Eugene Stanley Zygowicz (January 1, 1917 – September 23, 2005) was an American professional wrestler best known by his ring name Gene Stanlee. During his wrestling career, he was known by the nickname “Mr. America”. Zygowicz’s first professional match was April 26, 1946 in Milwaukee against Leo Kirilenko under the ring name “Gene Stanlee”. All his early matches took place in the Chicago–Milwaukee area. His career as Gene “Mr. America” Stanlee picked up in 1951. After defeating Pat O’Hara on September 24 of that year Gene became NWA Southern Heavyweight Champion, and it was around this time he formed a tag team with his real life brother Steve Stanlee. Bob Merrill also worked as a kayfabe third brother, Bob Stanlee.
On November 18, 1952, Lou Thesz faced off, and defeated, Gene Stanlee in 15:14 to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Stanlee sold out Madison Square Garden over 50 times in his career. While wrestling for the Midwest Wrestling Association, Stanlee won the Ohio version of the MWA Heavyweight Championship on February 2, 1956. He held the belt for over two months before dropping it to Bobo Brazil on April 19. In an interview for the Icons of Wrestling program that aired on Canada’s Biography Channel, and later Britain’s TWC, Stanlee explained his concept of showmanship. “When I walked into the ring, I would add a little showmanship to my style before I wrestled. I noticed that as I was achieving more and more showmanship, I started getting ideas. I seen that the sport was not bringing in women. So I starting glamorizing, thinking up beautiful costumes”. Stanlee began wearing ring jackets, which was a rarity in that era, and also had monogrammed towels—”Wrestling’s TV King”—which he wore once he took off the ring jacket.
His elaborate entrance infuriated opponents, both faces and heels, but also meant he appeared on over 200 magazine covers during his career. After retiring from wrestling, Stanlee, who was a health nut and longtime vegetarian, began to sell a line of supplements and later became an advisor and physical trainer for many of Hollywood’s great actors and actresses, such as Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, and Cheryl Tiegs. Gene described himself as the “world’s foremost authority on age reversal through blood purification”, something that worked well for him as he would go on to still be very active up until the day he died. Offered here is an original signed promotional photograph of Gene Stanlee.
A rare signed 8 X 10 black & white photo from the “World’s Strongest and Most Perfectly Developed Man”. Boldly inscribed and autographed in black ballpoint ink “To Karl, My Very Special Friend & Wrestler, Sincerely Yours, Gene Stanlee”. From the collection of Karl Lauer of the Cauliflower Alley Club.