Thursday, July 26, 2018

Wrestling In Other Venues

As big of a part of pop culture as professional wrestling is, it's always fun to see the business outside of the squared circle. While wrestlers can hold their own with icons and celebrities from across the spectrum, it's interesting to see how they interact. Sometimes it's the wrestlers themselves "visiting" in other forms of entertainment. At other times celebrities from outside of the ring will try their hand. Still, in other examples, various genres attempt to incorporate wrestling into their own brand, often with mixed results.

Wrestlers crossing over into non-wrestling television shows has been a staple since the '50s! It was then that Lou Albano "wrestled" the legendary Jackie Gleason in a sketch on the comedian's popular program. Three decades later, as Gleason and "The Honeymooners" were seeing a resurgence, The Captain appeared in an issue of a comic based around the beloved sitcom. In the story Albano is a relative of Ralph Kramden's neighbor Mrs. Manicotti. This, of course, leads the blustery bus driver into the wrestling ring.

Many wrestlers appeared on shows of all types, comedy, action, and drama alike. Hulk Hogan made many guest appearances during the '80s boom period as did Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Rowdy Roddy Piper, King Kong Bundy, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan to name a few. Andre the Giant appeared famously as Bigfoot on an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. His appearance even spawned a magazine cover and an action figure! Later on, Andre would provide a giant challenge for The Greatest American Hero before landing his most famous role as Fezzig in the film The Princess Bride.

It was not unusual for shows to have wrestling-themed episodes as well. Family Matters, Laverne & Shirley, The Munsters, Boy Meets World, and That '70s Show are ventured into the squared circle, but my favorite has to be the episode of Mama's Family entitled "Mama Mania." GLOW's own Queen Kong and Mt. Fiji guest star as "The Masked Mabels," a corpulent female tag team who end up battling Mama and her daughter-in-law Naomi. The episode captures everything fun about the wrestling boom of the period.

In the '90s, Bret "The Hitman" Hart famously guest starred on The Simpsons. While his appearance on the animated hit was brief, it was memorable. Several years ago when toy company NECA unveiled a line of action figures based on famous guest stars who showed up in Springfield, "The Hitman" was one of the highlights of the collection.

But The Simpsons aren't the only cartoon characters who have encountered wrestlers. While I don't believe that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ever tangled with wrestling in their cartoon or comic book, the action figures are a different story. There have been figures of the Turtles dressed as WWE favorites over the past few years, but the first TMNT-wrestling hybrid figure debuted in the original line by Playmates Toys. "Shell Slammin' Mike" takes the orange-masked Michaelangelo and transforms him into a caped competitor complete with belt and pet snake.

Last but not least, we look at a man...err...bear who is a champion of children, and adults, everywhere. He may not be "The People's Champion" by name, but he certainly is in our hearts. Is there anyone who doesn't love this guy? Yes, he's the "Hundred Acre Wrestling Federation Champion" according to his belt, and I would imagine he rumblies...err...rumbles over the competition. Who else could it be?

Oh bother!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Button, Button, Who's Got The Button?

I've known a few collectors of pinback buttons in my day. Why not? They're simple, usually fairly reasonably priced (or free if advertising something) and are all almost instant conversation pieces. Slap an eye-grabbing image on one and you're certain to get someones attention for your image or product. It goes without saying that images of professional wrestlers automatically lend themselves to buttons. Like trading cards, t-shirts, and action figures, it's just natural that these intimidating stars have their mugs plastered on everything. It's the name of the game on this blog.

Buttons were among the earliest in wrestling souvenirs. It was easy to put the name of a wrestler or even an image in a circular disc and sell it to the fan frenzied public. In the territories simple "gimmicks" like these could often be a license to print money. Who wouldn't want the image of Jerry "The King" Lawler or Dusty Rhodes slapped onto their backpack or purse? It wasn't just an attention grabber, it was a statement that you were a loyal supporter of your local or regional wrestling hero. And as it has been described time and time again, that hero was virtually a member of your family. Grandma probably thought so, anyway.

