Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Outrageous Conduct Of Jimmy Hart

People often ask me if I have a "Holy Grail" of wrestling items that I'm looking for.  I've never been able to honestly answer that question, mostly because I often don't even know that I like something until I'm ready to acquire it.  I rarely seek something out, but rather let it come to me and then decide if it's something that I want to add to the collection.  That being said, there's one item that I did indeed want for a long time, especially after I learned that it actually existed.  That item would be Jimmy Hart's "Outrageous Conduct" album. 

I can still recall looking at a WWF Magazine from around 1987.  It was around twenty years ago, so the magazine was already several years old at that point.  Located near the end of the issue was a full page ad, complete with order blank, touting Outrageous Conduct.  Did Jimmy Hart, "The Mouth of the South," "Wrestling Renaissance Man," and "The Dick Clark of Wrestling" actually have his own album with the WWF's involvement?  Seeing as that the order blank seemed authentic enough and there was no print anywhere to declare that it wasn't, I figured that the album had to really exist.  Why had I never come across it?

Here we are, decades after I first learned about it, and the album does indeed exist.  In fact, two versions of the album exist.  One is an earlier version released in Memphis during Hart's successful managerial run in that territory.  The one shown and discussed here today was released with full cooperation with the WWF complete with several examples of the logo as well as "thanks" given to Vince McMahon and Jack Tunney right on the back of the album.

It seems that the album had a retail release in Canada, but may have only been available in the U.S. via the aforementioned magazine order blank.  Curiously enough, there is a small pinback button that was obviously made to promote the album.  Where these were used is anyone's guess.  In the same color scheme as the album cover, the button boldly proclaims "Jimmy Hart" and "Get Outrageous."  It's possible that many fans who wanted to "get outrageous" never had the chance.  It's another possibility that the powers that be behind the album didn't feel that music produced and performed by a "bad guy" manager would be a huge seller.

Nevertheless, copies do exist.  The particular copy shown here is a promotional version from CBS records.  The album cover is a great photo of Hart perched outside of a WWF ring complete with megaphone and microphone.  The words "Outrageous Conduct" are configured to make "Rage On" stand out.  The back features an outline of the WWF logo with the Jimmy Hart LJN figure framed inside.  It's just the kind of wrestling memorabilia crossover that completely appeals to me.

Many, if not all, of the songs on the album were released as singles by Hart back in the Memphis days.  The album includes "Eat Your Hart Out, Rick Springfield," "Juvenile Delinquents," "We Hate School," "Handsome Jimmy," and "Blackboard Jungle" on side one with "Solid Gold Rock & Roll," "Hippo Hips," "Barbra Streisand's Nose," "Tammy Wynott," and an instrumental of "Blackboard Jungle" on side two.  Truly a lineup of songs that reflected the fun side of Hart's character.

Admittedly, I haven't had the heart to spin such a treasured platter as of yet, especially in the pristine condition that this example is in.  I'm sure that it will be done eventually, but many of the songs can already be found in other outlets.  I will say that I have a burning curiosity as to whether or not "Barbra Streisand's Nose" is just another version of Hart's "Lance Russell's Nose" from Memphis.  How about a song about Jimmy Valiant on a 1986 WWF product? 

Mr. Hart is a heckuva guy who frequently makes signings and other appearances.  Perhaps someday soon I will get to ask him just what the story behind the WWF re-release of "Outrageous Conduct" really entails.  Promotional oddity?  Rare collectible?  Fun piece of memorabilia, if you ask me.  Maybe I'll get him to sing a few more bars of the unused WWF theme for Leilani Kai and Judy Martin, "The Glamour Girls," as well.  For a man as "loud" as he was with that infamous megaphone, you wouldn't think that so many great mysteries would've been held in for so long!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tensai & Sandow Hit Elite Status

After several weeks of old school here on the blog, it's time to take a look at some brand new items.  Fittingly with the recent topics here, the figures highlighted this week are of two men who easily could have fit in during the days of classic wrestling.  One is an underrated monster who, despite being wasted in his current role, will hopefully be remembered for a terrifying look and a move set to back it up.  The other has classic heel mic skills and seems to know exactly how to push the buttons of the "WWE Universe" via the art of the promo.  The superstars in question?  Tensai and Damien Sandow.

Mattel's WWE Elite figures are at a slightly higher price point than their "basic" counterparts, usually include one or two accessories, and come in the popular "window" packaging.  A higher number of articulated points are built into the figures which is done for greater poseability (for the collector) and greater playability (for the kids).  Each series contains six different characters including "Flashback" figures of current superstars in past looks and/or Legends.  In addition to Tensai and Sandow, the 22nd Elite series includes The Rock (with the new design of the WWE Championship), The Big Show, Kane, and a Flashback figure of The Giant.

