The landscape of professional wrestling today would not be the spectacle that we know and love without the influence of one man: George Raymond Wagner aka Gorgeous George. Gorgeous George wasn't the first gimmick wrestler or dastardly heel but he was the one who took these things to new heights. He embodied the motto "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!".
For as influential as Gorgeous George was, if you ask the average fan if they know who he is they most likely would respond with a blank stare. Since this is the case, I am busting out a little fanpost I wrote to get people to vote for Gorgeous George in the Cageside Seats Greatest Wrestler Tournament and inducting him into the Underrated and Underappreciated Wrestler Series.
Gorgeous George was undoubtedly the greatest heel, and in my opinion, one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the business. I can hear you screaming at your computer now -- "WHAT ABOUT HOGAN'S HEEL RUN!?! PEOPLE THREW TRASH AT HIM IN THE RING!!!" Gorgeous George would laugh off that suggestion and have Hogan shooed off by his valet.
Full scale riots and brawls involving the occasional stabbing were not uncommon at Gorgeous George matches due to his actions and the crowds hatred for him. A single Gorgeous George entrance created more heat than most wrestlers get in their entire careers. George turned the entrance from a way to simply get to the ring, to a spectacle in and of itself.
George would come out to the ring to music (the first wrestler to do so) ushered in by his valet who would spray the walkway, ring, the ref, and his opponent with disinfectant. As he would slowly make his way to the ring with his blond curls and fancy robe he would toss flowers and golden pins into the audience. He would proceed to make a ceremony out of removing his robe and protest the inspection process from the ref.
His pre-match ritual and spectacle can be seen here:
Gorgeous George was no slouch once the bell rang either. An experienced freestyle wrestler in his youth, George was respected by his peers for his abilities inside the ring. Even Lou Thesz, who despised gimmick wrestlers with a passion, begrudgingly admitted that Gorgeous George had mat skills.
Although the action may not hold up by today's standard of great in-ring action, the one thing that holds up is his in-ring psychology. Gorgeous George was brilliant when it came to telling a story and crafting a narrative in the ring. His character work didn't end when the bell rang. He would cheat, run away, utilize the ropes, rage if his hair was touched, get into it with the refs, and much more to get the crowd into the match and on the side of his opponent. There were none better at telling a story and making a match exciting by doing the little things right.
The simple fact of the matter is that Gorgeous George was the most influential wrestler in the history of this business. Professional wrestling would not be the great spectacle that it is today without Gorgeous George. He popularized the entertainment part of sports entertainment. In-ring weddings and the hair match were brought to us by the Human Orchid. George was the first in a long line of wrestlers to capitalize on the concept that people will pay for the chance to see you get beat.
A significant part of his legacy as an entertainer is the establishment of wrestling on television -- and television itself. Steve Slagle of The Ring Chronicle wrote that:
"In a very real sense, Gorgeous George single-handedly established the unproven new technology of television as a viable entertainment medium that could reach literally millions of homes all across the country. Pro wrestling was TV's first real "hit" ...and Gorgeous George was directly responsible for all of the commotion. He was probably responsible for selling more television sets in the early days of TV than any other factor."
Gorgeous George in the height of the Golden Age of Wrestling was not only the highest paid and most recognizable wrestler, he was the highest paid and most recognizable entertainer.
To put it in perspective, imagine if John Cena were to be more popular and higher paid than people like Tom Cruise and George Clooney. The popularity and draw of Gorgeous George would lead the way to getting wrestling back inside Madison Square Garden for the first time in twelve years.
The influence of Gorgeous George can be seen in the performers of today. He popularized the flamboyant, show off, and braggart heel that we all know and love. His influence can most directly be seen in Buddy Rogers and Ric Flair, but many more have taken aspects of the heel persona that George perfected and incorporated it into their own.
This influence wasn't just inside the business but outside it as well. Many entertainers and athletes have taken cues from Gorgeous George. He is integral to American pop culture, as well as the wrestling business. Don't let me convince you however, let Muhammad Ali do it for me: