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Red Headed Geek
By Billy C. Wirtz, Kitty Wilson
Holy Macro! BooksCopyright © 2013 Billy C. Wirtz & Holy Macro! Books
All rights reserved.
"You Want to Be a What?"
1- Why I Wrote This Book ... and Some Thoughts on Wrestling
When I began writing this book, I thought I'd tell a few wrestling stories, reveal a few insider tidbits, and maybe even convince a few nonbelievers that there is indeed a degree of authenticity and importance to professional wrestling.
I went to the local chain bookstore, and not only were there at least two dozen "tell-all" bios by wrestlers, there were several written by wrestlers' wives, one or two by wrestlers' therapists, and even a new-age self-help book written by the infamous Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.
Does anyone read wrestling books? Doesn't pro wrestling appeal primarily to rednecks and the less educated? Isn't this the same bunch that believes Elvis is alive? The answer to all three questions may be yes, but there are a couple other kinds of wrestling devotees, who fall into two main groups: what I call "smart" fans and "in-the-closet" fans. Then there are the skeptics.
"Smart" fans are aware that the outcome of a wrestling event may be predetermined but enjoy the show anyway. These fans include English professors, tax lawyers, jazz musicians, elected officials, and virtually anyone with a B.S. in something. Newsletters are written for these fans, foremost among them The Wrestling Observer, published and written by Dave Meltzer. The Observer is a brilliant piece of journalism. It was one of the first publications to "expose" inside secrets of the business. Meltzer uses insider terms — you'll learn more about those later — and he's a damn fine writer. He's also highly opinionated. Even though they pretend not to care, the wrestlers read every single word of the Observer, often making career-changing decisions based on what Meltzer reports.
I'm willing to bet that within hours after the first porno website was launched, some "smart" fan started a wrestling site. Of all the ...
The second easily identifiable group of wrestling fans are those who just can't quite come out of the wrestling closet. These are the ones who, in the middle of a Vietnamese restaurant, will look across their bowl of pho and ask me, "Didn't you used to be a wrestler or something?" When I explain that I was indeed involved with the wrestling business, there is an inevitable pause, and then, "I used to watch that stuff as a kid. It's all fake, right?"
Well, yes, for the most part, the outcome of an individual match is predetermined. However, really great wrestlers have the ability to make even the most cynical pause and say "Gee, that looked kind of real." Just like in any other sport, there are good wrestlers, and there are great wrestlers. The difference lies in the wrestlers' ability to suspend your disbelief. And that suspension of disbelief is necessary to sell tickets, especially to the general public, most of whom qualify as skeptics.
There's almost nothing better than converting a skeptic into a fan. I'll bring a friend or two, if they'll promise to keep an open mind and respect the "less enlightened" fans around us. It usually takes a match or two to for them to lose their agnostic detachment.
The transformational moment usually occurs around the third bout. The ref has his back turned, and the bad guy seizes the moment to deliver an illegal kick to the solar plexus, knocking the good guy out of the ring. When the good guy hits the floor with a resounding thud, my friends say something like, "Wow, that had to hurt a little." When the evil manager sneaks up and delivers a karate chop to the windpipe, leaving the hapless hero gasping for breath, they'll mutter, "Hey, that's not cool." The bad guy and his manager gang up on the good guy, hurling him out of the ring and through the scorekeepers' table with a violent crash. When he gets up, he's bleeding profusely from a nasty forehead wound. Suddenly, my friends are yelling at the bad guy, and I have to remind them that this is a family show, and there are some, albeit minimal, verbal boundaries.
By the end of the night, along with a dozen new friends they've made in the surrounding seats, my new converts are standing on their chairs, screaming themselves hoarse during the main event: a brutal cage match that ends with one of the participants being taken out on a stretcher. All the folks I take to the matches, even the most staunch skeptics, thank me and express a desire to go with me the next time. And it's all because the wrestlers can make the audience suspend their disbelief. In this book, I hope I can shed some light on a few of the incredibly complex psychological tactics I have both witnessed and learned to suspend that disbelief.
2- Rasslin' 101
The following is by no means a complete history of the wrestling business. It's a quick overview of its origins, followed by a couple of items you should be aware of.
In the Beginning
Professional wrestling began on the backroads of America in the late 1900s. It began as a carnival attraction, challenging local toughs to try their luck in a three-sided makeshift ring.
A designated "champion" would offer to take on all comers, challenging them to stay in the ring for a given period of time — usually three short rounds. If the challenger succeeded, he would win $25, but of course that never happened. Instead, the alcohol- and testosterone-bloated "mark" would have barely stepped into the ring before the champ had him in a painful leg-or arm-lock, and the match usually ended in less than a minute.
