Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Memorabilia Of WWE Legends House

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a show like WWE Legends House is right up my alley.  While no big devotee of the "reality" television boom of the last fifteen odd years, I've never made it much of a secret that I am a fan of the stars of wrestling's past.  Giving some of those stars the chance to shine once more in a setting that highlights the often quirky personalities of these past titans?  I'm there.

As soon as WWE Network was announced, Legends House promos started rolling.  After all, the show had been filmed two years earlier and was finally going to see the light of distribution.  I'll be the first to admit that the initial "teaser" look at the show appeared less than promising.  Sure, everyone expected normal reality show hijinks paired with wrestling legends, but for whatever reason the preview felt underwhelming.  The novelty of seeing these men as they appear today was nonexistent for someone like myself who sees them regularly on the convention circuit.  Would there be another hook to Legends House?

With Rowdy Roddy Piper, Jimmy Hart, Pat Patterson, Mean Gene Okerlund, Tony Atlas, Hillbilly Jim, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and Howard Finkel all under one roof, the answer could only be "yes."  Thus far, the show has been an entertaining mix of humor, drama, and cabbage rolls.  Viewers are already debating as to which of the legends will be standouts and which will cause the most trouble during the group's stay in the former Palm Springs estate of "Marx Brother" Harpo Marx.

While no memorabilia from the show itself has crept up (yet), any fan is bound to get nostalgic with these eight legends.  Only one (Patterson) never had an action figure, but others like Piper and Duggan more than make up for that.  Great portraits hang above each legends themed bed area, but what other items could've been placed in the house?

The first legend to arrive at the house was "Mr. USA" Tony Atlas.  The strongman immediately noted that he is known for press slamming Hulk Hogan.  This is indeed fact, and one of these moments was immortalized on the cover of Pro Wrestling Illustrated back in August of 1981.  Atlas loves seeing and discussing merchandise that included him, but he has always seemed especially proud of this PWI cover.  He often adds the story that this particular photo was the sculptors reference while designing the Slammy Award trophy.  Truth or fiction, it is still an impressive shot from wrestling's past.

Jimmy Hart has described himself as "the ultimate entertainer."  While many fans have certainly enjoyed his ringside antics, Hart was making audiences get off their feet long before entering pro wrestling.  As a member of "The Gentrys," Hart crooned out hits like "Keep On Dancin'" that helped define 1960s music.  In wrestling, Hart continued to parlay his musical skills by penning countless entrance themes and even cranking out a few albums.  His "Outrageous Conduct" album was released both during his Memphis and WWF runs.  With songs as clever as they are comedic, the albums are sought after due to being produced in relatively low quantities.

Hillbilly Jim is one wrestler who seems to have adapted nicely to life after the business.  He's also one of the better remembered characters of 1980s WWF.  This is, in part, due to the visibility of his LJN WWF figure.  If you didn't have one, you knew someone who did.  I can still remember pointing out the wrestling figure of "the farmer" (as my young mind dubbed him) on trips to the much-missed Hills toy department.  We may never know why the figure was designed with a red shirt underneath Jim's overalls, but no LJN collection is complete without the country boy.

It will be a shame if the show completes without Mean Gene or The Fink grabbing a microphone, and what better choice than the WWF Microphone by PlayTime Products.  This toy wasn't on shelves very long, but it was the closest that any company came to the real deal.  The 80s/90s WWF microphone was so iconic, it even "showed up" at a 1992 WCW/NWA press conference.  Wherever it appeared, you knew that something was about to go down in the wrestling world.  "Put that cigarette out..."

We can only wonder what predicaments the legends will find themselves in as the weeks go on (I'm personally anticipating their encounter with Adam West), and if indeed a Legends House Season 2 will go forward.  Hulk Hogan has been already been rumored for a second run.  Despite being a lifelong Hulkamaniac, I'd rather see some of the underexposed legends get time in the house.  Who would I book?  How about Arn Anderson, Nikolai Volkoff, Ron Simmons, Dusty Rhodes, Bob Backlund, Sgt. Slaughter, Terry Funk, and for the first time, a female legend.  One who has a place in history, but whose real-life personality has never really taken center stage.  Knowing her as I do, she considers herself one of the "boys" and would fit right in.  Of course I am speaking of the one and only, Leilani Kai.

