This was one crazy night. BRUNO vs PEDRO at Shea Stadium for WWWF title. The match went one hour and was getting boring. the field was wet and plywood was laid as a path to get to the ring. Police were there in huge numbers. Mr McMahon ask if I thought I could make it to the ring to add a little life to the boring match. I said yes and GORILLA MONSOON bet $100 that I would not make it. I made it to the ring and tripped BRUNO before New York’s finest got to me. They tore up the field getting me back to the dugout. Yes that was real.
I needed a part time job. I took a friend Dave Pierce along as I was looking for a job as a bouncer in a bar. I guess I was looking for a fight right from the beginning. Will I found that you don’t get hired as as a bouncer in a bar if you take a friend with you and drink beer. Dave was a big wrestling fan and had told many time that I should try pro rassling. My back was against the wall so I allowed David to talk me into calling Burt Ruby (the local rassling promoter) at two thirty in the morning. I could tell that I had woke Burt up from a deep sleep. Burt invited me over the next day after school. I was not a wrestling fan. I had never been to a pro wrestling match. I did not have a clue.
It was Wednesday April third. April fools week so I figured why not. I drove over to Oak Park, Michigan to meet with Burt Ruby.
I was nervous when I knocked on Burt Ruby’s door. I had no clue where this was going. To my surprise when door opened this short (5’9) well built, stocky soft spoken older man open the door. A big smile came to Burt’s face as put his hand to shake hands and he said beautiful. I knew what I looked like and beautiful did not quite fit. Burt introduced me to his wife, mother in law and his two sons what a relief. I was no longer worried about the beautiful comment and Burt motives.
Burt taught me about the wrestling business not how to wrestle. Burt told me that I would never make the big money working for him but, I would always have a port in the storm. Burt did not know how much it would take to be big money to me. I still had no clue of what he was talking about. I was just looking for a part time job not a career. When he said that I could make fifty dollars in one night I thought that I had found a gold mine. I did not realize that I would be driving all over the country for fifty bucks. Burt talked about the possibility of me wearing a mask.
I thought that it was a little strange when Burt told me not to tell anybody that I was going to be a pro wrestler. I figured it was because I was wearing the mask. Burt told me that wrestling was like a secret society. I was getting my first taste of kayfabe and did not know it. I had no clue of what I was getting myself into. It was decided that I would be called the mask STUDENT.
The training I met Gino Brito my wrestling coach along with El Gaucho (Warren Sabastin), Hans Schmidt, Ivan Kalmakoff, and a few more wrestlers. The deal was simple I just did not know it. They gave me a hard workout to see what kind of shape that I was in I thought. I busted my butt to make it through the workout I was in great shape. After the workout it was time to get in the ring. Thanks to my old buddy John Baum and the Michigan State University wrestling program I knew a little bit about wrestling. I was able to hold my own and then some. The plan was to beat me up so that I would respect the business. Everything they threw at me was answered with a receipt. What they did not understand was I already respected the fifty dollars a night and failure was not a option. The rougher it got the better I got as my street background kick in.
After a while of the craziness Gino called me aside and told me that I was advanced. They were now going to teach me how to work but, I was not to tell Burt. I thought WOW! More secrets. Now I can’t tell Burt Ruby that I am learning how to wrestle. This was really getting strange. Gino, then told me the deepest secrets of the wrestling business. Gino swore me to secrecy. I was to tell no one that the wrestling business was a work. I was told not to tell even my immediate family that wrestling was a work. I was to let my family think that I was really getting hurt and hurting other wrestlers. More kayfabe I must say that I was disappointed when I learned the Pro Wrestling was not what bit looked like. I respected the money. As I learned more about the wrestling business. As I learned art of working I started to have a huge respect for the wrestling business.
I did not tell Burt anything except how tough it was and that put a sparkle in his eyes. Burt always talked like wrestling was a business. To this day I do not know if Burt was just working with me. As time went on I learned that wrestling was the real deal.
Burt Ruby was a very successful wrestling promoter in Michigan and Ohio for many years. Burt and Jack Britten were partners. Jack Britten booked the midget wrestlers all around the world in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.
The little guys were always fun on the road.
Burt started wrestlers the likes Killer Kowalski, Bobo Brazil, The Sheik, Abdula the Butcher, Ricky Cortez, Dick Garza (Igor), Ivan Kalmakoff, Lou Kline, The Beast, Leaping Larry Chene and many more top workers from the area.
The administers in Madison School District did not want me to use my real name as pro wrestler. Burt suggested that I wear a mask. We were trying to come up with a name. Sense I was learning to work I suggested The Student. Burt liked the name and came up with the idea of me wearing a red cap and gown to the ring. It turned out much better financially than teaching drivers training in the summer time but I continued to teach drivers training.
Now the hard part. Where do you find pro wrestling gear, the wrestling boots and a mask. As I look back I think that it was a rib or maybe a test. Someone told me to buy a women girdle and make my own mask (hood). I did and I must tell you that I wished that I had saved it. No one would believe what my first wrestling mask looked like. What a piece of wrestling history. This thing was about two sizes to small. I had ear holds so that I could what my opponents were saying. It was so tight that my eyes bulged and my lips stuck out like a Ubangi. I had done a poor job of dyeing it red. I order my wrestling uniform from one of the high school athletic salesmen Tommy Christopher. It was a red shirt, red trunks and red leotards. I guess you might say I looked like the Little Red Riding Hood. I ordered the red cap and gown from the company that supplied Madison High School for graduation. I have my first wrestling picture taken on the Madison H.S. stage standing behind a podium. The picture was taken by a fellow physical education teacher Carolyn Strumble.
