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Wrestling with the Past: Ladies and Gentlemen, Gorgeous George is Here

Wrestling wth the Past returns with the a tribute to the 65th anniversary of one of Pro Wrestling's most important moments - the television debut of Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George Wagner with his wife Elizabeth (Betty) at court for name change in Los Angeles, Calif., 1950
Gorgeous George Wagner with his wife Elizabeth (Betty) at court for name change in Los Angeles, Calif., 1950
Los Angeles Daily News, Dec. 27, 1950 | via Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library

This article is an exclusive Cageside Features Guest Column by: John S. Nash

"Professional wrestling... has no history, only a past."

- John Ford


"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

- The Phantom of the Ring


November 11, 1947.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Gorgeous George is coming."

The words spoken by the announcer mean nothing to you today... and yet you can't help but feel a tinge of anticipation for what it foreshadows.

It is Armistice Day, and you are "celebrating" the holiday, the first to honor all of America's veterans, and not just those of the First World War. You and your new bride, who is also your old high school sweetheart, are seated on your neighbor's couch, nursing beers, as your eyes are glued to an RCA 640TS. Vacuum tubes project a grainy black and white image of a capacity auditorium crowd on its 10" screen. Wrestling from Los Angeles, California is on tonight.

You haven't watched much wrestling, or television for that matter, before. You've never actually owned one, or even known someone who has, until now. And although wrestling doesn't interest you, today you'll watch it, because it's on television, and you'd watch anything on television. At least that is what you told yourself.

How things have changed.

Only a few years ago you were crawling on your belly on some unnamed Islands in the Pacific, or trampling across a field in Europe, while your girl, the woman you now call your wife, was working long hours at a "man's job" as a mechanic, a cab driver, or on a factory assembly line producing the weapons to get you home.

The two of you survived the War, and before that a Great Depression, and now you are getting your chance at peace and the so-called "good life". You have a home in the suburbs, a job that pays the bills, night classes (thanks to the GI bill), a wife you love, and soon a family. The world finally makes sense, and that is the way its supposed to be, right?

A red carpet is unrolled down the aisle, followed by the first notes of "Pomp and Circumstance". From behind the curtain appears a sharply dressed man holding a silver serving tray, carrying a whisk broom and a giant spray canister. You are informed this is Jeffrey Jeffries, the val-et-tay of Mr. George.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Gorgeous George is here."

You sit up a little.

And now you see... him. And it goes without saying, you have never seen anyone like Gorgeous George before. Dressed in a flowing robe, with long, meticulously blonde curled hair, put up in some elaborate woman's hairdo ("The Marcel" done by Frank and Joseph of Hollywood, as you are informed later). He walks, no, he struts towards the ring, pausing to disdainfully wave at the booing audience, peering down his nose at them as he does so. An expletive from the crowd is met with the reply "peasants."

Once at the ring, his opponent, the crowd, and you are all forced to wait, as first his valet sprays the ring down with something called Chanel Number 10 ("why be half-safe?") and then assists the Toast of the Coast, the Sensation of the Nation, the Human Orchid in carefully removing the platinum "Georgie pin" from his now flowing locks. During the whole proceeding he is showered with boos.

Your frustration only grows as he recoils from the touch of the referee who has come to check his person for foreign substances. "Get your filthy hands off of me!", he yells in disgust. Eventually he concedes to be examined, but only after the referee's hands have been disinfected. Even then, the match is further delayed as his valet assists him in removing a robe that costs more than your car. Just one of the 88 that he owns, you are told.

Man, how you want to see this man lose.

Your anger at George pales in comparison to the white-hot hatred and disgust being vocalized by the live crowd. Fans are literally screaming for his blood as the match gets underway. They will have to wait, for the man is a coward.

When his opponent tries to clinch with him, he moves away. When there is a risk of his hair being messed, he complains to the referee. And when threatened in any way, he runs; around the ring, through the ropes, around the curtain, anywhere, to keep from wrestling. When forced to finally do so, he cheats. "Lose if you must, win if you can, but always cheat!" becomes his much repeated credo.

There is nothing manly about anything he does... and yet, strangely and slowly something makes you start to laugh. And soon you are secretly cheering for this sissy who has the crowd so riled up.

Little do you realize that this absurd character is instigating a revolution at this very moment. That in the weeks, months and years to come he will have almost single-handedly made wrestling the number one attraction on television. Or that other stars like Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne and Killer Kowalski will find the spotlight on them, in part, thanks to Gorgeous George. And certainly not that by the 50s ten-million fans will be watching wrestling weekly on their television sets.

Television sets they buy because of him. He will be credited with selling more of them than even Uncle Milton Berle. He will be named Mr. Television in 1949. "I don't know if I was made for television, or if television was made for me," he will famously say.

His impact will go WAY beyond the ringed circle and television. He will be credited with introducing "camp" to the mainstream public. A Reader's Digest Poll will suggest he is better known than the President. Mohammed Ali will claim he learned his trash-talking from him. Dylan, James Brown, John Waters, Liberace ("He stole my whole act"), and more, are inspired and influenced by one "Gorgeous" George Wagner.

Professional wrestling will never be the same, as the absurd is introduced to the sport. Characters will follow by the dozens. His persona and his act will be repeated by "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, Superstar Billy Graham, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Ric Flair, Adrian Adonis, "Macho Man" Randy Savage and the dozens of imitators they spawn as well.

But none of this is known to you yet. All you know for certain is that you want to see him again.

And that you have to buy a television.

via GoldenAge2008, YouTube

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