The WAWLI Papers (Wrestling
As We Liked It) No. 500
LOOKING FOR INFO ON WOMAN WRESTLER
We are documentary filmmakers working on a project on Ethel Brown, who was a woman wrestler in the early to mid '50s. We are trying to find anyone who collects old women's wrestling memorabilia from that era, including pictures, film footage, match programs, etc., and especially of Ethel Brown. We are also seeking perhaps any contacts for fans that might have been in the Ethel Brown fan club. Can you direct us to some resources for such information/materials? Thanks so much for your help. Any information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.
P.S. Fyffe is Ethel Brown's daughter!
Ingrid A. Spangler and Fyffe Aschenbrenner
QUERY FOR INFO ON OCEANSIDE A.C.
I am the coordinator of the California Register
of Historical Resources and am currently processing a nomination for the
Oceanside Athletic Club which hosted professional wrestling events from 1949
through 1953. I am trying to find out how significant the club and its founder,
Marie Middlekauf, were in
the world of the professional wrestling. In your work on the history of professional wrestling, have you run across any items of interest dealing with the Oceanside Athletic Club and Marie Middlekauf? I know that she was one of only a few women involved in promoting professional wrestling in her day. But, beyond that, I'm trying to get a handle on whether the Oceanside Athletic Club only had local significance, or if there was greater
significance associated with the club. Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
(ED. NOTE -- Anyone with info on the above club may forward it to the editor of The WAWLI Papers, i.e., <email@example.com>)
ACTUALLY, WE DON'T GET MANY . . .
I know you must get a lot of letters like this but, I would like to thank you for the WAWLI papers. I look so forward to it. It makes my day. I wrestled in the early '80s. But my true love is the days of Thesz. You put me in a time machine almost everyday. Well, thanks
AKA Sean O'Reilly
A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE SIXTH
(San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 1999)
By Tom Fitzgerald
--"Bad news for professional wrestling,'' says Jay Leno. "TV Guide is reporting that a female wrestler named Chastity once appeared in a porno movie. I just hope this one incident doesn't overshadow the family values message that professional wrestling has been sending all these years.''
SALT LAKE VIDEO MAKERS READY TO RUMBLE
(Salt Lake Tribune, Saturday, May 15, 1999)
By Vince Horiuchi
It takes WWF wrestling sensation Steve Austin only a few seconds to finish off a begging opponent with his Stone Cold Stunner move. But it took months and hundreds of thousands of dollars for software programmers at Iguana Entertainment in Salt Lake City to get a computer image of Austin performing the same move for a home videogame.
For more than nine months, videogame developers at Iguana, in Sugar House, have been videotaping the World Wrestling Federation's hottest professional wrestlers and converting them to computer-generated bodies to make WWF Attitude, the newest in a popular series of home videogames for the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 game machines. Iguana's No. 1 goal in making WWF Attitude was to have the wrestlers move and look exactly like their real-life counterparts for the new fighting game.
"We want to present to the player what they see on TV," said Rob Nelson, Iguana's technical director. "It's important that the character [of each wrestler] is maintained."
The game's designers were expected to show off their creation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an entertainment software convention this week in Los Angeles.
Iguana is one of several videogame developers from Utah attending the expo to demo their latest videogames. They include companies such as Salt Lake City's SingleTrac, which makes PlayStation games, and Access Software, which created the world's best-selling golf game.
With just a month to go before WWF Attitude is released to stores, the wrestlers in the game look so real, some people do double-takes when they see the game on TV, said Justin Towns, the game's lead programmer.
"It can be playing on the TV, and people in the distance think it's the show," he said. To make the game look that realistic required a combination of high-tech wizardry and old-fashioned sweat.
The first step was to record the wrestlers' movements known as motion capture so the game characters move smoothly and exactly like their real-life counterparts. Iguana hired the WWF's Hardy Boyz wrestling team to record movements for the game.
In a New York City studio, Matt and Jeff Hardy put on black Spandex body suits studded with white knobs. Eight computer cameras situated around the wrestlers picked up the white dots and recorded the wrestlers' motion as they performed famous moves seen in a match. The data forms polygons on the computer screen that look like the wrestler's body.
"The computers triangulate where all of the dots are, and that turns into data files that we translate into the game," Nelson said. While in New York, game designers also photographed each of the team's 30 wrestlers so their actual faces could be "grafted" onto the wrestlers' bodies in the game.
In Salt Lake City, programmers cleaned up the computer data and fixed any glitches in the wrestlers' virtual bodies. Then, a team of computer artists drew facsimiles of each of the wrestlers' uniforms and put those on the bodies along with the actual faces.
Next, game programmers digitally recorded a gigantic sound library of the wrestlers' taunts, fighting sound effects and theme music. Such crowd sound effects as chants, cheers and jeers also will be part of WWF Attitude. While designing videogames for a living may sound glamorous, the hours can be long, especially at "crunch time" -- when the game is due to be released, said the game's designers.
"I've had three days off since January. They ask for 14-hour days during this time," said the game's project manager, Vince Bracken.
In the last weeks before the game's debut, nearly all of the 25 programmers and artists are locked in Iguana's office.
Still, for the young programmers at Iguana (most employees there are in their mid-20s), videogame design is the ultimate job.
"It's a fantastic job," Bracken said. "I feel like we're kind of creating movies. We're creating things that people are having fun with."
THE MAD, MAD WORLD OF THE MAD DOG
(National Post, Monday, May 17, 1999)
By Chris Cobb
"The average person, he'd hesitate before he'd rip out your eyeball or chew off your ear. Vachon would think nothing of it." -- Former wrestler Gene Kiniski.
In common with all right-thinking people, Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon dislikes modern wrestling and uses words like "Hollywood," "pre-arranged" and "pornographic" to describe it. But, like the honest man he seems to be, Mad Dog takes a chunk of the blame for the perverse, moronic spectacle the wrestling game has become. With a stage name like Mad Dog, he could hardly do otherwise.
"It's a freak show," he said during a chat last week. "It isn't wrestling, it's striptease. I don't like what I see, but part of it is my fault. Between you and me, the Mad Dog was never the Marquis de Queensbury."
Maurice isn't one of those bitter and twisted ageing purists whose sport has been left behind in the dust of modern commercialism. Far from it. With one leg short of a pair, and with several brushes with the Grim Reaper behind him, he just seems happy to be alive.
As a wrestler in wrestling-rich Montreal, he helped write the book on wrestling-as-entertainment. But fixed? Today, yes. But back then? No way. Ask any wrestler from the '50s, '60s, and '70s and they'd all say the same thing: If it was fixed, nobody ever bothered to tell my opponent. That's Mad Dog's line and he's sticking to it.
"And some crumbs are dropping my way," he admits.
Among the crumbs are phenomenal ratings his old fights are getting on cable TV in the United States. This is bringing him fame all over again and, as is the way of things, making him an attractive commodity on the personal appearance, after-dinner-speaker circuit.
Professionally fearsome though he once was, 69-year-old Maurice Vachon has mellowed into a natural comic with a gold mine of war stories honed to perfection by years of telling.
Wrestling with the Past, which gets its first airing on The Comedy Network on Wednesday, is a documentary hour of those behind-the-scenes stories. It's packed with hilarious perspectives from some of the more colorful characters from the small town and big city wrestling circuit of 30 and 40 years ago. They wear their lives in their faces and their eyes glint with mischief.
The format is simple: Mad Dog and his brother Paul "The Butcher" Vachon, sporting dyed-black beards with grey trim, sitting in a bar telling stories. Because it's The Comedy Network, the brothers and others do some exaggerated mugging for the camera but it isn't really necessary. Truth is stranger than fiction and it's also funnier.
Unlike most contemporary wrestlers, the Vachons knew how to wrestle before they saw the commercial prospects of adopting the handles Mad Dog and The Butcher. Maurice wrestled in the 1948 Olympic Games in London and won the gold medal in the British Empire Games in New Zealand in 1950. He knows the moves.
"I was 5-feet-7 inches and 175 pounds and should never have made it in wrestling," he says. "But I was determined to work hard and succeed. That's the message I give to kids when I speak at schools. Like I say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog." He's used that line a few times.
Maurice turned pro in 1952 after quickly realizing that people weren't going to buy tickets to watch a purist amateur, however good his moves were. By the time he quit the game 34 years later, he had won every American Wrestling Association title there was to win -- most of them several times over -- and become a legend in the world of The Crusher, The Destroyer, The Bruiser, The Sheik, Jesse (now Minnesota governor) Ventura, Baron Von Raschke, and the rest.
He was 55 in 1984 when he left the AWA to try the World Wrestling Federation for size. Then he bumped into the likes of young, mountainous characters such as Hulk Hogan and decided, two years later, to throw in the towel.
Of the characters who crop up in Wrestling With the Past, you have to like Baron Von Raschke, Mad Dog's tag partner in the 1970s, and the delightful, intelligent Sensational Destroyer who dispenses streetwise philosophy and some inventive analogy from behind the mask he wore in the ring.
The Baron was plain and bashful Jim Raschke before Mad Dog advised him to trade on his German background and become a stereotype, Nazi-like character.
"Once I became The Baron," he says, "all those inhibitions I had -- the deep psychological restrictions I put on myself -- as Jim Raschke, were completely wiped out."
Mad Dog lost his leg in 1987 while visiting relatives in Des Moines, Iowa. He was walking at 6:15 a.m. on Oct. 7.
"I heard a car coming," he says, "saw a light and that's all I remember."
With a phrase that could bring tears to your eyes, brother Paul recalls the public affection that poured Maurice's way after the accident.
"When Mad Dog fell," says Paul, "it was as if the whole country stopped to pick him up."
Ordinary folk, of course, can tell the good guys from the bad.
Like Mad Dog says of the friends who once made a living tossing each other about on the pro circuit: "Some wrestlers aren't what they seem to be."
Wrestling with the Past: On The Comedy Network,
Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked It) No. 502
(ED. NOTE -- The spin of events has altered plans for the WAWLI editorial board to take a couple of weeks off, but the shocking death of Owen Hart in Kansas City Sunday night has at least brought the wrestling business back into focus, not only for us, but for the most respected name in the game. Here is the first issue of the "new" WAWLI Papers.)
LOU THESZ TELLS THE TRUTH
By Lou Thesz
I don't think I have ever felt as old or as out
of touch as I do today. My heart breaks for one of my peers who has lost a child
and the family that loved that child. Owen Hart was a daring young pro wrestler
to you, but to me he was a kid. A kid that deserved better than we gave him.
Better than the promoters gave him, better than the fans gave him and better than those of us who just "didn't watch" gave him.
I have "copped out" to all your questions about today's wrestlers by saying, "I don't watch it," which translates to, "I don't care." I have told myself they were just "making a living" and "giving the crowd what they wanted." I told myself that what I said didn't matter. I didn't want to look like I was saying "sour grapes." Well, I am going to speak my piece and let you draw the conclusions you want.
THERE IS NO PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING TODAY!
There is no semblance of wrestling, no pretense of wrestling and there are no wrestling fans. I don't recognize what I see on TV or in live matches. Have any of the fans ever watched an amateur wrestling match? Mea culpa ... wrestling matches were predetermined in my day, but there was a reason, a story, a morality play of sorts and most of all the respect of the fans. They may have hated me in the ring, but they respected me as a person and professional.
It has taken the death of a friend's son to make
we admit how sick the industry I devoted by life to has become. When I went to
St. Louis to assist WWF in honoring Sam Muchnick, a man who devoted his life to
the presentation of an honest, family oriented wrestling card in one of the
world's most devoted venues for professional wrestling, I should have spoken up.
Sam was a man who honored the profession, dealt squarely with the wrestlers and
cared about the "boys" and the fans. Thank God, at 90-something, he
was not astute enough to catch the "performance" of one of the young
"stars" as he walked through the public areas in the new Keil
Auditorium to the hospitality suite for the honored guest. Accompanied by his
lovely daughter and son-in-law, Sam was greeted by one of the more popular
"stars" baring his rear in the public hallways. If you find this
amusing, I have to wonder if you would have liked this to happen to someone you
respected -- or do you respect anyone? Is there any respect for anyone in pro
wrestling in 1999?
The "boys" of today are pushed to the brink of disaster every day. They not only face the dangers we faced years ago - constant travel, faulty rings, inexperienced opponents, too much attention from the wrong kind of people, too much money, loneliness and depression -- they have to be stunt men who are deprived the illusions film stuntmen are granted. All this is for the acceptance of the promoter who wants a bigger payday and the fans who have no idea what a wrestling move looks like. All for the brass ring called "success." I know some of the other "stars" of today, and I know they are fine young men who are loved and cherished by their families, as Owen Hart is. I have told myself they are entitled to their choices and it is none of my business, but it IS my business -- the only business I have every loved. I am taking my head out of the sand and looking at it for the first time in years - and I am stunned by the language, vulgarity, stupidity and futility of it all. These traits are prevalent in the fans as well as the performances.
In the Hart tragedy, the most resounding comment I heard on the news and read in the paper was, "I thought it was part of the script." What kind of respect can exist if a form of "entertainment" could possible be a young man falling 55 feet? What possible entertainment could be derived from such a heinous spectacle? If you are a fan of "today's" pro wrestling, or if you are in a fringe industry, or if you participate directly, please ask yourself some hard questions. Does this entertain you? Do you respect anyone there? Do you just want to see the danger and mayhem? Do you think this is healthy? What do you get from the experience? The most important question we all, myself definitely included, have to ask is:
What could I have done to keep this from happening to Owen Hart?
THOUSANDS WITNESS ACCIDENT; TELEVISION AUDIENCE DOES NOT
(CNN, Monday, May 24, 1999)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A World Wrestling Federation tour was set to continue on Monday while an investigation looked for the cause of a fatal plunge by Owen Hart, a Canadian wrestler who went by the name "Blue Blazer."
Hart fell 50 feet, hit his head and died Sunday when a wire holding him in the air either broke or became disconnected while he was being lowered into the ring during a WWF match at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri.
There were more than 16,000 people in attendance but viewers watching the event on pay-per-view television did not see the fall, which occurred about 75 minutes into the show. Recorded highlights of Hart's career were being shown at the time.
As Hart's fellow performers were boarding a plane in Kansas City on Monday for a cross-state flight to St. Louis, WWF President Vince McMahon Jr. said the death had provoked grief among the team.
"Wrestlers were openly weeping last night," McMahon said, his eyes filling with tears.
The WWF canceled the encore and replay Pay-Per-View program that was scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday. The following live events were also canceled: Peoria, Illinois; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Hamilton, Ontario; Montreal; and Ottawa, Ontario.
Hart, 33, the younger brother of Bret (The Hitman) Hart, a star with rival World Championship Wrestling, fell as he was being lowered from the arena's ceiling as his match introduction was about to begin.
It was a stunt he had performed before.
Some witnesses said the cable snapped, while others said it appeared Hart was somehow disconnected from it.
They said his head snapped backward when he hit a turnbuckle, one of the padded pieces of metal that hold the ropes together in each corner of the ring.
Hart was given CPR inside the ring as the ring announcer haltingly told the audience that the incident was not scripted, as professional wrestling matches openly are.
The wrestler was pronounced dead at a hospital.
"He was supposed to be lowered down into the ring," said Michelle Hindorff, a paramedic and dispatcher for Kansas City's ambulance service.
"It didn't get hooked on to him. He thought it was hooked on," she said.
The World Wrestling Federation said it is investigating what went wrong.
"We at the WWF are saddened by the tragic accident that occurred here tonight," McMahon said Sunday. "We have no answers as to how this happened yet. We will shortly."
Hart was known for his acrobatic stunts and some members of the audience thought his fall was part of an act.
"We thought it was a doll at first," said 15-year-old Robert McCome. "We thought they were just playing with us. We were really shocked when we found out that it was no joke."
"He was moving pretty fast (as he fell)," said Jesse McDonald, who was sitting near the ring. "His chin and neck hit the top rope."
The arena fell into silence.
"I didn't see it, but from what I can gather, somebody slipped up," Hart's 83-year-old father, former wrestler Stu Hart, said from the family home in Calgary, Alberta.
"You don't get up 60 or 70 feet in the air without being properly anchored down," he said. "I haven't talked to Vince McMahon yet, but somebody was careless or missed something or else Owen would still be here."
The WWF is one of the biggest draws on cable and pay-per-view TV. The WWF admits that its events are more entertainment then sport.
Hart's fall happened in the second part of an event called "Over the Edge." The first portion, called "Sunday Night Heat," was televised live on the USA cable network.
The TV audience was being shown a montage of Hart's clips when he fell and the camera panned through the crowd while paramedics worked on him. The show stopped for 15 minutes before Hart was taken away, and the matches resumed.
All seven of Stu Hart's sons entered professional wrestling, with Owen joining in 1989. He had recently told a magazine that he was planning to leave wrestling when his contract was up.
Survivors include his wife, Martha, and two young children.
His older brother Bret "The Hitman" Hart, the current heavyweight champ with the rival World Championship Wrestling, canceled a scheduled appearance on "The Tonight Show" Monday to fly home to be with his family in Canada.
The WCW issued a statement on Owen Hart's death:
"We are shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bret Hart and the entire Hart family."
WRESTLING 'ANALYSTS' DECRY WWF DECISION
(Detroit News, Tuesday, May 25, 1999)
By Ted Kulfan
Professional wrestling analysts say the death of Owen Hart on Sunday during a World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view telecast, and the fact that the show continued after the accident, gives the industry another black eye.
Hart's death occurred at a time when professional wrestling is being criticized for excess violence, profanity and sexual content. Hart, 34, fell 90 feet from a catwalk to his death at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. His head snapped backward when he hit a padded metal cuppling that holds the ropes together in a corner of the ring.
"Fans didn't know whether it was fake or
real," said Alex Marvez, a syndicated professional wrestling columnist.
"It's what wrestling has come to. If you're (WWF President) Vince McMahon,
how do you continue the card after one of your longtime employees has just died?
McMahon has to live with that decision the rest of his life."
The event resumed approximately 15 minutes after Hart's fall. Some observers say two story lines that ran after Hart's accident were in poor taste and should have been reworked or deleted.
Approximately 10 minutes after Hart left the arena in an ambulance, McMahon also was taken away in an ambulance after apparently suffering an injured ankle. A pretaped skit involving wrestler Hunter Hearst Helmsley destroying a casket also was shown.
"Extremely poor taste," said Dave Meltzer, publisher and editor of Wrestling Observer Newsletter. "The (Hart) incident was a horrible, horrible thing for everyone involved, for both wrestlers and fans watching. You got the sense on television that the show must go on, but it was handled very poorly."
Sunday's show was titled "Over The Edge." The television audience was shown clips of Hart's career after Hart fell to his death. After the accident, cameras panned the crowd of 14,000 while paramedics worked on Hart.
Professional wrestling, especially the WWF, has been riding an unprecedented wave of popularity since going to a more explicit form of entertainment.
"What happened kind of was really a mirror image to a circus going wrong, with someone falling off the high wire, or falling off the trapeze," Chris Jericho, a star with rival World Championship Wrestling, told Toronto radio station The Fan.
"That's the way you can sum up what we do. We're almost a live-action circus act. And tonight one of our guys fell off the high wire, and the net didn't catch him."
"Wrestlers were openly weeping last night," a tearful McMahon said Tuesday morning as wrestlers boarded a plane at Kansas City International Airport for St. Louis. McMahon said an investigation into the accident is ongoing.
The WWF's weekly Monday Night RAW show was held in St. Louis. The show opened with a 12-minute tribute to Hart and a 10-bell salute.
"Wrestlers have died before, but this one was right before your very eyes," Meltzer said. "It will be difficult to get wrapped up in the angles after what has happened."
