The bell is tolling for two more. (email from Cowboy Bill Watts)

Dear friends,

Two more of our 'community' transitioned ... the 'bell is tolling again'... and we are losing way too many quality friends... members of our culture... pro-wrestling...

This time: Leo Garibaldi and Penny Banner...

They impacted many lives... in many ways... I was never 'really, really close to these two... but certainly they were a part of 'our wonderful community'... in this crazy business of pro-wrestling... and were two who 'rose above the rest' in so many ways... so as to leave a mark...

Leo... I first met when he was 'promoting' Austin, Tx. for the Houston office.... way back when I was 'Bruiser Bill Watts'... in my first year in the business... in early 1963... and I was booked there to wrestle Mark Lewin... and the Dalton's were on that card too... in fact... Leo had recently had a 'quick draw contest'... in which they had taken part... this was an era where many things were tried... including the 'tar and feather matches'... using... I believe... chocolate syrup and feathers...

(so... even then... my view of our business was being shaped as I saw things I thought were so creative... and things I thought were so 'demeaning' and 'low class'...that I vowed to never do them)...

And to that... I am NOT laying the 'tar and feather matches' at Leo's door... I don't know 'who had come up with that'... it 'just hit me as wrong'... at that time in my life... because certainly later... we did things... that were probably as offensive to some... but that maybe 'we' thought fit the situation... the story...

*** A side note: In fact in that same year... I wrestled one time in Lake Charles for the Houston office... and that last time they had wrestled there... it had been a 'tar and feather match'... and all the 'garbage from that' was 'still in the showers'.... and it stank so badly...and had clogged the drains and that putrid water was still standing there... and then...there also was 'broken glass in the ring'... and so... I was on 'an opening match then'... and when I saw the 'broken glass'... I stormed back to the dressing room and got 'that promoter'... and cursed him out... and told him to sweep out the ring... and this 'was my first year in the business'.... so was 'unheard of to be so outspoken against an office man'... but I felt there was NO respect by him of us... and it pissed me off... I never went back to that town for the Houston office... nor did I shower there that night...

Back to Leo....I thought when I met him... that he was tremendously creative... and 'out there'... as to the parameters he would push... and his eyes would light up when he would explain his ideas and what he wanted...

And... I met Penny Banner then too... as she was then married to Johnny Weaver... and we'd often go to their place or Louis Tillet's on Sundays (as then... there was no wrestling on Sundays) and have steaks or cook out and drink beer...

And I remember... I always thought Penny was a 'classy lady'...

And in recent years we did keep in touch by email... so I was aware of her struggle with fighting the disease... and she was always so 'up beat and positive'... a real fighter's heart... a champion... and she will be missed...

Leo and I 'were like oil and water'... and did not 'meld well'... and it seemed that in the years I was in any contact with him...when I had 'become an owner'... around 1973 or 74... I was 'always in conflict with him'... as I took over the actual 'talent decisions' in the Georgia 'war' against Ann Gunkel.... although Leo was the 'official booker'... (as he had been sent there by Eddie Graham when Lester Welch took Buddy Fuller's shares in that big trade)...

And of course too... I was beginning to get to know Eddie Graham in those early '70's... and Leo and Louie Tillet were both involved in the 'booking of Florida'... which I took over in 1974... so I had great respect for both Louie and Leo... but got 'positioned' where I was 'replacing them'...

But... 'all bookers wear out'... and then... it is time to change...

Leo in Georgia... it just was 'no secret' we did NOT see eye-to-eye...

But 'our natural competitive aspect'... plus that little 'additional edginess' between us... 'made me so much better'... (and I say this with 'hindsight now'... because then... it was irritating)... but Leo would 'battle many of my directions and decisions' in the talent and programs in that Georgia war... and we 'needed him'... because I went home to Oklahoma every weekend after Atlanta TV... and would return on Tuesdays... and he was 'the booker' for the total situation...for the boys to get their directions from...

Now... 'why do I say'... Leo made me better...

Because even with 'all my ego'... I also had (at least at times... ;>) ... a logical side)... and when he would really 'buck up' to something I wanted to do... if I 'saw his side of it'... and often I did... and if 'what he was saying made sense'... and it so often did... then... I would 'listen to him'... and 'either use his ideas' or 'incorporate them into mine'... because 'booking and running wrestling' is about ideas and concepts... but also about 'the flow'... and 'staying with something'... and 'not just jumping around helter/skelter'... so you could 'allow something to have the time to bear fruit'... so... I was always someone who could accept ideas from others... even those I may not 'get along with'... or who rubbed me the wrong way...

So... Leo and my 'differences in many ways'... proved to be a 'real boon to me'...

Plus... he 'really stood up to me in the ring as a referee too'... which at times again was very frustrating... but then... made 'being a referee' who 'did NOT just lay down in the ring for the boys'...

And...I saw that made a referee respected... and since you then... had to have 'more talent in executing the maneuvers for the finishes'... so the referee did NOT look so damn stupid... it made the matches and the 'angles' better too....

So... I remember Leo as a man who was in most all phases of our business.... wrestler, promoter, referee, and booker.... and thus... he too impacted our business...

And it was a huge melting pot of personalities... and even if you clashed... but also recognized a person's talents... you could use that to make it even more successful...

I respect Leo Garibaldi for all he did...

And I respect Penny Banner for the lady she was in a very 'unladylike business'...

And I know there will be many who mourn both of these 'champions'...

Cowboy Bill Watts
www.cowboybillwatts.com

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