Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ben Cowell, entertainment promoter

Ben Cowell wanted to be a boxer so he went to see sports promoter Al Haft. But Al was only interested in professional wrestlers at the time, so he used Ben in preliminary wresting matches. Upstarts who weren’t pinned inside of three minutes got a dollar.

He worked odd jobs for the sports promoter, but in 1929 he took the fire department exam so that he would have a pension. The entertainment bug, though, had planted its teeth deep in Ben. While in the fire department, he took Chief Walter Strickfadden to Cincinnati where Roller Derby was being presented and Ben proposed that it would be a good fundraiser for the department’s widows and orphans fund.

Ben rented the Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum and for three days the event was a bust; very few showed up. Finally, on the fourth day every seat was filled and sell-out crowds continued through the week. Roller Derby was a huge success, despite the dismall beginning.

Through the years Ben Cowell brought the world of entertainment to Columbus and he built a solid reputation for honesty, integrity and dependability. Among the many spectacular productions presented by Ben Cowell year after year were Holiday on Ice, the Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Parade, and of course, the International Roller Derby. Ben brought Liberace to Columbus for seventeen years, Nat Cole, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, Fred Waring, Benny Goodman, Ted Lewis and Ray Charles, as well as hundreds more.

Ben Cowell sold his business and retired in 1965. He harks back to a time when a promoter operated on a handshake and entertainers honored their word. Ninety percent of his bookings were handled without written contract, only a a handshake, a word and the required deposit was enough.

Phil Sheridan

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