Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Who's bad?

Two things that struck me from last night's viewing:

First would be how good Gorgeous George's angle worked. He drew an amazing reaction from the crowd, not to mention form an audience 50 years in the future. It's impressive how he just seemed to master performing for the crowd and the camera even in the infancy of not just televised wrestling, but television. Archetype hardly does it justice. For those who remember the John Cena v. Kevin Federline match earlier this year, K-Fed's act was a modest replica of George's act, right down to the reluctance to remove the robe.

The second part was during the Buddy Rogers v Pat O'Connor match. Rogers was the egotistical heel and O'Connor the champion. When Rogers got the first pinfall, I was surprised to see a handful of people get up and applaud him, the bad guy. This was the early 60's! This is I love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, and pre-psychedelic Beatles songs! Movies had scarcely begun to portray anti-heroes as people you could root for, people would hardly know the inner workings and back story of the business, and wrestling was still far away from its "sports entertainment" era. Yet there in the front row stood three smart marks giving the heel a standing ovation. This - frankly - amazed me. I had largely thought that going against the pre-determined face/heel alignment was something native only to the most recent decades, when it was more obviously entertainment, you had a growing culture of die-hards, and people were used to rooting for morally ambiguous heroes. But I'm wrong. I guess regardless of the time, people like to root for the better performers.


Sam Ford said...

Brian, strong observations and nice close read of the crowd during the Rogers match. Buddy Rogers was a competitor people did "love to hate," and I think that match shows us quite a bit about the era.

To tie into Dave Meltzer's piece that we read over the weekend on Buddy, that short biography came from Dave's book Tributes, which was a compilation of pieces he had written for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter when these various legends passed away.

As Meltzer's piece points out, though, Buddy got much of his act from George. George was the big smash at the very beginning of the TV era, and the "Nature Boy" rose to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Thaat match with Pat was from 1961, when Buddy won the world title. Dave points out the fact that "Rogers was generally considered, and grudgingly so by many since he was not a popular performer in his prime, the best worker of the '50s," and points out really how much of the act Ric Flair borrowed from. We learned from Thesz how he felt about Buddy, but Rogers could put on a great show for the crowd, no question.

And to return to our earlier questions about the promoter/talent relations, Buddy is another intersting person to look at, since Dave points out that Buddy was aware how popular he was and used it as leverage with promoters.

By the way, to clarify, Dave said 38,622, which held the record in attendance until Wrestlemania III.

Carolina said...

I was also extremely impressed with the performance of Gorgeous George. I had heard of him, but this was the first time I actually saw him in action. I thought he was absolutely terrific and completely the kind of character that drew me into wrestling as a fan to begin with, and was blown away by how he appealed to the TV at a time when everyone was learning to adjust to TV. From the spraying of perfume in the ring to the Florida air tank (which I thought was hilarious), the influence he had on wrestling decades later was evident. The first example that comes to mind is Shawn Michaels' whole routine in the early 90's before the match (looking into the mirror, fixing his hair, etc).

I really like your point about how even back then, some people in the audience had an appreciation of the performance of the heel. It's much more accepted today, but it is very surprising that such a reaction would exist in the 50s. Unlike what Lou Thesz thinks, I think Buddy Rogers was a good wrestler from what I saw of him. He, like George, probably made it difficult for everyone to turn against him because of how good he was at playing his role. This is almost the norm these days, but yes, very surprising to see it even back then with Buddy Rogers.

Sam Ford said...

Carolina, I think the issue of wrestling performance vis-a-vis different media is an important one, and a topic very much at the heart of a CMS class, since we are COMPARATIVE Media Studies. The live performance, and what works in that setting, may not be the same for the camera. Some performers are very good with the crowd but it doesn't translate for the cameras--some, perhaps, good for the camera but who do not capture the crowd. George and Buddy managed both aspects, and I think the Rogers/O'Connor match looked better on camera than Dory Funk Jr. and Jack Brisco precisely becuase they were wrestling a style that both played to the live crowd and to the camera.