Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pittsburgh Loses Its Voice..."Chilly Billy" Cardille

Pop in an old wrestling match from the '50s to the '70s and you'll likely be able to identify where it took place in just a few seconds. The venues were unique. The look and feel of the production might be a tip-off. You might even be able to pinpoint it just by who's in the ring. But the most recognizable aspect of a regional wrestling promotional was usually the golden voice behind the microphone. We've had plenty of them over the years and have begun to honor many who are still with us. Lance Russell, Bob Caudle, and Bill Mercer are just a few of those who have lived to see a new appreciation of their past efforts. Sadly, one who isn't as well known for wrestling outside of his home city has just passed away. The man was the voice of Pittsburgh's Studio Wrestling program starring "The Living Legend" himself, Bruno Sammartino. The man was Bill Cardille.

"Chilly Billy," as he was known to his legions of fans, passed away early last Thursday. While any wrestling historian would know his name and his contributions to the business, he is sadly not as celebrated as the other aforementioned announcers. Despite so much of Cardille's non-wrestling work still surviving, there is virtually no filmed record of his Studio Wrestling days. Although many have searched, it appears that Pittsburgh's WIIC-TV, now known as WPXI, taped over every last bit of the Studio Wrestling program. All that exists are some silent home movies and some audio recordings taped off of television by fans. Anything that would be shown these days by an entity such as WWE is long gone.

For a time, Cardille was also an announcer for one of the WWWF's syndicated shows out of Philadelphia. If any footage of that exists, it certainly hasn't been shown in awhile. But ultimately it was his love of his family and the city of Pittsburgh that kept him from becoming one of the main voices of the promotion that eventually took over the wrestling industry. Cardille did not want to travel to Washington D.C. and other areas in the territory, so instead the company began using a youngster named Vince McMahon Jr.

Staying in the Steel City may have been just the right thing for Bill Cardille. He arguably became even better known for his long running "Chiller Theater" program which aired classic horror films on Saturday nights. Many television horror hosts who came after often credit "Chilly Billy" as an inspiration. Cardille wore many different hats in the world of Pittsburgh television and radio, just retiring from the latter around two years ago. In my own childhood days, Cardille was still a fixture on the WPXI-TV news, bringing his easy-going, affable style to the weather forecasts.

It was because of yet another tireless effort of Bill Cardille's that enabled me to see both him and Bruno Sammartino in-person for the first time. Cardille was the longtime host of the local portion of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. The segments were produced out of Monroeville Mall just outside of Pittsburgh and Bruno often volunteered his services to man the phones. Monroeville Mall was also the site of George Romero's 1978 flick "Dawn of the Dead." A decade earlier, Romero produced his classic "Night of the Living Dead" just north of Pittsburgh. Who appeared in the film as a news reporter? Bill Cardille.

Cardille became a fixture on the local convention scene as well as appearing at various Studio Wrestling reunion events in recent years. It was at these appearances that I got to see, first hand, just what a kind man Cardille was. Even in his 80's, the signature voice of "Chilly Billy" was just as rich and robust as it was during all of those years on television. It was evident to this wrestling fan that Mr. Cardille never lost his appreciation for the classic era of the industry and all of its zany characters.

While we don't have much film of "Chilly Billy" in wrestling, we do have plenty of memorabilia. Cardille had several wrestling magazine articles covering his efforts in the '60s. He was also featured in the "Tri-State Wrestling" publications that were produced by the Pittsburgh wrestling office, often with other Studio Wrestling notables such as fan "Ringside Rosie" and Pittsburgh Pirate Hall of Famer-turned-pitchman Pie Traynor. Many print ads featuring Cardille and showcasing Studio Wrestling also still exist.

Not only did I get to meet Mr. Cardille many times, but he also indirectly helped me live out my dream. Several years ago, I answered a trivia question on the Pro Wrestling Illustrated blog. I can't remember exactly what the question was, but the answer was, of course, Bill Cardille. Since that blog and my own were run using the same system, my answer indirectly linked to my blog. My work was noticed by the fine folks at PWI, which in turn led to me writing in the magazine and its sister publications.

