Thursday, May 22, 2014
Wrestling's Greatest Pitchman--Mean Gene Okerlund
If you've been watching WWE Legends House, you can't help being entertained by Gene Okerlund. As one of the eldest members of the crew, Gene's almost Fred Mertz-esque curmudgeonly character has been a highlight of the WWE Network reality show. Initially, I questioned why both Okerlund and ring announcer Howard Finkel would be included in the same cast, as if there was a singular "announcers spot" in the lineup. As we've come to find out, they each bring something very different to the table.
Mean Gene was an icon long before his Legends House stint. Interviewing his way through Verne Gagne's AWA in the '70s and early '80s, Okerlund would become a household name in the era of "Rock N Wrestling." Mean Gene had a way of making even the most insignificant interview segment appear like a feature on the nightly news. With the turn of the microphone, the balding broadcaster could switch that importance into pure entertainment.
Mean Gene is one of two LJN figures, along with fellow Legends Housemate Hillbilly Jim, that I distinctly remember seeing on store shelves early in my wrestling fandom. Who could forget the shrugging, tuxedoed gentleman with the befuddled look on his face? In recent years it has come to light that a prototype of the figure actually had arms outstretched down and to the front with a microphone nowhere in sight. I think we're all glad that we received what turned out to be the finished product.
Cards, promo photos, and even toy microphones were also produced with the Gene Okerlund's likeness featured. Gordon Solie appeared on some merchandise, but those were mostly regional items. Gorilla Monsoon's memorabilia was largely confined to his wrestling days until some other items became available after his passing. Mean Gene Okerlund was the first truly marketed wrestling announcer.
Why did it work for all of those years? Probably because, like most great wrestling characters, what you see is what you get. Self-appointed bartender for a night of drinks? Checking out and coyly flirting with the vivacious Ashley Roberts? Tossing a pickled pigs foot onto the lawn? It's all Gene Okerlund, on-screen and off. To many of us, he's a voice and persona that we all grew up with. To the world, he's one of the most distinct personalities to come from the wrestling business. You would think that he's done it all, but one can only imagine the response he would give if presented with such a thought...
"Give me a break!"