Category Archives: Interviews

J.J. Dillon

Though he'd eventually be more famous as the leader of the Four Horsemen, J.J. Dillon got his first bit of national exposure in Pittsburgh. That's when he was Jim Dillon, wrestling both sides of the fence and learning the ropes in 1970 and 1971. Writer Denny Natale noticed the young man, a graduate of Albright College in Pennsylvania, and penned a pretty honest piece with him for Wrestling Revue in May 1971, as Dillon discussed his undercard work against the likes of Bobby Hunt and Frank Durso. "I don't think my style changes much from match to match; it's the just the crowd reaction to my opponent," he explained. " As Natale concluded: "With Dillon's determination, ability, and love for the sport, his future success is assured. Such established stars as Prof. Toru Tanaka and George Steele have predicted a fruitful career for the youngster. Jim Dillon is determined to prove them correct. The way he sees it, his most difficult times are behind him."

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Dillon grabs a headlock

Recently, Count Grog asked Dillon to reflect on his time in the Steel City.
As Dillon noted:

Pittsburgh will always be a special place to me. I had my first sanctioned single match at the Channel 11 studio on December 7, 1968 against Killer Kowalski. I spent a good part of 1971 working weekends in and around Pittsburgh. I met Jim Grabmire and he opened the door for me to go to Charlotte and get booked full-time in 1971.

How did you end up working in Pittsburgh?

In 1970, I was working in a management training program with a trucking company (Jones Motor Company from PA). The company sent me to Detroit and I was wrestling a few dates a month. Because Detroit was heavily unionized I was limited in what I could do at my job, so they moved me on and sent me to Niles, Ohio. It was at the far end of the Detroit territory and I felt I would be isolated and any bookings I had been getting would dry up. Bruno Sammartino was involved in the promotion in Pittsburgh and he lived there.  I knew Bruno well from my days as a referee and through him I started working every weekend  (they only ran on weekends).

Any memories of working Studio Wrestling from Channel 11 in Pittsburgh?

I guess the Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling was like many others, but it was special to me because of my match with Kowalski in 1968.  I remember that the studio was on the top of a steep hill, and Bill Cardille was well known in the area.


Bill Cardille used to call you "Swayback." What were your thoughs on that?

Bill Cardille did call me "Swayback," and as I think back I did carry myself as if I had a swayback. I didn't have the typical wrestler build and the swayback look was probably my way of diverting attention from my physique. I was tall and rather lean and that made the swayback look seem even more pronounced.

 
You lost a fall on TV to Jerry Dorsey. Any memory of that match?

I don't remember dropping the fall to Jerry Dorsey, but I lost a lot of falls in those days and throughout my career.

What wrestlers do you recall standing out in Pittsburgh?

I remember George "The Animal" Steele and Ivan Koloff  being regulars as was Victor Rivera.

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Jim Dillon

Did you receive any kind of "Push" while in Pittsburgh?

I didn't really get any kind of push during my stay in Pittsburgh. However, I was more interested in working steadily every weekend and getting as much experience as possible under my belt.

Name association:

Johnny DeFazio – great worker that had a great job working with a local union.

Frank Holtz –  A big guy that could have worked anywhere.

Bobby "Hurricane" Hunt – a black wrestler that was very athletic..

Jim Grabmire –  big and stiff, with a heart of gold.  He got me booked full-time.

Frank Durso –  another great performer.  Saw him at the Hall of Fame this year  in Amsterdam, NY for the first time since I left Pittsburgh.

Tony Marino – He was big star during his career, and he was really over in Pittsburgh.

Ace Freeman – An old-timer that worked in the office; very hard of hearing.

any final thoughts on Pittsburgh as a territory?

As a general statement, the local guys working Pittsburgh could have gone on the road and been successful in just about any territory. However, most had good jobs and so it was the best of both worlds. They enjoyed wrestling but didn't want to go on the road. It was great for the wrestling fans in and around Pittsburgh because the quality of the whole roster was outstanding.

Photo credits: Brian Bukantis, Wrestleprints.com

For more on J.J. Dillon, click here for the SLAM! Wrestling profile. 

George “The Animal” Steele

Teacher of Mayhem

There was no fiercer competitor in the Pittsburgh area than George "The Animal" Steele. A graduate of Michigan State, Steele was a teacher before, and even during, his wrestling career. A constant gate attraction, Steele was renowned for his matches against WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino. Many fans remember him for his green tongue (it was a breath mint, for the record). Greg Mosorjak recently fired a number of questions at Steele, and here are his interesting answers.

How did you get into pro wrestling and who trained you?

I was looking for a part time job. I was not a wrestling. A friend talked me into calling the local promoter Burt Ruby. I was trained by Gino Brito.

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George “The Animal” Steele comes to ringside.

I know you have stated no one helped you with your gimmick; it was all you. How did you come up with the gimmick and how did you invent your style?

First of all, I never considered my character a gimmick. Things just happened each year. When I would go back to teaching each fall I would tweak my character a little. If I ever get my book finished, this will become more clear.

When did you first came to the Pittsburgh territory, and who or what brought you there?

