Thursday, July 19, 2018

Button, Button, Who's Got The Button?

I've known a few collectors of pinback buttons in my day. Why not? They're simple, usually fairly reasonably priced (or free if advertising something) and are all almost instant conversation pieces. Slap an eye-grabbing image on one and you're certain to get someones attention for your image or product. It goes without saying that images of professional wrestlers automatically lend themselves to buttons. Like trading cards, t-shirts, and action figures, it's just natural that these intimidating stars have their mugs plastered on everything. It's the name of the game on this blog.

Buttons were among the earliest in wrestling souvenirs. It was easy to put the name of a wrestler or even an image in a circular disc and sell it to the fan frenzied public. In the territories simple "gimmicks" like these could often be a license to print money. Who wouldn't want the image of Jerry "The King" Lawler or Dusty Rhodes slapped onto their backpack or purse? It wasn't just an attention grabber, it was a statement that you were a loyal supporter of your local or regional wrestling hero. And as it has been described time and time again, that hero was virtually a member of your family. Grandma probably thought so, anyway.

As wrestling progressed with marketing, so did the buttons. Big ones, small ones, square ones. The latter style came along in the late '80s as the WWF took a page from the merchandising practices of the movie studios. Disney, among other companies, often used square buttons to promote their latest home video releases. The WWF did this for their pay-per-view events of the era and these were often distributed through cable companies and video rental stores. The WWF also offered a variety of buttons through their merchandise catalogs ranging from pictures of the superstars to the memorable "I Love WWF" design.

Jimmy Hart's Outrageous Conduct record album had a tiny button to
promote it, and even Bobby "The Brain" Heenan has a WrestleMania VIII button. The latter was used to advertise the legendary manager's appearances on Indianapolis radio leading up to the big event held in 1992 at the Hoosier Dome. WCW got in on the act as well with several different buttons advertising Clash of the Champions events held at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Perhaps the most famous and iconic button in wrestling history came to us, absolutely free, in 1993. Free, that is, if you were lucky enough to hit a stop on Lex Luger's "Call To Action" Campaign. Following Luger's bodyslam of then-WWF Champion Yokozuna aboard the USS Intrepid on July 4th, 1993, the Narcissist-turned-All-American went cross country aboard a bus named "The Lex Express." Hitting numerous stops in the U.S. of A., the tour was designed to mold Luger into the next Hulk Hogan. Ultimately, he would not end up as your hero, but anyone who was watching at the time has great memories of the era.

The "buttoning" continues today! 2017 saw a new WrestleMania promotional button, and I'm sure many more are produced than we actually end up knowing about. Looking for an "in" to the world of wrestling memorabilia? Look no further than buttons! They can be very inexpensive and it's fun to figure out just what all has been produced. Intrigued by the idea? Go for it. You can do it. I have faith. All you have to do is...

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Wrestling MarketWatch: More From The Bookshelf

Summer reading, anyone? If you're undertaking such an endeavor, you need some quality wrestling-related reading on the menu. No, this isn't the sports entertainment version of Oprah's book club, but just as in with any other forms of wrestling memorabilia, the values of books rise and fall as time goes by. Several years ago books were looked at in Wrestling MarketWatch, but in this sequel we only revisit one title to see what has happened with its secondary market value.

*Kicking it off we have my all-time favorite wrestling book. From a man who saw it all in the business came "Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls." Wrestler, manager, and office man James J. Dillon was part of the business through several of its hottest periods with virtually all of  the major territories and companies. Undoubtedly Dillon has enough stories for several volumes, but it's here that we get a rare look into the inner workings of late '80s - early '90s WWF, a time period still rather clouded in mystery. Other books have given us a story here and there, but here is the man who was working directly with Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson at a very hot, and sometimes tumultuous, time for the company. The book recently sold for $52.

*Looking back on our first MarketWatch entry covering books it's time to once again check out "Killer Pics - A Collection of Images from a Pro Wrestling Legend." From Hall of Fame villain Walter "Killer" Kowalski comes a book featuring his own photography illustrating both wrestling and the world around us. The book was in much demand at one point and was selling for as much as $52 when we last looked at it. More recently it sold for $14.50.

