Bobby Shane stepped through the ropes and into the ring of the San Bernardino Arena. Shane and his partner, Greg Valentine, stared across the ring at their opponents. Eduoard Carpentier and Andre the Giant were signing autographs for a dozen or so fans standing on the apron. For Shane, it was the last main event of a short Southern California stopover. After a quick visit with family in Missouri, Shane would settle in Florida working for Eddie Graham as a wrestler and booker.
Robert Lee Schoenberger grew up a wrestling fan in St.Louis. He got a job as an office boy for promoter and NWA president, Sam Muchnick. He graduated to working at the matches as a second. Finally, Bobby was able to convince several wrestlers to train him. Former NWA world champions Wild Bill Longson and Bobby Bruns contributed to his training along with Joe Millich, Dick the Bruiser and Rip Hawk. Bobby Schoenberger became “Wonderboy” Bobby Shane. From 1964 to 1974 “Wonderboy” traveled the territories. A heel turn in 1971 elevated him to the next level. Bobby Shane became the King of Wrestling, strutting to the ring with a valet(rare in those days),clad in a regal robe and crown. A young Jerry Lawler was so inspired by the gimmick that he asked for (and received) Shane’s blessing to use it in his feud with Jackie Fargo. In fact, Shane lent Lawler his kingly gear before leaving for an extended run in Australia during 1974. In January of ’75, Shane was returning to his old stomping grounds in Florida and stopped off in the Los Angeles area. At that time it wasn’t unusual for wrestlers heading to or from Japan, Hawaii, and Australia to pick up a quick payday putting the local guys over on the way to the next territory.
Shane made two appearances on KCOP-TV, losing a BEAT THE CHAMP TV title match to Dennis Stamp. The following week, he fell victim to the Mighty Zulu’s full-nelson. He received an Americas title shot against Edouard Carpentier at the regular Olympic Auditorium TV broadcast on KMEX. Shane won the first fall to the Flying Frenchman, but then dropped the next two.
What may have been his only Southern California victory occurred at the San Bernardino Arena. Shane beat Country Boy Dean with a figure four leg lock and then helped Valentine attack Carpentier to set up the following week’s main event.
I was a teenage regular at the arena. I had read about Shane in all of the newsstand wrestling magazines and was quite surprised when he showed up without any fanfare. Not even an interview. I knew nothing about work rate or psychology back then, but watching Shane wrestle I knew I was watching someone special.
The Arena was packed that night, Andre the Giant always drew and in 1975, he was in his prime. It was a great match. Andre held Shane over his head and Bobby’s feet kicked out a couple of the lights above the ring, sending a shower of glass to the mat below. The match ended with Andre splashing Shane and Carpentier standing on Andre’s back, threatening Valentine with a cocked fist. As the crowd poured out into the chilly Sunday night, I walked to ringside and snapped a photo of Valentine comforting Shane after the loss. To show you how lax security was back them, a young boy is playing in the ring not more than two feet from the heels.
That was the last I saw of Bobby Shane in Southern California. I wished he had hung around. He was the perfect size for the territory and could have had some great matches with the regular roster.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 20th, after wrestling a tag match in Miami, Bobby Shane joined Buddy Colt, Mike “Austin Idol” McCord and Gary Hart for a flight to Tampa aboard a Cessna 173 piloted by Colt. The plane crashed into Hillsboro Bay, seriously injuring Colt, Hart, and McCord who managed to escape the plane. Shane wasn’t as fortunate. When the Cessna was pulled from the bay, his body was found still strapped to his seat. He was 29.
For almost forty years Bobby Shane’s contemporaries speak fondly of their fallen brother. They discuss how his creative talents were just beginning to be recognized. Some feel he could have even been an NWA World Champion.
The picture of Shane I took that night in San Bernardino was the first wrestling photo I ever shot. It’s not a great photo. It’s blurry and overexposed, but it does capture one of the final main events in the great career of the late Bobby Shane.