Thursday, December 14, 2017

Managing The Merchandise

Like many who grew up watching wrestling, the aspect of managers in the business was just plain intriguing. The manager served many purposes, including but not limited to adding a little something extra to the wrestler who he or she represented. At times, that "extra" was sorely needed. In other instances, using Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as an example, the wrestler and manager were equally great and simply complimented each other. In any case, the managers just had to be colorful and charismatic. This equates into merchandising.

When the colorful magazine covers were grabbing attention at newsstands in the 1960's and 1970's, the managers began to have their real first taste of merchandise. Whether it be The Grand Wizard in one of his many guises or Heenan with his face covered in the legendary "crimson mask," the managers could sell magazines just as well as they could tickets to the matches. The slovenly Captain Lou Albano made his complete transformation from wrestler to manager in this era, usually guiding the tag teams of the WWWF while "Hollywood Fashion Plate" Fred Blassie was managing heels of all types. These men and their charges were perfect cover material. Who didn't want to read about the next threats to Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund?

One manager was actually responsible for much of the early wrestling merchandising in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Who would that be? The "Louisville Lip" himself, Jim Cornette. Growing up as a fan of wrestling and then becoming a ringside photographer as a teen, Cornette found himself helping to run the merchandise tables in the Memphis wrestling territory and peddling "gimmicks" for the likes of Jerry "The King" Lawler, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, and even "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart. The complete story is told in the book "Rags, Paper, & Pins: The Merchandising Of Memphis Wrestling" by Cornette and Mark James. A highly recommended book for any fan of wrestling memorabilia!

The 80's also brought another new dimension to wrestling managers: their own subset in LJN's WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line. LJN had the right idea when including announcers, referees, and managers into their wildly popular toy line. The card backs were even emblazoned with "Manager" for this special release, although some of the other "non-wrestler" figures were given this designation as well. Included were Lou Albano, Bobby Heenan, Fred Blassie, Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart, Johnny V, Slick, and the one and only Miss Elizabeth.

Easily a discussion all her own, Elizabeth brought a different presentation to wrestling managers. Though there had been female managers before, more women had been presented as valets. Elizabeth was a combination of both. She was described as a manager who took care of business matters for "Macho Man" Randy Savage, but she also radiated a glamour and presence that even the most popular valets rarely had. Elizabeth was a once-in-a-lifetime character who will never be duplicated.

Even as the usage of managers died down as the years went on, the legendary ones continue to be celebrated. Action figures and trading cards of the managers of yore continue to be released, and the occasional character in a managerial role still pops up. Most recently Paul Heyman, though no longer billed as such, brought back exactly what a manager should be as the advocate for Brock Lesnar. Every so often, a young talent with the gift of gab will be compared to a "young Bobby Heenan." Should the decision makers ever decide to bring the "art of managing" back to the business on a regular basis, we should all be in for a nice, welcome, yet very familiar, treat.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mattel's Hasbro Tribute Returns

27 years after the debut of the line, Hasbro's WWF action figure roster grows deeper yet again, in a way. Thanks to a popular decision from Mattel, their WWE "retro" line continues by adding six new figures in the classic Hasbro scale, joining the initial six from earlier this year. While the first series was not really themed, you could say that the Attitude Era was focused on for this round. Mankind, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kane, and The Rock are joined by Sting in his look from the same era, albeit in WCW.

The figures are once again packaged on cards that are clearly a homage to the Hasbro line. While there are some details missing (facsimile signatures for one thing) and the card stock is just a bit thinner, Mattel again does a great job recapturing the vintage magic. The plastic bubbles are molded to the shape of the figure just as the originals were, and "Authentic Superstar Moves" have replaced "Real Wrestling Action." After all, we don't dare use the "w" word. Hasbro-looking photos were used for the packaging, looking very much like choices that would have been made a quarter of a century ago.

Speaking of the action features of the figures, two classic Hasbro features return in Series 2. Mankind and Steve Austin have the "punch" move remembered from such vintage figures as "Macho King" Randy Savage and Razor Ramon among others. Sting and Triple H are done in the "jump" style that was utilized in the early days of the Hasbro line with the first Ultimate Warrior and Superfly Jimmy Snuka, to name a few. This latter move was not a favorite of some collectors, but I appreciate all of the Hasbro "maneuver" actions returning. It especially works with Sting and his "Stinger Splash." It should be noted that the mechanism itself is more reminiscent of Hasbro's first Marty Jannetty figure, where the "neck" of the figure does not extend when the action is used.

