Monday, July 1, 2019

The French Cyclone: Early Professional Wrestler Al Marlowe

Al Marlow with his trainer Joe Malcewicz courtesy Ogdensburg journal“Al Marlowe, ‘the French Cyclone,’ returned yesterday from Alburg, Vt. where he wrestled Leo Desbriches, champion of the New England states, to a draw…. The Ogdensburg man is proving himself one of the best wrestlers in this section….”

On November 28, 1919, this was the reportage in Ogdensburg’s Republican Journal’s sports section regarding the city’s 21 year old professional grappler’s two hour match. His career was marked by two championships, and many print sources referred to Marlowe as “an artist of the mat.” Today he is recognized as one of the last legitimate professional wrestling champions in the North Country as well.

Marlowe was a “catch” wrestler, meaning that he was a practitioner of the catch as catch can model of the sport. “Catch” matches, unlike today’s scripted performances, pitted two genuine matmen — in those days there was no “good guy versus bad guy” – who used moves including the hammer lock, flying mare, body scissors, and various submission techniques. Strangling was proscribed, and the main goal was to “throw,” or pin, your opponent. Before the development of catch as catch can in the late 1800’s, pro wrestlers were usually heavyweights  – like Al’s younger brother, and formidable wrestler, George – over 190-250 pounds but this new style brought change.

In Ringside: A History of Professional Wrestling in America (2006), Scott M. Beekman points out that catch “allowed successful smaller wrestlers to emerge.” This was the case for the Cyclone whose first competitive weight was 155-165 pounds, although he grew into the light heavy, and then heavyweight, class as the Twenties passed.

The saga of the Cyclone began in early 1919 when his professional name was “Terrible Tim.” While the available family records — thanks to his niece – are useful, they do not explain how this moniker was selected, or why he started participating in the sport. By the end of the year, he picked a new name that reflected his French heritage — his actual name was Aldema Marleou.

Under this new nom de guerre, he competed in communities across the North Country including in Gouverneur, Massena, Malone, Chateaugay, Carthage, Watertown, Alexandria Bay, and Plattsburg. In addition, he trained on occasion at Star Lake Wrestling Camp in the Adirondacks under the tutelage of the renowned Joe Malcewicz. The French Cyclone was a household name throughout the region, and was idolized by many fans.

Just as the Cyclone competed in various North Country communities, he also encountered varied venues over the years, from an opera house to a Knights of Columbus hall to a skating rink, but the most common setting was a carnival, or circus, which employed trained grapplers whose job was to announce a defi, or challenge, to local men to see if they could last a specified time on the mat without getting pinned to win a stipend. When the John Robinson Circus encamped in Watertown in 1923, Marlowe battled Jack Hackensmith, not only staying past the time limit, but also throwing his opponent. New York’s Variety on July 12 mentions Marlowe in a brief story on this outcome, noting that Hackensmith had much to learn from one of “the huskies of the north country.” Marlowe “collected financially” upon his success, although, as usual for grapplers at the time, no sum was listed.

first modern pro wrestling ever held in northern new yorkBut the Cyclone was more than one of the “huskies.” For most of his heyday years, 1919-1924, when he competed 4-6 times a year, he was the region’s Middleweight Champion, having defeated Watertown’s “Buck” Stevenson in late 1919. During these golden years, his total wins are difficult to ascertain as shown by this statement on August 6, 1920 in The Plattsburgh Sentinel when his National Guard unit was stationed there for 15 days of field training: “Marlowe has already fought several matches at the… carnival and his work has been seen and admired by many local fans….” There were other situations like this, making it impossible to arrive at an accurate tally of victories. Marlowe was not undefeated as some print sources maintain — for example, he lost to Earnest Carbino of Massena in early 1919.

It appears that after this grueling match, the Cyclone retired, although there was no announcement in the press. His absence from the mat was influenced apparently by two concurrent factors. First, he became the owner of an expansive poultry/truck farming enterprise in the Burg. Second, at times he traveled around the country with Malcewicz as the latter pursued world championship. However, his marriage in late 1929 may have inspired him to a return to mat-man-ship.

On August 2, 1930, The Malone Evening Telegram pointed out that after a long absence, Marlowe “is preparing to re-enter the mat game…. He resumed training a few weeks ago and is gradually rounding into his old time form. During the past week he met and threw two professional wrestlers with a carnival company in Potsdam.” But for reasons unexplained, his next bout would not occur until the following year when he moved up a weight class to face a champion.

Jack (aka John) Gonda was Western New York’s light heavy weight wrestling king who foresaw a more than suitable opponent in Marlowe, and he arrived with confidence in Ogdensburg for their match on September 23. The champion needed more than confidence. On September 27, The Ogdensburg Advance simply stated that “Marlowe, who recently emerged from a retirement of several years, displayed all his old time skill,” throwing Gonda in 25 minutes. and earning the title of Northern New York Light Heavy Weight champion. Marlowe’s next goal was to compete as a heavy weight.

“Al Marlowe…has acquired so much additional weight…that he is in the heavyweight class and has announced himself as an aspirant for heavyweight wrestling honors.” This was The Advance’s announcement on November 29, 1931 no doubt to the applause of his fans. But no match, at the new weight class or other, ever materialized. Research indicates that there were no more publicized contests. In fact, Ogdensburg’s The Republican Journal did report on Marlowe on January 30, 1932, noting that he “was working out with the boys” of the local high school wrestling team.

What happened to the French Cyclone is not stated or implied in the available resources. Marlowe’s career as a wrestler aptly illustrates Beekman’s assertion in his History of Professional Wrestling that “dedicated practioners of catch, wedded to the notions of fast action and… bouts wrestled to conclusion, doggedly clung to the notion of professional wrestling as an honest sport.”

Images, from above: Al Marlow with his trainer Joe Malcewicz courtesy Ogdensburg journal, and Ad in the Ogdensburg advance. St. Lawrence Sunday Democrat.

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Richard White is an independent researcher with a focus on New York’s African American history. His articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

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