*Widely considered the first wrestling book, "Whatever Happened To Gorgeous George" was first published in 1974. Author Joe Jares, who passed away two years ago, was the son of a wrestler and put the book together based upon his childhood memories from touring with his father. If a book were to endear the mainstream public to pro wrestling before Mick Foley wrote his first autobiography, this may have been the one that did it. The book recently sold for $40.

*No longer in publication and, according to Jim Cornette, not in any reprinting plans, The Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook has become highly collectible. The book is a complete history of the storied tag team and is very autobiographical for their manager Cornette as well. Thanks to copious notes kept by Cornette during the run of the team, we can easily find out where the team was, who they wrestled, how well the show performed, and even what the boys made for their efforts. Peppered with road stories, behind-the-scenes info, and plenty of reprinted press and rare photos, you could not ask for a better treasury of any wrestler or tag team. It's no surprise that the book just fetched $129.

*Do you remember Pro Wrestling U.S.A., the alliance attempted by Verne Gagne and Jim Crockett to try and combat the WWF? Did you know that it had an official book? Mat Wars was the name, and this large, glossy publication by Gagne and late wrestling journalist/historian Jim Melby can prove difficult to find for a decent price. Recently it sold for $23, considerably less than in years past.

Another five that you may already have on your bookshelf. If you don't, all offer plenty in terms of learning more about different eras of classic professional wrestling. And although we did not look at any released by the company, keep in mind that wrestling publications do not lie solely with those put out by WWE. Amazing works by men like Mark James and Scott Teal are widely available online and offer a variety of stories about some of the greatest stars ever to set foot in a wrestling ring. Got a "staycation" coming up? Google those authors and order up some great reading.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Beauty & The Brain

It's amazing how little managers factor into wrestling these days. Certainly this is another misguided executive decision by the number one sports entertainment company in the world, but the concept is much missed. It would probably be hard for a newer fan to fathom that a non-wrestler could be just as big of a star in the industry as some of the wrestlers themselves, but it's true. Look no further than two favorites from many of our childhoods: Miss Elizabeth and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

With beauty and class, Miss Elizabeth won her way into the hearts of fans both male and female. She rarely spoke, but conveyed the thoughts of her character through her actions at ringside and loyalty to her charges. "The Brain" was the opposite, with his gift for gab among the greatest to ever grace the wrestling business. Two very different individuals who made their biggest marks on the industry in the same position: manager. And both beloved and much missed.

Both of these legends have made their way into the Mattel WWE figure line once before. Now, in two separate retailer exclusive series they see their returns. Elizabeth's newest figure comes in the Wal Mart "Then, Now, Forever" line while Heenan weasels his way back in the "Fan Central" series which was exclusive to Toys "R" Us. Both lines saw difficult distribution. Not all Wal Mart stores seemed to have the latest "Then, Now, Forever" series while the problems for Toys "R" Us hardly need to be repeated here.

My issues with the first two Mattel releases of Heenan and Elizabeth are fixed with these figures. Both of the first figures were done in event-specific attire. Heenan, as released in the Heenan Family WWE Hall of Fame set through Target, only wore the white "waiter jacket" (thank you, Gorilla) at WrestleMania III while Elizabeth wore her white outfit at a famous photo shoot, WrestleMania IV, and possibly in a few other appearances. While it's nice to have these figures, I'm more for attires that are recognizable and common, especially when it comes to managers who may not see that many releases to begin with.

In my opinion this is the first "perfect" Bobby Heenan figure. "The Brain" was released by LJN in his blue sweatshirt followed by a few releases by Jakks that didn't quite exactly match what we mostly remember him wearing. Here, not only does have his "Walk of Fame" jacket, but it's removable. Essentially, Heenan can enter the ring if duty calls. Are customizers already preparing a brown dog handlers outfit for Heenan to deflect the threat of the British Bulldogs, Matilda, Koko B. Ware, and Frankie?

Elizabeth is seen here in a green dress which is boldly announced on the packaging as her accessory, as if putting her in a dress was a favor to us all. Although the same facial sculpt is used, the earrings on the first figure are gone in favor of a necklace. I don't know that her wearing this exact outfit has been pinpointed, but it's exactly what she would have wore on an average night at ringside during the glory days of "Macho Madness." I wouldn't call the facial likeness as spot-on as that of "The Brain," but it's very good.

