Baron Leone Donation

Santa Monica Historical Society Museum Receives

$100,000 Donation in Memory of Local Wrestling Legend

SANTA MONICA, CALIF. – (August 31, 2009) – The Santa Monica Historical Society Museum (SMHSM) announced today that it received a donation of $100,000 from the widow of one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling who also was an ardent fan of the city and one of its most popular residents and flamboyant personalities.

Billie Leone, widow of Baron Michele Leone, who pioneered professional wrestling in the United States and then helped usher in millions of additional fans across the country when television began airing the sport and many of his own wrestling matches in the 1950s, presented the check to the museum in her husband’s memory to help support construction of the museum’s new home.  Presently located at 1539 Euclid Street, the museum will soon be relocating to a new permanent facility in the Santa Monica Public Library complex (7th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard).

“My husband moved to Santa Monica in1949, and that began his lifelong love affair with Santa Monica,” said Mrs. Leone.  “He loved everything about the city, from the people to its many scenic attractions like the pier, but he especially loved the sun, the beach and the ocean.  He was very active and physically fit, and he would go to the beach every day when he was not out of town wrestling,” she added.

“Baron Leone was extremely popular in Southern California during his career as a professional wrestler, and many Hollywood starlets and actors would attend his matches,” said Mrs. Leone, who married The Baron (as he became known) in 1955.  “He also was a master showman, sporting long hair and wearing a colorful cape into the ring for his matches.  His fans adored him.”

Mrs. Leone noted that The Baron performed to packed houses throughout the country, and, like Gorgeous George, became one of the most popular and recognizable figures in professional wrestling.   “He was liked by men, women and children alike – everyone he would meet.  He also enjoyed greeting his fans and would always tell them to eat healthy foods and exercise,” she said.

“We are thrilled and honored to receive this donation from Billie Leone in her husband’s memory,”

said Louise Gabriel, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum.  “Billie is a Life member of the museum and a long-time supporter of its work to preserve Santa Monica’s rich history and culture.  Her generous gift gives our Capital Campaign a tremendous boost and helps move us closer to realizing the dream of our new facility.”

Gabriel noted that the donation would be used to sponsor an exhibit wall case featuring highlights from Baron Leone’s career in and outside the wrestling arena.  Included in the display will be one of the Baron’s colorful capes.

The museum’s new 5,000-square-foot facility located in the Santa Monica Public Library complex will contain a variety of state-of-the-art exhibitions, an expanded research library, educational programs, children, senior and family events, expanded outreach programs, collection preservation, and online access to historical images and documents.

“When the new library opens, I am sure my husband will be looking down on it with both pride and joy because it is helping to preserve the legacy of the city he loved so much,” said Mrs. Leone.

Born in 1909 in Pettorano in the province of Abruzzi, Italy, the son of a building contractor, Michele Leone began wrestling in Italy and later toured France, England, South America and Canada before coming to the United States in the late 1930s.  After living in New York and elsewhere, he moved to Southern California in 1949 where he soon found his greatest success and became Baron Michele Leone.

Due in large part to regular exposure on television, and widely publicized matches against top-ranked wrestling stars of that time such as Danny McShane and Gorgeous George, Baron Leone’s popularity skyrocketed.  He went on to become recognized by California and other Western states as the world’s heavyweight and junior heavyweight title holder.

After retiring from wrestling, Baron Leone retreated to the home he loved in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica.  Topped off by a huge dome that helped earn it the nickname, “The Baron’s Castle,” the structure still stands there today.

In his later years, Baron Leone traveled frequently with Billie, and also made numerous personal appearances at sporting venues, trade shows and other events where he regaled the crowds with behind-the-scenes stories of his most famous matches and signed hundreds of autographs and photos.

Tragically, he was hit by a car while crossing the street in a crosswalk near his home in November, 1988, and died nearly two weeks later from head injuries suffered during the accident.  He was 79.