(Presented by the Artists WWW Project of the Whitney Museum of American Art; web sitehttp://www.echonyc.com/~hwdarch/index.html)
By Lowell Darling
I have lunch here every Wednesday with Moose Malloy and Lillian Saddlebury. Moose was first created in Raymond Chandlers novel Farewell, My Lovely.
Mike Mazurki recreated Moose on film. Twenty-five years later he has opened this restaurant on the cover of the paperback editiona long moonlit view across MacArthur Park where the Elks Building looms ominously in the eerie blur that falls between art and archæology.
The first time Lillian Saddlebury came to the Cauliflower Alley Club she was Ilene Segalove, but Mazurki introduced her as Lillian Saddlebury, my assistant girlfriend. Wrestlers take as many liberties with names and titles as correspondence artists. Like many things in LA that Ilene Segalove is not, the Elks Building is a tall blond tower with knockout faces carved in its facade.
At the entrance Mazurki is hob-nobbing with a couple of couples gotten up in turquoise and rhinestone. They stumbled across his restaurant and recognized him from a long-ago wrestling match in Cincinnati with Gorgeous George. Last night in their hotel room he rematerialized in a flick he would just as soon forget. Along with several classics, Mazurki has made as many bombs. His discretion took a worse beating from his booking agent than his nose took when John Wayne missed his mark and punched him through his hat.
"Jeez. I know I whipped Paulette Goddard, but I dont remember ever strangling a woman. I dont think so. When was it made?"
"Whos in it?"
"Beaver Cleavers dad."
"Oh yeah, Hugh Beaumont."
"In San Francisco," adds one of the women. "You were a wrestler. Broad as a door with a chest like a doormat."
"Say, thats Moose Malloy. They musta stole it."
Traffic slows for rubber-necking casualties etched in Mazurkis face. Horns honk in salute or aggravation. Winos in MacArthur Park ripple in their sea of newspaper beds as they dimly sense something is up.
Mike suggests we step inside. The hand muraled ceiling is a mile high. Boris Deutsch completed it seconds before the last splash of color in the most colorful decade of the century. Gold gates at the top of the marble staircase were meant to open into Flapper Heaven. But things changed. The tourists take seats in a maroon corner booth, primed by Mazurkis presence, adrenalized by the wail of approaching sirens.
This is the home of the Cauliflower Alley Club, Mike Mazurkis version of the showcase restaurants populated by boxers and wrestlers who hung out with movie stars and mobsters back when Mike wrestled and hung out with movie stars and mobsters. Mike befriends the shady characters who lurk in the dark credits of every black and white gangster film youve ever seen. Today these faces would be created in a special effects lab. In their day they did it with their fists. There would be no film noir without them.
Iron Mike Mazurki is now retelling the 15-second version of his dual careers.
"The more I wrestled, the more beat up I got. The more beat up I got, the more parts I got in pictures with Gary Cooper. The more people saw me in pictures with Gary Cooper, the bigger draw in the ring."
Mike just finished a movie up in Alaska, where he played a mad trapper who saved a wolfs life being chased by Mounties through the snow. He may or may not have died in the avalanche at the end. Most of the footage is Roy Disney animal kingdom style with Mike superimposed talking to the moose. During the credits Mike walks in front of a mountain range I found in front of my studio in Hollywood, whisked away from the editors bench. I had been calling these beaten up mountains "The Destruction of the Grand Teutons." Now I call them "The Mazurki Mountains."
Howd a guy like you get speaking parts, Mazurki," rags Mushy, whose only movie parts were body parts.
"I gotta tell ya, they were casting for Moose Malloy and I figure I should be Moose, but I dont hear a peep from anybody, so I call Eddie Dmytryk and Eddie says, Aw, Mike, cmon. Youre a wrestler. Youre a phony. So every day after that I read in Variety that theyre testing truck drivers, musclemenanybody thats big theyre testing cause they gotta get a big, big guy to play Moose Malloy. Well, a friend tips me off that Eddie is having lunch with the president of RKO at the commissary. The word out is that the president is mad as hell at Eddie for not finding a Moose. My buddy says, Eddies still mad at you for buffaloing him on your last picture, but Ive got an angle on this thing. Heres what you have to do...
"And so I wear my loudest jacket and a fedora out to here, and I throw open the commissary doors and walk in like I own the joint. Everybody looks up at me and stops eating, and the president of RKO . . . I have to think about that.
"He was a good friend of Bing Crosbys . . . Anyways, I walk by his table, and Eddie cant believe it. The president says to him, Whos that, Eddie? And Eddie says, Aw, thats nobody. Hes a wrestler. Did you test him? Naw. Wrestlers cant read. Well test him anyways, the president says, and then he comes over to me and says, Whats your name? And I says to him, Im Moose Malloy. He goes back to Eddie and says, Test him today.
"Now you see, I know how Eddie feels about me, but I called his bluff. At my test we get along fine. He has to, because the president of the company is there, and the producer is there. Everybody is there. When I test with Dick Powell, Dick says, Mike, youre the best Moose Malloy Ive seen so far. Im gonna help you on this. So, like I said, we get the script Thursday, shoot the screen test Friday, I sleep Saturday and Sunday, and we start production on Monday. Thats how clean it was."
Mazurkis voice booms across the room. He is having lunch with Gorilla Jones and George Raft. The once flamboyant middleweight boxing champion of the world and the sweet old shrimp who tried to buy Cuba with Mickey Cohen. Mickey, Gorilla, and George went to grammar school together in Akron. The gangster, the boxing champ, the movie star. One of those natural pitches for which agents pride themselves. Ill take $10,000 a word for a short first option.
"People dont understand racketeers," Gorilla explains. "But its simple. You make a deal and use their money and so you got to go along. No big secret about it."
Gorillas dealings with hoods were purely personal. Some hoods in New Jersey once threatened to cut off his you-know-what and throw it in the East River if he failed to take a dive in a certain fight. Gorilla mentioned this threat to Mickey. Mickey told Owney Madden. The King Pin put out word that whoever messed with Gorilla Jones would never mess in New York City again. That was the end of Gorillas active enemies. But if a hood started spouting off about putting someone in a hole or cutting off a head, Gorilla would ask them not to tell him. By staying clear of their occupational violence he kept his occupational violence unblemished (with the exception of a few early matches when deals were made to keep him from knocking out established white fighters. Black fighters back then had to do certain things to get to the top).
Straddling the high lattice fence in front of Gorillas Echo Park house is a statue of a gorilla, the namesake bestowed on him for his first boxing match at the age of 11. A local matchmaker, the sheriff, was unable to fill a bill and came up with the last-minute idea of promoting a match with "that little Gorilla boy whos always looking for a fight." The Gorilla grew up to become to the boxing ring what Josephine Baker was to Paris nightlife.
Sylvia Mazurki chides Raft about looking so much like Mae West that Mae could be mistaken for his twin brother in drag. Mae introduced Mike to George when Mike was her bodyguard. She had just given Mike a trophy for being The Most Popular Wrestler in Pasadena.
"Godawmighty! That musta been back in 34 or 35. Some hoods stole Maes jewels, and she told George. George knew all the boys." Raft smirks acknowledgment but doesnt look so tough without his hair.
Mae knew who stole her jewels and said she was going to tell the cops. Rafts sources told him if she talked theyd throw acid in her facea popular method of revenge. Mae told Mike her face meant a lot to her, so how could he refuse to protect it.
"Well, Honey," Sylvia says, "The money might have influenced you."
"Yeah. That was back when Mae was the biggest star in town. I thought she might help me break into motion pictures, but it took longer than I thought. But I was still able to wrestle, so I was lucky."
Mazurki gives most of the credit for his life to luck, which he cannot imagine being better. His father came to America from the Ukraine to bash in the brains of cows and drink vodka; his mother worked in the Cohoes yarn mills.
Mikhail Mazurkiwicz became the ghetto bully Mike Mazurki. But he got luckyafter he was kicked out of nuns school, his mother sent him to La Salle, run by the tough Christian Brothers who taught him to be gentle. Mike ends up graduating from Manhattan College on an athletic scholarship, goes on to become the first center in professional basketball, then becomes a popular wrestlerwhich leads him to the motion picture business.
"I could have been picking potatoes, but instead I was packing the Garden."
The last Keystone Kop offers Lillian Saddlebury a drooping eyelid. "Mazurki makes it sound easy. Braggin aint in his language."
"Vocabulary," corrects Jack Ellis. His head has been squeezed at the temples by titanic tweezers. A withered balloon. Jack played the telegrapher in the train depot scene behind Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Vernon and Irene Castle Story. These days he is allowed to tell two jokes at the end of every club luncheonthe height of Jacks week, the pinnacle of his career.
"Vocabulary shmocabulary. You steal your jokes from Readers Digest," snitches the endangered silent star. There are crimson pools the shape of cresent moons floating in his eyelids.
Mike stands to give a little better smell of the Old Spice and cigars. She could sit on his shoulder and be the size of his head. Waving a leaf of lettuce like a forked luna moth the professor of pain looks up through twisted eyebrows and says, "Hows Mae these days, Gorilla?"
"The Lady is fine," Gorilla answers. Wrinkles lifts his flaccid hairpiece. There is a lot of gossip about Mae West and Gorilla Jones. Mazurki will only volunteer that Mae has a soft spot in her heart for Gorilla, and Gorilla is mum on the subject. Never even mentions The Ladys name. Long ago he quit being publicly familiar about her, ever since the night a stranger made remarks Gorilla didnt like. The normally cool fighter challenged the man, but The Lady called him off. "Let em talk. Its good for business."
In the early twenties, Mae Wests manager, Jim Kimberly, bought a piece of Gorilla Joness contract . When Kimberly died a few years later, Mae took over as Gorillas manager until she moved to Hollywood in 1926 to make movies. Gorilla followed. They met when he was a teenager, shortly after his first train ride from Akron to his first fight in Madison Square Garden. Three days later he was riding home in his own railroad car counting fifty grand in bills. Today he is broke, but no one would ever guess it. An inveterate spendthrift, Gorillas remaining years are being bankrolled by Mae West.
Gorilla Jones was middleweight boxing champion of the world on and off between 1931 and 1940, when he earned as much as a million and a half dollars a year. The father of slick black flamboyancy, he entered the arena escorted by lion cubs on a leashlions he caught in Africa with the Great White Hunter, Clyde Beatty.
Flying his own airplane in 1931, Gorilla took the only dive in his career, not in the ring but into a barn in Kansas. He lost his pilots license, his championship belt, and his eyesight. A year later he regained both his sight and his title, but he never flew again.
Gorillas white frame house in Echo Park is a dusty shrine to his career, his mother, and The Lady. If he has company and the phone rings in the early afternoon, Gorilla will excuse himself and grope for the phone buried beneath a pile of mail. A famous voice purrs his name. "I have a present I want to give you, Lady," Gorilla whispers. "How much will it cost me?" The Lady laughs and the sound sends Gorilla Jones straight to heaven. When she dies he will follow her one last time.
Mike sweeps a hamhock fist in the direction of the buffet where Sylvia is serving Lou Nova. It claps like summer thunder in his palm. Lou waves, unable to consider that he is not the object of Mikes gesture. Mike smiles and shouts, "The great Lou Nova!"
All Mikes friends are great. The great Lou Nova is great for knocking out the great Max Baer in the first fight ever televised. Lou is a walking history of fashion shock. His ceaseless jaw ascends into an angora goat on top of a fatted head. He rips his clothes off the Vasareli rack. The aroma of camphor wafts through the room and mingles with the corrupt smell of cigars. Inexplicably Lou recites us a poem, twitching and dodging imaginary fists and screaming bells, BELLS, BELLS!, seething with anger, buried a breath beneath desperation. His career is over. It is out of courtesy that not until Lou has gone does Mike mention roughing up Tyrone Power.
Perhaps feeling some contact insanity from Lous recital, Mike grabs Korky by the lapels and growls, "That sonofabitch didnt move at all. He stayed right there. And he howled like...."
The rare bird ruptures into a frightened howl. Then he smiles and Mike continues; theyve done this all before. "So Power cries, Get him off me. Hes killin me! And he runs off the set. So George Jessel says, Mike, goddam it! You hurt my star! He says, Whatre you doing? He says, Youll never work for me again. I say, Gee, George, Im sorry. Finally Ty comes down and says, Im sorry. He says, Gentlemen, it was my fault. And after that, we became friends. I used to see him at the playgrounds, things like that. But if you hit a star, you never work again. This much I know."
"No shit," choirs Korky in French with a cockeyed grin.
Mazurki settles back to the chicken teriyaki.
Rory Calhoun and Mushy Callahan accept his speechless invitation. Mushys nose is albino strawberrys slumped by sunlight.
Rory immediately starts needling Mike, asking how he got his cauliflower ear. Mike has told the story so often that the record scratches, but he is greatful to have an ear worth mentioning.
"Theres little blood cells in there," he says. "You keep hitting the ear and the blood cells bust and expand. If you get it right away, while the blood is still hot, you can drain it. Then you put an ice pack to it and itll be all right. But then you go back and fight the next night, you get hit, itll come up again. So every time you have it drained, or you wait two or three days, it forms a cartilage and hardens. But one time I had an ear way out like this." Mike cups an invisible softball over the left side of his head.
"Im not complaining. It was an honor. Everybody wanted an ear."
Mike cocks his head so his cauliflowered side leads, and he says that for a long time he used to walk like this. "It was a trademark, but you know, its a funny thingI was vain enough to think that if I didnt have an ear, maybe Id make it big in the picture business. So I had a fake ear made. I thought it could get me lover parts like Rorys."
Mike squeezes Calhouns perfect ear.
"It looked like the real McCoy, but everybody said I couldnt be a leading man. Who? Me with a raspy voice? Let me tell you thoughtheyd give talking parts to collies before theyd screen test a wrestler."
"Beats selling apples," Mushy says, distracted. More than any of the fighters, Mushy tends toward dreaminess. He enjoys sitting on his porch across the street from the Hollywood DMV. We can see him there with his precious memories and his aches and painsthe Newsboy Champion. Booth Tarkington urchin hoards used to carry him out of the ring on their shoulders whenever he wonwhich was all of the time. Mushy Callahan was so popular the Boxing Commission had to invent a weight class for him. Middle-welterweight. (Ive won a few bets on that one.)
When Mushy began boxing he was taught to tell his opponent his shoe laces were untied and deck him when he looked down to check. The first time he tried it, his opponent asked which shoe, but thats not how Mushy got the nose to match his plastered name. As a boy Mushy worked with his father as a horse-and-wagon fruit salesman from 5 AM to 5 PM every day. One day he was taking a nap and the horse stepped on his face. (Every time Mushy tells that story he swears its the truth.)
Mushy Callahans real name is Vincent Sheer, but he is not the only Jewish boxer who became an Irish boxer. Across the room sits Abie Baine who took advice from an Irish priest. The priest declared Abie was too good to be fighting Jewish. He became Mugzee Ryan. Today Abie Baine takes his Irish identity so seriously he is listed in the phone book under the Rs.
Boxing was illegal when Abie and Mushy started, and their parents were not aware they fought. Mushy came home from his first fight with a black eye. His father spanked him. When the kid turned over the thousand dollar purse, his father asked when he was going to fight again. Between 1924 and 1934 Mushy Callahan racked up 60 legal fights. His father seldom missed one, but his Mom couldnt even listen on the radio. Abie says boxing broke his mothers heart. At the age of 14, he lied about his age and began fighting bootleg in New Jersey, usually on the docks so they could jump in the water if the cops came.
When he was at his peak Abie was elected The Most Beautiful Body in Miami Beach. He was a frequent companion of Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. Capone used Abie to attract girls in the clubs. Soon after the girls sat down, the hoods would send Abie off to bed alone with a lecture on training. From there things went downhill. Abie traveled the country taking on all comers at county fairs and hay bail arenas; he seldom picked up the purse because the law was on his tail.
Ultimately he agreed to take a dive since his career was in the tank anyway. But even though he promised to lose, he won. Double-crossed mobsters held Abie by his ankles out a fourteenth story window with Abie screaming, "I tried! I did everything I could! I let him hit me! I tried to miss him! Nobody could lose to that bum!" His honest evaluation saved Abies life for greater worries than breaking his mothers heart. He claims his daughter didnt get to be a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club because the producers thought her father was punchy. For this condition Abie blames Jack Dempsey.
"Dempsey made me the man I am today," Abie says with a voice that describes the jab to the throat that makes him sound strangled. The loss of his normal voice hurt him more than words can tell. Since the days when he was a boy, singing with Perry Como, Abie considered his voice his life. What is left has been immortalized by Anthony Quinn in Requiem For A Heavyweight. The role of Mountain Rivera was based on Abie Baine, but Quinn imitated Abie too well. Abies speaking role in the movie had to be cutlike when Mazurki had to shave his head so he wouldnt look like Victor Mature in Shanghai Gesture.
(to be concluded in New WAWLI No. 611)
(continued from New WAWLI No. 610)
The menacing figure who claims more murders than anyone in motion pictures saunters up to prove that life imitates art. Vince Barbi has killed 650 peopleall members of the Screen Extras Guild, who lived. The notorious mobster Lucky Luciano died in his arms. He was Benito Mussolinis favorite boxer, John Cassavetes favorite heavy. Remember The Blob? Vince played the proprietor of the diner along with being the man responsible for financing the picture. Using nefarious funds, he gave Steve McQueen his first big role as the teenage hero.
Vince is in a bad mood today. The air conditioner went on when he was napping and blew his hairpiece in the air. Vince caught it from the corner of his eye, something moving quick against the backlit drapes. He pulled out his pistol and shot it.
The conversation turns naturally to violence in the cinema. These corpse grinders think there is too much. One is reminded that Leo Tolstoy, after a life of fornication and debauchery, became convinced that the world would be perfect if people would stop fucking. And of course he was right because if they did, there would be no people. (Roll over, Malthus.)
"I dont think a lot of violence is necessary," pronounces Mazurki, who lived through only one picture, New York Confidential, and that was because he squealed on Broderick Crawford.
Abies lizard eyes rove the room at random. Periodically he pipes up to no one in particular, "What round is it?" The man has been knocked from pillar to post and now he agrees that movies are too violent. No one disagrees.
"I worked for Peckinpah," Mike says. "About six or seven guys with Bill Holden. I said, What are you trying to prove, Sam? Ive worked on pictures where there was a lot of fighting, but no stabbing and cutting guts and poking your eyes out and things like that. Its uncalled for. I walked out on him."
"The same thing with sex," Abie wheezes, maybe recalling how Al and Bugsy got all the girls. Mike only laughs at the thought of too much sex.
"Sex is not you, Mike," says Vince.
"No. Not my type. Im supposed to be a big he-man, although I dont approve or disapprove of it. I can take sex or leave it. Its like drinking. You ask if Im a teetotaler, I say, No. I enjoy a drink. Ill drink with you. But I dont have to go overboard."
"What about Anita Ekberg?"
"What the hell," Mike mutters. "I got along with all my leading ladies. I got along fineGene Tierney, Maureen OHara. Gosh. Anita."
"The big bazoom girl," Vince chuckles.
"Whats that?" Abie asks.
"Bazooms," Mike says, matter-of-factly. "Gee, she was beautiful. I used to take her out to dinner over in San Francisco. We shot Blood Alley in San Rafael, so I took her to San Francisco twice, three times a week. Restaurants. Piano bars. Things like that. We got along real wonderful."
"Bazooms?" asks Abie again.
"Bazooms," Vince echoes flatly. "You never heard that expression? She had a 350 bazoom?"
"Did you ever see the picture, Four from Texas?" Mike asks Abie. "I was Sinatras right-hand man. I had a couple of scenes where Im doin his nails and Anitas giving him a shave. Shes stooping over and you see her bazooms." He gives Abie a knowing look. "Get it, Abie?"
"Hey!" Vince rips, head jerking to an Arab in Sahara drag, shuffling through the wrought iron doors, thick albums cradled in his arms. "Get a load of this. Abdullah of Hollywood!" Yassir Arafat plays Marleys Ghost. Its Victor McLaglens secret Arab son.
Before Victor McLaglen became a movie star, he served in the British Army as Provost Marshall of Baghdad.
He was patroling the desert when he encountered a Bedouin boy whose tribe had been wiped out by bandits. Victor adopted the boy, Abdullah Abbas, and took him back to London. When Abdullah reached the age of 16, McLaglen unwittingly created a crisis by marrying a woman who hated Arabs. Her brother had been killed by one.
Abdullah, not wanting to complicate McLaglens life, stowed aboard an Italian freighter bound for Canada. Victor had taught the boy to box, so he fought bootleg bouts across America to San Francisco. There Abdullah was discovered by Alexander Pantages, the owner of a theatre chain.
Pantages had recently been granted a reprieve from prison where he was doing time because Joe Kennedy rigged a rape against him as part of his final bid to take over Hollywood. Pantages now preferred the company of Bedouin pugilists who fight in rings to girls from Garden Grove who dance in mop closets, and he booked Abdullah fights in LA.
In the meantime (a Hollywood mean time with calendar pages blowing bleak like autumn leaves), John Ford was in England looking for a big, tough, hard-drinking Irishman. He spotted Victor McLaglen in a pub, took him to Hollywood, and on the night Abdullah broke both hands on a hard mans head, Victor was in the audience. He found the boy a job at Warner Brothers rubbing out stars.
The boy ages. Dark wrinkles inlaid with soot crease his crackling olive skin. His robes carry the stench of mildewed mummies. He heads for our table and plops down three scrapbooks, sweeping his palm above them as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, dug up from oblivion on his way to the club.
"All time I work massage, I keep this book. This Doug Fairbanks. That James Dean. Jean Harlow say I got best hand in Hollywood."
Abdullah pours clumsy fingers over crumbling toast colored glossies. "I tell Jack Warner about John Waynepretty good lookin boy over in back lot, movin round lotta piano." In one of the photographs Abdullah is wearing a sombrero. He holds a noose around Ronald Reagans neck. "Where all these boy now I need him? What Im going do these picture when I gone?"
Victor McLaglen could not have been less like Mike Mazurki than Carroll Baker. While Mike was guarding Mae, learning to talk in the movies and raising two children, Vic was scouring Skid Row for drunks to invite to parties he threw at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotelentire floors for days on end. But when McLaglen died, Mazurki took his place in John Fords troupe. They made six pictures together, one of which is a classic, the last of Fords Westerns, Cheyenne Autumn.
"In Cheyenne Autumn theres a scene with Richard Widmark in a tent. Im getting out of the army after 40 years. Widmarks chasing Indians out of Dakota, or wherever we are, and I dont like it. Ford takes us into his dressing room and he works with us for about two hours. He tells Widmark, Not so much this. And, Mike, youre too much that. The first shot is a long shot of us two at the table. One take! Perfect! Print it. Next we get a closeup of Widmark. The camera is over my shoulder. Were doing the same scene over again. Same thing we did in the long shot. One take again. Next: reverse on Mazurki. One shot. Three takes for a scene that would ordinarily require 35 to 40 takes.
"These features thatre shot in ten days, the director says, Do you know your dialogue? Yessir. OK, lets shoot it. Print it. He doesnt care whether you got your finger up your nose, up your ass, or what. Theyre fightin time. They got two weeks to finish the picture. Ten days, twelve days. Theyre not gonna wait to see if your thoughts are the same as the script. But who cares?" (Mike is more proud of his career in the ring than on the screen. He will unflinchingly play a loser in films but he would never throw a wrestling match. Besides, since wrestling was what led to his motion picture success in the first place, he remains faithful. Making movies is a sideline to Mike.)
"When I got started, wrestling was at its peak," he says. "This was during the Depression. Hell, everybody looked up to a wrestler then. Today, they wouldnt care if you walked down the street and did a handstand. Theyd look at you and say, Hes a fruit or something. But in those days it was an honor to be a wrestler because wherever you went they would sell out the arenas. We walk down the street or stroll into a hotel and were top banana. Just like the rock singers of todaybiggest cars, tailor made suits, best looking dames, top hotels.
