Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Marketing of March 31, 1985

Since 1985, marketing the biggest wrestling/sports entertainment show of the year has been an integral part of its success.  Sure, it's always been the wrestling promoters job to market their respective show, but there's a reason that WrestleMania has always been a cut above the rest.  It didn't become the known brand name of wrestling events without plenty of advertising, hard work, and, of course, the almighty dollar.

I've always wondered if some fans of today don't quite grasp that WrestleMania was huge from the get go.  While the crowd from the first event is perhaps more maniacal than any audience of today and the card is definitely star packed, the look of the event doesn't give a hint as to how the WrestleMania's of today are presented.  The inaugural WrestleMania has the appearance of a standard Madison Square Garden show of the day.  With the low lighting, lack of screens, and curtain entrance, it's the kind of setup that many old school fans still yearn for today.

Most wrestlers and anyone in the production and/or promotion of that 1985 event will tell you that they knew it would be something different.  Celebrities from other walks of life were in attendance both as part of the show and as fans.  The event was going out live on closed circuit television as well as through an extremely limited newer technology called pay-per-view.  Merchandise bearing the name was produced as was an elegant silver and gold logo that was classier than anything professional wrestling had seen before.  This was WrestleMania.

Part of the promotion involved a company named Bozell & Jacobs Public Relations.  This firm created a rarely seen WrestleMania item known as a press kit.  Press kits are very common in the movie industry, often including photos, press releases, and other forms of media that can be used by other media agencies to promote the event. 

The WrestleMania press kit is a handsome yet basic black covered folder that features what is likely one of the first printings of the original WrestleMania logo.  It's hard to say exactly what all was included, if it didn't vary from folder to folder.  The example shown here was found with various press releases about the event, its stars, and the history of the WWF as well as the WrestleMania program.  It is likely that several 8x10 promotional photos labeled with both the WrestleMania logo and the Bozell & Jacobs name and address were included in at least some of these kits.

The press releases include a full card rundown, a history of the World Wrestling Federation, a release dated 3/14/1985 regarding the celebrities involvement, a history of the WWF Championship to that point, and bios of several of the stars involved.  It's no surprise that the releases seem to place the outside celebrities above the wrestlers.  This PR firm as well as the WWF knew how to get the mainstream attention just as WWE does today.

The program itself is much more familiar to collectors.  Full color with shots of most of the members of the card as well as a heavy dose of Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper, the program was similar to the event it promoted: it was something that professional wrestling had never seen before.  I can still remember looking at the "lighted" card rundown that is featured both here and on the back of the Coliseum Video release.  Even the fonts were carefully chosen to make the wrestlers appear to be the biggest stars you ever will have witnessed.  The term "name in lights" has never been more appropriate.

Just as Mr. T and Lauper are prominently featured, the matches in which they were involved dominate most of the publication.  These matches were, after all, the core of the "Rock n' Wrestling" connection.  The WWF was also in a unique position to have high profile feuds that could appeal to both the male and female demographic.  As much as the country was enthralled with the on-going saga of Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and friends, fans also wanted to see just how Lauper and Wendi Richter would get their revenge on The Fabulous Moolah and her charge Leilani Kai.  The female twosomes both get ample coverage in the program, with the infamous Moolah-Kai "horror lighting" shot getting a full page.  In a random bit of trivia, the jewelry worn by Kai in the photo was actually given to her at the shoot by Lauper.

There's no doubt that the #1 wrestler in the world at the time was Hulk Hogan.  He captivated a nation and is exactly who the people wanted to see.  To paraphrase Gorilla Monsoon, "he gave the people what they wanted."  We've come close, but there will never be a bigger star to grow out of wrestling in the United States than Hogan.  Having been champion a little more than a year at the time of this publication and event, it's truly a look at The Hulkster when he was not only on top of the world, but when he owned it.