Homicide detectives Monday were inspecting the rigging that was to lower Hart by cable from the catwalk and were talking to stagehands to determine what went wrong, police representative Floyd Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the cable did not break and detectives believe something went wrong when Hart's harness was being hitched to the cable. McMahon said Hart might have accidentally pulled a release mechanism.
VIEW FROM CALGARY: STU & HELEN HART, ED WHALEN COMMENT
(Calgary Herald, Monday, May 24, 1999)
By Sasha Nagy
A four-story fall in front of thousands of fans and a worldwide pay-per-view audience on Sunday killed wrestler Owen Hart, a member of Calgary's famous wrestling family.
Hart, 33, fell head first from a cable suspending him more than 12 meters above the ring in Kansas City's Kemper Arena Sunday afternoon, killing the World Wrestling Federation superstar.
The 13-year wrestling veteran is survived by his wife, Martha, son Oje, 6, and daughter Athena, 4.
The accident occurred between matches as Hart prepared to enter the ring from the rafters in his role as the Blue Blazer.
Stu Hart, Owen's father, tried in vain to gather information on the accident while watching the event on TV.
The accident occurred while a video montage of Hart played and the cameras panned the crowd while paramedics worked on Hart for about 15 minutes before removing him from the ring.
It wasn't until WWF chairman Vince McMahon called Owen's wife around 5 p.m. that the family discovered their youngest of 12 children was dead.
"I don't know what happened, what went wrong," said a distraught Helen Hart, his mother. "But he fell and landed on his head and he's gone."
Hart was wearing the costume of the Blue Blazer, a character he portrayed on the WWF circuit. He is the younger brother of Bret (The Hitman) Hart, a star with World Championship Wrestling.
Stu Hart said that Owen has done the stunt before and didn't fear it.
"It should be safe enough, he was in kind of a sling," said Stu Hart. "It's part of being a professional wrestler. Owen was quite a spectacular wrestler. He was known as one of the high-flyers in the business. He was actually a very skilled wrestler.
"I heard about it on pay-per-view television a little bit. He was up in the air about 50 feet or so, and he had to swing down on this cable. And I don't know whether the hook came down or broke," said Hart. "Something happened, he came down about 50 feet, and crushed his heart from what I've gathered."
The arena fell into silence. A few seconds later, several WWF officials and Kansas City police officers rushed to Hart's aid.
Kansas City Fire Department spokesman Jim Bradbury said the harness carrying Hart was not properly attached.
"He was up on some scaffolding above the ring," Bradbury said. "They were going to lower him down on some sort of cable, and apparently the cable wasn't hooked up. He landed in the ring."
Witnesses said the crowd couldn't determine if the fall was staged or not.
"Once he hit the ground, I turned to the guy next to me and said, 'I don't think this was planned,' " said Todd Feeback, a photographer. "He said, 'It was planned.' Then paramedics came and worked on him and the referee was there just stunned.
"I said, this is not an act. It was very quiet, nobody was sure if it was part of the show."
McMahon issued a statement following the tragedy. "We at the WWF are saddened by the tragic accident that occurred here tonight," he said at a news conference. "We don't have any answer as to why this happened. There is an ongoing investigation."
Paramedics rushed Hart to Kansas City's Truman Medical Centre where he was pronounced dead. As he was being carried out of the arena, the crowd burst into applause for the fallen wrestler. The matches continued. That upset some fans.
"I think they should have stopped the show out of respect for Owen," said Richard Lisenbee of Kansas City. He left with his five-year-old son, Zane.
Kevin Brice left the show with his 12-year-old nephew and 10-year-old daughter in tow.
"It was disgusting" for them to continue the show, said Brice. "For kids to see that, for this to be so-called family entertainment, for them to continue on as if nothing has happen, is just sad."
Helen Hart said Owen would always try to call or be present for the Hart family on Sunday dinner. She always worried about one of her sons becoming disabled in the ring.
"It's a dangerous sport in more ways than you can know," his mother said. "I just never thought one of my boys would be killed."
Owen was a popular member of the Hart wrestling family. Stu Hart said there were few people who could take issue with his easy-going manner.
"Owen was one of the most popular individuals that I've ever known. He was my son, I shouldn't be talking that freely," said Hart. "But I'd say he had very few enemies and many, many friends. He was much loved in the wrestling business."
Ed Whalen, the host of Stampede Wrestling until it ended about 10 years ago, remembered Owen as an extremely talented amateur wrestler -- and dedicated.
"He learned all the skill and science of the ring. And his speed. He was extremely agile," said Whalen, who learned the news late Sunday and immediately called the Hart family to express his sympathies. "I mean he had real talent as a wrestler. He was not just one of these stomp and groan types.
"But more than that he was just a hell of a guy. Would you believe he didn't even swear? He was a good, clean-living guy. Wrestling was his life, and more than that, his family."
Whalen remembered the youngest Hart hanging around the ring and the dressing room as a child hoping to learn the moves.
"I knew him when he was wetting his diapers. I'm absolutely, totally stunned," he said.
When he grew up to become a wrestler himself, Owen never tired of talking to children and signing autographs like some athletes, said Whalen.
Whalen said though Hart was under contract with the WWF, he thinks he was trying to move away from the theatre of the WWF and get back into the sport of wrestling.
Hart was a Canadian champion as an amateur
wrestler, and also fought with the University of Calgary Dinosaurs.
The New WAWLI Papers (Wrestling As We Liked It) No. 502
(ED. NOTE -- The editors of The Wrestling Gazette web site tipped us to the following, rather remarkable letter posted on the Dory Funk Jr. web site. For those who want to see for themselves, the URL is: http://www.dory-funk.com/alljapan.html)
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
I suppose the proper thing to do when someone dies, including a money grubbing lazy asshole genius, is to say, "God Rest His Soul," but the best I can muster is, "God Rest His Money Grubbing Asshole Genius Soul," and to the woman who stood by his side and laughed at him behind his back, Compai!!! (Salute). You now have what you want, the money, the power, and away with his carcass. Your beat goes on!!!
Saturday, April 17, the country of Japan morned the passing of Giant Baba and on May 2, at the Tokyo Dome there was a memorial show in his honor. Perhaps the Japanese people will truly miss this huge man, the first of his kind in the weird and fascinating life of professional wrestling.
Giant Baba was a genius. He was one of two men in Japan to understand the value of the American Style of puroresu (pro-wrestling) and its appeal to the Japanese market, the other being the handsome and cosmetically appealing Antonio Inoki, the founder and owner of one of the largest wrestling companies in the World, New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Giant Baba never overcame his fear and jealousy of Mr. Inoki. It was a lifelong obsession and My Lover was his second jealous obsession. Giant Baba's body was always a paradox to him. It guaranteed his infamy but also was the cause of much of his pain and mental torture. He and his Queen, Motoko, thrived on having power over people . As an interesting sidenote, Motoko told me in 1983 they slept in separate bedrooms for the last two years, hinting that his plumbing had died.
Motoko Baba also enjoyed the game of strife and rife on the backs of the "little people" that worked for them including the Gaijins. The word Gaijin is the equivalent of the "N" word for the Americans who worked for them. The proper term for a foreigner is Gakokojin meaning, "foreign person." Of course in all the years around them they never once had the courtesy to call any of us Gakokojin, just "Gaijin."
I was held captive on more than one occasion to keep any spotlight off of myself or my husband or for that matter any "Gaijin" the press had any interest in. The whole purpose, as I was to later understand, was the gripping mental torture over his twisted body and the jealousy over Mr. Inoki and Mr. Dory Funk Jr. and their athletic abilities in the ring.
It's been widely reported that he was a baseball star before his run with wrestling. The truth is he only played two games and was so bad they just used him for an attraction, "and so it would be his whole life." He was a brilliant manipulator of people, but would never overcome the fact he was just an attraction to the masses. However, he did figure out how to become a millionaire and always played the part of the wealthy Japanese living in Japan. The truth: he lived in Hawaii.
He and Mrs. Baba loved to shop, eat expensive food, and spend, spend, spend and pretend to be Americans, not Japanese. They would stay up all night and figure how to skin the next American who worked for them.
Twenty five years ago Mr. and Mrs. Baba received $17,000 a week from NTV Television for the Americans that would work on the TV show.
NOT ONCE HAS ANY AMERICAN RECEIVED THEIR TELEVISION MONEY.
It was business as usual for them to market the Americans. Their young ring boys would sit and copy the "Gaijin " signature, then Mrs. Baba would sell them to the Japanese people as "AUTHENTIC AUTOGRAPHS" of their favorite American star!!! AMAZING !!! The whole "Dog and Pony Show" was built on wolfing the Japanese people out of their money. Was anything Real? Well, Hell Yes, the American men who worked their Funking asses off.
Those Americans also taught the street urchins the Babas picked up to be decent sports entertainers. Did they ever produce any real talent? Well, Hell yes! One, JUMBO TSURUTA and to some extent MR. TENRYU and Misawa/Kawada/Koboshi beyond that, your guess is as good as anybody's.
"God forbid anybody come close to Baba's throne." Well, what's left for Mrs. Baba now??? She can still shop and spend and live in Hawaii and pretend to be a Big Cheese to the Japanese people, however the board of directors has informed her that the business of wrestling is a MAN's world and she should bow out gracefully and leave the business of Puroresu (Pro-Wrestling) to the Men !!!
Well, they fired Jumbo and ran Dory Funk Jr. off. So, the question, "where the F@#$k are the MEN ??? :-)))
There were 12 people on the board of directors , including Jumbo and Baba. Hmmmm, wonder how many now??? Of course, Mrs. Baba may have the last laugh yet, because she owns the marketing company for All Japan, called KINGS ROAD and she has the marketing contract on all those MEN !!! What will they do about that??
The lines of power are divided at this time. There is Mrs. Baba and the sons of the late legend Rikidozan, Ricki and Yoshi Momoto on one side. The rest of the board and Misawa + Talent on the other side. This might be a no brainer, but if I was Nippon TV, I would think that Misawa, Kawada, and Kobashi would put more butts in an arena than Ricki Momoto and Motoko Baba (DUH) so with the May 2 hoopteedo over, who is the TV going to give the nod to?? If you are a TV producer , and these were your choices to generate revenue for your company , who would you chose??????
Peace and love,
HARLEY RACE HAS A TAKE ON THE SAD END OF OWEN HART
(Kansas City Star, Tuesday, May 25, 1999)
By Jason King
Professional wrestling legend Harley Race has grappled in rings with ropes made of barbed wire. He has tangled with grizzly bears. Under Race's left eye is an eraser-size scar, his prize from a steel-chain match with Terry Funk.
And about three inches above his navel: a deep, hollow hole.
"My intestines burst," Race said. "(Hulk) Hogan was lying on a table outside the ring. I jumped off the top rope and tried to land on him. He moved out of the way."
Outrageous stunts are nothing new to wrestling. In fact, some veterans said Owen Hart's attempt to be lowered into the ring from the ceiling of Kemper Arena would be considered safer than the majority of the sport's most common stunts.
Hart, 34, died Sunday when he fell nearly 90 feet from a catwalk above the ring.
"It's always been dangerous," said Race, 56. "It's just that people didn't always know about it because there wasn't a national TV audience. You could go through a table in Amarillo, Texas, but it would take people on the East Coast two months to hear that you did it. It's more publicized now."
Mick Foley, a WWF wrestler known as Mankind, is notorious for his high-risk antics. During a pay-per-view event, Foley once was body-slammed onto a bed of thumbtacks. He left the ring with broken ribs and a tooth protruding through his upper lip. Another time, the nearly-300-pound Foley fell from the top of a 20-foot steel cage onto an announcer's table.
Race said such moves -- which he calls "start-stop" -- cause the most wear and tear on the body. Especially when the person falling 13 feet is a 300-pound man.
"Even if you do it right, every organ in your body gets rattled when you land," said Race, a Kansas City resident. "All you're doing is shortening your life."
Lighter wrestlers, known as cruiserweights, risk injury through acrobatic stunts. It is not uncommon to see a wrestler jump from the top rope, do a backflip and then land on his opponent. One false move, wrestlers say, and a broken neck is almost inevitable.
World Championship Wrestling star Marcus "Buff" Bagwell suffered a brief stint of paralysis last spring because of a neck injury. He is now back wrestling for WCW.
"It's not easy," Race said. "But that's why they call them professionals. They have a belief in themselves that they can do it. It's when you doubt yourself that you get hurt, when you're out there with reluctance."
Even after the match is over, danger is still a
"When I wrestled, the main thing that worried me was getting from the ring back to the dressing room," said Roger "Nature Boy" Kirby, who retired in 1985. "I've been jumped and stabbed and had things thrown at me."
And that wasn't all. As he waited in his hotel room for friends one evening, Kirby heard a knock. When he opened his door, a bitter fan shot him in the abdomen. The assailant was never apprehended.
As invincible as wrestlers may seem on television, the grind of a professional career can alter one's life. Race, who held the National Wrestling Alliance world title eight times, said he still can't escape the sport's effects.
"I was OK with it for a lot of years -- I could take it," said Race, staring at nothing in particular on his kitchen floor. "But as you get older, a lot of that stuff starts to catch up with you. My instant memory is horrible now. I have to start making checklists for yourself to remember your wallet and your driver's license. I've left here for the grocery store and turned back because I couldn't remember what I was going for."
Race looked up, sneaking a drag off his Marlboro as he peered out his kitchen window.
"Now that I think about it," Race said, "I have no earthly idea how I let myself get involved in a lot of that stuff."
FATAL PLUNGE A PRODUCT OF PUBLIC THIRST FOR THRILLS?
(Dallas Morning News, May 25, 1999)
By Bill Marvel and Thomas Huang
The death of a professional wrestler -- who fell 90 feet during a stunt that went awry on Sunday -- was the byproduct of a "Can you top this?" mentality in which wrestlers, stuntmen and other entertainers increasingly put themselves at risk to win the attention of a thrill-seeking public, cultural experts said.
Owen Hart, 33, a member of a legendary Canadian wrestling family, fell from the ceiling of Kemper Arena in Kansas City. His head hit a turnbuckle. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. The death of Mr. Hart, known as the "Blue Blazer," occurred before 16,200 fans. The World Wrestling Federation's pay-per-view national TV audience was watching archive footage and did not see Mr. Hart fall. He was supposed to make his grand entrance while being lowered on a cable from the arena ceiling.
Investigators are still trying to determine whether the wrestler was attached to the cable when he stepped off into space. But one factor in the accident, said Bill Hill, a longtime student of wrestling, had to be the demand by fans for greater thrills in professional wrestling -- and the pressure on producers to come up with a better show.
"Wrestling continues to push the envelope," said Mr. Hill, chairman of the department of communications at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "Because of the nature of the business and how it sells its product, it always has to go one step further to compete. But, to my knowledge, this is the first accident."
Efforts to reach officials with the World Wrestling Federation were unsuccessful.
While Mr. Hill points to wrestling and its fans, other experts said the accident was part of a larger trend: People's hunger for death-defying spectacle.
"People have, for as long as recorded history, loved watching people do things that may end up in their untimely death," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
"What we're seeing now is the electronic version of this," he said. "We no longer have to go to the circus or the Niagara Falls or wherever Evel Knievel was doing his stuff. We can sit back in our living rooms with our remote controls and, on some evenings, catch two or three things like this simultaneously."
Don Beck, director of the National Values Center in Denton, agreed. "It's like we're back to the Roman Coliseum, with the crowds shouting for blood," he said.
"Our athletes have changed into entertainers and celebrities." And gladiators, he added.
Lowering a wrestler into the arena from the rafters has become common, Mr. Hill said. In an earlier World Wrestling Federation match, a wrestler known as "The Undertaker" was lowered into the ring, handcuffed, then raised to the ceiling again. "On the same card Sunday," Mr. Hill said, "they had a wrestler who had a broken arm -- supposedly had a broken arm -- and part of the contract was that he had to wrestle without a cast.
"But by the law of averages, as wrestling continues to do this, you increase the chances of having an accident," he said.
"They're very lucky with some of things they've done."
In other recent matches, he said, wrestlers have been thrown from the top of a 16-foot steel cage, placed in a casket that was then set on fire, and tossed into a Dumpster that was pushed off a 10-foot stage onto a concrete floor.
"They take risks, but that's what it takes to compete," he said. Movie stunt people are frequently called upon to help stage wrestling violence, according to Scott Roland, a movie stunt coordinator who has worked on the set of Walker, Texas Ranger and a number of feature films.
The World Wrestling Federation "has called upon stunt coordinators to set up air bags and crash pads for one of their falls," he said. While there's no formal safety code in the film industry, stunt people regulate themselves, Mr. Roland said. But for a stunt such as the one that took Mr. Hart's life Sunday, a professional stunt coordinator would have at least one additional person to check equipment, he said.
"If you do one thing for the audience, next week you have to do a little bit more in order to maintain interest," he said. "You take some step further in some form or fashion, whether in the language you use or number of females or the violence."
Dr. Thompson and other cultural observers said that, as TV networks compete more and more with cable and the Internet for consumers, they have chosen to air programs that cover everything from "extreme" sports such as bungee jumping and parasailing, to stunt motorcyclists trying to jump across canyons, and real-life videos of melees, airplane crashes and natural disasters.
"With so many [media outlets] competing, and wrestling on so many TV stations, and live 'shock-.umentaries,' you've got to shout a little louder to get someone to watch,"
Dr. Thompson said. Barry Vacker, a communications professor at Southern Methodist University, says that when professional wrestlers push the envelope -- and people pay to see it -- it's part of a larger trend toward "edg.ism -- a new kind of individualism that finds its expression on the edges of the cultural norm," whether through extreme sports, tattooing or body piercing.
"We've got an escalating exposure to this kind of chaos," Mr. Beck said, referring to TV shows with death-defying stunts. "And I think it's doing great damage to young minds, quite frankly. Many of the young minds can't tell the difference between reality and hype."
On Sunday, fans at Kemper Arena initially thought the fall had been scripted, like most of the mayhem during a professional match.
As paramedics tried in vain to revive the injured wrestler, the ring announcer repeatedly told the crowd that the accident had not been part of the show. Mr. Hill said he is not surprised that fans were unsure whether Mr. Hart's fall was real or scripted.
"Fans have become numb," he says. "They've seen such extreme occurrences, anytime something happens, it gives you pause. You say, was that real or not real?" As a result of Sunday's accident, he said, "Some people could say, enough is enough. Don't push your wrestlers this far."
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 503
(ED. NOTE -- Before we dive back into the halcyon years of professional wrestling history, let's devote an issue to a few vignettes from the Gunslinger file at Dory Funk Jr. -- and wife/producer Marti Funk's fascinating web site, where you, too, can enjoy hours and hours of wrestling lore at:
Here are just a few items from an overflowing menu, which expands on a weekly basis, and which includes a grand selection of photos, past and present. A site well worth visiting.)
JACK BRISCO MEETS TEXAS GOVERNOR
As told to me by Don "The Lawman" Slayton
Fall of 1973, Jack Brisco was NWA Champion. He won the title from Harley Race July 20th. Six weeks earlier, Harley had won a disputed decision from me in Kansas City. These conditions were great for business in the Amarillo Territory. Brisco was champion after having chased me for years and yet, he never beat me for the belt. A Funk vs Brisco match in the Amarillo Territory is a natural to do great business.
Terry Funk is on the phone with Abilene wrestling promoter, Don Slayton,aka The Lawman. The Lawman is upset! Abilene runs on Friday nights. The Amarillo Booking Office had dates on the NWA Champion. The champ would appear in Albuquerque on Sunday, El Paso on Monday, Odessa on Tuesday, Lubbock on Wednesday, Amarillo on Thursday, and return on Friday to wrestle Keil Auditorium in St. Louis. Abilene, The Lawman's town didn't have the champion. The Lawman knew the world champion in his town would draw him money.
