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12 days of Christmas Chaos (Day One: A gift from the Hart)

December 8th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
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Over the next 12 days, I’ll cover the best in rasslin’-related gifts for the marks on your Christmas list.

 The straight shooter

Shades of gray: Not everything is black-and-white in Bret's bio.

Shades of gray: Not everything is black-and-white in Bret's bio.

It’s not easy being Bret Hart—just ask him. Better yet, pick up his fascinating autobiography, BRET HART: MY REAL LIFE IN THE CARTOON WORLD OF WRESTLING, which covers Bret’s incredible life story, including his methodical rise from the bottom of WWF cards to the pinnacle of his profession and his quiet downfall—and the heartbreak he suffered both personally and professionally along the way.

Even better: Bret’s book was released in paperback in the United States on November 3, so it’s now available through Amazon.com for only $11.55.  

Compared to most half-hearted wrestling bios (e.g., Harley Race’s light-heavyweight effort of 178 pages) Bret’s book weighs in at the King Kong Bundy equivalent—a whopping 573 pages. Unlike most of the boys, Bret had the foresight to realize in his early ‘20s that if his career as a professional wrestler took off, he would be embarking on an amazing journey that should be documented. So he began tape-recording intricate details of his life, with a gut feeling that perhaps he’d rely on these gems later when telling his life story. Throughout the book, Bret offers such details as the exact dress his mother was wearing during a moment decades ago, and more important, exactly how Bret felt during and after the most significant events of his life. Unlike his ringside manner, in which he always protected his opponent, Bret in the introduction promises that he “pulls no punches.” Indeed, the Hitman takes aim at everyone from his siblings to Vince McMahon to Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair, with the end result often being character assassination.

A brilliant observer, Bret’s creative juices flow on these pages like the crimson stream that slowly enveloped “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s noggin as the Texas Rattlesnake was ensnared in the Hitman’s sharp-shooter finisher at WRESTLEMANIA 13. Describing the hallowed Hart house in which he grew up, Bret writes it “was a cross between a big hotel where the housekeepers had quit, a cat-and-dog refuge and an orphanage for troubled children.” Stu and Helen Hart had 12 kids; Bret recalls that during his childhood his mother was nearly always pregnant. Mostly, the kids ran roughshod over the house—almost a “LORD OF THE FLIES”-type existence, according to Bret. This could explain why, years later (in Bret’s eyes anyway) most of his siblings turned on him and squeezed the last dollars and breaths out of his parents.

Of course, the beating heart of Hart house was located underground—the infamous Dungeon, which was “a cramped room with sweat- and blood-soaked canvas mats with a thinly padded floor.” The room was also decorated with “big holes in the low ceiling made by the heads and feet of wrestlers”—almost like a bizarre version of the stars plastered onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Much like I might describe, say, my how my dad painstakingly washed his truck on the weekends while I was growing up, Bret whimsically describes how family patriarch Stu Hart scrubbed the Dungeon walls and floors with the faces of his “students” —inflicting unimaginable pain on any sucker who wanted to try his hand at pro wrestling. Stu, a master shooter, weeded out countless of hopefuls, most of who probably thought they’d embarrass the old man in their initial workouts—many hard lessons were doled out in the Dungeon. Most of them reportedly ran from the house screaming, like an unwitting guest at the Addams Family ramshackle mansion. Others survived the torture of being stretched by Stu and went on to become huge stars in the business, such as “Superstar” Billy Graham, Archie “the Stomper” Gouldie—and of course, his own sons, Bret and Owen, and son-in-law Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart.

Hart foundation: The Hart boys grew up fast in Stu Hart's loving yet brutal care.

Hart foundation: The Hart boys grew up fast in Stu Hart's loving yet brutal care.

Stu also entertained other guests in his lion’s den, such as potential dates and husbands his daughters. Even the family’s pastor didn’t escape Stu’s wrath.