There are other WWF and WrestleMania press kits out there including examples from the past decade or so, but none capture the greatest wrestling extravaganza of all-time in its infancy like this one does.  It's artifacts like this that show exactly why in a number of days we will be celebrating the 29th edition of this great event, and why it still grows and thrives today.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wrestling MarketWatch: WWE Hall of Fame 2013

There's no doubt about it, the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2013 is shaping up to be the biggest of all-time.  With two of the all-time greatest world champions and three main eventers of the past decade announced thus far, there's no denying the star power.  Whether or not this is a good thing for the future of the Hall of Fame being an annual event remains to be seen.  While Bruno Sammartino could've been THE inductee of 2013 and Bob Backlund, Booker T, Trish Stratus, and Mick Foley easily could've "headlined" their own years, it's only a matter of time until the talent pool of inductees runs dry.  We'll let WWE worry about that, however.

We're here, as always, to talk about memorabilia.  In this edition of "Wrestling MarketWatch," we'll take a look at some of the recent selling prices involving several of this year's Hall of Fame inductees.  As I frequently remind collectors, recent selling prices are the only way to gauge the monetary value of an item.  Of course, value to you as a collectible is much more important than a sale price.

*There's absolutely nowhere better to start than with "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino.  It's still surreal to think that we are just weeks away until Sammartino returns to WWE programming.  Scheduled for the Hall of Fame, WrestleMania XXIX, and Raw the next night, it's about time that members of the "WWE Universe" who are unfamiliar with "The Living Legend" begin brushing up on their history. 

Being the icon that Bruno is, it's no wonder that he has tons of classic memorabilia available.  Two decades ago he was personally involved in the production of one of my favorite card sets, the Legends of Wrestling.  The trading cards were produced by Imagine Inc. in Pittsburgh which is the same company that originally published Sammartino's autobiography.  The card set was available in three variations with the third variation including autographed cards of legends such as Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz.  The set has not always seen the selling prices which it deserves due to the fact that the autographed cards aren't "certified" as pre-signed cards are today.  The autographs are obviously very authentic and it was actually Bruno who was instrumental in getting the other legends to sign.  Bruno's autograph card recently sold at a still-undervalued $35.

*Around ten years ago I used to tell everyone that Trish Stratus was "the next Fabulous Moolah."  While she didn't go for the career longevity that Moolah enjoyed, I still feel that Stratus will be remembered in the same class.  Trish took what could've been a forgettable career as a valet, manager, and generally generic blonde Diva and became an accomplished and entertaining wrestler.

Perhaps these accomplishments are the cause of her solo DVD release to be soaring in demand as of late.  The FYE exclusive collector's edition of "Trish Stratus--100% Stratusfaction Guaranteed" has recently sold for between $130-$150.  Earlier DVD releases will sometimes randomly see a rise in price and demand, but this one has done so at a time in which its star is about to shine as bright as ever.

*Mick Foley was the first legend announced for the Class of 2013 and figured to be the "main event" induction of the evening.  This changed with the announcement of Bruno Sammartino, but Foley's induction will still undoubtedly thrill his legions of fans who remember the glory days of his hardcore madness.  Sitting at about eye level to the roof of the cell that June night in Pittsburgh 15 years ago, my own unique vantage point of Foley's immortal "bumps" will always be seared into my brain.

Foley's crazy characters have made some great action figures, but Cactus Jack has never been captured quite as well as in the Jakks Classic Superstars version.  The "1 of 3000" version which was exclusive to Toy Fare magazine is especially sought after and includes Cactus Jack's most famous hardcore "toys."  Recently this figure (unsigned) sold for $100, which is about four times the original cost.

*The Celebrity Wing is about the only true disappointment for me regarding the Class of 2013.  While Donald Trump is very deserving due to his involvement in five different WrestleMania's, the night belonged to Cyndi Lauper.  Nonetheless, "The Donald" is going in this year, hairpiece and all.

After hosting two WrestleMania's on his properties and appearing ringside at two others, it was WrestleMania 23 where Trump got involved in the action.  The 2007 event saw Donald back Bobby Lashley against Vince McMahon's Umaga in a "Battle of the Billionaires."  Mainstream media attention was gained due to the "Hair vs Hair" stipulation involving the coif's of McMahon and Trump.  The program for this event recently sold for $30, an average price for the roller coaster values of WrestleMania programs.

*Bruno Sammartino isn't the only member of the Class of 2013 to be champion under the WWWF banner.  Bob Backlund held that title for six long years, becoming a legend in the arena that will now see his Hall of Fame induction, Madison Square Garden.  Backlund has long been rumored to have turned down previous invitations to the Hall of Fame.  These refusals paved the way for a perfect induction in the building where it belonged.