The NWA President Sam Muchnick received a salary
of three percent of the gate on all appearances of the champion. President
Muchnick would rather book the champion in St. Louis with a guaranteed gate of
twelve thousand people than Abilene where attendance could not compare with St.
Conversation between Terry and the Lawman centers around securing Jack Brisco for Abilene Texas. Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe carries the same family name as the NWA Champion. Terry and the Lawman decide they will entice Jack to come to Abilene, with the carrot of the governor of Texas wanting to meet his namesake Jack Brisco. It would make for great publicity with champion Brisco meeting Governor Briscoe.
Great idea! A call goes to NWA President, Sam Muchnick. He confirms that Jack Brisco will appear in Abilene for one match the week following his St. Louis booking. The Lawman is satisfied. He schedules a return Championship Match, Dory Funk Jr. vs Jack Brisco. A sellout is assured with six weeks to promote the show.
The Lawman assumed Terry would contact the Governor's office. Terry Funk assumed the Lawman would contact the Governors office, besides that, nobody really cares if they have a governor. The important thing to a promoter is a rear end for every eighteen inches of seat space in the building. A Funk Brisco world title match would accomplish that.
Three days before the show, a call comes from Sam Muchnick's office that they want pictures of Jack Brisco meeting the governor of Texas. Furthermore, Jack is going to make a speech to the Governor and present him with a Brisco Brothers T-shirt. To say the least, The Lawman is up a creek. He has no Governor Dolph Briscoe and Jack Brisco is not one to be messing with. The Lawman must come up with a Governor.
The History: The Lawman is unfamous as a ribber, most noted for the time he induced Amarillo Promoter, Jerry Kozak to drive all the way to Abilene to arrive at 6:00am for a deer hunting trip with the Lawman. Kozak wound up pumping twelve rounds of ammunition into an old dead deer with rigamortis, tied to a tree. (That is another story for a later time)
The Set Up: The Lawman gets his old buddy Martin Pryor, a Ford car salesman in Abilene to get a bright red Lincoln from the company. He also has one of his clean up boys from the wrestling matches dress up like a chauffeur.
The Objective: They must keep Jack away from the local people in Abilene because any idiot in Texas would know old paunchy sly talking Martin Pryor isn't the governor of the State of Texas, Dolph Briscoe.
Small Problem: Wrestling strong man Ivan Putski is also scheduled into Abilene on the 11:00am flight from Dallas. Ivan is from San Antonio and would surely know what the Governor of Texas looked like. They must keep Ivan from telling off on the governor. The Sting: First off the plane is Ivan Putski. The Lawman quickly shakes Ivan's hand and says quietly, "Ivan, we are going to pull a little joke here on Jack, just go along with what ever you see take place.
Following Ivan Putski off the plane is Jack Brisco, NWA Champion dressed in suit and tie carrying a Brisco Brothers T-shirt to present to the governor. The Lawman shakes Jack's hand, looks right at him and says, "Jack, I-- I'm sorry to have to tell you that the Governor Briscoe isn't going to be able to meet you today. He had to go down to Mexico, you know where they had that earthquake."
As they walked to the terminal, they saw a twin engine aircraft. propellers turning. The Lawman said, "Jack I-- I believe that is his plane over there warming up right now." By now Jack was really depressed. He never really wanted to come to this town in the first place.
The four, Lawman, Jack Brisco, Ivan Putski, and another one of the Lawman's helper, wanna be wrestlers, Lawman Jr, leave the airport together in the Lawman's old Ford Station Wagon. In those days, from the Airport into town was a good distance on a country road.
As they left the airport and made the first turn into town The Lawman was the first to speak. "Well my golly, That looks like, I believe it is, It's him, it's governor Briscoe, It's him!!!" The Lawman slams on his breaks and the red limousine does the same. A cloud of dust flies up in the air as the two cars come to a stop. The Lawman gets out of the car and says, "My gosh Governor, we thought for sure we were going to miss you. Jack Brisco is out of the car and the introduction takes place. Jack Brisco thinks he meets the governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe.
The Rest of the Story: Jack Brisco came prepared to meet the governor, give a speech, and present the Governor with a Brisco Brother's T-shirt. Come hell or high water he was going to do just that. Right there on a lonely dusty road in Abilene Texas Jack began his speech. It was something about long ago the two families were from Oklahoma, they split and their names were spelled different but sounded the same. As quick as he got started, he forgot his speech. While Jack was stammering and trying to remember what he was going to say, The ol' Governor just laughed and said now Jack, I know your family but, I want you to know those Funk Boys are pretty tough hombres. Jack didn't really hear a word the governor was saying as he raced to the car as in the excitement he had forgotten his Brisco Brothers T-shirt. He was actually fumbling with the latch on the Lawman's old Ford station wagon to get the Brisco Brothers T-shirt before the Governor left. Jack finally got the door open and the T-shirt out and made the presentation to the Governor.
Verification: This event is recorded on old 8 mm movie film for posterity in the wrestling business. The film was taken by Lawman Jr. and features Jack and the Governor (aka Martin Pryor) conversing at the T-shirt presentation. Periodically you can see Ivan Putski walk into view with an old Polaroid taking snap shots of the presentation.
Time was short and soon the Lawman reminded the Governor about his plane warming up for the trip to Mexico. The Governor apologized but wished Jack good luck and said he had to get going. "You know Jack I have just got to get down to Mexico." The Governor was in the red limousine and in a cloud of dust was gone.
The Finish: Now all was quiet, the governor was gone. The Lawman, Jack, Putski, and Lawman Jr. were in the old station wagon. The first to speak was Jack, "Lawman, I just gotta tell you, that rib that you pulled on Jerry Kozak when he shot that old dead deer was one of the funniest ribs I have ever heard of."
And Finally: For the next six months our office in Amarillo received many calls from the St. Louis office requesting pictures of Jack Brisco meeting Governor Dolph Briscoe. We had the pictures, but couldn't send pictures of Jack and the paunchy old car salesman.
And as You Would Know: Everyone in the wrestling business knew the story of Jack Brisco meeting the Governor of Texas, but everyone was afraid to tell him the truth. At least six months went by without anyone telling Jack he didn't meet the Governor of Texas. In the end Harley Race told Jack he was had.
I don't recommend that anyone mention this story in person to Jack Brisco.
A GIANT OF A MAN, SHOHEI BABA, MEETS DORY FUNK JR.
I first met my future boss in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1963. He was a giant of a man, standing 6'10' tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds. He looked awesome. I reached out to shake a hand that reached around mine. I said, "it's nice to meet you." He looked into my eyes and offered a nod. I was shocked. I thought that all Japanese people were small. His company in Japan was only a dream, one that would have great success. The event in Albuquerque was professional wrestling. Giant Baba would go on to be NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pro Wrestler and President of All Japan Pro Wrestling Co.
A meeting was arranged in Las Vegas in the fall of 1969. At the meeting was Japan Pro Wrestling Representative, Charley Moto, my father, Sam Muchnick and me. Mr. Moto told us what the financial arrangements would be for me to wrestle in Japan. I took him at his word. In those days as was the case throughout my career in Japan, there were no contracts.
My father traveled with me on that first trip to Japan. In Hiroshima, we visited the Peace Memorial. I will never forget the dome, the statue of the woman protecting her child, and reconstructed scene of Hiroshima after the bomb. As we left, words could not describe my emotion. I felt totally inadequate as I wrote in the register, "Please God, Never again," and signed my name.
My first match for the World Championship in Japan was in the winter of 1969 against Antonio Inoki. We were both in excellent condition and evenly matched. At ringside, I remember seeing Yoshimura, Young Riki Momota and Haru Eigen. In my corner were my father and Harley Race. As the bell rang, Harley Race growled, "Don't let that &%#@!* get the best of you." I remember thinking, "I hope these people don't speak English." I looked at Inoki. He was a dangerous wrestler. I looked at my father and Harley Race. They were more dangerous, and mean. I thought, "It is easier to fight Inoki than to face Harley Race and my father if I don't do a hell of a job against Inoki."
Inoki and I matched each other hold for hold,. It was the kind of match I enjoy, fast paced competitive, and for the highest stakes in the business, the world championship. I made an attempt to take him off his feet and he blocked, pushing me toward the corner of the ring. I released and turned using his momentum to crash him backward into the corner. I threw a forearm blow to the body, and one at his chest. In a flash o anger, he swung a punch at me and in seconds, this great wrestling match turned into a brawl. We fought through the ropes and on to the floor, both of us swinging wildly at each other. In an effort to red myself of Inoki's punches, I reached for his head, and wound up with a handful of hair,. I grabbed tight and threw him off. He landed against the announcer's table and sagged to his knees. With a breath of air, I returned ot the ring. As I looked back, my father was standing over Inoki. He reached out to help him back into the ring. When my father touched Inoki, the fans were on their feet protesting. They thought he would hurt Inoki. From the second balcony I could see a projectile hurdling toward my dad. It must have been thrown by a pitching ace for on of the Japanese baseball teams. Landing with a thud against my father's chest was an orange, it split open and there was fresh orange juice running down my father's new gray silk suit. In anger, dad shook his fist at the balcony.
The final 10 minutes of the match were bedlam. My dad was on the ring apron several times, the fans were on their feet, and periodically oranges would fly into the ring. Now, the bell was ringing. The one hour time limit had elapsed. This match was a drew and I knew I would retain the World Heavyweight Championship Belt. I walked to Inoki, shook his hand and told him, "Great match."
My second trip to Japan was in the summer of
1970. The featured match of the tour was again in Osaka. My opponent was Giant
Baba. I knew Mr. Baba as an exceptional athlete and professional wrestler. His
athletic career began as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese
Professional Baseball league: however, he was soon attracted to professional
wrestling as the, "New Hot Hope" of the legendary "father of
professional wrestling in Japan," Riki Dozan. After the death of Riki Dozan
in 1963, Giant Baba had taken his place as the Number one wrestling star in
Every seat had been sold in advance. The building was packed. NTV was there to record every move for a live television audience that would number in the millions. In Osaka, on July 30th, 1970, there was no air-conditioning, the temperature in the building was 105 degrees farenheit and in the ring under the TV lights it was extremely hot. it was so hit in the ring you could fry an egg on the mat.
One of the other wrestlers on the card that night, Brute Bernard returned to the dressing room after his match, dripping in perspiration. He said, "My god, anyone who is in that ring wrestling for more than five minutes in going to die." Thoughts raced through my mind, "I am not going to beat Baba in five minutes, and I'm not losing in five minutes. I am not going to die in the ring in Osaka, Japan, 8,000 miles from home." I knew the risks I faced. I also knew the planning, expense and hard work that goes into a major wrestling production. I decided to accept the consequences.
I entered the ring dripping in perspiration. Flower girls were in the ring, dressed in colorful kimonos. The ring announcer was wearing a black suit and tie. An official, dressed in suit and tie was holding a proclamation he would read before that start of the match. They were all dripping in perspiration. I looked over the audience fanning themselves with what ever they could find---- fans, programs, wrestling magazines--- but nobody was leaving. Giant Baba came into the ring. I wondered, "Are we all crazy"-- the TV People, Mr. Baba, the flower girls, myself and yes, even the wrestling fans too. The show would go on.
We fought from our hearts that hot sweltering night in Osaka, Baba would not quit, I would not quit, the people would not quit, and even the referee, Oki Shikina, who was over 50 years old, wouldn't quit. I remember it as a great wrestling match, after 55 minutes we fought through the ropes down on the floor and continued the match outside the ring. The referee counted us both out of the ring and stopped the match. It was a draw. I was thrilled with the decision.
That match was the most difficult and hardest physical event I have ever lived through. It was the toughest match of my career and it was that night in Osaka that I learned what a great competitor and athlete Giant Baba was. On that night, he was the best I have faced.
After the match as I laid, exhausted on the floor of the dressing room, unable to move, the referee from the earlier matches came in and said, "C'mon Funk, we party tonight. The cabarets are waiting, let's go." I just looked up and said, Turko, There is no way. I'm lucky to be alive tonight.
On my third trip to Japan, a meeting was arranged between my father, Dory Funk Sr., Sam Muchnick, myself, and Japan Pro Wrestling agent, Charley Moto. Arrangements were made for a return match for the World Championship in Osaka against Antonio Inoki.
I was happy to wrestle Inoki again for the World Championship. I came to the arena that night in Osaka expecting one of the most challenging matches of my career. I expected it would compare with the first match with Inoki in 1969. The match never happened.
Inoki did not show up that night and was replaced by former World Judo Champion, Seiji Sakaguchi. I was fortunate to gain a victory and leave Osaka still the Champion of the World. Inoki claims he is Japan's greatest wrestler but, that night in Osaka, he was Mr. Chicken.
That third trip in 1971 was the last time I would wrestle for the old company, Japan Pro Wrestling. For reasons that I was not aware of the company had fallen on hard times and would go out of business. After the last match on that trip, I went ot get my pay for wrestling on the tour. Mr. Endo, representing Japan Pro Wrestling Company sat across the desk from me. He paid me first in $100 bills. He then reached into his inside coat pocket and continued to count my pay out in $20 bills, and then $10s. Finally he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his bill fold. He counted out the rest of my guarantee in five and then one dollar bills. He stood up and shook my hand. We had an agreement and he lived up to what he said he would do even if it meant taking money out of his own pocket. His word was his bond.
Japan Pro Wrestling Co. folded. Antonio Inoki had left the company. Giant Baba was soon to meet my father, Dory Funk Sr., in regard to securing American wrestlers to come to Japan to wrestle for his new company, All Japan Pro Wrestling.
In the 27 years of All Japan Pro Wrestling there has never been a tour that did not have Funk's talent on it.
GUEST REFEREE: KEITH FRANKS, AKA ADRIAN ADONIS, IS THE MAN
After a difference of opinion in the ring in Hartford CT, Adorable Adrian Adonis was pissed. As he came down the ramp and under the bleachers I could hear him cursing. He was going to settle their differences right now. Adorable Adrian stomped past his door and continued down the hallway to Danny Spivey's dressing room.
Dressing room fights seldom occur in Pro Wrestling or other major sports. The guys are professional and almost always leave their feeling in the ring or on the playing field. When dressing room fights do occur, they are usually short and sometimes nasty. There is an unwritten rule in wrestling that if a fight occurs, don't break it up until someone has the advantage, the theory being, if nothing is settled, tempers will flair again and there will be more trouble. There is another theory too, we are all in the same business trying to make a living for our families and fighting among us is non productive.
I followed Adrian to the opposite dressing room in hopes a disaster wouldn't happen.
Adrian (Keith Franks) was a tough kid when he was in the Amarillo Territory. He came in with the hardest gimmick in wrestling, "Beat the Champ." It was a straight offer to anyone in the house, a thousand dollars to anyone who could beat Adrian in ten minutes, not cash, silver dollars, in a bank sack.
The challenge was up every night. In effect, every night Adrian was beating up one of the fans. His heat was building and we were doing capacity business.
Adrian was a good wrestler and a tough street fighter. (A hard combination to beat) Each night, the challenger selected was asked to sign a release, then stepped in the ring with Adrian. His standard match consisted of some good wrestling by Adrian until the challenger had a sense that this wasn't going to be too tough, then from out of the blue Adrian would cut loose with a hay maker, a straight fist or elbow smash to the face and from that point the fight was over. With the challenger in a daze, Adrian would win with a leg drop, elbow drop, or drop-kick, not normally devastating moves, but the challenger usually wanted out of the ring by this time.
I watched as Adrian went through at least fifteen challenges for the thousand dollars. Taking on anyone in the house is a tough thing to do. Adrian gained respect among the wrestlers and added to his heat and drawing power.
One Thursday night in Amarillo at the old Sports Arena Adrian's challenger signed the release and stepped into the ring and peeled his shirt off. He was cut, and weighed about 190 pounds. The first thing I noticed, this kid was no mark. I didn't know where he got them but he was wearing, "real wrestling shoes."
Adrian as always took his time, feeling his opponent out. Sure enough, Adrain could out wrestle the kid. He slipped behind almost at will and took him to the mat. Each time the kid would move immediately to the ropes and the referee would break the hold. On about the third time when the kid went to the ropes, Adrain slid to the floor. The kid was on his back. As the referee called for the break.
Adrian cut loose with a blind side punch to the chin. As soon as the punch landed, the kid was on the floor looking Adrian right in the eye. The rules had been broken and now this kid was free to fight like he had been trained, a Golden Gloves Texas State Champion. The damnedest bare fist fight you ever saw in your life erupted. They fought right through the fans to the back row of ringside. The match was counted out and the two fighters were separated.
The return match the next Thursday night in Amarillo sold out. Adrian Adonis vs Terry Daniels, Special Referee, Dick Murdoch. There is another unwritten rule in pro wrestling, "Never let a mark get the best of a wrestler." Referee, Dick Murdoch laid down the smack and let both men know he would stand for no bare fist punching. Adrian being a good wrestler won the match.
That was the end of the, "Thousand Dollar Challenge." Adrian came out of it fine and his drawing power remained throughout the rest of his stay in the Amarillo Territory and so did his pride and respect among the boys.
Adorable Adrian Adonis busted the door down to the, "Good Guys Dressing Room," in Hartford Connecticut. The front room was empty. Adrian busted through to the back room. Dan Spivey rose to his feet to protect himself. Adrian said, "C'mon Spivey, let's see how tough you are." It happened in a split second. There was no chance to break it up.
Adrian took the wrestler's position and lunged forward for Spivey's legs. Spivey who is six feet six and has an ungodly reach caught Adrian with a vicious left to his left eye and cheekbone. It splattered like a watermelon and blood went everywhere. Spivey came with one more right to the face and the fight was over before anyone could break it up.
In a mere three seconds a reputation was gone, an
ego busted, over a fight that neither one in their right mind would have wanted
The New WAWLI Papers (Wrestling As We Liked It) No. 504
WHO WILL BE NEXT SACRIFICIAL LAMB?
(New York Post, Tuesday, May 25, 1999)
By Phil Mushnick
"Vince McMahon has always had this mentality about treating wrestlers like circus animals ... When it's over, they sort of take you out back and put a slug in the back of your head." - Bret Hart, older and more famous brother of Owen Hart, from the 1998 documentary, "Wrestling With Shadows." THE public at large and the media at large still don't grasp the perversity of modern pro wrestling as dictated by its most popular entity, Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation.
The on-the-job death of Owen Hart will bring the kind of heat -- no matter how fleeting -- on an industry that long ago should have been made to walk the plank of public outrage.
Yet, Hart's death, in its raw form, appears to have been accidental. But his was a sensational death in full view of thousands, thus it was front page news.
The news that has belonged on the front pages for years -- the deaths of pro wrestlers due to institutionalized drug abuse -- receives little or no attention. All the media cares to know is that wrestling's red hot, so let's join in the fun and get our piece of the action.
Just last month, Rick Rood, a known drug-user who wrestled, naturally, as "Rick Rude," was found dead, medicine bottles at his side. He was one of the older victims of his profession. He was 40. Pro wrestlers, in their 20s and 30s, die at a clip of about four or five per year.
But because of the desensitization process that pro wrestling breeds in its fans -- especially the young -- and because of pro wrestling's enormous popularity, these deaths are rationalized as something that comes with the territory. Besides, a new, even ruder star will be along any minute.
After Hart's death, a watery-eyed McMahon sat before news cameras and told America how sorry he is. But how sorry was he? Was he sorry for Hart and his family or sorry for himself because of the heat he'd now feel? An excessively cynical view of McMahon? I don't think so. This man has a history.
