Most wrestling collectors would agree that it is very hard to even make a shortlist of favorite collectibles. With the incredible array of items both current and vintage, it would be hard to even try and find a starting point. The five magazine issues that you are about to see and learn about will always, as a whole, make my personal top five.
Wrestling magazines are a unique breed of collectible. One can collect all issues of a certain title, focus on a particular star, or even a specific era. While the magazines have been produced en masse since around the time pro wrestling hit television and continue to fly off shelves today, the '70s through the '90s probably saw the widest variety of titles for the genre.
While the Stanley Weston (The Wrestler, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, etc.) and Norm Kietzer (Wrestling Revue, The Wrestling News) magazines were the first publications to rule the roost, the '80s and '90s saw in-house publications from the WWF, NWA, WCW, and even ECW.
There is one oft-forgotten in-house publication that was actually the first of its kind for the WWWF. While it's been claimed in the current incarnation of the WWE Magazine that the WWF's Victory Magazine was the first in-house WWWF/WWF published periodical, this simply isn't so.
The very first was the Wrestling Action magazine...
Published between 1977 and 1979, the magazine ended up only having a five issue run. While celebrated wrestling photographer George Napolitano provided much of the visual action, it was actually wrestling renaissance man Les Thatcher who held the title of editor.
Already holding the titles of wrestler, announcer, and trainer, Thatcher had been publishing the Mid-Atlantic and NWA wrestling magazines when Napolitano and Vince McMahon Jr. saw his work.
Similar to the aforementioned Mid-Atlantic and NWA titles, Thatcher brought incredibly designed covers to the WWWF publication as well. These covers, done by art director Cal Byers, visually set these magazines in a class by themselves. Billy Graham, Bruno Sammartino, and Bob Backlund are showcased on the first three covers while collages of stars are featured on the last two. Often you can even see the photos which inspired the cover art within the pages of the magazine itself.
Each issue contains two features that were not prominent in other wrestling magazines of the time, those being all "slick" pages and a good bit of color photos and graphics.
Packed with features on the stars both in and out of the ring, many articles were highlighted with special graphics and production techniques. Also impressive were the centerfolds in each issue, always featuring a top star or stars of the WWWF.
Reading these magazines, you can truly feel the excitement that legendary WWWF fans such as Mrs. Krieger or Georgiann Makropoulos (a wrestling publishing legend in her own right) probably felt while reading these back in the '70s. While wrestlers seldom need any help appearing larger than life, these issues certainly reinforced that to the WWWF loyal.
With the magazines produced over a period of two years, it is obvious that there was a great length of time between the release of each issue. A disclaimer even appears in later issues that apologizes to subscribers for the magazines not being published monthly.
Due to the fact that publication was stretched out for so long, the last issue gives us an automatic look at wrestling history. While the first four issues feature "World Wide Wrestling Federation" in the upper left corner of the cover, the fifth and final simply reads "World Wrestling Federation." Interestingly, that final issue is titled "Stars of the '80s" and among the cover collage is the man who would end up defining the WWF in the '80s--Hulk Hogan.
Sadly, Vince Jr. decided to pull the plug after that issue. With such a finely crafted magazine, it would be interesting to see how the beautiful covers and great content would've translated to the national expansion and even "Rock 'n Wrestling."
It's unknown how many copies of each issue were produced. All have become highly coveted by collectors, with the first issue usually gaining the most attention. When properly identified in an online auction setting, the inaugural issue has fetched as much as one-hundred dollars.
How about the original artwork from those fantastic covers? They are said to reside in the collection of photographer George Napolitano. He, and many of the wrestlers featured in the magazine, show great fondness for the issues when presented to them by fans. Graham, Lou Albano, Tony Atlas, and Ivan Putski are just a few who have enjoyed seeing the copies in my collection over the years.
I'd like to thank Mr. Les Thatcher for providing so much of the information about these classic collectibles. I recently had several opportunities to discuss Wrestling Action with the legend himself. When I began this blog nearly two years ago, this was one of my first ideas for a feature. I am extremely grateful to Mr. Thatcher for making it more informative than I ever could have on my own.