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Posts Tagged ‘Books & DVD Reviews’

12 days of Christmas Chaos (“So long from the Sunshine State!”)

December 16th, 2009 No comments
Remembering The Walter Cronkite of Wrestling Announcers

Remembering The Walter Cronkite of Wrestling Announcers

Recently, I heard from Pam Allyn, the daugther of the late Gordon Solie. I had been thinking of Solie recently, as I listened to him call the action during a few of the NWA World title bouts featured on the new WWE DVD release The History of the World Heavyweight Championship. When I shared with Pam that I felt that Gordon’s voice and tone were perfect in establishing an air of legitimacy to the business, she responded, “He was a one and only. I was most likely his biggest mark and very early in life. His storytelling ability was amazing. I just believed.”

With the possible exception of Lance Russell, nobody made me believe quite like Gordon Solie, especially in bouts with the famed 1o Pounds of Gold hanging in the balance. Or as TNA Mike Tenay puts it, “Gordon calling a world championship match was like Al Michaels or Bob Costas calling a Super Bowl or World Series … just a perfect fit!”

As the legendary longtime voice of Georgia Championship Wresling and Championship Wrestling from Florida, Solie had an amazing knack for getting across the story of a pro wrestling match–or as he often referred to it, “human chess at its finest.” For more on the man and his life, pick up the  book The Solie Chronicles, available now from Crowbar Press. Written by his son-in-law Bob Allyn, with help from Pam and Scott Teal, the book is packed with stories from 65 people who knew Gordon best. Teal’s books are always worth a read, and this one looks to be no exception.

In particular, I love this excerpt from the book regarding an incident that I’m assuming occurred around the time of Black Saturday:

The Solie Chronicles sounds like a fitting tribute to arguably the greatest announcer of his era.

Here’s a clip of Solie calling the action in a 1984 clip of Championship Wrestling from Georgia (the early morning WTBS time slot awarded to Ole Anderson and the NWA by Ted Turner after McMahon took over the World Championship Wrestling slot). Jerry Lawler vs. Bob Roop: a classic display of “mental gymnastics.”

12 days of Christmas Chaos: (Day Five: Get down and dirty with Dutch Mantell)

December 15th, 2009 2 comments
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The Dutchman cometh: Finally, the official textbook for the University of Dutch is released.

Arguably the greatest athlete ever to come out of Oil Trough, Texas,  Dutch Mantell thrilled fans for years as the lone wolf of Memphis wrestling—an anti-hero more concerned with winning titles and kicking butts than kissing babies. Prof. Mantell has guided “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Kane and other students of the University of Dutch through the school of hard knocks on the road to success. Pick up his new book, The World According to Dutch, to find out what his graduates already know: the Dirty Dutchman is one of the shrewdest, sharpest minds in wrestling today.

I first met Dutch in 1989, my freshman year in college. He was booking Memphis, and had built an angle involving longtime African-American mid-carder King Cobra and Lawler, who was playing a racist heel. (Some would argue the role wasn’t a stretch for the King.) As the main event of the Christmas Chaos card at the Mid-South Coliseum, Cobra shocked Lawler and the approximately 3,000 fans in attendance by pinning the World Unified champion to win the title. As the crowd popped huge for the upset, Dutch walked out from the dressing-room area to observe his handiwork. My friend and I, two marks who thought we were smarter to the business than we really were, motioned Mantell to come over, and he obliged. I told him, “You booked a good angle!” Dutch kayfabed me, acting like he had no idea what the hell I was talking about. (In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t grab “shoo-baby,” his bullwhip.) 

I believe it was the following Monday night, on January 1, 1990, that a greenhorn from Texas, who been trained by “Gentleman” Chris Adams, showed up at the Coliseum expecting to work that night. Apparently, he’d been given a start date by Jerry Jarrett, who somehow forgot to inform Dutch of this new member to the CWA roster. After introducing himself as Steve Williams, the young man didn’t exactly take kindly to it when Dutch told him to think of another name–and quick–to wrestle under: “Why the hell not? …It’s my real name!” In his new book, Dutch writes, “I informed Mr. Williams in my kindest, sweetest voice that he couldn’t be Steve Williams…for one f’n reason…because there’s already a Steve Williams in this business, as in  DR. DEATH STEVE WILLIAMS….and there can’t be two Steve Williams in the same f’n business at the same f’n time. That would be like having two Willie Nelsons.”

