I’ve never been a pro wrestling fan. It’s too stupid, too choreographed, too dependant on a culture of idiocy. In fact, a lot of the worst excesses we now see in real sports (showboating, trash talking, moronic fan behavior, miserably generic rock music used as an all-purpose cultural signifier, etc.) clearly came from the wrestling scene.
Growing up on Long Island in the early 1970s, I didn’t really understand what pro wrestling was — I didn’t realize it was scripted and never understood why the ref always let the wrestlers get away with so many fouls. And why weren’t the results ever covered in the sports section the next day? Whatever — I soon discovered boxing, which made more sense to me, and that was pretty much the end of whatever thoughts I had about wrasslin’. As wrestling became more popular in the ’80s and ’90s, however, I kept thinking, “This is as stupid now as it was when I was a kid. But didn’t it used to be a bit more innocent and amusing?”
Yes, it was, and here’s the book that proves it. It turns out Memphis was a major wrestling hub in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, back when the grappling game was more of a glorified Vaudville scene, and now my buddy Sherman Willmott (a major behind-the-scenes figure in many important Memphis ventures — I wrote an article about him a few years back) has published Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling. Even if you don’t care about wrestling, it’s plenty entertaining, and there’s a lot of uni-related material. Let’s take a look:
• I love how promoters used the lamest, most obvious ethnic signifiers to create wrestling personas. Drape a tartan-plaid cape on a guy and presto, he’s Scotty Williams. Buy a cheap Indian headdress from a costume shop and bingo, Chief Big Heart. Similar calculations were used to create the Samoans, Kurt Von Brauner, and many others.
• Not sure if this was unique to the Southern scene, but Memphis had a lot of hillbilly-themed wrestlers, guys like Plowboy Frazier, Farmer Jones (who brought his pig along into the ring!), and the Scufflin’ Hillbillies.
• At the other end of the spectrum were guys like Gorgeous George, who had a distinct homoerotic air that it’s hard to imagine any real or fake athlete affecting nowadays. Other wrestlers with a glittery edge included Nature Boy (remember that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he fights “the De-Natured Boy”?) and these guys, yeesh. When these two ends of the spectrum met in the ring, you had city slicker vs. country boy — a nice bit of class warfare.
• I don’t know what was going on with this dude’s skull, but he was seriously creepy.
• More and more of today’s athletes are tattooed. Hadn’t occurred to me that most of the old wrestlers were tat-free until I came across this photo — the tats look almost striking, out of place. I did like that this tattooed wrestler had a tat about wrestling, however.
• There is soooooo much to love in this photo. Like, seriously, you could spin a whole screenplay out of that image, no?
• Here’s my other favorite image in the book. Beautiful composition, great lines, great sense of motion, power, texture. Oh, and dirty pool, but whatever, it’s wrestling.
• There’s a whole section of the book devoted to midget wrestlers (lots more shown here). And what’s even better than midget wrestlers? Female midget wrestlers (additional examples here and here). There are plenty of pics of full-sized gals, too.
There’s something endearing about how low-budget and playful all of this seemed to be. I mean, seriously, any scene that could try to pass off this guy as an athlete had a good sense of humor at the very least. I’m sure nobody got rich from it — just a small wad of cash at the end of the night for everyone — but I sense more creative energy in these photos than in the average major-level sports marketing plan. Bit of a shame we can’t recapture that, no?
Two other notes: First, the book includes lots of reproductions of this Memphis wrestling newsletter. Scott Turner and I liked the masthead logo so much that we decided to see how it would look on a T-shirt, along with some other applications. Cool, yes? Yes.
And in a late-breaking development, here’s a weird coincidence: I had just finished writing this entry when Sherman informed me that he’s co-producing a documentary based on the book, called Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin’. He just sent me the link for the trailer last night. Dig:
If you’re not wearing
Dockers Cooperalls, you’re just wearing pants: Doug Keklak reports that Fox Sports Pittsburgh broadcasters Dan Potash (best name ever), Paul Steigerwald, and Bob Errey engaged in a bit of uni-related chatter during last night’s Pens/’Canes game. Let’s listen in:
Dan Potash: The Hurricanes are not wearing their all-black uniforms tonight. We saw them in Carolina earlier this year. The reviews have been mixed, but nothing compares to the green pants the ’Canes wore when they were the Hartford Whalers back in ’82-83. Guys, it was only for one season and it I think that was one too many. [Steigerwald laughs.]
Bob Errey: Hey, those were the Cooperalls, Dan.
Potash: That’s right…
Errey: The Petes wore them. [This is a reference to the Peterborough Petes, for whom Errey played in the early 1980s.]
