He’s from Hollywood
On Nov. 23, 1981, 10-year-old Scott Bowden sat in the ringside area at the Mid-South Coliseum as “TV star” Andy Kaufman entered the ring and proceeded to insult women–and the South in general–before preparing to do battle with four ladies (and I use that term loosely) selected from the audience. Kaufman had upped the ante from his previous appearance on Oct. 12 in Memphis, in which he retained his $500 after pinning four women in under 12 minutes. This time, in addition to putting up $1,000 of his Hollywood cash, Kaufman offered to not only shave his head if he lost but also marry the woman who was lucky enough to pin his shoulders to the mat.
My dad and I were huge fans of the show “Taxi,” and Kaufman’s lovable Latka Gravis character was easily my favorite on the show. However, the Kaufman in the ring this night was the antithesis of Latka, with the Hollywood celebrity mocking all 5,392 of us Memphis rednecks in attendance. I didn’t know what to make of this at first, but in no time at all, I hated his guts. Looking back on it now, Kaufman was fortunate to have landed in Memphis after Andy’s proposal to wrestle women in Madison Square Garden was rejected by Vince McMahon Sr. Yes, he got heat nationwide with his challenges to women on “Saturday Night Live” and his variety show, but the explosion he ignited in the South was his greatest feat in the business, in part due to a videotaped series of “hygiene tips” that WMC-TV received numerous complaints over. (“This…is a roll of toilet paper!”)
By the time the first woman entered the ring to lock horns with the Inter-Gender Champion of the World, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy hoping to see Kaufman humiliated. He struggled with the first woman before quickly pinning the next two. The “bouts” mainly consisted of Kaufman and his female challengers rolling all over the mat, with the star mainly grabbing headlocks and locks of hair before eventually overpowering them. A black woman, introduced only as “Foxy,” was the final challenger. By this point, blown up worse than Kevin Nash on his worst day (hard to pinpoint that one, really), Kaufman still nearly managed to pin Memphis’ answer to Pam Grier when the time limit expired. Kaufman proceeded to push her around after the match until the staunch advocate of feminism himself, Jerry Lawler, came to ringside and asked Andy to give her three more minutes, which he declined. As you can imagine, little Scotty Bowden was going berserk at this point.
In fall 2007, when Lawler introduced the documentary “I’m from Hollywood” at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, I discussed those inter-gender bouts for the first time with him. Lawler told me that all four ladies were indeed chosen at random from the audience that night after Andy assured Jerry Jarrett that he could handle himself in the ring. Lawler admitted that he was worried a bit that Kaufman was going to get his ass kicked. After seeing how well Kaufman got over, the promotion asked him return to face Foxy in a rematch, this time with the finish predetermined, with Lawler in her corner. The ending to that bout, with Lawler shoving Kaufman, was designed set up the eventual showdown between the King and the comedian on April 5, 1982.
A new book, “Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!” is a collection of actual letters written by would-be adversaries, along with their photos, and in some cases, bizarre illustrations. This coffee-table-style book illustrates just how well Andy excelled in his heel role. Kaufman received a wave of impassioned challenges, threats and even love letters from hundreds of women. (Some women appeared to in on the joke, others not so much.) The letters in “Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!” provide a bizarre take on both ’70s culture in general and post-feminist attitudes of the decade. Kaufman’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Lynne Margulies, helped put together the collection and wrote the foreword. Bob Zmuda, longtime friend and partner in crime, wrote the foreword. You can order it from amazon.com by clicking the link below. Also, DVDs are available featuring the entire Lawler vs. Kaufman feud, which are definitely worth ordering if you’ve never seen complete feud.