A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of October

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October 19, 1903 was the birthdate of wrestler and actor Tore Johansson, known by his stage name Tor Johnson.

Karl Erik Tore Johansson was born in Brännkyrka, Stockholms län, Sweden. He was a professional wrester in Sweden, billed as the “Swedish Angel”. Johnson was a one-time Midwest Wrestling Association champion. In his persona as the “Swedish Angel”, he fought in a live event in Kansas City, Kansas, on December 3, 1943, winning and holding the title for six days. At that time in history, these major professional events were not televised.

Tor Johnson at his heaviest weighed 440 pounds, or 200 kilograms. He had a full head of brown hair; but he shaved it to appear more imposing and villainous in his wrestling bouts. After moving to California, Johnson started appearing in small parts in films starting in 1934. These roles were usually as a strongman or a weightlifter. Practically all of his roles in his early work as an actor were uncredited; however he made many appearances in some well known films.

Tor Johnson had a small role as the wrestler “Jack the Ripper” in the William Powell and Myrna Loy film “Shadow of the Thin Man” in 1941. He had an uncredited small role as “The Mauler” in the Errol Flynn 1942 boxing movie “Gentleman Jim”. Johnson had another uncredited small role in the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour comedy “Road to Rio”, in the role of Sandor. In 1949, he appeared in his persona of the “Swedish Angel” in two films: “Alias the Champ” and the classic film “Mighty Joe Young”. The year 1950 saw Johnson appearing as Abou Ben in the comedy “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion”.

During his career as an actor, Tor Johnson became friends with director Ed Wood, who placed him in a number of his films.  He appeared in Wood’s biggest budget film, the science fiction horror “Bide of the Monster” which finished filming in 1959, but was not released because of financial problems until 1964. His perhaps best known appearance was in Ed Wood’s 1959 now-famous cult classic “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, playing Inspector Daniel Clay in what was dubbed as “the worst movie ever made” by authors Harry and Michael Medved.

In reality, Tor Johnson was a big guy with a big heart, a very learned and eloquent man to those who knew him personally. He had a reputation of being a warm and friendly guy who would even have drinks with his opponents after his wrestling matches. He and his wife Greta would graciously welcome many guests to their home for Swedish-style dinners, along with homemade ice cream. Friends, after his death, would reminisce how Tor Johnson would manage to get his large size into his small foreign car. Tor Johnson died on May 12, 1971, in San Fernando, California, of a heart ailment at the age of sixty-seven.

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