He was one of the original farm boys and one of the most beloved big men in the history of professional wrestling. His immense popularity helped to carry several region during his time.
Real Name: William Calhoun
Stats: 6′ 5″ 601 lbs.
Born: August 4, 1934
By Steve Slagle
It’s been proven time and again that, although the marquee may say “wrestling,” an abundance of grappling skill and scientific know-how does not necessarily mean a wrestler will be become a successful pro. Actually, the exact opposite can be true. In a game that’s one part sport, two parts show biz, it’s now an accepted fact that marketability, and charisma are just as important as technical ability. Yet, this was not always the case in professional wrestling.
Although he was a fairly competent performer in the ring, the gigantic Haystacks Calhoun was by no means known as a tremendous ‘worker’. However, in his case, traditional wrestling prowess was simply not the key to success, or at least not the only one. As one of the original ‘sports entertainers’ in the business, Calhoun proved that in this “worked” pseudo-sport, a wrestler’s character and image could be just as, if not more, important than pure wrestling ability. During his prime in the late fifties and early sixties, he was easily one of the most popular entertainers on the new medium of television, and the name Haystacks Calhoun was more recognizable to the mainstream public than virtually any other performer in professional wrestling. Furthermore, despite his lack of technical wrestling ability, the beloved gentle giant was able to draw huge crowds to his matches, genuinely helping to expand the popularity of his chosen profession. At the same time, Calhoun, a sports entertainer in the truest sense of the term (despite the fact ‘sports entertainment’ was a concept that did not truly take hold until decades after Calhoun debuted) who helped shape the future of the business by cementing in the minds of promoters that a grappler could ‘get over’ with the fans not just by displaying exceptional wrestling skills, but also solely on the development of his look, character & personality…
Haystacks Calhoun was born William Calhoun on August 4, 1934 in McKinney, TX. and when he was in his early twenties, the massive young Calhoun was convinced to take a shot at a career in professional wrestling. Standing over six and a half feet tall and weighing in at a colossal “601 lbs.” (in reality, Calhoun fluctuated between 450-500 pounds) the rookie wrestler certainly had the “sport’s” size criteria covered. In fact, upon his debut, Haystacks Calhoun was (rightfully) promoted as the largest wrestler in the world. However, in addition to his extraordinary size, Calhoun’s “farm boy” gimmick, which was quite unique at the time, is what truly got him over as a hugely popular babyface.
Billed as hailing from Morgan’s Corner, AR., the likable — and truly gigantic — young country boy was an instant hit with fans when he began his career in the late fifties. With his trademark good-luck horseshoe chained to his neck, the barefooted hillbilly struck a cord with television’s huge wrestling audience, many of whom still lived in rural areas of the country.
Almost immediately, Calhoun enjoyed a position as one of the major superstars at the tail end of the “Golden Age of Wrestling,” a time during which the ‘sport’ was a staple of the popular new entertainment outlet of television. As charismatic as he was heavy, the mammoth Calhoun made a lasting impression on a huge percentage of the U.S. population, even those who did not necessarily follow professional wrestling.
The enormous Haystacks would often entertain his audience by competing in two-on-one handicap matches. However, at “601 pounds,” the huge Calhoun would still top the combined weight of his opponents, and despite being out-manned, the popular farmer was, much like Andre the Giant several years later, never in any real danger of being ‘defeated’ during his many handicapped bouts.
The fame that Calhoun garnered as a result of his career in wrestling led to other show business opportunites for Calhoun, including product endorsements and movie offers. In 1962, the monsterous wrestler appeared in Rod Serling’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, Requiem for a Dream, further adding to Calhoun’s already substantial mainstream notoriety. The enormous grappler made a short but memorable appearance portraying a pro wrestler, opposite the film’s lead character, a punch drunk, washed-up boxer (Anthony Quinn) who, at the urging of his debt-ridden manager (Jackie Gleason) is reduced to earning a paycheck in the shady, vaudvillian world of professional wrestling. The film, of course, went on to be a classic, and the renowned Calhoun received positive reviews for his brief but high-profile film debut.
