The Katz Files – Arnie Katz
Remembering The Killer
The Kingfish Arnie Katz recalls Killer Kowalski, the late giant of the ring..
I was a child the first time I ever saw Killer Kowalski wrestle for the first time. I sat on the floor in front of the family’s console TV. I had seen wrestling on TV many times, starting with those grimly “pseudo-sport” matches between Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne on Wrestling from Chicago, but I had never seen anything like Killer Kowalski.
To my youthful eyes, untainted by any knowledge of Kowalski’s brief run as a babyface, Killer Kowalski exploded on the screen like a nightmare vision. He was everyone sinister, weird-looking old uncle gone crazy.
I don’t remember who I saw him fight or the context of the match. Probably, given WWWF TV of the period, it was a meaningless squash match. What I haven’t forgotten, what I will never forget, was the maniacal look on that hawk-lie face as the big, looming, stooped hell tore into his hapless victim again and again with the dreaded Stomach Claw. The referee would no sooner separate Killer from his prey than he would pounce on his luckless opponent again and rip away at his belly with those long and powerful talons.
In an era in which wrestlers moved slowly and grunted a lot, Killer Kowalski was a perpetual motion machine. His matches had a brutal edge, but they didn’t stall out in endless tests of strength and time-filling posturing.
When you saw Kowalski, you saw a performer who knew how to rouse the crowd and make them gasp. He never went for the flamboyant costuming of Gorgeous George tot e to the lengths that made Freddie Blassie infamous, like filing his teeth. His mastery of ring (and crowd) psychology let him do it all in boots and trunks. Like Spencer Tracy in In Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, he used facial expression and body language to do what lesser performers needed gadgets, gimmicks and glitz to achieve.
Killer Kowalski radiated evil and menace. He was the consummate monster heel.
Kowalski could work the mic pretty well, too. They didn’t go in much for dramatic scenes back in those days, but he could scare the fans nearly as much as he appeared to terrify Ray Morgan when he launched into one of his tirades.
His marvelous conditioning and dedication to the business kept him wrestling for decades, through many permutations of his character. Who can forget the mysterious masked Hangman? (Well, mysterious to those who somehow failed to recognize Kowalski’s signature Kangaroo Jump.)
It didn’t surprise me at all when I learned that, in later years, Killer Kowalski ran an outstanding wrestling school that graduated many fine workers. He was always a thinking man’s kind of heel. He wedded his intimidating appearance to a fierce and frightening character. He did as much with his character as he did with his skill in the ring.
Walter “Killer” Kowalski has passed on to a bigger promotion. He will be missed by every true fan of professional wrestling.
That’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising daily pro wrestling column. Please join me then – and I’d appreciate it if you’d tell your friends.
— Arnie Katz