Let the record show that Sunday, after Hart fell to his death performing an over-the-edge stunt during a pay-per-view show titled "Over The Edge," McMahon did not stop the show. Hell, there'd be no refunds. There was money on the table and kids to be entertained through violence and sexual deviance.
And let the record show the WWF's desensitization process has become so thorough that Sunday's TV announcers had to implore their audience to believe that Hart's death wasn't part of the show, that he was really dead. After all, there's no knowing just how low McMahon will go. Therein lies the popularity of his WWF.
Consider that minutes after Hart was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, McMahon's sensitivity is such that he held to his pay-per-view storyline and had himself rushed from the arena in an ambulance, the "victim" of a staged assault at the hands of one of his wrestlers.
Consider that in 1997, immediately after WWF star Brian Pillman was found dead of a drug-related heart seizure, McMahon exploited Pillman's death in his ratings war with Ted Turner's WCW, a war McMahon has won in a rout primarily because he provides more lurid shows.
McMahon's USA Network show, the night after Pillman's death, eagerly promoted the appearance of Pillman's naive widow for an interview with McMahon. They saved her for later in the program. The widow of one day was used by McMahon as a come-on, a ratings ploy. And it worked. Of course it worked.
Consider that Owen Hart's role Sunday was to mock McMahon's critics by performing as an excessively good good guy. His "Blue Blazer" character was designed to ridicule McMahon's detractors who have noted that McMahon has removed the "good guy" from his shows.
Instead of Good vs. Bad, the WWF now presents Bad vs. Worse, something McMahon readily -- and proudly -- admits.
Perhaps one of those critics that Hart's character was designed to mock was his brother, Bret, a far bigger star than Owen.
Bret had left the WWF for the WCW, unhappy with his new assignment as a remorseless pig after years of playing the baby face. Bret also had made it known that the WWF had become so vile that he no longer allowed his children to watch.
And it was Bret who had decked McMahon after his last WWF performance. McMahon had betrayed him by having the ref signal that Hart had submitted to his opponent before a packed arena in his native Canada. Bret, who actually took his role-model status seriously, figured he was safe from McMahon in his final WWF show because the ref was a good friend.
But just as Bret's brother relied on McMahon to make a living, so did that ref.
Consider who Owen Hart was to wrestle Sunday: "The Godfather," a black man in the role of a stereotypical black pimp who offers his "hoes" (whores) to opponents for the entertainment pleasure of our young. The sale of hateful racial and ethnic stereotyping is a McMahon specialty, too.
Consider that several years ago, after the WWF's physician, Dr. George Zahorian, was sentenced to prison for distributing drugs to McMahon's stars -- including Hulk Hogan and McMahon -- the WWF boss held a press conference to announce the strictest drug testing known to man.
A naive media, failing even to recognize the deal behind the press conference, filed stories that portrayed McMahon as a leader in the war on drugs. McMahon must've laughed himself to sleep that night. McMahon that day named his new drug czar: Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale, legendary among body builders for his writings on how to beat drug tests.
But even if the WWF had been serious about drug testing, who'd get the results? Who'd act on those results? There's no independent commissioner. It would be McMahon, an admitted steroid user and successful broker of steroid-swollen actors. He could do what he wished with those results. The press conference was just another Vince McMahon show.
Now consider McMahon's response to the drug-testing issue in the Dec. 5, 1998 issue of TV Guide: "If we found a syringe filled with steroids, we'd say, 'What the hell are you doing?' But the audience doesn't give a damn. No one cares." So much for his war on drugs.
Consider that the WWF and WCW assiduously avoid staging shows in Oregon, once a hotbed for pro wrestling. McMahon calls Oregon a "red tape" problem. But Oregon is known as the one state that conducts real-deal drug testing of pro wrestlers.
The WWF, cable TV's runaway ratings champ, long ago entered the over-the-edge business. Its prime-time, nationally televised shows, watched by millions of kids each week, are now so obscene that we can't print exactly what's said and exactly what's done.
Suffice to say that kids are being suspended from school for emulating what McMahon has wrought. Ten-year-old boys now refer to 10-year-old girls as "hoes," courtesy of the WWF. Twelve-year-old boys now point to their crotches and holler "Suck it!" the WWF's signature salute.
Even McMahon's biggest current star, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who specializes in giving the finger, says the WWF sometimes goes too far.
But, because it goes too far, the WWF is No. 1, top of the trash pile. And, as Stone Cold knows, and the late Owen Hart knew all too well, you can do it McMahon's way, or you can do it elsewhere.
Owen Hart, dead at 34. Next!
SAFETY: ENOUGH OF A PRIORITY?
(San Jose Mercury News, May 25, 1999)
By Sam Farmer
A bungee jumper plunges to her death while practicing for a Super Bowl halftime show. A motorcycle stuntman is killed when his jump goes awry at a monster-truck rally in Miami.
And Sunday, before a sellout crowd at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., professional wrestler Owen Hart dies after falling 90 feet into the ring while being lowered from the ceiling.
"Something like that makes you take a deep breath and make sure you're doing everything you can to put safety first,'' said Michael Olmstead, president of Sunnyvale-based Olmstead Productions and 49ers entertainment director for the past 26 years. "We have one overriding principle in everything we do: Safety comes first.''
It's not uncommon for Olmstead to reject a proposed halftime show in the interest of safety. He passed on the woman who climbs into an exploding coffin. He scrubbed a sky-diving jump at a Clash game at the first hint of bad weather. He turned back a 49ers fan who wanted to set himself on fire on the field while wearing a flame-retardant suit.
"I thought that would not only be dangerous but would cross the line of good taste,'' Olmstead said.
There is no shortage of people who will risk life and limb to thrill a roaring crowd. With indoor events, the stunt of choice involves rappelling, swinging on ropes or rocketing down a "zip line'' from one end of an arena to the other.
Two months ago, Sharks mascot S.J. Sharkie was left dangling 50 feet above the ice when a piece of his rappelling equipment, known as a Figure 8, got caught in his jersey. It took a crew of eight people 12 minutes to rescue him, although Sharks officials insist he was in no real danger.
"It almost got to a point where he was so stuck we weren't worried about him (falling to the ice),'' said Jason Minsky, director of event presentation for the club. "We were just concerned about how we were going to get him up or down.''
Sharkie returned to earth safely, but the episode was a reminder of the importance of planning and practice. He was supposed to rip down a banner on his descent (something not normally incorporated in the act), missed on his grab and got stuck when the people above him cut the banner free.
Normally, the Sharks hire professional climber Rob Chang to coordinate their rope-related stunts. Chang was not involved in that ill-fated endeavor, however.
"Any time you change the parameters of a stunt -- whether it's a banner, smoke bombs on the feet, anything -- you should consult the person who designed the stunt,'' Chang said. "Those small things can really change the end result.''
For the most part, the Sharks take great pains to ensure that such stunts don't endanger fans or the mascot. Chang meticulously checks and tests his equipment, consults a mechanical engineer to determine such things as force on the ropes and works with the performer for days, if not weeks.
Not everyone is so careful.
"When you're a new mascot, you should have a minimum of 15 to 20 hours of training in rappelling,'' he said. "I know for a fact that some other people have shown somebody after an hour and said, 'OK, you're fine.' It's a roll-of-the-dice kind of thing.''
It's unclear what caused the accident that killed the wrestler at Kemper Arena. A police spokesman in Kansas City said the cable suspending Hart did not break, and detectives believe something went wrong when Hart's harness was being hitched to the cable.
Hart, 34, died after his head struck a padded turnbuckle, a metal coupling that holds the ring's ropes together.
Vince McMahon, president of the World Wrestling Federation, said the organization will stop performing the stunt that killed Hart, who at 5-foot-11, 227 pounds was billed as an acrobatic stuntman. But McMahon said other stunts will continue.
"Stunts like this are performed at major sporting events on a routine basis in Hollywood,'' McMahon told the Associated Press on Monday. "We compete with Hollywood for entertainment.''
Hart's brother, Bret, a star wrestler nicknamed "The Hitman,'' was scheduled to appear Monday in a match for the rival World Championship Wrestling on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno'' but canceled.
Owen Hart might have been copying the antics of "Sting,'' a wrestler named Steve Borden of WCW, who for the past couple of years would descend from the rafters into the ring on a cable.
Wade Keller, editor of the Pro Wrestling Torch
newsletter, said Hart's fatal accident is the only one he is aware of in U.S.
wrestling since 1969, when Mike DiBiase died of a heart attack during a match in
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked It) No. 505
THE READERS ALWAYS WRITE . . .
I know you don't normally publish readers' letters or comments.
However, I feel the need to respond to Lou Thesz' article in WAWLI issue #501, and I hope you'll consider making an exception.
Mr. Thesz, I have the utmost respect for you and for your accomplishments, as well as those of your peers. I had the honor of meeting you briefly in Newton last month, and I can honestly say it was one of the most exciting and humbling experiences I've ever had.
Because of that, it breaks my heart to hear you say there are no wrestling fans anymore. Why do you think we drove hundreds, some of us thousands, of miles, just to shake your hand in Iowa? We read newsletters such as this one religiously, we pore over boxes of old magazines at garage sales and flea markets, we buy videotapes of "classic" matches, studying every minute detail until our eyes hurt.
Perhaps more importantly, we choose not to support today's promoters who have jumped on the violence bandwagon. We are vocal about our concerns, and try to make a positive difference in wrestling, rather than turning our backs on it. We realize that wrestling is like any marriage; there are good eras, and there are bad eras, but no matter what, you stick with it.
Personally, I am a 29-year-old fan who DOES enjoy amateur wrestling, DOES show respect to those who deserve it, and DOES enjoy watching current matches involving talented athletes like Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, Juventud Guerrera, Billy Kidman, Dean Malenko, and many others. I don't enjoy the dangerous and/or sophomoric behavior shown by some overzealous, immature wrestlers, and yes, I do think it's unhealthy for everyone involved. But I refuse to let them ruin the sport for me.
I can only hope that your words came from your grief, and not from an honest belief that your sport is dead. Because as much as it hurts that you don't recognize us, true wrestling fans are still around, and we always will be.
AND LOU THESZ REPLIES . . .
It was a pleasure meeting you in Newton, and Newton is part of the reason I feel the way I do. Like you, for many years I have focused on the good kids who retain some semblance of wrestling in their matches, but your money goes to directly to fund the overall product. The only power in this sad situation is the dollar. I can no longer justify the madness that exist by saying it benefits a few good boys.
Every ticket, tee shirt, program, PPV, etc. stokes the fire and raises the level of performance to bring in more dollars and risk more lives and disassociate any form of the sport of wrestling. The only weapon of control in free enterprise is your money.
Because we live in a free country, I respect your right to control your dollars, or power, as you see fit. All my power, my energy and my reputation will go into amateur wrestling and the prayer we can bring to the forefront a more discriminating fan.
I have inquired, but not found the information. Did anyone leave the arena when Owen's death was announced or was it just on to more "entertainment"? I don't want to offend anyone, but anyone who understood wrestling would have been hard pressed to watch any more mayhem.
We all do what we feel is best for the sport we love. I do know there are wrestling fans, but cannot imagine anyone who enjoys and understands amateur wrestling would support the decline in the sport. I know I did many things I felt were not a good representation of the sport of wrestling and must face and accept my part in the decline, but I hope, with all my heart, we can stop the decay.
Forgive me if I have offended you. I spoke partly in grief for Owen and partly in grief for wrestling.
RESPONSE TO EARLIER THESZ WORDS
Amen to the great Lou Thesz' comments. The (business) has reached new lows long before Owen fell to his death. I remember Owen as a very respectful young man who, along with his brother Brett, had a passion for baseball. When I saw Owen, which was infrequently, he wanted a new umpire "war story."
I just saw a local news report on backyard
wrestling. These boys, ages 12-20 are emulating their heroes by using garbage
can lids, going through tables, and yes, blading. I was interviewed condemning
the backyard boys and warning parents about the tremendous risks. If the guys
wanted to try moves, why not copy Thesz, Gagne, or Bockwinkel.
(American League umpire)
PRO WRESTLING OOZES INTO SEWER
(Providence Journal, May 27, 1999)
By Bill Reynolds
Somehow, when it comes to professional wrestling,
we always seem to focus on the wrong thing.
Now it's the death of Owen Hart, who died Sunday night in Kansas City when he fell 50 feet from a cable during a World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view televised event. But it's not the death of Hart, however unfortunate it is, that should be the focus.
It's professional wrestling itself.
This is a sideshow, which always existed on the periphery of American sport and now has become a phenomenon, complete with great TV numbers and sold-out arenas. This glorified cartoon whose tentacles seem to keep getting bigger, fueled by marketing genius and an apparent insatiable public appetite for violence that comes with a story line. This is an abomination that masquerades as simple fun and plays to the lowest common denominator.
The problem with criticizing wrestling, though, is that the inevitable response is, "What's the big deal, it's just entertainment.''
As if that somehow justifies it.
Or why should anyone get too excited about something that glorifies violence, misogyny, confrontation, steroid abuse, devil worship, verbal abuse, an in-your-face attitude and just plain old bad taste as long as it's entertaining, right? Why should anyone get too excited about something that contributes to the further Dumbing of America as long as it's entertaining, right?
As if the values that wrestling espouses are taking place in some vacuum. As if they have no effect on kids -- simply running off of them as easily as dirt does under a shower.
Ah, if we all were so lucky.
Which is not to say pro wrestling is the sole reason why Littleton happened, too many kids seem to think violence is as American as apple pie and mom's meatloaf, or even the increasing feeling that America seems to be going to Hell in a handbasket.
But there's little doubt that pro wrestling contributes to the declining cultural climate. Little doubt that being exposed to an ongoing diet of this nonsense is going to have an effect on kids, just as having them exposed to an ongoing diet of vocabulary words might eventually make them learn a few new words more complicated than "yo.'' There's no mystery to this: If you let kids wallow around in a sewer long enough, eventually they're going to smell.
And spare me the argument that wrestling has been around forever, so what's the big deal now?
It's different now. Trust me.
Rest assured, Killer Kowalski and Haystack Calhoun didn't come into the ring dressed as pimps, followed by seductive-looking women who are called the "Ho Train,'' as some clown known as the Godfather does. Nor did they point to their crotches and yell a vulgarity that can't be used in a family newspaper, as some other wrestler does. Nor were the shows full of sexual innuendo -- all done with about as much sophistication as a junior high locker room.
The point is, pro wrestling is much cruder than it's ever been. More vulgar. More violent. More crass. More theatrics. More over the edge. More. More. More.
Don't believe me?
Listen to former wrestler Bruno Sammartino, once of the biggest name in the wrestling biz. Back 30 years ago, in what was a different era even for professional wrestling.
"Why do people watch this garbage?'' he recently told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I'm embarrassed and angry by what they've done to wrestling. I refuse to watch it.''
Hooray for Bruno.
It makes perfect sense if wrestling is ruder than it used to be. Isn't the entire culture ruder? From movies to music videos, from video games to attitudes on the street, from The Jerry Springer Show to Madonna's entire career, the culture seems to be on some descent into the primordial ooze. Just when you think it can't go any lower, it does.
Wrestling is just one of the reference points.
Plus, pro wrestling, as we used to know it, got played out a long time ago. There are only so many body slams you can see before it all gets a little tired, right? So many times a guy can bounce off the ropes, right? So pro wrestling has to keep pushing the envelope, has to keep getting more and more outrageous. Especially in this age of the TV clicker, when it often seems as if too may kids have the attention spans of hamsters.
So now we have this almost-nightly monument to everything wrong with the culture, all packaged and skillfully marketed. Violence as theater. Complete with sex, confrontation, verbal abuse, misogyny, and just plain old-fashion bad taste. Wresting, as a nightly TV freak show.
All in the name of family entertainment.
It makes you wonder.
But it's not the death of a wrestler in a freak accident that should be getting the attention here.
It's this nonsense that we justify because it's ``just entertainment.'' This nonsense that we justify because ``it isn't real.''
No, it's not real.
But the values it keeps sending out to kids are.
WRESTLING'S ACT OUT OF CONTROL
(Philadelphia Daily News, May 27, 1999)
By Bill Lyon
The temptation is to dismiss professional wrestling as nothing more than a cult sport, a perverse and garish freak show.
But during the last NFL season, the ratings for the long-living and prosperous Monday Night Football were eroded badly in head-to-head competition with the thespians of the squared circle.
And when the current NBA playoffs went up against wrestling, they were pummeled. In Philadelphia, until this season, the wrestlers regularly outdrew the 76ers. And even now they attract a larger crowd than the average Phillies congregation.
But now wrestling may have gotten more attention than it really wanted. It has lost a member of the brotherhood, Owen Hart, who plunged to a gruesome and well-publicized death in a packed arena in Kansas City on Sunday night.
All you need to know about the sad state of our society is that many in the crowd thought at first that Hart's death dive was just another stunt. These people have been conditioned to expect ever-escalating routines.
Wrestlers are regularly set on fire, buried alive, thrown from great heights, and whacked with two-by-fours, garbage-can lids and the ever-popular steel chair. The problem with having to ratchet up the outrageous is that you have to outdo yourself each succeeding performance, until the inevitable result is that a man plummeting to his death seems nothing more than another really cool stunt.
The scoffers say that wrestlers aren't really athletes. That can be debated. What cannot be debated is that most of them are incredibly athletic. They perform some astonishing acrobatics -- flamboyant flips and somersaults, from the top rope, from the pike position, sometimes from the top of a steel cage.
They are stuntmen, actually. Aerialists without nets.
Yes, it is all choreographed and scripted, but there is a definite art to knowing how to fall.
Or as Dr. J used to say of his chronically ouchy knees: "It's not the takeoffs, it's the landings."
Even knowing how and where to fall does not ensure freedom from injury. Periodically they have to go into the shop. Knees need scoping. Vertebrae get realigned. Joints get lubed, fractures casted. And then, of course, as soon as the wounded warrior returns to the ring, his cast is promptly targeted for abuse, usually from a handy sledgehammer.
Almost all that happens is predictable. Except for death.
So if Owen Hart's passing is to serve some useful purpose beyond hypocritical pontificating, it would be to make wrestling put on the brakes.
You can't ban it, any more than you can ban boxing. But it needs to be reined in, to be reformed, to be dragged back from the edge.
The favorite word in sports these days seems to be extreme. But once you've gone to the extreme, what do you do for an encore? Once you have stepped right up to the ledge of the cliff, where is the next step?
That's where wrestling is now. It needs to examine itself, and pull back from the edge.
And it most emphatically needs pressure from parents.
Wrestling has an appeal to children that is frightening. The allure is understandable -- extravagantly oversized men and women in exotic and bizarre costumes, strutting and preening and committing acts of random violence and rage . . . they are cartoon characters come to life.
But there is an important difference. Superman and Batman and the rest of them are not crude and lewd. They don't have suggestive nicknames and pornographic routines. They don't debase, ogle and humiliate women. They don't lead the audience in chanting vulgarities.
They have a constitutional right to stage their performances. But a large portion of their audience, especially that watching on cable TV, is much too young to be exposed to the raunch and the sleaze that now permeates professional wrestling.
Since sleaze sells, they're not going to stop. Which is all the more reason for parental vigilance.
Wrestling also preys on the vulnerabilities and the appetites of the next age group up from children, the adolescents. Wrestling shows are shrewdly marketed with hormones in mind.
Women are invariably barely dressed and are slavishly subservient and surgically enhanced, and those who are not have degrading names such as PMS.
And, of course, there is the pervasive presence of muscles. Mounds upon mountains of muscles. Pumped and oiled, flexed and rippling. Veins thick as lead pencils.
A 15-year-old gazes at this engorged, oxygenated flesh and he wants a body like that. Well, it is available, in the weight room. But only to an extent.
To get big, to get really huge, you need pharmaceutical help.