Now I am ready I think. I call Burt and tell him that all of my ducks are in place and I ready for my first pro rassling match. Burt’s reply was “good then you are booked this Thursday night at the Kalamazoo, Michigan Armory at seven thirty. Then Burt give me directions to the Eddystone Hotel on Cass Avenue down Detroit. I am then told that to go to the fifth floor to the Motor City Wrestling office. I will see someone there to ride with. OOOOOOKKKKKKKK.
Wrestling is a very cold business
Burt thought that I might be a talent someday. Burt decided that Louie Papineau, should be my mentor on the road. Louie , was a solid worker and also helped me in the very beginning acting as The Student’s manager. Louie was in great shape. At about 36 years of age. Louie after wrestling Gino Brito to a draw in Garden City, Mi on March 7, 1964. Louie came in the dressing after his match and drop dead.
Johnny Gates, was one of those old pros that never hardly won a match. Johnny could win most street fights. When Louie dropped dead Johnny said get Louie back in the ring while he is still warm. I think that I might get a win. Some of the wrestler laughed.
Louie, was not buried yet and I had a new manager. Gary Hart, was brought in from Chicago to manage The Student
Just a local talent
My life was running on all cylinders.
The high school hockey program had failed and was being replaced by wrestling. I had been named the head coach of the wrestling of the new program. Starting a high school program is a real challenge as I was about to find out. I only allowed two seniors (the heavyweights) to come for this new program the rest of the team was made up of sophomores and freshmen. I scheduled six established team and five first year wrestling teams. We end up that first year six and five. We beat all of the first year teams and one of the established teams so I figured that we were off to a pretty go start.
There was a Olympic wrestling team team touring the united states. One of their main visits was to a neighboring city Hazel Park. Hazel Park had a powerful wrestling club. This club was ran by Mr. Hata. Mr. Hata was the son of Mr. Hata that was over the whole Olympic wrestling program for Japan. Sugiyama was the heavyweight on this traveling team. Sugiyama contacted me and wanted me to teach him how to wrestle pro. I told Sugiyama that would be great but he then must be my assistant coach. Mean while Sugiyama became Tokyo Joe of the pro wrestling circle. Our second year of wrestling our Madison High School wrestling team was undefeated.
Opportunity came knocking at my door.
The first time that I had the opportunity to see Bruno Sammartino work was February 19th, 1966 at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan. In a special attraction match Bruno defeated Bulldog Brower. The main event was between Mark Lewin and Killer Karl Kox and was stopped because of blood. Both Mark and Karl were bleeding and it was wild.
This was one of the few shows that The Sheik did not work. The Sheik was having hemorrhoids removed. The Student was supposed to work with Mark Lewin in the event but I was double crossed.
The show before was Lord Layton and Mark Lewin vs. Killer Karl Kox and The Student in a tag team match. I was as green as grass and was getting my first main event in the Cobo Arena. I was going to work this hot finish with Mark Lewin and return on February 19th, 1966 with Mark Lewin as my opponent. Before the tag match ever got started Killer Karl Kox jumped Mark Lewin on the floor and they got double blood. Thus I was not in the the double main event on February 19th, 1966.
Just The rest of the story.
Bruno and his entourage spotted THE STUDENT (Jim Myers) on the Cobo Arena show February 19th, 1966 and I was invited to Pittsburgh too wrestle on Channel Eleven Studio Wrestling hosted by Bill Cardell. I was prepared to wrestle as THE STUDENT. I was highly recommended by Gino Britto.
Not only did I get the name George Steele in Pittsburgh. It seems like the whole character of George Steele was developed in Pittsburgh. Things just happened with out a master plan or any creative writers.
I flew into the Pittsburgh Airport. This was all new to me. I caught a bus that ran from the airport to the different hotels. As we headed for the William Penn hotel I was excited. I really got a strange feeling when bus entered this tunnel better known as the tubes in Pittsburgh. As the bus came out of the tube I felt this strong feeling come over me. I knew that this was not just going to be another wrestling show. The tube separated the country side from downtown Pittsburgh. The first thing I saw was where the rivers met. Then I saw Three Rivers Stadium and the Golden Triangle. I knew that my life was about to change forever.
TWO SHIPS PASSING
It was January 1967 and like to ships passing in the night as I met The Crusher Lisowski. The Crusher was checking out of the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh as I was checking in. The Crusher had finished his program with Bruno Sammartino on Friday and I was coming in for my first Saturday afternoon Studio Wrestling show.
In 1967 I arrived at Channel 11 in Pittsburgh prepared to wrestle as THE STUDENT. Ace Freeman told me that they did not want me to wear a mask and wrestle as THE STUDENT. I did not want to use my real name. We were trying to come up with a name when “Jumping Johnny DeFazio suggested that Pittsburgh was the Steel City why not call me Jim Steele”. I did not like Jim and someone suggested George Steele and I liked it. I had no idea of how the change to the name George Steele would effect my life.
This is a picture of my first day as George Steele 1967. Pittsburgh’s Channel Eleven Black and White Television. Notice the white faces painted on the black plywood. That was part of the crowd seen on television.
