A long-forgotten name from out of the dim and distant past suddenly came to my attention recently as I was looking through a “Maurice Francis Archives” post of 30 January 2022. It concerned an individual named William Sidney Nabors, who in World War II (WWII) was a civilian prisoner of the Nipponese for 37 months in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp (STIC). The significance of Nabors is the fact that his assumed name — which he used when he performed as a professional wrestler — was Danny Dusek (pictured at left). Now, while I did not know Nabors, in STIC or elsewhere, I was aware of the name and occupation of Danny Dusek, for he was well-known in the U.S. and the Philippines before WWII. He must have been well-known, as even I had heard of him, although I was not interested in sports at the time and was just 11 years old when I was welcomed into STIC. Probably I knew of Dusek because I was (and still am) a habitual listener to radio, and possibly also because of mentions by my father, who was interested in wrestling and especially boxing (he once took me along to see Jack Dempsey’s arrival at the Manila airport); and publicity surrounding Dusek’s arrival in the Philippines in 1941 undoubtedly was a major factor. [Note: for present purposes, pro wrestling is treated as a legitimate sport.]
The initial material available to me (via the various links in the cited Maurice Francis post) about Nabors/Dusek — hereafter cited only as Dusek — revealed that he had resumed his wrestling career when he returned to the U.S. after STIC’s liberation in 1945, and indeed continued it long thereafter. But one thing about that material puzzled me: it did not once mention what I considered to be a significant fact — his STIC imprisonment for over three years. That odd omission (even in his obituary) helped propel my decision to investigate “The Dusek Story” in more detail. This account, which is primarily about his post-STIC exploits in the ring, is intended both to alert the “ex-internee community” to the fact of his imprisonment, and more generally to attempt to rescue from obscurity the post-internment record of one of the thousands of WWII civilian guests of the Nipponese — plus (last and certainly least) in so doing, possibly to stir the interest of any fans of professional wrestling who may yet be lurking somewhere in the audience.
According to his obituary, Dusek (i.e., Nabors) was born in Mississippi in 1906, and died in Tennessee in 1982 at the age of 75. He began his wrestling career in Nebraska; but information apparently is not available on the internet as to either his early life or when he traveled to Omaha. In any event, no doubt he was attracted to Omaha by the presence there of the “first family of wrestling” — the Dusek brothers. A brief digression into their background is justified by the fact of their influence on the future Danny Dusek. The Dusek family — actually its real surname was Hason — consisted of seven boys and one girl. Four of the brothers (Rudy, Emil, Ernie and Joe) became professional wrestlers in the 1920s. They were led by oldest brother Rudy, who turned pro in 1922, and who adopted the professional name of Dusek from his godmother. In addition to the future Danny Dusek (then Sid Nabors, of course), two other men unrelated to the brothers (Wally Santen and his son Frank) joined the group, adopted the Dusek name, and were described as cousins. Most of the “brothers” became regulars on the pro circuit, and all of them except Danny had retired from the ring by the 1960s. The whole group became known in the pro wrestling world as the Dusek brothers, as well as by more colorful terms. For example, the Legacy of Wrestling internet web site refers to them mildly as “the famous Dusek Brother[s] Gang from Omaha. . . collectively known as the ‘Riot Squad’ ”; the Wayback Machine Internet Archive, citing the Duseks’ entry in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (of which Emil and Ernie are members), explains that the brothers’ rough style of wrestling led to their being dubbed “the Nebraska Riot Squad” and “the Dirty Duseks”; and finally, the headline of the Pro Wrestling Historical Society web site’s entry on the Duseks is “The Original Bad Boys of Wrestling: The Dusek Riot Squad.”After being involved with the Duseks for an unknown number of years — perhaps three or four, as a guess — Danny Dusek decided to set out on his own as a pro wrestler, separate from and independent of his “brothers.” Nonetheless, references to his beginnings in the ring continued to follow him long thereafter — for instance, as late as 1950 I found articles (in the Tampa Tribune) alluding to him variously as “one of the talented wrestling brothers from Omaha,” “the popular Omaha grappler,” and the “self-styled ‘one man gang’ from Omaha.” On the contrary, however, after 1945 I found no mention whatsoever of what would seem to be his equally if not more noteworthy STIC history. But be that as it may, Dusek launched his ring career in 1932 in Cleveland, according to the Cagematch Internet Wrestling Database. Wrestling at times under his real name of Sid Nabors and at times as Danny Dusek, his busiest pre-WWII years in the ring included 1933 (26 matches), 1934 (59 matches!), and 1938 (29 matches). Notably, his pre-war opponents included two of his aforesaid “brothers,” Ernie and Emil Dusek; the names of the other Duseks can be found in the record books, mostly in the late 1940s, when Danny occasionally tag-teamed with apparently yet another Dusek named Walt, whose position in the Dusek clan I have been unable to determine.
