On The Trail of Giant Anaconda
By Ron Historyo
When the 1930's came wrestling needed Giant Showmen, these were important men to sell the champions and blue eyes and even the imports that came to help. Most were short lived, such as Jumbo Giles (Gilo Golieth), Carver Doone, King Curtis, Palmer the Mighty and most of them were on the London scene. The Giant Anaconda outshone them all both at the time and by virtue of the length of his career.
Of course on Heritage we are now exploring which men had at least an element of their overseas persona and which were just total fake.
So most of the posters claim Swedish Scissor King or Anglo Swede.
Fortunately it was pretty common knowledge that in the early days Anaconda lived in Hammersmith. In the late 1930's he had been on TV with the likes of Alan Muir of Scotland and Dave Armstrong doing Catch-as-catch-can exhibitions. For that purpose he was Harry Anaconda of England.
It is very hard to find Anacondas real name in the wrestling world, for the most part it seems to have slipped the newspapers, however after the war the Film Industry made use of some of these rugged wrestlers and the Film Data Base IMDB suggests that Anaconda was also Henry John Purvis.
From there I was able just the once to find a reference in the papers as he was a witness for the 1937 Bankier / Mortimer court case about their alleged promotional partnership. It was there that Anaconda revealed that he earned £5 a bout working for them and sometimes a little more. He was named as Henry John Purvis.
That says to me that after wrestling had built it's popularity the money sounds very good, knowing some of the later day wages that other wrestlers revealed.
Of course The Giant Anaconda was pretty much a top card wrestler. As soon as he fought a mid carder he continued to enhance his toughness.
I sort of think that like acting Anaconda did not mind putting over the men that were at the very top. He fought Assirati many times, Sherry and Krauser and the champ Doug Clark. He did not get much change out of them. As long as the money was good, would you bother? When the war came, the only year I can't see him wrestling was 1943 and don't forget there wasn't much down south in any case. He may have been one of the few who was not prepared to live in the north.
Round about this time some bills advertised him as a Stevedore which could have been true but for sure I found him in 1939 as lorry driver and labourer involved in heavy Work. Looks like he had moved on from Hammersmith. He was at Hayes in Middlesex in 1939 at Hurstfield Crescent.
Having already been on TV, 1947 saw the release of a film Hue and Cry and if you doubt the effects of being a professional wrestler you might notice the cauliflower ear and missing teeth in the clip with him playing the rough and tough Larry the Bull. Just watch him cranking that engine if you look through the Youtube clip.
Of course it was a small part but with that look it guaranteed more to come.
The 1950's saw Street of Shadows 1953, I am a Camera 1955, and Supersonic Saucer 1956. In fact I think he had bit parts until at least 1958.
Back to wrestling. Some men, like Jack Pye and Bill Benny and Bomber Bates were never there to be champions, they were a big draw for other reasons and I suppose that was the ability the get the crowd very interested. You could say of it, Did any of them have a defining moment and it's a bit hard if you can't remember strapping a title belt on or being unmasked or something of that ilk. Well I am going to propose a defining moment for Anaconda, but not yet as I have not really gone into who he really was.
This guy really caused me problems. To begin with there was a Henry John Purvis born in Fulham in 1895 which put him pretty old but right place. However it just was not this guy, the proof, I won't bore you with, it was just a Time Lord doing Hard Yards.
Then I found several people attempting a Purvis family Tree but seemingly jumping to the wrong conclusions. I got a second opinion off another genealogist friend and between us we were sure.
Everyone had identified a Henry John Purvis who died in Norwich in 1978 as wrestler Anaconda and also an actor. With the death came a date of birth as 12th January 1904.
The problem was they were all finding the nearest fit Henry Purvis and it's a North East name and none were exact.
In fact the death was double indexed as Harry John B Purvis (same man) and by searching births of this name I got an exact match for born Milton in Kent using the Harry John B name.
So there I have it, Born Kent, married and lived London, died Norwich, but was he English through and through?
Well his mother was Ada J Hart born in Milton Kent and she had married John Christian Purvis who who also was born Kent and they had a couple of children. The only trouble is John Christian Purvis died in 1901 leaving Ada Purvis a widow. Without marrying again Ada seems to have had two more children to a man named John Brett and put the Brett name into their names.
Anaconda spent at least some of his childhood at Gas Road, Milton Regis.
So just like Vic Hesselle was not from Austria, Henry or Harry John Brett Purvis was as English as they come. The Swede character was pure colour for the ring.
In some ways Anaconda was not really a Purvis at all.
He married Ivy M Harmon in Hammersmith in 1932 and had more children, the first born Hammersmith but also at Uxbridge, and Ealing .
I wonder what the chances that Ivy's middle name was Margery or similar. In his early years Anaconda used a name with various spellings, Margerich Anaconda. Did he have a sense of humor?
Returning to wrestling again, some people who saw him said he was a giant and the billing could be anything up to six feet seven, six four was common but I have seen six two and even a reference to six one. He does look a big man as Larry the Bull in Hue and Cry and of course I will make the point that all the champions during his time were much shorter. Doug Clark was Five nine and a half, Assirati no more than five seven and Ernie Baldwin nowhere near six feet. Yes if you were over six feet you were damn big then.
And then, that is as far as Heritage is concerned, our own defining moment. Member Ray Noble remembers meeting Primo Carnera in the grounds of Belle Vue Manchester in October 1954 and Carnera dwarfing Anaconda, standing over him after a K.O. My own father-in-law saw Carnera at Belle Vue and was very disappointed. He used the description “A Flop” I guess the situation was, like a lot of big men, he did not have the wrestling training.
That brings me to the strategic selection of a suitable opponent to put him over.
Anaconda had spent over twenty years earning money by falling to the top of the card, he was now the wrong side of fifty and happy to take a dive. Well that's my theory and I'm sticking.
I can of course back this up a bit by saying that Carnera and Anaconda were in a film together called “A Kid for two Farthings” The film was released in 1955 and in it they did a scene in the Gym where Anaconda was known as The Champ. Carnera just walks up and picks him up and gives him a body slam. It's some good footage on You tube.
Carnera was no more than six six, even though he was a huge man . He really does look big in the film. Bear in mind that Anaconda would have had flat wrestling boots on and Carnera shoes,and Carnera nearer to the camera, the size difference was there for all to see.
To wrestle up to 1955 and do all those films and earn the part to sell Carnera I believe was perhaps his defining moment.
The Giant Anaconda was a big showman wrestler who could work the part. Later years he was noted in the papers for that cauliflower ear and the tattos.
Once and for all I believe we now have his name and a great collection of images.
1955, with Carnera in A Kid for Two Farthings