If I had to choose, I would pick these versions over the first two in a heartbeat. Although I still love the Heenan Family set for giving us the first "Colossal Connection" era figure of Andre the Giant, "The Brain" finally gets his greatest release here. Though the distribution on the "Then, Now, Forever" set with Elizabeth was odd at best, she's showing up on your favorite A to Z online retailer for under the retail price. Heenan will cause you a little more difficulty. They can still be had for just around retail, but this could change with official word that the series will not be re-released due to the closure of Toys "R" Us. I'd like to think that Heenan will see an additional release down the line, possibly in a "Basic" set, but we don't know that. Needless to say, if your Mattel WWE Legends need guidance from the brains behind the brawn, act now!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Favorite Events--WWF King of the Ring 1998

I've often professed my feelings on the "Attitude Era." It simply doesn't hold up for me. I lived it. Either live or on television, I took in every moment as it happened. At the time, it was exciting. While selfish me wasn't exactly thrilled that everybody was watching wrestling again, it was good for the business. It also enabled me to be present at one of the most replayed and iconic moments in WWF history. I witnessed the infamous Hell in a Cell match between Mankind and The Undertaker. That's why King of the Ring 1998 falls under the category of one of "My Favorite Events."

The story for me begins at the March 1998 WWF house show at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. At the time, tickets for the next show would either go on sale before the show that night even started or at intermission. On this occasion, it was the latter, and I think it surprised me that King of the Ring tickets would be sold this far in advance. My dad was always big into getting tickets in advance, so he had no problem going by himself during intermission. When he got back, he'd missed Bradshaw defeat Barry Windham. Always a fan of "BW," I'd have been upset had I missed one of my few chances to see him live. Nonetheless, my fantastic father secured us tickets.

I recall that the promotional ads touted seeing "Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie" at the event, which got my hopes up that I'd get to see Terry Funk live and in person for the first time. This was long before I actively started meeting wrestlers regularly, so I was very much disappointed when "Card Subject To Change" rang true. Needless to say, the history that ended up going down that night made up for it.

This event happened during a period where I wasn't taking pictures during events. They never came out how I wanted them to and this was just a bit before digital photography hit it big. That being said, I can still replay my unique view of the famous match in my head. Our sets were just about roof-level with the Cell. The brawl on top of the enormous structure was something, but surely no one was coming off of the top of it. It would be teased, but it wouldn't actually happen.

Then, it happened.

As soon as Mankind crashed through the table and hit the floor, I was sure that the event would be ended. There was no way that he was okay or that this was planned. There wasn't a chance in Hell that Mick Foley was getting up from this. This show had to be over. Even Vince McMahon, at the height of his heeldom as Mr. McMahon, had come to ringside. This was serious. But as we all know now, it didn't end there. In fact, the worst of the two big bumps for Foley was yet to come, though my attention at that point was focused elsewhere. Terry Funk had shown up after all and took an Undertaker chokeslam for good measure.

As we all know, the show went on and the "main event" even went on which saw Kane close the night as World Wrestling Federation Champion. Two decades later and he's running for mayor of Knoxville, TN. His opponent for the evening, Stone Cold Steve Austin, is long retired. The Undertaker is hanging on, although for all intents and purposes should be retired. And the man who they said wouldn't be able to walk in a few years, Mick Foley, is very much still walking. He's still involved with WWE and even has an engagement tour celebrating the anniversary of this match. At the time, he was one of my favorite wrestlers. While that changed long ago, his work in the ring made a unique impact on the business and he would go on to be an inductee at another of "My Favorite Events," the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony.

Even though Ken Shamrock was crowned "King of the Ring" that night, it's but a footnote. The Hell in the Cell antics stole the show. While it's not a technical classic, it is one of the best remembered matches in WWF history. It's a historic wrestling moment that I have my own unique memory of. While I'd much rather be able to say that I was at "The Ultimate Challenge" or among the tens of thousands at the Pontiac Silverdome when it was all "Bigger, Better, Badder," I'm still proud to say that "I was there." Attitude and all.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Vader Time Forever

Many are calling him the best "big man" wrestler of all-time, but that accolade was attributed to Vader long before his untimely passing. This isn't a case of praising the recently deceased, wrestling has truly lost one of it's most interesting and complex characters.

