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Professor Toru Tanaka (1930-2000)

Real Name

Charles “Charlie” Kalani

Lifespan - 1/6/1930 - 8/2/2000

6' 273 lbs. - Waimanalo, HI

Athletic BackgroundJiu-Jitsu (Danzan-Ryu Black Belt); Football (Junior College); Judo

Teacher(s) - n/a

Aliases - Toru Tanaka

Peak Years`67-`74

Place in History

To those who saw him, whether it was in pro-wrestling rings as Professor Toru Tanaka or on the big screen in various bad guy roles, Charlie Kalani was unforgettable.  Thickly built and having an expressive face that often radiated meanness, he was perfect for both businesses.  Despite years of playing a Japanese villain, Charlie Kalani was, in actuality, an easygoing Hawaiian.  Kalani was a street-wise kid who found his place in athletics.  He was an excellent and imposing athlete as well as a sergeant in the US military, which made him a curious choice to be a Japanese heel.  Roy Shire recruited him and wanted him to play the stereotypical salt-throwing, karate-chopping sneaky villain.  Unlike Mr. Moto and future partner Mr. Fuji, Kalani was built like a tank and legitimately dangerous.  However, he learned how to play the character and earn the respect of his peers.  Professor Toru Tanaka quickly became one of the top heels in the world.  Within his first couple years, Tanaka had headlined in Australia when it was the hottest company in world and worked Bruno Sammartino in the Garden.  He was straightforward businessman nearing forty and did not let his early success inflate his ego.  Tanaka’s presence alone got him over and he worked on top teaming with Mitsu Arakawa in New York, feuding with Fritz Von Erich in Dallas and breaking the neck of Mr. Wrestling II in Atlanta.  Despite these runs, Tanaka is best remembered for his tag team with Mr. Fuji, whom he knew from high school, and complimented perfectly.  The smaller Fuji could take the big bumps and play the character excellently, the more limited Tanaka could be menacing and measured in his attacks.  The team had a two runs totaling three years that established them as probably the best “Japanese” heel pairing of all-time.  Tanaka spent another couple years having some short runs throughout the South.  In 1981, Tanaka landed a role in a Chuck Norris movie, although he was in his 50s, it established him in what would be a respectable Hollywood career.  From action flops like The Running Man and Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger to comedic cult classics like Peewee’s Big Adventure and 3 Ninjas and lots of TV show and commercial spots, Toru Tanaka was able to reprise his role as an Asian baddie many times over the years.  He wrapped up his acting career in 1995 and Alzheimer’s slowly depleted this once amazing physical specimen.  Charlie Kalani’s pro-wrestling career and acting career were comparable in many regards.  He started both kind of late and found his greatest success early on, but he became famous for his later work that was less impressive, but seen by more people.