A king of 1970's magazine and program covers, Backlund has had little in the area of action figures.  The Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line produced his best figure, and one that has appreciated in value since its release.  Both carded and loose examples have been hot at auction as of late, with the former selling for around $50 (unsigned) and the latter bringing in around half of that.

New York City.  Madison Square Garden.  The Legends of Wrestling.  An unbeatable trio that will come together to form one of the most amazing nights that WWE has ever produced.  Congratulations to the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2013!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Holla Holla Holla!

Teddy Long aka Theodore R. Long aka "Peanuthead" has had quite a career.  From referee in Jim Crockett Promotions to manager to announcer then back to referee to manager and finally "General Manager," the resume of Mr. Long is quite impressive.  Now, he has joined the ranks of the popular Build-A-Figure series in Mattel's WWE action figure line.

An idea borrowed from action figure lines of other genres, Mattel began the WWE version around one year ago.  The concept is simple.  Mattel produces a series of four figures that are exclusive to Toys R Us.  Each of the figures come with specific parts of a fifth figure.  When all of the figures are collected, the parts combine to produce a brand new character to the line.  Thus far Mattel has used this route to release figures of non-wrestlers.  The company feels that these characters wouldn't sell well on their own, but still want to appease collectors that desire them.

Michael Cole, Ricardo Rodriguez, and John Laurinaitis were the first three figures to be released this way.  Those sets were comprised of four Elite style figures which are usually around $20 a piece.  This time Mattel has taken pity on our wallets and released the pieces of Teddy with four basic style figures thus being at a slightly lower price point.  Previous Toys R Us exclusive basic sets have included pieces of the interview set and announcers table to build but not a figure.

The four figures to collect this time are Brock Lesnar, Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio, and Randy Orton.  For those of you who have yet to pick up a Mattel-produced Lesnar, this is the perfect opportunity.  This appears to be the exact same figure that has been released about two or three times already this year.  If you're like me and held off buying any of those, it's a great time to go for the gold.  For those of you who, also like me, vowed to never pick up one of the boring, emaciated Randy Orton figures, this is the time to do that as well.

Mr. Long himself is a very nice figure.  Although this one held a bit less excitement for me since the previous three characters were never produced anywhere as a figure before, the great likeness makes up for it.  The height is perfect as is the long suit jacket.  Similar to the Long figures produced by Jakks, the removable eyeglasses don't do much for me.  They aren't bad, I just think that the face looks a lot better without them.

It isn't always the easiest thing to buy four figures just to get one that you really want, but so far it's worked.  For someone like me who usually holds off on most character repaints until something like this comes along, I'm fine with it every so often.  It's better than repeating Hasbro's blunder and not getting any non-wrestler figures released at all.

The next Build-A-Figure entry is said to be Paul Heyman.  I cannot think of a better option.  If Lesnar and Punk hadn't been in two of the previous sets, I would suggest that they be two of the four figures in the set.  Characters closely associated with the figure being built in the set isn't something that seems to be in Mattel's plans but would a no-brainer to me.  My votes for future Build-A-Figures?  How about Mike Chioda, Tony Chimel, Brad Maddox, and Zeb Colter?

Mattel has their work cut out for them, although I must say that I'm 100% more behind this line than I was just a few years ago.  There are still issues, especially regarding distribution and Legends.  While classic characters like Miss Elizabeth and Honky Tonk Man are being produced, the depth of legends that Jakks went into isn't going to be repeated by Mattel, bottom line.  Female figures are still being released in far fewer numbers as are "First Time In The Line" stars such as Antonio Cesaro and Ryback.  With multiple releases of both men in the coming months, two of WWE's biggest new stars will make their way into your hands without paying premium prices.

You betta believe that, playa!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rest In Peace, Paul Bearer

I'd venture to guess that if you had told good old Bill Moody from Mobile, Alabama that his death would be mourned the world over, he'd have called you a liar.  Over the past 48 hours we've been able to prove that wrong, albeit way too soon.

Moody, known to the wrestling world as Percival Pringle III and Paul Bearer, was celebrating at one of his favorite events, the Gulf Coast Wrestlers Reunion, this past weekend when he fell ill.  Just days later, the legendary manager and pop culture icon to a generation had passed away at just 58.  A blood clot is being reported as the cause.