In the book, Bret details his earliest memories of the business, including the beauty of an NWA World title match between champ Gene Kiniski, a former student of Stu’s, and Pat O’Connor in his dad’s territory in Calgary, which would eventually be known as Stampede Wrestling. He also vividly recalls how Killer Kowalski seemingly broke the neck of Tex McKenzie. (Ironically enough, Bret writes that he was wearing a toy gun and cowboy holster when this, his earliest memory of the business, occurred. Years later, upon joining the ever-expanding circus tent of Vince McMahon in the mid-’80s, then-WWF booker George Scott tried to saddle Bret with a cowboy gimmick—an offer Bret declined.)

Bret fondly recalls the turning point in his relationship with his father, whose octopus-like stretching of his boys would likely be considered severe child abuse today. After winning the 1974 Calgary city high-school championship in 1974, Stu rewarded Bret with one of the several old Cadillacs that riddled the Hart house lawn. That moment perhaps planted the seeds in Stu’s mind that Bret was special and had potential to accomplish.

Bret began refereeing, and shortly thereafter, started his pro wrestling training on the side with Stampede heels Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada. He made his debut months later against his teachers in a tag bout, filling in for a scheduled wrestler who was unable to appear. Bret was amazed as the heels beat him unmercifully, pounding him with stiff shots throughout the bout. They calmly explained afterward that they had to issue him a beating, as it wouldn’t be realistic in the fans’ eyes if the bad-ass heels struggled with a guy who was just a referee weeks ago. Reminds of me of what Jerry Lawler and other babyfaces said to me every time I was potatoed during my Memphis heel-manager run in the mid-’90s: It’s good for the business.

Bret also displayed natural aptitude for booking, and his father put him in limited creative charge of the territory while the future Hitman was still in his early 20s. Bret often sparred with his brother Bruce over the booking direction of the wrestling company. Not surprisingly, Bret preferred a logical, straightforward approach, making pro wrestling seem more like true sport, while Bruce was more like Calgary’s answer to Memphis-booker Lawler, with crazy gimmicks, bloody bouts, nut shots and wild finishes. This could explain Bret’s obvious disdain for the King and his loyal Memphis subjects, whom the Hitman shoots down later in the book.

The book details the years Bret spent learning the ring ropes in his father’s once-lucrative territory in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, including a funny story of his first attempt at getting juice (cutting his forehead with a razorblade to draw blood in a match) and the early battles with a foe who would help shape his own ring style and presence—England’s Tom Billington, the Dynamite Kid. Although Bret’s story is often tragic, nothing tops the tale of how Dynamite earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in the business, becoming a big star in Japan and later in the States as the British Bulldogs tag-team with Davey Boy Smith in the WWF before self-destructing. Today, the former innovative high-flyer is grounded — broke and confined to a wheelchair. After reading Billington’s bio PURE DYNAMITE years ago, it’s interesting to see how someone close to the Kid viewed his steady demise—I think that while it broke Bret’s heart, he also feels Dynamite had it coming.

Explosive chemistry: Bret whips Dynamite Kid across the ring of one their early stiff classics.

Explosive chemistry: Bret whips Dynamite Kid across the ring of one their early stiff classics.

Bret’s thoughts on the early gypsy lifestyle, traveling in a battered and bruised van packed with sweaty, stinking wrestlers across the often-freezing Canadian prairies to make a show, reveal both his love and hate for the business. And how that life slowly became the only existence he knew.

The lives of Bret and many territory wrestlers changed drastically in 1983 with the expansion of Vince McMahon, who broke the ironclad, tacit boundaries established by the National Wrestling Alliance. While the young McMahon simply ran most of his opposition into the ground by signing away each area’s stars and producing slick WWF TV with superior production values compared to the local effort, he made offers to buy out a select few, including AWA owner Verne Gagne and Stu. Bret admits that he was relieved when his father opted to sell the rights to the Calgary territory to Vince, as Stampede Wrestling was spiraling into a deep money pit, much to Helen’s dismay.

Stu’s one mandate to McMahon: Bret, Dynamite and sons-in-law Neidhart and Davey Boy would all be given jobs. Much like the WIZARD OF OZ, Bret would be whisked away, whether he liked it or not, from the dismal Calgary grey for the Technicolor world of New York City.

