Thursday, February 14, 2013

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Bruno: A Collector's Item

The mainstream media is finally catching up to me!  All it took was a new relationship with WWE and everyone and their mother is writing about Bruno Sammartino.  Never to be outdone, especially where Pittsburgh's own Living Legend is concerned, I'm giving you two Bruno blog entries in a row!  Whereas last week was my own gushing over the recent happenings between WWE and Bruno, this week is another entry in our ongoing "From The Musty Yellowed Pages" series where we take a look inside of a wrestling publication.

This particular magazine about "The Living Legend" doesn't really have a title.  It's essentially called "Bruno," but since there is a small "A Collector's Item" tagline under Bruno's cover portrait, we're officially going to refer to it as "Bruno: A Collector's Item."  Although most items labeled as a collector's item rarely reach that status, this magazine breaks the rule.

Beginning around late 1970, ads and order blanks for this magazine began appearing in Wrestling Revue.  It was not available on newsstands and thus is much harder to find some forty years later than the standard Wrestling Revue issues.  At one point several years ago, this magazine sold for several hundred dollars.  Some collectors still believe that they are able to sell their own copies for that much, but I have yet to see proof.  The large amount was probably the result of two overzealous collectors bidding on one copy.  That being said, anyone owning this magazine should know that they own one of the nicest vintage Bruno collectibles around.

One striking feature of the magazine is that the cover folds out to a full-color poster of one of Bruno's most iconic shots.  On examples found today there is often much wear and tear on the cover and spine.  This is most likely due to fans folding and unfolding the poster.  Although there is some text, this is mainly a photo album covering Mr. Sammartino's entire life to that point.

There are no known photographs of very young Bruno due to his family's situation in his home country of Italy.  The earliest photos of Bruno were taken once his family had settled in America after World War II.  Many of these shots include his parents and siblings.  These photos are included here, as are pictures of Bruno's wife and children including David.  Many photos in this section and throughout the magazine were used in Bruno's 1990 autobiography.

Aside from posed photos, anything "backstage" in those days was relatively rare.  In a section entitled "Bruno And His Fans" we see a shot of Bruno visiting with a disabled child during the course of a show.  The ever-gracious champion did a lot of this kind of thing, something that many wrestlers, such as John Cena, continue to do today.  Also on this page are shots of Bruno signing autographs including a great in-ring shot where the champ is accompanied by tag team partner Tony Marino, dressed in his complete "Battman" costume.

One full-page shot features Bruno and one of his heroes, the legendary Primo Carnera.  Carnera, largely known as a professional boxer in his heyday, became a professional wrestler after World War II.  Also dabbling in acting, most notably in the original "Mighty Joe Young," Carnera teamed with Bruno in the twilight of his career.  Bruno has said that while teaming with his hero was a great thrill for both himself and his family, the fact that Carnera was in less than spectacular shape and still forced to wrestle made it somewhat bittersweet.

Bruno was also no stranger to personal appearances.  A section entitled "Bruno At The Fair" shows the champ at the "Shaefer Circle of Sports Exhibit" signing his name in cement and posing while mightily hoisting two beer barrels in the air.  The latter is actually one of the final stories told in his autobiography.  The press set up the stunt for a photo op and even the mighty Bruno could barely wait to put the huge barrels back down on the ground.  After the event was over, Bruno removed his sports jacket only to see his white shirt stained with blood.  The barrels dug so deep into the strongman's arms that they cut into his skin.

For many, the highlights of this magazine would be a collection of sections featuring Bruno against his top opponents.  Many of wrestling's all-time greats from Gorilla Monsoon to Fred Blassie to Bill Watts are included here.  In the section featuring Ivan Koloff, it notes that the Russian Bear has never defeated Sammartino.  We now know that not long after publication this fact would change.  Wrestling Revue featured great writing over its run on the newsstands but the amazing action photography is what truly sold the magazines.  Those fine photos are what we see here.  Since so much of his early career was not captured on film, these photos provide an excellent view into the Hall of Fame career of Bruno Sammartino. 

Another top opponent of Sammartino featured is Killer Kowalski.  The feud between these two classic grapplers raged on throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  A deep mutual respect developed between the two that Bruno still talks about to this day.  In recent media coverage, Sammartino has cited Triple H's respect for Kowalski (who trained the WWE star) as a point that Sammartino in-turn respects regarding Triple H.  In the magazine we get an amazing photo of a presumed contract signing between the two legends.

The magazine concludes with a look at Bruno wrestling in other countries including Australia and Japan.  Sammartino was fiercely loyal to Giant Baba who went on to found All Japan Pro Wrestling.  Two action shots of Bruno and Baba are included.  A classic mail-order ad for Bruno Sammartino Buttons is to the left of these photos.

Bruno Sammartino is one of the few 1960's stars that has a seemingly endless supply of merchandise.  It's a true testament to his popularity, in an era when merchandising was virtually non-existent in wrestling.  There's no doubt that we will be seeing new Bruno DVDs, trading cards, action figures, and video game appearances thanks to his new deal with WWE.  As soon as they're available, you'll be hearing about it right here, but I'm not quite sure that any of them will measure up with "Bruno: A Collector's Item."


Loneman1 said...

Dude, I would love to see all of your wrestling collection only claim to supposed fame is having all the LJN figures. Well done on an apparently epic collection!

J\/\/ said...

Are you on our Facebook Fanpage? A lot more of it is on there!