Both Tensai and Sandow saw basic figure releases just a few months ago.  I held out on picking up the basic Sandow figure since I knew that this Elite figure, complete with his entrance robe, was coming up on the horizon.  Initially I had also planned on skipping the basic Tensai, but simply could not pass it up in the long run.  The figure received rave reviews from me in the blog entry covering it.  Will the Elite version of Tensai measure up?

Tensai is quite impressive in the package.  An already massive figure is made bigger with the simple addition of the entrance attire.  Both the mask and robe are molded.  I often have mixed feelings on the rubberized clothing.  It doesn't always look natural and is often hard to remove and replace.  Going by those two issues, we have both a hit and a miss with Tensai.  The robe is somewhat hard to put back onto to the figure once it is removed, but as was evident while the figure was still in the package, it looks great. 

While the figure is still in the entrance attire, it's one of those items where you absolutely feel that you got your money's worth.  Outside of the robe and mask, it's a different story.  Compared to the basic Tensai, the Elite version just seems a bit...deflated.  The barrel chest of the basic figure was perfect.  Due to the torso joint of the Elite figures that bothers me so, the same cannot be said here.  If I could create the perfect Tensai, it would have the head and right "claw" hand of the Elite swapped onto the rest of the basic parts.  For what it's worth, the entrance attire does fit onto the basic figure but seems even harder to remove.

Although I can't truly compare the basic Sandow to the Elite version, the basic seems very boring in the packaging without the robe.  The face sculpt used on both is amazing and captures the arrogance of Sandow perfectly.  In the packaging, I was concerned that Mattel had not included the towel that Sandow wears around his neck.  It was in fact there, but the thin material used caused it to hide under the robe.  I would bet that this will be the same towel included with the upcoming Elite JBL figure.  It would be interesting to see how one of the old Jakks terrycloth towels would work here.  The robe is also made from a thin material but serves its purpose. 

Beyond the robe, Sandow is a solid figure.  For a taller and somewhat thinner wrestler such as Sandow, the extra articulation works.  I'm even going to say that I'll accept the torso joint in this case.  If it helps the figure capture his look, I'll give it a pass.  My biggest problem is something that the often creative Mattel team really should've thought of.  A special right hand should have been created so that Sandow could hold the microphone like a brandy snifter as he does in WWE rings.  It wouldn't have taken much effort and can obviously be done considering that Tensai received a special right hand.  Adding to my disappointment of the hands omission is the fact that the Sandow figure includes a microphone.

"Brandy snifter hand" notwithstanding, these two are nice additions to the Elite collection.  If you have no interest in entrance gear, the basic figures would be more than adequate to represent these two WWE Superstars in your lineup.  The basic Tensai is one of the best figures that Mattel has done to date.  The entrance gear of the Elite Tensai are some of the nicest accessory pieces that Mattel has done to date.  Why oh why couldn't they have been combined?  Oh well.  The Elite collection is the avenue that Mattel has given us in order to acquire such accessories as entrance gear.  The company has done a decent job of it, even without "Brandy Snifter Hands" for "The Intellectual Savior of the Masses."

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.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Fallout Of Fanfest 2013

Just when we all thought that it couldn't be done, Greg Price and his staff did it again.  Fanfest 2013, this past weekend in Charlotte, NC, was one of the best wrestling events that I've ever attended.  Needless to say, that covers a lot of ground.  As a collector I love the autographs and photos, but Fanfest is so much more than that.  Celebrating wrestling the way we all wish it still was, meeting new people, renewing old friendships, and just simply having a blast.  That's what Fanfest is all about, and I hope that my words here can even somewhat properly convey those feelings.

As has become tradition, Fanfest began with two Q&A sessions on Thursday evening.  The first was a celebration of the infamous Starrcade '85 "I Quit" cage match between Magnum T.A. and Tully Blanchard.  For over three hours, the two legendary NWA stars took any and all questions regarding their long running feud, the business at the time, and even how their lives intertwined beyond the ring.  Any fan of the classic Jim Crockett Promotions wrestling product will want to go out of their way to see this.  The second Q&A was yet another hilarious couple of hours with Jim Cornette.  Always controversial and uncensored, Cornette debuted a new, slimmer look in what is said to be his only wrestling-related appearance of 2013.

Friday kicked off the new addition of a wrestling training camp for up-and-coming stars of the business.  Dr. Tom Prichard along with Les Thatcher, Leilani Kai, Tully Blanchard, and Gerald Brisco instilled their knowledge to a number of hopefuls while fans were invited to view training matches.  Autograph and photo op sessions took place throughout the day and the vendor room was absolutely buzzing.  In recent years, vendor rooms at conventions have been notoriously disappointing.  Table after table of new DVDs, new action figures, and overpriced pre-signed photos have become the norm, much to the chagrin of serious collectors.  The vendor room at Fanfest 2013 was decidedly different.  Deals on great items were to be had throughout the weekend.