"Today you have to be some kind of freak. In the old days it was no frills. Oh sure, sometimes wed put a little spin on things. For example, if I was wrestling you, and you were a favorite, if you got a hold on me, like an armlock, rather than go down with it I would put my foot on the ropes. That would make them boo me. And then theyd start yelling, Hes yella! So I might throw an elbow smash into your heart."
Someone out of nowhere asks Mazurki if he wasnt married to some dish in the news, and Mushy is painfully reminded that his wife Jean is in the hospital. When they met, Jean was a showgirl on the Orpheum Circuit, an acrobat and dancer. She had the female lead in a few Sennett features. Unlike Mushy, Mazurki is a grizzly who goes off early at the mention of his first wifebut then Jean had given Mushys Irishness substance through conversion. His son is the Catholic priest who taught Ilene Segalove video at Loyola University.
"My first wife bamboozled me into marrying her," Mazurki kvetches. "Newspaper reporters got a knack that way. We were married, but I kept traveling a lot, and while I was away she threw parties all the time. She was a boozer. Deserted the kids when they were ten, twelve years old. When I finally got a divorce, the kids said, Dad, youre gonna marry Sylvia and were gonna give you away. Syls helped raise them since they were little. We went up to Las Vegas and sure enough, they gave me away ."
Maria Bernardi sits at the next table eavesdropping and talking simultaneouslya familiar phenomenon at the Cauliflower Alley Club. Maria says she almost went to jail after her first husband. They got into a fight at the Garden after the Louis-Conn fight. She bet on Louis; he bet on Conn.
"He was prejudiced, and I won. When I asked him for my money, he slapped me. I knocked him all over the place. Drew a bigger crowd than the main event. When we got home he started to get tough so I dropkicked him down the stairs." Her husband filed for divorce and charged Maria with barbarous assault.
"The Club is elite and prestigious," Jack Ellis murmurs with syrupy hyphens between each syllable, a pattern developed in response to Jacks passionate affair with his collection of lexicons. Every object has two satellite adjectives in Elliss verbal universe. Soon he will meet a younger woman who will take him for every penny he has. Jack is trying not to faint. His memorized punchlines have left him as surely as if hed received a right to the ribs from Gorilla Jones.
"My friend, my friend," Gorilla whispers. His head is also nodding like a teaspoon balanced on a finger.
"Kid Chissel," Mike calls. Eyeballs twitch and in walks a man carved by his name: Noble Kid Chissel, Middleweight Boxing Champion of the U.S. Navy, Pacific Fleet, World War Two. Most good fighters then were doing a stint in the service. The competition was stiff, and Kid was popular. After every match, his opponent prone on the mat at his feet, Kid would sing Back Home in Indiana. Now his voice is still melodious and true, but Kid doesnt have much to sing about. His house has burned. Particularly painful is the scrapbook loss.
Without them a large chunk of Kids identity is ashes. He has lost the evidence to back such claims as being best man at Marilyn Monroes secret wedding. A kind of visual castration has taken place. Devoid of pictures, Kid is reduced to being like everyone else. He cannot endure this and is compelled to brag more now than ever before. And thats saying something.
Kid fiddles with the bolo tie dangling beneath his Indiana granite jawpart of his physique that constitutes an endless source of pride. His shtick today is being columnist for a chain of newspapers whose raison detre is filing notices for the County Clerks office.
He spots one of the Great Maestro Brothers and waves his Stetson. Dick Maestro publishes The Boxing Record. He is eating with Doc Levin. Doc invented the mouthpiece.
Sitting on the other side of Doc is Count Billy Varga, the vain and handsome wrestling champion who retired and bought a goldmine. The Count is waiting for a paparazzo to pick him out of the crowd, but Kid is unimpressed. He wants to start Sylvia Mazurki yakking about Marilyn Monroe, who she knew when she was younger. Its not a tough job.
"Marilyn used to come and socialize with me every Saturday. We sat in my office and chatted away, and she seemed to enjoy herself. It was obvious she needed to talk to another woman. This was before she shared that apartment with Shelly Winters. She was a little girl who was very smart, who had everything, but for some crazy reason never felt terribly secure. And she always had some gentlemansome manmaking decisions for her. It was a pattern she fell into early on. She seemed miserable. Over here, Honey!"
Heads turn toward the entrance and the gang waves and whoops. Mazurki has been upstairs at the offices of George Parnassus. Mike and George have been trudging down memory lane with their old grappling buddy Jim Londos, the Golden Greek, who has just come up from his avocado ranch in Escondido.
Across the room Jimmy McLarnin is getting nobly besottedthe only person who gives the appearance of paying no attention to Mazurki. He keeps an eye on the popular wrestler the way Ernest Hemingway described Wyndham Lewis watching Ezra Pound in A Moveable Feast: "Carefully without seeming to look at him, as you do when boxing."
Coincidentally, Hemingway wrote that at a time when Jimmy McLarnin was the most brilliant boxer on Eartha time when men like Hemingway and Clark Gable stood outside Jimmys dressing room hoping to shake his powerful hand.
McLarnin is now staring at gnarled hands, which look unnatural outside a pair of gloves. They convey a brief history of the art of boxing. Jack Dempsey is said to have soaked his fists in salt water to toughen them; McLarnins hands look like they were soaked in active volcanoes. His face is unblemished and he has no cauliflower ear. Jimmy obeyed only one rule in the ring: never get hit.
Ive met men who did it both ways, and Jimmys way was right.
He might get drunk but he is not punch drunk. As he weaves toward his wife, waiting at the door to take him home, no one makes a crack. His glare indicates those who only recognize fighters famous from motion pictures.
"We were just talking about you." Sylvia winks at Mike. "Kid wants to write your life story."
"Oh, Jeez," Mike whines at Chissel. "Sylvia knows more about me than I know about myself. You got any questions, you ask her."
"We were talking about Marilyn Monroe."
"Thats more like it."
"Sit down and talk to us, Honey," Sylvia says.
Mike obeys, schoolboy style.
"Marilyn was very friendly," he tells Kid, looking at Sylvia to see if thats enough. (It isnt.) "She was particularly friendly to the members of the cast. If you made a joke, shed laugh with you. Shed have lunch with you or something like that, but at that time she was going with... whos the guy again?"
"Miiiike! Arthur Miller!" Sylvia bends confidentially to Kid and says, "Mike felt that Miller was very manipulative, and if he couldnt be the boss he wouldnt play. He wasnt a good sport."
"Did you ever talk to Miller?" Kid asks, sensing an explosive story and grasping his slim reporters notebook with hands like grenades.
"Are you kidding?" Mike fires back.
"We never talked to him because we knew who he was, and we knew he was a bastard. Every time he was on the set Marilyn wouldnt mix with anyone. Hed take her on the set and take her back. This is off the record, naturally."
The air fills with derisive hissing sounds when Kid asks Mike if he knew many gangsters.
"Christawmighty! I knew a lot of hoods, Kid. What is this? All these gangsters were nice guys. All of emthe top hoodsthey were all nice guys. But they figured the parts I played was the way I was. Listen to this: when I was doing Guys and Dolls in Chicago, one night a guy comes up to me and says, The boss wants to see you. I thought he was pulling my rib because I was a gangster in the show. He had a big car, drove me to this huge beautiful house. Turned out he was with Nitti, for chrissake! The top gangster in Chicago. So when I come in, Nitti says to all these guys sittin around, Hey, folks. Its Big Julie from Cicero. He believed I was the part I was playing. Becomes real friendly. Go to these restaurants and just sign my name," he says. "Tell em Nitti sent you. And go to my tailor and get yourself a suit of clothes."
"Sure! He was a hood. I might as well do what he wanted. Bugsy Siegel owned a hotel. Be my guest, he always told me. I was their guest everywhere I went. You know that."
"A simple soul, Mazurki," Sylvia sighs.
"Was Raft a hood?" Kid asks of Mike and Sylvias recently deceased friend.
"They all respected George. Everybody thought he was a top grade gangster who had access to all the big wheels. Thats why everyone was so friendly to him, always sucking up to him and everything."
"We were close to George. He was a lovely man, courtly as hell to me," Sylvia recalls. "He had the most beautiful hands, and no facial hair whatsoever. But he would never say who his partners were. He had a casino in Cuba and one in London. Got kicked out of both of em."
"No, he would never say what his connections were. I do know he never took any checks after the IRS got after him. If you used him in a picture, you had to pay in cash. I had to do that once. George was clever. He could always top you. And he was such a dancer! Once we were in a restaurant and all the girls were coming up to pat his face. I said, George, can you explain your charisma with women? He looked at me real serious and said, Sylvia, will you notice with whom I am sitting? He was a ladies man. Married once or twice.
"When he died they said George didnt have any relatives, but that isnt true. He had a grandchild by a lady from his youth, who had a daughter. George wanted to marry her, but she wouldnt marry him. God knows why. She had the child out of wedlock and married someone else. What was her name, Honey?"
"Who the hell knows? Maria Something."
"And that child had a boy. Thats not part of the public record. But George visited him. He was crazy about that kid . Did you know that Georges grandfather introduced the merry-go-round to America?"
"He was a helluva nice man. Took good care of the girl and her
boyhis grandson, great grandson, who knows? Behind a pillar, paying no attention to
anything but his own melodious, liquid voice, sits Jack Ellis, by himself, rehearsing
Readers Digest jokes. His serious shriveled forehead ripples like a peeled egg,
overboiled and left too long on Fred and Gingers picnic table. His neck has taken
reckless inspiration from Ronald Reagan, who he once arrestedsilently in pictures.
(Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1934)
George Zaharias, roughest of the roughers in the wrestling game, tangles with Man Mountain Dean, bearded, 317-pound Georgia mancrusher, over the three-fall finish route in tonights main event at the Olympic
In making his local debut as a feature eventer, the bearded hillbilly faces one of the toughest top-notch heavyweights in the country, one who has crushed Jim Browning in straight falls, beaten Hans Steinke, Ray Steele, Jim McMillen and many others of this caliber.
Dean has attracted national attention with his quick smashing victories over wrestlers who are considered both rough and tough, but because of his weight, and the fact that twenty out of the last twenty-three opponents have either ended up with bad injuries or been knocked cold, the games outstanding heavyweights have avoided him as being dangerous.
Matching the Man Mountain with Zaharias is believed to be the first step in the campaign of the games leading heavyweights to put a stop to the Georgians climb toward the top. Unless he is defeated, the high-ranking heavyweights see the danger of being forced to meet this man-crushing giant and risking serious injury any time any of them step in the same ring with him.
Everette Marshall, the most popular of all the young stars ever turned out on the Coast by Lou Daro, returns after an absence of more than three years to engage Count George Zarynoff, the acrobatic contortionist and one of the cleverest pieces of wrestling machinery seen in action in this section.
This is a bout that is expected to sparkle with speed, clever and scientific mat work, and which will probably give the final event a run for the spotlight. Marshall has been a sensation in the East. He has more ability and mat color than when he was on the Coast.
Probably the most improved young star returning to these parts on this card is "Jumping" Joe Savoldi, the ex-Notre Dame gridder, who faces Dinosaur Johnson, a huge and powerfully built 306-pound Swede, in the semi. They meet in a thirty-minute time-limit event.
The supporting bouts should be packed with high-speed action. Leo
Numa, the toehold king, faces Pat OShocker, red-headed mat star from Salt Lake City,
in the special. paul Boesch, the Brooklyn flash, will tangle with Bonnie Muir of Australia
in the second, while Howard Cantonwine, rough and rugged Iowa giant, mixes with Mike
Strelich in the first.
(Los Angeles Examiner, August 16, 1934)
Man Mountain Dean, a dead ringer for Henry the Eighth in looks as well as in behavior, last night tossed off another bothersome burden with all the nonchalance of King Hank ridding himself of last years wife.
Unlike his bewhiskered double of English history, the bearded hillbilly of the big bounce and ballyhoo business did not require the services of a headmans ax as he tamed the terrible George Zaharias before 11,000 exclaiming fans in the main event of last nights wrestling show at the Olympic. Not Man Mountain Dean.
All that he needed was 318 pounds of hillbilly heft and a little more than four minutes in which to nurse his steadily mounting wrath. Once his temper was raised to the boiling point by the curious ire-provoking antics of his playful 228-pound opponent, the Man Mountain swung into action.
It was then short and sweet. Sweet to everybody in the house but Zaharias, that is. After suffering an injured chest, fractured ribs and a possible spinal injury in 4 minutes, 36 seconds, Zaharias was carried out feet first, bundled into an ambulance and carried off to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital. There it was that Police Surgeon James R. Dean diagnosed Gentleman Georges troubles as reported above and those were reasons enough why Zaharias never came back for another fall. One was plenty.
It was like crushing an egg, and most of the 11,000 patrons in the over-stuffed house must have thought somebody or other was an egg at that judging by the way they howled for the Man Mountain to subdue that rough and ready man Zaharias who has been playing the heavy villain in these parts for lo, these many months.
Zaharias tried about all the tough stuff he knew and at the four-minute mark he had Deans knee buckling for the first time in the Olympic, the bearded face wincing and the big man backing away. George suddenly knocked Dean down to the mat and then picked him for a body slam. Deans weight was too much and Dean came down on top. George was just beginning to go out for the night when the infuriated Man Mountain landed plunk on the formers back for the kayo. A flapjack turn and a body pin and another bad man bit the dust at the hands of the modern King Henry VIII.
In the semi-windup, Everett Marshall allowed Count George Zarynoff to show off his clever holds and cat-like defenses for 38 minutes, 56 seconds, then pinned the Ukrainian with a body lock.
Luigi the Daro announced that next Wednesday nights championship bout between Jim Londos and Jim Browning would be held at the Olympic at popular prices instead of outdoors as rumored.
Joe Savoldi scored as a pretty a drop kick as Notre Dame football ever saw, to knock out Dinosaur Johnson, 308-pound Scandinavian, in the feature preliminary. Johnson chased Savoldi around the ring for about a minute, during which time "Jumping Joe" tried vainly to bring his opponent to the mat with body bumps. Joe simply bounced off, and presently he found himself bouncing through the ropes almost into the press row. He came back and was bounced out again, but the second time he came through the ropes into the ring. He did so feet first and knocked Johnson out cold in 1 minute and 46 seconds.
Leo Numa, 215 pounds, and Pat OShocker went 20 minutes to a draw. It was a good, clean bout.
Paul Boesch, 215-pound boy who is being ballyhooed for future gallery attractions, required 10 minutes and 51 seconds to defeat Bonnie Muir with a series of bumps and a body pin.
In the opening bout, Howard Cantonwine won from Mike Strelich in 3
minutes and 27 seconds, with four punches to the jaw, a rabbit punch and a body slam.
(Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 18, 1956)
Ivan and Karol Kalmikoff battled a throng of chair-throwing spectators as well as Leo Nomellini and Ilio DiPaolo to score another wrestling victory at the Armory Tuesday night.
The final decisive pin came at nine minutes when Ilio missed a flying tackle and flew into the third row. He staggered back into the ring with the aid of spectators. One spectator attempted to hit Ivan with a chair, missed and banged Ilio across the eyes. The pain-racked Ilio then gave up.
While all this was going on, Nomellini was pummeling Karol in the other corner of the ring.
The first fall was credited to Nomellini at 8:43. Leo first threw Ivan into the ropes with a whip and then caught him coming off the ropes with a shosulder block. From then it was an easy matter to make the pin.
Karol pinned Ilio at 2:57 to even the count. After Ilio spun Ivan outside the ropes and followed him outside, Karol caught Ilio int he ribs, then used a knee stomp for the win.
Hans Schmidt, 248, Munich, Germany, pinned Carl Gray, 257,
Milwaukee, Wis. (2:28); Roy McClarity, 237, Winnipeg, pinned Johnny Moochy, 256, Centuria,
Wis. (28:44); Jim Bernard, 250, and Red Bastien drew, 30 minutes.
(Allentown Morning Call, Mar. 9, 1987)
By Sylvia Lawler
Whats a soft-spoken, intellectual type like Channel 39s producer-director Kerwin Silfies doing trekking around the country with the barbarian likes of Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage?
Making a name for himself directing big-time wrestling on both network and syndicated television, is what. And helping producers rack up huge ratings in the doing.
Silfies, a Bethlehem native, is in his second season as director of NBCs "Saturday Nights Main Event," the 90-minute taped World Federation of Wrestling bash seen on the network the weeks that "Saturday Night Live" is not. Obviously, a director of wrestling chooses angles and directs the camera action, not the fake-foolery going on in the ring.
Silfies has just about cornered the market in calling the shots for professional wrestling on television. He has been doing all the WWF shows for the past three years. Their three syndicated shows, "Superstars of Wrestling," "Wrestling Challenge" and "Wrestling Spotlight," are seen around here largely on Saturday mornings.
When Vince McMahon head of the WWFs parent company, Titan Sports, and his co-executive producer, Dick Ebersol, were about to embark on "Saturday Nights Main Event," it was natural that they approach Silfies, who already had a reputation as a director of wrestling. (Ebersol, the former producer of "Saturday Night Life," is married to actress Susan Saint James. Silfies is married to Channel 39 on-air personality and the stations director of special projects, Shelley Brown Silfies).
This coming Saturday at 11:30 p.m., audiences will see an unusual (for television) 20-man over-the-top-rope Battle Royale featuring a score of wrestling superstars including The Hulk. "Its a good show of particular interest," says Silfies; "a free-for-all where the wrestler are eliminated one at a time as they get thrown over the top rope."
He also does the live, once-a-year major event "Wrestlemania," which is shown on closed-circuit screens around the world and is set for later this month in Detroit. Silfies, who has a degree in broadcasting from Temple but says he really learned his trade over his 17 years with Channel 39, is getting a kick out of all of it. He does not disdain wrestling as so many do.
"I think its wonderful. Having done a whole lot of both collegiate and professional wrestling work for television over the years, I think its a great sport. In college, its wonderful for conditioning and for discipline. Professional wrestling? Its about as entertaining an event as you can go to. I have seen thousands of people come into arena and they always go away happy."
But isnt professional wrestling really programmed for the lowest common denominator? "That perception couldnt be further from the truth," Silfies said. "Audiences are almost always more upscale than you would think. Theres also an enormous group of closest fans who wouldnt miss the shows."
Must be so. Its boggling to realize that among all syndicated
programming, the three shows Silfies directs for Titan Sports are third in the ratings,
after only "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy."
BASEBALL FLOP TURNS TO RING
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 15, 1988)
By Jeff Gordon
(Allentown Morning Call, March 5, 1988)
By Gay Elwell
Professional wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage greeted a former fans autograph request with a body slam, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Northampton County Court. The suit says Savage, a Largo, Fla., resident now billed as a "good guy" on the World Wrestling Federation circuit, stood over the bleeding, injured man and said, "Hows that for an autograph, boy?"
Phillipsburg attorney Joseph J. Russo filed the suit on behalf of David Peschel of Washington R.1, N.J. Peschel is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Savage, whose real name is Randy Poffo.
Criminal charges are pending in Northampton County Court in the alleged May 7, 1986, attack on Peschel. Savage, who is 6-feet-4 and weighs 280 pounds, according to the suit, also has criminal charges pending against him in Florida for allegedly assaulting a 65-pound 9-year-old fan who asked him for a "high five."
According to Peschels complaint, he had attended a pro wrestling match featuring Savage on May 7, 1986, at Agricultural Hall in Allentown. Savage, whose picture was on the cover of the program, was at the time the holder of the WWFs "Intercontinental Championship." He had won that title from Tito Santano at the Boston Garden "after striking Tito Santanos head with a blatantly illegal blow utilizing a hidden weapon," the suit says.
Peschel, who is about 20 years old, was driving home along Route 22 when he spotted Savage, driving east in a blue Mercedes Benz. Savage was accompanied by his wife and manager, "Miss Elizabeth," and a 6-foot-tall, 350-pound bodyguard.
Savage exited at 13th Street in Easton, and Peschel followed. Savage stopped for a red light and Peschel motioned to him to autograph his program, then got out of his car and approached Savages.
Savage, Miss Elizabeth and the bodyguard all got out of the Mercedes and Peschel politely asked the wrestler for an autograph, the suit says. In response, Savage struck Peschel in the face, then lifted him above his head and threw him to the ground in a body slam.
As a result of the body slam, Peschel suffered a variety of
injuries, including fractured vertebrae, as well as facial cuts and bruises, bruised and
damaged ribs and blurred vision, the suit says. The complaint says the attack was
unprovoked, and Savage intentionally and maliciously committed battery on Peschel
"with wanton and reckless disregard for his rights, safety, life and limb."
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 18, 1990)
Pat OConnor, a former standout on the professional wrestling circuit, died of cancer Thursday night at Jewish Hospital. He was 65.
Mr. OConnor, a native of New Zealand where he was an amateur champion, was recognized as the world champion by the National Wrestling Association after defeating Dick Hutton at Kiel Auditorium on Jan. 9, 1959.
He held the NWA title until June 30, 1961, when he lost to Buddy Rogers before a paid crowd of 38,622 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. That crowd is believed to be the second-largest in United States pro wrestling history.
Mr. OConnors last match was on promoter Sam Muchnicks last card, at The Arena on Jan. 1, 1982. Mr. OConnor was a matchmaker for several years and retired about three years ago. He also was a partner in a wrestling operation in Kansas City and divided his time between Kansas City and St. Louis.
"Pat was a true main-eventer from the time he came from New Zealand," said Larry Matysik, the local promoter for the World Wrestling Federation.
"Pat wasnt really a big man, but he was a real athlete with a very smooth and fluid style. He was a great crowd pleaser, especially in his matches with Lou Thesz, Fritz Von Erich, Gene Kiniski and some others.
"Pat was the first to do the reverse rolling cradle hold. He beat Hutton for the title with a spinning toehold and he went with the sleeper hold late in his career."
Mr. OConnor served in the New Zealand Royal Air Force in World War II. He competed in the Pan-American Games in 1948 and the British Empire Games in 1950. He lived in Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City before moving to St. Louis in 1983.
A memorial service for Mr. OConnor will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 1 at Valhalla Chapel of Memories, 7600 St. Charles Rock Road. There will be no visitation.
He is survived by his wife Julie; three daughters, Carly Alvarado, Erin Diven and Robyn OConnor, all of Kansas City; and a brother, Mervin, of New Zealand.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Wyoming Wildlife Association. Mr. OConnor was a hunting guide in Wyoming.
(Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jan. 10, 1990)
By Patrick Reusse
Ron Nagurski was on the phone from the family homestead on Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota.
"Im looking around the house," Ron said. "There are a few pictures, a few interesting things, but it isnt a monument to Dad or anything like that. The house never had a trophy room. I think Dad knew his place in history, but it didnt seem to matter that much to him."
You cant find a loftier place in the history of American sports than was occupied by Ron Nagurskis father.
Baseball. Babe Ruth.
Football. Bronko Nagurski.
There you have it: The two great American sports, and the two names that have been attached to them for the ages. Babe and Bronko.
Nagurski suffered with arthritis for more than 20 years. Respiratory problems followed, and then his heart went bad. Late Sunday night, at 81, Bronko died at a hospital in International Falls, Minn.
Monday, four of the Nagurskis six children - Jane, Eugenia, Kevin and Ronwere gathered at the lake home where they were reared. Two other brothers, Bronko Jr. and Tony, will arrive today.
"Thats why we put the funeral back to Saturday," Ron said. "We wanted everyone to have a chance to get here. There are so many grandchildren."
It takes some time to get to International Falls. You dont just walk to the counter at the airport in Mobile, Ala., where Bronko Jr. lives these days, and say, "Put me on the next non-stop to the Falls."
A few years back, the president of the Chamber of Commerce in International Falls said: "Wherever I travel, people ask me two thingsis it really that cold, and does Bronko still live there?"
The answers to both questions were always yes. A dry climate might have reduced the pain in his arthritic joints, but Bronko wasnt willing to leave the north country.