The price can include hideous acne, high blood pressure, impotence, irreparable liver damage, kidney failure, wild mood swings and erratic, irrational behavior.
Do you think any of this can be a deterrent? In a survey, a disturbing number of teenage males said they'd trade an early death for a couple of summers of looking awesome on the beach.
So this is the market on which wrestling feeds.
In fairness, many of the performers could give lessons to other athletes in how to relate to the paying public. Many of them, once the costumes are off and the ring personalities shed, are amazingly accessible and cooperative.
And to a point, they can be captivatingly entertaining.
But they are being exploited, asked to do increasingly perilous stunts, asked to sell their bodies at auction. Some of them reply: "Yeah, but the money's good."
In the end, all that gets you is a fancier
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 506
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE IS DEADLY
(Hartford Courant, May 27, 1999)
By Greg Garber
The World Wrestling Federation headquarters in Stamford are a corporate study in glass and metal. But inside those walls, less than a football field from I-95, the fabulists are at work. They create the spectacular storylines and scenarios that make professional wrestling one of the most popular forms of entertainment in America today.
WWF chairman Vince McMahon Jr., who oversees 200 full-time employees, has presided over wrestling's growing grip on the public. In the early 1990s, when he acknowledged that wrestling was "entertainment" -- i.e., fake -- the industry was suddenly freed to pursue increasingly absurd (and hypnotically compelling) "angles," as they call them in the business.
During Sunday's WWF pay-per-view show billed as "Over The Edge" at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., Owen Hart fell 90 feet to his death. While waiting for his entrance on a descending cable, Hart, 34, who wrestled as "The Blue Blazer," fell from the catwalk and his head struck a ring turnbuckle. He broke his neck and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.
McMahon was not made available to The Courant on Wednesday, but he has never shied from professional wrestling's questionable image. In March, McMahon granted ESPN an expansive interview and defended the WWF.
"Is there any other show on television in which you have soap opera elements, action-adventure elements, the athleticism of Olympic competitors, cartoon and talk show all rolled into one? The answer to that is absolutely not.
"We push the envelope in terms of creativity, sexuality, language and things of that nature. Do we go to the edge? Yeah, we get close to the edge. But compare us to anything else that's out there ... we're tame."
Investigators theorize the quick-release device on Hart's harness was triggered accidentally by his hand or feathered sky-blue cape. Clearly, in some measure, Hart's death can be attributed to professional wrestling's hunger to penetrate the American consciousness. Hart, after all, was terrified of heights.
The Hart family, which includes eight sons who were all involved in wrestling and patriarch Stu Hart, a legendary wrestler and promoter, has been quick to criticize the trend toward grand spectacle.
"We all feel that wrestling was getting too far out, and my poor brother Owen was the sacrifice for the ratings," said Elizabeth Hart from the family home in Calgary, Alberta, on Wednesday. "We all figured that sooner or later somebody was going to end up with a tragedy because of the direction wrestling was taking."
Owen's older brother Bret "The Hitman" Hart, who left WWF to join Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, is the most famous professional wrestler to emerge from Canada. Tuesday, on "Good Morning America," Hart decried the stunt his brother was asked to perform.
"You always sort of get pushed into doing things that maybe you're a little uncomfortable with," Hart said. "I can see this as a situation where Owen was, you know, this idea was taken to him. It was suggested that he come out of the ceiling. And I know there was a little bit of a discomfort about the danger in it.
"It's a shame, you know, the fans have sort of become wild dogs that sort of want more and more and more all the time."
Bob Backlund, once a successful amateur wrestler, worked for McMahon's father, Vince Sr., in the early days of the WWF. When Vince Jr. took over the operation in 1982 and brought in colorful characters like Hulk Hogan, Backlund left the organization in 1984.
"I just wanted to be Bob Backlund," said Backlund, a Glastonbury Republican who is seeking John Larson's 1st Congressional District seat in 2000. "I didn't want to change. I'm not saying he was wrong in asking me to change, and maybe be a bad guy. He was right in his decision, business-wise. Vince made a ton of money taking over the business. But I would still do the same thing.
"Vince and I have had some pretty strong differences of opinion."
Backlund said he objects primarily to the language and the obscene gestures, especially considering a fair portion of the audience is young children. A number of critics have compared professional wrestling to "The Jerry Springer Show."
"People say, 'Oh, my God, they're violent,' " said McMahon, 52, who is at once combative and charismatic. "Well, no one has ever seen anyone's guts spilling out on a WWF set, or a knife or anything. There is no portrayal of murder.
"The World Wrestling Federation is a model probably -- in all likelihood -- of what will be the future of television. I think we're better than Springer sometimes."
Paul MacArthur, a professor of radio and television at Sam Houston State University and publisher of "The Wrestling Perspective" newsletter argues that the level of violence hasn't changed much since wrestling became popular around the turn of the century.
"What are we talking about?" MacArthur asks. "Gratuitous violence. Pro wrestling has always been about gratuitous violence. It's always been two guys beating the crap out of each other. Well, allegedly beating the crap out of each other.
"I think the presentation has changed. You have to be more sensational to sell your product. Look at Hollywood. The special effects are better in 'Phantom Menace' than the original 'Star Wars.' You are always going to see technical advances when you're trying to dazzle people."
Last year on a WWF pay-per-view show in Pittsburgh, Mick Foley, known as "Mankind," fell 15 feet from the top of a steel cage through a table, then was thrown through the cage roof and sustained a broken collarbone and lost several teeth in a match billed as "Hell In A Cell."
"I couldn't believe it when he got up after the fall," said Don Laible, a columnist for Extreme Championship Wrestling Magazine and a 27-year veteran of professional wrestling. "I know it sounds like old school, but wrestling has to come back to the ring. They have pushed the envelope too far. The absurdity is way out there. It's like, 'Well, let's top that.'
"People in wrestling say, 'It's what people want.' Well, that's not true. It's what pro wrestling is giving them. Vince McMahon is a master salesman, the second coming of P.T. Barnum. Listen, even the circus trapeze artist has a net. A guy jumping out of an airplane has not one parachute but two. At some point, they've got to get back to wrestling so it's no longer a dirty word."
Technically, the last death in U.S. professional wrestling before Hart's was Mike DiBiase, who died of a heart attack in Lubbock, Texas, in 1969. But in a sport where big muscles are a prerequisite, a number of professional wrestlers have died young.
Rick Rude, a former wrestler, died in April after a long suspected association with performance enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.
In March, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported that at least 11 professional wrestlers have died in the last six years. Their average age was 36.
"Because wrestling is this hybrid of sport and entertainment, you're going to get the negative elements of both," MacArthur said. "Let's face it, there isn't a sport that is clean. To get the competitive edge, you have to look like bodybuilders. That's the reality."
Said Dave Meltzer, editor of the weekly "Wrestling Observer" newsletter, "There have been a lot of deaths in wrestling, but most were guys who were somewhat at fault with bad judgment. Owen Hart seemed to steer clear of most of that. He wasn't an egomaniac. He was a model employee. The sad thing is, he was just doing his job."
By any measurement, professional wrestling is a wild success.
The WWF and WCW reportedly combine for gross revenues in excess of $1 billion. The empire, which includes pay-per-view shows, home videos, publications, licensing and merchandising, is built around television.
Some 40 million Americans, on average, see some form of professional wrestling each week. During the February sweeps, 21 of the top-rated 25 telecasts on cable were wrestling. According to Nielsen Media Research, the six top telecasts for the period from April 29-May 23 were wrestling. Only the NBA playoffs and Nickelodeon's "Kid's Choice Awards" prevented a top-10 sweep.
More than any other demographic, wrestling resonates with the highly prized male aged 18-34.
The WWF rose to prominence under McMahon, spawning the popular Wrestlemania series and myriad cottage industries. But in the early 1990s, a new wrestling outfit, Extreme Championship Wrestling, entered the picture. ECW, borrowing from the absurdly violent productions in Japan, offered a product that made the WWF seem fairly pedestrian.
In September 1995, Turner's TNT network and the WCW "Monday Nitro" directly challenged WWF's Monday "Raw" on the USA Network. Adopting the ECW edge, the long-established but then racier WCW began to defeat the WWF in the ratings wars.
Two years ago, McMahon made a conscious decision to take professional wrestling even further over the top. There was more cursing and sexual innuendo. Val Venis, one memorable WWF character, was introduced as a former porn star. He had a suggestive finishing move called "The Money Shot," and, during one production, was involved in a faux castration scene.
The WCW, restricted by the conservative Turner, hasn't been able to match the WWF blow-for-blow and has steadily lost the ratings battle. In the most recent period available, the WWF and USA had the top six spots, and nine of the top 15, while TNT had four telecasts that ranged from No. 17 to No. 29.
Industry observers say this heated and lucrative competition is what has raised the bar for violence while simultaneously lowering it for taste.
"It's kind of changed now where two guys in a pair of trunks exchanging holds for 20 minutes isn't going to rivet a viewer's attention," said Chris Jericho, a WCW star. "In 1999, the storylines are the one and only most important thing and all of the personalities that are involved with them."
McMahon, who lives in the exclusive Conyers Farm area of Greenwich, said after Hart's death that the WWF will stop performing the aerial maneuver, but said other stunts would continue.
"We enjoy being perceived as the bad boys of television," McMahon told ESPN. "We're not, but that's the perception that, quite frankly, we hope we have.
"Compared to afternoon soap operas, we're Sunday school teachers."
MacArthur hopes Hart's death will have an educational effect on the business.
"I remember when 'Ricky Steamboat' started doing a fire-breathing trick in the early '90s," MacArthur said. "Well, he went and took fire-breathing lessons from a guy who knew how to do it. If you're going to do high-risk things, then you better know what you're doing.
"The Owen Hart thing is a terrible tragedy that didn't have to happen. Maybe guys who aren't trained to descend from 90-foot ceilings shouldn't be doing it."
(Courant Staff Writer Liz Halloran contributed to the above story.)
SUPERSTARS EXPECTED AT FUNERAL
(Calgary Herald, May 26, 1999)
By Heath McCoy
The body of superstar wrestler Owen Hart arrived in Calgary by private jet Tuesday evening as family members prepared for a funeral expected to draw wrestlers from around the world.
Brother Bret Hart and Owen's widow, Martha, were at Sunwest Aviation when the airplane arrived from Kansas City, Mo., where Owen was killed Sunday.
From the airport in the city's northeast, a police-escorted white hearse and two white limousines zipped south on Deerfoot Trail en route to McInnis and Holloway Funeral Home on Elbow Drive S.W. Traffic at intersections was stopped as the multi-car procession drove past.
A service is planned for Monday, to be held at Park Memorial Chapel, 5008 Elbow Drive S.W.
"Mankind, Hunter Hearst-Helmsley, Jeff Jarrett. These are Owen's friends and if they can make it, we expect them," said Owen's sister Georgia Hart. "We think Vince McMahon (president of the World Wrestling Federation) will also be there, probably."
Owen Hart wrestled professionally around the world for 13 years, starting with his father's Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling, and his funeral may become a spectacular, tragic gathering of muscular sports entertainers, said wrestler Jonathan Holiday.
"Everyone who ever wrestled with him would love him," said Holiday, 29, a friend of the Harts, who has been by the family's side since Owen's death.
The service will be private, although fans will be able to gather outside the funeral home where the service will be heard through a speaker system, said Teri Tkachuk, Bret Hart's personal assistant.
"Martha Hart is organizing this whole service," Tkachuk said. "She just lost everything, and the fact that she's able to do this . . . she wrote the obituary. She'll be giving the eulogy. She's such a strong, amazing woman."
Owen Hart, 34, died when he plunged 18 metres onto a wrestling ring as he was being lowered on a cable from the rafters of the Kemper Arena during a World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view event.
Police said Tuesday that Owen Hart likely unhooked a harness by accident, causing the pro wrestler to free fall to his death. Police believe the wrestler's body harness was properly attached to a cable suspended from the ceiling. The harness had a quick-release device so that Hart could free himself from a cable, which was not severed.
Family members remained skeptical about whether the truth around the failed stunt is coming out.
"It would be very convenient and Owen can't defend himself," his father Stu Hart said.
"I would say it would be 50-50 if they would be completely honest. They could be quite deceptive."
The family had a mixed reaction to the tribute that appeared on the televised Monday Night Raw, in which WWF wrestlers and management shed tears and said goodbye to Owen.
"Everyone in the family was touched by the tributes from the other wrestlers," Holiday said. "It really hit home for most of them and there were a lot tears. But some of the family think the whole thing is Vince's fault, and a tribute show can't make up for that."
Bret (The Hitman) Hart left the WWF in 1997, partly over an "artistic disagreement" with the risque direction the WWF was taking, including plotlines that focused on sex and racism.
Hart was concerned that pro wrestling was becoming more racy and less suitable for children.
"Owen had similar concerns about the content," Bret said. "He tried to get out of the WWF, but he couldn't get out of his contract.
"The sad thing is, he was dreaming of
retiring to be with his wife and kids more often in a year or two. He was so
close to his dreams."
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 507
CRITICISM CONTINUES TO MOUNT
(Rocky Mountain News, May 26, 1999)
By Alex Marvez
The in-ring death of professional wrestler Owen Hart has generated criticism from siblings toward the World Wrestling Federation.
Several members of the Hart family have publicly questioned why Owen was being lowered from the ceiling into the ring at Kemper Arena in Kansas City for his entrance at Sunday's "Over the Edge" pay-per-view show.
Hart was supposed to be secured with a harness connected to a cable, but instead plummeted 70 feet into the ring and suffered massive injuries that quickly killed the 34-year-old performer. While witnessed by 16,000 fans in attendance, the incident was not shown on the pay-per-view telecast.
Bret Hart told ABC's Good Morning America on Tuesday that his brother was apprehensive about performing the stunt.
"We take our falls on the mat inside the ring," said Bret, who was a WWF champion before leaving to rival World Championship Wrestling in October,1997. "I was never a stuntman and Owen was never a stuntman. He never should have been put in a situation where he was on the top of a ceiling of an arena to go into the ring."
Jim Byrne, the WWF's vice president of publicity and marketing, said the promotion had no knowledge that Hart didn't want to perform the stunt. Hart had been lowered from the ceiling into the ring on a previous occasion while wrestling as the masked Blue Blazer.
On Tuesday, Kansas City police said the accident may have been caused by feathers in the Blazer costume becoming caught in the release device. Hart was supposed to pull a metal ring to detach from the cable and drop from a safe distance.
"It is believed at this point in time the quick release was activated," Kansas City police spokesman Floyd Mitchell said. "Either it snagged on his clothes or he pulled it too soon."
Bruce Hart, an ex-wrestler and one of Owen Hart's 12 siblings, said Tuesday that his brother hated the ceiling stunts and being forced to perform as the Blazer.
"He developed the attitude where he was just taking the money," Bruce Hart told the Denver Rocky Mountain News. "He really felt like he was prostituting himself with a such a desecration and deviant departure from what he knew wrestling to be."
The WWF has garnered mainstream popularity -- especially among children and teenagers -- through wild in-ring action and outrageous storylines that often push the boundaries of good taste. The WWF has presented angles featuring crucifixions and a wrestler receiving simulated oral sex from a transvestite.
Hart, who began his WWF career as the Blazer before becoming a star under his own name in the mid-1990s, was recently asked by WWF officials to revive his old gimmick. Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer said Hart was repackaged because he refused involvement in a storyline with a female performer out of respect for his marriage.
Being lowered from the ceiling into the ring was popularized by WCW grappler Sting in 1997 and had become a common staple on wrestling shows, although WWF owner Vince McMahon said his promotion will no longer allow that type of stunt to be performed.
"The really stupid thing about it is that Owen is one of the few guys in the promotion who could work," said Bruce Hart, referring to Owen's noted in-ring athleticism. "Yet they have him come down as a bird or spaceman. He was a wrestler, not a stuntman."
The WWF has come under fire for continuing its "Over the Edge" telecast after the incident. Viewers were told of Hart's death with about 55 minutes remaining in the show, although an announcement of his condition was never made to fans in Kemper Arena.
The WWF, which could generate more than $4 million from the "Over the Edge" telecast, did cancel the pay-per-view replays of the show and live events for the next 10 days.
"I don't know why (the show was continued) other than longstanding convention in both arts and sports to continue no matter how much it hurts," Byrne said.
Bruce Hart was especially upset by the WWF's two-hour tribute to Owen Hart on this week's edition of "Monday Night Raw," which airs on cable's USA network. The show -- which drew the second-highest television rating in Raw history with 5.4 million households -- featured interviews with performers and front-office personnel about what Hart meant to them sandwiched around matches.
The Raw telecast never mentioned how Hart had died.
"I suspect (WWF management) was high-fiving each other after the show and saying they got the job done," said Bruce Hart, who doesn't believe every interview about his brother was sincere. "They came out smelling like a rose. That's the way we all saw it.
"It was damage control and a bunch of crap where they say they were celebrating the life of Owen Hart. Nobody alluded to how needless and senseless the whole (ceiling stunt) was."
PROMOTERS PUT WRESTLERS AT RISK
(London Free Press, May 26, 1999)
By Jim Kernaghan
Cowboy Frankie Lane's rage over the death of Owen
Hart is undoubtedly born of having himself been subjected to the type of excess
that killed his one-time opponent.
Lane, now retired and running his family's 280-hectare (700-acre) farm near Alvinston, wrestled most of the Hart brothers at one time or another, including one appearance against Owen, who was killed Sunday in a stunt that went wrong.
"Wrestlers get treated like prostitutes and guys like Vince McMahon are the pimps," Lane fumed yesterday. "If McMahon wants to send his henchmen after me for what I'm saying, I'm not afraid to die."
Vince McMahon is head of the World Wrestling Federation, under whose banner the youngest member of the Hart wrestling clan performed.
It was during a performance on Sunday in Kansas City, Mo., as the 34-year-old wrestler was being lowered to the ring in a harness, that he plunged headlong more than five storeys to his death.
The pay-for-view card was typical of a world ruled by greed and power, charged Lane -- a world that can include treachery, abuse, broken promises and too many steroids.
A world, he says, that has pushed the envelope too far.
"There's no limit to what they'll do to promote their shows, nothing they won't attempt to boost falling ratings.
"I remember Owen as a kid, then later as a wrestler like all his brothers. He was a great kid, an agile athlete. Look at this," Lane said, scanning a newspaper photo. "A beautiful wife, two kids. It's heartbreaking."
Lane, who has had a number of brushes with the law and is hardly a shrinking violet, is not unlike all wrestlers who've been interviewed on the matter. The rugged faces and muscular bodies are softened by the teary eyes.
Then hardened by anger at what happened to Hart.
"Out of respect for the family, they should have cancelled the show and refunded everyone's money," Lane said. "(McMahon) has no respect for wrestlers and he has no respect for himself. He's a dog."
Lane, who occasionally performed as the Red Shadow, added Cowboy to his ring name when he was asked to replace a wrestler known as the Oklahoma Kid in Australia.
"He was six-feet-six, 290 pounds and he wanted to get bigger, so he got on steroids," Lane explained. "He was getting out of bed one morning and fell back dead of a heart attack."
The steroid excesses, well-chronicled by Hulk Hogan, manifested themselves in other ways. Lane, who wrestled 30 years at about 200 pounds, gained 12 pounds on a steroid but developed hives and quickly dropped it.
Other souvenirs of his career remain, such as the cauliflower left ear Karl Von Steiger gave him. And there is a scar atop his head to remind him of the night in Canton, Ohio, when the Mighty Zulu fractured his skull -- away from the ring.
"He went nuts because I wouldn't drive him to the next show. I was sitting in the seats and he hit me with an iron bar. He got away before the cops arrived. I was in hospital 17 days."
