Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jensen, Leo Ejner (1912–1978)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Leo Ejner Jensen (1912-1978), wrestler and physiotherapist, was born on 18 February 1912 at Svendborg, on the island of Fyn, Denmark, son of Johan Christoffer Jensen, ship's carpenter, and his wife Juditte Vilhelmine, née Madsen. The family was poor and at 14 Leo went to sea as cabin-boy, jumping ship at Seattle, United States of America. Speaking little English, he worked as a builder's labourer before returning to Denmark at the age of 17. In April 1930 he emigrated to Canada.

At school Leo had enjoyed gymnastics. He began boxing and wrestling in the timber camps of British Columbia where he worked as a lumberjack. Having turned professional about 1933, he wrestled in Canada and Oregon, U.S.A., went to South Africa in 1935, and then to France, England, Germany and Denmark. Based in New York in 1936-37, he toured New Zealand in 1938 and in June came to Sydney, wrestling there, at Broken Hill and in other eastern States. Jensen was persuaded to settle at Newcastle by the owner of the city's new stadium. As the local hero, he took on Australian champions and visiting Americans such as 'Pat O'Shocker' and 'Rudi la Ditzi'. In 1940 he was naturalized.

Jensen began full-time duty with the Militia on 27 January 1942 at the 102nd Australian General Hospital, Tamworth. Transferred to the camp staff at Newcastle in May 1942, he was discharged medically unfit in the following year. He married a teacher and secretary Gladys May Pierre on 7 April 1943 at the Brown Street Congregational Church. In September 1944 he opened a gymnasium in Hunter Street; at first a masseur and body-builder, he studied hard and on 9 May 1947 was registered as a physiotherapist. He returned to wrestling in 1949. Short for a matman (5 ft 8 ins, 173 cm), muscular and well proportioned, he weighed 16 st. 4 lb. (103 kg) at his peak, compensating for lack of bulk by speed and craftiness. Jensen was a keen competitor and always a showman who recognized the element of entertainment in his sport, but scorned the later degeneration to outright vaudeville. Noted for his 'mule kick' and wristlock short-arm scissors technique, he was a 'good guy' when matched against the 'villains'. Jensen defeated 'Bonnie' Muir for the Australian heavyweight title at Leichhardt Stadium in December 1952. Thereafter he wrestled part time, sometimes teaming with 'Chief Little Wolf'.

With clean-cut, suntanned features, dark hair, a 20-inch (51 cm) neck, and a slight American accent, Jensen was a popular and colourful Newcastle identity who greeted people as 'pal'. He liberally distributed signed photographs. Footballers and police, as well as skinny kids and polio victims, trained at his academy which moved to the corner of King and Union streets in 1958. He taught physical culture in schools and was always available for charity exhibitions. Swimming all year round was his great enthusiasm. One of the sights at local beaches, he demonstrated his remarkable ability to walk on his hands there (and once on a ledge at The Gap, Watsons Bay, Sydney). He was a good family man and an authoritarian father, and liked to play the mouth organ and piano accordion, but worked long hours. A Freemason, he belonged to the Newcastle chapter of the Royal Arch Masons.

In 1958 Jensen suffered a heart attack. He rehabilitated himself, only to suffer a stroke in 1971. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died of myocardial infarction on 14 July 1978 at his Adamstown Heights home and was cremated. His widow and sons carried on his physiotherapy practice.

Select Bibliography

  • Sports Novels, Feb 1950, June 1953
  • B. Delany, 'Leo Jensen's a Wrestler Too', A.M. (Sydney), 25 Aug 1951, p 52
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), sporting section, 7 Dec 1952
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 15 July 1975
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Jensen, Leo Ejner (1912–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jensen-leo-ejner-10622/text18879, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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