At last we now cut to the Philippine-related chase, so to speak. While my earlier sources provided leads to material covering both Dusek’s pre-WWII as well as his post-WWII match records, they did not shed any light upon two very puzzling questions: first, why did Dusek, whose last pre-war match was in 1940, then suddenly turn up in the Philippines in 1941; and second, as noted earlier, why did my initial sources fail to mention the fact of his captivity in a Nipponese prison camp in Manila. But then, most fortunately for this narrative, “old reliable” Cliff Mills eventually came to the rescue when he unearthed more than a dozen literally invaluable U.S. newspaper articles. This “Mills Archive” consisted of articles from early 1945, almost all from April and May. It constituted an absolute treasure trove of information, which both dealt with Dusek’s Philippine-presence question and also served, among other things, to rectify the aforesaid odd omission of his STIC interlude.
We turn first to the minor mystery of why Dusek just so happened to be in the Philippines when the Pacific war began. As it happens, that question cannot be answered with certainty, for those 1945 articles provided several different explanations. One source said that Dusek was “captured by the Japs while conducting a wrestling tournament in the Philippines”; a second source stated that he was “on a mat [wrestling] tour in Manila, en route to Australia, when the war broke”; another claimed that he was in the “cattle business [?] at Manila when the Japs struck”; and yet another asserted that Dusek became “a Jap prisoner” because he was “on a wrestling tour and remained to become a bouncer at a Manila night club. . . .” In short, the consensus seems to be that wrestling had something to do with Dusek’s presence in the Philippines; of course that seems a reasonable position, but not much more can be said about the matter.
Second, the Mills Archive dispelled my previously-noted puzzlement by having plenty to say about Dusek’s imprisonment, particularly on three major points. (1) All articles referred, in one way or another, to the fact that Dusek was making a “comeback” after a lengthy absence — “after serving 37 months” in STIC, as one writer put it. One bold April headline, previewing Dusek’s first match since his return, blared “Jap-Released Mat Hero in Olympic Main Tonight.” Another article described Dusek as a “famous wrestler who has just returned” from captivity. Still another one praised “game Danny Dusek, only recently liberated from a Jap prison camp. . . .” (2) Many articles mentioned Dusek’s weight loss in STIC, in one case describing him as a “victim of Jap brutality and starvation.” Most discussions of the topic agreed that he had lost 70 pounds, having dropped from 235 to 165 pounds, and that he was already back to about 205-210 pounds, a gain of some 40 or more pounds in the less than three months since liberation in February. But sometimes the figures varied — for instance, one writer said that Dusek had “wasted away from 230 pounds to 110,” while another one melodramatically claimed that “the Japs peeled 100 pounds off him in three years.” (3) Finally, some articles emphasized that Dusek’s “years of hardship seem to have made him harder and tougher than he ever was before.” One account with fairly extended coverage said that, regardless of the widespread view that pro wrestling is a phony business, it had “saved Dusek’s life because. . . he was in good physical condition. . . [and thus had] the strength to overcome hardships weaker men were unable to conquer.” [Note: By now shrewd readers just may have discerned that writers of that period would not exactly be regarded today as exemplars of political correctness — a fact I have deliberately not sought to ignore.]
