wrestling / Video Reviews

The Name on the Marquee: RF Video Shoot Interview with Kamala

July 19, 2009 | Posted by Adam Nedeff
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The Name on the Marquee: RF Video Shoot Interview with Kamala  

-I haven’t done a shoot review in a while and I’m still trying to pace myself with WWE Classics…besides that, I’m firmly in the middle of 1987 with my WWF stuff so Kamala seemed like the right choice. Here we go…

-James Harris starts off similarly to George Steele, slapping his belly and letting out a primal scream before calmly saying “Hello.”

-James got started in wrestling because he was living in Michigan and couldn’t find a job doing anything else. In the middle of turning in applications, he got frustrated and joked, “Maybe I should just try wrestling.” His sister’s boyfriend turned right around and introduced him to Bobo Brazil. The interviewer then asks him, “Who did you approach when you wanted to break into the business?” and James answers, “Well…Bobo Brazil.”

-Bobo thought he showed promise because of his size. The Great Mephesto trained him, and James began wrestling under his old high school nickname, Sugar Bear Harris.

-He begins traveling the world, first in Mexico (where he “almost starved to death”) then headed to England in 1980 and stayed for about a year and a half. Broke his ankle and came back to the U.S.

-Went to Memphis to look for work. Jerry Lawler & Jerry Jarrett stopped him at the front door, took one look at him, and cryptically instructed him to go right home and don’t let anybody see him in public for a while.

-Lawler called him a few days later to talk about painting his face and re-naming him Kamala. He was worried that James might be ashamed to do it, but James didn’t mind it at all. They shot an introductory vignette in a backyard in Hendersonville, and Kamala debuted in front of a sold-out crowd a few nights later.

-Being a savage meant that Kamala couldn’t really wrestle in his matches. That didn’t bother him so much because having a basic moveset meant everything was going to be easy for him.

-Worked a feud with Stan Frazier (Uncle Elmer), who genuinely disliked Kamala and called him “a dumb son of a bitch.” Kamala was too ashamed to do anything until one of the bookers came up to him and told him point-blank to retaliate, promising that he wouldn’t be punished if he did. Kamala went right to Frazier and called him a “big, dumb, shaking son of a bitch,” which reduced Frazier to tears. They became surprisingly cordial with each other after that.

-Discusses the racial overtones in the gimmick and says it didn’t bother him at all, and his family actually liked the gimmick, too.

-Worked with Andre the Giant for the first time. Kamala screwed up a spot the first time they worked together and Andre lifted him by his neck off the mat; he didn’t do anything more than that, he was really just trying to scare Kamala.

-Quit Memphis after a feud with “Kamala 2” (Stan Frazier) tanked the box office. He moved onto Mid-South Wrestling, and Bill Watts “was the best promoter I ever worked for.”

-Feuded with JYD, and the gates were so good from that feud that to this day, Kamala refers to his house as “the house that JYD bought.”

-Kamala had his wife sew a hidden pocket to the inside of all of his wrestling gear, and Kamala began wrestling with a gun in the pocket(!) He carried it for a while, but the gun began hurting when he took bumps, so he switched to a knife, and he wrestled with a knife hidden in his tights for the next fifteen years. And with that, I will never be able to watch another Kamala match the same way again.

-He was scared to death of Andre the Giant after the snafu in their first match. They worked again and Kamala thought that tonight was the night that he’d finally use the knife, but Andre surprised him by working incredibly gently and doing splashes that were “light as a feather.”

-Worked with Magnum TA at the first Great American Bash tour. Magnum nervously told him that Dusty told him to finish fast with a belly-to-belly and a clean pin. Kamala refused and Dusty told him to do a DQ finish. They did that and Kamala later learned that they aired the match on TV and cut it off right after showing the belly-to-belly, leading the fans to think that Magnum pinned him right after that.

-Went to Japan and refused to a job to Giant Baba on principle that he didn’t want to lose just so the promoter could get himself over. They “blackballed” him, only to bring him back a year later, and Kamala again refused to do jobs.

