Ed McLemore, storied wrestling and music promoter, was born Edward Eugene McLemore, Jr., on July 3, 1905, in Dallas, Texas. As a young man McLemore worked for Dallas wrestling promoter Burt Willoughby to operate one of the concessions for wrestling and boxing events at the Sportatorium, a new venue that had opened in 1935. McLemore quickly mastered and expanded his operations until he was managing the whole concession business. In 1940 he had excelled to the point that he owned the whole promotion and Sportatorium. He promoted the fledgling National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) at the Sportatorium until 1953. He later rejoined the NWA as promoter.
After World War II McLemore began presenting a weekly country music variety show from the Sportatorium every Saturday night. The program eventually was christened the Big D Jamboree and in 1948 was broadcast on radio KRLD, the same station that carried his wrestling shows. As promoter of Big D Jamboree, McLemore played a highly significant role in helping to launch the careers of many up-and-coming country stars. His programs featured Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Ferlin Husky, Sonny James, Charline Arthur, Hank Locklin, and many others.
McLemore was known for his business savvy and persistence. When the Sportatorium burned to the ground in May 1953 (some suspected arson by a rival wrestling promoter), the wrestling matches and music shows went on at the Livestock Pavilion at Fair Park until the new “Million Dollar Sportatorium” opened at the same location in September 1953.
In the mid-1950s, as rock-and-roll began to grip the nation, McLemore capitalized on the new trend by booking rockabilly and rock-and-roll performers such as Johnny Carroll, Wanda Jackson, Gene Vincent, and Elvis Presley (whom McLemore later boasted was hired for as little as $50). McLemore also personally managed a stable of musicians. He represented Gene Vincent in 1957 and 1958. He was also manager of rocker Johnny Carroll and assisted others, such as young rockabilly singer Ronnie Dawson, to get record deals.
As a wrestling promoter, McLemore brought in some of the most popular and notorious wrestlers in the business, such as Billy Edwards, Gorgeous George, and Wild Bill Longson. He earned the reputation of running one of the most successful wrestling promotions in the nation with his Tuesday night wrestling cards at the Sportatorium. By the early 1960s, when Big D Jamboree’s star was fading to the popularity of television, McLemore brought in fresh faces to his wrestling matches—most notably Jack Adkisson. The former SMU football player, who had first worked as a bookkeeper for the promoter, was better-known by his wrestling alter ego—Fritz Von Erich, and the two partnered in business in 1966. Thus Von Erich, with his signature “Iron Claw,” became yet another successful McLemore promotion.
Ed McLemore, a Catholic, died of a heart attack on January 9, 1969, in Dallas. A funeral Mass was held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, and he was buried in Calvary Hill Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Rose, three daughters, and thirteen grandchildren.