Not surprising is the fact that, after seeing the great success achieved by Haystacks Calhoun, there were many who tried to repeat his success by adopting his gimmick, or at least parts of it. During his era, and even after it, there have been many Calhoun-like performers, such as “Happy” Farmer Murphy, Man Mountain Dean, Haystacks Muldoon, “Plowboy” Stan Frazier (aka Uncle Elmer) and even the WWF’s Hillbilly Jim and the Godwinn Brothers, just to name a few.
As one of the top attractions in the business, Haystacks Calhoun was placed in programs with some of the biggest stars of the day, including “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski and George “Crybaby” Cannon, among many others. While he could, by no means, be considered a great technical wrestler, the massive Calhoun did possess some impressive moves, including his devastating sit-down splash finishing manuever, and he was involved in what were considered some very exciting wrestling matches.
Throughout the decade of the sixties, Calhoun remained one of the premier attractions in pro wrestling, traveling from territory to territory and entertaining fans all along the way. While, in some aspects, the wrestling business had declined in terms of the percentage of Americans who followed pro wrestling, the “sport” was still followed by millions nationwide, and Haystacks Calhoun remained a legitimate celebrity and a top draw at the box-office.
After years of nomadic travel with no real “home base,” Calhoun eventually settled in the northeast, with Vince McMahon’s Capitol Sports group, where he enjoyed massive fan support. After engaging in a heated program with WWWF mainstay Bruno Sammartino (who, according to wrestling legend, body slammed Calhoun literally through the mat) Calhoun actually formed a succussful team with “The Living Legend.” Additionally, the big man formed a solid pairing with the legendary Bobo Brazil, with whom he won many matches in prestigious arenas throughout northeast, such as New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Philadelphia Spectrum and the Boston Garden.
One note of interest; it was while wrestling in the World Wide Wrestling Federation that Haystacks Calhoun won the sole championship of his career when he teamed with the popular young Australian Tony Garea to capture the WWWF Tag Team championship. Being such an attraction unto himself, Calhoun never really required the aid of a title belt in ordder to sell himself to the wrestling public and, as a result, he didn’t win his first (and, ultimately, his only) title belt until he had been in the “sport” for nearly fifteen years. Nevertheless, on May 30, 1973 in Hamburg, PA., Haystacks Calhoun and Tony Garea defeated the reigning champions, the hated but lethal Japanese team of Fuji & Tanaka, to capture the WWWF tag team gold.
The popular duo combined youth & speed with size & power, and the end result was a championship duo that both drew and maintained fan interest. Over the course of the following four months, Calhoun & Garea successfully defended their title belts against the ongoing challenge of the talented former champions, as well as other top WWWF teams. However, on September 11, 1973, Fuji & Tanaka were able to regain the World Wide Wrestling Federation Tag Team championship, taking the straps back from Garea & Calhoun in Philadelphia and ending Haystacks Calhoun’s sole run with a championship belt.
Calhoun continued wrestling in the WWWF throughout much of the seventies, as well as making special ‘guest appearances’ in other wrestling hotbeds across the country. But, after nearly twenty years of taking bumps in the ring, the big man understandably began to slow down a bit…even for someone of his massive size.
By the latter portion of the decade, while still enjoying a position as a top draw and a very popular fan favorite, the world-famous superheavyweight (who, despite his ongoing popularity, had lost virtually all of his once-famous mobility inside the ring) finally retired from the wrestling business.
After leaving the business while he was still a relatively young man, Calhoun contently enjoyed retired life following a truly extraordinary career in wrestling. However, during the eighties he developed Diabetes, and the disease eventually took his life on December 7, 1989. A shocked wrestling public, who had been unaware of Calhoun’s life threatening illness, mourned the loss of such a rare icon, especially at such a young age; William Calhoun was just 55 years old when he died.
HistoryofWrestling.com is proud to posthumasely induct this wrestling icon from the past, one of the original great characters of the “sport” and a man who legitimately helped expand the popularity of the business, the legendary gigantic country boy from Morgan’s Corner, AR., Haystacks Calhoun, into the H.O.W. Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame……