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Book review: Bruce Hart's "Straight From The Hart" is entertaining, but problematic

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Bruce Hart's autobiography "Straight From The Hart" (available now) is the latest in the long line of books that are either in a large part about the Hart family and their Stampede Wrestling promotion or feature them in depth.  As a big fan of the promotion and many of those books, I had been looking forward to this one for a long time.  While it can be very entertaining, it's often for the wrong reasons.  The book is filled with statements that often come off as pretty out there, whether it's bad memory or an agenda or something else.  A lot of these center around his brother Bret.  

The most outlandish-sounding claim is that when their mother Helen was on her deathbed and an hour away from dying, Bret entered her hospital room, saw his sister Diana (who had just written a controversial book about the family that was eventually recalled when Owen's widow Martha took legal action), and literally reached over his dying mother to grab his sister by the neck.  Bruce then goes on to say that security guards had to pull Bret off and remove him from the room.  When reached for comment, Bret's representatives told me that "Bret has no recollection of anything like that happening. In fact, when Helen passed away, he elected not to go to the hospital the night she died. In other words, what Bruce wrote is completely false."  Also, in his book, Bret noted that Helen died at 3:30 AM local time while he was lying awake in bed.  A few sources who are well connected to the family told me that they had never heard the story before.

His account of how he met his wife Andrea doesn't match the one given in "Pain and Passion," Heath McCoy's excellent book about the Harts and Stampede.  Bruce writes about a chance meeting with beautiful woman who helped him change a tire, possibly thanks to divine intervention.  Then he saw her again at a Stampede event and their relationship took off from there.  According to McCoy, Bruce first met Andrea when substitute teaching at her junior high school.  A few years later, they reconnected when she started going to the Stampede shows in Calgary and "the Hart family was horrified" when he began dating this teenager.  Keith Hart (the third oldest brother after Smith and Bruce) told McCoy that their parents were worried about a scandal that would impact the promotion, and the worrying got worse in early 1983 when 16 year old Andrea told the family that she was pregnant by 33 year old Bruce.  Ross Hart defended Bruce to McCoy, saying that "All of us were aware of the age difference, but they seemed to really love each other, and their marriage was quite sound...We didn't publicize it...but it wasn't any sort of scandal."  At any rate, Bruce's version doesn't resemble what his family says is the truth.

Those are probably the most notable/memorable/whatever examples.  Suffice to say, a lot of what he says comes off as questionable, and a lot of those things involve Bret, who he comes off as having very complicated relationship with.  Countless stories in the book are about how Bret allegedly wronged him or someone else in the family.

One of these stories is definitely true, as Bret told it in his own book, and reading Bruce's account it made me wonder if it was the root of their problems getting really bad.  In 1993, when proposing the brother vs brother feud to Bret, Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson had suggested Bruce.  Owen was already on the roster and a decidedly better performer, so Bret suggested him instead, and thus the famous feud went the way we remember it.  Bruce argues that he should've gotten the gig because Owen was already making decent money in the WWF, and Bruce was in need of a steadier income than what he made as a substitute teacher.

It's clearly a sore spot, plus there is definitely some merit to Bruce's argument, so it makes you wonder.  Then again, Bruce was never a strong promo (Owen wasn't especially good as a talker yet, but he was a lot better than Bruce), not close to the in-ring wrestler Owen was (especially in 1993), and a much more abrasive personality than Owen, who was beloved by his peers.  In addition, Owen fit the storyline better as the youngest brother.  If Bruce was in in Owen's spot, would it have taken off in the first place and led to the long, memorable feud that we got, or would it have been cut off early?  Could he have risen to the occasion?  I think Bret did make the right decision for business, but Bruce definitely has a right to think he should have gone with with proposed plan and let him make the money he badly needed.

The book isn't all uncomfortable family feuding.  Earlier on, there are various interesting and amusing stories, though again, they often come off as lacking credibility.  The rib that he says Terry Funk pulled on him as a teenager making a trip to Amarillo is so funny that I pray it's true.  Likewise, his other trips outside of Calgary, whether it's to Europe or Hawaii (where he says he got his first booking job thanks to Peter Maivia) are all interesting reading and come before the book gets more bitter.  Speaking of his booking experience, which extended into Stampede Wrestling during its most famous period in the '80s, he doesn't go into a lot of detail about his booking philosophy, which is disappointing, as I always appreciate that kind of content in books by wrestlers who booked for long stretches.

The part where the book comes off as most in need of a fact checking is another Bret-centered story: Everything having to do with the Montreal screwjob.  He gets a lot of basic facts of what happened wrong, but a lot of them have nothing to do with slanting the story in an anti-Bret direction.  For example, he refuses to believe that Bret had any kind of creative control clause in his contract as has been reported.  He did not have total creative control, nor any official creative control unless the deal were to end early.  Then he would have "reasonable creative control" (defined as Bret and Vince McMahon both having to agree on creative decisions about Bret's character) for the last 30 days he was in the WWF.  In spite of all this, Bruce does have an interesting view on why it was a bad idea for Vince to do what he did.

Overall, the earlier parts of the book are much better than things get later on as Bret gets in the business, goes to the WWF, becomes a star, etc.  Since he's not butting heads with Bret all the time, he has much less of an agenda and the problems are limited more to memory issues and/or typical wrestler BS.  His stories about growing up in the Hart family and learning the wrestling business, his trip to visit the Funks in Texas, breaking in, etc. are all interesting reading, and make you wish for a less messy later section of the book.   He definitely has a knack for telling entertaining stories, but it's hard to believe a lot of what he says.  The book's greatest value is probably as another source for piecing together the various versions of the Hart and Stampede legacy: Don't believe everything you read, but consider it in light of what others have said.  If you're into reading about the Harts, it's worth a look, but you need to know what you're getting into.  It's not an authoritative look at the Harts and Stampede as much as life as Bruce Hart looks back on it, and his perspective is...interesting.

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