"It wouldve been awfully tough to get Dad out of here," Ron said. "He loved the Falls, living on the lake, the fishing and the hunting. He taught all of us to fish. He loved it."
The Nagurskis could walk down to the dock in the front of the house and, odds were, they could reel in a Rainy Lake walleye.
"The house is three or four miles from town," Ron said. "It was a lake cottage that originally belonged to one of my grandmothers. Mom and Dad moved into the cottage, and then they kept adding on rooms as the kids came along. We were all raised here on the lake."
Eileen Nagurski was six years younger than her husband and, according to Ron, she was in charge on the home front. "Mom was outgoing . . . she was more active in the church and the community, and she ran the show around the house," Ron said. "Thats the way Dad liked it. When Mom died in 1987, it seemed to me that his health started to deteriorate more rapidly."
For years, newspaper and magazine writers made pilgrimages to International Falls, seeking interviews with Bronko. The Babe died in 1948, but this legend was still pumping gasoline at the Pure Oil station he owned, or making the morning trip to town, to drop off Eileen at work and make a stop at the post office.
Mostly, Bronko would turn down the interviews. His legs were swollen from the poor circulation. The glasses he wore were as thick as the cliched Coke bottles. Nagurski once explained his reluctance to grant the interviews: "I wanted people to remember me as I was, not as I am."
The disappointed reporters often returned from the Falls to report that Nagurski had become a recluse, but Bronko was never to sports what J.D. Salinger is to literature. Bronko wasnt in hiding. He was quiet.
Reporters werent the only ones who had a tough time getting Nagurski to talk about his football prowess. It wasnt often that he told stories about George Halas or Red Grange or Doc Spears, even when he was sitting in the fishing boat with one of his sons or around the dinner table with his family.
"I remember one time he got rolling on the stories: It was at my sisters wedding and one of his old football-playing buddies was there," Ron said. "They were talking about the old days, and it was a lot of fun. Then, Dad noticed the audience he had attracted, and that was the end of that."
In 1984, Bronko surprised almost everyoneincluding his familyby accepting the NFLs invitation to be the honorary coin tosser at the Super Bowl. The game was played in Tampa, Fla. Bronko sat through a lengthy interview session a couple of days before the game.
"One reason he went was that the whole family had a chance to go along," Ron said. "We all had a great time. It was tough for Dad to get around, but he enjoyed it. That day, Bronko told the reporters: "I have so much arthritis that, as soon as I move, my joints start barking."
In 1979, the University of Minnesota Gophers retired Nagurskis number - the famed 72. He played for Minnesota from 1927 through 1929. As a senior, he was named to the 11-man All-America team at both fullback and tackle, the only player ever to hold that distinction.
Bronko then played eight years for the Chicago Bears, gaining his most fame as the unstoppable fullback, until Halas wouldnt give him the $6,000 he wanted to play the 1938 season. Bronko went back to International Falls and started a career as a good guy on the professional wrestling tour.
"Some of the matches were fixed, some werent," Bronko once said.
Nagurski wrestled until 1953, returning to play for the Bears in 1943, when they were short of players because of the war. In the late 50s, Bronko bought the Pure Oil station and pumped gasoline there for about 10 years.
"I worked there with him for most of those years," Ron said. "In the summer, people from out of town would make sure to stop at the station for a couple of bucks worth a gas, and they would get an autograph, too. Every day, the mail would have letters from people who wanted Dad to send them autographs. He had stenograph pads made up, with one of the pictures of him as a football player stenciled on it. He would write back on that paper. The people liked that."
Nagurski was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. They placed Bronkos bust in the Hall of Fame, and they gave him a duplicate to take home to the Falls.
"The high school wanted the bust to be put on display there, so Dad let them have it," Ron said. "As far as I know, its still up there. Its not here at the house."
The cottage on Rainy Lake was never a museum to the legend of Bronko Nagurski. It was a home. Monday, a reporter called Kevin Nagurskis residence in the Falls. He was told Kevin was not there.
"Kevin is at the lake with his brothers and sisters," the lady said. "Bronks place."
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 12, 1991)
By Keith Schildroth
Richard Afflis, known to wrestling fans locally and around the country as "Dick the Bruiser," died Sunday afternoon at his winter home in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.
He was 62.
Mr. Afflis died of internal bleeding, according to a spokesman for Sun Coast Hospital in Largo, Fla. His widow, Louise, told The Associated Press her husband had been weightlifting at home and ruptured a blood vessel in his esophagus.
There will be no funeral or memorial service, said his daughter, Michelle Replogle.
Staying fit was almost an obsession with Mr. Afflis. He worked out daily with weights and also did a vigorous series of calisthenics. He still wrestled throughout the Midwest and wrestled in St. Louis in 1989.
Born June 27, 1929, in Lafayette Ind., Mr. Afflis attended Purdue University in 1947 on a football scholarship and was named to the All-Big Ten Conference team. He transferred to Nevada later that year and finished his college football career there.
He was one of the heavier players in the National Football League when the Packers selected him in the 1951 draft. A 5-foot-11, 252-pound tackle, he was chosen in the 16th round.
He earned his nickname while playing for the Packers because of his style of play.
Mr. Afflis left football for professional wrestling in 1954 "to make a better buck." His decision turned out to be profitable.
In his prime in the mid 1960s, Mr. Afflis earned $100,000 a year, one of the first in his profession to do so.
His trademark scowl, crew cut and gravel voice, the result of a football injury to the larynx, helped earn him the prime-time marquee billing as "the worlds most dangerous wrestler."
Mr. Afflis held the distinction of "world champion" five times in the Worldwide Wrestling Association and the National Wrestling Alliance. He wrestled on many cards in St. Louis at Kiel Auditorium.
Often billed as the villain early in his career, his style was straightforward, rough and always unpredictable. His matches at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in the 1960s-70s on "Wrestling at the Chase," a live TV show, often were memorable.
"A lot of people didnt understand Dick," retired wrestling promoter Sam Muchnick said. "If I had to walk down a dark alley with a lot of money, Dick is the guy I would have wanted as my body guard. I went to his daughters wedding and saw him cry when he walked her down the aisle. This guy had a big heart."
Mr. Afflis was known for his wild ringside manner. He often would break the pens of autograph seekers and tear down the signs of fans. However, a match with Black Jack Lanza, in the mid-60s, turned him into a fan favorite.
"I always think the fans deep down liked Dick because he was their type of wrestler, he was a mans man," wrestling promoter Larry Matysik said.
"You never knew what Dick was going to do. He was the first real tough guy and a great draw. They talk about [Hulk Hogan selling out. Hogan couldnt touch Dick."
Matches against Pat OConnor, Lou Thesz, Cowboy Bob Ellis, Johnny Valentine, Fritz Von Erich, Wilbur Snyder and later Jack Briscoe, Dory Funk Jr. and Ric Flair were fan favorites.
"He was the toughest man Id ever faced in the ring," said Bobby Heenan, who now works in the World Wrestling Federation as a manager. "He was so tough I thought he would live till he was 200 with the will he had."
(Daytona Beach News-Journal, July 14, 1997)
By Ken Willis
DAYTONA BEACHThis is a true story. At about 6:15 Sunday night, a man who looked to be in his 20s was met outside the Ocean Center by another man who was apparently a friend. The friend presented the man with what looked to be a ticket for Sunday nights wrestling show, which was to begin in 45 minutes.
The man kissed the ticket. Only in America, most likely. Only in Daytona Beach, no doubt.
Anyone who worries at all about the direction this country is taking wouldve done well to stay away from Sunday nights show. Anyone who worries about our town becoming the Ellis Island for those who missed the cut at the Maury Povich auditions, well, you too were better off at home.
For the latest proof that no one or nothing is too bizarre for Daytonas beachside, you have Dennis Rodman, the headliner for Sunday nights World Championship Wrestling affair, which played before a sellout house of 9,000-plus at the Ocean Center and a pay-per-view television audience. The 9,000 figure doesnt include the entourages hanging out backstage, so the actual attendance figure was probably around 112,450, give or take.
Ocean Center officials not only sold the 9,000 ticketspriced at $12-$50 -- but they received more than 1,000 calls from people over the weekend wanting unavailable tickets. Upon hearing the tickets were sold out, one man offered the Ocean Centers Chad Smith $600 for six ringside seatsa 100 percent markup. No noticeable upgrade in Smiths wardrobe Sunday, so we can assume he passed on the offer.
A sellout. Many of those tickets at $50. True story.
They got what they came fora loud, colorful and (yes) entertaining show. There, I said it, it was entertaining. Entertaining in the way many nights beachside are entertaining. Men wearing masks and tights, women escorts wearing clinging skirts, and the occasional victim tied up in ropes. And then there was the action in the ring. Rasslin, 90s style, involves a lot of "cartoon characters" in the squared circle. In the old days, outlandish was Gorgeous George in a mink with hair bows. Today, he would hardly draw a second look.
Today, its face paint, armored suits, and female escorts whose outfits are nearly as tight as the rasslers. Today, its Michael Buffer introducing the featured match. Buffers the man who has made a fortune uttering five words in the richest of baritones: Lets get ready to rummmmmmmble. Word is, Buffer has copyrighted his famous intro, so dont try this at home, or you may wake up to a driveway full of lawyers. And today, rasslin is Dennis Rodman, the man whose NBA bad-boy act has just about run its course. For some reason, he thought rasslin would be a good outlet for his cross-dressing, rule-breaking lifestyle.
For a night, anyway, he was right. Given the heavyweight lineup assembledHulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Kevin Sullivanthe show may have sold out anyway. Throw in Rodman, you not only guarantee the sellout, but you can make another 10 grand or so in T-shirt sales. Throw in Rodman, and you also get a pretty decent show.
Rodman, whose day job is forward for the Chicago Bulls, entered the ring with his partner, Hogan, at about 9:20 p.m. to face the tag team of Lex Luger and The Giant. Their match followed a classic tussle between Piper and Flair, two comic geniuses from a bygone time often referred to as the "Gordon Solie Era."
About eight minutes into the main event, Rodman tagged with Hogan and finally entered the ring. About 10 seconds after that, a crumpled paper cup hit him in the head. Rodman was wearing black jeans, a black T-shirt, and earrings in his ear and nose. Given the crowd at one of these shows, he stood out about as much as your neighbor Joe the plumber.
Yes, Rodman pushed the referee, but he never head-butted him. And no, he didnt kick anyone in the groin, but he did receive one of the Giants knees to the, ahem, tender region. And the highlight: The Giant dropped Rodman like a sack of flour and proceeded to spank him.
In the end, Rodman and Hogan lost when Hogan succumbed to a submission holdLugers dreaded "torture rack."
Maybe as a reminder of the "good ol days" of rasslin, Dory Funk Jr. wandered around backstage, chatting with old friends and new friends, and wearing a hat touting his Internet Web site (www.doryfunk.com, by the way).
"I write some stories about the wrestling game, about the old
days," said Funk, who then showed his old form by slapping his spinning toe hold on
an usher. (OK, that parts not true, but at a rasslin show, it couldve
happened. And no one wouldve given it a second look.)
The WAWLI Papers No. 615...
TALKING TURKEY WITH MIKE MAZURKI
(Sports Pointers, St. Louis, Jan. 30, 1948)
Iron Mike Mazurkis history would make an even more remarkable film than most of the stories in which he has carried top roles. Aside from acting and wrestling, his versatile career includes everything from playing All-American football, collegiate championship basketball to working as a runner for a Wall St. brokerage house, amateur boxing, professional footballand Mae Wests bodyguard.
He was born in western Ukrania on Christmas Day and came to America when he was just six years old. During 13 years on the mat he has had more than 1,500 matches and has won 80 percent of them. His favorite hold is the intricate "Figure Four Hook Scissors" made famous by the great Joe Stecher. Among the souvenirs he brought from his meetings with matdoms kingpins were a broken shoulder, smashed nose, three cracked ribs, busted knees, twisted vertebrae and a cauliflower ear.
Mike fell so much in love with the first drama editor who interviewed him that he married her. His wife, the former Jeanette Briggs of the Glendale (Calif.) News-Press, abandoned her career to become a housewife and mother.
Iron Mikes roles in flickers have been as varied as they have
in sports. He was the show-stealing Moose Malloy in "Murder My Sweet" and the
dumb pirate hero in "The Spanish Main." He played a traitor and slave-stealer in
"Unconquered" and an Arabian seaman in "Sinbad the Sailor." He was a
Japanese wrestler in "Behind the Rising Sun," a moron in the "Secret of
Doctor Renault," a russian agent in "Shanghai Gesture," a bandsman in
"The Horn Blows at Midnight," a gangster in "The French Key," and was
Split Face in "Dick Tracy." "Nightmare Alley" and
"Relentless" are yet to be released.
THE GRAPEVINE by Matt Weaver
(Sports Pointers, April 23, 1948)
Whipper Watson ALMOST did it again. He almost won the world title, and he almost broke his neck trying, literally that is. The wily Longson retained his crown when Watson misfired on a kangaroo kick. Billy suffered a unilateral cervical dislocation in the process. The commish medicos ordered Billy to take a complete rest for two weeks and, said one of the learned gents with the stethoscopes, "If yours was the ordinary neck wed have put it in a cast and keep it there for six weeks." Besides the rest, x-rays were ordered.
Other results on the last card (April 9) . . . Jimmy James and Bobby Bruns drew, Terry McGinnis beat Wee Willie Davis, Ed Meske got the verdict over Kay Bell, Warren Bockwinkel and Frank Taylor won over Henry Piers and Joe Dusek . . .
Kay Bell, a graduate engineer, gave his college education a thorough going over during his intermission appearance on KSD-TV. With an assist from Frank Taylor, Beoll gave the TV fans a close-up on grips and counters, and a right smart recital of verbs. IOncidentally, if any of you fans who own television sets of your own, or see the shows around town, have any comments about the "Heres How" series, wed sure like to have them . . .
Say, this fellow McGinnis, who jumped from the prelims to a main
event assignment in just two appearances (he meets champion Bill Longson Friday, April 23,
at Kiel Auditorium), is a rather suave, quiet gent. Just thought wed go on record
here as believing he can, with a few breaks, beat the champion. Terry said after signing
his contract for the opportunity, "Id love to take a chunk of his hide and the
belt back to California." It was a simple statement of ambitionno bragadoccio .
MELODRAMA ON THE MATS
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 12, 1989)
By Thom Gross
An hour before the first match, the South Broadway Athletic Club is already teeming. But this looks less like a fight crowd than a church social.
Adults outfitted in their Saturday night best sit at tables and chat quietly. Some tend babies. Older children chase each other around the well-scrubbed, brightly lit room. Most people enter, greet friends and take their places with a comfortable familiarity.
At 8 p.m. sharp, all rise and pay somber heed to a recorded version of the national anthem.
Seconds later, as the nights first contestants make their opening feints toward each other, the air is filled with some of the vilest epithets you can expect to hear in public, expressed with simultaneous rage and delight.
The kids come up with the pithiest and most printable cheers.
"Cheater!" shout the younger ones. "No fair!"
One boy, about 12, inspires others in the peanut section to take up his taunt for an obese participant: "Hey mister, get a bra!"
Fan interaction is the key to this entertainment called professional wrestling. The wrestlers spend equal amounts of time inside and outside the ring. Big Daddy, the "manager" for most of the villains, spends less time counseling his clients than hissing at the crowd.
If professional wrestling is less than a sport, its also more. Its also a psychedelic melodrama with real-life comic-book heroes, a morality play with a theme of a narchy.
Evil triumphs over good, and good is forced beyond the rules to retaliate. Authority, in the form of the bumbling referee, is incompetent and impotent.
The ring contains no middle ground. Every color is the brightest, every sound the loudest, every feeling the strongest.
The appeal is undeniable. Professional wrestling keeps ascending to new heights of popularity. According to the World Wrestling Federation, 70 million Americans watch its televised matches each month. Its superstars, Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage, are more widely known than the principals of the national pastime.
When Hogan and Savage get together these days to vie for the Beautiful Elizabeth - blending the comic-book motif with another popular literary genre, gothic romance - they can pack any arena in the country, as well as several satellite auditoriums carrying the closed-circuit broadcast.
But here at the South Broadway Athletic Club, the bouts constitute the minor leagues of pro wrestling. On this night, about 200 people turn out to watch aspiring Hulks mix it up with has-beens and never-wills.
Contestants arriving in the dressing rooms segregate themselves into Good Guys and Bad Guys.
Dont let their names deceive you. The Freedom Team is composed of bad guys. The Giant Assassin is a good guy.
The Assassin has dressed early and is hunched in a quiet corner, looking dark and unapproachable. But downstairs, the seats bearing his name make up the biggest reserved section ringside.
This contrast of imagery and popularity is no mystery to wrestling fans. The Assassin represents a well-established wrestling hybrid, the anti-hero. His attraction is that he apparently cares so little how we feel about him. So fiercely independent is he that he adopts as a ring persona the thing we most loath - the assassin, slayer of our real heroes.
"One day they like you, and one day they hate you," says the Assassin, also known as Joseph Zakibe, 29. "Right now Im kind of getting cheered, but for years - I mean, this is the first time in my life Ive been getting cheers. They can cheer for me or boo me, it doesnt matter, its all about winning and making some money."
The Giant Assassin, a St. Louis native, has wrestled in bigger leagues and in locales as widespread as Hawaii and New York. Asked whether it was possible to make a good living at the local level, he responds, "Hell, yes," but declines to give figures.
"I invested in some property here awhile back. I like to stick around and see that people pay their rents on time," he said. They do.
The Assassin is 6 feet 5, 320 pounds. "Raw speed, buddy" he says. "I started out the Assassin. The Giant part came later."
The Assassin is paired in a tag-team match tonight with Ron Powers, a handsome young up-and-comer from St. Charles.
They will fight Bronk Larson and Pit Bull Pruett to a no-decision, halted by the referee after 10 minutes 57 seconds, when the bad guys pull out a 20-foot tow chain.
Powers, 23, has trained hard for this since he was 14. "I wanted to be a pro wrestler ever since I was old enough to turn on the TV," he recalls. His goal? "To be the youngest world heavyweight champion," he says, earnestly.
Meanwhile, he makes ends meet with a job as a union electricians apprentice. He admits that he gets teased on the job a bit, but his wrestling also helped him get the job.
"People say that to get in the union, you have to have a relative in it or something. But I just went down to the union hall, and they said, Youre a big guy - you play football or something? I said, No, Im a professional wrestler. That kind of broke the ice."
Powers is 6 feet 1, 250 pounds, tanned, freshly barbered, with a clean-shaven, boyish face and an easy smile. Besides the musculature, the only menacing thing about him is the diamond stud in his left earlobe.
"Why a good guy? I could go either way - I mean its money, now. But I guess I always wanted to be a good guy, a crowd favorite, pick up the women, you know," he says.
"I mean, I could go bad guy real easy - just act cocky. But right now Im just being a good guy and acting confident, and thats pretty much my gimmick, the all-American boy kind of act."
Powers turned pro at 18 and admits being slightly disillusioned. "I always took it for just a sport. Until you get into it, then you find out its an entertainment," he said. "Theres a real fine line between balancing entertainment and sport. You have to be athletic, but you have to be a favorite for the crowd, too."
The big issue in pro wrestling is not whether its an act - everybody knows its an act - but whether the results are pre-determined.
On that, the participants are adamant.
Tony Casta, promoter and matchmaker for the South Broadway events, also wrestles on the side.
He is suiting up for a junior heavyweight title bout against the Executioner. The title belt represents the championship of the Mid-Missouri Wrestling Association and Southern Illinois Champions hip Wrestling.
Is the result pre-arranged? "No. You may have some wrestlers who outside the ring talk to each other and associate a little bit. But its like boxing - once you get in the ring, theres no friendships. You dont want your reputation to go down the drain. You give it your all.
"The people out there who come to these matches month after month or week after week can tell if youre trying to pull something, so youve got to be at your best."
As it turns out, Casta gets incapacitated for long stretches in his match by a sleeper hold put on his neck by the Executioner. The crowd grows restless because the sleeper, while effective, is also boring.
Perhaps in response to the boos, the Executioner abandons the hold and begins bouncing Casta back and forth off the ropes. As he flies by, Casta tries to snare his opponent in a grapevine move, misses, but recovers with a beautiful reverse roll-up cradle and immediately gets the pin for the belt.
The sudden result, like a homer in the bottom of the ninth, leaves the crowd breathless.
Pre-determination? The Assassin, of course, doesnt care what critics think. "If they dont watch it and dont get any enjoyment out of it, leave it alone. But dont spoil it for somebody else and dont try to ruin my livelihood.
"But Ill guarantee you, 99 percent of the people that are saying its fake and fixed and that, let them get in the ring, and Ill kick the [stuffing out of them."
But he offers this: "I wont tell you one way or the other. But if the average person has a 100 IQ, a person with a 100 IQ ought to be able to figure it out for themselves. You dont have to ask me."
Over in the Bad Guys dressing room, Big Daddy is pulling his pink-checked tuxedo jacket over his pink, sleeveless, spandex T-shirt. He stands about 6-4 and weighs close to 400 pounds. His red beard is neatly cropped, and his red, heavily dressed hair trails to his shoulders.
He is as much a participant in the matches as any of the wrestlers he manages, and the crowd keeps an eager eye out for him until his entrance before the fourth match.
His role? "A lot of people say I interfere with the matches and cheat and stuff like that, but nothing could be further from the truth. Alls Im out there for is to show my men, to give them guidance. I dont want to say help them, but like if theres something I see theyre doing wrong, I can take them outside the ring and tutor them and send them back into the ring with a little bit more of Big Daddys vast wrestling knowledge."
But to a spectator, Big Daddys guidance seems to consist largely of dirty tricks, like pulling down the opponents trunks and poking him with a cane.
"These people down here, the phrase is that they love to hate me. If they come down here because they hate me, thats fine. If it sells tickets, thats fine, and I dont care, because I hate them, too. Theyre a bunch of pencil-headed geeks."
"What I think of Big Daddy you could never print," says Diane Baumgartner, 51, of south St. Louis. "There wouldnt be any cheating if it werent for him."
She was introduced to the local matches four years ago by the Assassin, who was tending bar at her favorite bingo parlor. "Hes neat; hes just the best," she says.
Now, she says, "I live for wrestling."
Baumgartner has left her ringside seat to get an autograph, along with a big hug and kiss, from Jeff White. He is 21, a womens favorite who dresses in an all-white, fringed cowboy ensemble.
She admits favoring the young, clean-cut types. "But they wouldnt be any good without the bad ones," she says.
Future wrestling dates at the South Broadway Athletic Club, 2301 South Seventh Street, are this Saturday, Oct. 14, and Dec. 1, Jan. 20, Feb. 17 and March 24. Bouts begin at 8 p.m.
WRESTLINGS RASPY VOICE TURNING SILENT
(Tampa Tribune, Sunday, Oct. 24, 1999)
By Nick Pugliese
Gordon Solie speaks just above a whisper now, though that familiar raspy one wrestling fans know so well is still recognizable.
Soon, he will not be able to speak at all. Solie soon will be silenced by surgery.
He will trade his voice for his life, so he may live on.
Consider his choices:
An old horse player, Solie took the last, to happen in the next few
weeks. "In the first place, I dont have much of a voice left
anyway, and in the second place we got computers, we got e-mail and I got pretty good
handwriting, so the choice was easy," Solie whispered Friday between bites of a
flattened Cuban sandwich and garbanzo soup sips at the Palma Ceia Golf Club mens
grill. Tampa food at an old Tampa sports site as we two old friends sat uncommonly close
together, so I could hear him the first time and avoid repetition. No more smoking. None. And after 56 years, "its driving
me up a wall," said one of the last three-martini, half-a- pack lunch men. Later,
when I escorted him to his red Sterling, I noticed the ashtray was filled with ashes and
at least two empty cigarette packages were in the side-door pocket, because, "I still
like the smell, but I keep that around to remind me what I am not supposedwhat I
wont do ever again." Solie is down to 135 pounds, his old Minneapolis teenage weight, and
by golly, looks good, except when he struggles to walk on an artificial hip. He needs to
beef up for the surgery. All this "really bad stuff started about four years ago,"
me not feeling so well, then his wife Eileen, known as Smokey, died in July 1997, and he
stopped talking for a while. I knew why. He and Smokey were a fit, so much in love, he so
admiring of her artful and cultured ways, and how she took care of herself and he did not.
