MICK KARCH TALKS OLD SCHOOL: MEMORIES OF PROMOTER WALLY KARBO

Posted March 21st, 2017 by Bill Apter

On March 25th, it will have been 24 years since my friend and mentor Wally Karbo passed away. As I’ve said so many times, I can’t believe how fast the time goes. I want to take this time to write a little bit about Wally.
The persona that most wrestling fans who didn’t personally know him saw on television—the sometimes frazzled, sometimes irate, sometimes mumbling, bumbling tormented promoter—was only a television role. Sure, he could be comedic and a parody of himself sometimes. That was part of his charm. Those who knew him personally, and especially inside the wrestling business, knew the other side of him. He was “dumb” like a fox. He was a shrewd businessman. He knew the pro wrestling world inside and out, had a keen eye for talent, and he had remarkable insight into what worked and what didn’t.
Wally Karbo was like a father figure to many of the wrestlers who came through the AWA area. When someone had a beef with Verne, were upset with their pay, a story line, whatever, they went to Wally. If they had personal issues separate from the wrestling business, they went to Wally. If they just wanted to let off steam, piss and moan and vent, they went to Wally. Here’s the best part: If he really didn’t have an answer for them, by the time they got through talking to him, they were so utterly dizzy by what he had said, even if it was a swerve, they somehow felt better. That’s just who he was. He was the buffer, the sounding board.
There was an infamous incident where he got caught up in a web of fencing stolen goods. It made the newspapers in the Twin Cities and he was audibly ridiculed by fans at the matches for months. Truth be told, ol’ Walter had friends in high places, so he got out of that snafu with a slap on the wrist. Ironically, that was part of the Wally Karbo mystique. He was a mischievous SOB who could charm you to your core and you couldn’t stay mad at him. I should add that even though he was bald headed, pot bellied, and spoke with that nasally Polish dialect, I’ll tell you unequivocally, the man was a hit with the ladies around the AWA circuit. We’ll leave that topic alone. :)
There are so many Wally stories. The time Bobby Heenan called him up to complain about a payoff. Wally told Bobby “hang on a minute,” and put the call on hold. He waited about 30 seconds, retrieved the call and said, “Bobby, I’ll have to get back to you. It’s raining in Miami.” Then he hung up. Of course, Miami and the weather had nothing to do with the conversation, but it served to extricate him from the call and leave Bobby scratching his head.
Even at Wally’s funeral, the late wrestler Stan Mayslack went up to Wally’s open coffin and noted that his pal Karbo looked like he had a smirk on his face. “I expect him to sit up and tell us this is all a rib,” Mayslack said. “Either that, or he knows something we don’t know.”
I have detailed many times over the years how my first duty associated with pro wrestling was (as a teenager) to hand-carry publicity blurbs from the AWA offices at the downtown Minneapolis Dyckman Hotel over to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper about six blocks away. Wally would give me a handful of change and maybe a program for the night’s matches. That led to a relationship that spanned three decades.
He made it possible for me to shoot pictures at ringside. He went to bat for me when the AWA hierarchy wouldn’t give me a second glance for an announcing position. When the “office” got wind of the fact that I was participating in some “semi-pro” wrestling (long before the days of “backyard” stuff), he defended me, told me to just lay low for a while and let the “heat” pass.
Wally got me involved with television announcing for the LPWA women’s promotion. Anytime there was a local indie show, he offered to lend his expertise or come out an make a special appearance at my request. He was a frequent guest on “Saturday Night at Ringside.” On a personal level, he was a true friend. He would check in when I was sick. When my Dad passed away, he was very supportive. He confided in me about his trials and tribulations with the AWA at the end and his bitter legal battles with Verne over money, when Wally was selling out his interest in the company. Just a few months before he passed, he took me to lunch and asked me what my long range goals were and said he would always help me in any way he could.
Back in April of 1993, I was scheduled to present Wally with a lifetime achievement award at a Twin Cities show promoted by the NWA and Eddie Sharkey’s PWA. Wally died just a couple weeks prior to the event, so I had the honor of presenting the plaque to his son Steve and AWA TV Director Al DeRusha.
Looking back over the years as my announcing career progressed, Eddie Sharkey, Nick Bockwinkel, and Verne Gagne were instrumental in helping me get to the national stage. But in the beginning—when this young, wide-eyed fan was just trying to get his foot in the door in any way possible because he loved the wrestling business—it was Wally Karbo who was there for me over and over again.
Ah, for the days when I would check my answering machine and there would be a simple message: “Pal, it’s Wally. Call me!”
At the end of one interview we did at a live event, he told me, “you did it. You are a main eventer in our business.” I might as well have won the lottery. That’s how much it meant to me.
I miss him a lot and I will be forever grateful. God bless you, Wally.

Comments are closed.