1967. — The first time I saw Bruno wrestle was in Detroit's Cobo Arena. Bruno had a entourage with him. I had never been on a card with a real world champion (yes, I was a mark but I did not know it). Bruno worked with Bulldog Brower that night. It was a weak match, but I was excited. Three weeks later, I got a call from [Pittsburgh promoter] Ace Freeman.

Were you put right in with Bruno, or did you work your way up through the ranks against DeFazio, Battman, Tony Parisi, etc.?

My first match in the Civic Arena was a tag match; Battman and Bruno versus Dr. Bill Miller and George Steele. My second, third and fourth were with Bruno.

In the summer of 1970, your brother came to Pittsburgh and worked under a hood as Professor X. Did you train him? Why did he leave the business?

Jack and had went to the gym to train a couple times. Jack had a wrestling background from his college days. Jack was a good worker, but Jack did not like working.

Your matches in Pittsburgh against Bruno were classics and often marathons in terms of time. How did you stay in shape back then wrestling a part-time schedule while teaching?

I did not do anything special. I always had great endurance; it came natural to me.

Tell me about your schedule of teaching and wrestling? Did your students ever know?

In Detroit and Michigan, I wrestled under the mask as The Student.

Besides Bruno, who were some of the leaders in the locker room in Pittsburgh?

Dr. Bill Miller, Johnny DeFazio and Lou Albano.

Who were some of the wrestlers you were close friends with back then and who did you travel with back then to the smaller towns like Johnstown, Altoona, Uniontown, etc.?

Lou Albano and Tony Altimore, Waldo von Erich, Joe Abby, Baron Scicluna, Frank Holtz, Frank Dorso, Bucky Palermo, Ace Freeman and Rudy Miller.

Any good road stories or locker room stories you can share with us?

So many that I don't where to start. Pittsburgh was very good to me. I believe that I was very good for Pittsburgh.

How were Ace Freeman and Rudy Miller to work for? Were payoffs good back then?

Ace Freeman and Rudy Miller were great. My first great payoff were in Pittsburgh.

Do you have one match that was most memorable from the Pittsburgh area?

The time the crazy state commissioner DQ'ed Bruno and started the riot.

I'd like to ask you about some of the key players back then in Pittsburgh and tell me about them. Bill Cardille the TV announcer?

Without Bill Cardille, there would have been no Channel 11 Studio Wrestling.

Waldo von Erich

Was a super star and a super guy.

Battman

Was over in the Civic Arena.

Johnny DeFazio

If Bruno was not the WWWF champion, Johnny DeFazio could have been. Johnny is a very smart man.

Frank Holtz

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The Animal on the prowl.

The wrestling cop. Another local that could have made it anywhere.

Geeto Mongol

A very solid worker. The promoter that booked The Animal against Victor The Bear.

Baron Scicluna

Is one of my very best friends in the wrestling business. Baron Scicluna is a real class guy.

Eric the Red

God Bless Eric the Red. This is the only wrestler that could drink with Andre.

The Sheik (Not really Pittsburgh, but you worked a lot for him in Detroit)

Was just one the greatest heels of all time and I was lucky to learn from The Sheik.

Bruno Sammartino

In those days Bruno was the greatest. I really had a ton of respect for Bruno Sammartino as a man.

Ringside Rosy

We cannot talk about Pittsburgh Wrestling and not mention Ringside Rosy. She was the greatest and she was not part of the TV show.

Pie Traynor

Was Mr Pittsburgh.

You used the flying hammerlock back then. Is this a hold you came up with?

Ricky "The Crusher" Cortez used the flying hammerlock as a high spot. I just took it a step farther.

Did you like having a manager or did you prefer to go it alone? I know later in the WWWF you had Lou Albano.

As The Student, I had one of the greatest managers of all time, Gary Hart. When I came to Pittsburgh, I did all of my own talking, Daddio!

You were a master of using a foreign object and hiding it from the ref. Did a fan ever try to get the object from you as you were hiding it?

No, but Mad Dog Vachon threw it to the crowd once. I used the same foreign object for 37 years and I still have the same one.

Were you ever attacked by a fan, or should I say a non-fan?

The fans were afraid of THE ANIMAL. If the fans started to getting too rambunctious, I would chase them. I did have few lawsuits from fans that ran over each other.

What injuries did you suffer in the ring?

Nothing real serious; it was a work. I tore my biceps during a TV match.

Tell about your move to wrestling full time in the WWF?

By that time the business had changed and "The Animal" had changed. I had gone from bring one of the wildest heels in the history of the wrestling to a cartoon character. I love working heel but the cartoon character helped us improve our life style.

What are you up to now?

I have a very successful home-based business. I have turned my life over to the Lord. I spend on my message board "The Animal House." George Steele started his career in Pittsburgh and I am kind of back where I started. Arte Tedesco, a folk singer from Pittsburgh, is now my business manager. Arte Tedesco owns the Monkey Fist Production company. Do you smell what we have cooking?

Thanks to George Steele

— Greg Mosorjak
January 2005

Don Fargo

Still Crazy After All These Years

In a recent conversation, we talked with the legendary Don Fargo about how he brought Johnny Fargo (Greg Valentine) to a position of importance in the National Wrestling Federation. Don't forget to check out Don's DVD , either.