But it was Smokey in whom cancer was first found, moving to her brain, in its fateful,
fatal way. Toward the end, "she came home and one early morning with me
lying beside her, she woke at 4 oclock and in the last words she would ever speak,
she told me she was having a little trouble breathing. I made her comfortable as I could,
then lay back down, we holding hands. I woke up just before 5, and she was gone. I have
been so lonely without her, and I wake every morning now at 4 and stay awake for an hour.
Always will, I guess... "So, with good cook Smoke gone and me left in the house with
Aimee, our French poodle, I have eaten poorly - like soup and a peanut butter sandwich.
Then other long habits began to have an effect." Solie developed lung and liver problems and finally went to have
himself checked. Yes, the smoking and hard living were taking a toll, so why not have a
throat biopsy, too. That was when the throat cancer was discovered, and the choices laid
out for him by his doctor, and, of course "in time we will think about an artificial
voice box. But one thing at a time," whispered Solie, the one-time voice of
"Championship Wrestling from Florida," then for wrestling at Atlanta, as well as
the unmatched voice of sprint car racing at old Plant (Pepin/Rood) Stadium during the
Florida State Fair races, and at old Golden Gate Speedway. He could make the dullest of
races and wrestling matches exciting, and he was the originator and master of the deadpan
interviews of two wrestlers at a time from the old Sportatorium. There would be Cowboy
Luttrall, then Eddie Graham, with Solie in the middle, the wrestlers menacing each other
while he stayed straight and calm. An old friend and pupil of his from those times, Gil Cabot, then of
WALT, now a TV-movie director/producer in Los Angeles, called me and told me of
Solies impending surgery. While Solie said he did not want sympathy or gifts of any
kind, "the way the world is today, I could just see somebody somewhere jumping on
this and putting out a call for contributions for his own benefit - on the Web, so, yes,
you tell it like it is." And also, Solie said, "please say that if I had my 56 years to
do over, I would do the same thing. Hey, a .38 caliber slug could have killed me in
seconds. I am not on a stump, not on a campaign, except to live as long as I can enjoy the
world today, the memories, lunch with old friends, and my family," which includes
five kids, seven grandkids and four great- grandkids, meeting old friends "and my
home in South Pasco with my little dog Aimee, who suffers from Addisons Disease.
"Oh," whispered Solie, "A fine thing happened recently when the World
Wrestling Federation honored me with a swing through Florida cities and revived in my mind
the days of the Briscos, Haystacks Calhoun, Johnny Valentine, Buddy Colt, Hiro Matsuda,
Don Curtis and Dusty Rhodes, of Pete Fose, Pancho Alvarez and Buzz Barton in the sprint
cars. But that was yesterday. Then, wistfully, "I guess the old ego cant help
but showing itself when I think that I am losing the very thing that made me get where I
got." Finally, Solie said, a little louder, "I have had my 15 minutes
in the sun. I got no complaints. Ill handle what else comes up. Tell them all that,
my friends and fans I have left."
The WAWLI Papers No. 617...
An old horse player, Solie took the last, to happen in the next few weeks.
"In the first place, I dont have much of a voice left anyway, and in the second place we got computers, we got e-mail and I got pretty good handwriting, so the choice was easy," Solie whispered Friday between bites of a flattened Cuban sandwich and garbanzo soup sips at the Palma Ceia Golf Club mens grill. Tampa food at an old Tampa sports site as we two old friends sat uncommonly close together, so I could hear him the first time and avoid repetition.
No more smoking. None. And after 56 years, "its driving me up a wall," said one of the last three-martini, half-a- pack lunch men. Later, when I escorted him to his red Sterling, I noticed the ashtray was filled with ashes and at least two empty cigarette packages were in the side-door pocket, because, "I still like the smell, but I keep that around to remind me what I am not supposedwhat I wont do ever again."
Solie is down to 135 pounds, his old Minneapolis teenage weight, and by golly, looks good, except when he struggles to walk on an artificial hip. He needs to beef up for the surgery.
All this "really bad stuff started about four years ago," me not feeling so well, then his wife Eileen, known as Smokey, died in July 1997, and he stopped talking for a while. I knew why. He and Smokey were a fit, so much in love, he so admiring of her artful and cultured ways, and how she took care of herself and he did not. But it was Smokey in whom cancer was first found, moving to her brain, in its fateful, fatal way.
Toward the end, "she came home and one early morning with me lying beside her, she woke at 4 oclock and in the last words she would ever speak, she told me she was having a little trouble breathing. I made her comfortable as I could, then lay back down, we holding hands. I woke up just before 5, and she was gone. I have been so lonely without her, and I wake every morning now at 4 and stay awake for an hour. Always will, I guess...
"So, with good cook Smoke gone and me left in the house with Aimee, our French poodle, I have eaten poorly - like soup and a peanut butter sandwich. Then other long habits began to have an effect."
Solie developed lung and liver problems and finally went to have himself checked. Yes, the smoking and hard living were taking a toll, so why not have a throat biopsy, too.
That was when the throat cancer was discovered, and the choices laid out for him by his doctor, and, of course "in time we will think about an artificial voice box. But one thing at a time," whispered Solie, the one-time voice of "Championship Wrestling from Florida," then for wrestling at Atlanta, as well as the unmatched voice of sprint car racing at old Plant (Pepin/Rood) Stadium during the Florida State Fair races, and at old Golden Gate Speedway. He could make the dullest of races and wrestling matches exciting, and he was the originator and master of the deadpan interviews of two wrestlers at a time from the old Sportatorium. There would be Cowboy Luttrall, then Eddie Graham, with Solie in the middle, the wrestlers menacing each other while he stayed straight and calm.
An old friend and pupil of his from those times, Gil Cabot, then of WALT, now a TV-movie director/producer in Los Angeles, called me and told me of Solies impending surgery. While Solie said he did not want sympathy or gifts of any kind, "the way the world is today, I could just see somebody somewhere jumping on this and putting out a call for contributions for his own benefit - on the Web, so, yes, you tell it like it is."
And also, Solie said, "please say that if I had my 56 years to do over, I would do the same thing. Hey, a .38 caliber slug could have killed me in seconds. I am not on a stump, not on a campaign, except to live as long as I can enjoy the world today, the memories, lunch with old friends, and my family," which includes five kids, seven grandkids and four great- grandkids, meeting old friends "and my home in South Pasco with my little dog Aimee, who suffers from Addisons Disease. "Oh," whispered Solie, "A fine thing happened recently when the World Wrestling Federation honored me with a swing through Florida cities and revived in my mind the days of the Briscos, Haystacks Calhoun, Johnny Valentine, Buddy Colt, Hiro Matsuda, Don Curtis and Dusty Rhodes, of Pete Fose, Pancho Alvarez and Buzz Barton in the sprint cars. But that was yesterday. Then, wistfully, "I guess the old ego cant help but showing itself when I think that I am losing the very thing that made me get where I got."
Finally, Solie said, a little louder, "I have had my 15 minutes in the sun. I got no complaints. Ill handle what else comes up. Tell them all that, my friends and fans I have left."
(ED. NOTE: Jim Melbys various and numerous editions of Wrestling Facts"The Original Mat Research Journal"are some of the prime examples of professional wrestling scholarship and historical review. Alternating between newspaper clippings from the past, and extensive career records of many, many stars, Melby has been churning out the thick Wrestling Facts editions for most of this decade. Volume 8, Number 8 in the series was devoted to one of WAWLIs favorites, the inimitable Kinji Shibuya. As editor Melby noted in his preface, "Over the years that I worked in the professional wrestling business I have encountered very few wrestlers who had the foresight to save mementos from their respective ring careers. Kinji, luckily for us, kept an active record of newspaper clippings, programs, and photographs from every aspect of his long and illustrious career. While my good friend Koji Miyamoto was living and working in California, he developed a close friendship with Kinji and Janet Shibuya. Kinji shared much of his treasure chest of wrestling memories and souvenirs with both Koji and myself." Most back editions of Wrestling Factsnow around 50 in numberare available for just $10. Career records of people like Frank Townsend, Hard Boiled Haggerty, Billy Goelz, Tiny Mills, Don Eagle, Dick Beyer, Al Costello & Roy Heffernan, Bronko Nagurski, Verne Gagne, Butch Levy, Yukon Eric, Joe Pazandak, Bob Rasmussen, Dick Hutton, Rikidozan, Cliff Gustafson, Ivan & Karol Kalmikoff, Hiro Matsuda, Shozo Kobayashi, Leo Nomellini, Ray Gunkel, Bill Melby, Lou Thesz, Don Leo Jonathan, Edouard Carpentier, Dick Steinborn, Larry Hennig and Hans Schmidt are included in the series, plus fat clipping scrapbooks and results from Rochester and Mankato, Minn., and Des Moines, Iowa. Extensive Japanese results from the 1960s are included as well in the mix. For a complete list and ordering instructions, contact editor James C. Melby by mail at 1018 East Rose Avenue, St. Paul MN 55106-2728 or via e-mail at MelbyMat@aol.com. Herewith, a few of those clippings from the Shibuya collection. )LOU THESZ READY FOR SHIBUYA
(Calgary Herald, Thursday, May 28, 1953)
Lou Thesz, worlds heavyweight wrestling champion, arrived in
Calgary this morning to wrestle Kinji (Mighty Kojo) Shibuya at Victoria Pavilion tonight
in the main event of a four-bout program arranged by the Foothills Athletic Club.
(Calgary newspaper, May 29, 1953)
In a wild and riotous battle that reached a climax when the crowd of more than 3,000 almost tore Victoria Pavilion apart at the seams in efforts to mob Kinji (Mighty Kojo) Shibuya, worlds heavyweight wrestling champion Lou Thesz Thursday night came within an eyelash of losing his title to the tricky Japanese grappler.
Only the intervention of the crowd, which pulled Thesz through the ropes when Shibuya had him pinned, and the action of referee Les Watson in moving to hand out a disqualification, kept Shibuya from getting a stranglehold on the crown.
Earlier in the bout Shibuya became one of the few wrestlers to take the first fall from Thesz when he used a throat chop, shoulder throw and press to pin the champion at 11:21. Later, Thesz evened the count, only to have Shibuya blind him with salt and go for the winning fall. However, fans grabbed Thesz by the legs and pulled him under the ropes while Watson disqualified Shibuya, who was already proclaiming himself in mid-ring as new champion.
In an equally wild semi-windup, Rebel Russell and Con Bruno brawled their way to victory over Joe Campbell and George Gordienko. Russell took the first fall from Gordienko at 11:10 with four blockbusters and throat stomps, but George evened matters at 4:39.
He did it by rubbing Russells own elbow bandage into the
Rebels eyes and then slamming him in a wild session of barroom-type brawling. After
that Bruno, who had supplied most of the fireworks in the early stages, clinched the
verdict by pinning Campbell.
(Calgary Herald, May 29, 1953)
Kinji (Mighty Kojo) Shibuya, Calgarys wrestling villain, almost took over the worlds heavyweight wrestling title from Lou Thesz at Victoria Pavilion Thursday night, before more than 3,000 fans. Lou Thesz won the match by disqualification to Shibuya.
If not for Shibuyas use of illegal work during the third and final round, Theszs crown would have been placed on a new champ today, even though many fans wouldnt have liked it that way.
Since Thesz has held the worlds heavyweight wrestling title it was the first time that he lost the first fall of a match.
With his great strength and rough tactics, he gave the Japanese grappler quite a going over at the beginning of the first round.
Shibuya, who never has been beaten in Calgary, solved the awkward southpaw style of Thesz and went to work to capture the first fall at 11:21 with a throw to the ropes and a slap followed up with a press.
Thesz tricky work earned him a tying fall at 7:21. While continuing his first-round working over, Thesz used a dropkick from the ropes, followed by a press to even the match.
There were more fireworks in the final round, with Shibuya holding the edge over the titlist, but illegal tactics brought the match to a sudden end with the disqualification of Shibuya, leaving Thesz as winner.
In the semi-windup, featuring Con Bruno and Bob (Rebel) Russell against George Godienko and Joe Campbell, the villains Bruno and Russell won the best two of three falls to win the match. The match was timed at 45 minutes.
Jean Baillargeon was disqualified in the special event and Ted
Christy won the match at 9:21. The opening bout featured Leo Numa taking the one-fall
event over Big Bob Mike with body slams and a press at 12:20.
(Minneapolis Star, June 28, 1953)
For the first time since Ed (Strangler) Lewis became his manager, wrestling champion Lou Thesz will be "on his own" Tuesday night for a big time defense of his heavyweight title.
Thesz is scheduled to stake his crown at the Minneapolis Auditorium Tuesday against Verne Gagne, the No. 1 challenger.
But Lewis, the one-time world mat king who took over as Lous pilot five years ago (sic), wont be here. His extensive business interests, he told promoter Tony Stecher, will require his undivided attention Tuesday.
For the five years that the Strangler has piloted Thesz, Lou has been undefeated. Son of a Hungarian cobbler and middleweight matman, Lou has had the benefit of instruction and coaching from Lewis, always in the Germany language, for all important matches.
Thesz asked Stecher twice to postpone the bout and got two cold turndowns.
With a "neutral," Bob Foster of Des Moines, Iowa, scheduled to referee and with a hometown crowd to cheer for him, Gagne will get his best chance to win the world title that experts have assured him will soon be his. He edged Thesz in a Chicago meeting, according to many experts, but go no better than a draw from the referee.
Kinji Shibuya, the Japanese mat master from Honolulu, returns in the semi-windup to face Farmer Marlin. Bigger than ever, the Oriental sleeper hold artist now scales 231.
Joe Pazandak meets Billy Darnell, a topflight easterner making his
local debut, in the special event. A fourth bouth will be signed.
(Minneapolis Star, June 30, 1953)
Promoter Tony Stecher Monday refused a last-minute plea by Lou Thesz that the sleeper hold be barred for his wrestling title defense against Verne Gagne at the Minneapolis auditorium tonight.
The fact that the Gagne "sleeper" is banned in St. Louis, Lous home town, is no reason why it should be outlawed here, Stecher said.
Gagne has hinted that he hopes to clamp the lullabye hold on Thesz sometime during their one-hour clash tonight and lift the heavyweight crown which Lou has held for several years.
The champion will have to struggle along without his manager, Ed (Strangler) Lewis, who was kept away by press of other business.
The referee will be Bob Foster, one-time mat star from Des Moines, Iowa, and now the leading grappling official in Iowa.
Kinji Shibuya, the Japanese matman who wrestles out of Hawaii, returns in the semi-windup to face Farmer Marlin.
Other bouts send Billy Darnell in his local debut against Joe
Pazandak, and Boston Mike Clancy against Tony Baillargeon. Starting time is 8:30 p.m.
(Minneapolis Tribune, July 1, 1953)
Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne wrestled to a 60-minute draw at the Minneapolis Auditorium Tuesday night before 8,641 fans.
Thesz, the National Wrestling Alliance champion, was not the aggressor in this bout. The crowd booed lustily the draw decision of referee Bob Foster, who was imported from Omaha to handle the match.
With Ed (Strangler) Lewis, Thesz manager, absent, Joe Pazandak took over in the champions corner.
Police protection was needed for Pazandak as the pro-Gagne crowd took issue to Joe being in the champions corner.
Gagne tried desperately to pull out a victory in the last minutes. Gagne used a rolling leg split to throw Thesz around in his final bid for victory. The last time Gagne slammed Thesz to the mat, Lou appeared to be knocked out. As the time keeper called out the 60th minute, Thesz lay prone on the mat, virtually senseless.
Consequently, had it no been for the time limit elapsing, Gagne might have pinned the champion and taken the title.
Twice during the bout, Gagne applied his deathly sleeper hold, but on each occasion he failed to render Thesz unconscious because both men were perspiring so freely. Verne could not retain his grip.
Thesz made only two serious bids for victory when he had Gagne in
trouble with a leg scissors. Verne struggled for more than three minutes before he could
(Minneapolis Star, July 7, 1953)
By Jack Connor
Among the things on which Kinji Shibuya prides himself is his fishing prowess.
Which is what might come naturally to a Japanese wrestler born in Honolulu.
But Kinji came by his love in a way youw ouldnt expect. He sold sporting goods in Honolulu to work his way through a sociology major at the University of Hawaii.
That way he got to be quite a hand with a deep-sea fishing outfit. Specialized on marlin, and his record is a 400-pounder.
Kinji admits hes good at skin diving, too. His favorite pastime in that sport was diving for sharks in the waters off Honolulu with a long-handled spear his only weapon.
Things might have gone on like that indefinitelyselling sporting goods, fishing marlin and spearing sharks. But then Kinji met Janet. They were married.
That ended the selling, the fishing and the spearing. The Shibuyas needed a steadier, more lucrative source of income. Kinjis 231-pound frame seemed to fit for wrestling.
Tetsuo Higami, the Japanese "Rubber Man" who once owned the world middleweight wrestling championship, stepped into the picture.
He taught Kinji judo and sumo and got him matches in Japan where he beat the best of them.
Meanwhile, the Honolulu-born Japanese continued his taste for fish, even though he was now too busy to catch them. To this day his favorite delicacy is a fisheaten raw.
"They contain vitamins and juices that build up my muscle," Kinji says.
On the fish his wife pours from a special sauce, made from an old Japanese recipe: It is compounded of soy beans, sugar, a special flavoring and fresh ginger.
"Nobody else can make that sauce like Janet," Kinji says. "Its been responsible for my success."
Tuesday night he gets a chance to put it to the test against Pat OConnor in the wrestling headliner at the Auditorium. Kinji will be gunning for the No. 2 spot held by OConnor as a contender for the heavyweight throne of Lou Thesz.
He thinks Yukon Eric is big, but, he says, "Ive beat bigger men." He thinks Verne Gagne could take Thesz with his sleeper in a rematch.
"But," says Kinji, "Ive got a sleeper
thats more potent than Gagnes. It comes from the strength I acquired eating
(Minneapolis Tribune, July 8, 1953)
Pat OConnor pinned Kinji Shibuya after a furious wrestling match lasting 25 minutes and 11 seconds Tuesday night at the Minneapolis auditorium.
A battle royal in which wrestlers and spectators participated created one of the worst riots staged during a wrestling bout in Minneapolis in years.
After OConnor had pinned him for a clean fall, Shibuya knocked out referee Joe Krecji as he raised Pats arm as the winner.
Having kayoed Krecji, Shibuya then knocked out OConnor with a chop blow on the back of the neck as OConnor was about to leave the ring.
Then things really happened. Several spectators of the 4,326 jumped into the ring and two of them walloped Shibuya with resounding haymakers before wrestlers Jack Pesek, Mike Clancy and Tony Baillargeon climbed into the ring. The wrestlers ganged up on Shibuya and pinned him in a corner.
Thinking they had calmed Shibuya down, they released him from their hold, whereupon the Japanese slugged Pesek. Pesek slugged back and the two traded punches for almost a minute before police entered and broke up the brawl.
The OConnor-Shibuya match was a thrilling affair with honors virtually even up to the time OConnor slammed his foe to the mat three times, gaining the fall.
Hard Boiled Haggerty made a non-scheduled appearance when he substituted for Billy Darnell of Philadelphia and quickly subdued Reggie Lisowski in 5:47.
Pat OConnor, 236, New Zealand, pinned Kinji Shibuya, 231, Honolulu, 25:11.
Tony Baillargeon, 210, Quebec, won on a foul from Ivan Rasputin, 248, Brooklyn, 16:17.
Hard Boiled Haggerty, 253, New York, pinned Reggie Lisowski, 237, Milwaukee, 5:47.
Jack Pesek, 235, Lincoln, Neb., and Mike Clancy, 220, Boston, drew
in 30 minutes.
(Minneapolis Star, July 8, 1953)
By Charles Johnson
Every time the wrestling business enjoys a little sustained prosperity the participants insist on getting out of hand.
There is no excuse for such incidents as happened after Pat OConnor had defeated Kinji Shibuya at the Auditorium last night.
The match had been decided. The Japanese immediately went berserk. He knocked out the referee and then engaged in a free-for-all with fellow grapplers who tried to subdue him. Spectators tried to get into the act, but had only fair success.
Promoter Tony Stecher must take the blame for this sort of roughhouse. He is supposed to have his men under control at all times. They are easily disciplined. Certainly they must get warnings as to how far they can go before swinging into action.
Wrestling here has been free of such brawls in recent months but the
muscle men apparently can be held in check only so long. This episode was uncalled for and
doesnt do anything but drive the fans away.
Greg Oliver, associated producer of the SLAM! Wrestling site (URL is http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestling) sends along news that Paul Baillargeon died last week, leaving Charles as the last remaining brother of the once-famous team of Canadian wrestling strong men. There were originally six Baillargeons, with Adrian and Paul gaining the most acclaim inside the squared circle.
Oliver says that hell be posting a story either today or tomorrow about the Baillargeons that may be of interest to WAWLI readers. Check it out, along with the many, many up-to-the-minute details of WATKIN (Wrestling As They Know It Now).
Our thanks to Mr. Oliver for the information.WHATEVER HAPPENED TO WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GORGEOUS GEORGE?
Amazon Books reports that the book "Whatever Happened to
Gorgeous George?"in the opinion of the WAWLI editorial board the single best
book ever written about the professional wrestling businessis out of print. As a
public service, beginning in the next edition of The New WAWLI Papers, we will share
excerpts from that seminal, 1974 work produced by Joe Jares, son of the late and legendary
Frank (The Thing) Jares, longtime professional wrestling evil-doer.
The WAWLI Papers No. 618...MY FATHER THE THING
(originally appeared in Sports Illustrated; later, the first chapter in "Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? The Blood and Ballyhoo of Professional Wrestling," 1974, Grosset & Dunlap, New York)
By Joe Jares
Not that it helped me much in childhood frays, but I was the only kid on my block who could boast, with absolutely no fear of contradiction, "My father can lick your father." Frank August Jares, Sr., was a professional wrestler, the nastiest, meanest, basest, most arrogant, cheatingest, bloodthirstiest eye-gouger around. No rule, referee or sense of fair play ever hampered his style. In short, the sort of man a boy could look up to.
In his prime Pop was just a shad under six feet tall and weighed 230 pounds, with short brown hair, a neck like a steel pillar, big biceps and ears much more like cauliflowers than rose petals. Most people can fold their ears in half, but Pops seem to be made of solid gristle and will not bend more than half an inch. He had, and still has, rather full lips and prominent cheekbones, a Slavic countenance that would fit perfectly in a Warsaw union meeting or the Notre Dame line. His wrestling stage name was Brother Frank, the Mormon Mauler from Provo, Utah, but really he was just Frankie Jares from northside Pittsburgh, the son of a Bohemian butcher from Czechoslovakia and a U.S.-born mother, also Bohemian. He never heard English spoken until he went out on the streets to play with the other kids. At age 12 he had both upper arms decorated with tattoos, and at 14 he was out of school and driving a truck. Naturally, he grew up to be a tough guy, but sometimes a gentle tough guy. He spanked me only twice in my life. Even though he traveled a lot, I thought I knew him, but I actually did not know him well at all until I spent one summer with him in Tennessee and Alabamathe summer of 1956.