All six superstars translated well to the Hasbro style, although my main complaint from the first series remains relevant here. Most of the figures just do not have the brightly colored attire that the Hasbro line was noted for. Kane breaks this with his striking red. The mask is perfectly Hasbro-esque, as well, and "The Big Red Monster" would probably fit in the best with the vintage line. Although they don't stand out for color, Mankind and Sting are also highlights for their unique looks. Many would have preferred "surfer" Sting to be done here, and I still would not mind that for down the road.

Just as I did with the first releases, I'm loving these. All six men are stars that Hasbro collectors have wanted for years. Don't forget that most of these men debuted just a few years after the Hasbro line ended. Series 2 is once again exclusive to Wal Mart which cannot be said for Series 3. Including a total of four superstars, the third installment already has me confident that such a glowing review won't be the case when the time comes. Stay tuned, retro fans...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Remembering Legends of the Steel City...

At around the exact time that this entry is published, NXT returns to the Steel City. It is yet another wrestling event in a city that has long valued the sport of kings and its many stars. While names like Bruno Sammartino and Kurt Angle are closely associated with Pittsburgh, many other grapplers have called the city their home, as well, paving the way for a show like NXT to be appreciated by modern day local fans.


Many wrestling historians will tell you that if one Pittsburgh wrestler could have made it on a national level it was "Jumpin'" Johnny DeFazio. The popular star was a hit with both male and female fans of the era for being both exciting in the ring and having a great look. His ties to the community continue today being active in local politics. Those same ties kept DeFazio from being known nationally in the '60s and '70s wrestling world.


Dominic DeNucci is a name known to many for training the likes of Mick Foley and Shane Douglas among others, but some of his greatest in-ring fame came in the Steel City. Billed as the cousin of Bruno Sammartino, DeNucci came to Pittsburgh after solid runs elsewhere. Another popular star with fans of all types, the well-traveled DeNucci was still donning the tights until around five years ago!


But not all of these Pittsburgh journeymen were popular. Baron Mikel Scicluna was despised for his rule breaking and being a constant thorn in the side of DeFazio, Hurricane Hunt, Frank Holtz, and other Pittsburgh favorites. Scicluna's antics, as well as the omnipresent foreign object tucked into his tights, made their way onto a national level when the Baron became a staple on WWWF shows in venues such as Madison Square Garden. Scicluna is even one of the earliest members of the WWE Hall of Fame.


And speaking of heels, no one did it better than a star who was fortunate enough to call my friend, Donna Christanello. I've often said that the long time associate and friend of The Fabulous Moolah actually did Moolah's shtick far better than Moolah herself. Despite being a trainer and resident of Moolah's school, Donna called Pittsburgh home and was proud to do so. Her family still resides here and keeps the memory of the women's wrestling pioneer alive, as we also strive to do on this blog.

While stars of today such as Cien Almas and Ember Moon tear the ring up tonight in Pittsburgh, the names who came before them should not be forgotten. For without those stars, the fans who grew up watching them may not have passed on the passion of wrestling to the fanatics of today...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving True Thanks...

Seeing as that for more than a few years this blog has been published on Thursday, we've had quite a few topics with a Thanksgiving theme. Wrestling has a long tradition on the November holiday, dating back to large live events across the country. Most fans know that those shows eventually evolved to the early incarnations of Starrcade and Survivor Series being held on Turkey Day.

These days, the superstars are home with their families on Thanksgiving. It's a double-edged sword, seeing as that an after dinner event could possibly still be a great draw. On the other hand, who should really be working on such a family-oriented day? Although a great discussion, it's not what we're moving towards here.

It was actually Instagram that put this week's thoughts into motion. I recently opened an Instagram account for the blog (@jws_wrestling_memorabilia), as if this entity needed more of a social media presence. In thinking of a Thanksgiving photo post, I decided that last year's creation would be suitable since it would be "fresh" to Instagram. Due to recent events, I almost changed my mind.

The photo that I shared around last year as a Thanksgiving blog greeting featured one of my favorite characters, "The Ugandan Giant" Kamala. As a slight takeoff of the time that Kamala "ate" a live chicken on Tuesday Night Titans, my photo featured Mattel's very realistic Kamala figure eyeing up a nice representation of a gobbler. Just several days ago it was revealed that James Harris, the man behind the Kamala makeup, was hospitalized and on life support.

