Jim Cornette: From A to Z in Wrestling History (Part One)

Jim Cornette guides us through his elaborate collection of wrestling memorabilia – then shoots from the hip

Presented by RF Video

We open by touring Jim Cornette’s elaborate collection of wrestling and other geek stuff.

The attic is covered with wrestling posters. Jim shows off his Tarzan newspaper comics from six or 7 decades ago. Oddly Corny does not have them in a frame or any sort of protection, just piled up.

His comic book collection includes 50 boxes full of 200 comics each. This includes an Avengers #1, and the debut comic of Captain America on the team. He just has them mixed within the others.

We go to another room where Corny has some of his hate mail framed. This also includes a picture Lawler drew of him with a penis for a mouth. His first check stub for Memphis was for 50 bucks, which is also framed.

The bloody jacket from when the “Original” Midnight Express attacked Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton on TBS and left Corny a mess of blood is hanging in his office.

A dented tennis racquet from when a fan attacked Bobby Eaton during a Steiner Brothers vs. Midnight Express match is on display. The fan ended up with a large bloody gash on his forehead after Corny cracked him. The Express took off before the medics and cops could get them in trouble.

A wall of Midnight Express covers from wrestling mags and programs is highlighted. A Charlotte newspaper has Corny’s face in the same headline billing as a Neil Diamond concert. Cornette mockingly asks how could the business that was so hot for JCP get all fucked up?

A row of the original Mr. Potato Head and friends toys makes me pop as I love to collect old toys myself.

Books full of old St. Louis wrestling programs are shown next. On top of the sheer coolness of seeing all the names and pictures from the fifties and beyond, Corny took it one step further and had every NWA champion who was still living sign it for him. Sam Muchnick is also was included in the autographs.
Jim somehow has zeroxed copies of the St. Louis financial books. It shows that in 1982 Verne Gagne, Harley Race,and Bob Geigel were making around 60-80 grand each from just running ONE TOWN as the owners of the promotion. The other Central States cities were apparently in different ledgers.

Muchnick tended to pay out 16% of the house to the main event guys. A sell-out in this era netted the headliners between 5-6 grand for an evening’s work.

JCP and other groups used to pay off in a similar manner. This drove the talent to thrive to work as hard as possible in order to draw and rake in the cash.

Around 1986 JCP started to guarantee contracts in order to compete with the WWF’s marketing machine and it changed the business forever. Guys no longer had to “try” and some were then able to rest on their laurels. (COUGH Nash COUGH)

Corny reveals that the “diamonds” in his SMW title were actually cubic zirconias that his mother got for free from some joint in the 70s.
The t-shirt collection includes a Starrcade 86 shirt that has Corny with jacked up arms to the same degree as the Road Warriors.

The toy collection he has randomly includes cars, planes, robots, music boxes, squirt guns and other such things that must have been meaningful to him as a youngster. Jim does not elaborate.

He also has talking cookie jars, a lighthouse, a stuffed fish and other odd knick knacks. The fish actually has a cute story behind it as his uncle lost a lure while fighting with a fish, the next day Jim caught a fish and it had his uncle’s lure stuck in it’s lip.

A clothes dresser is literally full to the brim with Jim’s photo collection from his youth.

He has all his PWI awards, Slammys and other such things in a case.

Corny even a slew of pictures with himself and various celebrities from the Supremes to porn stars.

Vince McMahon was very anal about how Cornette wrote out his booking sheets. It had to be in the same pencil, and written in the same matter every time.
Jim has his personal booking sheets from 1982-2010 saved. This goes all the way down to line-ups, finishes etc.

His OCD includes having to have everything in the bathroom lined up a certain way, and when Jim makes an itinerary, he has to break it down all the way to “shower, dress…”

A look into the JCP books reveals Corny even marked down how much he and the Express paid for transportation, dry cleaning, the hotel, etc.

In July of 1986, Corny was paid $23,000 for the Bash tour and other dates. The check stub is on display.

We now sit down for a more formal interview:
The JCP talent loved to have new stars come in because new stars lead to more money being drawn. The Midnight Express were loved by both Flair and Dusty, so they were pretty much set until JCP went down and Turner suits took over.

Corny tells the story of how Jim Crockett wanted to book the Express right after their hot run in the Mid-South in 1984. Bill Watts had set them up to work for WCCW instead, and not wanting to ruffle any feathers, they agreed. They gave Fritz Von Erich their notice on their first night in, but did a six-month run anyway.

Watts had a well-oiled machine in the Mid-South, but WCCW was far less so. WCCW only ran 4 shows a week, and Jim’s payoffs only averaged $250 dollars a night since they did not work with the Von Erichs on top.