My two favorite tables had me stopping to chat as much as I did to shop.  New to Fanfest this year was the booth run by Pam and Robert Allyn.  You may not recognize the names, but you definitely saw them at the 2008 WWE Hall of Fame as well as WrestleMania 24.  They are the daughter and son-in-law of the late Gordon Solie.  The Allyn's are two of the nicest people that you will ever meet.  They greatly miss the late "Dean of Wrestling Broadcasters" and have much respect for the business that he thrived in for so long.  Pam and Robert had a huge number of items from Gordon's personal collection for sale at extremely reasonable prices.  They explained to me that they want the items to go to collectors that will cherish them.  With the amazingly fair pricing, I was able to add several of these treasures to my own collection.  One of these items was an authentically signed picture of the legendary wrestling broadcaster.  Pam and Robert made sure that I did not leave Fanfest without this, and I cannot thank them enough.  I'm hoping that they return to Fanfest 2014 just so that I can talk with them more!

My other favorite table is one that I always seem to leave a bit poorer albeit with a huge smile on my face.  Ever since Jim Cornette decided to downsize his own collection a few years ago, my stash has become all the better.  The Cornette's Collectibles booth was on my agenda before I even arrived at Fanfest.  This was so that I could pick up his latest book, "Rags, Paper, And Pins."  The book, co-authored with Memphis wrestling historian Mark James, is a beautifully published volume covering the merchandising of that famous territory.  Since the book will be front and center here on the blog in a few weeks, highlighted in this entry is another item from Cornette's Collectibles.  For sale was a 1962 issue of "The Rassler" program from Texas signed by the legendary Lou Thesz.  Thesz signed the program in 1978 and inscribed it to the winner of a W.F.I.A. (Wrestling Fans International Association) raffle.  Just who was the winner of that raffle?  Jim Cornette.  How could any collector pass that one up?

Friday night witnessed yet another grand Hall of Heroes banquet and ceremony.  My group was honored to have 2013 Hall of Heroes inductee Magnum T.A. at our table.  The NWA legend was gracious enough to answer and discuss any questions we had, including info regarding his unproduced Mattel action figure.  It doesn't take much to correctly guess just who asked about that!  Also honored were Les Thatcher, Danny Miller, Lars Anderson, and both The Rock & Roll Express and the Midnight Express with Jim Cornette.  It was touching to see the always boisterous Cornette choke up a bit at the honor.  In addition, it was comforting to see "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton happy and smiling the entire weekend in light of recent health issues.

Saturday saw more autographs, photos, and elbow rubbing with the stars, including some unannounced surprises.  Former WWWF Women's Tag Team Champion Princess Victoria came to Fanfest with her friend, featured guest Susan Green.  I keep in contact with both ladies, but had yet to meet Victoria in person.  I was glad to learn that the Native American Princess whose career was cut short by a neck injury is just as fun and amazing as she had been in all of our correspondence.  I was also able to acquire one of Miss Green's vintage original ring vests.  It is one beautiful item that I unveiled on our Twitter feed shortly after I picked it up

Saturday night featured a card of wrestling matches that were absolutely the best yet to be presented at Fanfest.  The match of the night may have been perennial Alabama Junior Heavyweight Champion "Action" Mike Jackson pitted against Bobby Fulton of "The Fantastics."  A highlight for many of us in the audience was Fulton's young sons taunting the crowd and doing it better than many talent that we see on tv week in and week out.  I should mention that the boys were probably between 11 and 13.  Possibly a new generation of "Fantastics" for the future?  Fulton and his sons performing "The Fargo Strut" at the end of the match was a particularly cool moment.

The main event of the evening was D'Lo Brown and D.O.C. (Festus/Luke Gallows) in a tag team match against The Rock & Roll Express.  With Tommy Young refereeing and "Rock n' Roll Is King" blaring over the sound system, 1985 had suddenly returned in the ballroom of the Charlotte University Place Hilton.  Ricky and Robert took the victory in a hard fought battle which proved that even after thirty years, rock and roll is indeed king.  The team was not shy in sharing that they had the time of their lives over Fanfest weekend, and it showed in every interaction with the fans.

Sunday wrapped things up with more signings, photos, and another trip around the vendor room for some great last minute deals.  Fans that were able to stay for the afternoon were even treated to a second live wrestling card.  Due to a very, very long ride home, it is always best for us to begin the long trek right after the final signing.  Although it was difficult to leave beautiful North Carolina, is was nice to be able to settle back and take in all of the autographs, photos, and memories once again collected at Fanfest.  It's amazing to think that all of that could be accomplished in what now feels like the blink of an eye.