Moody came into the world of wrestling as many of the greats do: growing up as a fan.  He and Michael  P.S. Hayes were actually friends before either began their careers in the industry.  Like fellow managerial greats such as Paul Heyman and Jim Cornette, Mr. Moody's first role at ringside was capturing the action as a photographer.

As Percy Pringle (the third man in wrestling named as such), Moody began to make a name in the last decade of the wrestling territories.  While Pringle saw success in areas like Florida and Texas, the fame would come nowhere near that of which a 1991 trip north would eventually bring.

Moody always credited his friend and former WCCW protege Ravishing Rick Rude as putting in a good word for him with the WWF.  That combined with an idea brewing within the creative forces inside of the WWF at the time saw the birth of Paul Bearer.  Bearer was to be a creepy funeral director in charge of a wrestler who had just debuted in the WWF a few months earlier, The Undertaker.  Although imposing, The Undertaker was a character of few words.  His first manager, Brother Love, just didn't seem to click with "The Deadman."

Both wrestler and manager were unlike anything seen before by WWF fans.  The seemingly indestructible wrestler packaged with an over-the-time manager to vocalize the threats and challenges was a tried and true WWF formula.  With the talent of these two men, the sky was the limit.  For the next five years, the duo gained in popularity with young and old alike.

I often discuss how certain wrestlers from the '80s are known by nearly everyone who grew up in that era.  As for the '90s, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer are near the top of the list.  Every child ran around the school yard doing his own impressive of the portly manager with a high pitched "Ohhhh Yeeeees!" to top it off.  Because of this, it's no surprise that The Undertaker and Bearer appeared on tons of merchandise over the years.

Although his original on-screen partnership with The Undertaker ended in 1996, Bearer would go on to manage such WWF superstars as Mankind, Vader, and Kane.  Bearer and 'Taker would also reunite several times playing off of their fantastic history together.

It was in a mid-1990s issue of WWF Magazine that sharp-eyed fans were let in on a secret about Paul Bearer.  A kayfabed article was written about Paul Bearer's history in the mortuary.  Accompanying the article was a series of photos of a much younger Bearer in the embalming room and funeral home.  The photos were obviously not faked.  It turns out that in his younger days, Moody did indeed become a licensed mortician.  It has been said that the WWF was completely unaware that the man chosen to play Paul Bearer had the matching background.

As the WWF phased out the concept of the manager, Bearer began to take other positions within the company including talent scout.  Even a return to his real-life role as a mortician came about around ten years ago.  Can you imagine attending a real funeral only to see Paul Bearer presiding?

Moody did have his share of rough times post-wrestling, including a well-publicized battle with his weight and the tragic death of his beloved wife, Dianna, from cancer.  Despite these troubled times, Moody kept a very upbeat and public face throughout. 

Paul Bearer also became a very popular name on the fanfest and convention scene.  He had the personality that truly resonates with the fans.  While having a strong, old school opinion on keeping times with his friends within the industry and fans separate, anyone who had the opportunity to meet the man has nothing but fantastic memories. 

My own particular "Paul Bearer Moment" took place several years ago at the NWA Fanfest in Charlotte, NC.  Posing for a photo with Paul London, I began to hear laughter.  As soon as the photo was taken, I turned around to see none other than Paul Bearer in a baseball cap.  In that unmistakable voice, Bearer loudly proclaimed, "You got a BONUS!"  I sure did.  I probably wouldn't even remember that photo if it weren't for the "Bearer Bomb" in the background.

Moody embraced technology and frequently kept up with his website and blog.  He even had one of the coolest Twitter handles--@wweurniverse.  Around one month ago I Tweeted to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the Paul Bearer character.  Bearer responded that it "just don't seem possible."  I agree.  A few weeks later and those are the feelings of so many regarding his passing.  Just don't seem possible.

As mentioned above, the news of Moody's passing has garnered attention from around the globe.  From friends and fans to news agencies and of course the wrestling industry, it's become quite clear that the Paul Bearer character is one of the solid icons of his era.  Thank you, Mr. Moody, for all of your contributions to the wrestling business and so many of our childhoods.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.  Rest in Peace.