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Santa Monica museum gets gift from wrestler's widow

September 4, 2009 |  7:30 am

The Santa Monica Historical Society Museum has received a donation of $100,000 from the widow of one of the early stars of professional wrestling.

Billie Leone, the widow of Baron Michele Leone, who helped pioneer professional wrestling in the United States and built a huge fan base when television began airing his matches in the 1950s, gave the check in her husband's memory to help support the museum's new home. It will soon relocate to a new permanent facility in the Santa Monica Public Library's main complex on Santa Monica Boulevard.

"My husband moved to Santa Monica in 1949, and that began his lifelong love affair with Santa Monica," Leone said in a statement.

"The Baron," as he was known, was born in 1909 in Italy and came to this country in the late 1930s, according to a statement from the museum. He was a showman who sported long hair and wore a colorful cape into the ring.

Louise Gabriel, the museum's president and chief executive, said the gift would be used to sponsor a wall case featuring memorabilia from the Baron's career. He died in November 1988 at age 79 after being struck by a car in a crosswalk near his Ocean Park home.

—Martha Groves