Maurice Tillet, better known by his Professional wrestling name, "The French Angel". Maurice was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on October 23, 1903 of French parents. His father was an engineer involved in the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad and his mother was a teacher of languages. By age 8 Maurice had lost his father. Sometime afterwards Maurice's mother moved him to Moscow Russia, where she taught at a St. Philip Neri Catholic School where Maurice attended classes.
With the Russian Revolution underway in 1917, his mother decided to move to Rheims, France. She found employment teaching languages at a local girl's college. Probably due to his mother's influence, Maurice learned to speak many languages. Maurice was a devout Catholic and attended church every Sunday. Once in 1947 he was even given an audience with the Pope.
By age 17, Maurice's head, chest, hands, and feet started to expand. By age 19, he was diagnosed with acromegaly. Acromegaly is a disease caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland that then causes bones to thicken to abnormal proportions. It took an angelic young man and turned him into what the public perceived as a monster.
Maurice received his secondary education at St. Stanislaus, a Catholic school in Paris. Once complete he went onto his post-secondary education at Toulouse University of Law.
He was always the athlete, enjoying rugby in particular. Once in 1926 he was named to an all-France rugby team. After a game in London, he received the distinction of shaking the hand of King George V., a distinction he would often mention.
Maurice completed his law degree however chose not to practice.
In the French Navy, Maurice worked as an engineer aboard many battleships eventually achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer serving a total of 5 years. He eventually got bored with Navy life and rejoined the civilian population.
It was in this time-frame he tried his hand at a number of occupations, and acted in the French cinema. When in the course of WWII he heard the French Navy sunk his ship to avoid capture by the Nazi's, he wept.
Maurice was discovered in Paris, France in 1936 by Lithuanian light-heavyweight champion amateur wrestler Karl Pojello. Karl knew Maurice's interesting look could make him a professional wrestling sensation. At that time Maurice was working for a local Paris studio as an actor and as a doorman. 1939 saw Maurice wrestle in England as, "The Angel", a nickname given to him by his mother. Other names given to him were not as kindly including "Ugliest Man in the World". The bear hug became his signature move.
By late 1939, Maurice had a proven track record and was ready to invade professional wrestling in the United States. Maurice made his American debut on January 24, 1940 at Boston Garden against Luigi Bacigaiupi. Maurice walked down the aisle, entered the ring, leaned over the ropes, and roared at the crowd.
At his American debut were Harvard scientists anticipating the sight of Maurice. They asked him if he would submit to be measured for science and Maurice agreed. They were curious about Maurice as acromegalics often did not live past their 30th year. Acromegalics would often get weak, where-as Maurice was still very strong, and healthy at his current 37 years of age. Maurice was 5 foot 8.5 inches in height, 276 pounds, 47 inch chest. Maurice had a head almost twice that of normal for a man of his size, and hands that could shuffle three decks of cards. He was declared to be the closest living specimen to that of Neanderthal man known to exist.
The crowds flocked to see this monster of a man who was a throwback to prehistoric times. Maurice proved incredibly strong and staged events where he would pull a bus or street car. He wrestled and won against all the greatest wrestlers of his day. His persona was fierce, and although he was sold as a heel, he was kind, gentle, educated, and well-mannered.
On May 13, 1940 Maurice defeated Steve Casey by disqualification for the American Wrestling Association World Title in Boston, and beat him clean again two weeks later. Maurice reinvigorated professional wrestling as crowds dramatically increased to witness his body and his ability. He remained unbeaten for nineteen months but on May 13, 1942, Maurice lost the AWA title back to Steve Casey.
Although no longer billed as unbeatable, "The Angel" remained a very popular draw. Maurice held the AWA World Title (Boston) from May 13, 1940 to May 13, 1942 and the Montreal World Title March 30, 1942 to June 25, 1942. He was also the AWA champion from August 1, 1944 until August 15, 1944.
Maurice reported to the U.S. Army in 1942 to serve in the war effort but was told that he would be a curiosity and distraction and was denied service. In February of 1947, Maurice took his oath of citizenship to the United States.
Wrestling promoter Jack Pfefer recognized the genius in the wrestling nickname "Angel" and started importing other "Angels" with physical abnormalities. This influx forced Maurice to change his nickname "Angel to "The French Angel." With the "theft" of his very personal nickname it likely explains why Maurice's first face-to-face meeting with Pfefer ended with him slapping Jack across the face.
Maurice's appearance drew significant attention when he was in public. This is likely why he chose to live a very private life and was particular about his friends.
Karl, his wife Olga, and Maurice went in together on a mansion at 726 W. Garfield Blvd in Chicago. The three of them were living at that location together in 1954. In 1954, Karl had lung cancer and Maurice had recently recovered from bought of pneumonia. Maurice was also suffering from an enlarged heart caused by his acromegaly.
Karl died on September 4, 1954. When informed of Karl's passing, Maurice became ill and was taken to county hospital where he passed away thirteen hours after his friend. They were buried side by side in the Pojello family plot in the Lithuanian National Cemetery in Justice, Illinois.
Maurice is widely believed to have been the inspiration for the cartoon character "Shrek", although DreamWorks has never confirmed precisely from where Shrek's inspiration arose. The film was originally written and animated to fit actor Chris Farley. When Farley died, a whole new film was written. In a rush to create a new film, it is presumed Dreamworks found in Maurice the perfect representation of an older, wiser, grumpier ogre, yet possessing a noble character of a hero. The physical characteristics, as well personality traits of Maurice, and his wrestling persona "The French Angel", appear to be evident throughout the film.
Maurice was found in the 1935 French Film Princesse Tam Tam, starring Josephine Baker.