Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture

James Brown learned about fashion from him, Muhammad Ali studied self-promotion under him, a young Bob Dylan rode a confidence-building moment he shared with him for years, and millions of American in the earliest days of television either loved him or hated him. He is the renowned wrestler Gorgeous George, one of television’s first stars. There weren’t tons of shows to put on the air in the early days, and wrestling entertainment, which happened in every city across America nearly every night, was cheap and plentiful — and viewers loved it. And Gorgeous George was made for TV (or, as he says, “television was made for me”). George Wagner had been just another wrestler on the circuit until he and his wife slowly developed the persona of Gorgeous George, a preening, self-absorbed, bleach-blond prissy boy complete with a valet to carry his ridiculous props (such as a feather duster for his chair and tea cups for between-round refreshments) and outrageously beautiful capes. Known as the Human Orchid, George was the king of early wrestling on TV and the prototype of nearly every bad-boy wrestler who has come after him. Gorgeous George author John Capouya doesn’t just capture the ups and downs of this incredible man, but he casually opens cultural doors to readers and exposes us to the backrooms and highways, carnival bigtops and fashion choices of the times. The book isn’t just about a man but about postwar America and why we’d even want such a character as Gorgeous George to throw ourselves at: “After World War II, America was readjusting, reforming and reassembling itself into what exactly no one knew. But it was clearly going to be different,” Capouya writes. “Then television came and took hold, and Gorgeous George did as much as any single person to ensure that new device became a fixture.”