Willard Rowe Longson was born on June 8, 1906, in Salt Lake City. He spent a number of his teenage years breaking wild Mustang horses and working on a construction crew bringing a highway through the Wasatch Mountains into Salt Lake City. However, he was later to become known as the longest reigning “heel” world’s heavyweight wrestling champion in history, as well as one of its greatest drawing cards.
In March 1931 he won the A.A.U. Intermountain heavyweight wrestling title at Logan, Utah. Bill had already won its’ boxing counterpart in 1927, sponsored by the SLC Elk’s Club. He made his pro mat debut against the veteran Al Newman in SLC in April 1931. His wrestling career nearly ended in a San Francisco ring on January 5, 1937, when Man Mountain Dean landed on him breaking Longson’s back! Doctors told him that his wrestling career was over. Nevertheless, by October, he returned to wrestling in the Ogden and Salt Lake City areas.
The following year, a hooded figure named the Purple Shadow showed up in the northern California area. It was Wild Bill Longson under a mask! During his tours there, he held the Pacific Coast heavyweight mat titles three times.
Longson faced the top names from Australia, Canada and the U.S. from 1938 to late 1941, when he went to St. Louis. Bill became Tom Pack’s biggest drawing card and went on to win the National Wrestling Association championship from Sandor Szabo on February 19, 1942. During this title reign, Orville Brown was the top gun in Louisville. A masked wrestler called Superman II, who had won two previous bouts, challenged him. Before their match, the covered one ripped off his mask, showing the crowd that he was Bill Longson. He defeated Brown defending the N.W.A. belt.
After losing the title to Yvon Robert in the Canadian’s home city of Montreal, Wild Bill worked his way back to the throne room. He won the championship back from Bobby Managoff in St. Louis, on February 19, 1943. Longson held the belt until being disqualified in a contest with Whipper Billy Watson on February 21, 1947. At this time titles did change hands by disqualification.
Bill came back to win the National Wrestling Association title from Lou Thesz in a St. Louis match on November 21, 1947. After dropping the belt in 1948, he continued as a top drawing card. Later Longson won the Central States heavyweight championship, a popular area title until the 1980s.
After breaking his pelvis riding an unbroken stallion at Leo Newman’s ranch in Missouri, Bill retired as an active wrestler in 1960. He continued promoting cards and booking talent for the St. Louis office until 1977, when a stroke and prostate cancer forced him to retire. Bill Longson passed away on December 10, 1982 in St. Louis.
- Don Luce