How in the world did Jim Myers end up in the middle of Madison Square Gardens facing Bruno Sammartino the worlds greatest champion?
Meeting Mr. McMahon
Look out WWWF, NEW YORK and the northeast it is meant to
be. My first trip to the North East was to Washington D.C. for a meeting with Vince McMahon and a television shoot in 1968. Everything was very kayfabe. Bruno had come in the night before. We were not to be seen coming into the office at the same day. Bruno told me to catch a cab to go to the Franklin Park Hotel. I was given a room number and told not to say anything to anybody.
I knocked on the door and Bruno opened the door and I was introduced to Mr. Vince McMahon. I could see the disappointment in Mr. McMahon’s eyes. We sit down and the questions started. Bruno reiterated our success in the Pittsburgh area.
Finely Mr. McMahon ask me to take off my sport jacket, shirt and tie. (I had been there and done this before) Mr. McMahon’s attitude changed when he saw the hair on my body and my thickness. You see I was dressed like a school teacher and did not make a great first impression. I worked my first WWWF television that night. I woke up to a riot the next morning an the lobby of the Franklin Part hotel had bullet holes behind the counter. It was April 5th and Martin King had been killed April fourth.
I had already fought Bruno Sammartino The WWWF Champion once that year. They had tried to stop that match because I had a few drops of blood on my bald head. If I would have had as much hair on my head as I had on my body the referee would not have seen the blood. I was in the middle of whaling on Bruno ass when the referee chose to stop the match. I was screaming this is bull shit,I had Bruno right where I wanted him. “You Italian referees are always protecting your Wop champion”. I went in for the kill I attack Bruno with my foreign object Bruno caught me in the mid section with a stiff boot and my taped weapon went flying. The stupid referee saw that I was in trouble so he waved the match to continue. There was so much excitement that match was continuing that there were Italians running up and down the isles. I thought wow one of those greasy jerks are going to fall out of the balcony tonight. They always went wild when there Italian Superman was in control but, I have got to tell you that they took that excitement to a whole new level this night.
The genus of Vince McMahon Senior had advertised this match between Sammartino and George ‘The Animal’ Steele as a spectacular; a special, no time limit stipulation bout in wrestling’s East Coast Mecca, New York’s Madison Square. The great fans of the Big Apple were really getting their moneys worth tonight. I was committed to it.
There was a eleven o’clock curfew in those days. It was ten fifteen. The fans had just had the biggest pop that I had ever had with Bruno in the Madison Square Gardens. The problem was; we had Forty five more minutes to go.
So I cut off Bruno’s assault came to a with a crotch that sent him down like a wounded gladiator ready to be fed to the Lions. I don’t mean the Detroit Lions. I put the boots to the fallen champion. Every fan in the Gardens saw it when I got my foreign object back from Bruno. That is everyone but the referee. The fan were now really participating in the wild match now. They were running to ringside screaming to the referee that I had regained my weapon.
Time was flying by now I had the wild fans right where I wanted them. In the palms of my hands. I never had to use the foreign object. All I needed to do was have the threat of it. Bruno and The Animal were exchanging holds and every time that Bruno would come out on top I would simply reach for the foreign object and here these wild fans would come screaming in broken English. They truly loved Bruno and hated The Animal.
At about the ten forty five mark I finely went to my foreign object. There was so much fan heat on my foreign object that I did not even need to use it. As I went to use my weapon Bruno block it caught me with a shot to the jaw that sent my trustee weapon flying and forced me to bump the referee. Bruno scooped up my taped tool. The referee did see that naturally. Bruno knock me all over the ring with my own foreign object. The fan were going nuts. I could not believe it. The fans were blowing the roof off. I thought they had gone to a new height earlier when the referee had waved the match to continue. This was truly a level that I was not sure I would ever see again.
Bruno beat me like a redheaded stepchild. The Bruno beat on me the more fans loved it. Bruno had his adrenaline going he threw me into the with such a force that I came like a rocket. This was my chance I would give Bruno a flying tackle and knock him on his ass and take control. Bruno sidestepped me and caught me full force of my foreign object in my throat. My feet pasted under my body and I landed on the back of my head and shoulders. I was knocked dizzy. I did not see it but Bruno turned and tossed my foreign object to his manager Arnold Skaaland.
I was a beaten man and Italians were ready for a great victory. They had lost all of there wars in the history of their great country. So I believe Bruno’s wins in Madison Square Gardens had a real significance to them. They were all chanting like they were about to win the World cup in soccer. They want that victory so bad that they could taste it.
The Animal had other plans. I rolled out of the ring to recuperate. In those days we were allowed a twenty count on the floor and a ten count on the ring apron. Took about a eighteen count as I frantically tried to get the referee to search Bruno for my foreign object. The fans were a little slow but they pickup on the idea that I was stalling. They did not want to get robbed out of another victory. As the referee got Bruno back to a neutral I came in the ring and as Bruno rushed me I dove through the ropes and back to the safety of the floor. I was totally exhausted. I looked at the clock it said ten fifty three. Seven more minutes before curfew. I sucked as the referee got Bruno back to his neutral one more time. The clock was running. I went through the ropes and rushed Bruno like a wild boar. Thought that I might surprise him and catch him off guard. It almost worked as I rushed Bruno he caught me with of the quickest arm drags that I had ever seen but I was up like a cat and rushed the champ the second time and again he caught me in another arm drag as he came up I finely caught him in a single leg and he went down. Bruno put his free leg on my chest and with all of his super strength pushed me with a unbelievable force to the ropes and I again came back like a rocket Bruno monkey flipped be and I was back on the floor.
