Northwestern University is a pretty big deal. In the area of arts and entertainment, luminaries who spent time enrolled at Northwestern include Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and George R.R. Martin. Graduates of the university who’ve made their mark in the world of business include the founders of Arthur Andersen, Booz Allen Hamilton, Aon, Groupon, and U.S. Steel.
So highly regarded is a Northwestern education that attendance of the university is often written into the backstories of fictional characters as a way of tacitly signaling “Hey, this guy’s smart!” The list of alumni and faculty that proudly wear Northwestern purple only in the world of make believe includes Andrea Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada, Dr. Robert Doback from Step Brothers, Roger Porter from Carbon Copy, and Doc Sampson from The Incredible Hulk.
Somehow, legendary professional wrestling figure Roy Shire managed to cobble elements of all three of these worlds together into a purple-hued sports entertainment persona entirely his own. Appearing first as a fictitious wrestling character who enveloped himself in assorted false identities as a Northwestern scholar, athlete, and faculty member, Shire morphed into the real-life owner of a wrestling territory who frequently cited bogus Northwestern credentials as being at the nexus of his legitimate business accomplishments.
Beginning in 1949 and extending up until his death in 1992, Shire made public claims alleging a formal relationship with the unquestioned academic powerhouse of the Big 10 athletic conference. The registrar’s office of Northwestern University has confirmed that no one by Shire’s name—or any of Shire’s names—ever attended or graduated from Northwestern University or any of its component schools during the years that Shire claimed to have been associated with the school.
This isn’t the only fabrication of Shire’s career unearthed through research conducted by Splice Today. In the same 1949 article published in Times of Munster, Indiana, in which it was claimed Roy Shropshire—Shire’s real name—was attending Northwestern University, it was also alleged that Shropshire had captured Indiana’s state high school wrestling championship in the 165-pound weight class in 1940 while he was a participant on the Hammond High School wrestling team.
This, once again, was a classic instance of a professional wrestler embellishing a legitimate accomplishment in an era where it was routine. In this particular case, the exaggeration was mild in comparison with what was to come. Shropshire did wrestle for Hammond—a legitimate state wrestling powerhouse of the era—and did qualify for the state championship meet… in the 145-pound weight class, not in the 165-pound division. He successfully won one match during the first day of the 1940 championship meet, but didn’t advance to the finals.
In this scenario, the lie was nothing that Shropshire couldn’t have attributed to the misunderstandings of the writer penning the story for The Times. At the very least, Shropshire was undeniably a high performing wrestler at the state level, and this is supported by the fact that he qualified for the team of his naval station during his subsequent World War II service, and was a member on the wrestling team that won a naval district tournament. From there, he was selected to serve at the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Station, and represented the station’s wrestling team as a 175-pounder at the 1943 AAU National Championships. He was outpointed and lost in the quarterfinal round.
By 1951, Shropshire had acquired multiple years of professional wrestling experience and completed his subtle retreat behind the alias of Roy Shire. That’s when he began to affirm his fraudulent connection with Northwestern.
A February edition of the Dayton Daily News refers to Shire as a one-time Northwestern University star, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks as to exactly what activity Shire had starred in for the university. That same month, The Lexington Herald touted “Prof. Roy Shire” as a graduate of the school. Days later, The Lancaster Evening Gazette described how the professorship of Shire was visually communicated to wrestling fans, describing him as introducing something new to the local mat scene by sporting a cap and gown with his attire.
By March, Roy Shire “of Evanston, Illinois” had defeated Jackie Nichols for the world junior heavyweight championship of the Midwest Wrestling Association, and that’s when the papers began to drill down on the academic assertion of their latest wrestling champion. When telling his tale to The Rushville Republican, Shire asserted that he studied at Indiana University before attending Northwestern University, but had his studies interrupted by the onset of World War II. He was wrenched away from Northwestern in 1942, but returned following the war’s conclusion and graduated with high honors.
In reality, Shire was an employee of Pullman Standard Car Manufacturing—a manufacturer of railroad cars—in Hammond, Indiana at the time the war broke out. This is clearly divulged in the pages of The Times of Munster that praised Shire’s wartime accomplishments and spoke of his pre-war activities; no ongoing academic aspirations on the part of Shire are disclosed in the piece.
All the same, by April of 1951, Shire was claiming he was a full-fledged member of the Northwestern wrestling team, and that’s when his career received a notable boost. In December of that year, a nationally syndicated piece from The Washington Post estimated that there were approximately 3000 men competing on the professional wrestling circuit, and further guessed that 20 percent of them were college graduates. Along with pro wrestling icon Gorgeous George, the Post highlighted Shire in particular, citing “The Professor” as an academic standout who eschewed the customary “bathrobe” for a professional cap and gown.
As Shire’s career progressed through the 1950s, he appeared in a competitive capacity in various parts of Georgia, Texas, New York and California, and tangled with such pro wrestling notables as Lou Thesz and Freddie Blassie. He continued to be labeled as a resident of Evanston, Illinois, and by the middle of the decade, Shire was claiming ownership of not one, but two degrees from Northwestern, along with former occupancy of a faculty position. Specifically, Shire’s unnamed representatives responded to a formal press inquiry about “The Professor,” ensuring the inquirers that Shire had acquired his nickname “through legitimate means,” and that his professor status was entirely on the level.