We’re not in Calgary anymore 

Even more fascinating than the glimpse he provides into his own Corleone-type family (Bret = Michael; Bruce = Sonny), Hart’s detailed accounts of his early days in the World Wrestling Federation are the most enthralling chapters.

As part of Stu’s agreement to concede the territory to Vince McMahon’s WWF juggernaut in 1985, Bret was promised a job, along with the Bulldogs and Jim Neidhart. Despite booker George Scott’s promise that Bret would “work with all the top guys in all the top angles,” Hart was leery. And with good reason. Bret writes how sick he felt when he showed up with Dynamite for their first bout under Vinnie’s circus tent during one of those infamous marathon TV tapings of the early expansion years.

Backstage at the Hamilton Civic Center, Bret marveled over the polished WWF stars spitting out concise promos for all the different cities on tour. Unlike most of the seasoned stars Vince had cherry-picked from all the regional promotions—Roddy Piper, Jesse Ventura, Paul Orndorff, and of course, Hulk Hogan—Bret was hardly the excellence of enunciation. In fact, he was downright nervous and awkward on the stick. Bret admits that he knew was at a disadvantage—he’d have to do his talking in the ring.

Trouble was, Bret writes, he was coming off knee surgery, so he had ring rust in his first bout in the Fed, teaming with Dynamite to devour a couple of jobbers. (Such wrestlers later become known under the corporate euphuisms “extras” and “enhancement talent.”) After blowing a couple of spots—and nearly his knee in the process—Hart was ignored while Dynamite was singled out backstage by McMahon for his beautiful dive off the top rope. Bret’s career in the Fed was off and limping.

After a solid performance in his second bout of the afternoon, Bret was startled to be admonished by backstage agent “Chief” Jay Strongbow for using the piledriver. “That’s Orndorff’s finisher! Don’t use it again!” Bret wasn’t in Calgary anymore. For the two afternoon bouts, Bret writes he was paid a whopping $50. Even with all the changes he was making to the business, McMahon apparently still subscribed to the old-school mentality that appearing on TV was a favor of sorts to help you get over and draw more money at the arenas.

In Bret’s bio, you really get a sense of how the talent in the WWF was in awe of McMahon and his aggressive plans to take over the wrestling world. “While seizing power was a ruthless move, it was also a bold and brilliant one,” he writes. The resulting pressure cooker had all the boys desperate to catch McMahon’s eye—much like puppies in a pet store—and be catapulted to mainstream superstar status they’d never before dreamed. Bret recalls being constantly worried about losing his job and/or push—a desperate, sinking feeling that never quite left him, even after achieving success and climbing the WWF ladder. It didn’t help that his brother Bruce constantly attempted to sabotage WWF’s success in Calgary—and Bret’s future—by starting up another Stampede territory in an ill-advised attempt to stay in the game.

Hart of a different color: After rejecting the cowboy gimmick, Bret’s initial Hart Foundation attire was black and blue. Horse sold separately.

Hart of a different color: After rejecting the cowboy gimmick, Bret’s initial Hart Foundation attire was black and blue. Horse sold separately.

Bret’s ascent toward the top began almost with a potential setback. Booker Scott attempted to saddle Bret with a cowboy gimmick, in which Hart would ride to the ring on a horse, much like Jerry Lawler had done prior to his match with Hulk Hogan in Memphis in 1981. “Cowboy Bret Hart—just like the Rhinestone Cowboy! We’ll sell the action figure with the horse right in the box!” Apparently, that was how WWF developed its gimmicks as part of its newfound focus on a family-friendly product in 1985. You can almost hear Bret responding like Jerry Seinfeld, “But I don’t wanna be a Cowboy!!” Instead, Bret suggested to Scott that he be paired with brother-in-law Jim Neidhart as a tag-team, the Hart Foundation. Although stunned by Hart’s rejection of a surefire money-making gimmick, Scott relented. Much later, after the Hart Foundation gimmick took off, Scott confided in Bret that he had thought Bret was doomed to opening-match status with Neidhart in what he thought was a bland gimmick.

