Saturday, February 10, 2018

Whipper & Politics 1965


Whipper Watson won a lot of battles over his lifetime. For a big star he lost more than his share of bouts in the ring, but usually won the battle.

In 1965 at the age of 48 Whipper would try his hand at politics to run on his home turf for the '65 Federal Election.

At the time Whipper was  25 years into his pro wrestling career and while getting up in age - and with limited mobility - he was still a huge star on the weekly cards at  Maple Leaf Gardens.

He was still the British Empire champ though working in tag teams most of the time. His bouts generally stayed under 15 minutes and he was travelling less, preferring to stay close to the farm he owned on the South shores of Lake Simcoe.

Frank Tunney had planned a 'Silver Aniversary' contest for Whip in October but then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson announced a federal election for Nov 8 1965 and Whipper decided to turn from the wrestling ring to the political ring.

For the Sept 9 1965 card he was matched against Professor Hiro (managed by Whip's long time adversary Fred Atkins) and it was called a 'farewell - for present at least.'

Whipper was not new to the political forum, at least in concept. He was frequently appearing at events around Toronto covering both the business and charity worlds and was constantly hob-knobbing with Mayors, Commissioners, Sports Figures, Actors, and other stars of their respective fields.

He had ran several business, and had a hand in promoting wrestling and parts of the office both here and in the U.S. He had also been at the forefront of several battles with both the city and the Sports Commission over Pro Wrestling. More on that in another column.

Whip was known as 'The Pride of East York' so it was a natural to try to win his home riding known as York East. He would have to overcome Steve Otto, a Lawyer who had held the seat since 1962. Otto, for the Liberals was billed at 162lbs vs Whipper for the Conservatives at 245. They would face a challenge from NDP incumbent William Smith (no weight given),

Otto had fallen out of favor in his own party, expecting to have to pay all his own expenses and saying 'I don't think the Liberal party  would cry at all if I lost.'

Whipper, meanwhile had the whole of the Conservative party rooting hard for him, providing him with all of the assistance and encouragement it could muster. Prior to Otto taking the seat in 1962 the Conservatives had held the riding for the previous 37 years with the same guy -Robert McGregor 1935-1962.

Whipper didn't claim to know all the answers. He readily admitted that when it comes to economics and other political platforms he would be 'just kidding you' to claim to know the solutions but would find the experts who did. He would confine his campaign to a portfolio of physical fitness, programs for all Canadians and sponsorship of Canadian athletes, and scholarships at universities.

He promised to end his wrestling career to grapple full time with the problems of government if elected.

During his campaign which was centered in a large hall in East york and staffed with many volunteers, he would came back to the wrestling ring on Oct 3 to team with Johnny Powers against Hiro and Gene Kiniski before taking a break.

On Nov 8  when the numbers were counted Whipper lost, but not by much. Otto had 18,840 votes against Whipper's 15,312. Smith got 13,045 and outsider Bea Beacock with 194 making Whippers share about 32% of the vote, not bad for a first showing.

In the Federal spectrum Pearson remained Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker placed second, and Tommy Douglas with the NDP placed third. Douglas, whose daughter actor Shirley Douglas married actor Donald Sutherland, is the grandfather of Keifer Sutherland, Interestingly Keifer later resided in East York.

That would be the end of Whipper's political aspirations and a couple of weeks later he would be back at MLG revitalized to defend his title against Kiniski, the 3 fall bout going to almost an hour.