Thursday, March 19, 2015

1976 Article in "The Tar Heel"

Below is a transcript of an article written about the wrestling tapings at the WRAL-5 studio in Raleigh, NC. It includes the expected condescension toward wrestling fans that was the norm when ever an article appeared about wrestling in a mainstream publication in those days. But we were thrilled to see a photo from inside the studio, as seen above.

Thanks to Peggy Lathan for transcribing the article for us, and to Carroll Hall for providing the article.

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Professional Wrestling:  America the Beautiful
The Tar Heel – June 10, 1976
By Phred Vultee, Staff Writer

The people standing restlessly in line have come here tonight to see America. Not the version they see through the windows of their GMC pickups, the world of shifty-eyed politicos, forced busing and brazen hippies, but America – where clean living and hard work pay off in the end, where idle boasters are quickly chastened, where all Negroes have hard heads and all Japs are inscrutable karate masters. They have come to watch the wrestlers.

Professional wrestling is videotaped every Wednesday for local airing on Saturday night. The yellow tickets (free on request from the studio) say, “must be in studio at 6:30.” By seven, the line stretches well beyond the two glass doors, burbling with a hundred conversations. Weathered farmers reeking of Vitalis huddle about the entrance and smoke Luckies while their heirs run up and down brandishing posters of Chief Wahoo McDaniel or Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods. A pack of Cub Scouts steadily raises the blood pressure of its leader. Beehive hairdos bob and weave like disembodied steel wool. Idle thought:  Which of the old boys in Red Camel coveralls is carrying a knife, ready to leap out and stab a despised wrestler like the 82 year old chap in South Carolina last week?  No time to wonder, for the doors are opened and the supplicants herded in.

There is a scramble for the bleachers, the prime seats in full view of the main camera, and those too passive to struggle are packed into folding chairs on the floor. The announcers wander about, greeting the regulars. In the second row of folding chairs, a young fellow drapes his arm over his girlfriend. Like a shot, a door man in a white shirt is standing over them. “Save your lovin’ till you’re outside,” he snaps, waiting to see that his order is obeyed before turning away.

The huge lights above the ring snap on, adding to the heat produced by hundreds of sardine-like bodies. An announcer climbs into the ring, milking a reaction from the crowd. He exhorts them to make as much noise as possible, “but remember, no profanity, please.” The crowd is ready for action.

Three types of wrestlers will soon fight it out on this thin square of canvas. There are the good guys, Wheatie-eaters to a man, competent, modest and clean living.  Opposite them in the pantheon stand the minions of evil, those boastful ones who have a knack for concealing foreign objects in their elbow pads. In between lie the cannon fodder, who pit their inadequate strength between the mighty week after week to whet the crowd’s appetite for gore. Cannon fodder are usually fat (the crowd loves to watch Ken Patera, the World’s Strongest Wrestler, lift Jerry Blackwell, the World’s Fattest Wrestler), long haired (the old boys get a vicarious kick out of seeing Paul Jones grab a handful of Steve Strong’s locks), or both.

Most character development takes place in the interviews, filmed between matches in a far corner of the studio. They are much better seen on television, where a fan can catch the fine points of the Missouri Mauler’s logic or discern the subtle difference between “kill” and “maim” in the dialect of the Mongols. A typical one might feature Nature Boy Ric Flair casting aspersions on the physical and socio-intellectual abilities of Rufus R. Jones, King of Wrestling. Rufus, clad in a purple gown and a crown that would do justice to an Imperial Margarine ad, responds by offering to put “fiss and shoe in Flair’s big mouf.”

The crowd has been whipped to a seething frenzy by the announcers, a pre-match interview and the occasional opening of the dressing room door. The wrestlers are ready.

Waves of cheering and booing collide as two wrestlers enter the ring to be introduced. Paul Jones, self-proclaimed People’s Champion, modestly acknowledges the acclaims of the crowd, while Doug Somers, cannon fodder, stares at the camera through a storm of disapproval. As always, the less popular wrestler is placed nearest the bleachers. Three bovine young things bellow in chorus, “you’re UGLY Somers!” barely managing to finish before collapsing in laughter. The match begins.

Somers comes out strong, laying into the People’s Champ with healthy forearm smashes, but Paul soon hits his stride and begins to punish the upstart. This is what everybody came to see. “One minute, Paul,” hollers a sagging customer on the front row. “Show him who’s boss.” “Pull on that h’ar of his,” adds a deep voice from the bleachers. Then Somers finds an opening and slams the champion into the Solid Steel Turnbuckle at the corner of the ring (inspection shows it to be solid cotton). A father pokes his son to life, “Paul left himself wide open. You watch now.” The Cub Scouts howls for blood.

The tables turn on the canvas. Paul slams the hapless Somers to the mat, applying the Indian Death Lock, which he learned from his old partner, Chief Wahoo. It works. The match is over.

Rufus R. Freight Train Jones doffs his purple robe and glares across the ring at a frightened Doug Gilbert. The crowd loves the ambling, flamboyant Rufus, possessed with the Hardest Head in Wrestling. He is trustworthy. He is upstanding. He doesn’t cast eyes at white women. The bell signals the beginning of his hour upon the stage and he moves warily to the center of the ring.

There is little hope for Gilbert. Aside from his girth and his propensity for wearing his outfit backwards, he is indistinguishable from a host of other hopefuls. Like these mortals, he is susceptible to the power of the King. Rufus cranks up the Freight Train, a ponderously loose-limbed form of head on mayhem, and runs it over Gilbert twice. He then applies the Head-Butt, consisting of slamming his concrete cranium into that of his opponent. No white wrestler in the circuit can manage a proper Head-Butt, but it’s no problem to Rufus. Gilbert collapses to the mat and Rufus falls atop him for the three count.

The taping goes on for two hours, satiating the crowd with violence, stereotyping and the American Way. The Indian Death Lock, the Head-Butt and the Tommyhawk Chop win out again over double-teaming and foreign objects in the pads.  Does anybody take it all seriously? Ask the man who took a knife to Ole Anderson of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Better still, ask Ole.

“It’ll take more than a knife to keep me out of wrestling,” he growls into the camera. “You’ll have to get up in the ring to stop me.”

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Editor's note: Based on the reflections of the (rather snobby) writer and the date of the article, these are a collection of memories and observations over a period of time from 1975 and 1976. The author was Phred Vultee, a staff writer for the Tar Heel at that time, and a bit of a jack-wagon who, at least as evidenced here, made himself feel superior by looking down his nose at wrestling fans.