Shrek in Vancouver

Maurice "The Angel" Tillet. News-Herald, 27 July 1944

Maurice "The Angel" Tillet. News-Herald, 27 July 1944

By chance I recently came across this article and photo from the Vancouver News-Herald from 27 July 1944 shortly after reading a web page about the real-life wrestler who was the inspiration for the character of Shrek.

His name was Maurice Tillet, a frenchman with a rare condition called acromegaly that caused his head and jaws to become enlarged. Facing ostracism and discrimination in his native France, Tillet moved to the US and became a pro-wrestler. He was billed as the “freak ogre of the ring” by promoters because of his appearance, but his wrestling persona seems to have gone from villain to hero. By the time he arrived in Vancouver was called “The Angel.”

It’s likely that more than just Tillet’s appearance inspired the Shrek character. He was considered very intelligent, a crack chess player and poet who spoke 14 languages and had a very gentle personality outside of the ring. Maurice Tillet later became a recluse and died in 1955 from heart disease at the age of 51.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Tillet’s bout in Vancouver was less than a week before he reached the pinacle of his career. On 1 August 1944, while zoot suit riots were raging in Vancouver, the French Angel beat Steve “The Crusher” Casey to win the American Wrestling Association’s world championship.

One thought on “Shrek in Vancouver

  1. Although I remember seeing pictures in the early 60’s of what “the Angel” looked like before the disease led him to take that sardonic stage name he assumed, none seem to be currently available.

    He was indeed a remarkably handsome and attractive young man who might have easily become a magazine model or a movie star with the kind of very refined features he possessed. The kind of good looks that made his transformation even all more astounding and disturbing than it already seemed to be.

    Many people at the time believed that what befell him was some genetic aberration that caused him to revert to a more primitive form of human being, like some kind of cave man or Neanderthal.

    Not a few, I’m afraid, to make matters worse, if that can be imagined, superstitiously thought it was some kind of a curse or evil omen and as a result relentlessly persecuted and taunted him in a most cruel and ugly fashion.

    The world of wrestling, just as it is now however, was populated by by nothing if not extreme heroes and villians that people either loved, or just as equally loved to hate.

    The story of how he not only found a home in that world but rose to the very top it hides a truly enormous and profound human tragedy. It is the story of how one man bravely made the best of that tragedy in a world that was by and large completely unwilling to.

    The kind of people that caused Tillet to seek asylum in the wrestling world were also the same ones who made life unbearable for many others that were afflicted with severe physical dissabilities and deformities through no fault of their own.

    People that caused them to become shut-in’s forever hiding from an unfriendly and abusive world or else forced to earn a living by putting themselves on a vulgar and degrading display as “freaks” in travelling side shows at circuses and amusement parks.

    Many of the same kind of uncaring and unfeeling people that drove them to that still exist among us today.

    Although they do not look the part, they are the only real degenerate and primitive throw-backs.

    The cause of their particular “dis-ease” is far more difficult to detect and combat because of that.

    It does have a name, however, and we always need to be alert for any signs and symptoms of it’s presence among us.

    It’s simply called “ignorance and fear”, and it’s been passed around and allowed to continue for far too long.

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