I had shot my wad. I looked at the clock and I could not believe there was still four more minutes to go. I took a nineteen count and rolled in the ring on one side of the post around the post and back to the safety of the floor. The fans started throwing things and spiting at me. The second time I used this great maneuver the fans started throwing everything that was not tied down. My manager The Grand Wizard move as far a way from me as possible. He was still getting drenched in beer. When the opportunity came The Grand Wizard made his escape to the safety of the locker room.
The stall to win or tie gets heat in every sport. This was wild. As the clock ticked away and it became more apparent that The Animal was a big chicken shit that was going to rob their Champion of his much deserved victory. This drove the fans nuts. When the bell finely rang New Yolks finest surround me they had their clubs out and their hard hats as they rushed me to the safety of the locker room.
Working a match was always about my mind set. Every thing was very real. The Student and Gary Hart figured this early on.
Killer Kowalski year earlier preparing for the Animal
Walter is a real wrestling legion. George Steele and Walter Killer Kowalski worked together as a successful tag team against the teams of Bruno Sammartino and Antonio Pugliese also Haystacks Calhoun & Victor Rivera and others.
Walter Killer Kowalski and George Steele worked a tag with Antonio Pugliese and Haystacks Calhoun in Hamburg Pa. During the match I worked a shoot with Haystacks. I rolled Stacks and rerolled putting Stacks back on top. I took Stacks down with a single leg and let Stacks walk around to take the advantage. Stacks kept coming out on top and was feeling pretty good about his self. Back in the locker room Antonio Pugliese who could really stir things went to work. Pugliese told Stacks that George Steele was suppose to be this tough shooter. Antonio convinced Haystacks that he had turned Steele every way but loose. Antonio Pugliese told Stacks that this was his opportunity to let people know how tough he really was. Stacks and Pugliese came into the heel locker room. Stacks told me that he was shooting with me in the ring and that he had got the best of me. Stacks then told me that the next time I tried shooting with him that he was going to hurt me. I got in Haystacks face and told him that he might have been shooting but I was working. I pushed Haystacks to the wall and told him that I was going to paintbrush him. Stacks realized he had been sit up and got tears in his eyes. I just laughed and told Stacks to be sure next time he wants to fight.
One time we were tagged against Haystacks Calhoun & Victor Rivera in springfield Mass and I was putting new laces in my boots… The laces were to long so I was going to cut about two feet of my lace. Walter screamed at me “what are you doing”? Walter then said we can use that extra lace in our match to choke Haystacks.
During the match Walter distracted the referee and I pulled the long lace out of my boot tied it around Haystacks neck and started choking Stacks. When the referee came over to me I just stood up and walked back and talked to the ref while continuing to choke Stacks with out the referee noticing. Haystacks was really selling the choke big time. The heat was really building up. Finly this Puerto Rican Fan could not stand it any longer and came running to ringside with a open knife. I was trapped my boot was tied to Haystacks neck. There was no way that I could get away. I could feel the knife stabbing into my leg but that did not happen. The Fan just cut my boot lace and freed Haystacks Calhoun. The fans loved it as I went crazy.
Alantic City Riot
A riot broke out in Atlantic City when a fan threw his chair at me while I was whaling on Victor Rivera in one of the corners. The chair hit Victor in the head and the blood just started gushing. At first the fans jumped the fellow that threw the chair. I started pounding on Victors bleeding head and it did not take long for the fans to rush the ring to save Victor. We fought our way back to the dressing room area where we attempted to barricade the double doors with a grand piano. That only worked for a little while. Killer Kowalski found a stairway and was able to hide up stairs.
I ducked in to a closet where I found a empty jumbo beer bottle for a weapon. I was peeking when one of the ring crew stumbled by bleeding. I scared him to death as I pulled into the safety of my hiding place. The police brought the dogs in to get control of the riot that night. Needless to say there were no barricades that night.
Kowalski turns on Steele-9/13/69 Boston
It was amazing how much heat we could get when the 600lbs Haystacks Calhoun was selling. The fans really believe in the Fat Man.
George Steele & Killer Kowalski vs. Haystacks Calhoun & Victor Rivera wrestled in the Boston Garden – September 13, 1969. George Steele took Victor Rivera to the corner and Walter Killer Kowalski went to the top rope. As Walter Killer Kowalski Jumped to give Victor Rivera a double ax handle. Victor moved and that stupid Walter Killer Kowalski hit George Steele with the double ax handle and all hell broke loose between us. It was amazing how much heat we could get when the 600lbs Haystacks Calhoun was selling. The fans really believe in the Fat Man.
Kowalski vs Steele 10/4/69 Boston
The next Boston Garden show was October 4, 1969 and George Steele was booked to wrestle Walter Killer Kowalski. Before this match took place the old master Walter Killer Kowalski called me a side and said lets not fight for the heat out there tonight. Walter said “if the fans favor you George just lay back a little and I will be the heel and if the fans favor The Killer I will lay back just a little and George Steele will be the heel”. Walter said “there is no sense in us fighting for the heat”.
