|Shirlie Montgomery ringside waiting for the right shot!|
Shirlie's dad, Rea Montgomery, was an avid sportsman. He loved to hunt and fish, went wild at boxing matches and wrestling shows, was a great fan of football and baseball. His constant companion on these escapades was his daughter Shirlie. She loved it.
When she first started taken photographs for a living at the De Anza Hotel in downtown San Jose, she also would go to the wrestling matches at the San Jose Civic Auditorium -- the land for which was donated to the city of San Jose by her grand-uncle T. S. Montgomery. When she started working at the San Jose Mercury in the 1940s, her editor noticed her love of "the sport of wrestling" and encouraged her to take photos for the paper to publish. The rest is sporting history.
|Big Time Wrestling magazine July 1964 feature article with photographs by Shirlie Montgomery|
Shirlie became one of the best wrestling photographers in the nation. Her photos were published not just in the local papers, but were carried world-wide by the wire services. Wrestling magazines routinely used (and credited) her photographs for articles. Wrestlers, promoters and agents sought her out to photograph their events and clients. In the 1970s she was inducted into the Slammers Wrestling Hall of Fame.
|Shirlie inducted into the Slammers Legends of Wrestling Hall of Fame|
On Wednesday nights, Shirlie would take photos of the matches at the Civic Auditorium. After the show was over, she would gather with friends and wrestlers at the Ringside Bar on First Street and the gang would revel in the prior weeks photos that Shirlie brought to share. The Ringside was owned and operated by Glenn Neece and his family. The walls were covered with Shirlie's photos. Today the Neece family has one the largest collections of Shirlie's wrestling photographs, maybe even more than is contained in Shirlie's archives.
|Ringside Bar with wall covered in Shirlie Montgomery wrestling photographs (Shirlie Montgomery)|
Shirlie's wrestling photographs break down into three categories: Action photos, which were her favorites and were what she was best known for. These were the ones the papers and magazines would print. Posed photos for press releases, resumes and such. "Candid" photos, showing the wrestlers having fun at the local bars, parties and charity events.
|Gorgeous George in his pre-fight routine - reproduced from a negative (Shirlie Montgomery)|
|Jesus Ortega giving Juan Humberto his patented "back breaker" (Shirlie Montgomery)|
|The Sharpe Brothers (Ben and Mike) attacking Sandor Szabo (Shirlie Montgomery)|
For the published, action photos, Shirlie not only took the photos, she also prepared them for publication and wrote the captions. In her archives there are many of these "ready-to-publish" photos, trimmed or cropped, with publication information on the back.
The standard muscular pose was the common image that wrestlers and their agents wanted. Shirlie took lots of them.
|Lou Thesz (Shirlie Montgomery)|
|Enrique Torres (Shirlie Montgomery)|
|Ronnie Etchison (Shirlie Montgomery)|
Group photos showing the wrestlers in a less combative mood were taken either candidly or semi-posed by Shirlie.
|Glenn Neece (owner of the Ringside Bar) with Leo Nomelini (pro wrestler and SF 49er football player) and friends seated in the Ringside Bar (Shirlie Montgomery)|
There are a lot of Shirlie's photos out there in the market and collectors cherish her prints. If the prints were made for use professionally, they were normally marked with Shirlie's signature or stamp. Most of the one's in her archives do not have the stamp as either they were not published or were extras.
While Shirlie loved her "big men," she saved a large part of her heart and love for the little guys ... the midgets. She had a lot of stories about the midgets ... how they would bring her gifts from their trips ... how they met her as she deplaned at Honolulu Airport back in 1956 ... and how they would clown around quite a bit more than their full-sized compatriots.
|Midget wrestlers (Shirlie Montgomery)|
|Midget wrestlers (Shirlie Montgomery)|