Hello! Today, we’ll be looking at the legacy of the Gold Dust Trio. This is a continuation from my previous article, which you can find at the link below:
Back in the 1920’s, the first wrestling promoters began featuring professional wrestling in the United States. Among this trio were World Champion Ed “Strangler” Lewis, his manager Billy Sandow, and Joseph “Toots” Mondt. Together, they introduced new concepts and brought scripted wrestling out of what could have been an early grave. Wrestling’s popularity had waned since the days of Georg Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch, and they needed to make new stars and find appealing solutions for the future.
Martin “Farmer” Burns is a former American Heavyweight Champion. In his latter career, he helped to train many wrestlers, including World Champion Frank Gotch and Joseph Mondt. As a big name, he played a part in linking the Gold Dust Trio together, as he recommended Mondt to be Ed Lewis’ enforcer. “Toots” took on many jobs for Lewis, including sparring partner, trainer, opponent and security. Together, they made new holds and Toots conceived ideas for a new style called “Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling”.
“Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling”
The newly formed trio used their connections to persuade wrestlers from around the country to join their new promotion, so they no longer had to be controlled by others. Toots began forming what we would later know as “sports entertainment”, but the wrestlers had to be in on keeping it secret from the public. This new style of wrestling would incorporate elements from boxing, Greco-Roman, freestyle, lumber-camp fighting, and theater. As traditional wrestling could go on for several hours, they implemented time limits to ensure matches would not bore the audience. They also introduced the concept of tag team wrestling, which had seldom been used before. Within six months, they had taken over the wrestling scene, and were taking bookings in major sports venues instead of back alley halls and other small places.
Billy Sandow would test the new recruits in his own private ring, while Toots worked with them on their finishing sequences. This is the first instance of wrestling having a “go home” sequence, which is commonplace today, but back then it was new and exciting to fans. Toots also introduced the concept of the “No Contest” and “Double Count out”, which drastically moved wrestling away from its traditional roots and opened up a plethora of possibilities for how a match could end. This is how professional wrestling as we know it came to be, and a hundred years later it remains similar to how Toots had imagined it.
What made the first promotion successful was how organized they were. Unlike many promoters of the era, the Gold Dust Trio were reliable in paying their wrestlers (who had signed exclusive contracts) on time. They made storylines and promoted shows more like a product than a sporting event. As bookers, they made World Champion Ed “Strangler” Lewis a national superstar.
But they knew it’d get boring if he were to win all the time, so they thought of “putting over” new stars so it would stay fresh for the fans. This is how wrestling programs were born, as they’d spark feuds and have matches and angles between the opponents to generate interest before a World Championship match. And this is where the ladder, or hierarchy was brought in, to establish who were main events talents, mid-carders, and those at the bottom often doing the job for others. The main event guys had to be legit athletes, because they were required to defend themselves if an opponent tried going in to business for themselves (forcing a pin or submission to go against what the bookers wanted).
Occasionally, the lesser athletes with natural charisma would get a push to give fans some hope they could become World Champion, but they rarely did because of needing to be tough enough to defend themselves. For security reasons, the toughest “hookers” in the promotion, Toots Mondt and John Pesek, served as guys who would rough up anyone who tried going in to business for themselves, but these instances were rare because the wrestlers were being paid handsomely.
By 1928, the Gold Dust Trio were looking to move on from each other for several reasons. First, Toots Mondt didn’t agree with Billy Sandow’s brother Max Bauman’s ideas, and a power struggle alienated him from the group. Around the same time, Billy Sandow got fed up with Ed Lewis because of his mediocre conditioning. They distanced from each other by going about their own business, but the legacy they left as the Gold Dust Trio remains in the foundations of what we see today in sports entertainment & professional wrestling.
He formed a new promotion with Ray Fabiani. The problem though, was that they couldn’t get in to the New York territory and didn’t have healthy connections to Lou Thesz. It was only after 1937, when NY promoter Jack Curley passed away, that he could get a foot in the door with help from other promoters: Rudy Dusek, Jack Pfefer, and Vince McMahon’s Grandfather Jess McMahon. It’s unsure how it happened, but Toots, with the help of either Jess or Vince McMahon Sr, helped to form the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. The CWC later became the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1963, which we know today as WWE.
Without the Gold Dust Trio, Toots Mondt may not have had the connections to help Vince McMahon’s Father & Grandfather to form WWE He was instrumental in not only creating the WWWF (WWE) Championship, but in encouraging Vince Sr. to build the company around a young Bruno Sammartino. Despite this, Toots wasn’t on the best terms with Vince Sr and they often clashed. He didn’t understand TV like Vince, and his gambling problems led him to sell his shares to Vince Sr. by the mid-60s. Toots worked the rest of his days as an employee and was only given credit for his contributions in 2017; when he became a legacy inductee in to the WWE Hall Of Fame.
Sandow moved on to managing other wrestlers Everett Marshall and Roy Dunn. After moving on from Ed Lewis, not much is known about his career. He reached out to writers to help him with an autobiography, believing his story would go down really well as he was from the early days of wrestling. But it never came to fruition, and Billy passed away in 1972.
Earlier this year, Jon Langmead of SlamWrestling made an article titled “Searching For Billy Sandow”. He details the lengths he and others have gone to find papers detailing his life. If you’re interested, you can read it at the link below. And for anyone making the connection, Damien Sandow’s ring name was made as a tribute to Billy: Searching for Billy Sandow
Ed “Strangler” Lewis
Lewis is known as the first, five-time World Heavyweight Champion in the history of wrestling. His popularity in the 20’s is sometimes compared to other sports stars like boxer Jack Dempsey and baseball player Babe Ruth. He’s also known for having trained champions Lou Thesz, Danny Hodge and Gene LeBell. Lewis proved himself as a draw in 1934 when he wrestled Jim Londos in front of 35,275 at Wrigley Field. The record gate of $96,302 stood until 1952. After retiring for good in 1948, he was named the ambassador of good will for the NWA, and later became NWA World Champion Lou Thesz’s manager.
He has since been inducted in to many Hall of Fames, including the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2016. Without his star power, toughness and wrestling skill, the Gold Dust Trio would not have had someone to promote as their World Champion. He was the moneymaker, meaning that Mondt & Sandow couldn’t have had the success they did without him. Other wrestlers made a decent living because he was the draw, and their organization brought about the birth of the wrestling promotion, with Ed Lewis sitting on top of the mountain.
The Gold Dust Trio became the godfathers of professional wrestling. Toot’s imagination and vision. Sandow’s eye for talent and organizational skills. Lewis’ toughness and charisma. All these attributes came together like the perfect broth to start something which I’m sure none of them could imagine would grow in to what it is today. Wrestling has evolved over the years, but its core, basic premise remains and doesn’t look like changing.
They found the winning formula, and then Toots passed it on to Vince McMahon Sr, who then passed it on to Vince McMahon Jr. Future generations of McMahon’s will prosper as leaders of sports entertainment, and it’s all due to what happened a century ago, amid a world struggling after the first World War, and leading in to the second. Despite the world being at arms and millions of people dying under conflict between nations, the American trio came together and found something that would make everyday folk forget their troubles.
Even if only for one night, they provided a service that would help them through some of the hardest times humanity has ever seen. And with that said, I thank you very much for joining me! Let me know if you would enjoy more wrestling origin stories in the comments. See you again.
Credit to Pro Wrestling Tees for the display image graphic