It was unbelievable The killer went out first and the Boston fans went wild cheering Walter Killer Kowalski it was like a Bruno Sammartino entrance. When George Steele the fans went crazy the heat was there. This match turned into a war. We fought in the ring, out of the ring through the crowd all the way up to the balcony. We had a thirty-five minute war. We were both counted out but we continued fight all of the way back to the locker the fans loved it. A return match to be fought in the cage was announced immediately following our match and the Boston Gardens erupted.
Boston Garden November 1, 1969 Cage Match
Killer Kowalski vs. George Steele returned to the Boston Garden November 1, 1969 to settle their differences in a steel cage match. This was really a funny night that Walter always enjoyed talking about. Walter Killer Kowalski had become a vegetarian and was really into taking care of his body. He was over strong enough that he did not need to bleed. In fact The Killer refused to get juice any more. Will it was a cage match and I thought juice was important little did I know. Will the stage is set and I would not be back for awhile. The Madison high school wrestling season was getting started so I would not be able to sneak out on Saturdays anymore until the following spring.
George Steele had the heat and was the heel. The fans were chanting ANIMAL ANIMAL ANIMAL it was funny because I was not called THE ANIMAL yet. I went out and went wild as I usually did. I went around the outside of ring a couple of times checking the cage. I move the steps about three feet away from the ring. The fans could feel the fear that was starting to build up in me and they were really getting with it. I finely got in the ring and then Walter The Killer Kowalski was announced and the Boston Gardens went wild.
Walter walked straight to the steps. When Walter got to the top of the steps he realized the he was about three feet from the ring. The cage was set up just outside the ropes. The cage door was low and small. The Killer took a long stride and tried to duck his head as he got in the ring. Bang, The Killer did not duck his head low enough. When Walter’s head hit the door frame it cut him wide open and George Steele was on Walter like the wild Animal they were calling him. We had a wild cage match and the fun was over.
George Steele vs. Killer Kowalski was the matches that rocketed me to being one of the top heels in the wrestling business. George Steele had turned on the legendary super heel walter Kowalski. The fans of Boston cheered as walter Kowalski was introduced first. No one in the wrestling business expected that. There was unbelievable heat as I went to the ring. The cage match put the end to a great summer and it was back to Michigan to get George back in the box until the next year.
My Annual Summer Ritual
The following March I got a call from Mr. Vince McMahon Sr. Giving me some dates for the next summer in the WWWF and the northeast. My starting dates were every three weeks for TV. until school was out. Then Monday through Saturday. They would fly me home for Sundays and back on Mondays until football started. Wow I have leverage in the biggest of all territories.
Because I was over so strong I could make three TV shoots which would give me nine weeks of TV coverage. This would give enough push to work most all of the main events for the two and a half months that I was available
That is how the wrestling business went for me from 1967 until 1985.
About every fifth year or so I would take a break from the WWWF or later the WWF. Those off summers quite often was a short trip to Japan.
The summer of 1979 was spent with one of the real strange promotions of our great business. I worked with the Bear Man in Ontario.
I was traveling with Bobo Brazil that summer. The Sheik was also working for the Bear Man as well as was David Sammartino.
About half way through the summer I got a call from Mr. McMahon asking me to come back to the WWWF for the rest of the summer. It seems that Andre The Giant was booked to wrestle Black Jack Mulligan most of that summer. Mulligan was demanding money before he would go to the ring each night. Mr. McMahon told me that I was over strong and I could replace Black Jack. I knew that I sure would make a lot more money working for Mr. McMahon and the WWF.
I told Mr. McMahon to let me think it over and I would call him the next day. The next day I called Mr. McMahon back. I told Mr. McMahon that I worked wrestling part time. I told him If I came for less money then Mulligan was asking I would be looked at as a scab and I would lose respect. I told Mr. McMahon that I might even end up fighting big Black Jack Mulligan. Black Jack was a huge load of a man. My answer to was Mr. McMahon he would need to pay me what Mulligan was demanding each night. Mr. McMahon said that he would think it over and call me back the next day.
Mr. McMahon called me back and told me that he might as well stay with Black Jack Mulligan if the cost was going to be the same. Like the end of every summer it was back to school. Pat helped me get George back in the box and Jim out of the box.
I was wrestling a TV match in the old Philadelphia Arena in the early 70’s and it was one of those wild nights. Pantsuits were in style for the ladies. There was a very large well dressed black woman at ringside. She was wearing a purple metallic pantsuit and was getting all over THE ANIMALS case. THE ANIMAL acted like he was going through the ropes after her. THE ANIMAL stepped half way through the ropes and yelled YOU. The crouch area of the nice pantsuit started turning colors. The purple pantsuit was turning a dark purple. THE ANIMAL quickly realized the well dressed large black lady had just pissed herself. THE ANIMAL was on camera and had to think quick. THE ANIMAL did not want to get caught on camera laughing in a wild match so I put my face in a turnbuckle pad and started gnawing.
THE BIGGEST ENTERTAINMENT SUPPER STAR EVER
THE FEAR FACTOR
When I first started in the wrestling business as THE STUDENT I just walked to the ring. Often I had to fight my way back to the dressing room. There were no barricades.
