Thursday, December 14, 2017

Managing The Merchandise

Like many who grew up watching wrestling, the aspect of managers in the business was just plain intriguing. The manager served many purposes, including but not limited to adding a little something extra to the wrestler who he or she represented. At times, that "extra" was sorely needed. In other instances, using Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as an example, the wrestler and manager were equally great and simply complimented each other. In any case, the managers just had to be colorful and charismatic. This equates into merchandising.

When the colorful magazine covers were grabbing attention at newsstands in the 1960's and 1970's, the managers began to have their real first taste of merchandise. Whether it be The Grand Wizard in one of his many guises or Heenan with his face covered in the legendary "crimson mask," the managers could sell magazines just as well as they could tickets to the matches. The slovenly Captain Lou Albano made his complete transformation from wrestler to manager in this era, usually guiding the tag teams of the WWWF while "Hollywood Fashion Plate" Fred Blassie was managing heels of all types. These men and their charges were perfect cover material. Who didn't want to read about the next threats to Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund?

One manager was actually responsible for much of the early wrestling merchandising in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Who would that be? The "Louisville Lip" himself, Jim Cornette. Growing up as a fan of wrestling and then becoming a ringside photographer as a teen, Cornette found himself helping to run the merchandise tables in the Memphis wrestling territory and peddling "gimmicks" for the likes of Jerry "The King" Lawler, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, and even "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart. The complete story is told in the book "Rags, Paper, & Pins: The Merchandising Of Memphis Wrestling" by Cornette and Mark James. A highly recommended book for any fan of wrestling memorabilia!

The 80's also brought another new dimension to wrestling managers: their own subset in LJN's WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line. LJN had the right idea when including announcers, referees, and managers into their wildly popular toy line. The card backs were even emblazoned with "Manager" for this special release, although some of the other "non-wrestler" figures were given this designation as well. Included were Lou Albano, Bobby Heenan, Fred Blassie, Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart, Johnny V, Slick, and the one and only Miss Elizabeth.

Easily a discussion all her own, Elizabeth brought a different presentation to wrestling managers. Though there had been female managers before, more women had been presented as valets. Elizabeth was a combination of both. She was described as a manager who took care of business matters for "Macho Man" Randy Savage, but she also radiated a glamour and presence that even the most popular valets rarely had. Elizabeth was a once-in-a-lifetime character who will never be duplicated.

Even as the usage of managers died down as the years went on, the legendary ones continue to be celebrated. Action figures and trading cards of the managers of yore continue to be released, and the occasional character in a managerial role still pops up. Most recently Paul Heyman, though no longer billed as such, brought back exactly what a manager should be as the advocate for Brock Lesnar. Every so often, a young talent with the gift of gab will be compared to a "young Bobby Heenan." Should the decision makers ever decide to bring the "art of managing" back to the business on a regular basis, we should all be in for a nice, welcome, yet very familiar, treat.

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