Pop was Southern Junior Heavyweight wrestling champion, operating out of Nashville (the senior champ, I figured, had to be King Kong, but I never met him). I finished my freshman year at USC in June and flew from Los Angeles to Nashville to join Pop, Mom and Frankie, Jr., who were living in a nice trailer park alongside some Grand Ole Opry stars and other assorted footloose folk. It was my job to accompany the old man on the southern wrestling circuitusually Birmingham on Monday, Nashville on Tuesday, Kingsport on Wednesday, Thursday to Bristol, Friday to Knoxville and Saturday in Chattanooga. After the matches in Chattanooga, we would drive all night back to Nashville, stopping once on the way at a mountain cafe for sausage sandwiches and ice-cold milk. Sunday was rest time at the trailer-park swimming pool. Back on the road Monday. "I dont know a single damn highway number," Pop said, "but I can take you to the back door of any arena in the United States by the shortest route."
He told me I was a bodyguard, a ridiculous idea (the only thing I guarded was his precious 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk, a favorite target of his enemies after the matches). On his brawny arms he had that faded green artworka flag, an anchor, a star, a sailor girl, an Indian maiden, a Kewpie doll and so on. The only tattoo that would have fitted on one of my arms was a skinny snake, and not even that if the snake were coiled. Pop often said I had arms like garden hoses and a neck like a stack of dimes. He could see better out of his one good eye than I could with my glasses. But we entertained each other, I by listening and he by telling tales of his travels, his brawls, his riots and his bloody third-fall finishes.
For instance, somewhere between Nashville and Blytheville, Ark., he told me about Hawaii. There he had not been Brother Frank, but The Golden Terrormysterious scourge of the mat: yellow mask, black sleeveless shirt and, according to irate fans, yellow streak down the back. By pulling hair, illegally using the ropes and just generally ignoring the Boy Scout Code, he prevented any good-guy opponent, or "babyface" in the lingo of the trade, from ripping off his cover. Actually, he had such an intricate way of fastening the hood that it would have taken the Pacific Fleet to unmask him. And if it had happened, nobody would have known him anyway. Well, hardly anybody. In his free time Pop wore his own face as he lifted weights and wrestled at the YMCA with various islanders, including one Harold Sakata (later to become Tosh Togo, the evil Jap ring villain, and, still later, Oddjob in the movie Goldfinger). "You know," said one of his friends after a workout, "youre such a good wrestler you should go down and challenge The Golden Terror." Pop felt a little like Clark Kent, and somehow no one connected the giveaway tattoos.
Of course, there had been other aliases. Pro wrestling is a world of unrelated brothers and Italian noblemen from the Bronx. Every Indian is a chief, every Englishman a lord, every German a Nazi. Pop was once Furious Frank Jaris. And Frank Dusek of the roughhouse Nebraska Dusek clan. And Frank Schnabel, brother of that despicable duo, Hans and Fritz. One of his finest guises was The Thing. He used a horrible orange-red dye on the hair on his head and on a new crop of whiskers. He fixed up a wooden suitcase with THE THING printed on it in spangles and a hidden button that could be pressed to bring forth a sound similar to an aroused rattlesnake. He flew to Chicago to make his fortune and was granted an athletic commission license in the name of M.T. Bochs. He strolled the sidewalks of such towns as Gary, Ind., and Racine, Wis., in top hat, elegant topcoat, vest, striped pants and spatsand that fluorescent hair. Decent citizens who had seen his matches would curse him. "Thats just what you are," said one little old lady, "a dirty, dirty thing." As long as little old ladies had not hatpins he was polite to them. But he made no fortune and eventually went back to being the plain old Mormon Mauler. A midwestern fan magazine later recalled:
"Chicago wrestling fans were once treated to a novel experience when a wrestler named The Thing came into their midst. The Thing was a product of the West Coast and his face was blanketed with whiskers.
"Although he was a good wrestler, he got nowhere in the race for heavyweight honors and we wonder just where he is wrestling now."
(to be continued)
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 18, 1999)
By Mark Bixler
A pro wrestler known as Big Poppa Pump dodged the big house Wednesday but will have to spend 10 days in the Cherokee County Jail.
A judge also ordered Scott Carl Rechsteiner to pay $25,000 in fines, fees and restitution and to stay on probation for seven years after Rechsteiner pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and making terroristic threats, felonies with a maximum sentence of 30 years. The charges allege that Rechsteiner, 36, threatened a Department of Transportation worker and hit him with his Ford F-250 pickup in April 1998.
Rechsteiner has biceps the size of watermelons and a blond Fu Manchu mustache. His lawyer, Alan C. Manheim, told Judge C. Michael Roach that Rechsteiner is gentle and well-educated.
"I have seen a man very different than his public persona," he said.
Big Poppa Pump is one of the bad guys on the TV wrestling shows, wrestling with the World Championship Wrestling federation as part of the New World Order team.
Last April 21, investigators said, Rechsteiner drove down a closed exit ramp off I-575 in south Cherokee and threatened and twice hit DOT road worker Paul Kaspereen after Kaspereen told him the ramp was closed. Kaspereen was not seriously hurt.
"I just apologize that this happened," said the wrestler, who also goes by the name Scott Steiner.
The judge sentenced Rechsteiner under the states first-offender rules. That means a court will find him not guilty if he avoids trouble while on probation.
Rechsteiner also must perform 200 hours of community service.
(Chicago Magazine, September 1999)
By Bob Kurson
On an April night in 1908, more than 8,000 spectators jammed Chicagos old Dexter Park Pavilion next to the Union Stock Yards to witness what promised to be one of the greatest sporting spectacles in American history: a wrestling match. U.S. champ Frank Gotch, 29, a handsome, 5-foot 11-inch, 196-pound Iowa farm boy with a 44-inch chest and a 35-inch waist, was about to face an anomaly of evolution.
At five feet nine and 218 pounds, world champ George Hackenschmidt, also 29, boasted a 52-inch chest and a 35-inch waist. Known as the Russian Lion, he had won about 400 consecutive matches, reducing opponents to whimpers and convincing even weathered sportswriters that he was capableliterallyof ripping limb from limb. So great was his reputation coming into Chicago that President Theodore Roosevelt said, "If I couldnt be President, Id want to be George Hackenschmidt."
The spectators that spring evening witnessed a match that outdid its advance hype. What they couldnt have known, though, was that they were also watching a turning point in the development of a sport. At the dawn of the century, professional wrestling was real. Matches lasted for hours, the blood was genuine, and the contestants won, whenever possible, by applying excruciatingly painful holds that sometimes broke bones. There was no Gorgeous George back then because there was nothing gorgeous about what wrestlers did to each other.
When Gotch met Hackenschmidt, professional wrestling reigned as the most popular sport in the United States, commanding larger crowds than baseball, or even boxing, which was then considered the suspect sport. Wrestling champions in the early part of the century were certified American heroes. In a still rough-and-tumble country of laborers and farmers, wrestling was the perfect expression of Americas frontier appreciation for an honest days work performed by decidedly tough people.
Today, professional wrestling has again become an American phenomenon, transforming itself into a $1-billion-a-year enterprise that attracts 35 million viewers to its weekly television matches. Six of the seven top-rated cable TV shows in the United States feature wrestling, and more teenage boys watch wrestling than watch Monday Night Football. And its all phony, a pageant of bloated personalities, comic-book characters, and scripted results.
Wrestling began the change from genuine sport to souped-up show biz the night Gotch met Hackenschmidt in Chicago. To modern fans, there might be no fiercer wrestler than current superstars "Stone Cold Steve" Austin and the Undertaker, but none of todays marketing-conceived grapplers could have touched Gotch and Hackenschmidt for excitement or spirit. And none of todays musclebound and steroid-riddled stars could have ever hoped to outwrestle them.
As a boy growing up in Estonia, George Hackenschmidt dumbfounded folks in his hometown by carrying horses on his shoulders and jumping over tables 100 times in a row with his feet tied together. By the time he was 21, he could lift 269 pounds over his head with one hand and had shaped a physique that would be the envy of bodybuilders for the next 50 years. Hacks mind was as finely sculpted as his body: He spoke seven languages and went on to write several books, including one on man and the cosmos.
Any question that Hackenschmidts education had softened his ferociousness was put to rest in 1904 at Londons Opera House, when he defended his world championship against Madrali the Terrible Turk in a match some experts consider Londons greatest sporting event of this centurys first decade. There, inside of 70 seconds, Hackwho split his time between London and Estonia and spoke perfect Englishapplied a winning bear hug so powerful it nearly squeezed the life out of the turban-wearing foreigner and convinced crowds that the great Hackenschmidt was near immortal.
But Frank Gotch brought his own fierce reputation to the 1908 Chicago match. In 1903, he had waged an epic battle with Tom Jenkins, a savage, one-eyed ogre who broke Gotchs nose and chortled while Gotch vomited blood. It was a whipping to drive most men from the ring, but Gotch redoubled his training routine and took up running, becoming perhaps the first professional athlete to make that exercise part of his regimen. A year later, in Bellingham, Washington, Gotch collided with Jenkins in a rematch that many reporters agreed was the most brutal sporting event the country had ever seen. Gotch continually escaped Jenkinss patented stranglehold and pulverized his opponent, causing many in the crowd to wince at the thrashing he dished out before beating Jenkins and becoming the U.S. champ.
By the time he took on Hackenschmidt in Chicago, Gotch had acquired a weapon perhaps more effective than any submission holda superstar trainer. Farmer Burns, at 160 pounds, was considered the greatest small wrestler ever, a man who got by more on brains than on brawn. Burns molded Gotch in his own image, teaching him pretzel-shaped submission holds in an age when brute force ruled. Burns taught Gotch the step-over toehold, a complicated maneuver with several variations that could either force an opponent onto his back for the pin or inflict so much pain he would be forced to concede. One newspaperman called it "the most brutal thing next to hanging."
The matchfor the world championshipbegan around 10:15 p.m. It was a traditional two-out-of-three-falls contest, meaning the winner would be the man who twice pinned his opponent or forced him to submit. There was no time limit, and, aside from eye gouging, biting, kicking, and hair pulling, pretty much everything was allowed. From the opening bell, Hack knew he had been hit by a freight train. Gotch, relying on a wear-him-down strategy, used his arms and tremendous balance to keep constant downward pressure on Hacks neck, and with his superior speed managed to swivel away from the world champs lunges. For nearly two hours, Gotch coaxed Hack into expending the lions share of the energy, all the while taunting his proud opponent. "So youre the great Russian Lion, eh?" he teased. Enraged, Hack growled, "I shall show you!"
The WAWLI Papers No. 619...
MY FATHER THE THING (cont. from No. 618)
Between southern whistlestops that summer of 1956, as the souped-up Studebaker cruised along at 60 mph and we tried to hit rural mailboxes with empty Dr. Pepper bottles, Pop often talked about wrestling fans, as testy a group as you can find this side of a Brazilian soccer stadium.
One time in Pico Rivera, Calif., Pop told me, he was walking to the dressing room between bleachers, and a man twelve feet above him reached down to hit him, slipped, fell to the concrete floor and broke his own neck. At various times in the ring Pop had been hit by whiskey bottles, lighted cigarettes and paper clips shot from rubber bands. During a match against Vincent Lopez in Redding, Calif., Pop pulled himself under the ropes while flat on his back, a sneaky trick to get the referee to make the babyface let go of his ankle. A ringsider stood up and slashed Pops forehead with a beer-can opener. The wound took seventeen stitches to repair. he also had been stabbed with a knife, cut with a broken mirror and punctured with fingernail files.
In Bremerton, Wash., Pop treated kindly, fair-dealing giant Primo Carnera with something less than minimal courtesy. As he ran the gantlet on his perilous journey to the dressing room, an indignant woman threw a lighted book of matches that hit his sweaty body with a painful sizzle. He stopped to analyze the womans ancestry (even Pop could not hit a lady), but between them stepped a belligerent man who said, "Thats my wife." Pop slugged him and yelled, "Then teach her better manners." The arena erupted into a riot, and dear old Dad had to stay under police guard in the dressing room half the night.
The fans were really stirred up one night in Bridgeport, Conn., he said. They completely misunderstood Pops gentle nature and were intent on dismembering him. "I know my crowds," he said. "If you dont have the experience, you get killed. You have to jump right into the middle of the milling mob, never go in the opposite direction. A silent crowd is even more vicious. That silent heat, thats the vicious crowd. The punchers and scratchers are much less dangerous. They wind up hitting each other most of the time." Well, this night in Bridgeport, Pop was in the middle, all right, and not enjoying it, but he happily sighted a policeman battling his way through the mob. The cop finally made it to Pops side and then unhesitatingly bashed him over the head with a billy club.
At the Wilmington (Calif.) Bowl in the mid-forties Pop and his original partner, Brother Jonathan (who was really from Utah), won a tag-team match and were chased around the building by an angry pack of sailors intent on seeing justice done. The Brothers finally made it into the dressing room, but one sailor slipped inside before they got the door locked. Another wrestler held the sailor and said, "Here he is, Frank." Pop walked toward him with a fist cocked, and the poor man collapsed in a faint.
Then there was South Gate, Calif. For thirty-two straight weeks, Pop recalled, he and Wee Willie Davis took on and defeated all comers, each week with some nefarious tactic. Their favorite ploy was to have Willie, a huge man, slowly back up into his own corner so Pop, standing outside the ropes, could reach through his legs and yank the opponents legs out from under him. There were twenty-seven sellouts in those wild thirty-two weeks. After a while the South Gate police refused to respond to any more riot calls, so promoter Frank Pasquale had to hire his own guards.
One night after the South Gate chaos, Pop was driving through east Los Angeles when he was forced off the road by four men in a jalopy. They were going to teach Brother Frank some manners! They got him as he was halfway out the driver-side door and beat and stomped him until he got away by rolling under the car. Pop was so furious he went out and bought a pistol, stashing it in his glove compartment for the right moment. Nothing happened the next week, although he and Wee Willie were as wicked in victory as ever. But two weeks later the quartet forced his car over at almost exactly the same spot. Pop leaped out of the car brandishing the pistol like Jesse James (not the Houston wrestler Jesse James, but the outlaw). Three of the attackers jumped back into their car and sped away, with Pop emptying the pistol into their trunk. The fourth was so scared he fled across a field, leaving one of his shoes in the middle of the street. Pop twisted the shoe into a useless hunk of leather and ended his gunslinging career the next day by tossing the weapon into the sea.
At Long Beach Civic Auditorium, he told me, a drunken fan once climbed up on the ring apron and hit him behind the neck. Pop shoved him off the way a man would shoo a fly. A woman sitting at ringside claimed the man landed on her, and she sued the arena, Pop and everybody else in sight. She lost the suit (because, luckily, the match had been kinescoped and the jury could see for itself what happened), but it still cost Pop more than $500 in legal fees. After the trial a man in the courtroom, the very same one who had climbed onto the apron, walked up and apologized. He did not offer to pay Pops lawyer.
Of course, antagonizing the customers was the whole idea, Pop explained, so you had to expect a little jab from a fingernail file once in a while. On those long rides between little towns he told me about "finishes," building up the "heat" to just the right temperature until the arena seemed ready to explode, then ending the match in some super-duper, slam-bang manner guaranteed to bring all the people back the following week for a sequel.
There was this time down in Panama, where he was known as Hermano Frank, a holy man from Utah with seven wives. He wanted to be a heel, as usual, but the Panamanins loved everything he did and he gradually became, much to his chagrin, a babyface (just imagine The Joker helping Batman catch crooks). Because he had no opponent who knew how to wrestle, he taught a husky sailor, Strangler Olson, how to "work" (throw fake punches, apply harmless step-over toeholds, etc.) and play the villains role.
For the big finish Strangler was to throw Pop out of the ring and be disqualified, thereby setting up a juicy return match. To make it look better, Pop had a razor blade carefully secreted in the waistband of his trunks. During the inevitable confusion at ringside he was supposed to cut himself just slightly on the forehead. It would not hurt any more than running a fingernail over the skin but it would look as bad as a battle wound. However, Pop could not find the blade and used the next handiest thing, a bottlecap lying nearby. He stood up with a face full of gore, and the fans went berserk, attacking poor Olson like maniacs.
"The crowd was beating the poor guy to death," said Pop. "I figured I had to save his life. So I started screaming, Let me at him! Ill kill him! Let me at him! The mob parted and allowed me to get to him. I pretended to beat him right through the dressing room doorway and the door slammed safely behind us."
Some finishes were more goofy than bloody. In San Bernardino, Calif., Pop and a cohort were wrestling the Dirty Duseks in an all-heel main event. A moth landed in the center of the ring, so he put up his hand and stopped the match with silent-movie pantomine. Very slowly he leaned over and tried to pick up the delicate little moth and, naturally, it fluttered up and away. In awe he looked up and watched its flight. Then boom, that dirty Emil Dusek sprang from his corner, socked Pop on his inviting chin, knocked him cold and won the bout.
(to be continued)
BRUNO SAMMARTINO: LIVING LEGEND
(Bagpipe Report, Charles Maclauren)
By Erwin Michael Green
The place: New Yorks famed Madison Square Garden. The time: May 17, 1963. He wore the worlds heavyweight championship belt for the first time in his life, four years after turning into a professional wrestler. Since then he had held that title for fourteen years, undefeated except on one occasion in 1971. He was a consummate athlete, and he commanded respect from friend and foe alike. He held a wrestling attendance record in Australia for selling out twenty-one consecutive nights and he once drew in an estimated crowd of 40,000 fans in a bull ring in Caracas, Venezuela.Its no surprise that Bruno Sammartino is truly known as wrestlings living legend!
Bruno was born in Abruzzi, Italy and immigrated here to the United States at age 15. His lifelong dream since age 8 was to become a wrestler. He idolized a greco-roman wrestler named Batisti who represented Italy in the Olympics in the 30s. He loved amateur wrestling, but he said its not really a spectator sport because it didnt have any thrills or surprises. In pro wrestling, you have to add a lot of stuff to make it exciting. While going to high school during the day, Bruno worked out constantly at a local gym in Pittsburgh where he lived.
His first job while living here in America was as a construction worker and during the evening he wrestled at various arenas. He finally turned pro in 1959. Then on May 17, 1963, Bruno defeated Nature Boy Buddy Rogers to capture the WWWF Heavyweight Wrestling Championship and from that night on he successfully defended his title with such enthusiasm and tenacity that no other wrestler could ever hope to defeat him.
That is, until he met "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff. Koloff became the new heavyweight champion by defeating Sammartino on January 18, 1971 in Madison Square Garden. It was a night of humiliation for Bruno and a night of victory for Koloff who boasted and bragged about how he became the only man to ever defeat Sammartino, and that Bruno was no living legend. And from that night emerged a devastating feud that would become historic in the annals of professional wrestling.
Koloff subsequently lost the title to Pedro Morales at Madison Square Garden a month later on February 8, and Morales held the belt for two years, then lost it to Stan "The Man" Stasiak. Stasiak held the title for a mere nine days before losing to Sammartino on December 10,1973. The living legend then became the first two-time WWWF champion.
Throughout his entire career, Bruno has met and fought challenger after challenger and emerged victorious in the WWWF. Most of his matches have been grueling and sometimes have ended in controversy. But no matter the outcome, Bruno has defended his title with such tenacity that he truly lives up to being called the "living legend."
Bruno had also introduced the fans to two proteges that he had trained: Larry Zbyzsko and Spiros Arion. Zbyszko was also from Pittsburgh and became an almost identical wrestler to Sammartino. He was very successful and talented during his WWWF tenure, and even won the tag team championship along with Tony Garea by defeating the Yukon Lumberjacks. But he always thought he was in the shadow of Sammartino, and decided he didnt need to follow Bruno any longer, resulting in a bitter rivalry. This teacher vs. student feud ultimately ended before an excited crowd at New Yorks Shea Stadium when Bruno defeated Zbyszko in a steel cage match.
Spiros Arion was another friend who became one of Brunos bitter enemies. Spiros was born in Athens, Greece and had been wrestling since he was a teenager. He was a fan favorite and had also become a very good technical, scientific wrestler during his time in the WWWF. Spiros became friends and eventually a tag team partner with Bruno. During their brief partnership they were very successful as a tag team, but it wasnt about to last.
Arion had his mind tainted by Freddie Blassie, who somehow convinced Spiros that Bruno was jealous of him and that he was not to be trusted. The confused athlete would eventually dump Sammartino as his tag team partner. After an incident which involved Bruno, Spiros and Chief Jay Strongbow, Spiros sided with Blassie and viciously turned on Bruno. However, the two unsuccessfully tried to wrestle the title from the living legend.
Opponent after opponent, feud after feud, no one could take the title from the waist of Sammartino. Wrestlers from Ivan Koloff , The Executioners, Cowboy Bob Duncum, to Nikolai Volkoff, The Valiant Brothers, Waldo Von Erich & Buggsy McGraw fought fierce battles but in the end Sammartino emerged victorious.
Then it happened, in Philadelphia on May 1,1977. Bruno Sammartino has been defeated and lost the heavyweight championship to Superstar Billy Graham. The reign of wrestlings living legend was over. Bruno would never again regain the championship he so proudly defended for 14 years.
Throughout his career in the WWWF, in every championship bout that Bruno fought in at Madison Square Garden it was to record crowds. Brunos claim to fame was that during his career he had never lost a steel cage match. Bruno also became the only wrestler in WWWF history to ever wrestle in Shea Stadium....twice. Once in a rematch between the master of The Lariat, StanHansen, and in a steel cage match against his former pupil Larry Zbyszko.
Bruno had survived against every hold & maneuver his opponents used on him: "The Lariat", "The Heart-Punch", "The Claw", "The Axe", and "The Swinging Neckbreaker", every kind of match from a "Texas Death" & "Russian Chain" to even a "Sicilian Stretcher" match and he still held onto the title. Managers like The Grand Wizard, Fred Blassie and Captain Louis Albano continuously dogged the trail of Sammartino plotting his defeat in their quest for the gold.
Stan Stasiak, George "The Animal" Steele, Tor Kamata,
Ernie Ladd, Killer Kowalski, and Ken Patera all faced the mettle and wrath of Bruno and
realized the he would never go down in defeat and that he had more heart and determination
than any wrestler they would ever face. There will never be another wrestler like
Sammartino, he honored and cherished being world champion than any wrestler wrestling
today. He truly will forever be known as wrestling true living legend.
11/17/73: Bruno Vs. Ivan Koloff (MSG) Bruno defeats Koloff before 22,090 with Gorilla Monsoon as special guest referee at 21:14
12/15/75: Bruno Vs. Ivan Koloff (MSG) Bruno retained his title by defeating Koloff in a 15 ft. high steel cage match in 11:46 before an sellout crowd of 26,350 plus 4,253 in the Felt Forum.
2/2/76: Bruno Vs. Superstar Billy Graham (MSG) A sellout crowd of 25,600 plus 3,100 watching on closed circuit in the Felt Forum saw Bruno defeat Superstar Billy Graham when referee Danny Bartfield stop the match at 17:55 because of several cuts inflicted on Graham by Sammartino.
3/29/76: Bruno/Parisi Vs. Graham/Koloff (MSG) Bruno teamed up with Tony Parisi and defeated Ivan Koloff and Superstar Graham before 21,004 fans at Madison Square Garden.
4/26/76: Bruno Vs. Stan Hansen (MSG) Stan Hansen defeated Bruno when the referee stopped the match after Sammartino suffered a cut above his eye and suffered a fractured vertebrae after receiving "The Lariat" before a stunned audience of 17,493.
6/25/76: Bruno Vs. Stan Hansen (Shea Stadium) After 10:19, the grudge match between Bruno & Hansen was settled when after being tossed out of the ring four times bloodied & bruised, the bad man from Borgia, Texas fled the ring with blood streaming from his face and with his manager The Grand Wizard right behind him. The crowd booed hansen after he left and Sammartino stood alone in the center of the ring with his title belt held high over his head.
12/20/76: Bruno Vs. Stan Stasiak (MSG) Bruno defeated the man he regained the WWWF title from, Stan "The Man" Stasiak before a sellout crowd of 22,090 at Madison Square Garden in a "Sicilian Stretcher Match". This was Brunos 23rd successful title defense at the Garden since he regained the championship in 1973.
