When We Were Bouncers: Gene LeBell
Actor/stuntman/fighter Paul “The Mauler” Lazenby has an awesome new Facebook page – When We Were Bouncers. Every Monday he presents a crazy new story from former security personnel who went on to become became actors, fighters, comedians, pro wrestlers, stuntmen and other standouts in their chosen fields.
Recently he sat down with “The Toughest Man Alive,” actor, stuntman, martial artist and pro wrestler “Judo” Gene Lebell. The two-time American judo champion (1954-55) and master of catch-as-catch-can wrestling, has spent generations teaching some of the greatest and most well-known fighters in history, from Bruce Lee to Ronda Rousey.
BACK IN THE LATE FORTIES or early fifties — somewhere around that time — I used to help with security at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, which was a popular place to see boxing, wrestling, roller derby, and other events. My mother, Aileen Eaton, was the boss there for 38 years and she promoted a lot of championship fights. A lot of movie stars like Bob Hope used to come to the Olympic, and even famous criminals like Mickey Cohen*. Mickey liked me, and that was a good thing because I didn’t realize at the time that he would shoot people he didn’t like!
One night Mickey said, “C’mon, Gene, I’ll buy you a hot dog”, so me, Mickey, and his two gunsels went with him to the hot dog stand. Mickey’s bodyguards weren’t very subtle — their jackets would sometimes fall open to reveal big pistols holstered under their arms. Mickey made the hot dog vendor give me two hot dogs on one bun and paid the man with a five-dollar bill, which was a lot of money back then. Now, I always got my hot dogs for free because my mother ran the joint, but I never told Mickey because I didn’t want to cost the hot dog guy a big tip. One night, an auditorium employee saw me talking to Mickey and said, “Make sure he doesn’t shoot anybody” — as if there was a single thing I could do about it if he did! (laughs)
Out of all the events at the Olympic, the Thursday night boxing crowds drank the most beer. And that meant more drunk people, which meant more people to throw out. I would always sit in the crowd wearing my street clothes to make everybody think I was just another fan, but the whole time I was keeping my eye on Tom Cornwell, a big cop who my mother had hired for security. Every time Tom took somebody out, I’d get out of my seat and follow them to make sure that none of the troublemaker’s buddies were sneaking up behind.
One night, a large, fat gentleman had a little too much to drink and he started throwing beer bottles around. So Tom got him and walked him up the aisle to the side door, with me following at a distance. But when they got to the door, the guy dug his heels in and refused to move, and when Tom put a hand on the guy’s shoulder, the guy spun around and punched Tom in the face. Knocked his front teeth right back into his mouth!
Now, Tom was the kind of guy who, if he got excited, he wouldn’t show it, so he stayed calmer than you would expect. When I ran up to him, he just looked at me and said, “Take this guy into that office right there, I’m going to call a squad car.” And then he went to make the call which left me and the troublemaker alone in a room together.
A couple of minutes later Tom came back, and the guy was laying unconscious on the ground with his front teeth knocked out. Tom kneeled down and looked at the guy, and I said, “I think he drank too much and fainted.”
Tom just looked at me for a moment, then shook his head and smiled. I could tell he wasn’t buying my story for a second, but he never said a word about it as we packed the guy into the cruiser and then went back to work as if nothing had happened at all! (laughs)
Check out www.facebook.com/FamousBouncers for more stories and Renzo Gracie (bouncing in a brothel at 15), Pat Miletich (crazier still – this one involves a pitchfork), and more.
*Cohen has been the subject of numberous portrayals in film, including Bugsy (portrayed by Harvey Keitel), Gangster Squad, (portrayed by Sean Penn), and L.A. Confidential (portrayed by Paul Guilfoyle).