At first glance it would've been easy for a casual fan or outside observer to dismiss Big Van Vader as a typical, meatheaded, giant of a man with a crazy look and gloves made for pummeling. But "The Mastadon" was so much more. After he beat his opponent down with fists and clotheslines, it was just the beginning. A Vader Bomb. A moonsault. Splashes from out of nowhere. This was a monster who could fly.

Though many my age first saw Vader in WCW, the character began in Japan. In recent years a now-deleted YouTube video included a 1988 tag match from Japan with the newly-minted Big Van Vader on one side and, weeks before his death, Adrian Adonis on the other. Talk about a clash of wrestling visuals that one would not associate! Before adopting the Vader character, Leon White was battling his way up the card in the AWA, counting Bruiser Brody among early opponents!

But it was in World Championship Wrestling where Vader carved his legacy. Flanked by Harley Race and dominating the World Title scene, Vader took down the likes of Sting, Ron Simmons, Cactus Jack, and Davey Boy Smith just to name a few. And the best part? Not only were his matches impressive, but they were entertaining, too. While some "big man" matches don't hold up, Vader's do. Any fan could be enthralled by a "best of Vader" compilation.  Attention WWE Network, the need for a new "collection" is here.

In one of their bigger blunders, the WWF did not handle Vader well. Following a memorable debut in 1996 where he counted the beloved WWF President Gorilla Monsoon among his victims, Vader seemed to fall down the card rather than climb it. Backstage politics from a certain star have always been rumored to have hindered Vader in the company as far as growth, but it could have been a number of factors. The truth is that "The Man They Call Vader" should have been a far bigger star in a land where big men always ruled. It was just not meant to be.

With a monstrous look comes the merchandising wagon. The terrifying masked face was plastered on action figures, magazines, trading cards, and even comic books. The first Vader action figure, produced by The Original San Francisco Toymakers, was a highlight of that WCW figure line and kicked off a variety of others over the years. Most recently Vader was included in the popular Micro Brawlers line with yet another interpretation of the inhabitant of "The White Castle of Fear."

His recent well-publicized heart problems make Vader's passing less of a shock, but it is still tragic at the age of 63. Re-watching his matches, you can imagine that putting his huge body through so much impact could easily have contributed. Still, we must remember that these men enjoyed what they were doing as well as the fame that came with it. While it ultimately caused shorter lives for many, it's living your life as you see fit that truly counts.

And we'll always be counting the seconds until it's...Vader Time...once again.

Big Van Vader


Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Slammy Award Winning Product

Since the days of the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line, wrestling figures have had fun accessories. Belts, foreign objects, even pets. One accessory, around since the LJN era, has eluded the hands of wrestling figures even when one legendary star was noted for carrying one (or two) to the ring. There has even been a full scale replica released. That missing item? The Slammy Award. Finally, over thirty years after the introduction of the coveted award, Mattel has enabled figures everywhere to "take home" that very trophy.

Though the accessory was originally released as a bonus with specially marked "Basic" WWE figures, Mattel wasn't done there. As part of the Toys "R" Us WWE Network Spotlight series, a playset called "Slammy Awards Anarchy" was produced. Similar in style and packaging to the "WWE Behind The Scenes Brawl" set from a few years ago, this release is another environment that figures can be posed with away from the ubiquitous ring. The design is based upon the more recent Slammy Award ceremonies held on RAW. They weren't quite as interesting as the '80s events of the same name, but then again, Kaye Fabe was the director in those days. No one could top her work.

The meat and potatoes here is the backdrop. It's essentially three pieces consisting of a "curtain" piece and two "glass" ends, one of which has breakaway panels. You also receive a podium with microphone, breakaway announce table, one Slammy Awards-labeled chair, a camera, and, of course, a Slammy Award for good measure. An additional Slammy instead of the camera would have been better, but I guess we're looking at "play value" for the kiddies here. If you feel the need for additional trophies, the "chase" figures that included them can be found at below retail prices all around the Internet.

The backdrop is cool looking, although again I could have done without the "play value" with the breakable window. Still, we probably aren't ever getting a Barber Shop set, so you could have Shawn dispose of Marty this way. A cardboard Slammy Awards sign fits above the backdrop. It looks good enough in photos, but appears sort of cheap in person. Most kids would bend this thing in five seconds. The podium is the same one that was included with the Bruno Sammartino figure aside from being molded in a deeper blue color. This is still one of my favorite Mattel accessories to date, so it's cool to see it reused.