You were in Detroit first, then Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. What were your impressions of “The Hammer” when he was 19, 20 years old?

He looked exactly like his dad. That was the main thing. I saw him and kept him around me a lot because he was a good kid. He worked like his dad [Johnny Valentine].Image

Slow.

Slow and stiff. I grew up on the idea, I started him as a manager and he worked with me managing for a while, he was probably about 18. I didn’t know him when he was a little kid. I knew his dad a lot. But he just didn’t cut it as a manager. So I gave him the name, Babyface Nelson in Detroit with The Sheik. We hung around so much together, I needed a tag partner bad and he was it. To tell you the truth, we had as good a tag team as me and Jackie had, if not better.

Buffalo was when we really hit it big, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, all that way. His girlfriend and my girlfriend, we lived by Niagara Falls.

How was Pedro Martinez to work for?

Like all the rest – hard [laughs]. Of course, not so much with John. He was dry; he wasn’t like me. I liked to rib people and get sort of loud.

And you been around at that point for the better part of 20 years.

Oh yeah, I started in 1949.

So this is ’70, ’71, ’72.

Yeah. You see, fans believed we were brothers. Pedro made us champions, tag champions. As I say, he was dry, but after a while, he got with the program. One time, Pedro’s kid [Ron Martinez] was doing the interviews. So we went to this one town to do it – I can’t remember the name – and Ronnie was standing out front, getting ready to announce us, the Fargos, coming out to talk. We were supposed to walk out from behind the curtain. We come out naked. I mean, he went, “Oh, no, man, cut! Aww, cut!” That’s when they were still taping things. And he said, “Get your damn tights and singlets.” We go back and put on our tights and everything. We had to start over again. We took a felt pen, and I put F-U-C-K on my chest, and Y-O-U on his chest and he announces us again … “fuck you!” I guess Johnny was getting to be like his dad, because his dad was a helluva ribber.

Was that a good territory to work, Buffalo, Cleveland?

Oh, yeah, it was great, but it was so goddamned cold. You’d freeze up there in the wintertime, boy. I’ll tell you, we did one time, too with Pedro’s son … me and Hammer were working Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he [Ron Martinez] wanted to stay over because he had some stuff to do and he had just bought a new Cadillac convertible. He wanted to know if we would drive it back to Buffalo for him. We said, “Hell, yeah, man.” So me and John, we get in, we’re flying down the turnpike, man, I’m sitting on top of the seat, the radio’s going full blast, I’m naked and Johnny’s driving. We’re just going like hell. We didn’t hear the goddamned engine knocking. We blew the damn engine in his new car! And we had to hitchhike. And we had to tell him his car’s sitting about 100 miles out. We told him where it was at and he had to go get it.

I don’t ever recall John talking on camera when you two guys were together.

Yeah, I did all the talking. Even when he was the Hammer, somebody did the talking.

His dad would put somebody in a headlock for five minutes and hold it. Did you work with John on changing any of that?

That’s the way they did it in those days. I had a match one time with an old-timer and he put me in a headlock. I stayed in that damned headlock, I’ll bet ya, for thirty minutes. I’d get up, he’d roll me over, the people we’re going crazy. You do that now, they’d probably curse you.

You guys always seemed to fight Luis Martinez.

I’ve got that on my videotape. I was there when, I think it was Buffalo, when the bear bit his finger off. The bear ate it. He was looking around the mat for his finger and the bear was eating it.

You were there for a couple years, and I think you went on to the Gulf Coast after that.

What happened was me and John broke up. Then his dad got hurt and he looked so much like his dad, he went to Carolina and was a big star there with Ric Flair. That was a good team.

And you had more aliases.

All told, someone told me I had 18 different gimmicks, 18 different names. I just found out two more records the other day. I forgot I wrestled as “The Fonz,” Fonzo Fargo.

How are you doing now? When I talked to you last, you were just getting over the hurricanes.

It destroyed us. What a mess it was. I just left it alone. Trees are too big and rolled over, roots are too high … hell, it would bulldozers and tractors. The dogs are O.K. They live in the house, anyhow.

© February 2006 SteelBeltWrestling.com

“Flying” Bobby Marshall

Balancing school, teaching, and wrestling 

Marshall Caplan, aka Flying Bobby Marshall, was well-known in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Buffalo area in the early 1970s. Caplan was a regular on National Wrestling Federation TV and house shows for promoter Pedro Martinez, usually on the undercard, at the same time he was attending McMaster University. Later, he earned three degrees. The Hamilton, Ont.

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Bobby Marshall is signing autographs at a house show in Dunkirk, NY in 1972.

native was a teacher and counselor, and is known for acting and modeling work as well, which he pursues from his home in Vancouver, B.C. The following excerpts are from a recent conversation with Marshall about his career before, during, and after wrestling.

How did you get involved in this?

I was at university and I weight trained with a lot of wrestlers.

That was at McMaster, right?

