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Peter A. Tyrrell

Biography for Peter A. Tyrrell - One of the eleven founders of the National Basketball Association - First President of Ice Capades, etc.

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Peter A. Tyrrell - One of 11 National Basketball Association Founders - First President and a Founder of Ice Capades

Philadelphia

Peter A. Tyrrell

COPIED FROM NATIONAL CYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY vol 57 pp 297-298 [with paragraph notes in brackets added]

 

[ His Early Years ]

 

TYRRELL,   Peter  Aloysius,    entertainment  entrepreneur,  was  born  in  Philadelphia, Pa.,  Apr. 8, 1896,  son  of Peter Redmond and Agnes Anastasia (Bowen) Tyrrell. His father came to  this  country  from  England in  1890  and  settled  in  Philadelphia,   where  he  was  a  barber,  wigmaker, and  cigarmaker.  Peter A. Tyrrell  received  his  early education  at St. John the Baptist  High  School for Boys,  Manayunk, a suburb of Philadelphia,  and  completed a two  year  business course there.  He  began  his career  in 1912 as a stenographer  and  clerk in the employ of  the Girard  Trust  Co.  ( later  Girard  Bank), Philadelphia,  continuing  in  that  capacity  until  1914.  From 1915 to 1917 he was a  clerk in Philadelphia for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad  Co., and  during 1917-19  he  was  engaged  in typewriter  demonstration  and  maintenance  work  for  the Hooven  Automatic Typewriter Co.,  Philadelphia.  Later in 1919, having spent some months as a sportswriter  with  the  Manayunk  Review,  a  newspaper,  published  in Manayunk,  he entered the  field  of  sports  promotion  and  publicity,  establishing  a  3,000-seat   facility  on  a  carnival  lot  in  West  Manayunk,  across the river from Philadelphia, where he staged   fifteen-round  boxing matches,  the  limit  in  Philadelphia proper  then  being six rounds. In 1920 he went to New York City as  publicist for Al  Lippe, a boxing manager, and the following  year  he  returned  to Philadelphia to serve in a similar capacity for  Boo Boo Hoff  (Max Hoff), a boxing promoter and  manager, with whom  he  continued  his  association until 1929.  In that year Tyrrell  became a  boxing  matchmaker  with  the Philadelphia Arena,  then  that city’s  largest public  entertainment facility.   With  the decline  in  boxing  attendance  during  the  national economic depression of the 1930s, Tyrrell  subsequently became publicist  for the Arena,  and  when  it  went bankrupt in 1934 he was appointed a friendly receiver in equity by George Welsh, a federal court judge.  In that capacity he served as general manager of  the  Arena until 1958,  returning  its  operations to profitability. In 1958 he and associates purchased  the Arena and established the Philadelphia  Arena Corp., with Tyrrell as president and general manager. He retained those posts until his resignation in 1965. 

 

[ The Arena History ]

 

The Philadelphia Arena  was  built   in  1920  by George  F.  Pawling,  an  engineer and  athletic  official,  who installed  $150,000 worth  of  icemaking  equipment  in an unsuccessful effort to increase  the popularity of ice skating  in  Philadelphia.  In  1925  the  building was acquired by Jules Mastbaum, owner of a chain  of  motion picture theaters, who renamed it the Arena and operated it primarily to stage boxing matches. Two years later the Arena  was  sold  to  Rudy  Fried  and Maurice  Fishman, boxing promoters, who operated the facility until it was placed  in  receivership  in  1934. In 1947 the Arena was purchased by Triangle Publications, Inc., Philadelphia , later becoming part of the Annenberg Foundation,  which  sold  it  to  Tyrrell and associates in 1958. Upon Tyrrell’s resignation as  president and  general  manager  in  1965, the Arena was sold at auction to James Toppi Enterprises, a sports promotion concern.

 

 [ His contributions to the major Ice Shows ]

 

During  his  years  with  the  Arena, Tyrrell significantly enriched the variety of public entertainment in Philadelphia and elsewhere.  In 1936  he became one of the first  to  book  the  Shipstad  and  Johnson  ice-skating show, and its success in Philadelphia led to the establishment of the Ice Follies,  which  in  turn  became  one  of  the most successful shows in the entertainment  field.  In 1940  he  formed  an association with ten eastern sports Arenas which financed  the  Ice  Capades, another ice-skating  show,  separate from  Ice Follies. Tyrrell  was named business manager and organized and signed the talent  for  the first production.  He served as  first company  manager and president  in  1940. After rehearsing the show in the Philadelphia Arena, Tyrrell took it on its first  road  trip to New Orleans, La. Subsequently, the show was taken  to  Atlantic  City,  N.J.,  and  rehearsed  during  the  summers  under Tyrrell’s  direction  before setting out on road tours throughout the country during the winters. He was a director  of  the  Ice Capades  from  1940 until 1963,  when the company  was  sold  to  Metromedia, Inc.,  for $5  million. He convinced Sonja Henie, a figure skater,  to  turn professional,  and  she  made  her professional  debut  at the  Arena and subsequently became the star of her own show,  Hollywood Ice Revue.