“He earned a BA at Northwestern, then went on to win his masters, meanwhile instructing physical education classes as an assistant professor,” Shire’s representatives stated. By the middle of 1956, Shire’s lie had crystallized around physical education. In an editorial printed in The Ogden Standard-Examiner, writer Al Harden had supposedly conversed with Eddie Borden of Boxing and Wrestling Magazine about Shire’s credentials, and Borden replied with a series of lies, starting with “Roy Shire was born 27 years ago.” (Shire was 35 at the time.)
“Roy Shire graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in education, and he even found time to teach in elementary school, too,” proclaimed Borden. “So he’s no phony when it comes to learning. That’s obvious just by speaking to him.” Borden then went on to repeat the lie that he’d won Indiana’s 165-pound state championship during his high school days even though he failed to even qualify for the final round of the tournament.
Later, the same publication printed a remark that had allegedly been supplied by Shire’s unnamed (and atypically poetic) Northwestern University wrestling coach, stating of Shire, “He has the looks of an angel, the body of an Adonis, but his conduct is that of an alley cat and the savagery of a tiger.”
To its credit, The Salt Lake Tribune went further than any other publication in sleuthing the claims made by Shire during his pro wrestling prime. In an article titled “That ‘Prof’ Stands for ‘Profit’,” the staff of the Tribune posted the formal reply from Northwestern University when the institution was asked about Shire’s connection with it, whether it was as a student, an athlete, or as a member of the faculty.
“That with reference to your three questions, we have no record of any person by the name of Roy Shire having attended Northwestern University as a student, or graduated from the university, or ever served as a member of our faculty,” concluded the statement from Alban Webber, the attorney assigned to issue the formal response on Northwestern’s behalf.
As a brief aside, one can only imagine how Alban Webber felt being asked to issue this response. As a naval officer who served honorably as a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and a graduate of Harvard Law School, it’s likely that Webber viewed the entire matter as altogether silly.
Still, despite its seeming thoroughness, Webber’s statement left Shire with wiggle room. After all, his real name wasn’t Roy Shire—it was Roy Shropshire. If challenged, Shire could’ve contended that the investigation was conducted without his real name. Splice Today has confirmed with Northwestern University’s current registrar’s office staff that no one bearing the name of Roy Shropshire—at least not during any of the potential years in question—has ever attended or graduated from the school.
Regardless, in the days when it might’ve mattered, the localized Utah investigation into Shire came and went, and so did Shire’s in-ring career. If the story ended here, the entire matter might’ve been dismissed as a simple case of a pro wrestler working the public to further the potency of his character’s gimmick. However, as time wore on, every indication is that Shire bought into his own fictitious story of academic achievement, and would continue to cling to his false scholastic credentials for dear life.
In the mid-1960s, Shire was already the leading promoter of professional wrestling in Northern California, and had seemingly acquired some retroactive athletic success to accompany his elevated position as a businessman in wrestling. When interviewed by The Oakland Tribune in December of 1965 about his refusal to allow mixed-gender matches in his wrestling promotion, Shire made sure he was quoted as “former football player and collegiate wrestling champion from Northwestern,” thereby boasting of two distinct and equally false Northwestern sports team membership to match his two equally fake Northwestern degrees.
By the early-1970s, through the labors of stars like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Rocky Johnson and Peter Maivia, Shire had built a powerhouse wrestling promotion on the West Coast in the form of the NWA-member Big Time Wrestling organization headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area. It was in his role of the owner and booker of the Big Time Wrestling promotion, in 1972, that Shire was profiled and interviewed by The Sebastopol Times, and he continued to season his career with untruths.
Shire began with the usual lies. He stated that he was born in 1922 when the real date was 1921. He claimed possession of an Indiana state wrestling championship that he hadn’t won, along with service in the U.S. Army when he’d served in the U.S. Coast Guard. Shire then went on to claim that he attended Northwestern University from 1946 to 1950 and graduated with a degree in business administration. Shire placed himself amongst the ranks of the elite graduates of the Kellogg School of Business.
“While in college, he was an active participant on the wrestling and boxing teams,” the article continued. “It was his college training that later earned him the nickname ‘professor.’” Apparently, Shire shed the backstory that he’d once been an assistant professor of physical education at Northwestern, as that fib was of little to no value in a business context.
The press caught up to Shire again in 1984, less than a decade prior to his 1992 death. Over the course of an interview in which he aggressively tore down the professional wrestling industry by stating that the business that helped to make him a multimillionaire was a sham from the word “go,” Shire couldn’t help but to sneak in a few more self-aggrandizing lies. Along with his claim to have been 57 at that time (he was 63), Shire figuratively fastened a fraudulent bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University to his business success one final time.
And that’s where it remained up until the time of Roy Shire’s death on September 24, 1992. To the extent that his pro wrestling career and adjacent professional life could be classified as a body of fictional work, Shire died as possibly the most successful fictional Wildcat in history. Shire was so reliant upon the lies that he never considered that the tale of himself as a self-made man would’ve been more impressive without having a supercilious school superfluously scrawled on his resume.
Shire displayed a bizarre insistence on tying his success in all walks of his profession to attendance at a school that would never claim him as one of its own. Despite not being a Northwestern Wildcat, Shire’s stubborn adherence to a lie that inescapably shaped his identity for four decades is the mark of a man who could be colloquially identified as a wild cat. Shire undoubtedly received more mileage, acknowledgement, and benefits from a fake Northwestern University degree than the overwhelming majority of the university's graduates have received from a legitimate one. As is often unfortunately the case, a well-placed lie can do more to boost personal performance over a lifetime than any drug ever could.