When I was a boy the two big famous wrestlers on television were Big Daddy (Shirley Crabtree) and Giant Haystacks (Martin Ruane.) Here I am at Agecroft Cemetery in Pendlebury at the latter’s headstone. It took over a year to find this legend. Months ago I’d contacted the priest who’d conducted the funeral but he’d done so many burials he couldn’t recall the cemetery. I knew Martin was a devout Roman Catholic who worshipped at Our Lady Of Dolors Church, also where he’d lived so I concluded he’d be in the Catholic Section of the nearest cemetery. He is - but it took nearly two hours of walking up and down the graves to find him.
Martin was born in London to Irish parents. He was big from the start: 14 lbs and 6 ounces (there was a seven foot ancestor.) They family moved up to Salford in Manchester when he was three. By the time he left school at 14 he was nearly 7 feet high. He laboured at timbre and tyre companies, drove trucks and, due to his bulky size, tended doors as a nightclub bouncer. Someone suggested wrestling and it all started when he was 20. By the mid-seventies he was “Haystacks Calhoun” and he was on television by age 28. He formed a tag-team with Big Daddy that propelled both to fame however they were soon wrestling as individuals.
Being an un unsmiling scary-looking mountain of a man (48 stone at his heaviest) he was a natural villain, facing waves of boos and hisses but the punters knew it was part of the pantomime and he was immensely popular. Being mammoth prevented him performing some basic wrestler’s moves. Instead he’d often pick someone up, slam him on to the canvas and then flop on top of him. He never moved quickly except to run at cornered opponent and crush him. The viewers loved him; from the moment of his entree into the arena he dominated the crowd.
The Queen, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and Margaret Thatcher were fans. Who wasn’t? Through the seventies and early eighties 16 million viewers would tune in to the wrestling on Saturday afternoons. If Martin wasn’t on the bill the viewing figures were not as high. The unsmiling nearly-silent showman liked the comic effect of being pitted against a tiny man. He’d often get himself disqualified on purpose to create uproar across the arena.
Though he tore the mask off fellow wrestlers he never tore off his own in public and few people knew him. You never saw him interviewed on Parkinson or Pebble Mill of local television networks. He’d married his childhood sweetheart Rita at 17 and they had three sons. He was mild, sensitive and philosophical. Despite being a pacifist and a devoutly religious Roman Catholic (refusing to work on Sundays) he said wrestling was the only way he could get out all his pent-up anger without being arrested." He was content with his own company once saying, "I like to drive wherever I can. The car is my thinking place - I work it all out there, away from the wife and children. I'm a total loner. I travel alone, I wrestle alone. I look after myself, I don't need friends.” He spent countless hours alone traveling to cheap bed & breakfasts all over the country.
Over the years this quiet giant wrestled all over the world but when wrestling was taken off primetime television in 1988 (too downmarket for advertisers) the gaggle of wrestling stars was as out of fashion as much as it was aggrieved. Back home in Manchester Martin tried debt collecting and selling cars. After a knee operation he re-emerged as the “Loch Ness Monster” in America. There was a deal with US wrestler Hulk Hogan in the offing but Martin’s health was on the ropes - he contracted lymphoma cancer. The deal with Hogan was never fulfilled as treatment was required. It didn’t work and within two years the giant lost his mop of hair and his weight plummeted to about 20 stones. He died at his home in Prestwich one Sunday aged just 52.
As Martin’s church and home were with a five minute drive of the cemetery I went to have a look at them. I noticed lots of Jewish folk on the streets in Prestwich – nearly every man wore a skull cap. As I walked down the dead end road to Martin’s house I passed a couple of people mowing their lawns and even they were wearing them. I couldn’t take a decent photograph of the house as the owners were evident. The house sat in a nice quiet area in a nice quiet street. This was where the life of a nice quiet man ended.
Watch Stacks body splash this man (who has to be carried back to the dressing room)….
I love this crumbling clock tower…
Martin worshipped here at the Our Lady Of Dolours Roman Catholic Church…
Martin died at his home down here…
Bye Martin...you the BRILL!