Yet despite the preceding coverage, it is essential to note that the cited articles do not deal with an important but easy to overlook matter, one involving a genuinely unbelievable series of events. To fully understand and appreciate that contention, remember that STIC was liberated on the evening of 3 February 1945. Yet Cagematch states that, in Los Angeles on 23 April 1945 — barely 11 weeks after liberation — the recently seriously malnourished Danny Dusek engaged in a professional wresting match (which he won). To accentuate the phenomenal nature of this situation, consider this question: exactly when did Dusek arrive in the U.S.? Because I had arrived on 2 May 1945, initially I speculated in disbelief that Dusek might well have arrived just days before his first match. And my speculation was not at all wide of the mark — Cliff Mills has provided documentation showing that Dusek arrived in San Francisco on 8 April 1945, a scant two weeks before his first match. But that is not all: to top off this incredible saga, during the rest of 1945 Dusek had 48 more matches (an average of exactly six per month) — a feat, to repeat the obvious, accomplished by a recently-starved prisoner of the Nipponese. (Dusek then took it easy, with a mere 34 matches in 1946, an average of nearly three per month. Incidentally, he won 21 of his 1945 matches and 12 of his 1946 matches — not great, but perhaps not too bad for a recent victim of the Nipponese.)
Moving on from the pre-WWII and immediate post-war periods, we turn next to a survey of the highlights of Danny Dusek’s largely post-WWII ring career. Leaving his overall record and his titles for later review, first we consider those highlights from the standpoint of the most noteworthy opponents he faced. Combing through his extensive record, I found more than enough “names” to justify coverage of that subject. Cagematch shows that, both pre- and post-WWII, Dusek had a number of matches with Victor Lopez, whom writers at that time had called the “greatest Mexican wrestler in history” and “the once-claimant to the world title. . . .” Too, Cagematch notes that, in December 1945 in Oakland, Dusek fought to a draw with the huge (6’5”, 250 lb.), well-known bit-part actor, Ukrainian-born “Iron” Mike Mazurki. And the Legacy of Wrestling internet web site indicates that, in February 1948 in Colorado Springs, Dusek lost to the then World Heavyweight Champion Bill Longson. But that record pales into insignificance in light of the fact that Dusek engaged in several post-WWII matches with two of the legendary figures in wrestling history, whose names even some non-fans may recognize.
One of those two was none other than Lou Thesz, who — to quote Wikipedia — “was a three-time NWA [National Wrestling Association] World Heavyweight Champion and held the title for a combined total of [more than] 10 years. . . longer than anyone else in history.” Dusek battled Thesz at least twice that I found, losing to him in December 1947 in Buffalo, and then again losing in February 1953 in Shreveport in a match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title. The other renowned wrestler Dusek faced was the Hungarian-born U.S. citizen Sandor Szabo, who was a dominant figure in the wrestling world in the 1940s and 1950s, and who is in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (as of course is Thesz). He held too many titles to list here, including the NWA, the AWA (American Wrestling Association), and the Montreal Athletic Commission versions of the World Heavyweight Championship, as well as World Tag Team Championships (one of them with famous boxer Primo Carnera as his partner). Dusek wrestled Szabo at least three times that I found, winning in July 1945 in Los Angeles, losing to him the following week, and losing to him in May 1946 in San Francisco.
There is one other aspect of the wrestling world that, though it may seem irrelevant, can be related to The Dusek Story. It is widely believed (with good reason) that professional wrestling is a phony business, to be blunt — or, to put it more charitably, it is more entertainment than sport. Evidence aplenty of that view is provided by the many gimmicks that pro wrestlers have long employed, most notably after WWII. One writer amusingly described the matter (in a January 1950 Ottawa Citizen article) thusly: “About all you need nowadays [besides muscles] to become a wrestler is a gimmick. . . . [Thus] unless you’re a Tibetan sheepherder, the seventh son of a seventh son, or at least a battered up football player, you might as well give up.” Dusek never succumbed to gimmickry, but many of his contemporaries did so. The best — and perhaps the earliest — example of that was the shtick used by George Wagner, known professionally as Gorgeous George (hereafter cited as GG). Like Dusek, Wagner began his pro career in the early 1930s; he debuted his GG act in 1941 in Oregon, though he did not consistently employ it until 1946.
The relevance of this subject will become evident after a brief personal digression. Thanks to an uncle who took me along to view a night of matches in Portland (in 1946, I believe), I was able to witness GG’s outrageously flamboyant performance in person. I am at a loss for words to describe his act, so I hereby strongly urge readers (if any) to check the Wikipedia entry on GG. On further thought, I cannot resist including that entry’s relevant parts below.
