The 8-Ball 11.02.12: Top 8 Awesome Old School Clippings
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 8-Ball. I am Ryan Byers, and I am your party host who is currently recovering from a non-alcoholic variety of the Halloween Hangover . . .
. . . not to be confused, of course, with the Harlem Hangover . . .
. . . which is pretty much the exact same thing as the Houston Hangover.
We’re not counting down wrestling-related Hangovers, though. We’re counting down something entirely different.
Those of you who have read the column for a while know that I’m a fan of historical curiosities in professional wrestling, which I previously put on display in my Top 8 Mind Blowing Old School Photos column.
This week, we’re bringing that concept back with a little twist. Just as awesome wrestling photographs have slowly been replaced by outstanding YouTube videos, so too has coverage of professional wrestling in magazines and newspapers been supplanted by a bunch of semi-literate yahoos on the internet pretending that they’re journalists (except for Csonka, he’s the real deal).
This week, we turn back to those days of yore, when the printed word was king, counting down the top eight awesome clippings from old school magazines, newspapers, and other print publications covering professional wrestling.
If there was such a thing as a professional wrestling dictionary, chances are good that you’d see Ox Baker’s picture if you turned to the entry for the word “heel.” He has a face that just screams that he’s a mean, nasty son-of-a-bitch, he’s got a pile of body hair that would make a brown bear blush, and it’s topped off by a villainous beard that only a man without a soul would not envy. This page from what appears to be a wrestling program printed during the height of Baker’s career displays his numerous faces of nastiness, from angry to outright pissed to “getting ready to heart punch you through your chest.” The photos also demonstrate that Baker was ahead of his time in terms of personalizing merchandise. Ox’s iron-on t-shirts weren’t exactly high fashion, and they weren’t pretty, but neither was the man wearing them. Now that this article has been published, it’s probably only a matter of time before the Barber Shop Window brings back its own “GREAT HEART PUNCHER” shirt, complete with none of the proceeds going to Baker.
For a professional wrestling fan like me who grew up in the 1980s and the 1990s, it’s nigh impossible to imagine that such a thing as a young Verne Gagne ever existed. However, he most certainly did, and he was one of the biggest stars in all of the “sport” thanks to his amateur wrestling credentials and exposure on the early days of broadcast television, which brought his visage into homes from coast-to-coast. (This was prior to the years when territorial wrestling promotions became the norm.) In fact, in some circles, Gagne was considered to have matinee idol good looks, again something that was virtually impossible for those of us in the younger set to imagine, as in our lives he was nothing more than the doddering old man who killed a fellow nursing home resident with a bodyslam in an Alzheimer’s disease-induced episode. For a period of time, though, he was an absolute dreamboat, as demonstrated in the above cover to the official National Wrestling Alliance calendar for 1955.
This clipping doesn’t involve a big star or an historic moment, but it goes to show that there are some things that you could get away with decades ago that you absolutely could not get away with in 2012. The photograph above depicts the Hangman, a wrestler of relatively low notoriety, who not only came to the ring with a noose but also with miniature nooses that he handed out to the crowd and encouraged them to use. These days, that tactic would be a big no-no for two reasons. The first is that nooses have taken on such a racially-charged connotation that virtually any use of iconography related to them is going to be thought of as a hate crime in some circles, no matter how innocent it may be. The second is that actively encouraging fans to commit suicide and then providing them with the means by which they could potentially do it is a bridge too far in terms of generating heel heat. You know, maybe the WWE’s PG product these days isn’t too bad after all . . .
Much like Verne Gagne above, it is hard to imagine that Bruno Sammartino was once a young man. I’ve seen plenty of footage of Sammartino wrestling in the mid and late 1970s during his second WWWF Title reign, but, even by that point, he was into his 40s. Footage of him wrestling earlier is much harder to find, so you almost never see a depiction of a Bruno who is 30, let alone 20 as he is according to the caption of this photograph. Assuming that the listed age is accurate, that would peg this photograph as coming to us from 1955. The measurements listed for Sammartino in the caption are almost certainly legitimate, and they underscore just how impressive his physique was for a man in an era before the proliferation of anabolic steroids. Also providing that underscoring is the remarkably modern set of, um, “trunks” that Bruno is wearing, which is something that you could see on just about any beach today but was only proper among the bodybuilding set almost sixty years ago.
Now this is quite the interesting matchup. In one corner is Everett Marshall, a Detroit-based wrestler who had some degree of national fame in the late 1930’s when he held the championship of the National Wrestling Association, which just a few years later was picked up by Lou Thesz as part of his march to become the world’s first unified World Heavyweight Champion. Here, Marshall was photographed wrestling against an inanimate block of wood with some springy arms and gynecologist-stirrup feet. This just goes to show how truly wacky things were many years ago. I mean, seriously, what is this dummy even supposed to accomplish? Professional wrestling is not a legitimate sport, so it’s not as though you’re training to actually apply holds to your opponents. Plus, as a worked “sport,” your opponent is typically going to be assisting you when you apply holds, so using those holds against a dummy that isn’t going to cooperate is hardly the best practice. The only possible reason I can think of for Marshall having a match with the mannequin is that he was ahead of his time and trying to create a forerunner to the near-***** classic that Kota Ibushi and the blow-up doll YOSHIHIKO had back in 2009.
Sputnik Monroe was one of the most popular professional wrestlers to ever set foot in the south, particularly in his home base of Memphis. Monroe was popular mainly in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when segregation was still very much a part of professional wrestling. White and black men were not even allowed to wrestle each other in many parts of the country, and wrestling audiences were definitely segregated into “white” and “colored” seating. Monroe, a Caucasian competitor, was wildly popular among men and women of all colors and actually played a key role in ending segregation within the sport, so much so that I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into it in detail here because I couldn’t possibly do it justice in this format. (Do some research of your own, though, and you will be impressed.) The story in the above newspaper article, which I will also allow you to read for yourself, is just one example of the stands that the man was willing to take. It’s not just that he went to a diner that was not designated for his racial group; it’s that, when charged with a crime for doing so, he took it all the way to trial in order to prove a point. Kudos, Sputnik, even though at this point you are long gone.
Every wrestling fan of my generation is familiar with “The Macho Man” Randy Savage and most of them also know that, though it was never acknowledged by the World Wrestling Federation during the peak of their popularity, his brother was “The Genius” Lanny Poffo. However, very few fans my age strongly associate Savage and his brother with the phrase “second generation wrestler,” even though it’s exactly what they were. The two men were the sons of Angelo Poffo, who himself was a top wrestling draw in the 1950’s and 1960’s, continuing his career throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, both wrestling and also promoting for a period of time. The photos above provide a rare look at the Poffos at home, most likely in the early 1960’s based on the looks of the boys. Leaping Lanny even provides some foreshadowing of his trademark wrestling style, performing a backflip reminiscent of the moonsaults that he would introduce to the mainstream professional wrestling world a couple of decades later.
Pat Patterson is widely known as one of the few openly gay personalities in professional wrestling, and he has been for several decades now. However, if you had asked me about Patterson’s career before I saw the above magazine clipping, I would have said that he was the one openly gay wrestler who never took things to the extreme of doing a gay gimmick. Well, it turns out that I was completely wrong. In the late 1950’s in his homeland of Montreal, Patterson did in fact dress in outlandishly flamboyant costumes and wear makeup while calling himself the “pretty boy” and playing off of the homoerotic fears of French Canada. I guess nobody truly escapes the nasty grips of stereotypes within professional wrestling . . .
That’s it for this week’s 8-Ball. If you can’t get enough of Ryan, follow him on Twitter here.