 

[ His contributions to major indoor Rodeos ]

 

Tyrrell  also  brought  to  Philadelphia  its  first  major  rodeo,  starring Gene Autry. When Autry left the show, Tyrrell hired  Roy  Rogers,  who  was  playing  in  cowboy  and western movies at the same  studio  as  Autry. Playing  his first arena rodeo, Rodgers was well received and Tyrrell arranged his appearances at other arenas.

 

[ Other Arena Events, an NBA founder and Television Firsts ]

 

During  the  1940s  Tyrrell  arranged  at the  Arena what were  considered  the  worlds  first  televised   ice show, basketball  and hockey games, and  boxing  match.  In  1949 he arranged in five weeks  the welterweight boxing championship match between Sugar Ray Robinson and Kid Gavilan,  selling  $90,000  worth  of  tickets  at the gate. The match was held at Municipal Stadium  (later John F. Kennedy  Stadium)  in Philadelphia, and drew a total  of  $178,000 and attracted an audience of  27,805, the second  largest  for  a boxing  match  in  Philadelphia history. Tyrrell was known for his varied programming. The events held at the  Arena during his tenure  including the Johnny Weismuller and Buster Crabbe swimming shows, roller derbies, billiards contests, six-day bicycle races, dance marathons, rocking chair  derbies, furniture sales, automobile shows, an endurance race between men and horses, and performances by the Spanish Riding School, the Lippizaner Stallions of Vienna, the Moscow Circus, the Scotch Guard, Gracie Fields, Bob Hope, Nat King Cole,  Victor Borge,  Elvis Presley,  and  Marion Anderson. Among the more unique events was the wedding of a couple participating in a dance marathon in Camden, N.J. Brought to the Arena in an open truck with orchestra, the couple danced in to, and during the ceremony and back to Camden in the truck.  Red Skelton served as master of ceremonies for the marathon and the wedding. On another occasion the funeral of a cowgirl who died while performing with the Roy Rogers rodeo was held at the Arena, with Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers singing  “Round-up in the Sky,” after which the entire rodeo troupe rode with the casket to the cemetery. Upon retiring from the Arena in 1965, Tyrrell  established Pete Tyrrell & Associates, Philadelphia, to engage in the promotion of individual attractions at the Arena and other stadiums in the Philadelphia area. Tyrrell served as president of this firm from its inception until the close of his life. In addition to his main activities, he was a founder Basketball Association of America (BAA), forerunner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and for a time he managed the Philadelphia Warriors professional basketball team, which won the 1946-1947 BBA championship. He also brought the Ramblers team of the American Hockey League to Philadelphia as a farm club of the New York Rangers.

 

[ His Civic Affairs ]

 

Interested in civic affairs, Tyrrell and Oscar Johnson, owner of Ice Follies, staged a benefit in 1954 for the orphans of ten fireman killed in an explosion during a fire at a chemical plant in Philadelphia that year. This benefit became a forerunner of the annual Hero Scholarship Fund and Thrill Show which was organized in that year with Tyrrell serving as a director until the close of his life.  At other times he staged benefits for prison welfare and for  various church-operated welfare homes and hospitals. He brought about the repeal of the section of the Pennsylvania Blue Laws prohibiting entertainment events on Sundays by staging a benefit show for St. Joseph’s Home, a church-operated institution, on a Sunday. The benefit became an annual event. Tyrrell  was the recipient of a large number of  awards from local groups for his charitable and fund-raising activities. From 1963 to 1965 he was vice-president of the National Arena Managers Association.

 

[  Personal  ]

 

 His religious  affiliation was with the Roman Catholic Church. In politics he was an independent. For recreation he played golf, winning numerous trophies, and he was a member of the Bala Golf  Club of Philadelphia. He was considered an exceptional pocket billiard player and played exhibition  matches with many world champions. He was married in Philadelphia, Jan. 24, 1927, to Elsie Amelia , daughter of Julius Fred and Amelia Elsie (Dreger) Day of that city, and had three children: Peter Aloysius,  who  married  Mary  Patricia  Kelly;   Elsie Amelia, who married John Edward Rann; and Eleanor Agnes.   Peter A. Tyrrell died in Philadelphia, Pa., May 8, 1973.

  

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