After Williams failed to come up with anything, Mantell christened him “Steve Austin.” And history was made. (The way I see it, Austin owes Dutch at least a million in cash in royalties.)

Better...stronger...faster: Steve Austin is unleashed.

Better...stronger...faster: Steve Austin is unleashed.

In a sense, it’s only fitting that Mantell was so instrumental in hatching the Rattlesnake. Mantell originally wrestled under the name “Chris Gallagher” for Nashville promoter Nick Gulas. As Dutch tells it: “Chris Gallagher starved to death, so I buried him with a full funeral and then ‘Dutch Mantell’ was born.” I believe it was former wrestler Buddy Fuller who had the idea of the Dutch character, a rough-and-tumble, modern-day outlaw of sorts. Mantell certainly looked the part, with a dark mustache and beard—and even darker eyes. In many ways, Mantell, “the Dirty Dutchman,” as Memphis announcer Lance Russell often referred to him, developed a character that was ahead of its time. He set the standard for a worker like Austin, whose “Stone Cold” persona got over with fans initially as a tough-talking heel who gradually turned into an anti-establishment-type appreciated by the fans.   

Dutch’s initial turn from heel to babyface in Memphis was classic. Dastardly Japanese heels Mr. Onita and Masa Fuchi, managed by veteran Tojo Yamamoto, were running roughshod over the area in spring 1981, leaving a trail of bloody babyfaces (Eddie Gilbert, Ricky Morton, Steve Keirn, Dundee, the Dream Machine, etc.) in their wake. One heated Monday night, the foreign heels were ganging up on Dundee and the Dream when suddenly, and without advance warning of a turn, Dutch made the save.

In an emotional interview with Lance Russell the following Saturday, Dutch, a legit Vietnam veteran, spoke of serving his country. Mantell went on to explain that he saw the Japanese outnumbering two Americans. He then snapped when he noticed a little boy so shocked by the horror that the youngster dropped the American flag he had been waving in support of the babyfaces. When Dutch rushed the ring to attack Tojo, Onita and Fuchi, he was not merely making the save—he was defending the honor of the country. It’s easily one of the most memorable promos of the era…and that covers a hell of a lot of ground.

Even after turning babyface, Mantell was often the consummate “tweener,” all too willing to put aside friendships for a chance at a championship , which added a nice touch of realism to the otherwise nutty Memphis scene. This may not sound like anything groundbreaking today because we’ve all seen that scenario a million times now. But back in Memphis in the early ‘80s, the performers were almost always clearly defined as heels or babyfaces.

It's a dirty job, but....: Dutch poses with his two best friends in the Memphis territory.

The dirtiest player in the game: Dutch poses with his two best friends in the Memphis territory.

 

While Dutch was usually a babyface, he’d turn ever so slightly to feud with established area heroes Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee over the AWA Southern title and the NWA Mid-America title, respectively. Mantell’s blue-collar character often complained of being given the shaft by the establishment, in this case, the area promoters. Many hard-working fans in the South identified with that scenario, which is probably why Dutch was one the few wrestlers to feud with Lawler during the King’s prime babyface run and still receive plenty of cheers at the Coliseum. In particular, the three straight main events between the King and the Dutchman at the Coliseum in March 1982 were fantastic and have to be considered among Lawler’s best.

Years back, after I published a review of Lawler’s book, Dutch e-mailed me out of the blue. When I reminded him of our first encounter in ‘89, he shocked me by remembering it verbatim. He said he had even thought about that night several times since then and wondered just who the hell I was because “smart fans” who read the Wrestling Observer were rare in Memphis at that time. I think Dutch remembered me for the same reason he’s been so successful in the business: He pays attention; he notices things. He’s not too caught up in himself, or his character for that matter, to notice what’s going on around him. If those sound like qualities for a being a good booker, that’s because they are. And, as it turns out, the Dutchman’s a hell of good storyteller and author to boot. I hope to have an interview with Dutch down the road after I finish reading his book. Until then, check out his Web site, where you can check out a few free chapters online and order The World According to Dutch. Edited by Mark James (of the wonderful Memphis Wrestling History site) and Ric Gross, the book has 32 chapters covering 270-plus pages as well as dozens of never-before-seen photos—a virtual wrestling history lesson.

He’s from Hollywood

December 11th, 2009 1 comment
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Head start: Lawler offered Kaufman a free headlock, and the comedian obliged.

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.

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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.

When it comes to annoying women, Andy wrote the book.

When it comes to annoying women, Andy Kaufman wrote the book.

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.