Over ten years ago, at a Northern Championship Wrestling show in a church basement in the city’s eastern tip, sadness befell those in attendance. The show began with an announcement that Montreal wrestling fixture Edouard Carpentier had just passed away. Those in attendance stood for a minute of silence. It was at that moment where it struck many to realize the extent Carpentier revolutionized the art form we all love.
The spectacular acrobatic moves we see on a regular basis were highly influenced by Carpentier’s and gymnast-like moves. They were introduced as of the late fifties. While Lucha Libre catch as catch can wrestling was more than impactful, one cannot deny the ground Carpentier broke.
With this past holiday season, I was thrust in a time machine back to the most wonderful time of the year. Back to my early to mid-teens. As George Cannon would announce on Grand Prix Wrestling, “Boxing Day is wrestling day.” Every year on December 26th, there would be a gala show at the Montreal Forum.
Edouard Carpentier was 58 years old when he did this pic.twitter.com/f8Y8sIf9eW
— Kris Zellner (@KrisZellner) January 21, 2017
One couldn’t go to that hallowed venue without getting excited. As if riding the metro downtown wasn’t enough fun. I enjoyed sizing up the other riders and guessing what items of their apparel were Christmas gifts. Invariably, Edouard Carpentier was in the semi-final of the evening.
Even though his move set was as predictable, yours truly and the crowd would stand amazed. One of my theories is that predictability in wrestling is very comforting. It provides stability when all seemingly is lost. We cling to ritual as an emotional stabilizer.
Edouard Carpentier | A First Class Flying Trailblazer
His matches would follow the convention of the heel striking before the bell. Inflicting a variety of damage and focusing on that one prone body part. Then, of course, the against all odds sudden victory that had the villain looking dazed. Trying to coerce the official into believing that there wasn’t a three count and. But if there was, it was attributable to a pull of the tights.
One clash that really stands out was against Baron Von Raschke. Long before, goose-stepping was still acceptable schtick. Prior to the match, the good Baron clubbed Carpentier in the back of the head with the ring bell. Causing the kayfabe paralysis of Carpentier’s right arm. Being limited to using just his left arm, Carpentier sabat kicked and cartwheeled his way to victory.
If you were able to save time in a bottle like in the classic Jim Croce song and watch matches from half a century ago, you would see to what extent the game was so very different. Matches were mat-based, and holds like a headlock could be applied for minutes at a time.
That though would change for good when crowds took to chanting “BO-RING” at tv tapings. A simple body slam could be used as a viable finisher. Followed by a knee stomp just to put an exclamation mark on the conclusion.
Edouard Carpentier would move things forward. Revolutionizing wrestling in a similar way to what Bobby Orr did to hockey. Carpentier stood at 5ft 9 inches and felt necessity was the mother of invention.
A First Class Flying Trailblazer
After first appearing in North America, he was somewhat blown away by North American wrestlers’ statute. He felt that he would have to rely on his gymnastic and acrobatic background to impress bookers. And to also excite the fans. He probably couldn’t foretell the ways in which he would help the sport evolve.
Carpentier was born three days after Bastille Day in a village not far from Lyon in 1926. His birth name was Edouard Wieczorkiewiz, and his parents were innkeepers. When the Third Reich forces invaded France, Carpentier was held captive by the Axis forces. But he managed to escape their stern grasp in 1942.
He went on to join The Resistance and earned numerous awards of valor. Athletic prowess might have very well aided Carpentier in his escape. And stint with the revered underground corps he served in.
International recognition would be added to the equation in 1948 and 1952 as Carpentier was named to the French Olympic gymnastics team for the London and Helsinki Summer games. After the Olympic adventure, Carpentier was lured into the film business as a stuntman.
Lino Ventura was one of Europe’s most renowned cinematic stuntmen. He made Carpentier a part of his group. Ventura also dabbled in wrestling and trained his protegé to learn the rudiments of the squared circle.
In the mid-1950s, television was an ever-growing forum. Broadcasters all over the world were looking for content to fill the airwaves. My mother would tell me that to fill content; they would rebroadcast Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. As well as Roger Bannister, breaking the four-minute mile mark.
On the Quebec scene, weekly shows would be broadcast live every Friday from the Montreal Forum. The promoter, Eddie Quinn, would systematically book local faces against behemoths like Killer Kowalski, Yukon Eric, etc.
Edouard Carpentier’s | Three-Month Run
Yvon Robert was the Rocket Richard of the Montreal wrestling scene. Good looking and a golden draw. He flew to France in 1954 with two other Québecois performers, Larry Moquin, and Frank Valois. Their goal was to scout talent to add sizzle to the Montreal Forum Friday night crowd. Edouard Carpentier was hence invited for a three-month run. In fact, it stretched slightly to 56 years.