The orchestrated mayhem is almost as bad, such as the time Lane and an opponent fought out of the arena and into the street, culminating with Lane going through a plate glass window. They left town before the police arrived and the promoter paid the damages -- a tenth of what the next card grossed.
Lane is more circumspect when talking about other excesses in wrestling. Such as "gigging" -- cutting oneself with a razor blade to produce blood -- or taking one's own blood, placing it in a condom and biting it to produce real blood when "struck" in the face.
But there are wrestlers who absorb a shot in the eye to produce a real shiner, those who routinely "drop a fall" or dive. In defence, guys like Lane will say they are better than actors because there are no retakes.
The show, clearly, has gone too far when one of the participants is killed.
How it happened to Hart will eventually come to light. Why it happened is all too apparent.
There are two main wrestling organizations, the WWF and the newer, well-financed World Championship Wrestling, which had already used a similar stunt to the one that killed Hart.
At stake is not only the rich live gate and enormous retailing market but also a healthy share of a lucrative pay-per-view audience.
GREED KILLED OWEN HART, HE SAYS
(Calgary Herald, May 26, 1999)
By Peter Stockland
In Sunday's Herald, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column acclaiming the World Wrestling Federation as the salvation of Western civilization because of its roots in Greek and Shakespearian tragedy.
On Sunday evening, my son raced upstairs with news of a real-world tragedy. Calgary's own WWF superstar, Owen Hart, was killed in a freak-accident just prior to his bout in Kansas City.
It's a measure of how steeped the WWF is in theatre that as Hart, 33, lay mortally injured members of the audience thought it was all part of the evening's script. They were waiting for Hart -- aka the Blue Blazer -- to suddenly revive and swing into furious action, the stock-in-trade of WWF performers.
But this wasn't just another opening, another show. This was tragedy with vengeance and with meaning. This was an athlete dying young.
Let there be no doubt that, for all professional wrestling's reliance on illusion, Owen Hart was truly a gifted athlete.
I witnessed that first-hand when I was given the chance to be his "manager" for the evening during a WWF stop at the Saddledome last summer.
I got the chance to wave the Canadian flag above Hart as he entered the ring. I pounded the apron to cheer him on, and raised his arm in victory after the bout.
Up close and personal, I was frankly astonished by the speed and agility of both Hart and his opponent that night.
The atmosphere around them was all calculated buffoonery, but the performers themselves were exquisitely skilled in the art of creating mayhem without inflicting injury.
It requires finely honed coordination, control and finesse to pull a punch mere millimetres from an opponent's nose, or run into him full-speed without demolishing his sternum.
Such restraint is far more athletically demanding than simply going wild and doing harm.
From ringside, it was evident Hart was a master of his craft.
He was intensely focused, as hard-working and dedicated to his performance, as any top player in any other arena.
Sure, the result of the particular role he was to play had already been ordained by the WWF gods who decide these things.
But there was still a show to put on. And for Hart, the show was the thing above all else.
Well, actually, no. Not all else. There was one thing obviously far, far more important to him.
While we were waiting in the dressing room area for his bout to be called, after he'd affably introduced me to a number of the other wrestlers and chatted about WWF life, Owen Hart did a quietly remarkable thing.
He scrounged up a cell phone from somewhere and, standing in his wrestling trunks, his torso slick with oil, he called home for a brief chat with his wife and family.
He had the kind of loving domestic chat that you or I might have from our offices or worksites on any given day.
He gave them the kind of verbal hugs and kisses we all give those we love. Then he hung up, and plunged out into the breathtaking roar of 17,000-plus fans jammed to the rafters in the Saddledome.
Doubtless, he heard an equivalent roar Sunday afternoon as he waited in the rafters of Kansas City's Kemper Arena to be lowered by cable into the ring six stories below. It was a stunt he'd done before.
His father, Stu, says Owen had every confidence in his skill to do it safely. Then something went fatally wrong.
"Something happened, he came down about 50 feet, and crushed his heart from what I've gathered," Stu told the Herald after the accident.
It is hardly bearable to think what it has done to the hearts of his wife, Martha, his children, Oje and Athena, to his 10 brothers and his sister, and to his mother and father.
Long after the madding crowd that witness the horror has found other tragedies to gossip about, they will bear the real-world pain of real-world loss. They will bear life-long scars from death's sharp sting.
It turns out that all the world is not a stage after all. Not when the most theatrical of surroundings can serve to remind us how brutal unrelenting reality can be.
In life, when the good fall, sometimes they don't
get up to play again.
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 508
HOW LORD LITTLEBROOK WON FAME
(Kansas City Star, May 22, 1999)
By Joe Popper
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Now that small-time professional wrestling is making a comeback in such places as the Beaumont Club in Westport, the phone in Lord Littlebrook's house rings more often.
Littlebrook is a wrestling trainer and promoter who lives in a hillside house up here. He has a large chow chained in the yard and a sign nearby that states "Beware of Dog."
The chow yawns when visitors enter.
Littlebrook wears tortoiseshell glasses and has a thick and whitening beard. He drinks beer in the morning.
He is 70 now, and he's been around the world more often than he can count. He's been married six times. He does what he pleases with his time.
His vocabulary is vivid and profane, and he tells wonderful stories that a newspaper like this won't print for fear of what people might think.
Littlebrook doesn't care what people think. He has proved all he has to prove in this life.
He doesn't care about being in a newspaper either. Not anymore.
But he agreed to talk with a reporter, probably out of kindness. Because there was a time when being in the paper, any paper, was part of his job, and he remembers that.
He was a professional wrestler starting in the 1950s and a made-to-order dude, a literal dude, strutting around like a Punch cartoon version of an English lord -- homburg on head, umbrella in hand, wearing three-piece pinstriped suits like some Saville Row swell.
He wore tuxedo jackets into the ring.
He's not a real lord, of course, but he is English, and he is little. As he sat in his kitchen chair, his feet didn't touch the floor.
"I'm 4 feet 4 inches tall, and I call myself a midget," he said the other morning as he sipped a can of Milwaukee's Best Light. "I don't care what you call me, and that's the truth.
"But where are my manners?" he asked with sudden and lordly propriety. "Here I'm sitting with a beer and...Do you want a beer, guy? It's cheap...stuff, but that way I can buy a lot of it."
He was born Eric Tovey, and he grew up in one of London's toughest neighborhoods, a patch just north of the famed East End.
"Not even a policeman would walk those streets alone," he said. "They walked them in threes."
He was granted no quarter on account of size, not even on his own block. When a much larger boy challenged him to fight, he went to his father for advice.
"This is a big-man's world," said his father, Harry, a floor and wall tiler.
"And you're just passing through it, Son, so do it right. Don't never cry, and don't never run away. If you do, you'll be running your whole life long. And remember this: All men are the same size once you knock them down."
The advice stuck.
"My dad was a wise old fella," said Littlebrook. "He didn't care if I won or lost. He just wanted me to make a place for myself."
But Littlebrook's size mattered. He couldn't follow his father's trade because his hands were too small. He hated school, where he was often made to stand in a corner wearing a dunce cap.
"I went there maybe 10 months in my whole life," he said. "So I sure ain't no speller."
He remembers everything he hears and sees, but he can't write the names of his seven children very well.
When he was 14 in the mid-1940s, he joined a circus.
"I told Dad I couldn't find any other job. So he bought me a cheap little suitcase and helped me pack the few raggy things I had."
Littlebrook's first job was in the circus cook house.
"I peeled a hundred...pounds of potatoes every day," he said. "I did heavy tent work also and slept on a trunk with the horses."
He was rescued by a clown who taught him some tricks and got him a performing job.
"Once you're a circus artist, you're a member of a big family," Littlebrook said.
"As a clown I made 15 pounds a week. That's more than my dad made."
By 1949 he was part of an acrobatic comedy act that caught the eye of an American talent scout. He was signed for a U.S. circus.
"I sailed aboard the old Aquitania and ate my first steak on that voyage," he said.
But the circus went broke, and Littlebrook's American work permit was in danger.
"Why don't you try wrestling?" someone suggested.
"I don't know a thing about it."
"No one does until they start."
He signed with a Detroit promoter who had a monopoly on midget wrestling acts.
"The promoter said he'd give me three months to show him something. If I didn't, I was out. He told me if I ever walked away from him, he'd blackball me for life. It was a hard way to go in those days."
He was paid $3 for his first match in a small Michigan town.
"Later, sometimes we'd make as much as $100 a night. Some of the fights were fixed, sure, but most promoters just asked for a certain amount of time in the ring. They didn't care who won."
He was given name Lord Littlebrook and hated it.
"Being a `Lord' in America meant playing a bad guy," he said. "And dressing up in those fancy clothes made me feel like a...ham bone tied up with a ribbon."
He changed his stage name to Roger Littlebrook and played a good guy. He settled in St. Joseph.
For years, then, it was one-night stands in small arenas, waiting in fetid dressing rooms for someone to call out, "Midgets on next!"
He helped pioneer midget tag teams and mixed midget/woman wrestler teams. Eventually he learned the business side of wrestling and became a promoter himself.
The high point of his life, or so he says, was a wondrous love affair with a beautiful 6-foot-4-inch underwater stripper who used to carry him out of the bars they frequented, coyly announcing that she was going to tuck him in.
"And she did that," he said. "Oh yes, I did all right with wrestling."
He's retired now.
"I don't go out the door unless I have to," he said. "I answer the phone, and if some promoter wants midgets, I got them.
"Otherwise, I drink beer and talk to my friends. If I want fresh air, I sit on the porch. What else do you want to know? Hey, you want another beer?"
OWEN HART HAD HEART OF GOLD
(Montreal Gazette, May 26, 1999)
By David Johnston
Anyone who knocks on the front door of the Leduc family bungalow in Saint-Bruno discovers that the knock leads instantly to a furious, blood-curdling barking from the two black poodles inside.
So it did yesterday afternoon, as Carl Leduc, professional wrestler, his head shaved bare and a one-inch scar over his right eye, opened the door and offered an apology on behalf of the kinetic canines.
"I come home late at night, sir, and these dogs scare me to death," said Leduc, 24. He was wearing a white golf shirt and gray-and-white camouflage pants. His feet were bare.
It's been a sad month for Leduc, son of Paul Leduc, one-half of the former Leduc brother wrestling tag team of a generation ago.
Anybody who grew up in Quebec watching entertainment wrestling on TV remembers they wore tuques and were supposedly lumberjacks from Godbout.
On May 1, the other half of the tag team, Jos Leduc - in real life a former Surete du Quebec policeman named Michel Pigeon, no relation at all to Paul - died in Atlanta visiting family.
Yesterday, Paul was attending a funeral of a family friend in Quebec City, leaving Carl at home to type a eulogy on a French-language wrestling Internet newsletter in honour of Owen Hart, his former roommate on the World Wrestling Federation circuit.
Hart, 34, of Calgary, died a horrible death Sunday in an arena in Kansas City, Mo., when he fell from a harness as he was being lowered into the ring during a WWF event. He tumbled 18 meters (the height of a five-story building) and struck his head on a corner turnbuckle.
Ellie Hart, the wrestler's sister, blamed the death on a ratings war between the WWF and competitor World Championship Wrestling that has seen promoters insist on ever more spectacular -- and dangerous -- stunts.
"I'd been thinking that maybe I would want to start doing some of the same (stunts) Owen was doing," Leduc said. "But since what happened to Owen, if a promoter asks me to do something like that, I think I'll think twice."
Hart's death is expected give pause to other wrestlers, as well. But Leduc, understandably reluctant to bite the hand that feeds him, said promoters are simply responding to the wrestling public's appetite for a bigger and more spectacular bang for their dollar.
"I don't know what people want," Leduc said. "People want to keep bringing it to another level."
Leduc's friendship with Hart began in January of 1996, when he met him for the first time at the final wrestling event in the Montreal Forum. Leduc, then 21, was just getting into pro wrestling. Eight months later in Quebec City, he "fought" Hart in his second WWF match.
The promoters arranged for Hart to lose by disqualification.
"Owen had wanted me to win, since he had this policy of never wanting to beat a local guy in his own back yard," Leduc said.
"But I said, 'No, people are paying money to see you, Owen, not me.' So an arrangement was worked out that I'd win by disqualification."
Leduc wasn't making much money in those early matches. He respected Hart and asked him if he'd agree to be his roommate on the road.
"He said, 'Carl, the reason I accept is that you're just starting out, so if you want to share, you have to agree to a deal. The deal is you have to agree to put away for your family the money you are saving as a result of sharing a room instead of rooming alone.'"
Leduc isn't married, and has no children.
"People say: 'What kind of guy was Owen?' Well, family was everything to Owen. The rule was, after the match, we wouldn't go out. We'd go right back to the hotel room together and order room service. He'd phone his family, and we'd go to sleep."
After a match in New Brunswick in April of 1997, Leduc said, Hart could see Leduc needed more seasoning as a wrestler. He persuaded Leduc to drop out of the WWF and go to Calgary, where the independent circuit is strong, and hone his craft for a few years. He even arranged for Leduc to lodge temporarily with his father, Stu, for a month, until he got his bearings.
The two got along so well that Leduc was persuaded to stay almost two years, until last December, when he moved briefly to Toronto to teach at a wrestling school run by the Hart family.
Now Leduc is back in Montreal, fighting on the independent circuit and undergoing a deliberate image makeover from good guy to villain. He plans to spend the summer in Calgary, and hopes to go from there to Japan, where wrestling fans are at least as nuts as they are in North America.
Wherever he goes, he said, he will remember Owen Hart as his mentor.
"He'd tell me: 'On the road, meet your fans in the lobby, never in the bars. Stay out of the bars. There's always someone in the bars who is going to want to test you. Remember to save your money, get your sleep and, above all, take care of your family.'
"Owen never spent a penny on the road. We used to call him Wallet."
Owen Hart is survived by his wife, Martha, and two children age 7 and 3. In Kansas City, the investigation of his death continues.
BASEBALL STAR, SON WITNESSED TRAGEDY
(Tacoma News Tribune, May 26, 1999)
By Larry LaRue
It was a rare chance for a father-and-son night out during the season, so David Segui stayed in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday with his 7-year-old son, Cory, while the Seattle Mariners flew to Minneapolis.
"Cory loves wrestling," Segui said, "and there was that big pay-per-view event in Kansas City Sunday night. So we went."
For more than an hour, the two had fun watching World Wrestling Federation stars battle in and out of the ring.
"They had a big screen at one end of the arena to watch, because in one match the two guys fought in the ring, then went up the stairs into the concourse. They wrestled in one of the concession stands, fought their way back down another set of stairs and back into the ring," Segui said. "They're athletic, but none of it was too real."
And then it turned for real.
As Segui and his son sat a few rows back from the ring, Cory was awaiting the next dramatic entrance from a wrestler -- his head turned toward that big screen. From high above the Kemper Arena floor, Owen Hart, was about to descend to the ring wearing a vest hooked to a cable.
And something went wrong.
"I saw it out of the corner of my eye and it caught my attention," Segui said. "He was falling head and shoulders first. He just clipped the ropes, and when he hit the canvas in the ring it sounded like a cannon went off."
Like most everyone else in the arena, Cory jumped -- and tried to believe it was part of the WWF script.
"The minute he hit, it was over, he was gone," Segui said. "For the kids, it probably saved them that everything else had been so fake, this didn't seem real, either. Police jumped into the ring and tried to give him CPR, other wrestlers were looking out from behind a curtain, it was just a real, real difficult thing to watch for 20 minutes."
Segui asked his son if he wanted to leave. Cory shook his head.
"I asked him if this was bothering him, and he said 'A little.' He was worried that the wrestler's family might be watching on television," Segui said. "I put my arm around him and we talked."
What amazed Segui most was that after paramedics raced off with Hart, who died in a Kansas City hospital, the WWF show went on.
"It was never mentioned again, and they went on with the rest of the matches," Segui said. "Maybe that was best for the kids, not to have it be the last thing they saw. I know one thing, I couldn't have done what they did. I couldn't have gone on."
Segui spent the night in Kansas City, took his son to school, then flew to join the team.
"I talked to him this morning; he was fine," Segui said. "It could have been so much worse. (Hart) fell so far, he could have missed the ring. There wasn't any blood, any gore, and for most kids I think it was a lot like what they'd been watching -- a big guy down in the ring."
Cory was fine. Segui was disturbed.
"It's the last thing you expect, a night out with your son, watching these guys do some amazing stuff, getting the crowd into it," he said. "And then you watch a man die right in front of you."
THE SHOW GOES ON IN ST. LOUIS
(Associated Press, Tuesday, May 25, 1999)
ST. LOUIS -- Tears streamed down the faces of
wrestlers, fans, even referees, as 10 bells tolled during a tribute Monday night
to Calgary wrestler Owen Hart, killed in a performance accident a day earlier in
About 19,000 wrestling fans jammed the Kiel Center for the World Wrestling Federation's Raw Is War, but the usually raucous crowd was a touch sombre.
Hart, 33, plunged at least 15 meters to his death as he was being lowered by a cable from Kemper Arena's ceiling into the ring during a match there.
WWF chairman Vince McMahon said the St. Louis event went on as a tribute to Hart.
"Out of respect for Owen, knowing the consummate performer he was, I'm sure members of the Hart family would concur with me that he would want the show to go on," McMahon said.
During the show, which was broadcast on the USA Network in the United States and TSN in Canada, a videotape of Hart highlights appeared on a huge video screen. Many of the wrestlers wore black armbands with "OH" on them. The crowd chanted, "Owen, Owen."
The accident remains under investigation, but McMahon said during a news conference in St. Louis that Hart may have accidentally released a safety latch too soon.
It was evident from the start that Hart, who occasionally wrestled under the name Blue Blazer and was part of a Canadian family with a long wrestling heritage, was on the minds of many of the fans.
"I have mixed emotions about being here," said Chris Gegan, 28, of Belleville, Ill. "But I think the fans are paying tribute to Owen and the performer that he was."
Inside the Kiel Center, many fans held signs and banners honouring Hart. "We miss you, Owen," read one. But those signs appeared to be outnumbered by those lauding wrestling superstars such as (Stone Cold) Steve Austin.
Kiel Center special events manager Cindy Underwood said her office received numerous calls Monday, but few complaints that the event was taking place. She said most calls came from ticket-holders worried the show would be cancelled. The event was sold out weeks in advance.
"We decided the show must go on," Underwood said.
Barry Bickel and Chris Hacker, both of Nevada, Mo., said they were seated in the front row at Kemper and saw the fall. They then drove to St. Louis for Monday's show.
"After it happened, it just wasn't the same," Hacker, 19, said.
"It was still tons of fun," Bickel, 21, said. "But that just dampened the whole thing."