Aloha, Legends!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wrestling MarketWatch: The Written Word

As far as the mainstream goes, Mick Foley is most likely the best known wrestling author.  The fame is for good reason, as Foley did in fact kickoff the modern era of the wrestling book with great success, but the genre hardly ends there.  From biographies and autobiographies to coffee table books, there's a great variety out there for the voracious reader that doubles as a wrestling fan. 

As with many books throughout the world crossing all categories, the prices often rise when printing ceases and interest grows.  Many smaller publishing houses have released books penned by wrestlers and often only churn out a single printing of each title.  Others are relics from the days before the "Foley book boom" that have stood the test of time.  In this latest edition of Wrestling MarketWatch, we'll take a look at some of these titles and just how much they've recently sold for at auction.  I may not be Rebecca Romney from Pawn Stars, but I doubt she's appraised many wrestling books lately.  Someone has to do it, so it may as well be me...albeit a bit less easy on the eyes than Rebecca!

*Scott Teal and his Crowbar Press have churned out a large number of wrestling books over the years, most notably autobiographies of many territory-era stars.  One of the most talked about was "Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Professional Wrestling" by the one and only Ole Anderson.  The founding Four Horseman member has always been known for his steadfast beliefs, and the book obviously reflects that.  Because of his honesty, the book becomes one of the best in the opinions of many.  Although a second printing is now available, the first printing is still sought after and can be easily spotted with its solid blue colored cover.  An autographed copy of the first printing recently sold for $40.

*In the 1980's and early 1990's, many wrestling books were more photo albums than stories.  After all, what other sport produces more exciting photos suited to be in a book than wrestling?  One of the hottest promotions of the era was World Class Championship Wrestling, and of course that meant the Von Erich family.  "The Von Erichs--A Family Album" is a look at the family both in and out of the ring just after the death of Mike.  A beautiful hardcover book, the album appeals to both wrestling fans and those who lived the WCCW phenomenon first hand.  Always in demand, the book recently sold for $71.

*"Tito Santana's Tales From The Ring" is a notably entry into the wrestling library for a few reasons.  For starters, Sports Publishing Inc. went out of business shortly after the book was published.  This caused an initial demand that has since waned.  The book is also notoriously short.  Despite a long career that took Santana everywhere, there just aren't enough "tales" in the book to constitute a classic.  The book has recently sold for an average of $14, a fall from the price shortly after its release.

*Another book that has seen such demand that a reprint was warranted is "Bruno Sammartino: An Autobiography Of Wrestling's Living Legend."  The book was originally published by Imagine Inc. in 1990.  You may remember Imagine Inc. for their Wrestling Legends trading cards that also involved Sammartino.  18 years later, CreateSpace re-released the book with a slightly different cover.  While no copies of the original have sold recently, the re-release has been selling for an average of $20.

*For a book by a wrestler that's partially wrestling and partially the world around us, look no further than "Killer Pics: A Collection Of Images From A Pro Wrestling Legend."  Killer Kowalski was a man of the world and of many interests, one of which was photography.  The book is a collection of images of both his fellow wrestlers and many sights that Kowalski saw throughout the world.  The coffee table sized paperback is not an easy one to find and recently sold at auction for $52.

These are just a few examples of volumes on the wrestling book shelf.  There are many other collectible ("Whatever Happened To Gorgeous George?") and not-so-collectible ("The Rock Says...") books out there with the topic of our favorite form of entertainment, with many more joining the bunch each year.  More will attain monetary value as the years go on, but the true treasures we gain from each book are the stories told on every page.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Ultimate Warrior...

Originally, this week was to feature my own thoughts on WrestleMania XXX and the new look of the wrestling business.  That was not to be.  Certainly, seeing as how The Ultimate Warrior featured so prominently into the biggest weekend on the WWE calendar, he would've been discussed at least a bit.  Instead, this has become a memorial to the newly minted WWE Hall of Famer.  For anyone who has not heard, the man who is legally known as "Warrior" collapsed and died upon return to his home state of Arizona.  He was 54 years old.