Yes, in Hamilton. I did a lot of weight training with them and there were actually wrestling mats in the weight room. One thing led to another and I started. That’s kind of how it happened. I was actually a sophomore at university at the time. But I always had an interest in it. My father owned restaurants in the city of Hamilton. One of the restaurants was called Ringside Barbecue and it was full of pictures of boxers and wrestlers. He had a couple of restaurants over the years. He always used to promote the matches. They had the large posters and he put them in the windows of his restaurants and he always used to get tickets. So I’d go with my dad, as a kid. I always had this fascination with it so it was kind of in my mind — “I’d love to do this.” I was doing a lot of weight training because of my football playing and I just learned the business.

I think my first bout was when I was a junior in university and I went to Akron, Ohio and worked for Pedro Martinez. That’s basically how I got started. It was something that I was able to do while I was at university. He used me for eight months a year when I wasn’t playing football. When I finished university, I was drafted to play in the Canadian Football League and that didn’t work out. So I took a job teaching and I still wrestled on the side. So I did it for about seven years.

Do you remember your first match?

Vaguely. I think I wrestled Li’l Abner, and that was in Akron and they had me working as a heel the very first time. I don’t really remember too much about it. But that’s what I remember — being a heel, and it was a lot of fun. I guess I caught Pedro’s eye because I kept working for him.

Did you do any amateur wrestling in high school or was your focus on football?

My background, I took some judo and I wrestled at university for one year. I was a middle linebacker. McMaster is actually one of the top university football teams in Canada now. But in those days, there was no such thing as athletic scholarships in Canada, so I was using my wrestling income to pay my way through college.

What did a good middle linebacker weigh in those days?

I was around 220. But in wrestling, they always bill you higher than what you actually weighed. But I was in good shape and I think Pedro Martinez — he knew I was a student and he knew I wasn’t doing it full-time even though I think I would have liked to. But he just kind of gave me the opportunity to do something different and have a world where I was in academia and have this other world which was so diverse.

Did the people in academia know you were doing this on the side?

Yes, they’d scratch their heads. I’m getting a degree in psychology and I’m studying fourth-year deviant behavior, and here I am in a circus. Not to put down the guys because they were fabulous, but there was such a contrast in what I was doing career-wise, full-time, and here I was wrestling and I loved that opportunity live in both worlds. I was so much fun and I met so many interesting people. It was something that I needed to do.

How did you initially get hooked up with the [Pedro] Martinez promotion?

That was through Bill Terry, who became Kurt von Hess. Bill and I used to weight train together, and Bill introduced me to Pedro and got me my first booking. One thing led to another and, after that, they used me for a lot of the spot shows. I used to originally go down to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to do TV tapings, and the Cleveland shows were then going to be shown in Buffalo, which was our feed into Hamilton at the time. I said to Pedro, “Look, if this is going to be shown in my home market, I want to be put over,” and he agreed. So he billed me as the “Teenage Idol from Buffalo, NY.” He said, “If you can work full-time for me for about seven or eight months out of the year, we’ll see what we can do.” So I did that and it worked out well, up to a point. I guess the point where it became difficult was that I couldn’t do it full-time, so I was limited as to the number of bookings I could do, especially when I started working and teaching. At the time, we were living in Toronto. If I could drive to Buffalo or Rochester from my teaching job, which I often did — so anything that was local and within three hours, he would book me. But the loyalty in that has to be to the guys who are doing it full-time. So he used me whenever he could. It was great. I had a great experience. I wrestled up till about ’75. In 1976, I took a summer off and I went to the Greek Islands. I think I lost about 15 pounds. That kind of did it for me. I couldn’t keep the weight up because I always bulked up for football and wrestling. I just lost too much weight and couldn’t put the weight back on.

How much would you make for a show in those days?

Fifty to a hundred dollars. Certainly, not lucrative, but in those days, it helped me get through university, let’s put it that way. It wasn’t for everybody. It was an easy travel area. Everything was interstate and within a couple of hours of each other.

We used to quite often meet in Buffalo and I remember Pedro had a big limo. Five of us used to pile in the limo and he’d take us to the various towns. That was quite something. It was really quite an experience.

 

Was he the one who “changed” your name and gave you a nom de plume?

No, actually, when we were driving down to Akron, there was three or four guys in the car with us and we were trying to come up with a name. That’s the name that we came up with, Flying Bobby Marshall. “Flying” because I used to do flying dropkicks. It was kind of like a young babyface name.

 “I often think I would have liked to have done it for a couple years full-time. To be honest with you, I  would have never left because it gets into your blood.”

It was a good babyface promotion. Johnny Powers was the primary babyface.

Another Hamilton boy. Him and Bulldog Brower were the top guns. Ernie Ladd used to come in and work for them. In fact, I remember driving to Cleveland — I picked up Ernie Ladd in Buffalo and drove him to Cleveland. What is he — 6-10? He had his hair dyed red and he had a red pantsuit on. Can you imagine getting out of the car and going into a restaurant? It was quite a scene.

So many of the guys died early. Bill Terry was good friend of mine. He passed away four or five years ago … Kurt von Hess. A lot of the guys, they just look a lot of bumps over the years and it kind of catches up.

Did you look up to anybody or pattern yourself after anybody when you were young?

I tried to do my own thing because I was fairly agile and I was a good athlete, so I tried to be as acrobatic as I could. Some of the people in the business that I really admired — one was Luis Martinez. He had a son my age and he always talking about my studies. “You’ve got to get your studies. Don’t go into this business full-time.” I really admired him. I just liked meeting with him and working with him. He was quite a good guy.