3/7/77: Bruno Vs. Ken Patera (MSG) In this, their third outing against each other Bruno emerged victorious in his match against the Olympian strongman Ken Patera. With Gorilla Monsoon as Special guest referee and before 26,492 fans with an additional 4,400 in the Felt Forum.
6/27/77: Bruno Vs. Superstar Billy Graham (MSG) In one of their last
few rematches, 22,090 plus 4,000 fans in the Felt Forum paid to see Bruno try to regain
his title from the newly crowned champion Superstar Billy Graham. Both wrestlers fought to
a time limit draw.
(Calgary Herald, May 17, 1999)
By Chris Cobb
With a fierce glint in his eyes the bald, bearded senior citizen stares menacingly into the camera.
"Its a dog-eat-dog world," he snarls, "and Im the Mad Dog!"
Of course, anybody who watched professional wrestling between the 1950s and the early 80s would already know this is Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon.
More surprising is the fact hes not being profiled by CBC, TSN, A & E or History Television. This is the Comedy Networks camera crew taking aim at the growling showman.
But thats perfect. Were not talking sports here. This is pro wrestling, and the laughs are endless.
The one-hour film Wrestling with the Past weaves the story of Mad Dog Vachon in and out of a narrative about pro wrestling in years gone by. Its fascinating, fact-filled and very funny.
How, exactly, should one describe pro wrestlingsport or entertainment?
Lets ask Mad Dog, who chats on the phone from Toronto.
"Its always been entertainment first and sport second," Vachon, 69, concedes as he speaks in a calm, articulate fashion, a world away from the yelling he adopts when performing before a camera.
"But its not any different from other professional sports. You go to a hockey game to be entertained. The same with boxing and baseball."
Actually, wrestling is sort of different, as this witty film shows. Mad Dog and his brother Paul "the Butcher" spend much of the time seated side-by-side, recalling the antics of their art and the colourful, eccentric people it has always attracted.
One of the better anecdotes includes Calgary promoter Stu Hart, long-retired founder of the Hart wrestling dynasty. Mad Dog, Hart and others cooked up a fake murder that was enacted in 1959, complete with shotgun blanks, just west of Calgary in front of the Great Antonio.
A distraught Antonio ran off to summon the police while the pranksters collapsed in laughter.
Filmmaker John Dolin has a marvelous light touch in crafting this comical retrospective, savouring a leisurely pace in some segments and rapid slices of footage in others, whichever best serves the humour.
On camera, wrestlers and promoters alike relive their glory days. Theres Killer Kowalski, who tore off Yukon Erics ear.
Theres Baron Von Raschke, Mad Dogs other tag-team partner. Former CFL player Gene Kiniski. Referee Glen Parks.
And who can forget the Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer?
Long before he began associating with this crew, Maurice Vachon learned how to take care of himself on the streets of his native Montreal. The son of a policeman and the third of 13 kids, little Maurice (he never quite reached five feet, eight inches) won most of his schoolyard tangles but still managed to come home too often with a bloody nose.
His dad took him to a local YMCA and asked the trainer to turn Maurice into a boxer.
"He said, Mr. Vachon, dont let your son box. Hell be punch-drunk in a couple of years. But if you want me to, Ill teach him wrestling. If hes good enough and he likes it enough, he can go to the Olympics.
Vachon represented Canada at the 1948 Olympics in London. He didnt win a medal but he fought well.
He also came to a conclusion about his chosen sport:
"I learned early on that amateur wrestling doesnt sell any tickets," Vachon says.
By 1952 hed jumped to the pro circuit. He couldnt play up size, because at 174 pounds he didnt have much of that, so he exploited a maniacal image and became the Mad Dog.
It was the era of Whipper Billy Watson and Gorgeous George, the latter representing a new level of flamboyance and silliness with his long, flowing locks and white shoes and robe.
Vachon isnt too comfortable, however, about where it all led.
"I think wrestling is getting out of hand completely. The kids watch it on TV and its getting pornographic. It borders on the criminal. Its just a freak show."
But wrestling was good to him, even if it left some physical wreckage.
Vachon summarizes his medical file: "I lost half of my teeth, my elbows dont open and close and I got a concussion and cauliflower ears.
"Im going to be 70 years old this Sept. 1, and were
not talking about new machinery here, pal."
The WAWLI Papers No. 620...
At least twice he kept the title by pure luck. Sonny Myers, the handsome ex-champ from St. Joseph, Mo., had him beaten in an outdoor match in Knoxville, where threatening weather had caused the main event to go on second. Pop was left unconscious from two atomic drops adminstered by Myers, but Sonny hurt his knee on the second one and had to be carried from the ring. Pop was allowed to keep the title provided he gave Myers a Knoxville rematch within thirty days. Tex Riley had Pop suffering but blew his chance when he accidentally drop-kicked the referee out of the ring and was disqualified.
Pop was wrestling Spider Galento in Chattanooga one night, and it was sort of a contest between them to see who the crowd hated the most. In such instances the people usually pick a favorite, and he is forced into being honorable and decent. Galento entered the ring first and by a series of struts and poses had the fans despising him immediately. So Pop came into the ring and showed off his ill-gotten belt. Still, the crowd obviously hated Spider more. So Dad shouted up to the black section, way up in the back, that he was tired of their being deprived and he was going to give them a close look at his belt. He did just that, delaying the start of the match fourteen minutes as he slowly wandered among them. By the time he got back in the ring the whites hated him as much as if he had sung The Battle Hymn of the Republic over the loudspeaker.
New good-guy Galento proceeded to please the white portion of the crowd by punishing Brother Frank with good, honest holds. In a few minutes even the blacks had Pop by the throat and, in the time-honored wrestlers pantomime, asked the black gallery if he should hit him. "Yes," they screamed. Then he asked the lower balcony. "Yes," they screamed. Then the ringsiders. "Yes," they screamed, in a frenzy of anticipation for the delicious moment. But when he asked the vendor selling Cokes at ringside, Pop came alive and did the slugging himself. "What the hell," muttered Spider during the next quiet headlock, "cant you wait until I get my heat?"
The riots in Knoxville, Pops most lucrative payoff town, sometimes started as he entered the ring, depending, of course, on how vile he had been to the hero last week. He usually needed a riot-squad escort to make it back to the dressing room after the matches. I remember once we had to sit there until 1 a.m. as the mob milled around outside, Pop all the while worrying about his Studebaker. We finally walked out a side exit and encountered a large, hostile crowd. Pop just picked out the guy with the loudest mouth and challenged him to step forward for shut up. Then we calmly climbed in the car and drove off. At least he was calm.
We always hated to go to Gadsden, Ala. The people were nasty, the arena was a junkpile and there were no showers. The wrestlers had to take spit baths in the mens room, treatment even Class D baseball players do not get. Pop was champion and thus had a $50 guarantee, but the other boys usually had to settle for the $15 to $20 minimum. I was kept pretty busy. First I counted the house (you could do that in the weed-patch towns) to make sure the promoter did not pull anything on the old man at payoff time. I had to guard the mens-room door while he was cleaning up and then run over and guard the Studebaker.
After an unruly main event in Gadsden near summers end, he was leaving the ring amid flying insults and flying chairs. Two or three teen-agers were giving him a particularly bad time, and he looked over at the dressing-room door and saw me peeking out, enjoying the rhubarb from a safe distance. He beckoned me out. He, a former weight lifter who had pressed 270 pounds, snatched 260, clean and jerked 330, was calling out his arms-like-garden-hoses son to protect the family honor. Reluctantly I went, wondering why the hell I had not been born to a hod carrier. I challenged the leading heckler to come down from the stands and fight mewhich should have been an easy assignment for him, but a peace officer burst out of the crowd just then and grabbed my arm, apparently thinking I was causing the hassle. Pop grabbed my other garden hose and dragged both me and the sputtering officer into the dressing room. It took an hours argument, a phone call from the head booker in Nashville and some phony flattery to keep the Jareses out of the Gadsden jailhouse. And when we got to the car the aerial had been bent in half (it was not as tough as my fathers ears). We never went back to Gadsden, but Ill always remember that night as the most exciting since Gorgeous George gave me a goldplated "Georgie" bobby pin and swore me into his fan club.
The best melee of all was in lovely Kingsport, jewel of northeast Tennessee. I was in the heels dressing room (heels always seemed to be the funniest storytellers) when someone stuck his head in the door and said, "Riot!" The dressing rooms were on either side of an unused stage, and when we ran to the curtains we saw Pop fighting his way to the far doors with the aid of a couple of cops. The crowd was in a nasty moodwhich was typical. Three or four of us sprinted the long way around the side hallway to the front doors, but by the time we got there Pop had realized he was going in the wrong direction and had started back through the howling mob to the stage.
We raced back down the side hallway, bounding up the steps and saw that the policemen were busy knocking fire-breathing fans off the stage. Brother Frank was lying facedown on the floor of the stage, not moving a muscle while what seemed like the entire population of northeast Tennessee tried to reach him for one last swing or kick. Finally the cops quieted the crowd, which must have thought the old man was dead or dying. The curtains were drawn, and I waited for the wail of an ambulance, for surely Pop was in need of medical aid. But the sly possum suddenly jumped to his feet, not a mark on him, and strode into the dressing room with a sinister grin on his face, basking in the hatred of the fans and confident that next week there would be a packed house.
How many people showed up or what foul deeds Pop perpetrated I dont know, because I returned that week to college for my sophomore year, which somehow turned out to be awfully dull.(ED. NOTE: "My Father The Thing" originally appeared in Sports Illustrated; later, it was the first chapter in "Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? The Blood and Ballyhoo of Professional Wrestling," 1974, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. Future WAWLI issues will contain additional excerpts from this exceptionally accurate depiction of professional wrestling history but which now, alas, is out of print.)
(Orlando Sentinel, October 21, 1999)
By David Whitley
TARPON SPRINGSThe voice heard around the world is silent. When Gordon Solie speaks, hardly anybody hears.
Part of it is due to throat trouble. The vocal chords wear thin after 71 years, about 20,000 announcing jobs and God knows how many cigarettes.
And part of it is because nobody wants to hear. The voice that defined pro wrestling now is drowned out by fireworks, heavy metal, performers plummeting from the rafters and a raging river of hype.
Solie was Lord of the Ring from the time JFK was sworn in until halfway through the Clinton Administration. The joke was on the audience, but Solie somehow made the fake punch lines seem real. Now wrestling has turned into a complete circus, and there is no room at the microphone for a voice of moderation.
"Its become athletic pornography, and Im not a prude," Solie said. "But I dont think we need to be exposing our kids to what theyre doing."
No, hes not a prude or a bitter old cuss railing about how things have changed. Solies just a retiree who lives with his poodle, Amy, who barks almost as much as the average World Wrestling Federation announcer.
Hes happily settled about 25 miles northwest of the Tampa wrestling kingdom he helped establish. The house is on a quiet cul-de-sac cut out of a marshy wilderness. Solie sits alone and tries to wear a happy face. The pillow on his living-room couch is embroidered with truer feelings:
"Screw the Golden Years."
Solie lives with the joy of grandkids and great-grandkids, and the pain of his wifes death two years ago. Eileen Solies paintings and pottery decorate the house, which offers almost no hint of how its resident became famous.
Much of Solies time is spent in front of the TV, telling Amy to pipe down, or visiting the English pub up the road. Its a place where everybody knows his name, even if the face isnt as full or smooth as it used to be.
Then theres the voice. Its become just a raspy whisper. Nodules have formed on his vocal chords in the past year, though Solie dismisses the condition with a wave of his hand.
"I may need surgery," he said, firing up another cigarette.
The actual tone of his voice never was as distinctive as the delivery. Before Keith Jackson uttered his first "Whoa, Nellie," before Marv Albert screamed his first "Yesss," Solie was producing trademark calls every Saturday afternoon on Championship Wrestling from Florida.
"If you grew up in Florida or Georgia in the 50s, 60s or 70s, you knew who Gordon Solie was," said Steve Keirn, a longtime wrestler turned promoter. "Me, Hulk Hogan, Dick Slater. We all imitated Gordon. Whether it was his adjectives or the descriptions he used. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Gordon was the best."
Every kid seemed to know him. Every kid flattered him.
"His face has become a crimson mask!"
Solie actually stole that one from a boxing announcer he heard in the 1930s. The difference, of course, is that in boxing, the crimson masks are made of real blood.
Pro wrestling would not admit its blood and bluster were fake. Most viewers at least suspected as much, though the weekly dose of Solie made the act easier to buy. The shows were taped at "the beautiful Tampa Sportatorium," which was beautiful only because Solie said so.
Imagine the surprise when a couple from New York showed up for a taping. The place was dark, it smelled like a sweat sock, and a rat the size of Dusty Rhodes ran across a beam. The couple left in shock at the places lack of beauty.
"From then on, I just called it the Tampa Sportatorium," Solie said.
When he said it, people believed it. He was the eye in the middle of the vaudevillian storm, never appearing without a coat, a tie and a face as heavily starched as his shirt. Solie knew every match was Milli Vanilli in tights, but he treated it as if he was Walter Cronkite narrating a presidential debate.
Solie grew up in Minneapolis wanting to be a serious announcer. He got out of the Air Force and settled in Tampa, where he bounced around the radio dial as a reporter and disc jockey. One day a wrestling promoter offered him $5 a night to emcee Tampas weekly wrestling card.
This was long before huge ramps, spotlights, pyrotechnics and massive video screens turned introductions into bigger events than the actual matches. Solie just called them as he saw them, even if they were masked bad guys "from parts unknown, weight unknown."
The real Solie has a dry sense of humor he rarely let seep through his straight face. His style was set in 1960, when the promoter needed an announcer for the TV show he was starting to peddle around the state.
"How do you want me to treat the show?" Solie asked.
"Treat the show like you treat your paycheckseriously," the promoter said.
The Solie Sound was born. It was long periods of analytical calm interrupted by quick verbal bolts.
"Its a Pier-6 brawl!"
"Hed fight a buzzsaw and give it the first two rounds."
"Hes not quick; hes sudden."
"Well be back as soon as order is restored."
That line always came at the end of the show as hysteria built, the referee was knocked cold, disorder filled the ring and time conveniently ran out. It was all the better to hook the audience into tuning in the next week, when theyd do it all again.
It was easier to treat the sport seriously back then because wrestlers actually bothered to wrestle. There was plenty of schlock, as anyone who saw The Great Malenko fighting a mattress in a TV commercial would attest. But wrestlers of old had a sense of craftsmanship.
Now promoters see no sense in boring viewers with a 10-minute headlock exhibition. The trash-talking wrestling gods are paid by the word, not the win. Televised matches are full of off-the-rope gymnastics and are resolved quickly. They are almost incidental in the big picture, which is to promote an upcoming pay-per-view event.
It may be hard for fans brought up on Jesse Ventura to believe, but once upon a time, governors did not flex their biceps in public. It certainly never occurred to Solie to ask Florida Gov. Reuben "The Body" Askew to put on a feather boa and referee a steel cage match featuring Sexual Chocolate against X-Pac.
Solie probably treated the sport with more dignity than it deserved. At times, he sounded more like a professor giving an anatomy lecture. A chest was "pectoralis major," a big butt was a "gluteus maximus," and many a wrestler doubled over after being hit "low in the abdomen."
Solie wanted listeners to feel what the wrestlers supposedly felt. He even got in the ring once with a wrestling coach, figuring the experience would help him relate to the participants pain. Only his experience turned real when the coach squirmed away and accidentally jerked his head into Solies face.
"He splattered my nose all over my face," he said.
A bad guy once tossed him into the ring, but Solie never wanted to be part of the main event. He became wrestlings detached authority figure, always in control. As the shows popularity grew, Solie became as famous as the men in tights.
Then the young owner of an independent Atlanta TV station took a liking to wrestling in the early 1970s. Ted Turner started a show and hired Solie. Soon after, WTBS went up on a satellite and became a cable superstation seen around the world.
"Thats when things really began to mushroom," Solie said.
He evolved into Cronkite to a generation of wrestling fans. The sport exploded around him, but Solie remained the same until his final show in 1995. He signed off with a simple salute.
"Im hanging it up," he said.
Thirty-five years, and he never once let on that it was all just a show. There was nothing fake about the pride Solie took in his work. His voice could have been calling double plays or dissecting touchdown drives. It just happened to end up narrating chairs getting smashed over Andre the Giants head.
"I can say that what I did, I was the best at it," he said. "Id rather be the very best at one thing than be an also-ran at a lot of things."
Solie is the only announcer to make World Championship Wrestlings Hall of Fame. Promoters still call, wanting him to appear at events. Some dont care whether Solie barely speaks above a whisper. Its probably just as well, since todays frothing wrestling audience might not want to hear what he has to say.
The sport Solie loved may have been staged, but at least there were real moves such as toeholds and headlocks before the finishing mayhem set in. Now there is almost no sport and all mayhem. People cant seem to get enough.
The big change came a few years ago when wrestling finally admitted its battles were staged. That allowed promoters to drop the sporting pretense and turn wrestling into a theatrical event.
"When the Romans change, you change with the Romans," Keirn said. "Or youll be sitting on the sideline."
Its now a character-driven soap opera of sweat. The WWFs wrestling school probably is located in a closet next to its massive marketing department. Its Web site could pass for Disneys, only Minnie Mouse probably wouldnt change her name to Chyna and pose half-nude.
Wrestlings wildly successful. Only the wilder things get, the wilder they must become to keep fans juiced.
Rivalries used to be a simple struggle between Good vs. Evil, American vs. Commie. Now there are Gay vs. Straight storylines. Rednecks vs. Rappers.
There are male wrestlers slapping female assistants and putting them in figure-four leglocks. No holds, prejudices or polarizing forces are barred in pursuit on an audience.
On a recent WWF show, the cameras cut to a topless bar. As a dancer shook her digitally obscured features at Sexual Chocolate, his nemesis suddenly bashed him from behind with a table.
At least that was all a put-on. Owen Hart really died when he fell from the rafters this spring while trying to make a grand entrance in Kansas City, Mo.
Wrestling no longer may insult its audiences intelligence by claiming its real, but the further the sideshow slinks, the more you wonder how much intelligence there is to insult.
However low they go, promoters such as Vince McMahon say everything is justified by the bottom line. Wrestlings money machine is bigger than the economies of many small countries. Besides, if viewers dont like it when busty blondes get cussed out and slapped around, they dont have to watch.
The man who sat ringside for three decades doesnt. Solie sits at home and mutters some recent storylines.
"The homosexual themes . . . the crucifixes . . . its disgraceful."
His face almost becomes a crimson mask.
Solie wonders whether wrestling is helping drag our culture in parts unknown, and what impact the over-the-top violence is having on kids. A 7-year-old Dallas boy accidentally killed his 3-year-old brother performing a "clothesline" forearm smash he saw on TV earlier this year.
There are disclaimers at the start of every show to dissuade children from viewing. Then there are toys and T-shirts and video games marketed to lure them.
The wilder the sport strays from its wrestling roots, the more popular it becomes. About seven million peopleone million of them under 11 years oldtune in every Monday night to WWF Raw is War on USA Network.
Its become a rowdy, raunchy monster, and Solie feels a touch of guilt for helping create it. Only he never thought it would get so out of control.
Its sure not like it used to be at the beautiful Tampa Sportatorium, back when the only thing that fell from the rafters were rats.
"It was so much fun," Solie said. "Today, they dont know a wristlock from a wristwatch."
They dont know, and they dont care.
Wrestling doesnt listen to its guiding sound anymore. It has
become a dying voice, crying in the wilderness.
The WAWLI Papers No. 621...
(Cox News Service, October 28, 1999)
By Tom Archdeacon
DAYTON, OhioAs rare sights go, this one was as uncommon as seeing Halleys Comet pass overhead or Big Foot standing out in the open. I saw Sexual Chocolate melt.
Saw him shrink from this mountainous masher right down into a "yes maam," "no maam," "please excuse me maam" sweetheart.
It happened in a private dressing room just before a recent World Wrestling Federation show in Dayton, Ohio. But to get the picture, you need some history.
Sexual Chocolate is the stage name of Mark Henry, the 380-pound former Olympic weightlifter turned WWF star. His monikeras the storyline goescomes from his condition. Hes supposed to have an insatiable appetite for women. So much so that he sometimes is accompanied to the ring by his own therapist, who is trying to calm him down, so to speak.
So when I spotted Henry backstage, I asked him if we could talk about "his condition," the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games, growing up dirt poor in Silsbee, Texas, and if hes still glad he chose pro wrestling over the NFL. He agreed and we stepped into the first empty dressing room we found.
Henry admitted that while most people understand hes laughing all the way to the bank, few of the folks back in his hometownwhich took up collections to help him train for the Olympics and send his mom to both Gamesare a little shocked at his wolfish WWF persona. They know him for his down-home charm. And they also remember what his no-nonsense mom, Barbara Moss, did to a Sexual Chocolate-type at work one day.
At the time she was raising her kids on her own by working two shifts a day at a local sawmill. Pretty soon a flirtatious male co-worker was harassing her and when no one would help her out, she simply picked up a board and walloped the guy upside the head. He went to the hospital, and she ended up fired.
After that, she worked as a maid and a baby sitter to try to make ends meet. Still, times were hard, and Henry told of days when there was no food in the refrigerator and the electricity was shut off because the bill wasnt paid.
Yet, for all that was lacking materially, Henry was physically gifted. Even though he was 6-foot-3 and pushing 400 pounds, he could dunk a basketball and do the splits. He was a standout high school football player and then a champion weightlifter.
With little training, he finished 10th at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. A back injury caused him to end up a disappointing 14th in Atlanta four years later. Right after that, he ignored overtures from the NFL and signed a 10-year contract with the WWF estimated to be worth $4 million.
While the move surprised some people, those who knew Henry best knew wrestling had been his love since an uplifting day in 1982.
"My mom took me to one of my first matches ever at the old Beaumont Civic Center. Andre the Giant was on the card and when he came down the aisle, everybody was afraid of him cause he was a bad guy at the time. No kids would reach out, but I did. I wanted to touch him. All of a sudden he stopped, reached right over and lifted me straight up in the air. I was only 10, but I weighed 220 pounds then. He held me like I was a doll.
"He looks me right in the eye and says, Stay off the rail, kid. When he put me down, it was like, Oh my God, he touched me. From that day on, I watched wrestling almost every day."
As a champion weightlifter, he added a little wrestlers panache. Yet going from being an Olympian to a pro wrestler was not easy. A lot of wrestlers who had spent years paying their dues on small-dollar shows resented his big contract and his shallow resume. Many flat out snubbed him. Then he broke his ankle in a training accident.
Time healed most of the wounds, but the big boost came when he dropped the tag "Worlds Strongest Man" and took up the Sexual Chocolate nickname.
In truth, he said, hes really a one-woman man. Hes engaged to Jana Perry, a former Academic All-America gymnast at West Virginia who now teaches seventh and eighth grade in Cincinnati. She was with Henry at the Dayton show and thinks his Sexual Chocolate reputation is hilarious.
As Henry was expounding on the nicknameand how it really is just an exaggeration of his real naturethe real occupants of the dressing room showed up.
"Hey, the Hoes are here!" someone yelled into the room as four buxom women from two Dayton strip clubs filed in.
"You the Godfather?" one asked a startled Henry.
"Aaahh no ... no ... Im Sexual Chocolate," said Henry, pulling himself up from his chair. "And eerh, I gotta go. Yeah, I better go get ready for my match."
With that he excused himself in the politest of terms and lumbered off to his distant quarters to put on his striped wrestling tights and those black patent leather, size 16 EEEEE boots. In the ring, he would end up doubled-teamed by the Hollys and suffer a pinfall.
As the match unfolded, his fiancee stayed backstage and read a book.
"My friends all love his name, but my parents, well, thats another story. Theyre both educators, a little more serious. They say, Couldnt he just be Chocolate? Couldnt he just drop the Sexual part?""
Too bad they werent back at the dressing room a few minutes
earlier. They, too, would have seen Sexual Chocolate melt.