In the hours since his passing was announced by Triple H via Twitter, just about everyone has shared thoughts, tributes, and memories all over the Internet.  His death was front page news in most mainstream outlets.  Throughout Wednesday, his passing and coverage of a school violence incident close to my home were the top two stories on CNN, thus adding even more surreality to the day.

Armchair doctors and detectives have tried to pinpoint a time during his very public last weekend where one may notice a change in behavior.  Many have looked upon his appearance on Monday Night Raw less than twenty-four hours before his death as a sign.  Between odd mannerisms and an even odder and coincidental "goodbye" speech, some have wondered aloud if he in fact knew that something was wrong internally.  In my own mind, I recall his awkward pauses and occasional chest-clutching during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech as being out of place, but we will never know.

The controversial aspects of the man have all been discussed, and in my opinion there are other living (and beloved) stars of the business who have made equally polarizing comments and moves.  It seems as if it was simply popular to single out the Warrior in the past fifteen years or so.  The same "fans" who whined and complained via keyboard about the Ultimate Warrior's "workrate" are the same ones who secretly had the Hasbro dress-up kit and figures in their closets.  These are the same individuals who are crying while watching his matches on WWE Network.

But at this moment, there's zero time to give to those individuals.  Now is the time to think about the man himself, his fans, and most importantly his biggest fans--his family.  This weekend the public was introduced to his wife, mother, and young daughters.  It is a shock to think that what had to have been such an exciting and life affirming weekend for all five of them would end so tragically.

I was in my early years of life as well as wrestling fandom when the Warrior was at the top of the business.  WrestleMania VI was defining viewing of my childhood, and when asked which of the Tonka Wrestling Buddies I wanted for Christmas 1990, I picked the Ultimate Warrior.  I met the Ultimate Warrior less than two years ago, and it was evident that the man enjoyed meeting those who grew up with him.  To me, it appeared that the admiration reaffirmed that he was indeed so well remembered and beloved.  The wrestling business, whether it was justified or not, had all but taken that away from him.

The 2014 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony will be one of the most remembered, not for the quality of the speeches, but for being the redemption of The Ultimate Warrior.  It seemed that Warrior was trying to validate his career to himself on the biggest stage on which he would have a chance.  He succeeded.  Just as he did when he met all of us "Little Warriors," the knowledge that he did indeed make an impact on so many had to finally be evident.  As immensely tragic as the weekend turned out, no one has ever had a more dramatic goodbye to the fans than The Ultimate Warrior. 

As his speech on Raw said, "...the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever!"  I would have to agree.

Always believe...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--WrestleMania XXIV Program

With just a few days remaining as of press time until WrestleMania XXX, I thought it would be in the spirit of "getting into the Mania mood" to take a look back at one of the twenty-nine previous events.  One of the first entries here on the blog covered the collectability of WrestleMania programs.  At that time, the WrestleMania XXIV program was the "newest" available (with XXV debuting a few weeks later), and back then I did not even own it.  I never could have imagined where the copy that did end up with me would emanate from.

Of the WrestleMania's of the past decade, XXIV is my second favorite.  It was my favorite of the era until my obvious bias and undying love of WrestleMania XXIX came about.  It was outdoors, it had the dramatic lighting effect that only Mother Nature can pull off, and it had several "WrestleMania moments" that have been shown time and time again.  Most of all, it had the "WrestleMania feel," something that not every show under the banner has been able to pull off.

Near the front of the program are pages dedicated to the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2008.  WWE has taken several different directions regarding programs for WrestleMania and the Hall of Fame ceremony itself.  2008 marked the final year in which a smaller, more elegant, Hall of Fame program was produced.  In 2009, a standalone Hall of Fame program of the same size as the WrestleMania programs was available.  From 2010-on, the programs were merged into one and sold the entire weekend at Axxess, the Hall of Fame, and WrestleMania.

The particular copy shown here was acquired from the daughter and son-in-law of Gordon Solie, Pam and Robert Allyn.  The Allyn's were present at the event to honor the late "Dean of Wrestling Broadcasters" who was inducted into the Hall of Fame that year along with Eddie Graham, Jack and Jerry Brisco, Rocky Johnson, Peter Maivia, Mae Young, and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.  The Hall took on a decidedly Floridian flavor that year, especially considering the inclusion of Graham and Solie.

