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WRESTLING BROUGHT RICHES, FAME IN MIDST OF DEPRESSION

Francis Anthony Schroll was not the biggest or best grappler of the Depression-era wrestling circuit.

But the Kansas farm boy with the movie star looks, a scholar's mind and a singular talent on the violin cut a distinct figure in the smoky, sweaty arenas of the 1930s - a Jay Gatsby among the Hulk Hogans.The sport brought him riches and fame, along with the diamond-studded belt of the world light-heavyweight championship in 1936. At a time when pro wrestling's risks were real, crowds from the West Coast to Madison Square Garden cheered Frankie Schroll, "The Man of a Thousand Holds."

Winning paid the bills and kept the chiseled body looking dapper in custom-made suits and raccoon coats. It led to friendships with the likes of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey.

And it would come to signify the glamour years in the long life of an adventurer who devoured books, traveled and excelled at nearly every endeavor but mar-riage.

"He never did want to be a farmer," said his younger brother, 88-year-old Mike Schroll, who did.

"Oh, was he smart! And a real good violinist and a real good wrestler. Just an outstanding man. If he'd stayed where he was, he would've had an easy life, made more money and wouldn't have gotten beat up so bad."

But that was not the style of Frank Schroll, the eldest of nine children. He graduated from college at age 17 and became a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Artillery during World War I. The Roaring '20s found him back in Kansas City, demonstrating musical instruments and playing the violin on a daily radio program.

In his 30s in the early 1930s, devastated by a failed marriage, Frank hit the mats.

Bread lines and big bands were signs of the times when the single father from tiny Greenleaf claimed the boxing title at the relatively sedate age of 37.

Records from the time are hard to find, and memories fade. But one newspaper brief hailing the new champ noted that Frankie Schroll "came by the title by tossing Alexander Yermakoff in the semifinals of the world's title tournament."

Daughter Marceline was left on the farm to be raised by grandparents while dad toured. He took her with him only once, when she was 11, to a series of bouts in Denver.

"You have to understand that wrestling was very popular at this time in the world. It was a neat sport, not the big show it is now," she said.

"It was a very exciting atmosphere. The arenas were filled with hollering, waving fans. I saw him do drop kicks and leg holds and the whole bit. But I would get scared for him. Sometimes he did lose and he'd get bloodied and choked by opponents, and of course I didn't like that at all."

Marcie never saw much of her father but recalls many of the famous fighters he ran with and the headlines his exploits generated.

"He was pretty hot stuff," she said.

A cartoon in one Kansas City newspaper "showed dad standing with one foot on an opponent he'd vanquished, playing the violin."

A broken nose from a Dempsey left hook brought the wrestler and the Manassa Mauler together for the first time.

During an exhibition tour in Kansas City, Dempsey had challenged some young bucks in the local gym to spar for 10 minutes. After making short work of the first half dozen, Frankie figured Dempsey was tired.

Mike Schroll remembers the story well. Frank climbed into the ring and began pouring it on. Dempsey's one return punch found cartilage.

"Jack apologized afterward and said, `Frank, you were mixing it up a little too much. I had to cool you down.' They got to be pretty good friends after that, and Frank later had Dempsey referee his matches as much as he could," Schroll said.

No opponent ever marred the handsome face. But a reckless driver crashed head-on into Frank's car in 1963, crippling the still-powerful body for good.

Frankie never worked again. But he lived nearly three more decades as an eccentric old man with a fighting spirit and a gift of gab. In 1979, he moved to Ogden, where he died May 15, 1991, in a nursing home at age 91.

Only a handful attended his funeral. Fighting Frank's last crowd barely filled a row.