(Conducted forTWC Online, reprinted in Gordon Solies Wrestling Newsletter)
(transcribed by Earl Oliver)
Jeremy Hartley: What prompted you to want to get into this whacky business of professional wrestling?
Ricky Steamboat: I grew up in Florida and and my fiance at the time went to Minneapolis. Minnesota to a Northwest Orient Airlines training school. Her room mate at college was Donna Gagne...
Jeremy Hartley: Wow!
Ricky Steamboat: ...Verne Gagnes daughter. I guess, through conversations, Donna telling my fiance that her father was a wrestling promoter, my fiance telling her that I had a pretty good amateur background...Florida State Champion and so forth and so on...so Verne asked for a resume and I sent it on up there, he gave me a starting day on his next camp. Basically, thats how I got into the business.
Jeremy Hartley: Now, this is interesting. Ive talked to a few people that have trained under Verne Gagne...how was that? I mean as a young kid training in that type of situation..?
Ricky Steamboat: Well, when we went through the camp there was Buck Zumholf, and there were two other guys whove passed away - there was Jen Nelson and another guy was Scott Erwin.
Jeremy Hartley: Now just to stop you thereScott Erwin was, I believe, the guy you had your first match against..?
Ricky Steamboat: Thats correct. Kozrow Vaziri...
Jeremy Hartley: Oh..?
Ricky Steamboat: The Iron Sheik!..was there, he had just come over from Iran, I guess he might have been the country for a year. Weighed about 180 lbs. Iranian National Champion, Pan American Games Champion...just put us through about 5 hours a day of training, calisthenicsthe hardest thing Id ever been through in my life. I went up there weighing 242 lbs. at the end of about ten weeks I weighed 204! Hey but I was in great shape..!
Jeremy Hartley: Im sure. A lot of guys they talk about being in "mat shape", or "ring shape" if you will and, for example "football shape" etc. I did some amateur wrestlingnothing majorbut in your situation, what was it like, coming into professional wrestling with your amateur background. Did you ever get discouraged and think, "What am I doing here?"
Ricky Steamboat: I never questioned "why am I here - going through all of this" - back in the early 70s there was more of a mystique on wrestling, whether the business was on the up-and-up. And being brought along through the business, even through the first year of wrestling with oldtimers. Going through the training campyou know they did not really smarten us up until the last week of the ten week camp.I dont know - Ive been brought up in sports, have a very competitive nature and always thought that, "if I get through this camp...Im gonna give it a shot" and never was one to be a quitterand you know I think about 16 or 17 guys came out for the camp but only four of us finished. The other guys just got discouraged or they just fell off by the way side. Or they were asked to leave, "Hey lookyoure never going to make it..." You knowpukin everyday. And I told myself...
Jeremy Hartley: Yes...
Ricky Steamboat: I told myself, Jeremey, 2-3-4 weeks down the road if they had come to me and said, "Why dont you come back next year..."there would be no "next year".
Jeremy Hartley: Right...
Ricky Steamboat: I was going to give it my best shotmy one shot, and fortunately I made it through.
Jeremy Hartley: You know, on a related question, you said that you werent really "smartened up" you were probably working with guys who meant to test you, to put you through the paces. When did you receive that first "vote of confidence" from the old pros, when you felt like "yeah, I think I can do it...but now some of these guys in the business think I can do it."
Ricky Steamboat: Never not once through the camp. Everything that I was asked to do I did. We were in the basement of Verne Gagnes office buildingI mean he didnt own the building - he just had a floor. It was 21 storieswe would run stairs everyday. Thats 21 flights up and 21 flights back down. Then we would "wheel barrow"that is, somebody grabs your feet and you go up 21 flights of stairs on your hands...
Jeremy Hartley: No..!
Ricky Steamboat: ...and come back down then switch positions and run them again. And then we would firemans carry - meaning hoist a guy up across your shoulders - across your back and carry them up 21 flights of stairs - drop him and then run back down where he would hoist you on his back and run the stairs...
Jeremy Hartley: Oh man..! And you said that was about five hours a day..? At least..
Ricky Steamboat: Everyday. After the first couple of weeks, I guess with Verne and Kosrow weeding people out the guys they thought werent tough enoughalways painting a picture that it is the toughest sport in the world and you have to be a tough competitor to be able to deal with it. During the first couple of weeks we would probably spend four hours and thirty minutes calisthenics and thirty minutes in the ring. Then as the weeks passed by the calisthenics grew less and we began spending more ring timelearning how to take backdrops and all that kind of stuff.
Jeremy Hartley: Now of course Verne had his own territory at the time. Was it like some of the schools they have now where they would give you matches when training was over. Was it up to you guys to sort of carve your niche or did Verne help you make contacts and break in?
Ricky Steamboat: Well the deal with Verne was after you finished with camp you would work his territory. The four of us probably worked it for about a month. Then he would send you to other territories, my first territory after leaving Minnesota was down in Florida with Eddie Grahambut he would also have you sign a contract so that 10% of your gross money that you made would be paid back to Verne.
Jeremy Hartley: Wow! So that was a nice guarrantee for Verne I guess...
Ricky Steamboat: Well, I only made $14,000 that first year...
Jeremy Hartley: Okay, so you wrestled in Florida for Eddie Grahamwhat was that like? Ive talked to some guys who have wrestled in that organizationwhat was it like for you?
Ricky Steamboat: I dont want to say that it was less professional then working for Verne, who was real strict, but Eddie was really a great guy to work with and to work for. Whenever you travel down to Florida the whole mentality, way of thinking is different. You go up to Connecticut then drive to Florida and you just notice that everything is different. People are wearing shorts and tank tops and flip-flopsyou know people are more laid back. More relaxedmaybe the high humidity and the heat would have something to do with it. But Eddie had a great mind for the business and would come up with great ideas and anglesthe State itself was just a more relaxed atmosphere.
Jeremy Hartley: Who was with you in that territory at the time? What were some of the matches that you were involved in at the time?
Ricky Steamboat: I was teamed up with Mike Graham and Steve Keirn was there, Buddy Colt, Don Murracco, of course Boris Malenko...
Jeremy Hartley: So you wrestled in Floridawhere did you go to next?
Ricky Steamboat: Georgia...
Jeremy Hartley: Wow!
Ricky Steamboat: Georgia Championship Wrestling
Jeremy Hartley: And was that Paul Jones...
Ricky Steamboat: No, it was a lady...
Jeremy Hartley: Anne Gunkel...
Ricky Steamboat: Anne Gunkel. Also with Jim Barnettyou know Georgia Championship Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling were tied in together with each of them sending tapes back and forth...so I wasnt in Florida more then a couple of weeks when Barnett wanted me to go to Georgiaand I said, "Well, I grew up here, and my family is here and Ive just been away a while in Minnesota...Id like to hang around here longer then just two weeks.He was pretty persistent and in about three months Eddie moved me to Georgia and I stayed there for about a year.
Jeremy Hartley: ...and that was nineteen seventy...
Ricky Steamboat: 1975.
Jeremy Hartley: So at that time you had guys who ran their own territories but would share their talent. If a wrestler needed work they would send him to a different territory and I guess it meant that not only were you learning from the best but you were being exposed to a lot of different wrestling minds...if you had to sum it up about the territory years, what would you say was the thing that helped you the most?
Ricky Steamboat: I dont know how to really sum it up except to say that Verne was a little more business-likehe liked more guys in sports jackets and things like that, but I think as a rookie, as compared to today, that it gave me and all the guys who came along in my time and before my time opportunities to work different areas, where you could work with different wrestlers and learn different things, different stylesdo different things. A promoter would have a Number One guy and would use him as long as he was drawing a lot of people and making a lot of money for the promoter. As soon as his popularity would falter...if he was a heel theyd turn him babyfaceif he was a babyface theyd turn him heel to draw the people in. If not, maybe one promoter would call another and say, "Hey I got a guy up here thats getting ready to move on..."they had a great network for keeping in touch with who and what and this and that. That would always keep each territory fresh and live with TV. Pretty much television would just stay in their designated territories, and moving around like this a guy could not only learn but, if he could get main event status he would have that main event status in a number of territories. I think the great learning experience that I got from the different territories I worked in was a big help.
Jeremy Hartley: One of the things you just mentioned was the difference between the babyfaces and the heels. You were pretty much a babyface throughout your careernowadays they seem to change back and forth every week. I always got the feeling that they put that on you because they trusted you could make it believable.
Ricky Steamboat: Uh hm, that is true, and youve also noticed a difference in the fans. The fans are "hurrahing" the heels sometimes more then some of the babyfaces...
Jeremy Hartley: Would you say that part of that is due to the art of interviews being lost...I mean in your era was the fact that you could talk a good match, that your opponent could talk a good matchand that was a big majority of the battle before you even got into the ring. Right..?
Ricky Steamboat: Right. Ive known guys that looked terrible, maybe would wrestle five to seven minutes, but had the gift of gab on the mic. Theyd keep their main event status and keep their heat...you know that. today, is lost...Television has changed things a lot. You know we used to use TV as a venue for the live showof course wed still have the same kind of television matchestheyd go three - five - seven minutes then when youd get to the house shows youd have your 20 - 30 - 45 -- one hour "broadways" (an old carny term for a one-hour show) and that is something else that is lost. And I think another reason why was because...you look at the promotions on both sides whether it be WWF or WCWon a pay-per-view theyll load the card up, almost everybody on the show is considered a main eventer, maybe theyd have a couple of feature matches - but the promoters got so many guysand youve got a certain length of time that youre on the satellite so matches are customarily going shorter. As opposed to when we used to do the live showsso what if the matches got out at 11:30 at night? Many times I worked with Flair and the promoter would say "...look, we only need twenty minutes tonight guys..." but the match was going so well, that sometimes wed put in 59 minutes and 30 seconds just to really throw a monkey wrench into the fans...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat:...you know, their all thinking were going "broadway" then all of a sudden wed "do" the finish. But instead of twenty minutesthe match was going along so good wed do the finish and actually it worked out better because everybody thats sitting there watching it is thinking that were going to go to a one hour drawthen with 27 seconds left to the end of the match they hear "one-two-three..."
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) You know its funny that you mention that because I remember a matchI believe it was in Louisiana that you guys pulled that off and it was on National Television and the amount of reaction from the fans was amazing...(here an audio excerpt from a Flair/Steamboat in 1989 is played...)
Ricky Steamboat: Right!
Jeremy Hartley: That was in 89 and you were holding the Title at the time...
Ricky Steamboat: Even something like that, Jeremy, has been lost... Im sure that Bret Hart could still do a one hour "broadway" you know but I dont know about the newer guys into the businessI dont know if they have enough ring psychology to carry a match for an hour. I mean, 20 or 30 minutes into the match they would probably start panickingthats an art form which is slowly being lost in our business too. I was always the one that if the agent or the promoter said, "look Ricky we only need twenty minutes tonight..." and if I was first main event the other guys would always dread it because theyd say "Steamboats going to be out there for 45 minutes..." If the promoter gave me the green light, and it was okay with the heel - shit were going 50 minutes tonight..!
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) And did it become almost a one-upsmanship on yourself everytime youd go out there and work a specific program, it was, "Okay, what can we do now - you know, we worked for forty minutescan we bump it up to sixty?" And still make it a sort of personal best thing...
Ricky Steamboat: You know that no matter how long youre in a match. Whether it is twenty minutes or thirty minutes or an hour - it is those last ten minutes where you really want to make it shine. Some times it was difficult, you were at the fifty minute mark and you know youre going to go "broadway" - and you say, "Okay, we gotta cook it..." and you know you gotta smoke it now - its when wed really start picking the pace upknowing that youve been involved foir fifty minutes and your tongue is hanging out, youre wheezing like a son-of-a-gun and thinking, "...how am I gonna pull this thing out of my ass for the last ten minutes?"
(to be continued in New WAWLI No. 622)
The WAWLI Papers No. 622...
(continued from New WAWLI No. 621)
Jeremy Hartley: One of the things you just mentioned was the difference between the babyfaces and the heels. You were pretty much a babyface throughout your careernowadays they seem to change back and forth every week. I always got the feeling that they put that on you because they trusted you could make it believable.
Ricky Steamboat: Uh hm, that is true, and youve also noticed a difference in the fans. The fans are "hurrahing" the heels sometimes more then some of the babyfaces...
Jeremy Hartley: Would you say that part of that is due to the art of interviews being lost...I mean in your era was the fact that you could talk a good match, that your opponent could talk a good matchand that was a big majority of the battle before you even got into the ring. Right..?
Ricky Steamboat: Right. Ive known guys that looked terrible, maybe would wrestle five to seven minutes, but had the gift of gab on the mic. Theyd keep their main event status and keep their heat...you know that. today, is lost...Television has changed things a lot. You know we used to use TV as a venue for the live showof course wed still have the same kind of television matches - theyd go three - fiveseven minutes then when youd get to the house shows youd have your 20 - 30 - 45 -- one hour "broadways" (an old carny term for a one-hour show) and that is something else that is lost. And I think another reason why was because...you look at the promotions on both sides whether it be WWF or WCWon a pay-per-view theyll load the card up, almost everybody on the show is considered a main eventer, maybe theyd have a couple of feature matches - but the promoters got so many guys - and youve got a certain length of time that youre on the satellite so matches are customarily going shorter. As opposed to when we used to do the live showsso what if the matches got out at 11:30 at night? Many times I worked with Flair and the promoter would say "...look, we only need twenty minutes tonight guys..." but the match was going so well, that sometimes wed put in 59 minutes and 30 seconds just to really throw a monkey wrench into the fans...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: ..you know, their all thinking were going "broadway" then all of a sudden wed "do" the finish. But instead of twenty minutesthe match was going along so good wed do the finish and actually it worked out better because everybody thats sitting there watching it is thinking that were going to go to a one hour drawthen with 27 seconds left to the end of the match they hear "one-two-three..."
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) You know its funny that you mention that because I remember a matchI believe it was in Louisianna that you guys pulled that off and it was on National Television and the amount of reaction from the fans was amazing...(here an audio excerpt from a Flair/Steamboat in 1989 is played...)
Ricky Steamboat: Right!
Jeremy Hartley: That was in 89 and you were holding the Title at the time...
Ricky Steamboat: Even something like that, Jeremy, has been lost... Im sure that Bret Hart could still do a one hour "broadway" you know but I dont know about the newer guys into the businessI dont know if they have enough ring psychology to carry a match for an hour. I mean, 20 or 30 minutes into the match they would probably start panicingthats an art form which is slowly being lost in our business too. I was always the one that if the agent or the promoter said, "look Ricky we only need twenty minutes tonight..." and if I was first main event the other guys would always dread it because theyd say "Steamboats going to be out there for 45 minutes..." If the promoter gave me the green light, and it was okay with the heel - shit were going 50 minutes tonight..!
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) And did it become almost a one-upsmanship on yourself everytime youd go out there and work a specific program, it was, "Okay, what can we do nowyou know, we worked for forty minutescan we bump it up to sixty?" And still make it a sort of personal best thing...
Ricky Steamboat: You know that no matter how long youre in a match. Whether it is twenty minutes or thirty minutes or an hour - it is those last ten minutes where you really want to make it shine. Some times it was difficult, you were at the fifty minute mark and you know youre going to go "broadway" - and you say, "Okay, we gotta cook it..." and you know you gotta smoke it now - its when wed really start picking the pace upknowing that youve been involved foir fifty minutes and your tongue is hanging out, youre wheezing like a son-of-a-gun and thinking, "...how am I gonna pull this thing out of my ass for the last ten minutes?"
Jeremy Hartley: Im sure that the quality of the contest depended largely on who you were working with, on the night and that kind of thing - but you always seemed to really bring out the best in the folks you were working with which we talked about earlier too.
Ricky Steamboat: It seems as though they wrote it a few times that..uh...if you look at the people that had great matches, the other side of the coin was Ricky Steamboat. It always seemed that I was the common deniminator. They could list Don Muraco, but then they would say, "Oh yeah, that match he was in with Rick Steamboat." Jake Roberts, "Oh yeah, that was with Rick Steamboat." Ric Flair, "Oh yeah, that was with Rick Steamboat." Randy Savage...a lot of great matches and great scientific matchesin the WWF with Bret Hart, you know, the Hitman. And fans would come up and say, "You had that match with Hartwhat a match!" or "I was at the Boston Gardens - Oh yeah, that was with Rick Steamboat." I learned early in my career that I should try to adapt to the guy I was wrestling. You always found out thast it was easier to do that, rather then go out there and try to pull teeth and say, "Were going to do it my way." I would interject a few things into the match, to do things my way, but adapted to the other wrestlerthats how I have always worked throughout the years and guys would always go to the promotersheels would go and say, "Well, can you hook me up with Steamboat? Work a program with him." I had a great match with Lex Luger, who everybody though it was like pulling teeth to have a good match with him.
Jeremy Hartley: Yeah! That was in the Summer of 1989...
Ricky Steamboat: The Great American Bash in Baltimore.
Jeremy Hartley: Right, Flair and Funk were on the card...
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah. Ive got a lot of respect for Lex. The company wanted me to do a job right in the middle and Luger spoke up and said, "No, he doesnt deserve that." You might remember that as that match went on I actually chased him out of the ring with a chairhe took off running up towards the stage, the platform.
Jeremy Hartley: So this is interesting, he really seemed to respect the wrestling history then...is what youre saying. Or are you saying...
Ricky Steamboat: You know what it was Jeremy? He was having such a hard time being a legitimate heel in his matches because he was so mechanical in the way that he did things in the ring that I was coaching him along in all his matches. Helping him out, and maybe his "lightbulb was starting to come on", a little bit of ring psychology. You know, hed body slam me and as he bent over to pick me up Id say, "No no no, run over a yell at that fat lady whos sitting in the second row." (laughs...)
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs...)
Ricky Steamboat: So I could sell the body slam and then he would go over and get some heat with somebody in the front row. Then hed come back over to me and do something else to me and Id say, "Okay, now go over to that other lady over there."
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs...) So he seemed to take what you were doing really seriously and wanted to learn.
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah. I told him, you know, "You look great, interviews are not too bad, but as soon as you step in the ring its all over." I said, Lex, there are only so many times that you can flex and pose." Sometimes I would talk to him in the locker room and ask him to think about, "Whay are you doing this..?" The reason. And he would start to see it and say, "You know, nobody will take the time out to tell me this stuff. Nobody will take the time out to help me." and I said, "Well look, this is the way the business is carrying along for so many years because the old timers took the time to teach me when I was young."
Jeremy Hartley: Right...
Ricky Steamboat: So a lot of the guys thought...even though if they went to the promoters and said, "Id like to work with Steamboat." Well, Ill tell you what. They all knew in the back of their minds that they would have to get in shape. Some guys that you would never see in a gym, or on a treadmill, or on a stair-stepperwhen they started working a program with me...youd go to Columbus, Ohio and youd go to the local gym there and the next thing youd knowthe heels in there...the guy that your working with. You never saw him there before. It would always put a grin on my face. Maybe that was out of respect, or maybe they knew that they had better get in shape because every night their working with Steamboat and they would be putting in 30 plus minutes...
Jeremy Hartley: I was thinking back to the time you were in the World Wrestling Federation and there were guys like the Iron Sheik, who were also thereDon Muraco was thereHarley Race was there - JYD (Junk Yard Dog) was there, all these guys - the Funks...yet they were still trying to push the super-heroes and so forth. Did you guys ever kind of sit back and say, "Wow! Here we all are, we could be doing these great matches..." but you found that you were forced into doing these five-minute matches and so forth? And imagine how it would have been, had all you guys been given a chance to really shine.
Ricky Steamboat: Well, Jeremy, to answer your questionI was never really forced...I got along so well with the agentsyou know, Strongbow and those guysthey knew that one of my fortes, part of my style was, you know, thirty minutes, forty minutes. Even though that sometimes, in a locker room, in front of the guysStrongbow would say, "Steamboat, we only need twenty tonight..." - hed say that in front of the guys! Then Id go out into the hallway and bump into him and hed say, "Hey, you know I was just kidding...I know you can gop out there and do forty minutes and give these people a hell of a show..." and when he said that it meant, "Youre doing the company justice." You know, "These are the guys who can go out there and bullshit them for seven minuteswe need somebody who can go out there and give them a legitimate match, and tell a storyline, and the psychology behind itso that when the WWF comes back into town there was at least one match out of the eight that would give them a reason to come back for more."
Jeremy Hartley: Well, and a classic example...1987, Wrestlemania III, you wrestled Randy Savageand just the intensity level, from what I could tellthat had to have been the best match on the card even though the main event was Andre and Hogan - but if you talk about just straight wrestling and being able to tell a story - it was your match with Savage that made the card.
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah, we got votedfirst that was the best match of the night, then it was the best match of the year, the decade, you know, it was just a sixteen minute match. McMahon stressed to usyou know, Savega and I were wrestling around the country against each other, you know, building up for this Pay-Per-View. We would go out and have thirtyforty minute matches. McMahon said, "Hey look you guys, I know youve been putting in this time out on the road but the feature match is Andre vs. Hogandont you dare go out there and go thirty minutes and leave them with about four minutes!" So, we put together a match of sixteen minutes that had something like 22 false finishesthat was what made everything so different. Afterwards, that was at the Silverdome, and there was a big banquet dinner-party and I was sitting next at one tabe and Savage was sitting at another oneof course we still have to kayfabe each other... But everyone who was coming into the banquet room were coming up to Savage, coming up to me, oldtimers, marks, whoever, they said, "God Damn! What a match you two guys put on!" Nobody was going over to where Hogan was sitting, you know...for some strange rerason I feel like I got a little heat because of that match - maybe because it upstaged the dfeature match, you know? One publication wrote something like, "Hogan and Andre drew the showSteamboat and Savage stole the show."
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs...)
Ricky Steamboat: And I still get a lot of comments about that match. Also some of the classic matches I had with Flair in 1989. When we went back and forth for the Title. But you know something Jeremy? Ive had had some great matches that I would consider even equal to Savage that nobody ever saw, other than maybe at a live show. You know, with Jake the Snake Roberts, even with Don Murracco with Fuji on the sidelines.
Jeremy Hartley: Who worked with you, besides Verne and those guys, to help you become the ring psychologist? Did you just pick up on what a lot of the guys were doing? Did anyone take you aside and say, "This is..."
Ricky Steamboat: Ill throw a name at you.
Jeremy Hartley: Go ahead.
Ricky Steamboat: It was when I was in Georgia for a year. I traveled with this guy everyday, or he rode with me or I rode with him. He worked the WWF and he also worked the NWA Georgia that one year when I was there. His name is Dean Hohis real name is Dean Higuchihe was Tag Team Champion of the WWF with ...uh...
Jeremy Hartley: Garea wasnt it..?
Ricky Steamboat: Tony Garea (November 1973 to May 1974). Dean liked me, my mothers from Japan, his familys from Japan although he gre up in Hawaii. Actually, I had some martial arts background when I was a teenager and I was taking it when the Bruce Lee movies were really popular. I was about 13-14 years old, or whatever. But Dean was using it throughout his wrestling career and when I came to Georgia and he took a look at me when I was Ricky Steamboat, and he know Sam Steamboat (a famous Hawaiian wrestler - no relation) up in Hawaii, very well. He asked me, "Instead of using punches and all that why dont you use the martial arts..?" And I said, "Well, out of respect for you, because you do it - here I am a rookie and youve been around the business. I dont want to do anything that would..." And he said, "Well, Im going to teach you." he said, "I want to show you how to do it, you know, when to do it, the times of the match and all that kind of thing." I would say that he had, probably the most influence on my early career that carried me through the rest of the years.
Jeremy Hartley: Now this is something that a couple of people have mentioned to me and Id like to get your thoughts on this...when a promoter in a certain territory, stuck a belt on you it was like they were saying, "Hey, these are our family jewelsyoure going to represent us, our company..." and it really meant something. Of course now, both organizations, your lucky if you even know who the Champion aretheyre just decorative ornaments. So what did that mean to you to get your first title from an organization? Im sure that you really had a lot of pride in that, and even when you won your last United States title, no matter what the belt meant to the organization at that point, you still probably looked at it as, "Hey, Im carrying the family jewels..." at that point.