The health struggles of Mr. Harris over the past few years have been well documented, including but not limited to the man losing his legs. With the grim news of his hospitalization, I immediately dreaded memorializing the man in the very blog entry that you're now reading. Obviously if that were the case, Instagram would have to wait a few years before seeing the picture post that I described.

Amazingly, as of press time the news is that James "Kamala" Harris has been removed from life support after regaining the ability to breathe on his own. While he likely has much recovery to do, the news elicits a huge sigh of relief from his friends and fans. In his honor, I did in fact post the "Kamala's Thanksgiving" photo on Instagram which you will also find at the end of this blog entry.

Instagram postings nor even wrestling memorabilia are the true story here, though. A message that cannot be preached enough, Thanksgiving Day or otherwise, is the fact that we really should be thankful for all that we have. If you have the time and ability to be reading this blog entry right now, even that shows that you have things to be thankful for. You have time to be sitting and reading something that, on most weeks, is a pure enjoyable read and has no bearing on life as a whole. On my end, I am thankful that I have the time and means to bring it to you. It also says that you have an Internet connection of some sort, which makes your life a lot easier no matter how much you may deny that fact.

And what about Mr. Harris? We can be sure that he is thankful for being alive, as is his family. As Jim Ross reminds us, tomorrow is not guaranteed. If you're fortunate enough to have even one person in your life, take the time to think about them. Don't take them for granted. Savor each day that you have with them. Enjoy the present...


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wrestling MarketWatch: Ring Royalty

Pro wrestling has champions, icons, heroes, and villains. Many from those categories eventually become legends. But what about..royalty? There have been many kings, and even a few queens, of the ring. Some were crowned in tournaments, others seemed to achieve their titles out of thin air. Nevertheless, most of these superstars felt that they were above the other wrestlers who were simply there to bow in servitude. This week in MarketWatch we look at some memorabilia recognizing the reigns of five great kings of the squared circle.


*Near the end of his career, the legendary Harley Race arrived in the World Wrestling Federation and won a non-televised King of the Ring tournament to take the crown. The former NWA World Heavyweight Champion decided that this was an appropriate title and reigned over the WWF for nearly two years. Much of Race's memorabilia comes from this run, but there is none more iconic than his figure from LJN as part of the Wrestling Superstars line. Recently this loose, complete figure has seen sale prices ranging from $50 to $165 proving that Race still reigns powerfully on the secondary market.


*It was fellow Heenan family member Haku who next held the crown. The Tongan superstar memorably battled Race in a "King's Crown Match" at the 1989 Royal Rumble. Haku sent Race packing from the WWF with a victory and ended up sitting on the throne for a few more months. While Haku's LJN figure did not end up being "The King" as originally advertised, he did see a royal representation in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. That figure recently sold loose and complete at auction for between $20 and $30.


*Yet another Heenan family member went by the "King" moniker, but this man did not wear a crown. I'm not sure that one would have even fit on his head. The monstrous King Kong Bundy reigned supreme with sheer girth and power, not to mention his dreaded "Avalanche" finishing maneuver. Bundy's matinee idol mug made the cover of the August/September 1986 issue of WWE Magazine and recently sold at auction (unsigned) for $17.


*There were kings, and then there was the Macho King. When Randy Savage took the crown from King Duggan in late 1989, the Macho Man took on a whole new life. His last appearance as the Macho King took place at WrestleMania VII in 1991 in a losing effort against The Ultimate Warrior. Mattel kicked off their Defining Moments line with Savage clad in this unique attire. Although the packaging read "Macho Man," this is clearly the last stand of the "Macho King." This figure, loose and complete, recently sold for $36.


*In the opinion of myself and legions of other loyal subjects, there is only one true king of wrestling: Jerry Lawler. His kingdom may start in Memphis, but it stretches across the world. He has piledriven many pretenders right into defeat time and time again. From his work both in and out of the ring, there will never be another Jerry Lawler. It's been well-documented right here on this blog that Lawler has had a little singing career as well. One of his 45 singles, "Mean Streak," recently sold for $20.50.

Long Live The King(s)!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Slobberknocker Of A Tale, But Hold The BBQ...

I still remember not being able to control my excitement as WrestleMania IX took to the air live. While Gorilla Monsoon, one of my favorite announcers, made little more than a cameo at the beginning of the event, the name that crossed his lips to take his place had me jumping out of my seat. Jim Ross had arrived in the World Wrestling Federation! It didn't seem possible, but here we were. Little did we know how far that this man from Oklahoma would go "up north." Now, "Good Ol' J.R." is recalling those stories and more in "Slobberknocker - My Life In Wrestling."