Potash: Who was the other NHL team that wore them that year?
Errey: The Flyers, the Flyers wore them as well. The Cooperalls.
Potash: That’s two mistakes. [Steigerwald and Errey laugh.]
Steigerwald: And a lot of junior teams were wearing them, right, Bob? Almost every junior team was wearing them.
Errey: Yeah, well we did. We wore ’em. And when you got on the ice, you couldn’t stop. They just slid and slid and slid.
“At this point,” says Kek, “Evgeni Malkin had a bona fide scoring chance that interrupted the uni talk.”
Raffle Results: The winner of the SoccerPro raffle is Christopher Martinez. Thanks to all who entered — more raffles coming soon.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Here’s what the World Cup soccer ball will look like (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … Hmmmm, lame-o promotional campaign on back? “Apparently the team did during warm-ups on 9/22/08 against Buffalo,” says Frank Mercogliano. “Fans in attendance were eligible for a raffle for the jerseys.” … I recently mentioned that Brooklyn Gum was a cycling sponsor. Now Jeff Barak points out that they also sponsored 1979 World Driving Champion Jody Scheckter of South Africa. … Good number-retirement story here (with thanks to Mark Snider). … There’s beach volleyball and then there’s “Beach” volleyball. That’s Long Beach State’s women’s volleyball team, which wears SNOB — school nickname on back (with thanks to Erkki Corpuz). … Everyone knows I love the combination of green and gold, but not like this (with thanks to Brent Miller). … Brenden Fougere spotted something I’d missed: Patrick Crayton of the Cowboys had a logo on his socks on Sunday. What logo is that? … Too much sock information (with thanks to John Muir). … Good catch by Nicholas Roznovsky, who notes that the three-stripe pattern on the back of Texas A&M’s hoops jersey is gray-red-gray, while the pattern on the back of the warm-ups is red-gray-red. Weird. … Cycling news from Jeff Mayer, who writes: “A few new jerseys from the European peloton are coming to light this week. Cervelo, who debuted as a new team last year in all-black, then switched to white when they realized that black felt hot in the summer heat, is back to black to start this season. Also: Last year’s Silence-Lotto team becomes Omega Pharma-Lotto this year. Omega Pharma has sponsored the team since 2005, often naming the squad after whichever product they wanted to hawk that year, including Davitamon-Lotto (a vitamin) and Perdictor-Lotto (a pregnancy test.) Apparently, they have no pressing marketing needs in 2010.” … What do you do with extra stirrups? Make a stirrup stocking for Santa! (As created by Jeff LaHaie.) … Speaking of baseball hosiery, Brad Penny is apparently joining the Cardinals — a significant move, since he routinely goes high-cuffed. Let’s hope he opts for genuine St. Looie ’rups instead of the bogus two-in-ones. … Brian Erni notes that Ahman Green taped over his earholes to keep the wind out last night. … The Raptors’ Huskies throwbacks will make their on-court debut tonight. … Here’s Lance Armstrong’s new costume. “What’s very interesting is that Nike (not a traditional pro cycling outfitter, other than the Tour de France leader jerseys) made the jerseys with ‘fast form-fitting design using various textures and patterns,'” says Dana Prey. “As a cyclist myself, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen jerseys with different textures — usually standard polyester throughout, just cut to fit comfortably and without too much excess material, like this. Judging by this higher-res pic of the new Shack jersey it’s more fitted than traditional jerseys.” … Faaaascinating observation by Ryan McDevitt, who writes: “Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin often posts photos on his official web site. One such image has him autographing a jersey on his kitchen counter with an apparent MNOB — misspelled name on back (the second R shouldn’t be there). Here’s the proper spelling. Is there a reason for this, or is it an error that he himself appears not to have noticed?” … Nice to see that Nike is Pro Combat-izing everything (no thanks to Matt Busch). … Who’s that getting the victory ride? It’s Bobby Bowden, shaking hands with Lou Holtz after West Virginia won the 1975 Peach Bowl. Of greater interest, of course, is the double-decker SNOF. “I’m not sure if that was ever worn before, or since,” says Josh Ellison. Anyone..? … Reprinted from very late last night: Players in the 1991 MLB All-Star Game wore a huge honking sleeve patch. But the Cubs already had large patches on both sleeves, so their players wore the all-star patch across their shoulder seam. Those screen shots come from this awesome video clip of the lineup intros, which is loaded with uni goodness, including a good view of Benito Santiago’s No. 09. Highly, highly recommended (great discovery by Matt English).