Ricky Steamboat: Well you know, my first belt was the TV Championship out of Jim Crockett promotions in North Carolina (Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling), and even the old-timers during that time, in the seventies, knew that the United States Heavyweight Champion was the number one contender and he was wrestling against Harley Race when he came into the area. Even the guys felt that winning a belt sort of put you a level above everybody else. You know, it really really meant something, you know, even though we knew among the guys that its "just a work"and if you could perform and put butts out in those seats for those promoters, they would say, "Hey, if we drop the strap to this guy theres no telling what he could do for us. But its like the family giving you the nod, "Were going to let you carry this football, and whether you score a touchdown or you fumble on the five - the balls in your court and its up to you." And you would customarily see guys that didnt have a strap and when they did get a strap they would work harder, they would come up with better ideas. Their performance level was enhanced - it did have a meaning. And thats sort of diminished over the years. I could see it in the latter part of my years where a guy would have some sort of a belt and would just toss it in the trunk of his car. Whe I had a belt, it was...when the strap was given to you and you walked back to the locker room, the babyface side, right? Holding the strap, the refereecoming over from the heel side, would bring over the velvet bag that the strap went into, okay? This was the meaning...
Jeremy Hartley: Wow!
Ricky Steamboat: Sort of passing the torch, you know?
Jeremy Hartley: Thats right...
Ricky Steamboat: You took your strap and you put it in the velvet bag and that was placed in your wrestling bag. I dont know, the respect of the way we were and the meaning of how strong we kept the mysteryyou get...Im sure you hear this a lot, Jeremy, "You know, I saw him kick him, but it kind of didnt even look like he touched him..."
Jeremy Hartley: Right!
Ricky Steamboat: But then five minutes later in the match, "Did you see him drop that knee on him? My God!" Always, in the back of their minds they have this mystique about whether the business is legit or not but that was one og the big things that kept them coming back.
Jeremy Hartley: Right. Well, and I use this analogy all the timethe magician trying to weave his craftthats also yet a guarded secret and it meant something to be a wrestling fan, thats what I was thinking about as for as the territories and keeping the business a guarded secret...you mentioned something where they were trying to kayfabe all the timethe heels would stay away from the faces and so forth, and even...didnt that hold true with traveling as well?
Ricky Steamboat: Oh yeah. Ive been in situations where wed walk into a restaurant and there were heels sitting down in the restaurant, and even though we knew that we would be sitting at another table, if I had an angle going on with one of those heels, most times wed turn around and walk out of the restaurant and go find someplace else to eat. Nowadays they all sit together. Sometimes youd pull into a gas station and theyd be filling up with gas on the way home and youd just pull through, you wouldnt even stop - just roll through and go on to the next gas stationor go across the street or the one on the other corner.
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: If you did walk in and sit down in the same restaurant, even though you were at another table, the family run business, the promoter would find out about it and youd be called into the office. Theyd say, "Look we just did this big thing with you and Flair, and Flair was sitting down having dinner..." and you know they would have the spies out there of course, and the promoter would probably find out about it even before you made it home that night...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: ...youd be called in and told, "Look, you got on TV and cut an interview saying that the next time you saw him you were going to take his head off and then you calmly sit down and eat in the same establishment!" Crockett would look at me and say, "Kid, do you get the point Im trying to make here?" "Oh yeah, yessir, yessir..."
Jeremy Hartley: Right! Well, and would you say to that that kind of helped the camraderie...Ive started going to a few of these thingsthe Cauliflower Alley reunions and all these things and it just seems to me that within the next twenty years were not going to see things like that anymore.
Ricky Steamboat: No...
Jeremy Hartley: You know, guys would have more of a camraderie because of the things that you all had to deal with Im sure.
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah, many times we had to go out of our way just to uphold the integrity of the business where today you dont have toso I guess it gave you more respect for what you were trying to accomplish, the art form part of the business. Im sure these old timers when they go to places like the Cauliflower Alley...you know Ive been invited for every year now and Ill make it to one. Things have come up...you know, my son, who Ive helped coach in amateur wrestling here in the last five years. One weekend I was taking him to a national tournament, stuff like that has popped up - but Im sure that the old timers, you know, they probably talk about just what you and I have been talking abouthow the business was and how it has changed and how it was better then and not now. You know, the people on the promoter end in todays world would probably say, "Well, look at the numbers that were doing..." You know...
Jeremy Hartley: Yeah.
Ricky Steamboat: You cant dispute that, but...
Jeremy Hartley: Its a different breed of audience though.
Ricky Steamboat: Thats true too but I also think back to fact that we had the style and class of guys that we had, and if we presented the business with the same amount of promotion that we would have in hand. I mean theyre spending major money in promoting these wrestling showswhereas the way we used to do it in the territories it almost brings you back to 1950s black and white boxing, you know the way it used to be done. If you could take the revenue that these promoters were spending to put out the product, but do it with the same "kayfabeness" and the same integrity, theres no telling what kind of numbers youd be doing.
Jeremy Hartley: We were talking about making things believable and so forth, and I can recall one time wheneven with this little episode youd give it some credibliltyI can remember you were involved with Jake the Snake Roberts in a nice little heated program there. He had his snake and you had your...you know whats coming next...
Ricky Steamboat: Oh yeah, it was a monitor lizard. I had my "dragon"...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah, at one time I had South American Kamen which is a crocodile, and at other times I had a monitor lizard. The damn things weighed about 50 pounds, they had their mouths taped shut and the tape was painted the same color as the skin so you couldnt really pick it up on TV...
Jeremy Hartley: Uh huh...
Ricky Steamboat: But I had nothing to do with it they had handlers and trainers that would...you know, Jake would carry the snake everywhere he went.
Jeremy Hartley: Right (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: We were the main event on a show on the USA network where it was Roberts and his snake, and the snake was in his corner and I had my dragon in my corner and the winner of the match would be, you know likeRoberts...every time hed beat somebody hed put that snake on them...
Jeremy Hartley: Right (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: ...and the twist of this whole thing was that I beat Roberts Im putting the dragon on him. Well, just because of that little mystique there we drew some hellacious ratings on that particular show.
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) Now you brought it back, I remember, in a match against Lex Luger, I believe at one of these shows. Now, how did that come about? Was it just some sort of a thing that was just dropped in at the last minute..?
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah, well that was when I was working for the NWA in 1989 and they just thought...actually, I thought...it was a pay-per-view show...that it would just add a little bit more too Ricky Steamboat, because the fans had just finished seeing me doing it with the WWF and you know actually, I think that was my last match with them at that time, when I did the match with Luger...
(to be continued in New WAWLI No. 623)
The WAWLI Papers No. 623...
HARTLEY AND STEAMBOAT, ONE ON ONE
(continued from New WAWLI No. 622)
Jeremy Hartley: You know you mentioned your son, talk about your son for a little bit.
Ricky Steamboat: You know, Ive been coaching him, he has finished five years, he started out when he was about five-and-a-half, hes starting his sixth season now...
Jeremy Hartley: Wow!
Ricky Steamboat: He has been North Carolina State Champion four out of five years, last year he got runner-up. We have been to Columbus, Ohio for the Tournament of Champions, a National tournament, he has won that one. He has also taken a fourth and an eighth at the tournament. Actually, when he goes there are about 62 kids in his bracket, and he has wrestled as much as ten times in one dayten matches. So Im real proud of him. We just started back to practices this week. We have a full matroom here at my health clubthis is my fifth year...actually starting my sixth year of coaching. We have about 16 kids in our little wrestling club and a lot of them have been with me for...ohfour or five...three, four, five years. Two years ago we had nine of my kids qualify to go to the State...this has been the best year Ive had. But two years ago we had nine of my kids qualify to go to the State Championships and out of the nine kids we had six came home as State Champions and the other three took a second or a third - took a silver or bronze.
Jeremy Hartley: Wow!
Ricky Steamboat: So the wrestling club here is well known around the State of North Carolina. Whenever we walk into a tournament we are Lake Norman Youth Wrestling, everybody goes, "Oh my God! Here comes Lake Norman." And you hear some fans...theyll announce, you know, Bobby Smith from the Rhinos wrestling Richie Blood from Lake Norman..." and the parents of the Rhinos going, "Oh my God! Weve got one of those Lake Norman kids..." We teach the kids...I mean its a different kind of sport, and you have to be a tough kid to do it. But you know, Jeremy, you wrestled amateur a little bit, you knowa lot of the coaches when I go around the State, they ask, "Well, how many kids do you have?" and I say, "Well, we have 15. How many do you guys have..?" "Well, we have a squad of forty-five." "Well, how many coaches do you have?" "Weve got three coaches..." Well we have fifteen kids right now, and including me, we have six coaches. We give real good one-on-one individual attention you know, and thats why our kids are good.
Jeremy Hartley: Uh huh...
Ricky Steamboat: Ive got a heavyweight, Brian Laver, he played a dual scholarship - he got a scholarship in football and also in wrestling and he wrestled for Klemson. Ephram Hawkings who wrestled for Kentuckythree times All Americanhe wrestled under Fletcher Carr, I dont know if you remember the Carr brotherstwo of them wrestled for us in the Olympics. There were nine brothers in the family and they all wrestledtheyre all National Champions and then All Americans. And Ephram Hawkins wrestled for Fletcher Carrnow how do I know Fletcher Carr, who coached at Kentucky? Well Fletcher Carr was wrestling at Tampa University when I was going to High School in St. Pete, and I used to drive across the bridge - drive across the Howard Franklinto the University and work out with Fletcherand he was the one who got me ready for the State when I won the State in 1971. Thats one of my coaches, Ephram Hawkins, three time All American. Danny Hoy who wrestled for Virginia. Chris Wuff, three times NCAA National Wrestling Champion out of New Yorkhes one of my coaches. Joe Labotta, who wrestled in High School and College, a heck of a wrestlerevery summer I take a half-dozen of my kids to West Virginiawe go to a wrestling camp thereIts called Kenny Churtow - Chertow wrestled for us I think in the 88 Olympicsand hes got the best little kids wrestling camp in the country. They come from as far as California and Minnesotta to West Virginia. Joe, who is one of our coaches, is an instructor at Churtows camp. He goes up there in the summer and coaches.
Jeremy Hartley: Wow!
Ricky Steamboat: Hes a take down artist, and I talk to a lot of the other coaches throughout the State, they have these wrestling clubs, and I say, "Well, whats you amateur background?" and they say, "Well, I wrestled in High School. I wrestled two years." And then they start listening to my coaching staff. Now, I may be the head coach but these guys have amateur backgrounds, or an amateur status that beats me hands down...but we all get together collectively and we say, "Okay, what are we going to work on tonight?" You know, top and bottoms, take downs, this and that...thats why these kid that belong to this club do well. We just...we got a great coaching staff. Its all volunteer, we dont charge anything and we do have tryouts. But youve got to be a special breed of a kid because this is a very elite club. The coaches can pick out if a kid is going to be good or not. Even if hes never wrestled before but he gets out there and he fights to stay off his back. Hes fighting, you know, with his teeth gritted...my kids are very very aggresssive.
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: Very aggressive. Theyll establish from the first thirty secons of each match that they are the agreesive ones while the other kid is mostly doing back pedaling. And I say, "Look guys, your standing out in the middle of the mat. The match is over. The referees in the middle of the circle, hes got one hand on you and the other hand on the other kid across from you - they make the announcement, The winner of the match..., youve got 600 parents in the stands, their all looking down at you. Now you tell me - how much fun is it when they raise the other guys hand and you look across over there and you see they raised the other hand? How much fun is that?" And all the kids say, "Oh thats no fun..." I mean Ive seen kids break down, you know, just lose it...and I say, "Well, if you want your hand raised, this is what we gotta do..." But I get a real joy out of it, and its the way that I give back to the community. And weve furnished a room, weve built a room with heating and air conditioning and lights. The parents help a lot. We do car washes out in front of my health club, we raise money. We buy all the shoes, the wrestling shoes, the singlets, the warm-ups. The wrestling club does a banquet at the end of the year which is paid for with fund raising that we have here and sponsorship. And I tell the parents, "If your not going to get involved then you might as well not have your kid enrolled." Its not the kind of thing where they just drop the kid off. We do carpools but its not the kind of thing where, when we go out to Raleigh or around the State, you cant just decide that , "...well, its Saturday" ahnd turns around and go home and watch football.
Jeremy Hartley: Well, and thats something I noticed in researching your career, that although you had the lights and the big cities, the big belts and all that stuff that goes on with wrestling. You were able to really keep stuff in the family. I remember you taking your son to the ring, your young sonand that was just something...I mean, how did you do it? I mean you here stories of guys that just werent able to do it, but you were always able to do it. Even obviously to this day...
Ricky Steamboat: Well, maybe this is one thing that the other guys never realized that is that when its all said and done, the famous line, "...when the smokes cleared..." and (at this point someone comes into the room where Steamboat is and he excuses himself for a moment to talk to one of his coaches) all you have to fall back on is your family. All the hooplas gone. You know, every year that Im away from the business is a nother year of being away from being on televisionand Im going on my fourth year nowmaybe because of my physical look, you know, I look Hawaiian, oriental, and people can still point me out in a crowd but slowly its diminishing. I get a lot of, if Im with somebody and Im introduced to somebody else, its, "Oh yeah, I remember the name..." you know. But the bottom line is that when its all said and done, and ten years from now, you know, when Im 55. What is left but your family?
Jeremy Hartley: Well, Thats good advice...
Ricky Steamboat: Also Jeremy, some of the best moments of my career, I was able to arrange to have my family there to witness it and to share some of the highlights.
Jeremy Hartley: Thats right...and even be impact players in some of those moments. I remember your wife on a few things and uh...
Ricky Steamboat: Thats right...
Jeremy Hartley: ...and thats something that, as I said before, in the next twenty years, I dont think youll see that. Most of the guys dont have families anyway.
Ricky Steamboat: Sure, you heard recently with Flair making his comeback the last few weeks...
Jeremy Hartley: Right.
Ricky Steamboat: I didnt see it but I heard that he had his son on TV taking down Eric Bischoff. Well, his son got into wrestling because my son was wrestling. Richies been wrestling, I think, 2 years longer then Reid - Reid Flair. But I started bringing the family values into the wrestling business, first in the WWF but then it carried on into 1989 -- I had the same thing going on with Flair, and it just...when I heard that the other day I just sort of sat back and grinned...
Jeremy Hartley: (Laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: ...I thought, "That son of a gun..." Maybe hes pulling the last rabbit out of his hat. Cause Flair, who for twenty-some years has always been a womanizer, always been the man about town, with the babydolls and all that...now in the twilight of his career he falling back on family values.
Jeremy Hartley: Right.
Ricky Steamboat: But getting back to what you asked me about just a minute agoits the last thing youve got.
Jeremy Hartley: Right. And this is something, you have your web site, your ricksteamboat.com herehave you spent a lot of time reading comments from the fans? Did you ever expect it to explode the way it has right now?
Ricky Steamboat: Well, Spunky Stinson is head of that for me, everything that she gets she sends to me - most of it is faxed over. I run my health club here and Im here probably twelve to fourteen hours a daybut everything that she has faxed, letters that have been sent in through the fan forum, I take the time out to read and respond then its sent back to Spunky. Every year I order probably thirty 8x10 black and white pictures and they are specifically for fans. I carry them in my car, have them here at the club, Ive got people who are passing through from out of State that saw my name on the health club and theyve stopped inI give them autographed pictures. And a lot of them say, "God! Your so neat about this..." and even my employees when they ask me, "...can you do this?" I say, "You know something guys, look around you..." and they glance around - Ive got a huge health club. "Without my fans I wouldnt have any of thiswithout my fans I wouldnt have the house that I have on the lake. So, if in the slightest little bit of me giving them an 8x10 picture that costs me, because I buy a bunch of them, a dime. And for me to take a few minutes out of my day, it is nothing compared to what these people have given me.
Jeremy Hartley: Thats a refreshing view on a business that has sort of made a turn where the fans are more alienated, although I think the new breed of fan is doing it to themselves to a certain extent, I mean with everyone trying to say that they know the ins and outs of the businesstheyre alienating themselves from the guys such as yourself who have "protected" them for so many years. So, I mean, what can they expect, right?
Ricky Steamboat: Thats right...everytime I send my reorder in they say to me, "Oh, its that time of year isnt it Ricky..." And I say, "Yep, another three hundred of them or so, send em up..." And the people who write in to the health club they say, for example: "We were driving through to Florida and we stopped off at your club. Unfortunately you were not in. Was wondering if we could get an 8x10 and get an autograph." You know, and I send them pictures, I get a thank you note back. Bonnies got correspondence all the way from Europe of people that shes kept in touch with.
Jeremy Hartley: Now you mentioned your wife Bonnie, and a lot of people have seen little glimpses of her and so forth but she was a very instrumental part of your later career and has really been an inspiration to you, if Im not mistaken here. You guys have sort of become a great "tag team" as it were.
Ricky Steamboat: Well, you know, Ive always been a little bit more of a softy when it comes to agreeing to do this or agreeing to do that, Bonnie would be more of the investigative type, and make sure and check things out. But I guess we work well together. Sometimes she can get a little hard nosed about it and say, "Rick, we are not going to be doing this because they are clearly just taking advantage of you." And maybe my light bulb didnt come on when I was approached to do whatever it wasa I was asked to do. But then she brings it to my attention and then my lightbulb does come on...it may be kind of dim...
Jeremy Hartley: (Laughs) Well, I can completely relate to what you are saying because besides doing this as a hobby I own an Internet service company, Ive been in this position for a number of years, and with some people, if you are nice to them they will do whatever they can to try and take advantage of you, and you have to have those people to say, "You need to be a gentleman here but come on, youve only got so much time in your life and..."
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah. Bonnie actually...and a lot of time we are the opposite but there are a lot of things where her idea or her opinion is, she is completely looking at it from another angle. And it could be something that would never, ever in a thousand years, have crossed my mind. And many times Ive said, "Boy, Im glad you brought that to my attention..." theres no telling what I might have gotten us into.
Jeremy Hartley: (Laughs) Well, like I said, we all need that no matter what walk of life we are in. Now herea a question, and it may not count by the time your son Richie is in his twenties, but supposing that he wanted to get into professional wrestling, what would you say to him? You always hear, or maybe not always, but you do hear guys who are wrestlers and fathers say, "You can do anything you want except get into this business..." (laughs) and I can remember hearing stories from Ted DiBiase, whose father, before he passed away in the ring, said, "Hey, do anything you want, but please stay out of this business because its not worth it ..." Of course, the rest is history as far as Ted DiBiase was concerned - but what would you tell your son if he really though about and said, "Hey, I want to get into this business..." I suppose its sort of a soul searching question but...
Ricky Steamboat: (there is a long pause at this point) You know, first of all Im going to put a time span on it, and I mean by "time span" that he gets his education, gets his college degree and whatever that may entail. And I know that Bonnie would probably answer before really thinking about it, "Oh no way, no way...my sons not going to be doing that..." but, as long as he would fulfill his committment to finishing his education and whatever, getting his degree or whatever, and then if he wanted to try it...but I think the two of us, him and me, would have to sit down and say, "Okay, were going to give this a shot..." and if he wanted to do it wed have to put a time span on it, like three to five years or something. Not to go so far along that the next thing you know youre approaching your forties, you know youre 38 years old and youve spent 18 years trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you know? And thats never coming about for you no matter how hard maybe dad tries to help with the influence of the Steamboat name and whatever connections I still have, and by that time its to the point where people are saying "who is that? Because you know something else Jeremy, one thing the business has taught me, in some ways you need to be streetwise and its helped me even with business dealing here in my health club. As I said earlier, there were some things that I overlooked that Bonnie picked up on. You know Bonnie is also a partner here at the club and there are a lot of shrewed characters and people in the wrestling business. And ones that would take advantage of you in a heartbeat, smile and pat you on the back at the same time. So maybe my radar, or maybe my guard is up when people come into the health club and want to approach me about some scheme or scam that might be health related or something that would make you a million dollars in thirty daysthat type of deal, you know? I think maybe the business has taught me that, and if anything with Richie, he would learn some of those things that really you just cant learn through everyday life.
Jeremy Hartley: Right. It is a whole different world out there and all you need to do is just read some of the things and talk to some of the guys and there just seems to be that you have the world at large and then the world of wrestling and the world of business, and it always seems to be just a little different then the other two. You know, lastly, before we kind of wrap this up...I know that you have other things...
Ricky Steamboat: Yeah, weve been at this over an hour...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Ricky Steamboat: Time goes by when youre having fun...
Jeremy Hartley: You know, every time I do one of these things I never quite know how its going to go, Im still...Im sort of a self taught interviewer, a self taught broadcaster, and its not only being 23, theres still a lot that I still have to learn. I kind of have to approach it from kind of a humble perspective and let the interview run its course. If it runs for five minutes it runs for five minutes and if it runs for an hour it runs for an hour. I never try to put any time frame on it. Its something for which I have always been kind of a stickler because with each person its an individual and some of them want to talk more then othersyou have to adjust to that as you go. To adapt. But there was something that you had on your web site that you had mentioned and I was wondering if you wouldnt mind commenting on a couple of folks that are no longer with us. One being, of course, Junk Yard Dog and the other one being "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert.
Ricky Steamboat: I didnt know "Hot Stuff" that well except for the time in 1989 when he was...well it was still NWA before it changed to WCW, you know. He was working in the office a little bit - he was just an okay guy - I never knew him on a personal level, or if he had any problems in the past with the family or with substance, you know? I did not know. Uh...JYD, oh...what can I say about JYD? I knew JYD for a long long time, many many years. I really cried when I heard about his death. Really, a guy who if you were on the good side of JYD the man would give you his heart. He would give you his heart. Its too bad, and Im sure a lot of people knew that he had a substance abuse problem. But he was pretty smart to the business too, and at times he would...well, I dont want to use the word "retaliate" but in some situations a promotion tried to take advantage of him in situations because he was black, you know. But Bonnie loved him, she got along great with JYDwith us, with Bonnie and me he was always a straight shooter, didnt feed us a bunch of bull, didnt try to tell us something to make us happy, and have us know that it was a lie.
Jeremy Hartley: So do you ever keep in contact anymore with any guys in the business either today or from when you were wrestling?
Ricky Steamboat: Ill tell you every Christmas we get cards from the Hart family. I speak probably once or twice a year with Austin, you know "Stone Cold", used to speak with Flyin Brian and get Christmas cards every year from him and his family. I only knew Brian, and I guess you really know a lot of the guys, just from the time we spent on the road together. He was a pretty carefree guy, he was a real nice guy, Flyin Brian, but to answer your question, the answer would be "No" because they are on the road all the time. Even when they come into Charlotte, Im about thirty miles North of Charlotte. Most of the guys they fly into the airport and they go over to Flairs Golds Gym here in Charlotte. Theyll work out down at his place. maybe sometimes its out of respect...
Jeremy Hartley: Right...
Ricky Steamboat: ...so the only thing I really miss, Jeremy, is
the time I spent in the ring. All the other aspects of the business I do not miss. The
politicing, the back stabbing, the...on and on and on... The ring time is what I miss,
that was the fun time. And you know I still wonder to this day, because Id hear,
even when I was in my prime and Id hear guys complain because the promoter would
say, "We need twenty minutes..." and theyd say, "twenty minutes?? How
am I going to last twenty minutes?" I would always sit in thre locker room and...now,
I see it now, when I remind myself of those comments I say, "Buddy, you really
dont know what youre going to miss out on in life." You just dont
realize that until you actually get out of the business. You know, because you hear old
timers talk and they...a couple of sixty year old guys talking about the matches they had,
you know twenty years ago, so what it boils down to is what do they miss? Its the
ring time. And it might be the same guys who complained about being in twenty minutes, you
know? I loved it, oh man."