Bret figured the key to getting the gimmick over would be getting paired in bouts with the Bulldogs, who were already on the fast track toward becoming true WWF Superstars. Little did he realize another component that would greatly figure into his success: manager Jimmy Hart, freshly plucked from Jerry Jarrett’s and Lawler’s Memphis territory. Paired with Hart, one of the best interviews in wrestling at the time, and Neidhart, Bret wouldn’t have to worry about promos. He also learned to hide the nervousness that was apparent in his shifting eyes by wearing dark shades. After a few brilliant bouts with the Bulldogs, the Hart Foundation was starting to pump like a well-oiled machine.

But while the Bulldogs were cashing in by appearing on cards with the red-hot Hogan, the Hart Foundation was mostly regulated to C-team shows. The difference in pay was significant for those riding the back of the Hulkster. In what some might say was an early sign of the arrogance and attitude he’d become known for in certain circles, Bret laments, “The Bulldogs were going to lose the belts, and it was doubtful the Hart Foundation would get them. This despite the fact that we’d had the best bouts by far with all the tag teams. Jim called us ‘pseudo-superstars.’”

Bret also details the unique camaraderie among the boys, who were traveling like never before across North America. With the “help” of Neidhart, Bret was quickly initiated into the bad-boys club, a motley crew consisting of Adrian Adonis, Piper, Magnificent Muraco and the dreaded Iron Sheik. Bret claims he hesitated when Piper offered him a rolled-up dollar bill after eyeing the huge mound of cocaine in the bad boys’ hotel hideaway. He didn’t hesitate long, quickly snorting two lines. A bond between Hart and Piper was formed that night, swapping stories until the sun came up and the drugs were gone. It was Piper who inspired Bret to develop his promo skills: “He made me promise to practice doing promos in the mirror, on planes, in my room, anywhere.” I have this image of a drooling, nearly passed-out Piper on an airplane mumbling a spiel, running down Hogan.

You've gotta have Hart: The Mouth of the South handled most of the promos, while the Hitman and the Anvil excellently executed in the ring.

You've gotta have Hart: The Mouth of the South handled most of the promos, while the Hitman and the Anvil excellently executed in the ring.

Throughout the rest of the book, Hart isn’t as forthright about his drug use, as he mostly describes his indulgences with boys in vague terms like “partying.” Hart is, however, very open about his biggest vice on the road: women. No matter how tough and hardened they appeared, all the boys felt the loneliness of quite possibly the toughest traveling schedule in wrestling history—with the possible exception of NWA World champions like Harley Race in the late ‘70s and Ric Flair in the early ‘80s. To cope, Hart had several affairs—some significant, others simply one-night stands. It seems the more Bret’s career took off, the more his marriage to his wife, Julie, crumbled. Bret dismisses his actions: “My fondness for women kept me out of trouble. It may have even saved my life, when you consider how many wrestlers died from their drug and alcohol addictions.” Wow—even Bret’s transgressions are a much higher moral ground than the rest of us. Somehow, I’m not sure Julie would agree with Bret on that point.

But you have to cut Bret some slack, as the pressure of the road was clearly getting to him: “We had bought big houses that we were rarely able to enjoy and that were actually owned by the bank. I was sick of the whole routine, but I had too much at stake now. The only way I knew how to provide for my family was what was keeping me away from them.”

How could Bret have known his career would soon be in the pink?

The Arrogance of Execution

“You’ll be rich and famous in a far-out profession.”
—Fortune-cookie message received by Hart at the end of Chinese meal on Christmas 1987

Despite finding his niche in the Former Fed as part of the Hart Foundation, Bret Hart was becoming increasingly frustrated in 1985. In his bio, he writes that while big men like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were drawing the houses, “they never worked the kinds of fast-paced beautiful masterpieces that we did.” Hart’s attitude at that point is easy to understand, as he still wasn’t a true WWF Superstar in his eyes or the fans’ at that point, despite having some of the best matches in the business with partner Jim Neidhart vs. the British Bulldogs. In fact, Neidhart had taken to referring to himself and Hart as “pseudo Superstars.”

