Since its inception this blog has always had something of a Pittsburgh flavor. After all, I've made my home in Pittsburgh for my entire life. But "The Burgh" is somewhat underappreciated for its rich wrestling history. Of course we claim Bruno Sammartino as our own, but it's sometimes forgotten on a larger scale just how many big names of wrestling's past spent their time here. Bruno needed challengers, allies and plenty of other talent to fill out cards at the Civic Arena and on the immensely popular "Studio Wrestling" program.
The Pittsburgh wrestling office, like many territories, periodically released photo album publications to remind you of the great wrestling roster in your area. There were five total, all released under the banner of "Tri-State Wrestling." I've featured them on this blog before, with the 1967 edition being a previous entry in the "Territory Photo Albums" series, but today we're looking at the final one that was produced in 1969.
While the first editon, published in 1963, has Buddy Rogers featured most prominently, Bruno has clearly become the star in his six years as champion. In fact this edition features more Bruno than anyone else. There's no doubt about it, though, he was the man. While most associate New York as his top town, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who grew up in Pittsburgh in the '60s who didn't know The Living Legend. The Italian Superman. The Champ. He was, and still is, a Pittsburgh sports icon revered alongside the likes of Roberto Clemente.
Our cover features Bruno sharing the spotlight with Tony "Battman" Marino who we just recently lost. Marino is showing off his famous physique without the costume of The Caped Crusader covering it up. With the Batman television series being off of the air for over a year at this point, the gimmick was about to come to an end as well. Mr. Marino was a class act and is much missed. When I had this particular album signed, he even brought the original "Battman" cowl. Did I mention that the gentleman, well into his '80s at that point, had a patch of hair, on his otherwise bald head, shaved into the Batman logo?
Inside we get Bruno right off the bat! It's actually the entire Sammartino clan. Carol, David and the twins. Despite what we know about Bruno and David's relationship later on, it's nice to see some family time shown here. This album also includes several pages dedicated to "The Bruno Sammartino Course Of Body Building." This was actually also released as its own publication around the same time as well and I would imagine that it set many a Pittsburgh youth off on the right foot as far as training is concerned. I won't go on a tangent, but there aren't any true role models left in sports today. Bruno was the
role model in every sense of the term.
As mentioned above we get great glimpses of so many legends who either starred in the Pittsburgh area or at least passed through. Domenic DeNucci, Ivan Koloff, Lou Albano and Tony Altomare, Waldo Von Erich, Gorilla Monsoon and George "The Animal" Steele. We also have the Pittsburgh mainstays like Bobby "Hurricane" Hunt, Jumpin' Johnny DeFazio and Frank Holtz. The latter may actually be the final living Pittsburgh wrestling star of this era following the recent deaths of DeFazio, Marino and DeNucci.
The Tri-State albums always featured bits on non-wrestlers, too, such as Pittsburgh broadcasting legend Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille who was our voice of wrestling, promoters (including Vincent J. McMahon in one of the early books) and the man credited with discovering Bruno, Rudy Miller. This last installment also features a full page photo featuring three young women labeled "Judo Girls." Darlene Kalb, Donna Waxter and Jordie Ludwig were local judo champions who performed exhibitions during cards at the Civic Arena. I have no idea if the three are still with us, but adding their autographs to the book would certainly be fun as would hearing their stories from the era.
While we always hear about WWF Magazine, pay-per-view event programs and other similar publications, very little is ever written about these great photo albums. I'm both thrilled and honored to document them for posterity. For more photos of this edition, including more of the autographs that I've filled this one with, follow us on Instagram @jws_wrestling_memorabilia.