12 days of Christmas Chaos (Day Three: Midnight Madness)
Jim Cornette’s must-read book covers the incarnations of the Midnight Express as only he could, with intriguing insight into the history of the team and their documented drawing power as an attraction in Mid-South and for Jim Crockett Promotions. The Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook easily has more interesting info about the mid-’80s JCP period than just about any book I’ve read, even booker Dusty’s bio, although that’s not exactly shocking.
Cornette also chronicles his dealings with former WCW head honcho Jim Herd, arguably the most incompetent man ever to run the company—which is saying a lot. Reading about the ineptitude of Herd and others at WCW is almost enough to give me a headache. (Yes, Cornette confirms that Herd did in fact pitch the Hunchbacks gimmick—a tag-team whose shoulders couldn’t be pinned to the mat because of their humps.)
Other material in the book includes actual letters from irate fans, sections on MX ribs (pranks), and lawsuits filed against Cornette and the team. The book also highlights some of the manager’s classic one-liners, including “J.J. Dillon’s had so many facelifts, he’s got nipples on his chin; they had enough skin left over to make a midget. His Social Security Number is 1.” and “Louisiana reminds me of Darwin’s waiting room.” (One of my personal faves regarding Dusty’s younger sibling didn’t make the list: “They used to call Dusty’s sister ‘Federal Express’ ‘cause when she went to a guy’s house she absolutely, positively had to be there overnight.”)
The 230-page book includes bios—“Before and After Midnight”—of the stars who made up one of the best acts in the history of the business: Cornette, “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, “Lover Boy” Dennis Condrey and “Sweet” Stan Lane as well as the manager’s bodyguard in Jim Crockett Promotions, the late Ray Traylor (“Big Bubba Rogers” and, later, WWE’s “Big Boss Man).
In addition to reprints of souvenir programs and magazine covers featuring himself and the various incarnations of the Midnights, Cornette includes the houses (money drawn) and notes of many of his appearances throughout his career, directly from the thorough records he kept over the years, which the author chalks up to his OCD tendencies.
Most fascinating, we get insights into his Memphis days, including the fateful day promoter Jerry Jarrett tapped him on the shoulder at the WMC-TV Studio on Union Ave. to inform him of his plans to mold him into the spoiled brat character that manager Gary Hart had played so well years earlier. Cornette, who usually didn’t photograph the studio show, was there that day to document the classic Lawler angle with NWA World champ Ric Flair, who was making his first and only TV appearance in his birthplace. (I’ve often wondered if the course of wrestling in the area would have changed had Flair, who was adopted in Memphis but raised in Minneapolis, had grown up in the area and become a fan of the local show like he did in Minnesota. Yeah, yeah, it’s a stretch, but I have to mark out over the thought of Flair and Lawler, my two favorite all-time performers, coming up at the same time in the territory in the ’70s.)
Like both Lawler and Flair, Cornette was a huge wrestling fan at an early age. It all started when his mother stayed up late one night watching Dick the Bruiser’s promotion out of Indianapolis. The following week, Cornette was hooked when his mama allowed her young son to stay up past his bedtime to watch along with her. By the time Cornette was 13, he and his mother were regulars at the Tuesday night shows at Louisville Gardens, which didn’t go unnoticed by Christine Jarrett, the mother of the Memphis promoter. In 1975, he began taking photos of the wrestlers from his ringside seat with an instamatic camera. His first subject: prelim worker Dennis Condrey, who even posed for the little squirt.
The Cornette scrapbook recalls the young photographer’s sentimental memories of the Saturday morning meeting with Jarrett that would change his career and his life forever: “I shit my pants. I thought I had heat.”
In addition to the book, Cornette’s Collectibles has a new DVD release of Midnight Express rarities, including many bouts never before seen on U.S. television. Click to order the book here. Pick up the book and DVD for the the Midnight mark on your list by clicking here. For my full review of the book, click here.
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