Under the big top: As celebrities like Cyndi Lauper and Liberace commanded the spotlight with Hulk Hogan, Bret initially struggled to find a place in the WWF circus.

Under the big top: As celebrities like Cyndi Lauper and Liberace commanded the spotlight with Hulk Hogan, Bret initially struggled to find a place in the WWF circus.

To avoid being overshadowed by the massive bodies in the Fed at the time, Bret, like most of the boys, was a regular customer of Dr. Zahorian, who would be at the center of the federal government’s case against Vince McMahon in the mid-’90s. Dr. Zahorian was a mark doctor, who supplied the boys with their “candies” — steroids, painkillers, speed and downers. Looking back, Bret questions his own judgment as the dead bodies of wrestlers were already starting to pile up.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t Hart’s increased muscle mass that caught Vince’s eye. A breakthrough for the Foundation came prior to an NBC SATURDAY NIGHT’S MAIN EVENT taping in ‘86. At the suggestion of their seamstress, Hart and Neidhart reluctantly decided to part from their typical black-and-blue and occasional black-and-red attire and wear “neon bubblegum pink” to the ring. Pleased when he saw their new look, McMahon told the stunned tandem, “Don’t ever change that color! That’s what you’ve been missing!” The pink-and-black attack was underway.

The Hart Foundation continued to have some of the best bouts in the company but were never targeted for the World tag belts until Dynamite Kid (Billington) suffered a freak back injury that was more a cumulative result of the abuse he’d put his body through both in the ring and out. Despite Dynamite barely being able to walk, Vince pressured the Bulldogs to drop the belts in the ring. Billington agreed but only if they lost to the Hart Foundation — an uncharacteristically unselfish moment for the English grappler. Later, Hart writes how dismayed he was to witness Dynamite’s slow, agonizing fall from grace. Despite desperately wanting the belts as an affirmation of their greatness within the company, Hart claims that upon winning the straps he “vowed to himself to never forget that wrestling is a work.”

Occasionally while reading his book, I questioned whether Bret accomplished that.

Bret was among the first to keep his copies of his straps and have them mounted on his wall like trophies, something the older wrestlers had a laugh over. It should be noted that a lot of the boys do that today. I noticed Chris Jericho had the two belts representing his “Undisputed World title” win over the Rock and Steve Austin in the same night hanging on his wall during an interview for a Shawn Michaels DVD. I think the boys who grew up watching wrestling and were huge fans are more apt to be belt marks.

I’m reminded of when I called Jerry Lawler to jokingly congratulate him on his HOF induction. His son Kevin Lawler had tipped me off that the King wasn’t exactly thrilled with the honor because he’d be missing a rare Cleveland Indians exhibition game in Memphis. Besides, Lawler sees the WWE HOF for what it is: a marketing ploy. Upon receiving my call, Lawler said, “Shit. Yeah, right. That’s like congratulating somebody for winning a fucking belt.”

There are times in the book where you get a sense that Bret was clearly his biggest fan, with the exception perhaps of two young girls in Italy crying uncontrollably when they spied the Hitman leaving an arena. “We love you, Hitman,” they screamed, tears streaming down their faces. Bret claims that upon seeing this, Jimmy Hart told him, “That’s not something you see anywhere else for anybody else in this business.” Maybe, maybe not.

You do get a true glimpse into how Bret saw himself and others during his run. More than anything, you can get insight into the ego of an increasingly successful wrestler over time. It’s also interesting to read how Bret’s relationship with McMahon evolves, from one of the first times McMahon complimented the Hart Foundation after a bout (“He actually spoke to us!”) to the punch after the now-infamous 1997 Montreal Screwjob. You also get a feel for the often-empty promises McMahon delivered to not only Hart but countless others over years, including Owen Hart, who was buried underneath for years before Bret successfully lobbied for Owen — not Bruce Hart — to get the spot in the proposed brother vs. brother feud.