Was there anybody that you worked with a lot who you enjoyed working with?

I worked with Kurt von Hess a lot. We did a lot together. The cute thing is we’d often travel to the same matches because we were both from Hamilton and if I found out I was working with him, I’d have to get out a block away. He was a great guy and I’m really sorry he passed away.

It was really a hot territory for about two or three years. If you go back and look at the names of the people who were in and out of it … Ladd, Powers, von Erich… it really took a back seat to nobody.

You had top-notch guys. It was just the times. You know, wrestling had always had its up and downs. It’s just too bad that we all missed out on the big promotions that are occurring now. I hear it’s slowing down a little bit, but there’s huge TV revenues. But it’s full of steroids. You take a look at these guys. Those things were not around when I wrestled. We all weight trained. The guys now, they’re just so juiced up … it’s a shame.

Was there anybody you enjoyed watching from behind the curtain?

I enjoyed Bruno Sammartino. He was unique. Ernie Ladd was unique. Bulldog Brower was unique. As a youngster growing up, I can remember Whipper Billy Watson, Don Leo Jonathan, and Johnny Valentine. These were people that I remembered growing up, who were really the top names.

We used to go and see Bruno wrestle a fair amount. It was amazing the kind of reaction he could get in Pittsburgh by doing an armdrag.

Oh, he was such a popular guy in the city. I remember going there once and he sent us out to a restaurant to get dinner after a match. He just told us where to go. He said, “Just tell them Bruno sent you.” I mean, we had a feast. It was free; he didn’t want to charge us because Bruno had sent us over there. He was a very influential guy in Pittsburgh. He did a lot for the community. He was quite a powerful guy.

People would watch the first few matches sometimes and be interested, and so forth. But there was something when Bruno came out, something came across the crowd where all of a sudden, it was real and it was special.

You’re quite right. He had a certain aura about him which you don’t see certainly in today’s wrestling. You know who preceded him who I saw as a kid, was Lou Thesz. and he had the same persona. He walked into the ring just like he was a God, and he had a full length velour rbe, and he was just an icon. He had that same presence. So there were some guys who had that. Sammartino, certainly, was one of them.

Did you drive yourself around mostly?

Either myself, or I’d buddy up with somebody from Hamilton. Quite, often, we’d meet in Buffalo. It just depends how far we’d go. The road trips were something. Listen, I think you have more memories of the guys you worked with than the wrestling; the various drives you went on, the antics you went on. I once went on a wrestling tour of Newfoundland. There were three of us. I roomed with a deaf mute, a midget and myself. And the deaf mute kept writing notes to me accusing me of long-distance phone calls under his name and billing him for it. Here I was, studying for three university degrees and living like this. It was just totally wild.

Let me just toss some names at you from that time that I had talked to relatively recently. Donny Fargo?

I only worked with him a few times. His partner was Greg Valentine. He was pretty good. I only worked with him once or twice. He was quite a character. [Al] Costello; he was an icon. By the ’70s, he had been around for years. I think he had a hip replacement when he was in Buffalo, so we really couldn’t do too much with him. His partner at the time was Don Kent and Don did most of the work. Don was actually a teacher from Ohio, so I had something in common with him. But I did some promotions with Costello. We did some TV shots where we demonstrated holds on television, so that was kind of fun. He was quite a guy. He’d been all over the world. A very interesting guy. He was so well-respected, you’d do anything for him.

The other guy I was going to mention who I think was the toughest guy in the whole group was Hans Schmidt. He was probably the toughest guy I’ve ever met, both inside and outside the ring. I remember one time when he didn’t get paid or got shortchanged. He kicked a chair in that dressing room and all of us just kind of shut up. It was something else.

How was your health? You probably got out of it before you got too hurt.

Yeah, I did. I just turned 60. I was very lucky. I lost 50 pounds from when I was wrestling. I still run every day, I run 3-4 miles a day and work out, so I’m in pretty good shape. I’m very fortunate that I did lose weight. It was good for me. But I still have some bumps and bruises. Between that and football, I took a lot of bumps.

What topic did you teach?

I started off as a phys ed teacher and a football coach and then I moved into counseling. I have a degree in psychology so I moved into counseling about 20 years ago. So I was counseling in the school system and I just finished, actually, last June. I thought after 32 years that was it. So I’ve been doing some consulting part-time, but I’ve also been an actor and I’ve been doing that for about 20 years. I’ve done a lot of print modeling and a lot of acting, so that’s what I do full-time now — I do some consulting, I do some acting, TV commercials … whatever comes my way. Vancouver is a pretty good film city although it’s dropping off a little bit now. There’s always been that aspect of me — I’ve got to have that “other side.”

Acting is not that different from wrestling in a lot of ways.

It’s totally the same. The first commercial I did, I was standing in the shower and people were throwing soapsuds on me. It was just like wrestling; no difference. It was the same thing. There was a great deal of similarity.

Did you ever think about staying with it full-time?

