Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Territory Photo Albums--Pittsburgh 1967

 Fans nowadays have it easy!  If they want to know who's officially on the WWE roster, they can simply pull up the WWE App and a fully interactive listing is available at their disposal, complete with photos, facts, and even videos.  Back in the territorial days of wrestling, this would've been looked at as something out of science fiction.  The more advantageous fan might contact or even visit the offices of their local wrestling promoter in order to gain more info and facts, but that was about as far as it went.  If the fan wanted a "Who's Who" of wrestling stars and info they could usually purchase a program at an event, but one item was just a tad better: the photo album.

Most territories eventually released a publication billed as either a photo album or something similar.  These books were program/magazine sized and printed on a variety of materials.  Some had color, some did not.  Some had thicker, sturdier covers while others were all on standard paper.  A few were produced by the promotion itself, while others had some help from other publishers.  No matter the differences, they all served to advertise and promote the talent to the masses.

Since so many different albums were produced, it'd be an injustice to lump them all into one entry.  As a continuing series, we'll take a look at photo albums from territories around the country featuring many of the all-time greats and even some forgotten names.  For a few reasons, we'll start right here in the home city of this very blog, Pittsburgh, PA.

The photo albums put out by the Pittsburgh wrestling office, known as Spectator Sports, were titled "Tri-State Wrestling."  To many, they're known as the "Studio Wrestling photo albums," as "Studio Wrestling" was the name of the much-missed Pittsburgh wrestling television program, most famously hosted by Bill Cardille.  Growing up, I would constantly hear the WWF and other then-current wrestling promotions referred to as "Studio Wrestling" by adults.  I later figured out that the name is simply what these folks grew up on, so it became a generic title for which to refer to any form of pro wrestling.

Five of the Pittsburgh Tri-State Wrestling photo albums were produced in all, ranging from roughly 1963 to 1969.  The albums were sold through advertisements on arena programs and on the Studio Wrestling show itself.  For a nominal fee, you could own an album showing you full page shots of your local wrestling favorites, and even some national stars that were thrown in for good measure.  In the days before the over-saturation of televised wrestling, not to mention the Internet, these albums were the kind of thing that fans stared at for hours.

Exact release dates on these albums are fuzzy at best, but most agree that the edition shown here today is from around 1967 and would've been the third of the five released.  As with all but one of the Tri-State albums, the WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino is featured in a classic pose on the cover.  These Tri-State covers were usually very colorful, and this one is a mix of color and glorious black and white.  Interestingly, Sammartino is referred to as the "Holder Of World-Wide Wrestling Federation Championship."  It is often recalled that the title was usually just referred to as the "World Championship" on Studio Wrestling broadcasts.

In addition to being fun to look at, these albums also often provided a great place to obtain autographs in those very early days of wrestling merchandising.  Subsequently, it is not unusual to purchase any territorial photo album that contain signatures.  Long time readers of this blog may remember this Tri-State album, as I once uncovered a photo of the late Chief White Owl autographing the cover of one.  Whether or not this is the exact one or not will never be known, but the one in my collection does indeed have White Owl's signature right on the cover.  I've since been able to add Sammartino's signature as well as other living Pittsburgh wrestling legends, but it's always interesting to see just who the original fan was able to meet up with all of those years ago.

The Tri-State albums are a mix of promotional style photos and action shots.  In addition to men who competed in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area like Sammartino, George Steele, Gorilla Monsoon, Bill Miller, Johnny DeFazio, and The Battman are wrestlers who had either passed through the area at one time or may never have really spent any time here at all such as Bobo Brazil, Arman Hussain, Toru Tanaka, and Luke Graham.  It was a smart idea by the Pittsburgh promoters to make the promotion seem even larger and more important.

Another fun gimmick that the promoters used to make the promotion seem larger can be seen in several of the photos, most notably in the in-ring photo of Steele.  Though crowds at the WIIC (now WPXI) studios were boisterous, fake fans made of cardboard helped to fill out certain sides of the ring in an attempt to make the studio seem even larger.  In the days before high-definition television cameras, this most likely worked to a degree, despite being blatantly obvious here in print.

Speaking of the studio, it seems that the original owner of this album most likely attended a live television broadcast of Studio Wrestling.  The thought behind this is the inclusion of the two gem autographs of the album, the first of which is promoter Rudy Miller.  Miller is often credited with discovering Bruno Sammartino himself, and is in fact listed as such right here in the album.  Although he was probably accessible for an autograph, it likely didn't occur to many fans to ask him for one.  After all, he wasn't a wrestler.  Also shown on the page are various officials, the ring announcer, and Dr. Louis R. Civitarese.  Civitarese, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 92, was the doctor who attended to Sammartino when the legend broke his neck in the 1970's.

The other star autograph in the album is also of a man who was not a wrestler, but rather a baseball Hall of Famer.  Pie Traynor, legendary Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman, is best remembered in the city today for being the pitchman for American Heating Company.  Traynor would do live commercials during the Studio Wrestling program where he would proclaim "Who Can? AmeriCAN!" to a generation of steel town wrestling fans.  Today, mentioning either Traynor or Studio Wrestling to a Pittsburgher above the age of 55 will likely produce an imitation of the famous pitch.

I have a soft spot for Pittsburgh for many reasons that I've covered over the years, but looking through the photo album of any wrestling territory is a thrill.  They're yet another great relic of the wrestling business gone-by, but in some ways they're continuing today.  In upcoming editions of "The Territory Photo Albums," we'll take a look at all aspects of such publications, and I hope that the stars pop out of these entries the way that they do in these albums of ten, twenty, and even fifty years ago.

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