Like most of the WrestleMania events of the past ten years, the title matches are actually rather forgettable.  This is due to several factors, one of which is that all of the main eventers of the time had constantly battled on pay-per-view, tv, and house shows many times before they did so on the "grandest stage of them all."  Gone were the days of true dream matches like Hogan-Warrior that were built with the slightest of pre-Mania contact.  Could these days be returning?  With more weekly content than ever it will be difficult, but at least the stories are somewhat leaning in that direction.

Another reason that the Mania title matches of this era don't quite measure up is that fans simply weren't behind the main eventers of the time as they once had been.  In a fact that's been discussed to death, WrestleMania (and WWE shows in general) began to sell solely on the brand name factor alone rather than the drawing power of select stars.  Although I have speculated that we may going back in the opposite direction with stars like Daniel Bryan, The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and even the Rhodes and Uso families, the remnants of the past "era of disinterest" is still very evident with the backlash on names like Randy Orton and Batista.

WrestleMania XXIV gets past the damning title matches with a strong undercard and some very memorable special attraction matches.  From a mainstream standpoint, it didn't get any bigger than boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather going up against The Big Show.  Show, at the time just returning to WWE, may come out on the losing end of many of his Mania matches, but his performances are second-to-none.  Carrying a non-wrestler to an entertaining and believable match can in no way be easy, but Show did it here.  Seeing as that Mayweather is still a top grossing star and did very well in his WrestleMania appearance, it would not surprise me to see the company work with him again somewhere down the pike.

Perhaps even more memorable was the match between Flair and Shawn Michaels.  Going in, most fans realized that Flair would be losing this match, which in turn would trigger his retirement.  I can tell you from watching the show live with a mixed group of casual and regular wrestling fans, it didn't matter to anyone.  Two of the all-time greats told a story that could captivate fans on any level.  Although it didn't turn out to be Flair's final match altogether, it will ultimately be his final WWE match.

Aside from a hot opener billed as a "Belfast Brawl" between Fit Finlay and JBL, a then-WrestleMania traditional Money In The Bank match was another big highlight.  Looking back it's interesting to see what happened to the seven men involved.  The winner, CM Punk, and Chris Jericho have had many WWE highlights since, but MVP, Ken Kennedy, Carlito, Shelton Benjamin, and John Morrison all but fell into the same vacuum that other WWE mid-carders of the era did.  Sure, several have gone on to careers in TNA and Japan, but there is something about the mid-carders of the post-Attitude Era that leaves a fan wondering.  Many of them had so much talent, but they just never seemed to catch on.  Whether it was a residue effect of the aforementioned problem of no one single talent really setting the company on fire at the time or their own individual career moves and choices, we'll never really know.

This WrestleMania program is unlike many of the others in that it includes a poster highlighting the Show-Mayweather match as well as the two title matches.  This "bonus" is reminiscent of an old style wrestling event poster and helps give the title matches a bit more "oomph," although it is telling that the boxer vs wrestler match overshadows everything else.  The inclusion of a poster is very hit or miss with pay-per-view programs (several in the '94-'95 era had them as does Survivor Series 2011), so it's always a nice little extra.

In the back, we get one-page WrestleMania "capsules" profiling the previous twenty-three events.  These were a staple for several years of the large Mania programs, with one added each year.  One huge mistake somehow went unnoticed for several years with the WrestleMania III page listing and showing WrestleMania 2 celebrities Rick Schroeder, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Elvira.  A small oversight to some, but after appearing a few years in a row, it started to become the first thing that I would turn to find.

Mania programs rarely disappoint, even if the corresponding show does.  With XXIV we had a winning show and a nice program to boot that, while not the rarest, isn't the easiest to find in the collection.  Of any niche wrestling collectors that I hear from the most, it's definitely WrestleMania program collectors.  After all, "The Greatest Sports Entertainment Extravaganza of All-Time" should have the greatest memorabilia of all-time.  What will the thirtieth edition bring us?  Time will tell.  "Laissez les bon temps rouler" may be this years tagline, but I think that the thousands of fans in the Superdome will more likely be chanting, "Sainte merde!"