Gorgeous George’s Career
At 5 ft. 9 in. and 215 pounds (1.75 m and 98 kg), Wagner was not especially physically imposing by professional wrestling standards, nor was he an exceptional athlete, although he was a gifted amateur wrestler. Nevertheless, he soon developed a reputation as a solid in-ring wrestler. In the late 1930s, he met Elizabeth “Betty” Hanson, whom he would later marry in an in-ring ceremony. When the wedding proved a good drawing card, the couple re-enacted it in arenas across the country enlightening Wagner to the potential entertainment value that was left untapped within the industry. Around this same time, Vanity Fair magazine published a feature article about a professional wrestler named ‘Lord’ Patrick Lansdowne, who entered the ring accompanied by two valets while wearing a velvet robe and doublet. Wagner was impressed with the bravado of such a character, but he believed that he could take it to a much greater extreme.
Subsequently, Wagner debuted his new “glamour boy” image on a 1941 card in Eugene, Oregon, and he quickly antagonized the fans with his exaggerated effeminate behavior when the ring announcer introduced him as “Gorgeous George”. Such showmanship was unheard of at the time; and consequently, arena crowds grew in size as fans turned out to ridicule Wagner (who relished the sudden attention).
Gorgeous George was soon recruited to Los Angeles by promoter Johnny Doyle. Known as the “Human Orchid”, his persona was created in part by growing his hair long, dyeing it platinum blonde, and putting gold-plated bobby pins in it (which he called “Georgie Pins” and distributed to the audience). Furthermore, he transformed his ring entrance into a bonafide spectacle that would often take up more time than his actual matches. He strolled nobly to the ring to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance”, followed by his valet and a purple spotlight. Wearing an elegant robe sporting an array of sequins, Gorgeous George was always escorted down a personal red carpet by his ring valet “Jeffries”, who would carry a silver mirror while spreading rose petals at his feet. While Wagner removed his robe, Jeffries would spray the ring with disinfectant, ostensibly Chanel No. 5 perfume, which Wagner referred to as “Chanel #10” (“Why be half-safe?” he was famous for saying)[A] before he would start wrestling. Moreover, George required that his valets spray the referee’s hands before the official was allowed to check him for any illegal objects, which thus prompted his now-famous outcry “Get your filthy hands off me!” Once the match finally began, he would cheat in every way he could. Gorgeous George was the industry’s first true cowardly villain, and he would cheat at every opportunity, which infuriated the crowd. His credo was “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!” This flamboyant image and his showman’s ability to work a crowd were so successful in the early days of television that he became the most famous wrestler of his time, drawing furious heel heat wherever he appeared. It was with the advent of television, however, that Wagner’s in-ring character became the biggest drawing card the industry had ever known. With the networks looking for cheap, effective programming to fill its time slots, pro wrestling’s glorified action became a genuine hit with the viewing public, as it was the first program of any kind to draw a real profit. Consequently, it was Gorgeous George who brought the sport into the nation’s living rooms, as his histrionics and melodramatic behavior made him a larger-than-life figure in American pop culture. His first television appearance took place on November 11, 1947 (an event that was recently named among the top 100 televised acts of the 20th century by Entertainment Weekly) and he immediately became a national celebrity at the same level of Lucille Ball and Bob Hope (who personally donated hundreds of chic robes for George’s collection) while changing the course of the industry. No longer was pro-wrestling simply about the in-ring action, but Wagner had created a new sense of theatrics and character performance that had not previously existed. Moreover, in a very real sense, it was Gorgeous George who single-handedly established television as a viable entertainment medium that could potentially reach millions of homes across the country. It is said that George was probably responsible for selling as many television receivers as Milton Berle.
A review of Dusek’s record indicates that apparently he never wrestled GG (who, by the way, did wrestle Ernie Dusek several times). In the early post-WWII period there were very few other wrestlers with comparable shticks; most such, if any, were chiefly in the form of ridiculous names. Thus, for instance, Dusek battled wrestlers with such titles as Flash Gordon, the Masked Marvel, Ivan Rasputin, Li’l Abner Osborne, and so on. But there was one wrestler in particular who followed GG’s lead; adopting a similar gimmick, he billed himself as “the Great Togo.” One article called him “a Korean giant,” but he claimed to be Japanese; in actuality, he was a Japanese American, George Kazuo Okamura, who was born in Hood River, Oregon, and who studied philosophy at the University of Oregon. In the aftermath of WWII, he had no trouble acquiring a reputation as one of the leading villains of the ring (as was GG).
