Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bobby Becker's Silver Dollars

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

One of the cool things that occasionally happens here at the Gateway is we hear from someone who has an interesting connection to wrestling's past.

Such is the case with a nice fellow named Gary J. Grieco who wrote to tell us about his connection to one of the famous brother combinations in wrestling's long-ago past - - George and Bobby Becker.

George and Bobby Becker
The famous brother team were big drawing
cards for Jim Crockett in the early 1950s

Gary found our website searching online for info on Bobby Becker and stumbled across our post from May of 2016 about a cool promotional postcard featuring the Becker Brothers used back in the 1950s by Richmond area promoter Bill Lewis. (See that post here.)

Gary grew up around wrestlers. His father, Mike Grieco, was an amateur wrestler prior to World War II at the Cooper Athletic Club in Ridgewood, Queens NY and then wrestled professionally from 1949-1955 under the ring name Mighty Mickey Cartolano. One of his father's best friends was also a wrestler, a fellow by the name of Johhny Emerling, whose ring name was Bobby Becker. In fact Emerling was Gary's godfather.
The Becker name is nearly synonymous with Crockett wrestling in the 1950s and 1960s. George Becker was a fixture in the Carolinas and Virginias during those two decades, also booking the territory during some of that time. Bobby Becker was sure to be a star here, too, but he died at a relatively young age after a short and sudden battle with leukemia.

The Becker Brothers were a very successful team here from 1951-1955, up until the time of Bobby Becker's death. The two were only brothers in wrestling lore; they were not related in real life. Richmond promoter Bill Lewis, who became a business partner with Jim Crockett, is credited with bringing the Beckers to our area.

A 12 year old Gary Grieco with Edouard Carpentier,
Skull Murphy, Magnificent Maurice, "Handsome"
Johnny Barend, and Jolly Cholly, the Wrestling Hobo.
Sunnyside Garden, Queens, NY circa 1963
Being a wrestler's kid occasionally has its advantages. Gary got to hang around locker rooms with his Dad, and he met lots of wrestlers such as Magnificent Maurice, Handsome Johnny Barend, Edouard Carpentier, Skull Murphy and others. Another wrestler, Al Smith (real name Al Alexander), was such a close friend of his father's that Gary called him "Uncle Al."

Gary has a large collection of memorabilia that his father kept from that era including early photos of the Becker brothers and other wrestlers, newspaper clippings featuring his father Mighty Mickey Cartolano on the bill (one seen below), as well program bills, etc.

But of all the memories and memorabilia Gary was nice enough to share with us via email, the one that struck me most was a poignant memory he shared related to Bobby Becker. Gary was born in 1951 and Bobby Becker (John Emerling) died in 1955, so Gary never really got to know his father's close friend. But there is one particular memory of Becker he still fondly recounts today.

Johnny Emerling, aka Bobby Becker
circa 1940s
"My memories of Bobby Becker are from when I was a three year old kid," Gary wrote. "He always gave me a silver dollar when he visited the house, and a three year old kid never forgets that kind of stuff!"

There is something very special and warm about that, those silver dollars a tangible token of a close friendship. Those simple acts speak to character and affection for folks you consider almost family. And what a cool thing to give to young kid. I just love that story.

While Gary didn't have much of a chance to get to know Bobby Becker because of Bobby's death in 1955, he was fortunate enough to meet and get to know Bobby's older wrestling-sibling, George.

A 1949 newspaper ad for a show that
included Gary's father (3rd match down.)
"I got to meet George Becker on several occasions as a teenager," Gary wrote, "and he was cut from the same bolt of cloth -- Bobby and George could have been brothers in real life."

That was particularly nice to hear. 

Gary's dad was also a sandlot baseball player and he had another neighborhood friend -- a diminutive shortstop named Phil Rizzuto. "I have a boatload of information and signed photos of Phil also," Gary wrote. "But that's a whole other story."

Sounds like Mike Grieco, aka Mighty Mickey Cartolano, led a fascinating and full life. A special thanks to his son Gary for sharing some of the memories of that fascinating life that have a connection to the area we cover here at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

(All photos courtesy of Gary J. Grieco)