You know, I did. I often think I would have liked to have done it for a couple years full-time. To be honest with you, if I did, I would have never left it because it gets into your blood. I think I made the right decision, but there was always that desire to want to do it full-time. It was just not in the cards for me because I was getting married and I had a job. It was just too difficult. But there was always that temptation — “Gee, I would love to do it, but I know if I did, it would be tough to leave.” With so many guys, it’s just in their blood. They just can’t get out of it. Your wrestling persona takes on your whole character, your whole life.

It’s a tough life. I mean, you’re always on the road. It’s very difficult to make any relationships work because of your travel. The money wasn’t that great in those days, and what have you got when it’s over? You’ve got no pension plan, you’ve got no security. It’s tough.

Was it a rush, though, when you first got your first ovation coming out?

Well, of course. Total. It is a total rush, and it’s very exciting when you have a big crowd. I was in Pittsburgh once, and it was a huge, huge crowd. I even went on a tour of Newfoundland for two weeks and we sold out every arena. There’s definitely a rush; there’s no question about it. I think that’s what gets you going in this business and keeps you there.

Marshall had an even more lasting effect on some students than wrestling opponents. Joe Guarrasi, a one-time student, ended up with a broken wrist, courtesy of the babyface grappler. "Bobby (Mr. Caplan) was my gym teacher at Winston Churchill Collegiate in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada," Guarrasi recalled. "During one of our classes, we were playing volleyball against each other. He went to spike the ball, I went to block the ball. He missed the volleyball and connected with my wrist. He was a great guy and I am glad he is not forgotten."

Thanks to Marshall Caplan and Joe Guarrasi for their recollections.

Steven Johnson
December 2004

Review of Don Fargo DVD

Absolutely "Fabulous" – The Life and Times of Don Fargo 

When they made Don Fargo (nee Don Kalt), “they” didn’t just break the mold. They took the mold, shattered it into molecule-sized pieces, threw it down a mineshaft, and dumped a load of dirt on it.

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The wild Don Fargo is featured in this two-DVD collection.

That much was apparent to anyone who followed Don Fargo as one-half of The Fabulous Fargos in the National Wrestling Federation from 1970 to 1972. Don and Johnny were indisputably the top heel tag team in the area during the lifespan of the company. John would become known worldwide as Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, but Don was clearly the senior partner and leader of the troop (and old enough to be Johnny’s father, not his brother). A fine in-ring worker, Don’s wrestling persona as a hard living, leather jacketed tough guy was no gimmick. And he’s unafraid to lay out all the hilarious and gory details in Shooting with the Legends: Don Fargo, a DVD produced by Crowbar Press and historian Scott Teal of Whatever Happened To … fame..

These “shoot” videos — wherein a wrestler delivers a near-soliloquy to a camera and perhaps an interviewer — are all the rage these days. But the one with Fargo stands out from the current crop of 1980s and 1990s wrestling recollections. Fargo goes back into the 1950s to the time of his partnership with Jackie Fargo, and his memorable matches with Argentina Rocca in New York City. First-hand accounts of those days, however cloudy, are hard to come by, but Fargo has a lot of details, and some funny yarns about Kola Kwariani, Rocca’s protector and spokesman (even though, as Fargo notes, Rocca spoke much better English than his Russian muscle).

Fans in the Buffalo-Pittsburgh-Cleveland area will be most interested in the origins and development of the team of Don and Johnny Fargo. The duo first paired in the Sheik’s Detroit promotion, where Don was using a knockoff of the prissy Gorgeous George character. Don had his hair nicely coiffed and wore fancy attire to the ring, while Johnny, whose first ring name was Babyface Nelson, was to work as his valet and spray him with perfume or astringent. As Don recalled to Teal, “I said, ‘We ain’t got nothing in the damn can; we gotta get perfume, powder, anything. Get something, will ya?’ He went out and got powder. He bought douche powder. He filled the can and it had one of those big needle spray things …I’d get out, take my robe off, raise my arms up, then he’s supposed to spray me with perfume. He took that son of a bitch and foom! He got it all over ringside, everybody!” The Sheik, Fargo makes it clear, was none too happy with the development. “That ended my gimmick,” Don chuckled.

Not long after that, the Fargos traveled slightly east to the NWF, where they set up shop and became the federation’s tag team champs on two occasions. “If you remember ‘Tiger’ Jack Vansky, he was the one that recommended Don Fargo,” Ron Martinez, the NWF TV announcer and executive, said to Steel Belt Wrestling. “He came in for the Sheik originally, but hated the payoffs and wound up with us. He and Greg had a great run. We had a main event in Buffalo with those two against Dominic DeNucci and a mystery partner that was huge at the time. We never had tag team main events, but they were hot and we ran with it. Ernie Ladd was the partner.” On the DVD, Don notes that he was the hell-raiser, while Johnny was more methodical and reserved. “We were like the odd couple,” he said.