Now this is where Dusek enters the picture. As noted, he never wrestled GG, but unfortunately for him he did tangle with the Great Togo. Thanks to Classic Wrestling Articles archives, posted on their web site on 29 April 2014 and on 25 June 2014, the details of that encounter are publicly available. Before the tussle, one writer claimed that “Gorgeous George apparently is small potatoes compared to Togo.” (Actually, in their lone encounter in September 1948, GG defeated Togo.) Based on that (misleading) comparison, it is not surprising that a St. Petersburg Times article of 12 October 1950 was headlined “The Great Togo Masters Danny (Riot Squad) Dusek.” The article described the match as follows: Togo “showed Dusek no mercy, picking him up and hurling him against the ropes and ringposts numerous times”; and finally “The 220-pound Jap knocked Dusek unconscious and Danny lay [sic] on the mat for ten minutes before being carried to the dressing room.” Whether pre-arranged or not, that must have been quite a show that the two put on for “an estimated 1,500 fans.”
It is unavoidable to end this survey of Dusek’s match highlights on such a downbeat note, because henceforward his record is rather prosaic, despite the fact that he continued performing in the ring, off and on, for nearly another quarter century after that 1950 match. Of course, that fact in itself perhaps should qualify as a noteworthy if not downright remarkable highlight. In any case, moving along, 1955 was the first year since STIC internment that he did not have a single match. The reason apparently is that 1955 is when he and his wife moved to Nashville and finally settled down. But he then resumed his wrestling career in 1956, though on a reduced schedule, as might have been expected (or hoped), considering that he reached the age of 50 that year. Still, Dusek continued to have at least one match a year (including tag team) for yet another 17 straight years, until 1972. Amazingly, he had 19 matches in 1965, but he did taper off drastically after 1970; yet Cagematch contains the startling information that he had two matches in 1974, when he was a mere two years short of 70. (For the record, his last match, in August 1974 in Chattanooga, ended in a draw.) After his ring career ended, he lived another 11 years, until his death in Nashville in 1985, as noted earlier.
We conclude with a broad overview of Dusek’s lengthy (1932-1974) ring career, focusing on two all important aspects for examination: his total won-lost record, and his titles. As to the former, Cagematch has calculated that, of his overall total of 372 matches (including tag team), he won 95, lost 208, and drew 69 — in rounded percentage terms, 25+%, 56%, and 18+%. As a result, corresponding with that less-than-sterling record, he won relatively few titles. Before listing them, as a “bridge” to that subject it is first worth noting the various title matches that he lost, in order to provide a more balanced assessment of his actual achievements. In April 1946 in Fresno, Dusek failed to win the Pacific Coast Heavyweight Title; in July 1960 and again in July 1962 (when he was well into his 50s), both times in Chattanooga, he lost matches for the NWA Southern Junior Heavyweight Title; and last, Dusek’s most impressive title match by far was his aforementioned 1953 encounter with Lou Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
As for the title matches that Dusek won, the list is short. in 1948 he twice won the NWA Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Championship (that title frequently changed hands, which helps explain why he won it more than once; he held the title for a total of 79 days). In addition, the Online World of Wrestling web site states that Dusek won NWA (Mid America) Southern Tag Team titles in 1950, and the NWA (Florida) Southern Title twice — no dates listed, and no mention of the nature of the title (but see details below). Then, just at this point, when I had already decided to conclude The Danny Dusek Story, by a serendipitous stroke of luck I happened to come across a source previously unknown to me — the Wrestling Classics “Message Board” internet web site; in particular, it has a number of relevant entries posted on 11 January 2007. Those in turn contain a considerable amount of quite interesting material, including the following: the year Dusek won the above-mentioned Southern title was 1950; it was the heavyweight championship title that he won (his photo wearing the heavyweight championship belt is even included); and, by far the most interesting information, Dusek had then spent at least four months in 1950 — probably April through July — performing in Havana, Cuba, back in the pre-Castro era. In matches at the Havana Sports Palace, Dusek, according to articles from the Tampa Tribune, “successfully defended his title here [in Cuba] more than [a] half dozen times” (18 July 1950 article) before losing it in June and then regaining it in July. And on that high note, as opposed to what otherwise would have been a rather meager listing of titles, we conclude this saga of a one-time WWII Nipponese prisoner — the former STIC internee named William Sidney Nabors, a.k.a. Danny Dusek. — MM
Revised 28 February 2022
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