After going as far as he could with Neidhart in tag bouts, McMahon kept delaying plans for Hart’s anticipated push as a singles star. Eventually, he followed through, with Hart winning the Intercontinental strap from Mr. Perfect in a great match at the ‘90 SUMMERSLAM event. I don’t think I truly understood what a feat that match was for both wrestlers until reading Hart’s book. I knew Curt was in pain entering the bout, but I don’t think realized just how shot Hennig’s back was. There’s no way he should have been in the ring, let alone delivering such a first-rate, grueling performance.

Even more amazing than the Hennig bout: When Hart dropped the IC belt to Davey Boy Smith in an incredible bout at London’s Wembley Stadium he was dealing with a panicked, fried Bulldog who had been in Florida for weeks smoking crack with Neidhart. Still, this was to be Bulldog’s moment, but Hart had other ideas for the post-match scenario: “He was trying to milk the crowd. I was thinking, ‘The drama is me, not them; for fuck’s sake, please look at me, Davey!’”

Still, despite having the best bout in the company in ages, Bret was paranoid about his spot. The night McMahon informed him he’d be winning the World title, Bret thought he was being called into the boss’ office to be fired.

Hart couldn’t resist taking a few shots at Ric Flair, the man he won his first WWF heavyweight championship from, referring to the Nature Boy’s style as “full-blast, non-stop non-psychology.” Flair fired the first shots in his own bio, having the gall to accuse the Hitman of being repetitive when making his comebacks. I love both guys’ work, so the criticisms seem petty to me. I will say, though, that Bret isn’t the first one to knock Flair’s chops as nonsensical. Lawler hated his bouts with Flair, claiming fans in Memphis wouldn’t understand why a guy would chop a man instead of punching him. Then again, Lawler also booked Frankenstein’s monster, Darth Vader, a Gene Simmons look-alike and Spider-Man himself in Memphis rings, so take that with a grain of Mr. Fuji’s salt.

I wasn’t exactly shocked to learn that Lawler and Hart didn’t get exactly get along. Hart criticized that Lawler was stiff in the attack following his KING OF THE RING tournament win in 1993. Hart writes, “I vowed to myself that I’d get even with him later.” And he supposedly did, with Hart writing that he potatoed Lawler repeatedly in their first PPV bout together and that the King had to crawl back to the dressing room on his belly like a crocodile. Even if that’s true, I wouldn’t exactly be proud of that.

Hart later complains that Shawn Michaels took liberties in their Iron Man match at WRESTLEMANIA 12, with several “potato shots.” Again, it’s hard to take Bret seriously at times when he complains about stuff like that. Ironically enough, Bret isn’t nearly as hard on Goldberg, who ended his career with a stiff kick to the head. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. 

I distrust some of Hart’s claims because of what he wrote regarding his experiences working in Memphis. Maybe he didn’t pack his tape recorder on those occasions — maybe he just doesn’t remember it right. But I don’t recall the Memphis ring ropes being “garden hoses” and or there being bolts sticking out of the canvas. The ring was hard, sure, but Hart’s ramshackle description is overdone, complete with his claim that “hillbillies” were in the audience. I was working in the area at the time, and the Memphis crowd, especially around ringside, was relatively sophisticated compared to the cesspools in Nashville and Jonesboro. Besides, like the Stampede crowds were far more refined—don’t think so. But I suppose it’s easy and fun to poke fun at Southerners, much like he playfully did in this promo that aired on Memphis TV in 1993:

Hart also writes, “Lawler had the biggest crowd in years, more than 5,000 rasslin’ fans hoopin’ and hollerin’ and hurlin’ garbage at us. By the end, the fans were fixing to fetch ropes to strings us up.” In reality, the crowd was up for the Owen/Bret vs. Lawler/Jeff Jarrett main event on August 16, 1993—1,800 fans (not 5,000) were there, up from a crowd of 1,500 the previous week for a Lawler vs. Mr. Perfect main event. The crowd at the Coliseum jumped to 3,567 on August 23, the largest of the year, for a Lex Luger vs. Yokozuna main event. (I can only imagine the stress Yoko put on the “garden-hose” ring ropes.) Bret also writes that a cage-rematch between the two teams took place two weeks later, when actually it was a singles bout between the King and the Hitman on August 29, which drew 2,100.