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 509
FACTS FROM BRONKO NAGURSKI'S LIFE
(Minneapolis Star-Journal, circa 1939)
By Bernard Swanson
Bronko Nagurski was born Nov. 3, 1908 at Rainy River, Ontario . . . oldest of four children born to Michael and Amelia Nagurski . . . Bronko is not a nickname, it's as common a name with the Ukranians as Thomas, Richard or Henry in our country . . . played football and basketball at International Falls (Minn.) high school . . . as a youngster worked in the mills and wrestled logs on the river during vacation periods . . . during school sessions ran the four miles between the school and his father's farm every day, crediting this with laying the foundation for his powerful legs which after 16 years of strenuous athletics still function 100% . . . Became one of the University of Minnesota's all time gridiron greats, being voted All American honors at two positions, tackle and fullback . . . loved boxing and wrestling as a youngster but Amelia Nagurski, with true maternal instincts, tried to curb these ambitions because she was afraid her strapping son "might get hurt" . . . Mrs. Nagurski has only seen her famous son play football once, against Michigan in 1928, and in one wrestling match, when Bronko defeated Dean Detton in Minneapolis in 1937 to first gain recognition as world's champion . .. Bronko learned early from experience that when he was running with the ball and a tackler was bearing down full speed on him if he opened his own "throttle" wide something was liable to give, and because Bronko was bigger and more powerful it was usually the other guy . . . this creed gave rise to Steve Owen's famous remark that "Bronko runs his own interference" . . . there is no stopping the Bronk on the gridiron when he's mad and during his college days, his coach capitalized on this quirk in Nagurski's nature by plotting with the other members of the Gopher squad to keep the Nag's temper at the boiling point at all times . . . it's the same in wrestling, it's just too bad when he gets riled . . . too bad for the other fellow . . . played eight years of sensational professional football with the Chicago Bears with such success that he is rated by Grantland Rice as All Time All American fullback . . . likes the pro football game better than the college game because "it's more perfect, each player knows what the other is going to do" and of all things, "it's a cleaner game" . . . thinks Dutch Clark was the greatest all-around player, either in college or pro grid circles, that he faced . . . married his childhood sweetheart, Eileen Kane, Dec. 28, 1936, and on Christmas Day, 1937, to the happy couple was born Bronko Nagurski Jr., who according to Bronko, Sr., is the best Christmas present any mortal ever received . . . Bronko, Jr. isn't quite two years old yet, so it's a little early to speculate on his ability to emulate his famous dad but it is reliably (?) reported that he can now punt a regulation football 10 yards and has put three troublesome neighbor boys in the hospital with a punishing toehold . . . Nagurski wasn't handed the world's heavyweight title on a silver platter . . . he came up the hard way . . . His entire mat career has been handled by the capable Tony Stecher, brother and manager of former champion, Joe Stecher . . . Tony was a stellar light heavyweight wrestler himself once and was still in pretty good shape when he met up with Bronk in Minneapolis in 1933 . . . he decided to see what the Bronk, then pretty much of a greenhorn outside of being strong as an ox, could do . . . the upshot of the workout was that Tony, in showing Nagurski how to go about getting a crotch hold for a body slam, allowed himself to be used for the demonstration and was slammed to the mat so hard by the Minnesota giant that he spent a week in the hospital . . . Bronko served his apprenticeship in the preliminaries and it was three years after his professional debut on Feb. 20, 1933, that manager Stecher allowed him to face the topnotchers of the sport . . . Nagurski has lost but four bouts during his professional career that has seen him in action nearly 500 times and of the four men he lost to, three have been defeated by Bronko in return engagements and the fourth never consented to a rematch . . . Stecher and Nagurski form one of those rare combinations of athlete and manager that is based purely on friendship . . . Tony's word is law with his amiable giant in all matters pertaining to wrestling . . . Nagurski has implicit faith in his quiet but nevertheless efficient representative and Stecher's treatment of this confidence has been such that no contract is needed to keep their business relations on the highest plane . . .
(ED. NOTE -- WAWLI Paper readers are indebted to Duff Goodman, who unearthed the Flash Gordon scrapbook in which the following articles were found.)
GEORGE MEETS GORDON TONIGHT
(San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 1948)
By Joe Wilmot
Tonight, lucky old San Francisco will get to see the greatest invention since the anti-dandruff coat hanger, when wrestling's latest sideshow, Gorgeous George, takes over the sawdust pit of the Civic Auditorium for what is puckishly billed as a grappling match.
The Beautiful Bicep, the man who put trousers on the bobbie-pin, found out a couple of years back that the louder the act the bigger the house and since then he has parlayed such standard vaudeville props as platinum hair, perfume atomizers and an ozone sniffing valet into packed arenas wherever the act is billed.
Los Angeles, metropolis of the bizarre, took Gorgeous to its gullible heart and made book on how many times a day he visited Southern California beauty dens to have the kink treatment spread over his luscious locks. He packed 'em in like sardines and the wrestling promoters in that section began to use all ten fingers to count up the soaring receipts.
The guy can really wrestle. Before he started his career as "Tarzan of the Drapes" and the "Grunter's Lucius Beebe," he pinned such good journeymen as Jules Strongbow and Chris Zaharias. His pre-fame handle was George Wagner.
Advance reports have it that the Great Profile is a believer in the use of the despised little bobbie-pin to break a clam lock or triple scissor hold. His opponent in tonight's fracas, "Flash" Gordon, should insist that Gorgeous wear a snood less he ("Flash") walk from the ring after the match looking like a porcupine that made good. Or mayhaps "Flash" could counter with a handy hairpin. George hides the hemp connectors in the folds of his birds-nest coiffure and drags them out when needed.
You can expect anything at the Civic Auditorium tonight and probably see it.
GORGEOUS ONE WINS WITH 'HAM' HOLDS
(San Francisco Chronicle, June 2, 1948)
By Joe Wilmot
Gorgeous George, a large and flabby slice of sugar-cured ham straight from the Hollywood smoke house, flexed his mail-order muscles last night before a near-packed Civic Auditorium containing mere mortals and defiled this sanctorum of hairy-chested he-men with the free use of such quaint props as lavender aqua-velva perfume, a haughty butler, and a marceled noggin.
The main event started off like an Academy Award dinner. The house lights dimmed and the audience settled into a noisy hush. Down the aisles strode Jeffries, the butler, aloof as a cake of Lifebuoy.
He pussy-footed into the ring carrying a gold tray containing bobby pin patches and such extras as George might need during the heat of the match. Walking over to his master's corner, he spread a red and orchid throw rug for the Gorgeous one to step on. Then he goose-stepped to the middle of the ring and stood as rigid as a yard bird.
Then came the spotlight and loud Wagnerian music. The crowd stood up as the lights picked out the Gorgeous one, who started his trek towards the ring through a cordon of palace guards.
The strong light accentuated the robe that covered the great profile. It was cerise and gold trimmed and contrasted to the wearer's locks which resembled a bowl of discouraged corn flakes.
As George reached the ring, his butler spread the ropes and assisted his master into the center of the pit. Once again he used his flit gun to decontaminate any spot of the ring already touched by another mortal. Jeffries proceeded to arrange the bobby-pins that held George's hemp factory together and the Gorgeous One was ready to go. Meanwhile, his comparatively drab opponent had slunk into the ring by way of Fisherman's Wharf and stood bashfully in his corner waiting for the actual combat to begin.
Finally, George peeled off his robe and turned slowly so everyone from here to Suez could see his physique.
And then they went to it.
The actual wrestling was of the run of the mill variety with George taking the first fall in 13:26.
The second and deciding fall came in 9:55.
P.S. -- The straight man for the act was Flash Gordon.
The gate was $8,548.
In the more decorous portion of the night's entertainment, Dr. Len Hall grappled 30 minutes to a draw with Tug Carlson; Bobby Bruns dropkicked Juan Humberto in 23:46, and Bill Hansen drew with Francisco Palacio in 20 minutes.
THE TOP DOG IN WWF
(New York Post, Sunday, May 30, 1999)
By Gersh Kuntzman
For the WWF, Owen Hart's death couldn't have come at a worse time.
The popular professional wrestler -- a brawny member of the circus-like menagerie that is today's World Wrestling Federation -- plummeted 90 feet from the roof of Kansas City's jam-packed Kemper Arena last week in a stunt gone wrong.
Initially, fans weren't even sure if they were seeing a tragedy or just another WWF plot line from the sometimes-twisted but always-inspired mind of WWF ringleader Vince McMahon.
While no one doubts the sincerity of McMahon's mourning - he has skipped promotional appearances since the death and will join hundreds of Hart's fans, fellow wrestlers, family and friends at a funeral in Calgary tomorrow -- there's another reason McMahon is grieving.
In the next few weeks, his $750-million "sports entertainment" powerhouse, TitanSports, is expected to announce an initial public stock offering worth 20 percent of a business that has been in the McMahon family since early this century.
While few Wall Street analysts believe Hart's death will hurt the IPO, the fatal stunt has once again turned the Kleig lights away from McMahon's burly brutes and the bizarre action in the ring and back onto McMahon's sex-, violence- and racism-filled formula that fills stadia, sells hundreds of millions in merchandise and makes his TV broadcasts and pay-per-view events the highest-rated shows on cable.
"Hart's death is not going to hurt the IPO," said Marty Blackman, principal of sports marketing firm Blackman & Raber. "In fact, it might even help. You don't like to say it, but things like this add to the element of danger and excitement. This is what attracts people."
But Hart's death can hurt the WWF. For one thing, members of the grieving family lashed out at McMahon, saying that the pressure to create daring stunts and high ratings was the reason Hart was on a thin catwalk high above the Kemper ring in the first place.
"Owen would be alive if they still did wrestling like we used to," said Stu Hart, who ran a regional wrestling league that set the standard in the days before WWF "attitude."
Comments like that have renewed scrutiny by critics, who body slam the 53-year-old McMahon for creating an angry world where racism, sexism and violence are considered normal problem-solving skills.
On any given broadcast of McMahon's top-rated Monday night cable show "Raw Is War," viewers are inundated with images of cleavage-baring "managers," simulated sex and mock crucifixions. Sable, a female WWF star who has appeared in Playboy, once doffed her costume to reveal a bosom obscured seductively by paint.
A frequently cited Indiana University study of 50 "Raw" episodes counted 1,658 incidents of crotch grabbing, 157 obscene finger gestures and 128 visions of simulated sex.
"I can't watch wrestling anymore, because of all the nudity and violence," said Hart's eldest brother, Smith Hart.
But "Raw is War" remains the No. 1 show on cable, with higher ratings in the 18-to-35-year-old male demographic than even Monday Night Football.
Fewer appreciate the genius of McMahon's achievement. Until he entered the family business in 1971, joining his father's already prosperous -- but by no means earth-shaking -- Capital Wrestling, the junior McMahon was basically a failure at everything.
As a kid, he was so unruly that the state of North Carolina gave him a choice: reform school or a military academy. He chose the latter but became the first cadet in the history of Fishburne Military School to be court-martialed.
He took five years to get his degree from East Carolina University.
As a businessman, McMahon made Biff Loman look like an overachiever. He sold paper cups and adding machines, promoted rock concerts and even handled the broadcasting of Evel Knievel's failed leap over the Snake River Canyon.
By today's standards of glitz and mayhem, the senior McMahon - also named Vince - was a small-time operator, but his impact on the world of wrestling was substantial.
His "Capital Wrestling" -- the precursor to the WWF -- brought the likes of Gorgeous George and Bruno Sammartino into the nation's living rooms.
The elder McMahon treated wrestling as a sport, a purer form of entertainment that preferred sweaty athleticism to gaudy showmanship, a good body slam to an upraised middle finger.
The senior McMahon never got involved in his wrestlers' soap operas, although he sometimes allowed his announcer son to mingle with the plot lines, as when the younger McMahon caught a beating from Lou Albano for giving a Manager of the Year award to Sammartino's handler Arnold Skaaland.
"You can trace the start of McMahon's idea of showmanship to those days," said Bill Apter, editor in chief of World of Wrestling magazine.
After buying up several regional wrestling outfits in the early 1980s, McMahon fused wrestling with the in-your-face production values of rock shows.
The culmination in 1985 was Wrestlemania, a kitschy pop "happening" that filled the venerable Madison Square Garden with a supporting cast that included Liberace, Billy Martin, Muhammad Ali and Cyndi Lauper.
A new national pastime -- he called it "sports entertainment" -- was born. McMahon would even admit that the "matches" were preordained, ending the sham of wrestling his father tried to protect.
Now, McMahon could use his IPO money to turn an East Side building into a production studio as well as renovating a Las Vegas casino into a wrestling-themed hotel.
And he never apologizes for what wrestling has become - even as he's been pelted by claims that he's poisoning the minds of the young boys who form his primary audience.
"Compared to everything else that's out there in terms of violence, in terms of guns and knives and shooting people and blood and guts pouring from someone that you see on television, we're very, very mild," he told CNBC recently.
WOW MAGAZINE FEATURES THE ROCK
(Miami Herald, May 31, 1999)
By Jim Varsallone
WOW magazine, the new, glossy pro wrestling publication from H&S Media, will soon hit newsstands with its second mega issue.
Featured on the cover is 'Thee most electrifying man in sports entertainment today' The Rock. The magazine also has plenty of photos of your favorite grapplers and valets, an extraordinary obit on Ravishing Rick Rude, an up close and personal with Konnan/K-Dog, a report on each major federation, the indie circuit and more.
H&S Media also brings you ECW Magazine, another glossy, slick pro wrestling publication -- complete with autograph style photos and quality writing on the stars of ECW.
Bill Apter, the long-time pro wrestling do-it-all
editor/writer/photographer for Pro Wrestling Illustrated at Kappa Publishing, is
now spearheading the wrestling publications for H&S Media.
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 510
(ED. NOTE -- "Denizine" is an e-zine, located on the Web at http://www.denizine.com)
AND THERE WRESTLED A MAN
(Denizine, Thursday, May 27, 1999)
By Malcolm MacTavish
No part of a foreign literature is quite as foreign to us as its drama. The art of the stage has its origins in the religious ritual of ancient Greece, and since then the theatre has always shown a tendency toward the excessively formal, the ritualized, the repetitive. It is a slow process, but eventually a nation's drama reaches a point at which you cannot understand it without understanding its conventions. A person in the English-speaking world can pick up a translation of The Tale of Genji, a Japanese prose book written in the 11th century and often described as the world's first novel, and read it immediately with great relish. But an Anglo cannot read a Noh play in translation and make head or tail of it without some preliminary study. We can read Dante, but we can't quite make perfect sense of the commedia dell'arte. We can dive right into Plato, but Sophocles, with all those strophes and antistrophes, is a puzzler.
What I'm saying here is that theatre is inherently weird; in its essence, it is more unnatural than other arts. That is why future historians will have the absolute devil of a time, I think, making head or tail of professional wrestling. For wrestling, right now, is perhaps the dominant popular theatre form in North America. (Pop music performance may still be more significant; stand-up comedy, which enjoyed a renaissance in the 1980s, is not. The actual theatre, of course, is mostly a joke now.)
If you try to adopt the mindset of a person in the year 3000, you will notice how ritualized pro wrestling will seem in the future. Its catchphrases form a liturgy; its "heels" and "faces", a hagiography; its storylines, a theology. The industry even has "Protestant" and "Catholic" rival promotions. (We are in the midst of the World Wrestling Federation's Counter-Reformation right now.) And as everybody knows, you can't have a religion without martyrs.
On Sunday, during a WWF pay-per-view event in Kansas City, Missouri, the Calgary-born wrestler Owen Hart was entering the ring on a cable suspended from the rafters of the Kemper Arena when he somehow engaged the quick-release latch on his safety harness. He fell 70 feet to the ring, smashing his head on the hard metal turnbuckle that keeps the ringside ropes taut. Paramedics tried to revive him, but he was pronounced dead on arrival at the Truman Medical Center. The shaken announcers assured the audience that what they had just seen was not a stunt or a gimmick and that Hart had been seriously injured. An hour after the fall, as the show went on, announcer Jim Ross informed the crowd of Owen Hart's death.
People were quick, of course, to attack the World Wrestling Federation. Back in Calgary, Hart's distraught family accused the WWF of throwing away Owen's life in a senseless quest for ratings. Fans of the rival World Championship Wrestling promotion crowed that this sort of thing would never happen at one of their shows. Show attendees expressed outrage that the show had been allowed to continue after the violent death of one of the performers. Owen Hart detractors were quick to spin foul jokes ("OWEN JOBS FOR GRAVITY!!!!!") and post them to USENET.
It is in the nature of a materially comfortable civilization--and ours is the most comfortable that has ever existed--to seize on freak accidents and blow them wildly out of proportion. Since we have eliminated most of the normal threats to life and limb that troubled our ancestors, we attach our unreasoning fear to the abnormal ones--natural disasters, school shootings, environmental toxins. The missing element in the early reaction to the Owen Hart catastrophe was the awareness that pro wrestling has been a killing machine over the last ten years. Non-fans do not know it, and the fans forgot in their horror, but it is usual for wrestlers to die early deaths. Just last month, former WWF star Ravishing Rick Rude died of a drug overdose. Last year, the legendary Junkyard Dog was killed in an auto accident and Hart family pal Flyin' Brian Pillman lived up to his surname by dying of an adverse reaction to painkillers. The travel demands of pro wrestling have led to road deaths for stars like Adrian Adonis; athletic wear and tear has all but crippled others, such as another Hart pal, "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith. And if you can manage to survive the bus trips, the steroids, the fireworks, the Percodan, the suplexes, and the virus-ridden groupies, your freakishly large, abused body will generally let you down at a rather young age anyway (as Andre the Giant's did).
So maybe Owen was lucky--he went quickly, in the prime of his life and career. But that reasoning rings false for those of us from Alberta, raised on Hart-owned Stampede Wrestling in Hart Country. I've been watching Hart family members wrestle on TV and in Edmonton's arenas since I was five years old. And I can tell you that Owen Hart was different. When he talked about getting out of the profession and teaching phys. ed. at community college, you almost believed him. All wrestlers say they want to make their pile and leave the life; few, if any, do it--the horrible truth is, the usual form of retirement from wrestling is death. But in Owen you could see the inner conflict that comes with being raised within a public dynasty.
Owen's older brother Bret, the former WWF champ who is perhaps the most famous person ever to be born in Alberta, eats and breathes publicity. A million children worship him, he makes vats of money, and you can tell that he digs every minute of it. He has no uncertainty about the life he's chosen; it has given him everything. But Owen was another story. There was nothing larger-than-life about him, ever; he looked like someone you might have gone to high school with. Nothing in his high, wheezy voice suggested certainty; it suggested a man struggling with his role. It smacked of someone who was out there doing the family business.
Owen's father Stu was a pro wrestler; in 1948, at the age of 33, he switched to wrestling promotion. For nearly fifty years he was one of Canada's leading pro-wrestling impresarios. He opened a training centre in the basement of his Calgary home, and there, his boys and other men's boys learned the techniques of Stu's art. Stu and his wife Helen had twelve children, eight boys and four girls. Three of the girls married wrestlers; the fourth hooked up with a bodybuilder. Of the boys, five wrestled professionally, another became a referee (albeit one who would occasionally use his karate on misbehaving grapplers), and a seventh ran the Stampede Wrestling television program, broadcast on tape every Saturday from the Silver Dollar Action Centre. A name to conjure with, that, for impressionable youths across the Canadian West.
Owen was the youngest of the 12 Hart children. (At the time of his death, he had two kids of his own.) He wrestled right from the start, attaining high honours for his skills in college. He never stopped talking about quitting one day, but there it was: the family business. What a burden and a temptation that must be, knowing that your life is mapped out for you, if only you should choose to follow the map. I think things were made worse for Owen by the fact that brother Bret was a more dynamic personality, more comfortable in front of the cameras, more sculpted physically, and hence more popular.
Bret is not built like a true (amateur) wrestler; he is built like a bodybuilder. But Owen looked like a wrestler; he had the classic wrestler's face, with small features swimming about on the front of a big blond head. (No real wrestler would dare tempt opponents to reef away at those faggy long curls Bret wears.) Quite clearly--for this is how he first came to our notice in Stampede Wrestling--Owen was superior to Bret as a pure athlete. In amateur wrestling, his accomplishments were greater, and in the pro ring, he was much better-endowed with pure wrestling moves, which don't amount to much in such a stagy atmosphere. He was famous among knowledgeable fans for his submission holds, which are boring but would actually count for something if you found yourself really wrestling with someone inside a boxing ring. Climbing around on the ropes and flying through the air, on the other hand, wouldn't do you a damn bit of good.
