January 6, 1930|
|Died||August 22, 2000(aged 70)|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Professor Tanaka
Professor Toru Tanaka
|Billed height||5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)|
|Billed weight||280 lb (130 kg)|
|Billed from||Hiroshima, Japan|
Charles "Charlie" J. Kalani Jr. (January 6, 1930 – August 22, 2000) was an American professional wrestler, professional boxer, college football player, soldier, actor, and martial artist who, in fighting rings, was also known as Professor Toru Tanaka, or simply Professor Tanaka.
He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Charles J. Kalani and Christina Leong Kalani (who was part Chinese). Charlie began studying judo at age nine. At Iolani School (class of 1949), he was a natural at many sports, and Doris Kalani credited his time on the football team with keeping him away from trouble. "He was a street kid getting into trouble and would have ended up in reform school if Father Kenneth A. Bray hadn't helped him out by bringing him to Iolani. He felt Iolani saved him," she told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
He left Hawaii for Utah's Weber Junior College (now Weber State University). On December 6, 1951, the Associated Press reported he received honorable mention for playing football at the University of Utah. It was at the University of Utah that he also met his wife Doris in 1952. On December 3, 1952 the Associated Press reported Kalani would become a professional boxer. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1955, Kalani rose to the rank of sergeant and excelled on the pistol team. For four years, the couple were stationed at a base in Nuremberg, Germany.
After Kalani's discharge from the service in 1966, the couple moved to Monterey, California, where he ran a Judo and Danzan-ryu Jujitsu academy with Professor John Chow-Hoon. San Francisco promoter Roy Shire asked him to wrestle in 1967, but Shire felt that Kalani had to get "meaner". "Charlie was almost full-blooded Hawaiian," said Doris. "In wrestling, Hawaii seemed not as exciting as Japan." He has four children - one who followed in his footsteps. Francis Maikai also known as Professor Toru Tanaka Jr. (seen in the movies Austin Powers Goldmember, Pearl Harbor, Pirates of the Caribbean and more), Cheryle Kalani, Carl Kalani and Karen Kalani Beck.
Professional wrestling career
One of the characteristics of Kalani's wrestling gimmick was that he threw salt in his opponents' eyes. Kalani's most famous tag team partner was Harry Fujiwara (better known as Mr. Fuji), whom he knew from high school in Hawaii. In his book, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks, Freddie Blassie explored the relationship between the two "Japanese" heels.
From Tanaka's point of view, he was passing time with Fuji because it made sense to team up with another Japanese villain. The two certainly had no great admiration for one another. Tanaka was a by-the-book guy, who looked at wrestling as a means to make a living. He wanted to work his match, shake hands with everyone afterwards, and save some money. He was a professional.
If you wanted to talk about an angle beforehand, you always went to Tanaka. He was the ring general, who'd lead everyone else in the match. Fuji was certainly a good performer, but you couldn't control him. So, in addition to worrying about their opponents, Tanaka had the responsibility of making sure that Fuji didn't get out of hand. I guess he did a pretty good job because, years later, when Tanaka was relegated to working these tiny independent shows to earn a few extra bucks, Fuji himself had become a manager.— Freddie Blassie, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks
Tanaka had a long successful run with the WWF in the 1960s, including being #1 contender to champion Bruno Sammartino. In their first Madison Square Garden meeting, Tanaka was disqualified for throwing salt; was pinned by Sammartino in a rematch 6 months later. Tanaka also main evented the Garden in tag matches, twice with Gorilla Monsoon vs. Sammartino and Spyros Arion (Tanaka and his partner winning the first via disqualification; losing the second in a Texas Death Match); a year later with Monsoon against Sammartino and Victor Rivera. Monsoon & Tanaka had other Garden matches, including victories over Al Costello & Dr. Bill Miller; and Bobo Brazil and Earl Maynard.
Tanaka subsequently teamed with Mitsu Arakawa in the WWF, acquiring the International Tagteam Championship; losing it at Madison Square Garden to Tony Marino and Victor Rivera.
Professor Tanaka was also featured in a television commercial for a brand of rice in Puerto Rico. His other appearance in a commercial was for Colgate toothpaste with Pat Morita. Tanaka was seen as an extra in a few of David Lee Roth's music videos in the mid-1980s.
By the early 1980s, Kalani's body could not handle the beatings in the ring any longer, and he moved into the film world on a more permanent basis. His first film was the 1981 Chuck Norris vehicle An Eye for an Eye and his last film was 1995's Hard Justice. He appeared opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man as a sadistic ice skating "stalker" named Subzero who "slices his enemies limb from limb into quivering, bloody sushi". Other notable roles include Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, The Perfect Weapon, and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
Tanaka was one of three semi-retired professional wrestlers to compete in a tug-of-war match with two other wrestlers teamed up against a large group of children on the Nickelodeon series Wild and Crazy Kids in the early 1990s.
Kalani died of heart failure on August 22, 2000. He had a full military funeral.
- An Eye for an Eye (1981) - The Professor
- Little House on the Prairie (A new beginning; "Alden's Dilemma" Season 9 aired first on December 6, 1982) - Japanese sumo (uncredited)
- Angel Of H.E.A.T. (1983)
- Off the Wall (1983) - Banzai Wrestler #1
- Revenge of the Ninja (1983) - Sumo Servant
- The A-Team - The Maltese Cow (1984) - Ling, the Bodyguard
- Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984) - Hashimoto
- Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985) - Lao
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - Butler 
- Volunteers (1985) - Sumo Guard
- The A-Team - The Spy Who Mugged Me (1986) - Fröbe
- Bad Guys (1986) - Lord Percy's Bodyguard
- Shanghai Surprise (1986) - Yamagani San
- Catch The Heat (1987) - Dozu
- The Running Man (1987) - Subzero
- Dead Heat (1988) - Butcher
- Tax Season (1989)
- Hyper Space (1989) - Android
- Black Rain (1989) - Sugai's Man
- Darkman (1990) - Chinese Warrior #2
- Martial Law (1990) - Jimmy Kong
- The Perfect Weapon (1991) - Tanaka
- Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) - Wrestler, Tokyo Joe
- Deadly Game (1991) - Ikiru-Sun
- 3 Ninjas (1992) - Rushmore
- Last Action Hero (1993) - Tough Asian Man
- Hard Justice (1995) - Cookie (uncredited) (final film role)
- Finishing moves
- Japanese Sleeper (Cobra clutch)
- Wrestlers managed
Championships and accomplishments
- All-California Championship Wrestling
- ACCW Tag Team Championship (2 times) - with Peter Maivia, Jr.
- California Pro Wrestling
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- L&G Promotions
- Northeast Championship Wrestling (Tom Janette)
- NCW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA Big Time Wrestling
- NWA British Empire Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
1Records do not show which NWA affiliate Tanaka worked for when his two reigns with the title began. While usually defended in Southeastern Championship Wrestling, it was occasionally used in other promotions.
- "Charlie Kalani, 70, Remembered As Versatile Actor". Classic Wrestling Articles.
- Shields, Brian; Sullivan, Kevin (2009). WWE Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
- "Charley Kalani". Boxrec Boxing Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
- Alumni Making Headlines (April 2006). "The Professor Toru Tanaka (Charles Kalani '49) Remembered". Iolani School website.
- Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-06-001258-8.
- Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2000). Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.