As George The Animal Steele my trips to and from the ring were events in themselves. I never knew what was going to happen when the announcer said George The Animal Steele. I can tell you that I just got excited. I never knew how I was going to hit the ring. If a saw a chair I might grab it . If a fan was in my way I would stop and stare with a wild look and then make a sudden move. I might even chase fans that were in my way. I depended on the fear factor in every thing that I did in the wrestling business
Fear Factor watch the fans scatter
In the beginning there were no barricades to protect the fans. Will at least that was in George Steele’s case. The barricades are also placed there to protect the wrestlers. Before the barricades were used it was almost like audience participation was part of the wrestling business. A riot could happen any place at any time. The fear factor was my key to safety. Sense the addition of the barricades riots have been almost nonexistence in the wrestling business.
Before barricades security was needed just to get the wrestler to and from the ring. when a wrestler lost control of the heat in the ring. When a heel overwhelms the babyface and the referee seems to lose control of the match there is a problem brewing.
When I arrived in the WWWF one summer all of the talent was talking about how dangerous Rochester’s War Memorial had become… I was told that it was almost impossible for the heel in the main event to get to the ring… I was told that after the main event that it was a street fight to get back to the dressing room…
When I finely was booked in to wrestle Pedro Morales for the WWWF championship in Rochester’s War Memorial I was excited… I knew it was going to be a wild night… Because of the fear factor the fans were generally afraid of THE ANIMAL… When I arrived at the War Memorial the first thing I did was call the security together… Security was made up of Rochester’s finest and I had worked with most of them in the past… I ask them what the problem was getting to the ring??? They told me that the fans were reaching through them trying to hit the heel… They told me that they were in really tight to the heel kind of shielding the wrestler… I told them that we were going to do thing a little different… They were to give a wide circle and not to touch me at all… I wanted room to move and protect myself… The fear factor always worked for THE ANIMAL… We went to the ring with no problems at all… There was a one point where I broke rank a chased the fans and did they take off. All was needed was for the heel to have room to work…
Leaving the ring was a whole different situation… In Rochester the main events were on last… The matches were over after 11:00pm… The cheap local promoter only paid the security until eleven so the security left the building… There was no security after the event… I told the security not to leave until the show was over and I would see to it that they got over time… Naturally I finished the match well before eleven and there was no problem leaving the ring… I then had the promoter to keep two officers around until all the wrestler had driven off.
Change is in the air
Two of Vince’s wrestling cartoons.
At one time, the wrestlers themselves controlled the W.W.F. Hulk Hogan, along with Brett Hart, Shawn Michaels, “The Undertaker,” Steve Austin, and Hunter H. Helmsley each played a role in helping Vince McMahon Jr. to gain control of the wrestling business.
A key to success in the ring is respect. To earn it, one must always protect their opponents body, but that responsibility has gone by the wayside in the new business a drastic mistake. The W.W.F., under Vince McMahon Jr, took exceptional steps to make Mick Foley a super star, including showing him as a youngster doing extremely dangerous things, such as flipping backwards off of his garage roof onto a mattress. That has sent a horrible message to the young, untrained people who attempt the same tricks and end up maimed or worse. In some ways, I feel responsible. When McMahon Jr. first came aboard, he should have been taken to the gym and taught the respect for the business. Disrespect is a factor in what I think is wrong with the wrestling business today as I see it.
I hope that you understand that I think the world of all of the McMahon’s. I believe that they have made great business decisions. There is more to life then business.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned in WRESTLING BUSINESS
I realized that this younger McMahon had totally different take on the wrestling business early on. Mr. McMahon senior was still the boss. Vinnie was doing all of the television interviews. I was still doing articulate interviews. In the middle of one of my interviews Vinnie cut me off and said “ George you are making to much sense for a animal.” Vinnie re-did his opening and put the mic in my face. I went into this crazy stupor and had a hard time talking. I was just ribbing Vinnie with that nonsense. Vinnie said great that how you will talk from now on. To be honest I thought Vinnie was nuts. Why would you make a drastic change like that to one of the hottest heels? I think Vinnie’s major input with a lot talent was a bit off of the wall.
As I watched Vinnie gain the leadership of the wrestling business I was never sure if he was a crazy nut case or a genius. Vinnie sure knew how to use the power of television.
Now I have heard it said that with all of the talent that Vinnie was recruiting from all of the territories anyone could be successful. The WWF was always had there pick of the top wrestling talent in the land. This is just some of the talent that was on hand in 1982 and 1983 well before the big push started.
Bob Backlund was the Champion and there were challengers like Greg The Hammer Valentine, Adrian Adonis (The Black Jacket), Killer Khan, Jessie Venturer, Bulldog Brower, Big John Studd, Black Jack Mulligan, Bob Orton Jr, Don Muraco, The Super Star Billy Graham. Ray The Crippler Stevens, Sgt. Slaughter, Ivan Koloff, The Iron Sheik, and your truly George The Animal Steele.
I always enjoyed Don Maraco we were on the same page. We loved to watch Vinnie produce different vignettes. Vinnie would become which ever talent he was working with. In fact in many cases vinnie could do the talent he was working with better than the talent could . Don and I always referred to Vinnie as Sibyl because of his many personalities.
I will just name a few of the super crew of babyfaces the wwf had 1983. There was Super Fly Jimmy Snuka, Polish Power Ivan Putski, Tito Santana, Andre The Giant, Pat Patterson, and Chief Jay Strongbow. Vince McMahon had huge vision as he was working with just the tip of the iceberg.
