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Art foundation: Jerry Lawler’s artistic talents led to wrestling career, magazine features

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As I’ve well-documented, I was a huge fan of the Apter wrestling magazines growing up. While I understand some fans’ disdain for the fictional interviews and fabricated stories, they were largely well written for what they were, in addition to the great photography. Ideally, they helped complement the story lines and major angles/programs of the era and could help a star’s shine even brighter nationwide in the days before everyone had cable TV access.

Lawler sketches referee and softball buddy Jerry Calhoun in the mid-'70s.

Nick Gulas for years wouldn’t cooperate with the magazines as he didn’t want publicity, and the magazines weren’t big sellers in Tennessee anyway. That all changed when Jerry Lawler became a star in Memphis, as he immediately reached out to Bill Apter, frequently sending him photos taken by local photographers and suggestions for story ideas-the most infamous example being the infamous Andre Giant article that left Vince McMahon Sr. furious.

In 1983, Lawler agreed to draw a series of sketches of wrestling’s top stars for the Wrestling SuperStars publication on the condition that the first subject had to be that of his favorite wrestler. Years earlier, it was Lawler’s artwork of local Memphis wrestlers that earned him his first appearance on the local wrestling show as a guest of announcer Lance Russell, leading to his break into the business. In the ’70s, shortly after his debut, Lawler wrote and drew “The Patriot” (a masked wrestlers whose finisher was the Uncle Slam) comic strip for Wrestling Revue.

As a heel, Lawler offered a less-than-flattering picture of referee Calhoun for the Memphis territory program. (Scan courtesy of memphiswrestlinghistory.com.)

When the next issue or SuperStars finally came out (quarterly publication), I was disappointed to find Lawler’s feature nowhere to be found. Not long after, I paid $3 to see Lawler’s Army softball team play at Ellendale Park. My friend Greg Grimes and I peppered the King with questions every time he was in the dugout, including me inquiring about the missing SuperStars feature. Lawler sheepishly replied, “Uh, well…I didn’t get the drawings finished on time. But the next three are Hulk Hogan, Tommy Rich and Jimmy Snuka.” The following issue, Lawler’s feature had been replaced with a full-color photo spread of Hogan. The next two issues featured Rich and Snuka in the color spread but no Lawler artwork. A shame-would have been interesting to see more of Lawler’s comic-book-style renderings of the stars of the ’80s.

For more Lawler artwork, check out the collection over at Memphis Wrestling History.

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