-Did Kamala ever refuse to do a job for anybody else? Johnny Ace. The Japanese promoters threatened to blackball him again and Kamala pointedly told him that it doesn’t matter if he gets blackballed in Japan because it’s not as if he lived there or anything.

-Vince McMahon, Sr., in his dying days, asked Andre to talk Kamala into coming north. Kamala went with Jim Crockett instead. Shortly after Vince, Sr. died, Junior called him and personally talked him into coming to the WWF.

-Was Andre the Giant a racist? Kamala knows about the incident with Bad News Brown, but from personal experience, Andre never struck him as a racist.

-Loved working with Freddy Blassie. His most vivid memory of his first WWF run was eating the chicken on “TNT,” which is one of the few videotapes from his time in the WWF that he bothered saving.

-Working with Hulk Hogan was a dream come true because even though he was the center of the universe, Hogan would do anything that you asked him to do during matches and would do any angle to get Kamala over. Hogan pulled him aside one night and told him, “You’re putting asses in the seats, so you’d better be getting paid for it because I’m getting paid pretty well when we’re together.” Kamala went to Vince after that and asked for a raise. Didn’t get it.

-Memories of Jake Roberts: It was hard to get to know him because he was high all the time and you couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

-Leads to a brief discussion on drugs. Smoked marijuana once and it screwed him up so badly that he vowed never to do it again. Tells a story about an anonymous wrestler who couldn’t believe Kamala was maintaining a main eventer’s schedule in the WWF without using cocaine.

-Actually remembers working with Mick Foley during Mick’s jobber days. Mick screwed up a spot and came up to Kamala after the match apologizing profusely and looking like he expected Kamala to beat the shit out of him. Kamala accepted the apology and walked away.

-Mr. Fuji became his manager in 1987 and Kamala didn’t like it only because he didn’t think that Fuji’s character was the right fit for his gimmick. Strongly disagree with Kamala on this one, but hey, he knows his own gimmick better than I do.

-Steve Lombardi acted as “Kimchee,” Kamala’s handler. They basically gave Lombardi that break because he’d been a good boy who always did what he was doing since he arrived in the company, so here was an easy way to give him a few more bucks every night. Kamala liked him for the most part, but didn’t like his habit of smoking weed in the passenger’s seat because if they get pulled over, everybody is screwed.

-Favorite rib: Dynamite Kid brought a razor blade to a battle royal. He kept walking past Outback Jack (who wore long slacks when he wrestled) and just gently cut the pants over and over again, so that by the time Jack was eliminated, his pants were just totally shredded and hanging off.

-Why didn’t he stay in the WWF? Travel didn’t bother him so much, but traveling to so many big cities and metropolitan areas became overwhelming.

-The interviewer shares a memory with Kamala and Kamala actually remembers it and finishes the story…He always made it a point to show up at the arenas in full character to keep kayfabe, and he would show up at the building wearing an outfit that included a cape. A fan ran up to him as arrived and grabbed his cape, and Kamala took a swing at him, scaring the shit out of everybody around them.

-Walked out of the WWF in 1987 with no notice because he was pissed at Vince. Was very surprised when Vince asked him to come back in 1992.

-Really liked working with Bret Hart during his 1992 run.

-Was bothered by a weird habit of the road agents in his 1992 run; they’d post list of wrestlers who were supposed to be in each locker room, and then kick him out of a locker room because he was “in the wrong locker room.” This despite the fact that he was the first guy in the building and he was in the locker room before they had even posted the lists. Complained to Vince about it, but nothing changed.

-Worked with Ultimate Warrior briefly in 1992, but they didn’t make a dime together. Tells a pretty nice story about Warrior sharing his limo so Kamala didn’t have to deal with getting rental cars wherever he went.

-Enjoyed working with Undertaker, but Kamala is claustrophobic and scared of caskets, so the casket match genuinely scared the crap out of him.

-Steve Lombardi came to Kamala in the locker room one night and told him that Pat Patterson left his briefcase open one night and “I have something to show you.” It’s a list of payoffs for Summerslam ’92. Kamala made $13,000…Undertaker made $500,000 for the same match. Kamala didn’t complain to Vince about it because it would have meant admitting he was snooping and Vince could have busted him for that.

