Saturday, July 7, 2018

Oddjob Was a Wrestler

In 1964, Sean Connery returned to iconic role as James Bond for the third time in what many consider his best Bond film. The series learned from the seriousness of Dr. No and the slow build of From Russia With Love and it seemed as if the producers had finally found a formula to keep the action tight and the story memorable. One of the ways they accomplished this was by introducing villains for Bond to face off against that were his equal or better. In Goldfinger, Bond’s primary adversary was Auric Goldfinger, but it was his henchmen Oddjob who Bond truly feared. The stoic muscle of Goldfinger was an intimidating presence that physically was more powerful than 007. What I didn’t know until recently is that Oddjob, who was portrayed by Harold Sakata (born: Toshiyuki Sakata) was also known by his professional wrestling name Tosh Togo. 


Harold Sakata was born on July 1st, 1920 in Holualo, Hawaii to Japanese-Americans who operated a Hawaiian coffee farm. At the age of eighteen he was a meager 5’8” and weighed 113 lbs. Harold was upset that he was so much smaller than the other boys his age, and decided to take up weight lifting in order to increase his build. He was a natural and became so good at lifting that after his time in the Army, during World War II, Harold continued training and managed to win the Light-heavyweight silver medal in the 1948 Olympics for the United States.


Following his Olympic medal win, Mr. Sakata began professional wrestling in 1949. He was trained by Tetsuro "Rubberman" Higami and Ben Sherman. He was given the name Tosh Togo and was billed as the brother of the Great Togo (Kazuo Okamura). Other members of the Togo family included Mas Togo (Masutatsu Oyama) and Ko Togo (Kokichi Endo).


Between 1950 and 1964, Sakata wrestled for the Tri-State Sports, Pacific Northwest, Japan Wrestling Alliance, Mid-Pacific, and various NWA affiliates such as NWA Los Angeles, NWA Montreal, NWA Texas, and others. He held several championships during this time including:

-NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team with Tojo Yamamoto (1952-1953) x2

-NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team with Glen Detton (1953)

-NWA Canadian Open Tag Team Champion with Great Togo (1954)

-WWA World Tag Team Champion with The Great Togo (1955)

-NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Champion (1956)

-NWA World Tag Team Champion with The Great Sasaki (1957) x2

-NAWA International Television Tag Team Champion with Red Berry (1958) x2

-NWA Los Angeles World Tag Team Champion with Red Berry (1958)

-NWA Texas Heavyweight Champion (1958)

-NWA Gulf Coast Southern Tag Team Champion with John Smith (1959)

-NWA Mid-America Southern Tag Team Champion with John Smith (1959)

-NWA Mid-Atlantic Southern Tag Team Champion with Ike Eakins (1960)

-NWA Hawaii Tag Team Champion with Curtis Iaukea (1963)

Sakata was part of the traveling wrestling troupe that helped bring professional wrestling to Japan. He was so dedicated to helping solidify the sport in Japan that he moved to Japan in the late 1950’s, where he raised his family. He trained the man known as “The Father of Puroresu” Rikidozan who went on to become one of the most influential men in professional wrestling history. 

(Note: In 2004, a South-Korean Japanese film that focused on the life of Rikiodzan and professional wrestling in Japan in the 1950’s was released. Harold Sakata was portrayed by none other than “The Great Muta” Keiji Mutoh.)

After he and his wife divorced, Sakata began traveling again and ended up in Britain where he was ultimately cast as the menacing man we all know. Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli noticed Harold because of his heavy build. The scrawny 5’8” 113 lbs. eighteen year old was now forty years old and 5’10” and 284 lbs. His intimidating gaze really sold the producers on casting Sakata despite having no prior acting experience.


There was a little controversy before the casting though. Indian actor/wrestler Milton Reid (The Mighty Chang) also auditioned for the role of Oddjob and he challenged Sakata to a wrestling match with the winner receiving the role. However, Reid had previously been cast in Dr. No and his character was killed off, so Sakata got the role and the wrestling match never took place. However, Reid would find himself in another Bond film in 1977 when he faced off against Roger Moore in the roof top fight scene in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Following the success of Goldfinger, Harold occasionally used the name Oddjob and was even billed in several movies as Harold “Oddjob” Sakata. He also appeared as the Oddjob character in a series of Vicks cough syrup commercials in the 1970s and even had a famous spot parodying the commercials on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

In 1974, Harold portrayed Oddjob in Verne Gagne’s film The Wrestler.


(Note: if you haven’t seen The Wrestler, it’s worth tracking down just to see all the great stars in this film. Sadly, the plot and the movie itself is quite horrible and a slog to get through. It's one of the worst movies I've ever seen.)

Sakata continued wrestling following his Goldfinger success, and found himself in Portland, Big Time Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Florida, Stampede, AWA, and even New Japan Pro Wrestling. Sometimes he wrestled as Tosh Togo, other times Oddjob, and then sometimes he went by Harold Sakata.


I found an article from 1965, where Sakata made an appearance as Oddjob at the Loughborough Town Hall in England. He appearance complete in costume and his bowler hat was hung from the ring post. During the second round of the match, there was a scuffle over the hat and his opponent cut his hand on the razor sharp brim of the hat which got Oddjob disqualified. I have a feeling this sort of thing played out quite a bit throughout different promotions.


Sakata won his final title eleven years after his role in Goldfinger in 1975 when he captured the WWC Puerto Rican Championship. Three years later, Sakata would wrestle his final match which he lost via count out to Rocky Tomayo during a Big Time Wrestling event in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Oddjob truly was an influential person in the history of professional wrestling. He was a decorated champion who was a legit Olympic medalist. He helped develop professional wrestling in Japan and ended up training the man who became a national hero put pro wrestling on the map in the country.

Harold Sakata passed away on July 29th, 1982.

No comments:

Post a Comment