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Maurice Tillet (October 23, 1903 – September 4, 1954) was a Russian-born French professional wrestler known as The French Angel. Tillet was a leading box office draw in the early 1940s and was twice recognized world heavyweight champion by the American Wrestling Association run by Paul Bowser in Boston.
Tillet was born in the Ural Mountains in Russia to French parents. His mother was a teacher and his father was a railroad engineer. Tillet's father died when he was young. As a child he had a completely normal appearance and Tillet was nicknamed "The Angel" due to his angelic face. In 1917, Tillet and his mother left Russia due to the Revolution and moved to France, where they settled in Reims. When Tillet was 17, he noticed swelling in his feet, hands, and head, and after visiting a doctor was diagnosed with acromegaly - a condition usually caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, resulting in bone overgrowth and thickening.
He had wanted to become a lawyer, but his acromegaly prevented him from doing so. Tillet served in the French Navy for five years as an engineer.
Professional wrestling career
In February 1937, Tillet met Carl Pojello in Singapore. Pojello was a professional wrestler, and convinced Tillet to enter the business. Tillet and Pojello moved to Paris for training, and Tillet wrestled for two years in France and England until World War II forced them to leave for the United States in 1939.
In Boston, Massachusetts, in 1940, promoter Paul Bowser pushed Tillet, who was wrestling as The French Angel, as a main eventer, and he became a large draw in the area. As a result of his popularity, Tillet was booked as unstoppable, going undefeated for a span of 19 consecutive months. Tillet won the Boston-version of the World Heavyweight Championship in May 1940, holding it until May 1942. In early 1942, he also held the Montreal-based world heavyweight championship. He regained the Boston-based title for a short time in 1944.
As a result of his success, several Angel imitators emerged, including the Tony Angelo (Russian Angel), Super Swedish Angel, Jack Rush (Canadian Angel), Wladislaw Tulin (Polish Angel), Stan Pinto (Czech Angel), Clive Welsh (Irish Angel), Jack Falk (Golden Angel), Gil Guerrero (Black Angel), and Jean Noble (Lady Angel). Tillet actually competed against Tor Johnson billed as The Swedish Angel on several occasions.
By 1945, Tillet's health began to fail and he was no longer booked as unstoppable. In his final wrestling match, in Singapore on February 14, 1953, he lost to Bert Assirati.
In 1950, Chicago sculptor Louis Linck befriended Tillet and made a series of plaster busts commemorating him for his wrestling career. One of the busts is in the Chicago’s International Museum of Surgical Science.
In 1954, Robert Manoogian Jr. who went by Bobby Managoff, friend and fellow wrestler to Maurice, asked if he could take a mold of Maurice’s head. Maurice agreed. From that mold three identical life casts, also called death masks were created. The first was given to Milo Steinborn. Milo donated his mask to the York Barbell Museum & USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame. The other two went to Patrick Kelly, a close friend of Maurice that he used to play chess with. Patrick donated both until 2006. One went to the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard, and the other to the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum. Recently a 4th death mask has been identified. The owner is asserting it is the master bust, that was molded in order to create the other masks above.
DreamWorks character Shrek is widely believed to have been inspired by Maurice Tillet. DreamWorks has yet to reference their inspirations for Shrek specifically, however there is an undeniable physical, and character similarities. There was an old Shrek script, and character, that was set to go into production created around Chris Farley. Then in 1997 Farley dies sending production into a tailspin. It was at that juncture Shrek, the movie, completely changed. The old Shrek was a teenage Ogre, longing to be accepted, and wanting to be a knight. The new Shrek becomes an older, wiser Ogre, longing to be left alone in his swamp. There is a professional style wrestling scene in the movie that may be a secret knod to their inspiration, Maurice Tillet. There are rumors that someone at DreamWorks visited the York Barbell Museum, and from viewing the mask at that location, the inspiration for Shrek was acquired.
Tillet died on September 4, 1954, in France, from heart disease. Tillet is buried at Lithuanian National Cemetery in Justice, Illinois in (Cook County, Illinois)
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Class of 2012
- Parker, Mike. The World's Most Fantastic Freaks (1983). ISBN 0-7064-2145-0.