Spoiler alert: He’s dead.
Now that that’s out of the way, Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? is a collection of road stories, biographies, and anecdotes from and on the first golden age of American professional wrestling, written by former Sports Illustrated writer Joe Jares.
His father wrestled professionally thought the United States as The Thing, among various other monikers, and Jares shares the tales his dad told him on summer road trips through the old territories. This is not a collection of stories sold to sell a specific organization’s narrative, nor is it a deeply-researched scholarly text providing a definitive history of the theatric-athletic genre.
Instead, it’s an insider’s view of mad men, monsters, and a woman with a cauliflowered head — who just so happened to be family men and women, average Joes (and Janes) who go to church on Sundays, with the occasional hardcore alcoholic, scumbag office manager, and woo-woo new age vegetarian thrown in.
Just like the people who fill our every day lives.
And just like the people in our mundane world, there’s a hearty amount of BS in the tall tales these guys told when asked about their day at work — but who are we judge their stories? Along with Jares, we’re just listening as we go along for the ride.
The book reads like a collection of longform articles that wouldn’t be out of place on Grantland (RIP *pours one out*) or Deadspin. The first two chapters were, in fact, originally written by Jares for publication in Sports Illustrated. There’s a good chunk of paper in the appendix dedicated to common wrestling holds and — gasp — real names! In 1974, when the book was published, there was neither Wikipedia nor Wreddit nor Dave frickin’ Meltzer. This must have been a revelation to wrestling fans who didn’t subscribe to the myriad of bulletins going around the fandom at the time. To civilian readers, on the other hand, it was a peculiar Playbill for those shows on TV and in the armory downtown.
Today’s hardcore, long-time, old-school fan will appreciate the trip down memory lane. Newer fans will get an education in the history of pro wrestling and learn some new names to search for on YouTube when looking for something to cleanse the palate after one anemic spot-fest too many.
Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? can be found on Amazon, around $45 (used). Smaller library systems might not have a copy; my local library didn’t and they interlibrary loaned it for me. The copy I received saw nowhere nearly as much action as the stories published inside.
Still, it’s a damned interesting book.
The endpapers are fantastic.
If you don’t want to make your local library fork over cash for an interlibrary loan and you don’t want to shell out nearly fifty bucks for a first edition, you’re in luck. An independent publisher, Crowbar Press, specializing in pro wrestling books, sells a new edition for just over $20. It’s not as snazzy, but it’s cheaper, lighter, and has more pictures.
I very much enjoyed both editions and am happy to have added the second edition to my shelf (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t covet the first). My one complaint — and this is truly my only complaint, and it’s a lame one at that — is that Jares mentioned Mil Mascaras and his brother El Sicodelico as among the greats of lucha libre … but not Dos Caras. El Sicodelico sucked compared to Dos Caras.
That’s my one complaint.
8/10. Would read again on a trip then pass on to my friend. Happy re-gifted birthday gift, Laynie!!!