Hulk Hogan, was the missing piece as Vinnie started building his empire. Hogan’s role in Rocky 111 was perfect timing. Hogan had the right look and great charisma and Vinnie knew that he could create the rest. Failure was not a option. The WWF did the Hulk promotion campaign like never before. A dollar or more was spent for each seat in each venue was spent on promoting all shows that Hulk was on. If a arena held 20,000 fans then twenty thousand dollars was spent on the promotion. As we all know Hulk was a huge success and Vinnie changed the wrestling business for ever.
Change is in the air
Jake The Snake Roberts, was a super talent with a great mind for business. Jake was called the snake before he joined the WWE. Vinnie decided that Jake The Snake should carry a snake (Damien) at all times. It was even decided that Jake would use the DDT and then put Damien on the defeated warriors. I will never forget Jake’s first encounter with Damien. I was setting with the Junk Yard Dog at the far end of the locker room. Believe me that was by design because neither one of us wanted to be close to Damien. The Junk Yard Dog said “look at that fool” as Jake was hanging Damien over his shoulders for the first time. Jake was not very relaxed. All of a sudden Damien started contracting around Jake’s neck and Jake was starting to panic. The Junk Yard Dog yelled to Jake “if you are depending on us to help you are dead man. I can not begin to tell what a challenge it was for Jake to transport Damien around the country. Damien traveled in a big footlocker. When it came to air travel which was almost every day Jake was the one that checked Damien and picked him up at the other end. Vinnie loves to pull ribs. I will always wonder if Damien was a bit of a rib?
Later on Jake’s snake of choice was a cobra. Jake carried the cobra in a small leather bag. Jake always carried the cobra thru security and then just store the cobra in the overhead. I must tell you that I was never comfortable flying with Jake The Snake.
Randy Macho Man Savage and Elizabeth
I was excited for Randy. I knew that he was new breed and that he was very intent. Randy came in and was getting a good push but he really was not getting over like they wanted. The business was changing. Because we had so many great wrestlers coming into the WWF all at the same time. No matter how hard anyone was pushed it was going to take some time.
The push that got Randy really started was Elizabeth. I will never forget her first day. Randy must have walked Liz down to the ring a hundred times. Then helped her threw the ropes two hundred times. When I say that Randy was intent I mean intent. It was a great deal for them. They were being paid very will to travel together and I was happy for them. Randy became the Intercontinental Champion and was off and running. Tito Santana was the Intercontinental belt to Randy and was in hot pursuit to retain the title.
I was no longer the wild brawling Animal. Age had sit in and I had become a cartoon character. I was getting over much stronger as a cartoon character then I thought possible. I was not involved in a program and was hanging in limbo.
Jay Strongbow came to me and said that Vince Jr. has this crazy Idea. As the chief ran this The Macho Man deal passed me I just laughed. That night with the cameras rolling I rolled out a flower cart while The Macho Man was having a match. I gave Elizabeth a bouquet of flowers. Randy came off the top rope and the war was on. The story line was that I was smitten over Liz and Randy was insanely jealous. This was the beginning of a three run from hell. The fan still talk about this love hate affair.
Old School vs The New Breed
Most everything that I had done in the twenty odd before this encounter was done in the ring. There was very little conversation before my matches. In the ring I was the general. When i broke into the business out of respect the youngster would ask for help from the veteran regardless of what the outcome of the match. The Old School thought that The New Breed did know ring psychology. The object was to have a great match.
The New Breed
The match was more choreographed. They would spend hours working on having a great match. The New Breed was more concerned about how they were going to look. I be quite honest the The New Breed thought that the Old School was just plane lazy.
Our second match was in Tampa on a NBC Saturday Night Main Event. This was a nationally televised live show. Randy Macho Man Savage (The New Breed) gives me(Old School) about a twelve page scripted match that Randy Macho Man Savage had written out. This was almost a step by step choreographed match. This really pissed me off. First of all it was disrespectful in my eyes. Secondly I did not even no how to work that way. Thirdly I was going to call the match in the ring.
FLOWERS FOR ELIZABETH
I read every page of this script as the Macho Man watched. Randy was really wound up. Macho kept asking me what I thought. I kept insuring Macho that it looked pretty good. After I had read each and every page I turned to Randy and tore his script in about ten prices. I said to Randy “just listen to me and we will have a great match.” Randy’s eyes were blazing his body was shaking. I thought that Macho might have a stroke right there. I guess I got his respect (maybe not) but I did have leverage. The bottom line is that the match got the job done thanks to Elizabeth.
Randy was very concerned about Liz. Liz is a great looking Gal so when guys at ringside gawked at her a Randy would go off. Randy was very jealous when it came to Liz. This was a problem every night. Randy was in a constant battle with security night after night. He was the most jealous man that I have ever seen. Randy had a real love problem going. Was his love for Liz as strong as his love for money?
Our whole program was built around me being smitten over Liz and Randy being jealous. Boy did Randy have his part down.
One night I put Liz over my shoulder and ran out of the arena with her. Now this was a work. Randy was shooting when he said “what are they going to think George is doing to my wife”.
Another night in Detroit Vince jr. ask me to grab Liz by the ankle. You guest it Randy went off. JYD WAS ALWAYS RIDING RANDY ABOUT HIS jealous. JYD started laughing. Randy turned to JYD and said what are you laughing about? JYD said Randy you had better find the important information. Randy ask what is that? JYD said if George is laying his belly that is one thing. But if he laying on his back George will be looking up her dress. WOW DID HE GO OFF ON THAT ONE.