On rare occasions, the rube would gain the upper hand. When that happened, the champ would work him into a corner, and behind the corner was a curtain. Behind the curtain, a blackjack-wielding carnie ensured victory for the champ.
As we will see later on, wrestling owes a major debt to carnivals and carnies. The dominant underlying mindset of old-school wrestling evolved directly from the sideshow.
The Early Days
The first championship match for a world title was held at Chicago's Dexter Park Pavilion in 1908, between Frank Gotch and George "The Russian Lion" Hackenschmidt. Gotch won on a disqualification after a brutal 2 hours and 3 minutes. For the next decade or so, wrestling drew big crowds. But then fans got tired of seeing 30-minute headlocks, and attendance waned.
In the mid-1920s, a shrewd promoter, Toots Mondt, introduced time limits on all matches. He also added excitement with such moves as the flying dropkick. And he gave wrestling its first genuine superstar: Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Lewis hardly looked the part. He was balding and had a constantly expanding beer gut and pencil-thin legs. But he fought a total of 6,200 legit "shoot" matches and won all but 13 of them.
Over the next two decades, wrestling's popularity rose and fell. But it never really caught on with the general public until the advent of television. Television boosted professional wrestling's popularity as both spectator sport and morality theatre. Later in this book, I'll fill you in on the changes that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but now I have an obligation to make you aware of two very significant events in the history of wrestling that were responsible for major changes in American culture. The first one happened in the early 1950s.
The Human Orchid: Gorgeous George
When cultural historians recount the early years of television, there's universal agreement on its first major celebrities: Milton Berle, Ernie Kovacs, and Elvis all sold the public on television. But the man responsible for actually selling more TVs than all the others combined was a Nebraskan named George Wagner, a.k.a. Gorgeous George, a.k.a. The Human Orchid. Some even think that Gorgeous George is the person who propelled television toward becoming the entertainment medium it is today.
Gorgeous George established a character now considered a staple of wrestling. He bleached his hair platinum blonde and wore spectacular ornate robes. He always entered the ring to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," his valet spraying the mat with Chanel #10 as George tossed gold "Georgie Pins" to the audience. Gorgeous George was really a great wrestler, but he knew that his athletic skills alone didn't sell tickets. He filled stadiums as "the guy you love to hate." His credo, and formula for success, was simple: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!"
Gorgeous George not only revolutionized television and the wrestling business, he left his mark in several areas of sports and entertainment. Bob Dylan recalled meeting him early in his career and being totally mesmerized by The Gorgeous One. But perhaps the two most famous figures he influenced were a boxer and an R&B singer.
"Always Be Outrageous"
Back before he defeated Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay was fighting in Las Vegas. He was interviewed on a local sports radio show, and taking a stylistic cue from then-champion Floyd Patterson, he acknowledged the other fighter's abilities and promised a good clean fight. Gorgeous George was interviewed next. Barely had the announcer said his name before George went totally berserk, claiming that if his opponent, Freddie Blassie, beat him, "I'll crawl across the ring and cut my hair off! But that's not gonna happen because I'm the greatest wrestler in the world!"
After the interview, George advised the young boxer: "A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous." The next night, Clay drew around 700 fans, while George packed in close to 12,000. After that, Clay changed his interview style.
Long before he attained worldwide fame as "The Godfather of Soul," James Brown and his band were sitting in a motel room after a midweek gig somewhere in rural Georgia. The television in the room was tuned to wrestling. Gorgeous George was featured in the main event.
Brown and company watched in awe as once again a sold-out crowd at LA's Shrine Auditorium came close to rioting as a result of the blonde bombshell's antics. As usual, George had been disqualified for cheating. The referee kept trying to put a succession of his robes on him, only to have The Human Orchid throw the garments off and become more enraged with each attempt. The fans were at the boiling point, hurling insults, paper cups, and beer bottles at the ring.
The next night, during "Please, Please, Please," his closing song, James began to walk off stage; and as a joke, one of the Famous Flames threw a jacket around him. The small-town crowd went crazy as James threw the jacket off and came back to the microphone, falling on his knees and pleading, "Don't leave me, baby, don't leave me!" By the next week, it had progressed to a couple of jackets, and it soon became the most spectacular closing routine in popular music. Some nights there were with three capes, some nights four, and on special occasions, a spectacular fifth one. Every night for the next 40 years, James Brown ended every single show with "the capes."
Wrestling Loses a Legend
Gorgeous George retired from wrestling in 1962. His life after wrestling was not a very happy one. There were some bad business investments, and he fought a lifelong battle with booze until his passing on December 26, 1963, at the age of 48. Without him, both Muhammad Ali and James Brown might have evolved entirely differently. About the same time that George was influencing these stars, wrestling instigated a quiet but even more profound change in Memphis, Tennessee.