As wrestling progressed with marketing, so did the buttons. Big ones, small ones, square ones. The latter style came along in the late '80s as the WWF took a page from the merchandising practices of the movie studios. Disney, among other companies, often used square buttons to promote their latest home video releases. The WWF did this for their pay-per-view events of the era and these were often distributed through cable companies and video rental stores. The WWF also offered a variety of buttons through their merchandise catalogs ranging from pictures of the superstars to the memorable "I Love WWF" design.

Jimmy Hart's Outrageous Conduct record album had a tiny button to
promote it, and even Bobby "The Brain" Heenan has a WrestleMania VIII button. The latter was used to advertise the legendary manager's appearances on Indianapolis radio leading up to the big event held in 1992 at the Hoosier Dome. WCW got in on the act as well with several different buttons advertising Clash of the Champions events held at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Perhaps the most famous and iconic button in wrestling history came to us, absolutely free, in 1993. Free, that is, if you were lucky enough to hit a stop on Lex Luger's "Call To Action" Campaign. Following Luger's bodyslam of then-WWF Champion Yokozuna aboard the USS Intrepid on July 4th, 1993, the Narcissist-turned-All-American went cross country aboard a bus named "The Lex Express." Hitting numerous stops in the U.S. of A., the tour was designed to mold Luger into the next Hulk Hogan. Ultimately, he would not end up as your hero, but anyone who was watching at the time has great memories of the era.

The "buttoning" continues today! 2017 saw a new WrestleMania promotional button, and I'm sure many more are produced than we actually end up knowing about. Looking for an "in" to the world of wrestling memorabilia? Look no further than buttons! They can be very inexpensive and it's fun to figure out just what all has been produced. Intrigued by the idea? Go for it. You can do it. I have faith. All you have to do is...

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Wrestling MarketWatch: More From The Bookshelf

Summer reading, anyone? If you're undertaking such an endeavor, you need some quality wrestling-related reading on the menu. No, this isn't the sports entertainment version of Oprah's book club, but just as in with any other forms of wrestling memorabilia, the values of books rise and fall as time goes by. Several years ago books were looked at in Wrestling MarketWatch, but in this sequel we only revisit one title to see what has happened with its secondary market value.

*Kicking it off we have my all-time favorite wrestling book. From a man who saw it all in the business came "Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls." Wrestler, manager, and office man James J. Dillon was part of the business through several of its hottest periods with virtually all of  the major territories and companies. Undoubtedly Dillon has enough stories for several volumes, but it's here that we get a rare look into the inner workings of late '80s - early '90s WWF, a time period still rather clouded in mystery. Other books have given us a story here and there, but here is the man who was working directly with Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson at a very hot, and sometimes tumultuous, time for the company. The book recently sold for $52.

*Looking back on our first MarketWatch entry covering books it's time to once again check out "Killer Pics - A Collection of Images from a Pro Wrestling Legend." From Hall of Fame villain Walter "Killer" Kowalski comes a book featuring his own photography illustrating both wrestling and the world around us. The book was in much demand at one point and was selling for as much as $52 when we last looked at it. More recently it sold for $14.50.

*Widely considered the first wrestling book, "Whatever Happened To Gorgeous George" was first published in 1974. Author Joe Jares, who passed away two years ago, was the son of a wrestler and put the book together based upon his childhood memories from touring with his father. If a book were to endear the mainstream public to pro wrestling before Mick Foley wrote his first autobiography, this may have been the one that did it. The book recently sold for $40.

*No longer in publication and, according to Jim Cornette, not in any reprinting plans, The Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook has become highly collectible. The book is a complete history of the storied tag team and is very autobiographical for their manager Cornette as well. Thanks to copious notes kept by Cornette during the run of the team, we can easily find out where the team was, who they wrestled, how well the show performed, and even what the boys made for their efforts. Peppered with road stories, behind-the-scenes info, and plenty of reprinted press and rare photos, you could not ask for a better treasury of any wrestler or tag team. It's no surprise that the book just fetched $129.