This should have been the most fun that I had in wrestling. Instead of enjoying this run. I was was dealing with Randy’s jealous over Liz every night. There were times that Liz would be locked in dressing rooms. It was every night and it was real. Randy would be screaming at someone. His eyes would go wild as blood vain were popping and he made no sense.
Of course I would take advantage of this situation. Every night I would reinsure Randy. I would remind him that I had a daughter older then Liz.
Then as he would be going threw the curtains I would say “remember I have had lots of fun with gals around here. That would really sit him off. I was getting just the right attitude from The Macho Man that I wanted.
This crazy feud from hell was on most of the Saturday Night Main Events. It was featured on Wrestlemania ll and finelly came to a end on Wrestlemania lll.
The headrest thing to figure out is was the happiest when this all came to a end? It might have been Randy Macho Man Savage. It could have been Elizabeth. I can guarantee that it was George The animal Steele.
THE STRANGEST SUPPER STAR EVER
WRESTLING WITH LOVE
British Bulldogs, were one of the really great tag teams of all time. I can tell you this. Both Davie Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid hated traveling with Matilda. The British Bulldogs loved to pull ribs. I will always believe that Matilda was a huge rib on the them I fact one of the very first breech of kayfabe was the Warlord walking Matilda on a leash in front of the fans into the arenas. During their match the British Bulldogs would sic Matilda on the Warlord.
Rickie The Dragon Steamboat, was even caught up in the traveling zoo concept. Rickie traveled a few month with this dragon looking thing. This weird looking thing spent most of the time in a cage. Steamboat was reassured that his Dragon was a vegetarian and not dangerous. I can tell you that Rickie handled this wild looking thing very carefully. Rickie’s Dragon escaped somewhere near Stamford, Connecticut. The rumor was small pets such as cats, dogs and rabbits were coming up missing in the neighborhood. When this wild dragon looking thing was finly captured it was about ten pounds heavier.
Riots, Law suits and altercations
February 11, 1986 WWF IC Champion Randy Savage defeated George Steele via count-out but that was not the end of this crazy night. As The Macho Man and Elizabeth left ring I started doing my thing. This fourteen year old came running and tried to dive into the ring. The security guards caught him my the ankles and was trying to pull him off of the ring apron. I saw if they pulled him his head was going hit the floor. I grabbed this youngster by the head and arm to protect him. I was in a tug a war with child. I reached through the rope and pushed the security guards and freed the child. I pulled this child in the ring dropped to my knees and did George like did with Captain Lou. My head was on this kids belly and he was patting The Animal on the head. As I was getting up I noticed that this was a fourteen year old girl. I was panic stricken and made a quick exit. I told the security guards and Chief Jay Strongbow that did not realize it was a young girl until after the fact.
The next time I was booked in Tacoma, Wa I was told to meet the event coordinator Zane Bresloff as got off of the plane. There was a warrant out for my arrest. Zane Bresloff was to take me to the court house where the Judge would be waiting for me. I had no clue to what was going on. I remembered the little girl in the ring. I had not done anything wrong. All I was doing was trying to prevent a accident and injury.
When heard what I was being charged with you could have knocked me over with a feather. One of the security guards had filed for my arrest. He claimed that I had injured him while he was trying to do his job. This security guard claimed that he had a ringing in his ear from when I had pushed him away from the little girl.
The court house was packed. This was laughed at by everyone in the court house including the Judge. As I was leaving the court house a fellow handed me a envelope and ask me for George’s autograph. This envelope was a civil suit that was looking for a hundred thousand dollar settlement.
This was not a joke. I was a independent contractor with no insurance to cover this. The WWF settled out of court on my behalf for twenty thousand dollars. I will always be thankful for the way Titan Sports and Vince McMahon handled my Tacoma experience.
I had two people using the same body. (sanity)
The wrestling business was a great business that is built on fragile egos….
I believe that because wrestling is a MAKE BELIEVE BUSINESS and super stars are not in control of their own success. Many super stars have a hard time with the lack of reality in what they portray.
Those of you who have been around the business know why the egos become fragile. Beneath the loud and brash exterior of most professional wrestlers lies an unbelievably insecure person.
The wrestling business is a business of total subjectivity. Very little objectivity. How tough a person really is and how legit his wrestling skills are have NOTHING to do with his or her success. Admittedly, certain physical characteristics will have a lot to do with a wrestlers chance at success. Hulk Hogan took complete advantage of his look and charisma. Sid Vicious did not. But pretty much across the board, success is not up to the wrestler.
George has mentioned a number of times how the Vince’s repeatedly demonstrated that almost anyone would succeed if they, The Vince’s, decided that person should succeed. That is not unique to the WWWF/WWF/WWE. This is how the business works.
A worker’s “position” in a company is and has always been the most important key to his success. That “position” can be a number of things. It can be a steady position as a jobber all the way to the position of champion. But who determines that? Certainly not the wrestler.
There is no business that I know of that has more to do with “office politics” than professional wrestling. The office decides, based on different factors, who will get the push and who will not. What are those factors?—-unfortunately, the factors are kind of like a cell phone plan friends and family. I could go on forever, but I will conclude by simply saying any business that is built on fantasy, deception and politics will absolutely breed insecurity. Insecurity breeds fragile egos. With that said I was blessed my whole career by being placed in a great positions.