Friday, October 12, 2012

Alex Karras and Pueblo, Colorado – The Six Degrees of Separation.

Alex Karras passed away this week. He was a defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions but he also had a career as an actor. He had a small but notable role in Mel Brooks' “Blazing Saddles” (one of my favorite movies) as Mongo who rode into town on a Brahma Bull and knocked a horse out with one punch. He also starred in the TV series Webster with his wife, actress Susan Clark.

Alex met Susan when he played George Zaharias in the TV Movie “Babe” (1975). Babe was about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the great Depression era athlete and golfer. She won two gold and one silver medal in track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Susan Clark played Babe.

Babe met and married George Zaharias. George had been a professional wrestler (Alex Karras also wrestled for a short time professionally) was a Greek-American from Pueblo, Colorado.

Pueblo (and Denver) had significant Greek communities in the early Twentieth Century. Those in southern Colorado had come with the large migratory wave of southern Europeans in the late 19th and early Twentieth Century. Many worked at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation (CF&I) owned by John D. Rockefeller and the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi River. Others worked in the coal mines of southern Colorado, many of which were owned by the CF&I. Interestingly, Louis Tikas, a Greek-American from Denver was shot to death by members of the Colorado Militia at Ludlow during the coal strike of 1913-1914.

My personal footnote to this, is that my Dad, who came to Pueblo in 1936 to work at the CF&I (his dad had lost the farm in eastern Kansas during the Depression and died shortly afterward) knew George Zaharias and met Babe.

In addition to being a pro-wrestler, as was George Zaharias, Alex was also a proud Greek-American. His wife Susan said one of his great joys was cooking traditional Greek dishes.

Alex had been diagnosed with Dementia and Clark said that after that it was so difficult for him that he could not remember the recipes for the dishes he wanted to prepare. The Dementia prompted Karras and Clark to join in a suit against the NFL about player safety, particularly as it related to head injuries.

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