Thanks to Greg Price and his crew, the 2013 edition was the smoothest run Fanfest yet.  If there were any issues, the average fan was completely oblivious to it.  Word has been around for awhile now that the 2014 Fanfest will be the last.  Does that mean that it's the last "Mid-Atlantic Fanfest?"  Does that mean that the event will be moving locations?  Perhaps it is indeed the final one altogether.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that following this weekend, I'm going to have a very hard time even considering skipping the 2014 edition.  If we could only freeze time next July 31-August 3, Fanfest could go on forever...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wrestling MarketWatch: Mid-Atlantic Treasures

If you're a fan of classic wrestling, chances are that this upcoming weekend your mind will be focused on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.  There's an even greater chance that you may be celebrating the great promotion, in person, with dozens of other fans.  August 1-4 is the Mid-Atlantic Memories Fanfest in Charlotte, NC.  A few weeks ago I had my annual pleasure of discussing everything that the weekend means to so many of us.  With the event finally here, it's a great time to take a look at some of the amazing memorabilia that helps carry on the tradition of MACW and Jim Crockett Promotions.

Wrestling MarketWatch is our regular feature where we take a look at a handful of items and their recent sale prices.  Since there are no accurate "price guides" in the Internet age, this is the closest thing to those great books of the past.  Remember, something is only worth what one individual person is willing to pay, and you should always collect for yourself as opposed to profit.  That being said, it's often a blast to know what people will pay for these great relics.

*Would you believe that some of the coolest Mid-Atlantic items actually come from Fanfest itself?  It's true.  In addition to shirts, lanyards, and DVDs, each years event is represented by a full-color program featuring all of the stars of the weekend.  In 2009 we were spoiled with a whopping set of four programs.  One program was dedicated to the annual Hall of Heroes ceremony, another commemorated the reunion of The Horsemen at the event, and the last two featured the other wrestling stars who would appear that weekend.  The individual program for Saturday recently sold at auction alone for $30.  The program was listed as having ten autographs inside, including the recently deceased "Fabulous" Jackie Fargo.

*When you're talking Mid-Atlantic programs, you have to mention the publication for Starrcade 1983.  The first edition of the legendary super show was highlighted by "A Flare For The Gold," Ric Flair challenging Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.  This publication is more of a photo album than a program and is labeled on the cover as such.  The photos show the stars of the event as well as a few who didn't quite make it onto the card, including Hulk Hogan.  With its classy artists renderings of Race, Flair, and the NWA "Big Gold" belt, the cover is the true star here.  Always high in demand, a copy recently sold for $130.

*Like the Fanfest program, not every Mid-Atlantic treasure is directly from the era.  The Anderson's were some of the biggest wrestling stars that the Carolina's ever saw.  The fans admiration for Ole Anderson at each Fanfest is concrete proof of this.  Several years ago, Anderson wrote a book titled "Inside Out."  Chronicling both his in-ring career as well as his many years booking and promoting, Anderson tells an incredible story in his usual "pull-no-punches" style.  Due to popular demand, the book was re-released a number of years ago with a two-tone color, but the original blue covered first printing remains highly coveted.  A copy from the first printing recently sold for $30. 

*Some of the best merchandise to come from Jim Crockett Promotions was the 1988 trading card set by Wonderama.  With over three hundred cards, many wrestlers have their rookie cards in this set, and many appeared in little to no other merchandise.  A limited test run of these cards is beginning to become noticed by collectors.  Printed in 1987, this limited test set only includes a few dozen cards as opposed to the 1988 run.  While the photos and card fronts are indistinguishable from the standard set, the test run card backs are on brown card stock as opposed to the white stock used in the regular run.  Few of these have surfaced, but an example of card #17, Sting, recently sold for $52.  The card is generally regarded as one of his rookies, and is the nicest Sting card to make it into the test run.

*Bright lights, big cities, fine women, and The Four Horsemen.  Fans of Jim Crockett Promotions later years have many memories of wrestling's original elite stable.  In the days that the group, along with manager J.J. Dillon, ran wild across the country, it was pretty difficult to obtain autographs.  After all, the guys were heels in every sense of the word.  Getting the four original members and Dillon on one photograph?  Impossible.  Thanks to modern day conventions, the task became a lot easier for many of us.  One of the most common photos autographed by the four is a great backstage shot from the time of the 1986 Great American Bash.  An 8x10 version of this photograph, authentically signed by Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Ole Anderson, and J.J. Dillon, recently sold for $50.  I've had higher offers for my own similar piece and can tell you that, in my opinion, fifty dollars for this treasure is an absolute bargain.

The Horsemen.  Dusty Rhodes.  Rip Hawk.  Johnny Weaver.  Magnum T.A.  Paul Jones.  Rick Steamboat.  These are just a few of the men who made Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling what it was.  It's the fans who carry on, and share, the legacy forever into the future.