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“Memphis Heat” wrestling documentary premieres March 24 on National Sputnik Monroe Day

February 3rd, 2011 5 comments

It’s ready: “Memphis Heat,” the long-awaited documentary feature on the true story of Memphis rasslin’, will premiere March 24, National Sputnik Monroe Day, at the Malco Paradiso Theater in Memphis. (As far as I know, Sputz Day is not a recognized bank or school holiday…yet.) Wrestling at the old Ellis Auditorium in the late ’50s was the first integrated sporting event in the city, which came about in part because then-top-draw Monroe demanded it.

Monroe: Champion of Civil Rights

Unlike most of the boys, Monroe played up to the section of black fans, who were forced to cheer and jeer from a limited number of cheap seats in the Ellis balcony. Steadily, the African-American fan base grew so large that promoters were forced to integrate the seating to accommodate the number of blacks waiting to get into the building. And if they didn’t, legend has it, Monroe threatened to walk out.

Sputnik also made newspaper headlines for frequenting “negro” taverns and other black-owned businesses on Beale Street. (For more clippings featuring the controversial Monroe, check out the excellent Memphis Wrestling History site.) Several Memphis-area teens identified with the rebel ‘rassler, going so far as to emulate their hero by bleaching their hair a blonde streak up the middle.

From the documentary’s producers: National Sputnik Monroe Day! Celebrate the life of one of the no-holds-barred, all-time great wrestlers! Come check out Sputnik Monroe’s contribution as a Civil Rights early mover, long before there were riots in the streets. Important people will make proclamations about Sputnik Monroe, and his exploits (as well as many others!) will be featured in the world film premiere of Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin’! It’s been 50 years since Sputnik integrated the world of wrestling. Don’t you think it’s time he was honored?!!!

I do indeed. More info on the Sputnik Monroe Day event and premiere are available here and on Facebook.

The doc features interviews with the men behind all that Monday night magic and mayhem, including Jackie FargoJerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, Jimmy Hart, referee Jerry Calhoun and the late Mr. Guy Coffey. The producers also obtained some brilliant, rare in-ring footage from my buddy Rick over at 70s-tv.com for use in the film. As a fan who grew up with Memphis wrestling, the latest trailer looks amazing.