The Paul Anderson Story
The time was April of 1957, some sixty years ago, when Reno was to receive its most spectacular appearance on television.
The occasion was to occur in the Sky Room of the Mapes Hotel when strong man Paul Anderson would make a three or four minute live appearance on the famous Ed Sullivan Show. As reported in the Press, the popular Sullivan Show had an audience of 40,000,000 viewers.
The back story to this event is an interesting one and it began when owner Charles Mapes invited me to accompany him to meet the aforementioned Anderson in LA. He explained on the way down that Anderson had won Olympic Gold in the heavyweight division of lifting in the 1956 Olympics.
I queried Mapes as to what such an individual could do to entertain show patrons. He replied that we could figure out a number of spectacular “lifts” that no one else could duplicate. I wondered to myself whether or not dinner show patrons would be interested in watching a herculean strong man sweat as they were dining on the Mapes fine cuisine.
When we arrived we were met by one Pierre Cossette, who was the talent booking agent for the Mapes. As we drove away from the airport, Mapes commented on the age of Cossette’s car. Cossette replied, “Well, at least it’s a Mercedes Benz!”
We motored to a very modest house in Watts and entered to meet Anderson and his manager. In person the Olympic weight-lifter was a shade under six feet and weighed some three hundred pounds. His manager was a rather gruff individual who reminded me of a carny barker.
Our group went to the heavily-weeded backyard where Anderson proposed to show us his amazing ability. In one corner of the yard was a rusty set of railroad wheels attached to a train axle. With almost consummate ease, Anderson did a number of lifts with the heavy object. It was enough of a show to have Mapes immediately book him.
Returning to Reno, the next task was to figure out the best way to present Anderson to a nightclub audience. It was decided that well-known comic Dave Barry would act as emcee and string the whole production together. In addition to Anderson and Barry, the show would feature the chorus line — The Mapes Skylettes, dancer Sonny Howe, singer Joe Kirchen and the orchestra of Eddie Fitzpatrick.
At a meeting in Mapes office, I asked him (Mapes) what he thought the maximum weight was that Anderson could lift. Mapes replied, “Somewhere around nine hundred pounds.” I mentioned to Mapes that I knew a bag of one thousand silver dollars weighed sixty pounds and that possibly we could get enough bags of the coins to total nine hundred pounds. It would represent a $15,000 “lift” that we could offer to the person that could match Anderson’s lifting. Mapes was intrigued by the idea and we subsequently had Tripp Plastics assemble two large plastic boxes, one on each end of a long bar. This instrument was placed in the lobby of the hotel during the daytime hours with a sign attached touting the “Mapes $15,000 Challenge”.
For the twice-a-night show it would take four men to muscle the silvery barbell up to the Sky Room. At each performance, we would make sure that we had a couple of muscular gentlemen as “plants” in the audience, who would come on stage and attempt to lift a 300lb. standard barbell in order to qualify to attempt the heavier lift. Needless to say, none of them was ever successful.