Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bruno! Bruno! Bruno!

I've been known to cover Bruno Sammartino and Pittsburgh wrestling fairly frequently here, but why not? For various reasons Pittsburgh is one of the least covered classic wrestling territories. The area had all of the in-ring action like the west coast and the unpredictable characters like the south. I'd also put the blue collar steel worker toughness up against that of the Texas roughneck stars any day. So why is Pittsburgh all but "forgotten?"

Unlike most of the territories that fell sometime in the 1980's, the true blue Pittsburgh wrestling office ceased to exist in the early 1970's for all intents and purposes. While lots of television and arena footage is still collected and traded of Charlotte, Florida, Minneapolis, and New York, the Pittsburgh action is only replayed in the memories of those who originally viewed it.

While the footage is lost to time, there are many still determined to keep the memories of Bruno and his friends and foes alive as long as there are fans of old school wrestling.

Earlier this summer I wrote of the many Studio Wrestling reunion appearances that have been made over the past couple of years in the Pittsburgh area. Large crowds have turned out for each one proving that Pittsburgh wrestling does have the lasting appeal of which I speak. Attending them myself, I've had the opportunity to have many of the classic Bruno and Pittsburgh relics autographed. While more items were produced than one would think, very few survive so many decades later. Fans who attend the events simply to meet their heroes are often astounded that these items still exist.

Bruno Sammartino himself was one of the earliest marketed stars in the industry. Dating back to his very first magazine cover in March of 1960, Bruno obviously equaled green at the newsstands. In his autobiography, a photo of Sammartino sitting with a group of magazines is captioned "I must have been on more magazine covers than Elvis!" Whether that is true or not, Bruno was certainly on more wrestling magazine covers than most of his contemporaries.

Wrestling World, Wrestling Revue, The Wrestling News, The Wrestler, and later Pro Wrestling Illustrated are just a few of the covers in which Bruno graced. The publishers of The Wrestling News even released several publications devoted solely to the Italian-born champion.

After his final departure from the WWF in 1988, Bruno merchandise continued to be in demand. A deal with Pittsburgh-based Imagine Inc. produced not only an autobiography of The Living Legend but also a Wrestling Legends trading card series with heavy imput from the champ. An in-depth look at this deal and the card series was the subject of a previous entry.

My personal favorite Bruno collectibles actually cover the entire spectrum of classic Pittsburgh wrestling. In the 1960's, a series of five photo albums entitled "Tri-State Wrestling" were released by the Pittsburgh wrestling office. The first dates to just before Bruno defeated Buddy Rogers for the WWWF Championship and is the only one not to feature Sammartino on the cover. Stars that made an impact on Pittsburgh such as The Battman, Gorilla Monsoon, George Steele, Johnny DeFazio, Lou Albano, and Toru Tanaka grace the inside pages as do stars such as The Kangaroos, Bobo Brazil, Edouard Carpentier, and Wahoo McDaniel who were known more for their work nationally.

The albums were advertised on the Studio Wrestling television show and viewers were encouraged to order them directly. While they do appear for auction occasionally, they are by no means easy to acquire. One collectors note is that it seems many fans would take these to both Studio Wrestling television tapings and to spot shows all around western Pennsylvania. Because of this it is not unusual to find these publications adorned with authentic autographs.

As I touched on above, publications such as the Tri-State albums, event programs, and photos are just about all that is left from such an action packed era. It is comforting to know that many of the era's stars and key players are also still with us to meet and share stories and memories from the glory years. For a fan such as myself who previously only had memories of family members of which to imagine the Pittsburgh wrestling dynasty, talking with these legends is both a treat and an honor.

As for the champ himself, Mr. Sammartino is still going strong at age 75. A recent heart valve replacement surgery wasn't enough to even slow Sammartino down. Just a few months later, The Living Legend was back greeting his fans at yet another Studio Wrestling reunion discussing the old days and a seemingly endless stream of new projects which we can all look forward to.

Memphis. Florida. Charlotte. Calgary. You were all great wrestling territories, but it's time to make a little room on the pedestal for another great hotbed--Pittsburgh.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, this very blog has been nominated in the "Everything Else" category in CBS Pittsburgh's "2011 Most Valuable Blogger Awards." By following this link, you can vote once a day! I appreciate each and every vote and thank you for voting and as always for reading!

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