Adapting to new surroundings and realities was vital. Carpentier saw he was dwarfed by the Killer Kowalskis and Don Leo Jonathon’s of the wrestling world. During his maiden appearance at the Forum in April of 1956, he put on an acrobatics display, which included walking across the top rope and a backward triple somersault off the top rope.
Carpentier revealed these points during a two-minute capsule. It originally aired on Quebec’s RDS network in 1993 and re-posted on the RDS website on September 3rd, 2018.
As if his life hadn’t been eventful enough, 1957 was a banner year for the rising star. On the 8th of May, he took home the Montreal International championship defeating Killer Kowalski. This feud would last decades and be on the same scale as the Canadiens-Leafs rivalry.
Success was attained across the border as well. Just two and a half weeks later, Carpentier would capture the NWA tag straps alongside Vern Gagne. He would top that off by winning the NWA singles title from Lou Thesz. No one can say Carpentier didn’t hang with the sport’s elite.
Training The Future
While always making Montreal his home, Carpentier was a staple in all the vital North American hubs, notably Chicago and Los Angeles. When the seventies arrived, he chose to spend more time close to home. He turned his attention to training wrestlers while still remaining active and prominent on the Quebec scene.
Most notably with Grand Prix Wrestling. Carpentier would mentor several French performers, including his nephew Jackie Wiecz. As well as the Haitian star Edouard Ethifier. He brought droves of new fans on board. Both made it to mid-card status and put on good matches.
A third student, though, would stand above the others both literally and figuratively. Carpentier would mentor a 7-foot kid from Grenoble. His name was Andre Roussimoff. He broke in on the Quebec scene as The Giant Jean Ferré. Wrestlemania III might have seemed inconceivable 15 years before the fact. Still, without Carpentier’s input, there would not have been that iconic “The irresistible force meets the immovable object “call from Gorilla Monsoon.
In an interesting twist in Grand Prix, Carpentier would also train Yvon Robert Jr., Frequently tagging with him too. The booking team often paired Carpentier with burgeoning talent. Usually facing off against Killer Kowalski and one of his protegés. For example, I recall a tall thin muscular blonde with a Fu Manchu. A real UCLA quarterback look and build. His in-ring name was Chuck O’Connor. Later on, he would bulk up considerably and become Big John Studd.
Carpentier’s wrestling days pretty well came to an end when the Grand Prix circuit folded. The International Wrestling promotion would rise out of its ashes. And Carpentier was heavily involved. Calling play-by-play on the Sunday morning French language flagship program. He would end every show with his famous catchphrase –
a la Semaine prochaine si Dieu le veut
Meaning; we will see each other next week, the good Lord willing.
International Wrestling ceased operations when Stamford made the territories obsolete. Carpentier picked up right where he left off doing commentary on WWE broadcasts. Which, of course, took over that much-coveted Sunday morning time slot. He also ran a wrestling school until he retired from all activity at the age of 76.
While known the world over and enjoying an excellent reputation, Carpentier was a modest and quiet man. He lived in the west end of Montreal, not far from yours truly. I occasionally saw him at a local supermarket. Always wearing a blue Adidas jogging suit and long before they became fashionable.
Notwithstanding his age, his chest and biceps seemed to want to burst out of his tracksuit. He always sported a pristine tan. He knew he was recognized but did not run to engage in conversation. Carpentier was happy to nod his head, grinning slightly, and then look towards the ground. It was kind of like how we would react as kids when being introduced to your aunt’s best friend!
Carpentier was apparently a shadow of his former self when he passed. He was widowed, suffered from a number of ailments. And was even looking at a leg amputation. In that 1993 interview I referenced earlier, Carpentier summed up his modus vivendi thusly –
“Live from day to day and savor all the beautiful moments that God gives us”.
When I was a young man, one of my trademark family sayings was: “God helps those who help themselves.” Carpentier lived boldly, trusting his instincts, and he used them very well. Be it to escape the clutches of his Third Reich captors.
Or merely to introduce spectacular acrobatics to wrestling and begin a trend that remains very much a part of today’s evolving landscape. While today’s performers have taken Carpentier’s moves to new heights, it is all possible thanks to a door that Edouard Carpentier opened over half a century ago.
He was certainly brave and innovative. But if you were to be able to tell him that today, I am sure he’d react modestly, just like he did at the Van Horne shopping center IGA. Modesty and greatness can go very nicely together, as Monsieur Edouard Carpentier admirably demonstrated.