Fargo’s DVD goes on for more than three hours, and it’s doubtful anyone is having a better time than he is. Dressed with a confederate bandanna around his neck, and a couple of cold Bud Lites at arm’s length, he discourses from subject to subject. Among other highlights that will interest fans in the Great Lakes area:

How he suggested a regimen of dips and bench presses to a scrawny Pittsburgh-area youth who grew into Italian legend Bruno Sammartino

How Luis Martinez got his finger a tad too close to the mouth of a wrestling bear for comfort (chomp, chomp)

His reminiscences of Bobo Brazil and Ernie Ladd

Still one of a kind, Don is now 76. He lives outside of Pensacola, Fla. with a house full of dogs and a yard full of downed trees from storms in the fall of 2004. For anyone interested in knowing how he managed to get to that point — and who wouldn’t — Teal’s videos are the right tool.

For more information on Shooting with the Legends: Don Fargo, click here.

December 2004

Steven Johnson   

Bruno Sammmartino

The legendary Bruno Sammartino recently fielded questions at a fan festival in New Jersey put on by Legends of the Ring. For 45 minutes, Sammartino fielded dozens of questions about his career with forthright and fascinating answers. Here is a small excerpt of some of Sammartino’s responses about matters of interest to Steel Belt Wrestling fans.

Sammartino appeared virtually everywhere in the world during nearly a quarter-century as a wrestler. Asked about his favorite arenas, he recalled that some felt particularly special.

Sammartino: I loved Madison Square Garden. I loved the Boston Gardens. I loved Philadelphia. Not because of the size of the arena, but because of the fans. They used to give me goose bumps. I mean, I’d be down sometimes and all of a sudden, I’d hear the whole arena chant my name, “Bruno, Bruno,” and it used to give me goose bumps. I loved the fans for caring that much.

In 1963, Sammartino won the WWWF world championship from “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. The victory propelled Sammartino, and the federation, to the forefront of wrestling. While he respected the former NWA and WWWF champion, Sammartino said he had unexplained friction with the controversial Rogers.

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Bruno Sammartino held the WWWF title longer than any other wrestler.

Sammartino: Look, Buddy’s gone now. I will never tell you that he wasn’t great because that wouldn’t be true. But he and I, I don’t know how it happens in life, I don’t know, Buddy and I never liked each other from the first time we ever met. We just didn’t like each other. He didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. What can I tell you? That’s the truth.

But I’m not telling you anything about his talents or anything like that because Buddy, when he went into the ring, two things — you always saw him in very good shape and you always saw a terrific match out of him. No question.

It’s probably unfair to ask Sammartino to single out favorite opponents, but he took a good-natured stab at naming some of his most memorable adversaries and bouts.

Sammartino: Don Leo Jonathan was a guy, you folks remember him, he was a guy about six-foot-six or seven, 320 pounds, and he was amazing. He had the agility of some of these guys you see that weigh 200 pounds that could really fly around. You’d throw him out of the ring, and he’d get the top rope and he would spring himself and shoot into a dropkick and practically land on his feet. Don Leo Jonathan was an amazing, amazing guy for his size.

Big Bill Miller, if you guys remember him. Not only was he a national AAU wrestling champion as an amateur, but he was an All-American from Ohio [State] in football. Another big guy, six-foot-six, six-foot-seven, 320 pounds. I wrestled him a lot.

And one time I wrestled Shohei Baba for over an hour in Japan. I’ll tell you what made that match very memorable in my mind because it was in Tokyo, it was in August, it must have been at least 90-95 degrees and the humidity was every bit as much, and in that arena, huge arena – by huge, I mean about 20,000 people – and there was no air conditioning, nothing. In there, it felt like about 130 degrees. It was so hot and we went a little over an hour and I remember that because it was extremely grueling because the heat was unbearable. What made it so tough for me was, after a 36 hour flight — in those days, that’s how long it took to get to Japan — they picked me up at the airport and took me right to the arena for that match. And you’re already screwed up from not sleeping or anything for practically two days and then you go an hour under those conditions, believe me, I was glad to come out of that thing alive.

But there were a lot of people I really respect. I respected Tanaka, Kowalski, Koloff, I had great respect for Koloff. Gene Kiniski, I respected. Ray Stevens, I wrestled him in California a number of times. Just a lot of guys. [Gorilla] Monsoon. Here was a guy was who 420 pounds. I wrestled him in the Garden for an hour and 20 minutes one time to curfew. I mean, just think, 420 pounds. That’s amazing because that weight was against you as time goes on. Yet he went an hour and 20 minutes. He was unbelievable for a man that big … These guys were big men and I thought they were pretty darn great.

In September 1972, Sammartino fought WWWF champion Pedro Morales for the world title in a match at Shea Stadium. In front of 35,000 fans, the two wrestled to a 75 minute draw. It was a classic scientific match — good guy versus good guy. The bout remains one of Sammartino’s favorites, and he regrets that promoters did not see the possibility of more such matches.

Sammartino: I loved that. [Vince McMahon Sr. and WWWF officials] weren’t so much into matches like that. They said people wouldn’t go for something like that, two popular guys, two babyfaces, as the term was used. I disagreed with him. I thought if people had the opportunity to see a great, clean , scientific kind of match, I thought people would like it. I think I proved my point because in that one hour fifteen minutes, 70 minutes, whatever it was, there wasn’t one punch, there wasn’t one kick. It was strictly action, wrestling action. I think it proved to a lot of people if promoters would only thought about it more, there should have been a lot more matches because I think the public would have loved it and appreciated those kinds of matches. I really do. I always felt that.

