Monday, January 31, 2011

Sputnik, Masked Men, and Midgets / Memphis Wrestling History / Memphis Heat!!!

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I've got no magazine scans for this post, but I wanted to follow up my last entry with a short post recommending a recent book (front cover above) that probably nudged me to put that last post together, Ron Hall's Sputnik, Masked Men, and Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling. I'd done some research back when Sputnik died for a comix project that I never quite got to, so I'm happy that Hall's book sparked me to do a little something with what I'd gathered. I always keep an eye out for Sputnik material on eBay, but somehow I'd missed Ron's book until stumbling across it on Amazon last Fall. I picked it up excited to find a book with Sputnik in the title. Though Sputnik's certainly in the book, he's not really a focus, as the book is pretty much of a scrapbook of Memphis wrestling all the way from the early days on into the late 70s, and, boy, it's a lot of fun, not only for Memphis fans but for fans of old school wrestling in general. Hall assembles a whole cast of wrestlers I've never heard of (along with many I have) in a photo-heavy celebration of wrestling in the bluff city, both the local heroes that you think of when you think Memphis wrestling as well as national stars that visited. Here's the back cover, and what better pitchman could you ask for than the undisputed Mouth of the South, Jimmy Hart:

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and the promo video which has some previews of the photos within

The book gets an introduction from a Jerry Lawler, Memphis citizen and ambassador for Memphis wrestling, which is entirely appropriate. The King talks about his early days fresh out of Memphis State (you still hear old-timers calling the University of Memphis by that name) when he was a DJ for Eddie Bond and the time he asked Tojo Yamamoto on the air whether wrestling was fixed - never a smart question to ask a wrestler. Lawler shows up again in force in the last chapter of the book on the 70s, and there's an entire parade of characters between. There's not much text, which usually is a minus in my book, but Hall really does such a great job arranging the photos and interjecting scans of programs and clippings, that the photographs tell the story quite effectively without much narration. The book opens with what might just be my favorite chapter, a selection of fantastic (and very well-printed) photos from Robert W. Dye, an amateur photographer better known for his photos of Memphis entertainers. Dye's wrestling photos taken in Ellis Auditorium during the 40s and 50s are fantastic, he really had an eye for it, and they've not been published elsewhere. At the end of the Dye Collection, there's a photo of Elvis, Scotty, and Bill playing in the wrestling ring in 1955 that rounds it out nicely. Apparently, Elvis was a big wrestling fan and even dated wrestler Penny Banner for a while. Hall then moves on to a non-stop parade of photographs of wrestlers that graced the mats of Memphis including many of the biggest names in wrestling - Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Gorgeous George, Antonino Rocca, the Blassies, Red Barry, Pat O'Connor, Buddy Rogers, Farmer Jones (there's a great two page spread of Robert Dye photos of Gorgeous George taking on Jones, I bet George was awfully indignant when Jones brought his pig in on a leash), and many more national stars. But Hall doesn't focus on the big names too much, the real wonder here is the enormous and varied cast assembled. There's a chapter on "Krauts, Japs, Indians & Arabs," a chapter packed with gorgeous lady wrestlers, a chapter on the "Mighty Mites" that wrestled here, a chapter on Memphis' black wrestlers, a chapter on the masked wrestlers; the variety is what's so cool.

And there's also a bonus CD, Sputnik hires a band?!?!

You can order the book direct from the good folks at Shangri-la Records and find more info and reviews here. Ron Hall keeps a blog for the book here. I looked at it again yesterday and discovered some exciting news. The film inspired by the book, Memphis Heat, is complete and is going to be out in March, check out the sweet poster.

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And the trailer

This movie looks completely awesome - all of it - the stories, the wrestling, the soundtrack. The premiere's at the beautiful new Malco Paradiso in Memphis on March 24th (which they're calling Sputnik Monroe Day) and will play on the square for the week following. I've got the words MEMPHIS HEAT written in red on my calendar. I am stoked! On Ron's rasslin blog I linked above, you can see a number of teaser clips to tide you over.

I also want to take the time today to point out an incredible resource for learning about Memphis wrestling, the Memphis Wrestling History page which you can find here at This site was put together by author and wrestling historian, Mark James, and I really applaud what he's done for wrestling fans. There's a great photo section here with galleries of photos and clippings for Jerry Lawler, Sputnik Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Tojo Yamamoto, and others. The scans of the photos and the clippings are very well done (I appropriated a few in my last post), James has done a real service making all this available. Just today, I found another section of the site I hadn't noticed before of cards and clippings for each decade here that's got an amazing amount of information available. I'm going to love going through there looking for bits on Sputnik (and no doubt will wish I'd read it before I did a post on the guy). In addition to all this meticulous work Mark James has done on this impressive site, I see he has a wrestling yearbook for Memphis in 1982 out right now that details that year in Memphis under a microscope. I sure plan on checking it out, as I'm very interested in the Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler feud - both in terms of what "real" rasslin fans thought about it as well the whole thing as piece of theater. Both Kaufman and Lawler are pretty damn brilliant if you ask me.

Next time! One last scan to post for now on wrestling magazines before I get back to some of my other projects, a special issue in which wrestlers give their own account of their toughest match...

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