Today we look back at a time just before the inaugural Wrestlemania, where WWF Magazine teases us with headlines about Hillbilly Jim, Roddy Piper, Butcher Vachon, Windham & Rotundo, Hulk Hogan, and Don Muraco. Let’s dig in.
Linda Kelly, Editor-In-Chief, kicks things off with a letter to the fans giving a summary of what’s featured in the magazine before adding, “We have recently been informed that ours is the only wrestling magazine that is asked for by name in newsstands throughout the United States.” (Did someone actually check with all the newsstands in the U.S? That’s some detective work.) We then get one letter from the mailbag, where George from New York says he’s a big fan of Paul Orndorff and Don Muraco and the fans need to cut them some slack. He also predicts that Muraco will dethrone Hulk Hogan in the near future and regain the Intercontinental Title. “Then we’ll see who gets the last laugh.”
Next, we look at Roddy Piper. “Piper seems to go out of his way to outrage everybody and anybody he can—as viewers of Piper’s Pit well know. Wearing a kilt, his English still touched by a trace of the guttural Scottish burr, and boastful of his prowess on the bagpipes, he can look you in the eye and disclaim any feeling for the land of Robert Bruce and Macbeth.” The article goes on to basically say, “We all hate him, but he’s so gosh darn entertaining.” It also adds that Piper might have deep psychological issues causing his behavior. “Perhaps he yearns for the warm adulation heaped upon grapplers like Snuka yet feels that admitting to it would be a sign of weakness. The wall he has built about himself and his assertion that he needs no friends, moreover, could be a logical outcome of the hard times he suffered in the past. Maybe he fears if he opens up to people he will eventually be hurt. Very likely, fans sense this vulnerable boyishness in Roddy and are drawn to him by it. Piper can be fun and in a backhanded way, likable.” (That’s deep, man.)
This spills us into the next article, “Piper’s Night of Infamy,” all about the MTV special where Piper crashed a ceremony featuring Dick Clark, Cyndi Lauper, and Captain Lou Albano, smashing a framed gold record over Albano’s head and slamming Lauper’s manager, David Wolff. (Today, this would just be another episode of Raw, but in 1985 it was huge stuff!) WWF Magazine is aghast that an award ceremony in a wrestling ring would turn into a circus. (Hopefully the scheduling works out someday so that Lauper can be put into WWE’s Hall of Fame.)
That, in turn, takes us to the next article, all about Captain Lou and Cyndi Lauper teaming up to raise funds for chapters for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the New York City metropolitan area. The article mentions that they had their differences in the past, but Hulk Hogan helped bring them together for a good cause. “Lou’s seen the light,” Hogan declares. “He may be ugly, but deep down, he’s beautiful. That’s why he’s doing this for people with MS.”
Next up, our feature article about Hillbilly Jim, or rather “Hillybilly Jim,” as the magazine first calls him in a typo.
We learn all about how Hulk Hogan has taken Hilly under his wing and is teaching him the tricks of the trade so that he can handle the toughest competition the WWF has to offer. (“If you get into a grapple with King Kong Bundy, brother, be sure to have a couple midgets by your side.”) Hulk even bought Jimbo his first pair of rasslin’ boots. (Is Hillbilly the only friend of Hogan’s who never turned on him? One fan wishes he would have.)
For the record, I met Hillbilly Jim when I was a kid, and he was really nice. I used to attend an annual convention in Milwaukee, and one time while I was checking out the various exhibitors, I spotted him at a WWF booth. Unlike most of the other celebrities, Hillbilly didn’t have a public relations manager and didn’t ask fans to stand in a line, he just said, “Don’t be shy, folks, come on up!” and let anyone interested in talking with him step right up to the table and hang around as long as they wanted. He seemed to enjoy shaking hands and chatting, and whenever someone wanted a photo or an autograph, they got it for free. At the time, I was a teen, and having been a huge wrestling fan for quite a while (I had subscriptions to all the Apter magazines and thought this made me a “smart” fan) I was really nervous to meet him but was determined to show I wasn’t like the other “humanoids” here who didn’t know a wristlock from a wristwatch. I said, “Mr. Hillbilly, I’ve been watching you for so long…” and stopped, not knowing how to continue. He jumped in and said, “probably since you were about this high, right?” holding out his hand for reference and nodding with a smile. Then, to prove my vast wrestling knowledge, I asked, “Are you and Hulk Hogan still friends?” Before I even realized what a lame question this was, he answered, “We still talk now and then. How about an autograph?” And, quite thrilled, I said that would be great and received a signed photo. So yeah, I think I impressed him.
Newsflash! Tuesday Night Titans is moving to Fridays. (That’s like Saturday Night’s Main Event moving to Sundays.)
Next up, Muraco…
He and Fuji visit Hawaii, where they’re both from… I mean, where Muraco alone is from… so Muraco can hang out with the girls and relax. While there, Fuji is schooling him on the oriental fighting arts. “Now instead of using vicious talents as a club, Muraco can use them like a samurai sword.”
