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Greek theatre

June 2nd, 2009 1 comment

Biting hatred: Blassie’s revenge on Tolos tasted bloody sweet.

Biting hatred: Blassie’s revenge on Tolos tasted bloody sweet.

Mere mention of L.A.’s old Grand Olympic Auditorium to native Angelenos elicits emotion, much like if the Mid-South Coliseum came up in discussion with folks who grew up in the Memphis area. Not surprising, really, as Hollywood and rest of the country enthusiastically embraced the business with the increasing popularity of TV in the ’50s.

Last year, when Mary, the receptionist at the Santa Monica-based advertising agency I work for, learned of my former rasslin’ career, she sent me an e-mail exclaiming, “I had no idea you used to moonlight as the Intelligent Sensational Destroyer!”

She went on to write, “the early days of TV made us slaves to anything on ‘The Eye,’ including the test pattern. We watched Freddie Blassie, Gorgeous George, Baron Leone and countless others do their thing, announced by ‘Ol’ Leather Britches’ Dick Lane. My bro even took me down to the Olympic to see these matches in person.”

When I broke the news to her Monday that “The Golden Greek” John Tolos had passed away at 78, Mary initially didn’t recognize the name. But after I described the infamous “blinding” angle in which Tolos threw a huge amount of powder into Blassie’s eyes—which not only set up the biggest grudge match in L.A. history but also explained the King of Men’s absence for much-needed knee surgery and a tour of Japan—Mary’s appeared crestfallen, almost as if a longtime friend had died.

I think that’s the way many of us feel about the boys we grew up watching on TV, especially our babyface heroes. They were more than characters on a TV show—they were people we knew or would have liked to have known. In our living rooms constantly, the boys were practically family to us. When they hurt, we hurt. When our heroes lost, it felt like we, too, had lost something.

I wonder if today’s young fans form that same type of attachment. Perhaps I’m cynical, but somehow I doubt they do. And that’s a shame.

With Blassie having passed away in 2003, I have to smile at the ridiculous notion of one hell of a fight going on somewhere between the King of Men and the Golden Greek. A rematch for the ages.

RIP, John Tolos.Click here for the link to the Los Angeles Times obituary on John Tolos