Mr. Cardille, thank you so much for giving your talents to Pittsburgh. You informed, entertained, and enlightened us all, yet still had time to aid those in need. You raised and loved a family, and yet somehow managed to make us all feel like we were part of it. I'll never forget our interactions at various events nor your reactions to whatever magazine, article, or photo that I could find for you to sign. The true definition of a gentleman, on-camera and off, is Mr. Bill Cardille.

Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Totally '80s! Wrestling Merchandise Magazine Ads

It was the golden age of merchandising in professional wrestling! Gone were the days where you had to attend an actual wrestling event to snap up whatever items you could get your hands on. Photos, programs, and the occasional bumper sticker or pennant were great, but now the world had action figures, watches, videotapes, and even record albums! Best of all, you could order them straight from the pages of your favorite wrestling magazine. A decade earlier, kids were sneaking peeks of stuff that "older brother" or "creepy, lonely neighbor" were ordering from these same publications. By 1989, the younger market was being completely taken care of with (usually) age-appropriate items from various wrestling companies.

The ads that you're about to see all emanate from the pages of the February 1989 issue of Inside Wrestling, featuring a great cover shot of the newly-christened Brainbusters--Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson. I'm not including this as an edition of our "From The Musty Yellowed Pages" series, as we aren't really looking into the magazine but rather just the ads. Most of these ads can be found in multiple magazines of the time, but this seemed like a good issue to look at with a wide variety of merchandise spanning several promotions.

Right inside of the front cover are two fantastic ads. The first is one of two ads in the issue from "The Wrestling Ring" company which was based out of Baltimore, MD. A search on any Internet wrestling forum will likely yield at least a couple of nostalgic stories from fans who ordered from "The Wrestling Ring." No longer in business, the mail-order company seemed to have capitalized on the time of the "Rock N Wrestling" era. This ad focuses on WWF digital watches. You can choose from Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Miss Elizabeth, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Koko B. Ware, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, who was already gone from the WWF. Also in this ad are two early NWA foam belts which are relatively in demand these days. Note the wrestling ring that the fist is "bursting" through is fashioned using posts and turnbuckles from the LJN WWF ring.

 On the first actual page of the issue is an ad for "A Von Erich Extravaganza!" This ad is direct from the publishing company itself which must have had an overstock of the Von Erich's "Front Row Ringside" VHS video and "A Family Album" book. The album itself has been featured before on this very blog, and the "Front Row Ringside" video can be viewed as of press time on a very popular online video site. The original video as well as the book both prove to still be popular whenever the show up on the market today.

Later in the issue we get an ad from the other side of the World Class Championship Wrestling saga, that being Michael Hayes and the Fabulous Freebirds. Although the glory days of the promotion and its stars had passed by 1989, the merchandise was still there. The full page ad straight from "Badstreet" features a plethora of items celebrating "The Baddest of the Bad and The Meanest of the Mean." The legendary "Off The Streets" album by Hayes himself has been featured here many times and was available in this ad for just $9.95, including the infamous "Michael Hayes Exposed" poster. You could also join the fan club, hang Hayes on your wall, or wear a Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy "Bad To The Bone" t-shirt!

The Weston or Apter Mags were never shy about ads for back issues of their various publications. Here we see that for a time the company was even bundling back issues together focusing on one particular superstar. This time we get "A Special Offer For All 'Hulkamaniacs'" featuring ten different cover stories of Hulk Hogan. Pictured is a somewhat husky young Hulkamaniac, decked out in a 1985ish "Hulkster" headband, Pro Wrestling Illustrated t-shirt, and one of the aforementioned foam NWA Championship belts. He's representing '80s rasslin' to the max. Just $19.95 got you all ten issues. In 2016, the smart wrestling collector could obtain those same ten issues for just about the same price with enough searching.