*Do you remember Pro Wrestling U.S.A., the alliance attempted by Verne Gagne and Jim Crockett to try and combat the WWF? Did you know that it had an official book? Mat Wars was the name, and this large, glossy publication by Gagne and late wrestling journalist/historian Jim Melby can prove difficult to find for a decent price. Recently it sold for $23, considerably less than in years past.

Another five that you may already have on your bookshelf. If you don't, all offer plenty in terms of learning more about different eras of classic professional wrestling. And although we did not look at any released by the company, keep in mind that wrestling publications do not lie solely with those put out by WWE. Amazing works by men like Mark James and Scott Teal are widely available online and offer a variety of stories about some of the greatest stars ever to set foot in a wrestling ring. Got a "staycation" coming up? Google those authors and order up some great reading.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Beauty & The Brain

It's amazing how little managers factor into wrestling these days. Certainly this is another misguided executive decision by the number one sports entertainment company in the world, but the concept is much missed. It would probably be hard for a newer fan to fathom that a non-wrestler could be just as big of a star in the industry as some of the wrestlers themselves, but it's true. Look no further than two favorites from many of our childhoods: Miss Elizabeth and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

With beauty and class, Miss Elizabeth won her way into the hearts of fans both male and female. She rarely spoke, but conveyed the thoughts of her character through her actions at ringside and loyalty to her charges. "The Brain" was the opposite, with his gift for gab among the greatest to ever grace the wrestling business. Two very different individuals who made their biggest marks on the industry in the same position: manager. And both beloved and much missed.

Both of these legends have made their way into the Mattel WWE figure line once before. Now, in two separate retailer exclusive series they see their returns. Elizabeth's newest figure comes in the Wal Mart "Then, Now, Forever" line while Heenan weasels his way back in the "Fan Central" series which was exclusive to Toys "R" Us. Both lines saw difficult distribution. Not all Wal Mart stores seemed to have the latest "Then, Now, Forever" series while the problems for Toys "R" Us hardly need to be repeated here.

My issues with the first two Mattel releases of Heenan and Elizabeth are fixed with these figures. Both of the first figures were done in event-specific attire. Heenan, as released in the Heenan Family WWE Hall of Fame set through Target, only wore the white "waiter jacket" (thank you, Gorilla) at WrestleMania III while Elizabeth wore her white outfit at a famous photo shoot, WrestleMania IV, and possibly in a few other appearances. While it's nice to have these figures, I'm more for attires that are recognizable and common, especially when it comes to managers who may not see that many releases to begin with.

In my opinion this is the first "perfect" Bobby Heenan figure. "The Brain" was released by LJN in his blue sweatshirt followed by a few releases by Jakks that didn't quite exactly match what we mostly remember him wearing. Here, not only does have his "Walk of Fame" jacket, but it's removable. Essentially, Heenan can enter the ring if duty calls. Are customizers already preparing a brown dog handlers outfit for Heenan to deflect the threat of the British Bulldogs, Matilda, Koko B. Ware, and Frankie?

Elizabeth is seen here in a green dress which is boldly announced on the packaging as her accessory, as if putting her in a dress was a favor to us all. Although the same facial sculpt is used, the earrings on the first figure are gone in favor of a necklace. I don't know that her wearing this exact outfit has been pinpointed, but it's exactly what she would have wore on an average night at ringside during the glory days of "Macho Madness." I wouldn't call the facial likeness as spot-on as that of "The Brain," but it's very good.

If I had to choose, I would pick these versions over the first two in a heartbeat. Although I still love the Heenan Family set for giving us the first "Colossal Connection" era figure of Andre the Giant, "The Brain" finally gets his greatest release here. Though the distribution on the "Then, Now, Forever" set with Elizabeth was odd at best, she's showing up on your favorite A to Z online retailer for under the retail price. Heenan will cause you a little more difficulty. They can still be had for just around retail, but this could change with official word that the series will not be re-released due to the closure of Toys "R" Us. I'd like to think that Heenan will see an additional release down the line, possibly in a "Basic" set, but we don't know that. Needless to say, if your Mattel WWE Legends need guidance from the brains behind the brawn, act now!