One of Sammartino’s favorite times in wrestling was the period from 1971 to 1973, between his two WWWF title reigns, when he was a free agent. The reason he loved his interregnum is obvious.

Sammartino: I loved my time in between titles and I'll tell you why. The first eight years with that belt, they had me going seven days a week. There were two Sundays out of the month that I was able to get home and see my family and my parents. So those were very hard times. Even though I appreciated it, becoming champion and doing that kind of stuff, it still was very, very rough because I was never getting any time off.

Then when I lost the title, I really got to re-energize and love the business again because I was my own boss. For example, I’d get calls from around the country, like [promoter] Sam Muchnick from St. Louis would call, and I’d say, "OK." I’d accept a match and then I wouldn’t take another match for four or five days. That way, I always had a lot of time to myself to work out, not to get hurt. I’d go to Japan and I’d go for maybe 10 days and not take any bookings for two weeks. So I loved that.

With his many international travels, Sammartino was one of the first major wrestlers to encounter Andre the Giant. Sammartino recalled that he was an occasional companion to Andre, but also felt a bit sad for the Hall of Famer.

Sammartino: I got along well with Andre. In fact, I’ll tell you a little story about him. I met Andre the first time when he was maybe 19, 20. I was touring Australia and from Australia, I went to New Zealand for a couple of matches, and he was there. You want to hear something funny? You know how tall he was. We weighed the same. This was in the 60s. I was 270. Andre was only about 270-275. He looked like a basketball player, he was so tall.

I didn’t see him for years. I was in Montreal, Canada maybe four years later, five years later, something like that, and when I saw him, I didn’t know it was the same guy because by this time, he weighed well over 400 pounds.

Then when he started coming around the Northeast there, in Baltimore, for example, we used to go to Little Italy. We used to go out to dinner. Andre liked to hang around the bar. He was one guy you didn’t try to keep up with or anything [laughter]. I can honestly say I was never a drinker. I could have a couple of beers or, being Italian, with dinner, I could go for a glass or two of wine. But that was about it. With Andre, he could hold a lot more.

He didn’t like to be alone, so I used to keep him company a lot. To be honest, I liked him a lot, but I felt bad for him at the same time. At times, he struck me to be a lonely man who needed company. He didn’t like to be by himself. I had a good relationship with him. We tag teamed a couple of times. I never had any negative things about Andre.

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Bruno Sammartino took his share of injuries, including a broken neck, during his career.

In April 1976, Sammartino suffered a broken neck during match with Stan Hansen at Madison Square Garden. Popular lore holds that Hansen cracked Sammartino’s neck with a clothesline, called the “lariat.” In fact, that was Hansen’s long-standing claim, and it was picked up on the cover of wrestling magazines of the day. In fact, in response to a question by former REMATCH editor Tim Johnson, Sammartino said the injury occurred in a much different way.

Sammartino: One thing I will tell you is it was not that nonsense they wrote about the lariat. That had nothing to do with anything. What happened was we had been going for 15 minutes, somewhere around there, pretty good action stuff.

The thing that I did that wasn’t smart of me was because I’d wrestled in Madison Square Garden every single month … not realizing that a lot of guys were intimidated by Madison Square Garden. And this Stan Hansen was a young guy, you know, he was a big guy, 310 pounds and all. We were going at a pretty good pace. I think that the nerves — because Stan became good in the ring — I think nervous and what have you, he tired, I really think, because nerves can do that to you. I think that when I was coming off the ropes, shooting tackles, he went to try to scoop slam me and he couldn’t quite do it and he just dropped me and I came right down on my head. That’s what broke my neck, not the lariat, and I did break my neck. In fact, my doctors told me that I came within a millimeter of being paralyzed from the neck down. So that was by far the worst injury I ever had.

Asked if he remembered continuing the match after that incident, Sammartino said he was in a fog.

Sammartino: You know what? The film says that I did, but I have no recollection of that at all. I really did not. Everything is a blank after I got dropped on my head. It’s a good thing there wasn’t too much inside the head! [laughter]

Sammartino retired in 1981, but made a comeback in 1984 when Vince McMahon suggested it might help to advance the fortunes of his son, David. Sammartino said that did not happen and he considers his comeback to be less than a footnote to his career.

Sammartino: I didn’t want to do that, but my son wanted me to. I didn’t want to get him into everything, that, because of me, he can get a break. So I put on the tights, and he and me tag teamed, but then David would go right back to being preliminary. But McMahon … knew that I had to accommodate him, so to speak. Those were very unhappy times. I didn’t go in there with a great feeling like previous matches because this was after I had retired, circumstances were not the same, and I have no good memories of any of those matches.

On the 68-year-old Sammartino's current state of health.

Sammartino: I’ve had some very major back surgeries that laid me up for a while. I had to have a hip replacement. I had to have knee surgery and followed that up when I broke my neck in ’76, I had more problems for 10 years.

But I’m very happy to say I’ve got my weight down, as you can see. I’m down to 210 pounds, which is the lightest I’ve been in my adult life. Today, I’m doing seven miles of roadwork and in the morning I’ve been pumping iron three days a week.

August 2004
Steven Johnson