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George Zaharias (1908-1984)

Real NameTheodore Vetoyanis

Lifespan - 2/27/08 - 5/22/84

6’ 230 lbs. - Pueblo, CO

Athletic Background - n/a

Teacher(s) - Milo Steinborn

Aliases - none

Peak Years1930s

Place in HistoryIt would have been a strange position nowadays, but in 1950s, it was unbelievable and yet George Zaharias was the perfect second fiddle to his superstar wife Babe Didrickson.  The son of Greek immigrants who worked on a ranch in Colorado, his roots in that area became key to his persona. As a young man, he traveled all over, working in steel mills, on farms and in shops.  He found himself in Columbus, Ohio and decided to pursue pro-wrestling. After failing as babyface, George Zaharias found his calling as a heel. In those days, Zaharias was bigger than average, so it was easy to bully around smaller opponents.  Using a little cheating to get an edge riled the fans up. However, his ability to beg off and play a coward when the babyface took over on offense was the key. “The Crying Greek from Cripple Greek” became his handle and the persona turned him into a main event level talent.  He wrestled most of the greats of the 1930s, but his rivalry with fellow Greek Jim Londos is of particular note. The two squared off (with Londos always coming out on top) in front of fans in Los Angeles, Toronto, Philadelphia, Detroit and other big cities. Zaharias brought his younger brothers Chris and Tom as well as his nephew (who hilariously worked as “Babe”) and they, along with the Duseks, helped pioneer tag team wrestling.  In 1938, the pro-wrestling villain was paired with Didrickson and a minister at a charity golf event as a lark. The two hit it off and married within the year. Didrickson was just starting to pursue golf coming off her success in track & field events at the Olympics. Zaharias retired from the ring to manage his wife’s career and other business pursuits. He promoted pro-wrestling here and there, but did everything from running a clothing store in Beverly Hills and a football team in San Diego to opening a golf course in Tampa and hotel in Denver.  In 1953, Didrickson’s battle with colon cancer begun, she famously golfed with colostomy bag and was still a top ranked golfer when she died in 1956. Her death devastated Zaharias. A biopic called “Babe” was released in 1975 with Alex Karras (a football player turned actor who had some pro-wrestling ties) playing George. In the pro-wrestling world, George Zaharias was a great heel in his day who excelled in the role he made for himself. His big personality paired him with arguably the biggest female sports celebrities of the first half of the twentieth century and his promotional talents led her to more fame and even the formation of the LPGA tour.