Just a brief overview of the career of Jim Ross will indicate to any wrestling fan that the man has many stories to tell. Although J.R. has written several cookbooks, this is the first to be a true telling of his story. From essentially chauffeuring for legendary wrestlers up and down the highways to refereeing, announcing, booking, and beyond, Ross has laid out his life in wrestling, just as the title says. Though we do hear about his late wife Jan (who was alive during most of the production of the book) as well as his parents, much of J.R.'s personal life is left out. This is a decision that only the author can make when penning a book and should be respected. Again, this is his "life in wrestling."

Refreshingly, many J.R. stories that we've heard in the past in various outlets are omitted. While those stories would have been welcome, it seems that the decision was made in order to include tales that are unfamiliar even to the biggest Jim Ross fan. If you're looking for the bathroom tales of the "hit" placed on Vince McMahon or Brian Pillman's bowel movement, they aren't here. But you will learn why Robert Gibson was called "Hoot" and while it didn't necessarily please "Vinnie Mac."


Another interesting omission is anything regarding J.R.'s famous BBQ sauce. Perhaps he wanted to avoid making the book look like an advertisement, but the stuff is good. Great, actually. Instead you will hear plenty about working with and learning from the likes of Cowboy Bill Watts, Ernie Ladd, Leroy McGuirk, Danny Hodge, Ric Flair, Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Gordon Solie, and of course McMahon and Jerry "The King" Lawler.

Equal time is spent on Ross's time in Mid-South Wrestling/UWF, WCW, and the WWF, so you get a true feel of what the WWE Hall of Famer brought to each company. Still, the author leaves you wanting more. Some of the more controversial moments in J.R.'s career are not included, which again would be a personal decision of Ross himself.

"Slobberknocker" is a worthwhile entry in the library of any wrestling fan, but we can hope that this is only "Volume 1," as we know there's a lot more to tell. Ross has been making many appearances around the country promoting and signing the book, but I think he enjoys greeting the fans most of all. After all, he's still a fan himself after all these years...


"I like what you're doing. The nostalgia thing. Us old guys appreciate that stuff."

--Jim Ross to me, October 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Demented Dentist Returns...

Mattel continues to be on the ball with retro figures well into the better half of a decade with the WWE license. With recent announcements like John Tenta's "Shark" character and the action figure-elusive Wendi Richter as upcoming releases, it's no wonder that collectors continue to support the line. This past summer, another character who had never before been produced as an action figure made his far-from-painless debut. Hold on to your wisdom teeth, Isaac Yankem DDS is here.

It's no secret that Isaac Yankem was the first on-air WWE character for Glenn Jacobs, better known as Kane. Debuting at an event that I attended, SummerSlam 1995, Yankem attempted to rid the world of Bret "The Hitman" Hart at the behest of Jerry "The King" Lawler. Though the demented dentist came up short, the character is remembered as a memorable icon of the campy, cartoony, mid-1990s WWF scene. Jacobs would go on to portray the replacement "Diesel" when Kevin Nash left the company, and finally ended up with the gimmick that would make him a surefire WWE Hall of Famer in Kane.

The Isaac Yankem figure was an exclusive to San Diego Comic Con and the Toys "R" Us website. It comes in unique Elite packaging that displays some of Yankem's useful dentistry equipment. The back is a doctor's file chart, complete with some bloody teeth and even a humorous allusion to Yankem becoming someone else that we all know. It's a tall figure as any representation of Jacobs should be, so it looks good in the packaging.

Yankem comes complete with his dentist coat and headgear. The headgear can be removed and even tilted downward so that the goggles can go over his eyes. I feel like we should have received one more accessory. The doctors bag, perhaps? It just feels as if other exclusives have a bit more to them, although Mattel did have to create all-new accessories in this case. When I removed the headgear, it did take off a little bit of the blond hair paint. The headgear piece itself almost felt glued on at first.

The figure sculpting is solid, utilizing recycled parts aside from the head. The pants mold works well, especially for the height of the figure. To be honest, it's an all around imposing figure which it definitely should be. The entire idea of the character was to be a demented monster...very much like The Big Red Machine just a little over two years later.

Although already a few months old, the figure can still be obtained for around the same price as release. That likely won't always be the case. I also wouldn't expect to see any future releases of the character. I could be wrong, but I feel Yankem was released in the proper manner so that anyone who wanted to add him to the collection could do exactly that. But I won't drill it into your heads, just try to extract him from someone else's hands in a few months. It won't be painless...