On February 14, 1996, Hart returned with the Undertaker to team vs. Lawler and Jarrett, a card which I also worked, which drew 1,100. I recall all the prelim guys like Reggie B. Fine jockeying to get their photos made with the WWF stars in the dressing room—pictures they would sell to fans weeks later at the gimmick table.

Iron wills: Personal pride and jealousy between Michaels and Hart blurred the lines between reality and fantasy.

Iron wills: Personal pride and jealousy between Michaels and Hart blurred the lines between reality and fantasy.

Still, that’s nitpicking. The book rebounds to deliver the goods on the Montreal Screwjob. While I understand how both men’s massive egos inevitably divided Michaels and Hart, I don’t fully agree with the Hitman’s argument that the program had been “geared toward the Canadian hero winning”; nor do I see how he would have lost “all his self-respect” if Michaels had beaten him in Canada. Granted, there was heat between the two and most agree that Michaels had been unbearable to work with at the time. The lines were really blurred between fiction and reality, with both wrestlers taking things too personally and responding in kind, e.g., Hart was upset that Michaels picked his nose with the Canadian flag, while HBK supposedly was pissed that Hart joked about his PLAYGIRL appearance. Um, it’s a work, fellahs. Personal issues draw money. I think they both lost sight of that fact. But they were both younger and brasher then — and both believed they should be on top.

Brother love: Bret compares a young Owen to Woodstock from PEANUTS: "a beaky nose, a tuft of blond hair and big blue eyes.”

Brother love: Bret compares a young Owen to Woodstock from PEANUTS: "a beaky nose, a tuft of blond hair and big blue eyes.”

Still, Hart was willing to drop the title to ‘Taker or Austin, so it seems like a compromise could have been made somewhere along the way. I mean, I do see McMahon’s point on having Hart put over his designated replacement—after all, it was wrestling tradition from the territory days for a departing star to do jobs on the way out. Nevertheless, I feel for Bret, and ultimately I can’t support McMahon’s decision to get the title off Hart that way after all they’d been through together. And it’s not as if Bret wanted to leave for WCW to begin with—he simply couldn’t turn that kind of money down, especially when it appeared that Michaels and Triple H had Vince’s ear on the direction the company was headed. The deceitfulness displayed by Vince, referee Earl Hebner, HBK and Trips was a new low for the business.

The book closes with Hart’s personal reflections on the death of his brother Owen and the sheer hell his family went through in the months afterward. There’s also some reflection on some touching moments the two brothers spent together before the tragedy at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The downhill slide Hart’s career took in WCW only further killed his spirit, culminating with his career-ending injury. If you didn’t think Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo were two overrated, lucky jerks before, you will after reading Hart’s thoughts on how WCW was being run during the Hitman’s run. Bret is also forthright about the struggles he went through in the months following his stroke as well. The guy’s been through more than any man should have to endure the past 10 years, including the deaths of both parents.

Overall, HITMAN: MY REAL LIFE IN THE CARTOON WORLD OF WRESTLING is a fantastically exhaustive, mostly honest look at one of the most brilliant wrestling careers of all time. More than anything, you can tell Bret put his heart and soul into the book, something that can’t be said for most wrestling books. It’s miles better than Chris Jericho’s book, which was also an entertaining read, and slightly better than Mick Foley’s HAVE A NICE DAY — the measuring stick by which all wrestling bios are measured.

Again, at under $12 for the recently released soft-cover version, you can’t go wrong.


  1. William Burnett – Little Rock
    December 11th, 2009 at 04:05 | #1

    Worth every penny … & then some.

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