It is no wonder, then, that few fans were able to embrace Owen wholeheartedly when he came to the WWF. He looked out of place physically; he had no distinguishing ethnic characteristics or deformities; and he seemed vague and uninspired, somehow, compared to Bret, the consummate performer. The WWF made him play the Blue Blazer, a cheesy character who wore a mask when masks weren't hip anymore. I still remember the first time I visited the house of a hardcore fan and watched the Blazer wrestle. "You know who's under that mask?" my friend Doug asked.
"Oh, no," I said. "Oh, shit. That's sad." But when he died, Owen was bringing back the Blazer character, and it was already working much better with the hipper crowds of the irony-laden fin-de-siecle. Just after Owen fell from the harness off-camera on Sunday, the directors of the pay-per-view cut to a taped Blue Blazer segment. On the tape, as the real Owen received cardio-pulmonary resuscitation in the ring, the Blue Blazer shrilly exhorted kids to "eat your vitamins" and "drink your milk!" Fans watching the pay-per-view reported laughing hysterically at the dorky Blazer and then being appalled when the segment ended and they learned what had happened. In the old days, as I remember them, no one laughed at the Blazer--they just went "Oh, for Christ's sake. Not this guy again."
But then, most of them wouldn't have been from Alberta. The Hart family's Stampede Wrestling promotion was a true phenomenon, and there is hardly an Alberta male under 40 who hasn't spent many an hour in front of the TV screen watching Bret, Owen, and their overgrown kin (Jim "The Anvil" Niedhart is a brother-in-law) wrestle legends like the Cuban Assassin and the Vietcong Express.
Perhaps I should specify "a white Alberta male under 40," for there was always a heavy racial and nationalist element to the Stampede action. It may be gauche to mention it on the occasion of his son's death, but Stu Hart's business played heavily, and shamelessly, on the anxieties of native Albertans toward immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. The non-Caucasian bad guys in the promotion banded together to form their own mafia--"Karachi Vice," it was called, rather illogically--and at house shows the individual wrestlers would be greeted by a sea of zitty white teenagers chanting "Paki SHIT! Paki SHIT! Paki SHIT!" The Edmonton newspapers never took any notice of this disturbing phenomenon; it was beneath their notice, off their radar screen. That was the whole fun of it. Somehow it is both exhilarating and upsetting to see human impulses untrammelled by liberal or religious pieties.
And no, I didn't participate in the chanting, but then, I didn't ask for my money back, either. The Hart empire, built on the profits of some pretty nasty human impulses, has been folded into the World Wrestling Federation, which encodes its racial tensions more carefully (and freely bashes and lampoons groups not protected by liberal orthodoxy, like American Southerners). The spotlight on the WWF is brighter; no longer is pro wrestling entirely beneath the notice of the serious media. But everyone is so upset about the sex and violence in wrestling that they don't care about the stereotyping--which is healthy, since "stereotyping" is a big part of those dramatic rules and forms I was talking about earlier, the ones that are such an important part of the popular theatre. (This does not excuse racism outside of art, nor race hatred in any context.)
Stereotypes and archetypes are important; they allow the viewer to have expectations at the start of the play. They are a form of dramatic economy. But some of the best drama occurs when those stereotypes and archetypes are screwed with. It is no coincidence that Shakespeare, for example, lived in a time of great flux in the English theatre; the first tragedy in the English language, Gorboduc, was written in 1562, almost within Shakespeare's own lifetime.
Let me give you an example I happened to be thinking about this morning in the shower. For some reason, maybe because I'd had a dream about it, I was thinking about the movie Planet of the Apes. Now, I'm going to assume that most of you have seen it, and I'm going to mention the ending here, so scroll down now with your browser to the next paragraph if you don't know how Planet of the Apes ends. I was thinking about Planet of the Apes and I realized what, other than Charlton Heston, makes it such a marvelous movie.
It's not the twist of having a planet where apes rule over mankind; that "surprise" is given away by the title. It's that the script makes you think you're watching a certain movie--a movie about what happens when religion (Evil) stands in the way of science (Good) and free thought. For a good while, the movie recapitulates the whole Galileo cliche. And then, all at once at the end, the whole thing is turned on its head and, retrospectively, the action of the movie becomes much more complex than it seemed.
Heston finds out that human beings destroyed the "Planet of the Apes" with the aid of science--but he finds out more than that; what he really learns is that Dr. Zaius and the other apes in charge were maybe right to treat humans as irredeemable, destructive beasts, and to limit scientific knowledge. It's a surprise, because we are conditioned, by stereotype or archetype or whatever you want to call it, to expect that a Hollywood movie will give us a happy ending instead of shoving Original Sin in our faces.
The presence of Owen Hart in the WWF was subversive of our expectations in this way. He defied our expectations of pro wrestling by not representing anything other than himself; he was, simply put, a human being instead of a caricature. And yet he was a human being who was pretty damned good at wrestling.
His appeal was like the enduring appeal of short-arsed NBA players like Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues; in a world of big personalities--big personalities who often take illicit drugs and mistreat the fans--Owen Hart was a midget; a kind-hearted, average midget. That's why it was such a great moment, one of pro wrestling's greatest, when Owen beat Bret at Wrestlemania X in 1994. We were not primed to believe that it could happen. However easily we could have forecast the outcome of that match, it was still a surprise when it happened; all fine works of art remain somehow eternally surprising.
Owen's death is a terrible thing for pro wrestling. The WWF and the other promotions could have gone on killing wrestlers for a hundred years, but if you're going to do that sort of thing, you have to do it quietly. Owen's death was pretty public. It probably means that the elites are going to pay more attention. The more attention they pay, the less room wrestling has to be outrageous, xenophobic, hateful, obscene, and lurid. We may agree that these qualities may be bad (and certainly they are bad in a schoolteacher or a nanny), but if wrestling isn't going to have them, then there is little or no reason to watch. If I just want to see big men sweat and grunt and grope, I'll rent some gay porn.
People are expressing a lot of indignation about Owen's death. Partly this is the usual evil effect of our fanatical and idiotic modern obsession with safety. But there is something else involved: namely, the feeling that it was ignoble for Owen to die in a mere pro wrestling ring. He was doing a "stunt," they say. He was trying to get "ratings."
Well, yes. He was doing a stunt, which was his
job as a performer, as surely as it is a plumber's job to fix the toilet. And he
was trying to get ratings, which means he was trying to get people to enjoy what
he was doing. I don't see the lack of nobility in that; what I see is just the
opposite. The man was going the extra mile to please the fans. We should respect
that. But even more, we should remember that he was doing it even though there
was probably somewhere else he would rather have been. Doing the risky,
unpleasant part of your job even though you would rather be teaching badminton
to teenagers...that demands more than respect. It demands admiration. Vaya con
dios, Owen Hart.
The New WAWLI Papers
(Wrestling As We Liked
It) No. 511
RASSLIN', RISK AND RAUNCH
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 30, 1999)
By Milan Simonich
Ox Baker, a bald 300-pounder with a bushy black mustache and a perpetual sneer, made the perfect villain.
So perfect that Baker still stands accused of killing two fellow professional wrestlers.
No prosecutor or grand jury ever charged Baker with the ring deaths of Alberto Torres in 1971 and Ray Gunkel in 1972. Rather, Baker was labeled a killer by the very promoters who hired him.
Torres and Gunkel both died of heart attacks. But the fantasy that Baker had beaten them to death sold tickets, and selling tickets was every promoter's first commandment.
It still is.
Industry insiders say the death from a fall one week ago of wrestler Owen Hart will force a few minor changes in the way matches are packaged for public consumption. But they also predict that professional wrestling will remain fundamentally the same as always -- a business that exploits real-life trends and tragedies to fill seats and spike television ratings.
What's different about wrestling today is that it has become more outrageous and dangerous than ever as it grabs for a bigger share of the entertainment market.
Televised shows are rife with cursing, profane gestures, partial nudity and even a pimp and prostitutes. Actual wrestling in the ring has become less important than high-risk acrobatics and stunts such as the one that killed Hart.
Old-timers predict that even Hart's death will be used to lure a new wave of customers to the box office.
"After some time passes and the lawsuits die down, they'll have a memorial match and make some money off what happened to Owen," said Harley Race, who was a professional wrestler for 36 years.
Race once ruled Kansas City, Mo., the town where Hart died a bizarre death last Sunday during a World Wrestling Federation show.
Hart fell from a 90-foot-high catwalk while attempting an aerial descent into the ring at the Kemper Arena. The entrance was similar to many others that Hart had done in his 13-year career, much of it as an acrobatic, masked wrestler called The Blue Blazer.
Neither WWF owner Vince McMahon nor Kemper Arena's management has talked about what went wrong. Kansas City police and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating.
The youngest member of a Canadian wrestling family, Hart, 34, was preparing to perform at a WWF pay-per-view show called "Over the Edge." His opponent that night was to be The Godfather, a 320-pound black wrestler cast as a pimp, who is escorted to the ring by women portraying prostitutes.
The Godfather, whose real name is Charles Wright, calls these ring valets his "hos," a vulgarity that gets him plenty of air time on the WWF's three cable television shows.
McMahon's "Monday Night Raw," shown weekly on the USA Network, draws an average of 5 million households. It regularly beats cable leaders ESPN and Fox Sports Net in that time slot.
The May 10 "Raw" was the highest-rated wrestling telecast in cable history, attracting more than 8 million viewers.
With these vast audiences looking on, WWF executives encourage Wright to present himself as a brutal street criminal. The company's official biography of Wright says: "His love for pimping hos has made him a popular superstar among the federation's fans."
Cursing, crotch grabbing and wrestlers flashing the finger at opponents and spectators are now as much a part of the WWF as a body slam or hammerlock.
The league's major rival, Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, offers similar but less raunchy cable shows that have trailed in the television ratings for the past 30 weeks.
Both wrestling programs were strong enough to hurt ABC's Monday Night Football last season. Teen-agers and younger viewers preferred the wrestling shows to pro football's featured game.
Hart's death has done nothing to dampen interest in professional wrestling.
The WWF needed just 90 minutes to sell all 17,000 seats to its Aug. 22 SummerSlam show at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Hart was killed two days later, but not a single refund was requested.
The arena gate for SummerSlam was $477,466. The WWF will collect another $10 million to $15 million through pay-per-view television sales.
After Hart died in Kansas City, McMahon continued the televised show there. But he postponed five other events that were scheduled for last week, including four in Canada, where Hart was a fan favorite.
A delay in the pay-per-view feed enabled the WWF to withhold the horrific sight of Hart crashing to his death. McMahon so far has refrained from showing Hart's fatal fall to any television audience.
Lou Thesz, the legendary champion who is 83 and as quick as ever, said Hart's death was caused by unnecessary glitz.
"To gamble with people's lives like this is crazy," said Thesz, who has declined to lend his name to either of today's major wrestling companies because he disagrees with their programming.
He considers McMahon and Turner the most over-the-top promoters in wrestling's long history of ruthless marketing.
Race, who turned pro at 15 in 1959, said he found almost no wrestling mixed in with the smut and acrobatics of today's shows.
"In our day, anybody who cussed or made an obscene gesture would have been on the air for the last time," he said. "We knew kids were watching."
Yet, Race conceded that the wrestling he starred in during the 1960s and '70s was bloodier than anything on television today.
In Race's prime, wrestlers intentionally cut themselves with small pieces of razorblades they hid in their tights or wristbands. A nick on the forehead could cause heavy bleeding, especially if it was done 10 or 15 minutes into a match, when the wrestler's heart rate was accelerated.
These self-inflicted wounds were always portrayed as having been caused by the wrestler's opponent. In that era, wrestlers insisted that they were involved in violent, full-contact competition -- a claim that most promoters abandoned in the 1980s when they asked for a relaxation of licensing requirements.
Were those bloodbaths of old a good thing for young viewers to watch?
"No," Race said. But he maintained that the manufactured violence served a purpose because "it built the intensity of the match and the rivalry."
Even now Race would not necessarily ban intentional cutting of wrestlers if he succeeds with his plan to start a new regional wrestling promotion in his native Missouri.
"You never say never," Race said.
In the 65 years that the weird world of professional wrestling has existed, myth and hype have always reigned supreme.
After Alberto Torres died of a heart attack in Omaha, Neb., in the match involving Ox Baker, promoters went to work. They claimed that Baker had killed Torres with one wicked punch to the chest.
Baker went along with the script on the small-time television shows that then beamed wrestling to 29 separate territories around the country. He knew he would make more money by playing the villain than by telling the truth.
A revenge match -- Baker against Torres' brother, Ramon -- attracted a crowd advertised at 9,000. A good draw in Omaha back then was 3,300.
Baker was not the only old-time wrestler who used a well-publicized death to cash in at the box office. Another famous case involved Fritz Von Erich, a legendary Texas wrestler and promoter.
Five of Von Erich's sons followed him into professional wrestling. Three of them killed themselves. A fourth died in Japan under murky circumstances that suggested the cause was a drug overdose, a claim the family denied.
Von Erich, whose real name was Jack Adkisson, exploited his own family tragedies. During matches at Reunion Arena in Dallas, where he ran the show, Adkisson once faked a heart attack on television. Then his staff put out a story that he was dying of grief brought on by the deaths of his boys.
Adkisson lived another five years before he died of cancer in 1997.
As the fearsome Fritz Von Erich, he had been one of the first great stars of televised wrestling, which grabbed enormous ratings in the 1950s.
The performers then did not curse as they do now, but the shows relied on bigotry and behavior that was wild for the times.
Von Erich played the part of a hardhearted German, the type that had terrified Americans during World War II.
But it was the late Gorgeous George Wagner who emerged as the first great showman of wrestling. Wagner oozed arrogance and insinuated that he was gay.
Promoters billed him variously as the "Toast of the Coast," the "Sensation of the Nation" and the "Human Orchid." George liked orchid-colored costumes.
He also wore brightly polished nails and gold-plated bobby pins in his long, curly locks, which were dyed blond. George's male valet sprayed him with perfume as he disrobed to wrestle.
Along with being foppish, George presented himself as a terrible role model for children of the 1950s. His favorite line was: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat."
He was such an engaging braggart that he inspired boxing great Muhammad Ali and generations of professional wrestlers to imitate his interview style.
"I really don't think I'm gorgeous," George liked to say. "But what's my opinion against millions?"
After a loss to Pittsburgh's young Bruno Sammartino, he retired in 1962. George died of a heart attack the next year at 48. He left an empty bank account, two ex-wives and his last girlfriend, a stripper.
As Gorgeous George shows, extreme personalities and antics have always been a part of pro wrestling. But one big change in today's business is the reliance on aerial stunts, such as the one that killed Hart.
And even those are not entirely new.
Thesz said a 1950's wrestler billed alternately as Jungle Boy and Elephant Boy entered the ring by sailing from the balcony on a rope. The gimmick ended when the wrestler sustained a serious ankle injury.
As the years rolled by, the stunt was reinvented with more sophistication and higher risks.
"Every generation's wrestlers have had the bar raised in terms of danger," said Gary Will, author of books on professional wrestling's history and champions. "There's much more risk now in both the pre-match showmanship and in the actual wrestling."
Yet the business is regulated less strictly than before.
After McMahon and other promoters admitted in the late 1980s that the outcome of every match was predetermined, Pennsylvania and other states dropped most rules that had governed professional wrestling.
Greg Sirb, executive director of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, said wrestlers no longer had to be licensed to perform.
Instead, the promoter is required to obey a few simple rules. He must guarantee that the wrestlers will be at least 18, and that they will not intentionally cut themselves. Promoters also must provide a physician at ringside.
Sirb said aerial stunts had been outside the commission's purview, but that regulatory organizations may now consider curtailing them to prevent another fatal accident.
Race believes that wrestlers will quickly shift to different, crowd-pleasing gimmicks. He said Hart's death would be largely forgotten in a week.
Jim Raschke knows it's so. He spent half his life in wrestling, where he saw illusion triumph over reality every day.
A native of Nebraska, he wrestled for 25 years as Baron Von Raschke, a menacing intruder from Germany.
Like most older wrestlers, Raschke is no fan of today's pros, but he still loves the theater they work in.
"It's a very creative profession. I'm a naturally shy, reticent person. It was kind of fun to be somebody else and say and do things that I myself would never do."
Raschke, who now runs a souvenir shop in Lake George, Minn., performed in the era when bleeders were more in demand than aerial performers. No matter the gimmick, he believes that there's one constant in wrestling.
"All the promoters I knew were for anything that would make money."
Lou Thesz believes that everybody in the business is stretching the limits to absurdity. Sometimes, a job or a TV rating might be on the line. In Owen Hart's case, the stakes turned out to be higher.
"It's better to be lucky than smart. My boy Owen was not lucky," Thesz said. "What a shock it is that it would come to this."
WRESTLERS, FANS PAY A TRIBUTE
(Reuters, Monday, May 31, 1999)
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY -- Somber pro wrestlers and hundreds of tearful fans gathered on Monday for the funeral of Owen Hart, whose gruesome death in a six-story fall during a match has sparked sharp criticism of big-time wrestling.
Members of the Hart family of Calgary, known in the wrestling world as one of the sport's true dynasties, described Owen as a gifted athlete, loving family man and the antithesis of the modern wrestling spectacle, which is known for its glitz and relentless pursuit of TV viewers and their dollars.
The 34-year-old World Wrestling Federation star was killed on May 23 after he plunged at least 70 feet (21 meters) in a stunt gone wrong at the start of a pay-per-view match at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
"Owen was too good for the wrestling industry that has become plagued by promotional rivalries, ratings wars, ego clashes and outrageous gimmicks and stunts," brother Ross Hart told to relatives and wrestling icons during the funeral service. Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and another of Owen's brothers, Bret "Hitman" Hart, were among the pro wrestlers in attendance..
The service was broadcast via loudspeaker outside the chapel to a throng of wrestling fans and well-wishers, who had booked off school and work to line the streets.
"I just came to pay my respects and see the fans and hear what they think about what happened," said 12-year-old Cameron Fiddler, a life-long wrestling devotee who had waited for hours in drizzling rain to catch a glimpse of his beloved stars.
Kansas City police say the burly Hart, who wrestled under the name The Blue Blazer, may have mistakenly unhooked himself from a harness as he was being lowered into the ring before a shocked crowd of 18,000 people.
The Hart family, led by 84-year-old patriarch and wrestling promoter Stu Hart, have questioned the explanation, saying it was too convenient to lay the blame on their dead family member and not the sport they had supported for decades.
Stu Hart, himself a wrestling legend, founded a circuit called Stampede Wrestling in the early 1950s and parlayed the TV show into international syndication long before the birth of the WWF and its arch-rival, Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, both known for extravagant theatrics, simulated violence and sexual overtones.
Stu Hart and his wife Helen had 12 children. All have been connected to wrestling and are respected by many in their hometown for their success and community support.
Owen was the youngest of the children, and the second to meet with an untimely end. Another brother died of a rare flesh-eating disease in 1990.
At the funeral, following a solo performance by country music star Collin Raye, Owen's wife Martha Hart choked back sobs as she described her husband as a prankster and humble man who was grateful for the "dream life" they had built for themselves and their two children over 10 years of marriage.
"I'm not bitter or angry, but there will be a day of reckoning," she said.
Fans said they hoped the tragedy would force changes to wrestling, with some calling for a return to matches where body slams and headlocks were the main focus, not glitz and shock.
"I think that if anything good comes of this, it will be the start of a new league without the themes and stunts," said 33-year-old home-care worker Joel Bourne, who noted he had followed the wrestling and the Harts since he was a child.
Wrestling's biggest stars echoed the sentiment.
"Wrestling's gone way too far, way too
over-the-top," Hogan, who helped turn wrestling into a multimillion
industry, told the Calgary Herald newspaper. "Maybe now the WWF will turn
back the dial. I've taken it too far myself at times."
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