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

February 3rd, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments
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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 Fargo, Jerry 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.

  1. Eric Plunk
    February 3rd, 2011 at 10:30 | #1

    I may have to make the drive to M town for this! (unless a copy can be sent to the Corinth, MS Malco.)

  2. David
    February 3rd, 2011 at 15:11 | #2

    I was concerned about this movie, as the previous early cuts did not include Jerry Jarrett. Thank goodness Sherman went to the trouble to get him in this flick, as he was the single most important figure in Memphis Wrestling, IMO… Although there are still glaring omissions from this movie (Lance, Dutch, Idol, Dave Brown), Jarrett was the one I just could not forgive… now I can officially get behind this movie… can’t wait!!!

    Here’s a question to Scott, or anyone who knows… did Jackie Fargo ever wrestle Sputnik?

  3. Tyler from Charlotte
    February 3rd, 2011 at 15:46 | #3

    Man, this looks awesome. I especially like the last line from Dundee: “we made the people believe…hell we believed”…good stuff…

  4. February 3rd, 2011 at 16:59 | #4

    CAN’T WAIT!!! Who is going?

  5. admin
    February 9th, 2011 at 15:55 | #5

    Dave Meltzer apparently recently spoke to Lance Russell regarding Monroe. According to Dave, the longtime announcer said the story of what happened was very different from legend, where the promoters were against it and Monroe forced their hand. From Dave’s recent issue: “He noted that Roy Welch was actually the proponent, since he hated turning people away when there were empty seats, but in doing business in Memphis with the establishment at the time, there would be far too much heat on him if he allowed African Americans to sit with whites. So Monroe, who felt the same way, was used to take the heat in the community at the time, which was substantial. The idea was Monroe forced Welch against his will, so if whites hated it, the heat would go to Monroe as opposed to the promotion, and if Welch was forced against his will, he wouldn’t get pressure to shut down by the community. As it turned out, there were very few problems and very shortly after, the other sports and entertainment events started integrating.” Now, this certainly doesn’t take away from Sputnik, who by all accounts strongly believed that blacks should be allowed to sit with whites; however, it does shed new light in the sense that his motives were also money-related. And, as it turns out, it seems he didn’t need to “force” Welch’s hand after all; in fact, the promoter was only concerned with one color: green.

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