-The face turn was Vince’s idea and Vince told him, “I bet we can make a lot of money and your merchandise will go through the roof.” As Vince was describing the idea, Kamala was simply thinking, “I’m going to starve to death here.”

-Felt that Reverend Slick wasn’t a good fit for him as a manager. The interviewer finally asks him who he would have preferred to be his manager, and Kamala says, “Curtis Iaukea.” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

-Favorite opponents: Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts, George “The Animal” Steele.

-Kamala left in 1993 because he was tanking as a face and they jobbed him to everybody they could. He was in a REALLY bad place at that point because he didn’t make a nickel during his WWF run and his sister & niece died in close proximity. He bought a dump truck around that time and used that to (barely) support himself for a while.

-Hulk Hogan called him out of the blue in 1995 and brought him into WCW. He lasted three months and to this day, he still has never met Eric Bischoff. Kamala complained about money to Hogan, Hogan relayed it to Eric Bischoff, and Eric called Kamala and told him to talk to him if he ever had any more problems with his payoffs. Eric never answered his phone again after that.

-Kamala worked one pay-per-view and made $800 for it and quit on the spot. Hulk offered to talk to Bischoff again and Kamala told him, “If I can’t talk to him myself, I shouldn’t be here.”

-Given a choice between Vince & Eric, Kamala would rather work for Vince. Actually held out a little bit of hope that he could do something productive in WCW that would lead Vince to sign him back for better money.

-Kamala quits wrestling altogether for six years and drove his truck for a while. He came home one day and there was a message on his machine asking him to come work a battle royal at Wrestlemania. He thought it over and went ahead to do it, although once it was over, he couldn’t wait to leave.

-Worked a house show in Memphis a while later with Terry Funk vs. Jerry Lawler in the main event and it drew 6,000 fans, which is ridiculously good for an indy show these days. Kamala got a $300 payoff, so…nothing’s changed.

-Did a one-shot deal for TNA. They refused to cover transportation, so Kamala drove himself there and paid for his own hotel and got paid $500. They’ve asked him to come back twice and he told them no.

-Came back to WWE for a silly skit at the Diva Search and to his amazement, he got treated like a king by Vince, Stephanie, and everybody in the locker room. Vince surprised him by letting him know how much he appreciated Kamala in the 80s. He made damn good cash that night, too, for once.

-Almost felt like crying when he left the arena because for once, he enjoyed himself while working for Vince and says it bothers him that a company with so much money, so much TV time, and so many house shows couldn’t find SOMETHING for him to do. I’m curious when this was taped because a while after the Diva Search, they did an angle with Kamala & Umaga that actually looked like Kamala was being rebuilt and it was going to be something big, and instead they just fed him to Umaga and killed him off completely within 24 hours.

-Doesn’t consider himself a great worker, but as far as ability to get a gimmick over, he considers himself one of the best. Still gets fan mail on a fairly regular basis.

-On early deaths among his generation of wrestlers: It makes him sad, but with all the drugs & steroids, you can’t really be surprised by it.

-If Kamala actually were brought back full time now, he’d ask to work the gimmick for comedy because in the current climate, he wouldn’t be convincing enough for the fans to consider him a serious monster.

-His least favorite promoter was Jim Crockett. Doesn’t explain why, and given that Vince seemed like a gimme-answer there, I kind of wish the interviewers had followed up and asked him why.

-Memories of World Class: The Von Erichs were a little goofy, but they were really good guys.

-Memories of Puerto Rico: The fans were insane and Carlos Colon’s checks bounced.

-Message to the fans: “It’s not your fault that I didn’t get paid, because you definitely showed up. And when I was in the arena, I wasn’t thinking about my money, I was thinking about entertaining you.”

And on that pleasant note, here’s your plug for Game Show Utopia.

The 411: Quite the enjoyable little interview this time again. I would have liked a little more detail about his run with Jim Crockett since that remark about "least favorite promoter" really did surprise me. Other than that, all of the right details are covered, and it's a pretty interesting interview from a guy who, at once, is absolutely not bitter but also has a lot of reasons to be. Take a look.
Final Score:  7.0   [ Good ]  legend

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Adam Nedeff

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