Monday, March 5, 2007

Bloviating about Blassie

I like this guy. It's hard to say exactly why, but Blassie seems to "get" where wrestling is going at this particular time period. He certainly doesn't seem to be star material by the usual WWE standards. He doesn't look to be in terribly good shape, and seems to know nothing about conventional wrestling--"Blassie's offense usually consisted of ripping and tearing at his opponent," notes a photo caption (21).

Regardless of how effective a wrestler he might have been in the Lou Thesz sense, the guy could clearly sell. Billy Graham (whose name still amuses me, alongside my other reading material) tells of arm wrestling with Blassie: "Here I was with legitimate 22-inch arms at the time and was beating shooters. Freddy came out in the studio and the place went berserk. He was past 50 and had no muscularity at all, yet everyone believed he was going to beat me" (22). One can see why Blassie adapted to readily to the manager-villain structure that accompanied the WWF's rise to power. He seemed to get the joke better than anyone.

Which brings us to Andy Kaufman, whose particular brand of comedy, playing an absurd character with such consistency and conviction as to confuse the fiction itself, seems incredibly well-suited to pro wrestling. One of the recurring tropes in this class is that wrestling conflates the performer and the character to an unprecedented degree, which is exactly what we see Kaufman doing in his most memorable performances. No wonder he and Blassie worked together; they were doing the same job.


Lee Benaka said...

I saw both "I'm from Hollywood" and "Breakfast with Blassie" over 10 years ago and found the former to encompass much of what is wonderful about wrestling, and the later to be a pretty tedious one-joke exercise. Dave Meltzer's obituary of Fred Blassie included, as I remember, some interesting facts about his time in California and how he became a babyface to Mexican fans by wearing a sombrero and teaming with Mexican wrestlers. This was an interesting detail to add to the life story of the wrestler with filed incisors who terrified Japan and who later served as the grand old man of WWE managers.

Sam Ford said...

Peter, some great points surrounding Blassie. He was around the wrestling industry for a while before he became a top star, which means that much of his fame as a performer came after he was past his physical prime. From the angles in Los Angeles, to his antics in Japan, and his great performance as a manager, Fred holds a special place in pro wrestling history. It's no surprise that WWE retained a close relationship with him until his death and that he made appearances in his last few years on WWE TV. Of course, as a performer, Blassie still "had it."

As for Lee's comments, some see My Breakfast with Blassie as a clever mockumentary poking fun at the divide between "real conversation" and performance and particularly at My Dinner with Andre, which it was a riff on. Others see it as stupid or boring...We'll watch the other Kaufman stuff and then watch the Blassie piece together to see what the class consensus is.

Lee, looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday.

Joshua Shea said...

Quick anecdote:

At the WWF Fan Festival held before Wrestlemania XI in Hartford, I had my only chance to meet Fred Blassie. He was signing autographs, but nobody was lined up, so I walked over. I figured I could talk to the guy since he appeared lonely and I'd be nice since nobody wanted his autograph. I walked over and broke the ice with "You know, when I was a little kid, I was scared to death of you." He signed my program and yelled at me "And you still should be, you pencil necked geek, now get the hell out of here."

Scared to death, I left.

Sam Ford said...

Now THAT story is priceless.

Carolina said...

I think a large part of Freddie Blassie's success is that he stayed in tune with his heel character all the time. I remember in the article about him that Vince Jr. was a huge fan of him, and I think it was largely due to him always being in tune with who he was in the ring. I like how you pointed out that he wasn't the most outstanding wrestler in the ring, since his arsenal mostly consisted of biting and tearing at his opponents - but I just think this was his character in action. Freddie Blassie is an example of someone who got over almost completely on personality, charisma, and a razor sharp wit that had people hating him. It made the video we watched, Breakfast with Blassie, pretty hilarious in my opinion. If I had watched that video knowing nothing about Freddie Blassie beforehand, I would've become a huge fan just by that video alone.

Rob said...

Yes, I think you're right on with a lot of this.

One thing that piqued my interest with Blassie was when we read that he apparently was the person who brought Hogan to Japan and taught him how to be a star there, and that apparently, unlike other wrestlers, Hogan was very attentive to his advice.

That seems like a bit of an odd couple, seeing how much of a good guy superman Hogan became, and how much of a bad guy jerk Blassie was. You might think perhaps they just diverged at some point, or imagine there wasn't much of an impact or connection between the two, but I think spending over 2 years working closely with someone means quite a bit.

Thinking about my earlier post on Hogan, what we've read of Hogan more recently, and who Blassie was, I'm seeing a lot of common threads that I think reinforce my initial thoughts on Hogan.

Really, they're both just completely in love with their own personalities and being on stage. They love to be big. They love to build muscle. They love to talk. They love money. They love exotic locations. They love wrestling, and it all shines through so easily for both of them.

Blassie and Hogan... two peas in a pod? Maybe!

Anonymous said...

I had seen Blassie here and there over the years, and with the pieces from class had gotten a bit more exposure, but in 'Breakfast with Blassie', we got to see what was basically one very long character building promo featuring himself and Kaufman. And honest to goodness, despite all the horrible things he would say, just being Blassie, I could not help but love the guy. You love and hate him at the same time, which may be key to his fantastic character dynamic, and longevity over the years. Yes, he's an asshole, and full of himself, and all that, but in ways he really is Classy Freddie Blassie, and can _still_ manage to win you over, despite your reservations. Now that is talent.