The full-color back page features one of the best remembered ads of the era, again from "The Wrestling Ring" company. This ad features many of the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars figures that had been released up to that point. Also shown are the large figure of Rowdy Roddy Piper and the wrestling ring and cage also all from LJN. We even get yet another cameo by one of those foam NWA Championship belts. It's great to see the LJNs in all of their glory. The colors of the figures look particularly rich in the main photo, too. As 1989 progressed an even more famous ad was run in these magazines by "The Wrestling Ring." That ad featured mentions (but NOT pictures) of some of the unreleased figures such as The Barbarian, Demolition Smash, and Bad News Brown.

What a collection of '80s gems! It all goes back to the old saying "If I only knew then what I know now..." That, of course, gives way to another phrase, "Hindsight is 20/20." Nevertheless, even if we don't own all of these great items, we still have these great advertisements to look back on. Perhaps one day we'll take a look at some wrestling magazine ads from even earlier decades. Then again, maybe not. After all, I prefer to keep this blog "family friendly."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Joe's New Figure Is Gonna Kill You

About a month or so ago I actually saved one of the pictures that came in an e-mail from WWE Shop. I'd never done it before, but there was something about this picture that just struck me. It had nothing to do with the merchandise that was being touted. Instead, it was the two wrestlers shown. Those two men? AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. As many times as we've learned to "never say never" as wrestling fans, here are two wrestlers who were always said to not fit into the WWE style. Sure they had some one-off matches with the company years ago, but as they became bonafide stars, full WWE runs just didn't seem to be a possibility. In 2016, the WWE is changing. The company has always been at its best when it "thinks outside the box." That's exactly what it has done with NXT and the signing of stars such as these. Now, just a bit over a year since his debut under the WWE umbrella, a new Samoa Joe figure is here.

Samoa Joe is no stranger to action figures, receiving some in his long TNA run from both ToyBiz/Marvel Toys and Jakks. Those figures very adequately depicted Joe as he appeared then. However, just as his career has changed paths, so have his looks. Mattel has done a very good job capturing Joe's current look and feel. His face is a bit thinner than in the past with slightly different hair. My figure did have a bit of sloppiness with the facial hair paint. It's never a good thing, but something many collectors have learned to live with. For $20 a figure, no one should have to put up with it, but here it is.

If you remember back to May of 2015, you might recall the buzz surrounding the fact that almost immediately following Joe's debut at NXT TakeOver his t-shirt was available on WWE Shop. Later that month, it was said that strong sales of that shirt lead to a "full time" deal being offered to the superstar. Whether or not that is true, a figure-sized version of that shirt is included here. While Mattel may actually have gotten away with just including Joe's signature towel, the shirt is very much appreciated and sets this figure apart from his past representations. I did encounter a bit of resistance when removing the shirt from it's plastic "shield" inside the bubble. It seemed that if one of these figures is opened years from now, some of the lettering may be permanently stuck to the plastic.

I believe that the body sculpt used is new and unique for Joe as it honestly should be. It's not too muscular, but it still captures the toughness of Joe and looks great in one of his signature poses. The shorts, boots, and kneepads look spot-on as well. The torso joint doesn't stick out here, as it really could just be a "fold" in Joe's physique. Joe can kick, punch, chop, and stomp his way through any of the other Mattel figures. And although this is properly branded on the packaging for NXT, you know that any kid lucky enough to have Joe on his or her roster is bringing the Samoan Submission Machine straight to the top.

Of course, I had to pose Joe with the NXT Championship belt. It doesn't fit around his waist, but it does look good with the figure regardless. With a properly scaled Mattel version of Joe, all of the dream matches can be "held" before they ever actually take place in a WWE ring. Joe vs Triple H. Joe vs Brock Lesnar. Joe vs The Undertaker. Or even updated versions of Joe vs Daniel Bryan or John Cena. Now all we need is Kurt Angle to make his long awaited return to the WWE family so that we can recreate one of TNA's greatest feuds...

