Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mil Mascaras: Masked Man of Merchandising

Seeing as that this is the Wrestling Memorabilia Blog, we often pay tribute to pioneers in wrestling merchandising.  Awhile back, we took a look at efforts in the Memphis wrestling promotion that included the birth of "the gimmick table" and many other merchandising concepts.  This time around our spotlight is on an individual star.  From his look to his charisma, both of which were shrouded in mystique, it's no wonder why the man became one of the first big merchandising stars of the wrestling business.  That man is Mil Mascaras.

The Man of 1,000 Masks is said to have begun his career simultaneously as a Mexican movie star and luchador.  With that being the case, one could argue that his merchandising began as soon as his career did.  With his colorful masks and costumes plastered on movie posters and lobby cards, the Mexican public was already becoming enamored with the man formerly known as Aaron Rodriguez.  Though this took place in the mid-1960's, it was the following decade when Mascaras became a true worldwide name in wrestling.

All Japan Pro Wrestling regular featured Mascaras in the 1970's which propelled the Mexican star to a top spot in Japan.  It was here that he adopted a theme song.  "Sky High" by British group Jigsaw became the associated tune of the high flying star.  Photos of the luchador appeared on various releases of the song.  A disco anthem to be sure, the song is very catchy and has several portions that absolutely fit a '70s hero.  Mascaras still uses this song today for matches around the world.

Domestically, Mascaras became best known in the '70s for his work in the IWA and the WWWF.  It was in the latter promotion that wrestling magazine editor and photographer Bill Apter shot so many iconic photos of the masked star.  For decades now, Apter has deemed Mascaras as his favorite wrestler and can be seen at ringside for many of the masked star's matches in old Madison Square Garden films.  It's no coincidence that in 1979, Apter chose Mascaras along with Dusty Rhodes to star on the cover of the first issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

The premiere of PWI was hardly Mascaras' introduction to the American wrestling magazine.  From Inside Wrestling and The Wrestler to Wrestling Revue and Wrestling Monthly, Mascaras appeared on the cover of every title available on the newsstand that decade.  Is it any wonder?  An exotic and mysterious high-flying masked man with colorful outfits and maneuvers to boot?  A real life superhero come to life in wrestling rings across the world.  Next to faces covered with the proverbial "crimson mask," Mascaras was probably the most frequent subject of wrestling magazine covers of the decade.

In 1983, Mascaras along with Bernie Lopez Enterprises released "Mil Mascaras Pro Wrestling Game."  The board game is a complicated early wrestling "simulator" that can even be played solo.  Using dice, numbers, and many, many rules, players can "promote matches in the wrestling capitals of the world--New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Hong Kong, etc." according to the box.  The game is certainly an interesting novelty, probably the first of its kind, and features two box photos credited to wrestling's other top photographer, George Napolitano.

Surprisingly, it was not until the last decade that quality action figures of Mil Mascaras appeared on the market.  For years, unlicensed figures were produced in Mexico and sold by street vendors to children yearning to recreate the matches of their national hero.  In the early 2000's, licensed Mil Mascaras figures in a variety of outfits were produced by Character Product in Japan.  The masked man's popularity has not waned in the Land of the Rising Sun, and these figures are proof positive.  A nearly perfect likeness along with removable accessories combine to bring us what will likely be the nicest Mil Mascaras figures ever produced.  Despite being a perfect candidate for one of the wide variety of wrestlers in the line, Mascaras was never part of the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line.

Mascaras is just one third of a trio of brothers who became stars of lucha libre.  Dos Caras and Sicodelico (who in my opinion had the coolest mask of the three) also ruled rings around the world, although never with quite the amount of fame as Mascaras.  In 2012, Mascaras was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his nephew, Alberto Del Rio, the son of Dos Caras. 

Despite criticisms of his behavior both in and out of the ring, I've always been mystified by Mascaras.  A little over a year ago, I had the chance to see the masked legend perform live.  Still flashy, still charismatic, and still giving nothing to his opponent, Mascaras turned back the clock for about five minutes.  Say what you want about the man, he is an originator.  Whereas before you may have thought it was simply because he was the Man of 1,000 Masks, he may also be the original Man of 1,000 Gimmicks!


Noe Martinez said...

Hola me llamo Rafael y tengo esa figura que sale en la última foto en su caja, nunca abierta, sabrás cuanto vale?.

Noe Martinez said...

Hola me llamo Rafael y tengo esa figura que sale en la última foto en su caja, nunca abierta, sabrás cuanto vale?.