Then we get into an article about Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo, who recently won the tag team championship. They make no bones about being proud to be Americans, with Windham commenting on their theme music, Born in the U.S.A. “That song and what it means gets our adrenaline up.” (I’m thinking Barry doesn’t really know what the song means, or maybe he enjoys hearing about the economic hardships facing U.S. Vietnam vets.) Anyway, their patriotism is putting them at odds with the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, although I’m sure nothing will come of that.
Next up, Lord Alfred Hayes shares with us the story of how he became a professional wrestler and what it was like to go from rookie to veteran. This segues into a story about his last year when he shared the locker room with a brash, new rookie, Brutus Beefcake. Fortunately, Alfred says, Alfred retired before they were booked to wrestle each other. (Fortunately for the fans?) He says Brutus made three bold predictions that night: he would get a good manager, he would secure a world championship match, and he would defeat Lord Alfred Hayes. Alfred says it looks like he’ll do two out of the three.
Next up, Hulk Hogan’s not just a hit at Madison Square Garden, he’s a hit on Madison Avenue! Hogan just shot a commercial for LJN’s new wrestling figures, as well another commercial for Footjoy’s tennis shoes. (I was certainly a fan of the wrestling figures! Below is an old photo of my collection.) WWF Magazine closes the article by suggesting that other agencies should think about using wrestlers in their commercials. “Perhaps more of this imaginative salesmanship will utilize the Hulk’s talents. Perhaps as well, other WWF superstars will find themselves huckstering for advertising agencies. But we think you’ll agree, no one can be a huckster like the Hulkster himself.”
Then we have an article about Butcher Vachon’s wedding, which began to slide downhill when Classie Freddie Blassie whacked ringbearer Sky Low Low with a cane before George Steele made a messy meal of the flower arrangements and everything turned into a food fight. (Maybe they should stop inviting wrestlers to ceremonies?)
Next up, it’s time to learn more about the Junk Yard Dog, who was born poor and had visit junkyards to build his own toys, like bikes. “Junkyards,” says the Dog, “still have a special place in my heart.” The article says that when he comes to your town to wrestle, chances are he’ll stop by the nearest junkyard to snoop about. The article also talks about the chain he wears, which he says reminds him of when his people were in slavery and makes him grateful he can take it off.
Next, an article about Black Jack Mulligan and his interview segment, Black Jack’s Barb-B-Q, which is featured on All-Star Wrestling. Originally, he says, the segment was supposed to be called “Black Jack’s Barb-B-Q Pit,” but Roddy Piper complained, so “Pit” was removed. “I guess I could have fought Piper over it,” Black Jack says, “but there was no sense in making a big deal over it.” The interview segment, however, is incredibly popular (according to the magazine) because Black Jack lets everyone talk, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not… unlike a certain someone else. (No mention, of course, is made of the fact that Mulligan is the father and father-in-law of the tag team champs featured in a prior article, because we don’t want fans to think of Mulligan as an old guy! I mean, that would be like a father and son playing for the same MLB team. Could never happen.)
Next up, a black and white article about Piper, wrestling as “The Canadian,” being unmasked in a match in Japan. (This seemed more like a Pro Wrestling Illustrated article.)
Also in black and white, it’s time for “Ask Amy,” where this month, Amy talks about what it would be like to marry a wrestler. She starts off saying you’d need earplugs to stay with Roddy Piper. Andre the Giant? He might kill you in bed. Jimmy Snuka? Good body but violent temper. (You don’t say?) Sheik and Volkoff? You marry one, you get both. George Steele? You’d have to learn to make “fried turnbuckle.” Amy closes by saying that if you do marry a wrestler, beware, because many other women will want your man. “Good hunting, Ladies, if you dare.”
Next, we get a brief article about the film Micki & Maude, which features cameos from Chief Jay Strongbow, Big John Studd, and Andre the Giant. Just to be clear, Studd and Andre did not have to work together, and when they were on set, extra security was brought in to keep them separate.
Hey, it’s time to visit Camp Moolah, her rustic training center for future female wrestlers! (What could go wrong here?) “Moolah has literally opened her doors to ambitious athletic women determined to make a career out of wrestling.” (And maybe a career in other areas too.) Anyway, this training center is in Columbia, South Carolina, and the women are hard put to it each day. (You don’t say?)
What do the girls say about Moolah as a trainer? “She is tough. But when we leave her camp, we’re ready to be the best.” Of course, there’s always a chance the girls could become better than Moolah herself, but Moolah is willing to take the chance because to her it’s not about herself, it’s about what’s best for the girls.
Next week, we’ll dive into the first post-Wrestlemania edition of Pro Wrestling Illustrated where we’ll look back at Wrestlemania, learn lessons from David Schultz’s encounter with a 20/20 reporter, and discover who Pro Wrestling Illustrated believes will be the guy who will take wrestling into the 21st century, with fans in 2015 looking back upon his roots like fans in 1985 looking back upon the early days of Bruno Sammartino.