The announce table adds a lot, as it is always a coveted accessory. It seems to stay together a bit better than the one included with Shane McMahon. Perhaps the only thing that would have been better if included was one of the larger-than-life Slammy Award trophies that once adorned the stage, even making WWE Hall of Fame ceremony appearances for a few years. Tony Atlas claims that a famous photo taken of him slamming Hulk Hogan was used as the reference for designing the Slammy Award. Whether or not that fact is true, it did make for an impressive cover of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

This is a fun set that is still to be found at some Toys "R" Us stores as the chain fades into memory. Due to the uniqueness, I could definitely see demand and value rising over the years as collectors decide that they want to add a little "anarchy" to their collections. Even the legends would look cool displayed here. With the amazing "King" Harley Race figure being released by Mattel this year, you could even recreate his infamous 1987 Slammy Award brawl with "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. Gorilla Monsoon and livestock sadly not included.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Wrestling MarketWatch: Pro Wrestling Illustrated

Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Nearly forty years after the first issue, the title remains on newsstands. I often preach the fact that we need to enjoy the magazine while it lasts, as we all thought that a WWE-branded monthly would go on forever. Sadly that was not the case. Many modern stars will never see a magazine cover in their careers, so when an issue of PWI pops up with Charlotte Flair, Braun Strowman, or Kevin Owens featured, it feels like a tradition that still lasts. Fans may no longer live and die by the rankings, but there is still a lot to love in the pages once dominated by the likes of literary luminaries such as Matt Brock and Liz Hunter.

As always in MarketWatch entries, we're looking at a few examples of recent selling prices for items of a specific theme. This time, it's obviously PWI. We'll go back in time for a few issues, and check in with a more recent example, too, just to see how collectibility has held up with the title. As usual, prices featured are for unsigned items unless otherwise noted.

*There's no better place to start than where it all began. Probably one of the most featured magazine covers on this blog over the years, the September 1979 issue launched the title with Dusty Rhodes and Mil Mascaras most prominently featured. The two had been staples of the Stanley Weston wrestling magazines for a decade prior. "The American Dream" was in a singlet-wearing phase at this point, and we can't forget that Mascaras is editor Bill Apter's favorite wrestler. The selling price of the issue has had highs and lows over the years, but recently sold for $110.

*From Issue #1 you go to Issue #2. Another Weston magazine legend, The Living Legend himself, makes the first of several Pro Wrestling Illustrated cover appearances. Although I'm sure that the magazine tries to stick to current stars to appeal to younger fans, it would be nice if the next issue in 2018 featured Bruno Sammartino as a final tribute. As the magazine was still coming into its own, this November 1979 cover gives off a very Inside Wrestling feel. The issue recently sold for $23.

*Moving onto November 1983 we find a legend making one of his last cover appearances. In an extremely cool shot that just screams "wrestling," Harley Race holds the NWA World Heavyweight Championship proudly and regally. Many collectors love the covers that feature crisp photography of the many championship belts from the past. PWI would become known for these portrait-style covers featuring champions, especially those in the NWA. This issue recently sold for $40.

*September 1985 features another great portrait, this time sans belt. The subject is often said to have been in line for the aforementioned NWA World Heavyweight Championship, but due to his career-ending accident it was not meant to be. Still, Magnum T.A. holds a place in fans hearts to this day. Attend any autograph appearance of his, especially in the south, and you can still witness this popularity. Here, Magnum is positioned as a cross between Tom Selleck and James Dean. At least that's what I'm getting from it. Needless to say, both PWI and Jim Crockett Promotions knew to market Magnum to the female fans. This issue recently sold for $32.

*We can't forget about the more recent issues, even if this female spectacular is already a decade old. The November 2008 issue was the first "PWI Female 50," ranking the top fifty female wrestlers at the time. Featured on the cover are Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix, "The Beautiful People" consisting of Angelina Love and Velvet Sky, and Awesome Kong. A stunning and talented group, for sure. Who would have guessed where these ladies, and the women's wrestling divisions, would be ten years later? This issue recently sold for $16.

My hope is that PWI lasts forever. In my opinion, there will always be room for some tangible, print media. Does the rest of the world agree with me? Not usually. But it's important that fans and the stars themselves have these items to pass down and remember. It's called memorabilia. On this blog, for nearly a decade, it's always been the name of the game.