Mystery wrestler in film footage identified

When a collection of home movies taken by amateur Queensland filmmaker George Vardas were sent back from Greece and donated to State Library of Queensland a few hidden gems were uncovered.

Silent footage of a 1950s band performing at an unknown venue turned out to be historically significant after social media users identified the band as The Rocketts, Queensland’s very first rock’n’roll band.

Wrestler Sky Hi Lee/Ski Hi Lee, 1957. Stills from 32433 George Vardas films. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Another piece of mystery footage from the Vardas collection featured a wrestling match between two unidentified men. One was an imposing giant of a man with bushy mutton chops, who entered the ring wearing a fringed cowboy jacket. After sharing the mystery footage on social media, a Twitter follower identified the giant cowboy as Sky Hi Lee (aka Robert Hayes Leedy). Leedy toured Australia in 1957, including matches at the old Brisbane Stadium, on the southern corner of Albert Street and Charlotte Street in the CBD.

Although wrestling marketing promoted Sky Hi Lee as a Texan cowboy, like much in the world of wrestling, Leedy's life and career was one of kayfabe, bravado and illusion. Many secondary sources list his name as Robert E. Leedy, as opposed to Robert H. (Hayes) Leedy. The confusion continues with promotional materials claiming Leedy was born in Texas, USA, whilst other sources state he was from Ontario, Canada. However, according to his birth certificate found on Ancestry.com, Leedy was born 9 February 1924 in Pierceton, Kosciusko, Indiana. This is confirmed by another original document on Ancestry which was recorded following the wrestler's death in London, England on 31 May 1974.  'Report of the death of an American Citizen' listed Robert Hayes Leedy along with his professional name Sky Hi Lee as being born in Indiana on 9 February 1924. The document states Leedy was cremated at South London Crematorium on 5 June 1974.

His wrestling career took Leedy around the world with his celebrity also extending to film appearances. In 1962 he appeared in the French film, L'empire de la nuit, in which he played 'The Giant'. A year later he appeared in another French film, Les Bricoleurs (1963), in the role of a bank robber. He made another film appearance in 1967 as ‘Henchman’ in the Indian film, Nasihat

Newspaper photograph of Sky Hi Lee published in Mirror (Perth, WA), 20 December 1952, p. 12

The footage of the wrestlers appears on the same reel as The Rocketts, which confirmed the year as around 1957.  We are yet to positively identify Leedy’s wrestling partner in the footage. It could possibly be American wrestler Ricky Waldo who was also in Australia at the time and wrestled Leedy at Sydney Stadium and Leichhardt Stadium. We'd love to confirm the name of Lee's opponent and the exact date of their Brisbane bout.

To view the footage of this wrestling match, just click on this link and go to the timecode 6:33.

You can watch more films from the George Vardas collection on One Search

Myles Sinnamon, Engagement Officer, State Library of Queensland

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