We have, as I intended to, been posting our limited class discussion time and our blog posts on the analysis pieces about wrestling, rather than talking at length about our ongoing learning of the world of of pro wrestling in the territory era from Ole Anderson.
I appreciate Ole’s book for a few reasons for the purposes we are discussing in this class:
- He was a wrestler, and he was a booker. And he writes extensively about both.
- He takes great care in talking about the logic of the art of professional wrestling, evaluating good performance and bad performance, etc.
- He is very plain-spoken and—while he seems invested in being admired in his own way—he’s not deeply invested in being liked.
- His career spans the 1960s through the 1990s and demonstrates the massive changes in the world of pro wrestling from someone who didn’t necessarily come out on the best side of it all.
In our round of reading from Ole for this week, I was particularly taken by his continued great pains to describe what made for logical booking and what didn’t: for instance, the exception he took when people like Harley Race insisted on booking just to surprise people with something they didn’t expect, or the pride he took in finishing a match by throwing his opponent’s head into the head of his partner, Gene, in order to win…It certainly demonstrates the logic and narrative in thinking about how shows were booked.
Of particular interest to me, though, was the chapter on Johnny Valentine, a character we have watched in the ring and who really is known as one of the oddest performers in wrestling history. As noted, Johnny was one of those guys who seemed to be working all the time. He was described as going into a trance often during matches, that he didn’t even break backstage. It was somewhat unclear how much he was just weird or how much he was just invested in performing the character he developed at all times.
But I thought it was of particular interest to see Ole lay out how Johnny’s act eventually came to mesmerize the crowd and how, if promoters hadn’t had patience in him, they wouldn’t have realized the brilliance behind how Johnny conditioned the audience to react to him. (Not to mention, of course, the truly disgusting sorts of practical jokes Johnny engaged in…)
But I hope Ole’s first-hand account of understanding the world of pro wrestling in the Carolinas, in Georgia, and in Florida (among other territories) has been a helpful complement to all we’ve been discussing thus far.