My verdict? This one definitely goes into the running for Figure of the Year. Would it without the t-shirt accessory? I'm not sure, but we have it. It's a perfect mix of a first time WWE figure, a great likeness, seemingly new sculpts, and accessories. Will we see more? Of course. Samoa Joe will see a nice WWE figure run. There will be Basic versions and I could see another Elite with the NXT Championship included down the line. Why wait? Joe is here with two awesome accessories in an Elite style. Grab him while you can! And if you don't...well...I don't have to say it. They'll chant it right at you.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Galoob WCW Arn Anderson

A fact suddenly hit me while writing one of the more recent action figure reviews here on the blog. Although we look at loads of other classic memorabilia, I haven't truly done a classic action figure review in the over seven years since the inception of this blog. We now have over thirty years of action figures to choose from ranging from the good, to the bad, and even to the downright ugly. Multiple companies on several continents have seen wrestling figures of some of the all time greatest grapplers and even many of the worst. Thus was born a new blog feature, The Wrestling Classic Figure Review.

Kicking off the new recurring feature is a figure that I'm admittedly biased towards. It was one of the first non-WWF products in my collection. With as much love as I have for the entire wrestling world, I grew up a child of the WWF. While I knew that there was other wrestling out there, and I now have just as much fondness for those companies as I do the stuff that I watched back then, until the age of 9 I knew everything else as "that other wrestling." Once I discovered the larger world, I made it a point to absorb any info that I could through magazines and videotapes, thus these days no one would be the wiser about my WWF-exclusive past.

I can pinpoint my first real WCW exposure to my dad. One day, while looking at wrestling figures in the now-defunct Family Toy Warehouse store, my dad picked up the Galoob WCW Ric Flair figure and told me that we were buying it as he was coming to the WWF soon. What kid would say no? It was another wrestler to add to my Hasbro WWF roster and he included a new championship belt! Sure enough, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan shortly thereafter started to tease the arrival of "The Real World's Champion" on WWF television. My dad was not only the most giving guy who ever lived, but apparently he had some "inside" info, too!

But this review isn't about that figure of "The Nature Boy." I began to watch WCW (thanks to my mom, a story that I believe I've already told here), but knew some of the other Galoob figures from their pasts in the WWF. One of those wrestlers was "The Enforcer" Arn Anderson.

To me, Arn Anderson was one of those guys who just looked like a wrestler. Not menacing in the traditional sense, but someone who could take you out in an instant. Just rugged and tough. The Galoob figure resonated with me because it capture Anderson's look completely. For those unfamiliar, these WCW figures were devoid of poseability. They were solid plastic making it essential for the sculpted pose to not only capture the likeness of the wrestler but all of the action as well.

Anderson's pose was spot on. You could do a spinebuster, DDT, piledriver, slam, and various other maneuvers thanks to the way that Galoob produced the figure. Some of the other figures in the line were a lot less pleasing to play with. I took care of my toys, but there's a reason that the Arn from my childhood (the one shown here is an example that I picked up later) has a lot of paint wear--he fought the ring wars! He battled alongside fellow Galoob Horsemen members, took the bionic elbow of the Hasbro WWF Dusty Rhodes, and even battled with JusToys WWF Bend-Ems as the 1990's wore on.

Each Galoob WCW figure came packaged wearing a championship belt. The belts all had the identical WCW design, but I'm sure that I'm not the only one who used these belts as Intercontinental and Tag Team championships. It just worked out great. The belt itself really didn't closely resemble any of the actual WCW championships, but it was still a nice add-on that Hasbro might have been wise to copy.

Arn saw some variations, including the infamous "bald spot." While I've owned three over my lifetime, only my carded example actually has the bald spot. The rest have it painted over. My carded Arn is also one of the early releases that has "NWA" on the right side of the card back. There is also a second series re-release in the UK that has completely red tights. Arn additionally came packaged in a tag team set with longtime ally, and occasional "cousin," Ric Flair.

To many, this will always be the quintessential action figure version of Arn Anderson. The Jakks versions seemed a bit too bulky. The more recent Mattel examples were just a bit too spindly. Galoob's Arn is probably the best that we will ever get. While signing my carded version, Arn even pointed out to Dean Malenko that he preferred this one. Not to toot his own horn, but "toot, toot," the original is still the best!