Thursday, August 15, 2013

Memphis Wrestling Memorabilia Comes To A Bookshelf Near You

Let's face it, Memphis Wrestling had it all.  The stars, the action, and entertainment value that no other promotion or territory could quite match at the time.  Despite being a Yankee and born just as much of the hottest Memphis action was taking place, I've often listed the territory as my favorite of the old wrestling hotbeds.  I'll go as far as to say that if any one territory would be able to succeed in today's wrestling world, it would be Memphis.  The whole package transcends the time in which it occurred, and any wrestling promoter would kill for those insane crowds that can still be marveled at on old tapes from the Mid-South Coliseum.

Another way in which Memphis Wrestling stood out was in the early concepts of merchandising.  As I often point out here, the action figures, bedsheets, stickers, and lunchboxes that we now associate with wrestling memorabilia didn't truly take off until the "Rock n' Wrestling" era of the mid-1980s.  In Memphis and the other towns included in the territory, however, fans, wrestlers, and promoters alike knew just how much souvenirs and "gimmicks" could add to the overall product and profits of wrestling.

If you're even on this blog, I'm fairly sure that you have an interest in the memorabilia and merchandise surrounding professional wrestling.  If you've ever wanted a fully illustrated history of some of the earliest examples of these treasured collectibles, then the newest book from the legendary Jim Cornette and Memphis Wrestling historian Mark James is right up your alley.  The book is titled "Rags, Paper, & Pins--The Merchandising Of Memphis Wrestling," and was tailored made for fans/collectors like you and me.

Works from both Cornette and James have been featured here before.  Cornette's 25th Anniversary Scrapbook meticulously recalling the fantastic run of his Midnight Express tag team met glowing reviews here and just about anywhere else it has been discussed, as have Dutch Mantell's "The World According To Dutch" and George South's "Dad You Don't Work, You Wrestle."  The latter two books were co-productions with Mark James.  By mixing Cornette's direct involvement with Memphis wrestling merchandising and James' knowledge of the territory captured in his other publications and website, "Rags" promised to be a winner even before the first page was turned.

Making its public debut at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest, convention goers flocked to the Cornette's Collectibles booth where both Cornette and James were present to sell and sign the books.  Although the book was already on my own shopping list, I'm not sure how any fan could have passed it up.  The cover is plastered with original Jim Cornette photography of Jerry Lawler, Jackie Fargo, Jimmy Valiant, Lance Russell and Dave Brown, Bill Dundee, The Fabulous Ones, and even a young Hulk Hogan.

At 342 pages it is by no means a small book.  Part of that is because many of the programs, photos, and other memorabilia discussed is reproduced right in the book.  The other half is because Cornette and James follow a pattern that's near and dear to my heart: telling the history of wrestling through its memorabilia and merchandising.

It's no secret that Jim Cornette began his association with Memphis Wrestling as a young photographer.  What's less known is that so much of the Memphis merchandising sold at the "photo table" is also a direct result of Cornette's involvement.  The greatest wrestling manager of all-time?  I'd certainly be inclined to agree.  One of the fathers of wrestling merchandising and memorabilia?  Who knew?

From the '50s through the '80s, Memphis Wrestling history and merchandising is not just covered, but presented in the way that it deserves to be.  From Sputnik Monroe, Tojo Yamamoto, and The Fabulous Fargo's to Jimmy Hart, Austin Idol, and The Gibson Brothers, they're all here.  Maybe you've just always wanted to see the infamous "Mama Cornette."  Even she makes an appearance here, along with the mother of Jerry Jarrett, Christine, herself an integral part of the territory.  Speaking of one of the most influential men in wrestling history, Jerry Jarrett provides the foreword for this treasury of his territory.

Perhaps my own favorite portion of the book is a complete reprinting of the six-issue run of Championship Wrestling Magazine.  A collaboration between Cornette and Norm Kietzer's Pro Wrestling Enterprises, CWM is prized due to its short run, great Cornette photography, and complete dedication to the Memphis Wrestling product of the time.  Cover-to-cover, each issue is presented here in anthology form, complete with Cornette's behind-the-scenes stories from the magazine's birth to untimely end and even his original hand-penciled layouts.  This section is worth the price of the book alone.

I learned so much from the book that I would love to repeat here, but that's where you come in.  With my highest recommendation, if you have any appreciation for classic Memphis Wrestling or the memorabilia that is discussed every week right here, you need to pick up the book for yourself.  Information on the various ways that you can obtain a copy for yourself is at Mark James' website.

I couldn't put this one down, and I won't be doing so anytime soon.  I continue to comb over the hundreds of photos in the book, wondering how I'll be able to find many of the items that I don't already own.  Some pieces that I'm sure I will own are the future Cornette-James collaborations hinted at in this book.  We all miss James E. Cornette screaming at the top of his lungs on television and whacking people with his tennis racket.  That being said, if this is the kind of product that we're going to get from the "away-from-the-industry" Cornette of 2013 and beyond, I think we're in for many more grand slams from "The Louisville Slugger" himself.

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