Wrestling Integrates Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee, was known for its terrible racial strife. Dr. King's death was only one event in the city's long history of racial disharmony and brutality. The first public event to allow open nonsegregated seating was not a church service or a political rally. It was Monday Night Wrestling at The Mid-South Coliseum. And the change occurred as a result of an ultimatum delivered by a professional wrestler.
For over two decades, Sputnik Monroe was the major wrestling star in Memphis. In the movie Memphis Heat, he explains that he was harassed by police and fined for drinking in bars on Beale Street with his black friends. Finally, he had enough. He was tired of being harassed, and he was tired of black wrestling fans being confined to the stuffy, overcrowded second-story "peanut gallery" during matches. He went to the promoter and told him that unless blacks were allowed to sit on the main floor at the coliseum with the other customers, he wasn't going to wrestle. At the time, Monroe was one of the top-drawing wrestlers, and to lose him would have been financial suicide for the promoters. There was a major uproar, but Monroe held his ground. The promoters changed the seating policy to "first come, first served."
Shortly after they interview Monroe in Memphis Heat, they interview an older black wrestling fan. His eyes well up as he recalls, "Man, oh man, you don't have any idea how proud he made us." He adds, "There was a time you could go into any black home in Memphis, and there would be three pictures: Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King, and my man, Sputnik Monroe."
3- A Cast of Characters
Numerous folks were important parts of my life during my tenure with the PWC and the WCW. Some of them are still among us, and others have gone on to that great cage match in the sky. Here I'd like to introduce you to a few of them. There have been dozens of others, and I could write a book just about the characters I've met in Waffle Houses along the highways. But for now, "Ladies and gentlemen, and wrestling fans of all ages, please welcome tonight's participants."
Lillian Ellison, a.k.a. The Fabulous Moolah
Without Lillian's help, whole episodes in my life might never have happened. She approved the idea for the video for my song "Teenie Weenie Meanie," and simply being associated with her opened many doors for me. She was a guiding force; whenever I called, she treated me like a favorite grandson. When it came to business, however, she was, in the words of all the old-school wrestlers, "one tough old broad."
Lillian was tough indeed. She had been in the business since the late 1940s. She took the name Moolah because, according to her, the moolah was what it was all about. In case there was any doubt about that, she sported a diamond-encrusted dollar sign around her neck as a reminder.
Lillian came to several of my music shows, and I remember one in particular. I was playing in Columbia, South Carolina, 50 miles from my home in Aiken and 20 miles from her home in Irmo. Naturally, people in the crowd stared, as this extremely well-dressed senior walked in with an equally well-dressed little person. The sight of her and Katie together made quite the visual impact. She sat quietly and demurely through my show. At the very end, I announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the presence of true royalty. Please welcome, along with her protg, Diamond Lil, the queen of women's wresting, The Fabulous Moolah." The crowd of around 200 inebriated South Carolinians erupted. Moolah stood up and dropped into character, raising her arms like she'd just been introduced by a ring announcer. After the show, there was a line of about 20 people waiting for my autograph. A group of no less than 50, including bartenders, waitresses, and even the security guards clustered around her table.
Lillian truly had a heart of gold, but she didn't take crap from any human being on the planet. Showing me a scar on her leg one time, she said, "Some jerk burned me with a damn cigar on the way to the ring one night in Columbus, Georgia. I jumped over the guard rail, and I heard that he finally got out of the hospital a week later." She claimed to have dated both Hank Williams and Elvis.
During the shooting of the "Teenie Weenie Meanie" video, I told her about my wish to become a manager, and she strongly encouraged me, saying, "You've got the gift of gab." But then, in a most maternal manner, she cautioned, "Just don't let 'em blade you, sugar." (Stay tuned; I'll explain blading in Chapter 8.)
Page Falkenberg, a.k.a. Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page, or DDP as he referred to himself, is the ultimate self-motivated individual. The first day we met, he told me, "I am going to be a somebody, one way or the other." It was not merely a mantra; he spent all day, every day spreading the name and reputation of DDP just a little bit further. When we first worked together, he was moonlighting as a bouncer at a "gentleman's club" in Fort Myers, Florida.
After the PWF folded, DDP moved to Atlanta and, at the advanced age of 35, traded in his announcer's microphone for a pair of wrestling boots. He enrolled in wrestling school and spent 8 to 10 hours a day taking bumps from guys half his age. Then he'd go home and spend hours going over tapes of himself, making notes of moves and techniques that needed improvement. They started him off as a glorified jobber, but he never complained. Within five years, he won the World Championship belt. He also developed a great finishing move, "the diamond cutter," and the catchphrase "BANG!" to go along with it.
Excerpted from Red Headed Geek by Billy C. Wirtz, Kitty Wilson. Copyright © 2013 Billy C. Wirtz & Holy Macro! Books. Excerpted by permission of Holy Macro! Books.
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