Theatre when spectators reacted angrily to the moving picture film of the heavyweight title match between champion George Hackenschmidt and challenger Frank Gotch, staged three weeks earlier in Chicago. Paying between $0.25 and $0.75 for a ticket, those in attendance were promised an “exact reproduction,” of the contest, excluding some editing to eliminate extended moments of inactivity. The match, which lasted over two hours, resulted in only a fifteen-minute show for Winnipeg residents. Frequent interruptions marred the already brief film, extending the entire affair to approximately 45 minutes. The MFP noted of the production that, “About the time the wrestlers showed any signs of inactivity out would go the light.” During the numerous pauses in the film, those in the galleries began to show their impatience with coughs, hoots, barks, and various other verbal remonstrations. When the show terminated, the crowd became so angry that police were called to restore calm and escort them away from the premises. One spectator, Dennis Dever, was charged with wilful damage and fined $5 plus $14 and court costs for kicking in a glass door at the front of the theatre. The Free Press described it as the worst theatrical disturbance in eight years. See the MFP, 29 April 1908; Winnipeg Tribune, 28 April 1908; 29 April 1908; Winnipeg Telegram, 29 April 1908; and Archives of Manitoba, Police Court Winnipeg, GR651, M1219, Roll 10, p. 29 April 1908, no. 18239.

28. McLaglen defeated William Keast, a regular on Winnipeg mats, who had also taken on Duval earlier in the season in nine minutes on 3 September. Jack Dewett, who faced McLaglen the next day, was beaten in eight minutes. See the MFP, 4 September 1907; 5 September 1907. Concerning Duval’s match with Keast, see theWinnipeg Telegram, 3 June 1907.

29. Jack Whittall, Winnipeg Tribune, 25 November 1936.

30. MFP, 7 September 1907.

31. MFP, 30 September 1907.

32. Winnipeg Police Museum, Police Commission Books.

33. Roller was among the top heavyweight catch-as-catch-can wrestlers in North America before the First World War and took to the mat against virtually every well-known grappler on the continent. The “famous heavyweight wrestler,” as the MFP described him, appeared once before Winnipeg audiences at the Walker Theatre on 25 June 1910. Victor McLaglen wrestled Roller twice. Their first bout, staged in Tacoma, Washington, on 4 November 1907, was won by Roller in two straight falls, the Tacoma Ledger noting on the next day that the former Winnipeg police officer “displayed wonderful strength but little skill.” The following April, the men met on the mat again in Portland, Oregon, where the physician defeated him with ease, the Oregon Daily Journal, 16 April 1908, opining that, “It was hardly good practice for Roller—he was so much superior to McLaglen.”

34. In addition to defeating the best white pugilists in the world, Jack Johnson’s activities outside the ring, which included lavish spending and marrying white women, often generated anger within white society. For more on public views surrounding Jack Johnson as well as the search for a “Great White Hope,” see Al-Tony Gilmore, Bad Nigger! The National Impact of Jack Johnson. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1975. The most detailed examination of Tommy Burns’ career can be found in Dan McCaffery, Tommy Burns: Canada’s Unknown World Heavyweight Champion. Toronto: Lorimer, 2000.

35. McLaglen took the fight with Johnson on short notice when the champion’s original opponent, “Denver” Ed Martin, cancelled. Press reports noted that McLaglen was “game as a pebble,” despite posing little challenge to the champion. See the Winnipeg Saturday Post, 20 March 1909.

36. Originally styled the Western School of Curative Physical Culture, Duval’s gymnasium (which he operated under his given name, Hume MacDonald), was located at 273½ Portage Avenue, Room 9 in the Hample Block. It commenced operation on 14 January 1908. The facility was open to men and women of all ages and specialized in teaching jiu jitsu-based self-defence. Although many clubs preceding it offered lessons in boxing and wrestling, Duval’s school was perhaps the first in Manitoba to specialize in an Asian martial art. See the MFP, 8 January 1908; 9 January 1908; Winnipeg Tribune, 15 January 1908; and 1909 Winnipeg Henderson’s Directory, 1364.

37. MFP, 12 May 1909.

38. Biddy Bishop, “What Price Movies?” in The Ring, January 1932, p. 21.

39. MFP, 20 April 1908.

40. MFP, 5 June 1909. The individual identified as Jasper Franklin may have been Casper Franklin, a boxer who appeared several times in the city.

41. According to a report of the match from the Spokane Spokesman-Review, which was reprinted in the MFP on 10 February 1910, “[Frank Gotch] simply toyed with the young Hercules. He flopped him around by an arm or a leg like a child with a rag doll, picked him up and pulled him around at will and finally simply laid down on top of McLaglen and smothered him to the mat.”

42. Arthur McLaglen likewise pursued a career as a prizefighter, albeit with minimal success. Two bouts in Winnipeg illustrate his limited potential as a pugilist. On 8 August 1910, he boxed Chicago fighter Tony Caponi at the Auditorium Rink. Although McLaglen outweighed his opponent by nearly thirty pounds, the referee stopped the fight in Caponi’s favour in the sixth round. On 17 October 1910, in a match which capitalized on the racial tensions surrounding the recent heavyweight title fight between African-American fighter Jack Johnson and former champion Jim Jeffries, Arthur was knocked out by “Coloured Boxer” Charlie Robinson in two rounds. The MFP commented that, “It wasn’t really a fight and it wasn’t an exhibition: it was simply a display of bag punching. McLaglen hadn’t a chance from the start.” See the MFP, 9 August 1910 and 18 October 1910.

43. Mark Moss, Manliness and Militarism: Educating Young Boys in Ontario for War. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 57; Bernarr Macfadden, Muscular Power and Beauty. New York: Physical Culture Publishing Co., 1906, p. 13.

44. Nicole Anae, “Poses Plastiques: The Art and Style of ‘Statuary’ in Victorian Visual Theatre,” Australasian Drama Studies 52 (April 2008), p. 113.

45. Winnipeg Tribune, 28 March 1911.

46. Winnipeg Tribune, 25 March 1913.

47. MFP, 25 March 1913; Winnipeg Telegram, 25 March 1913. See also Winnipeg Town Topics, 29 March 1913.

48. Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, 10 November 1924.

49. For an overview of McLaglen’s significant film roles, see David Shipman, The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. London: Hamlyn, 1970, pp. 387-391.

Page revised: 1 January 2017

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