The Express were suppose to jump back to work big shows for Watts when needed, and that led to one night payoffs from Bill being bigger than week-long payoffs from Fritz. WCCW eventually blocked them from leaving and Corny had to stew as the Superdome popped a big house-meanwhile he was stuck in Podunk, Texas being paid in pork and beans.

WCCW drew $250,000 at Texas Stadium in May of 1985. The Express were paid $800 each for the night. That was the last draw and gave their final notice.
Jim Crockett Sr’s empire is briefly gone over as Corny explains how so many other traveling acts were all under Senior’s umbrella, not just wrestling.
Jim Crockett Jr. was not as bold and broad once he took over for his deceased father. Junior later admitted that when JCP was expanding during the 80’s wrestling boom that he should have gotten more outside business help to corral spending and such.

Corny thinks JCP should have hunkered down in the Mid-Atlantic area and just milked the money forever instead of trying a cross-country expansion.
Jim Crockett Jr had a dry personality. David Crockett sucked as a commentator. Jackie Crockett (a cameraman) was one of the boys – drinking and having sex with ring rats after shows.

Dusty Rhodes was the broad creative mind, JJ Dillon was the guy who had to put the ideas into a functioning wrestling program. Dusty did like to spend a lot of money to make a little bit of money at the end of the day. Some of that can be blamed on the WWF blocking him on PPV and such.

Rhodes was one of the 2 or 3 biggest names in wrestling when he came into JCP, and it would be hard to justify benching him as a talent in order to salvage the booking issues that came from Dusty making himself the top draw.

Corny compares himself to Rhodes, as Cornette owned and booked SMW. Jim knew how to draw money on the mic, so he had to be on TV as a manager. Plus he knew where he wanted the angles to go, so being on commentary was sometimes a necessary evil as well. Jim added himself to matches to try and pop houses as well. He worked his ass off, perhaps more than most bookers.

Today’s bookers…errrr writers are over producing the talent and it makes for the stale presentation we see each week.

George Scott was not a great booker as his trick was to put great talent up against great talent. By the time Corny met him in 1989, he seemed brain dead- totally wrong for booking the NWA at that point.

JCP was so large in the 70’s that the workers were broken up into 2 or 3 groups and each had their own loop of towns to make. Some of the guys did not see each other for months despite being in the same area.

Johnny Weaver, in his 50s, had to sub for Robert Gibson one night, so he donned the full bandana outfit and ran out there with Ricky Morton at his side.
Weaver eventually became a prison worker and was put in charge of prisoner transportation because he knew every road and back road of the Carolinas thanks to his long career as a wrestler.

Weaver also wrote down finishes for 30 years, and if someone could find his logs, it would be invaluable to wrestling history and booking.
Penny Banner, Weaver’s wife, dated Elvis. Elvis hired women to wrestle in his “jungle room” so he and his friends could get their jollies.

Paul Jones was bland as a manager. Crockett kept him around because he was a star in the 70’s. Dusty booked Jones with Jimmy Valiant for years so that the shitty workers were all in one match.

George Scott loved Jones, so when he became booker in 1989, he made Jones an agent. When Scott was fired a few months later, Jones was axed too. Jim does praise Jones for putting him over in a Bunkhouse battle royal in Greensboro though.

Thunderbolt Patterson could cut a great promo, but he was a pain to deal with behind the scenes. Jim can’t say whether the racist promoters held Patterson back, or it was Patterson’s attitude.

Thunderbolt had a habit of pausing while cutting promos, and one time Georgia Wrestling went off the air in the middle of a Patterson promo because he was pausing so much.

Barry Windham was so good that he could work spots while on his knees. He and Eaton worked a ton of spots this way in matches just for fun.

Blackjack Mulligan came into the NWA in 1989 to be a backstage enforcer to entice guys to do jobs if they bitched. He quit after six weeks.

George and Sandy Scott did not speak to one another for 30 years after a dispute. One time both men happened to end up in the same elevator, and even then they wouldn’t say boo to each other.

JCP killed off their towns in a hurry. A spot show in 1986 drew thousands of fans – six years later SMW could only draw hundreds of fans in the same towns.
Gary Hart was in two different plane crashes and walked away alive. His bumping as a manager was non-existent due to his injuries though.

Ric Flair was not the best worker, best promo or best body ever, but he had so much of each attribute that it all equaled up to greatness.

Flair had incredible stamina. He’d drink all night, sleep a little and be up and dressed to the nines by 5 a.m. for the flight to the next town.

With all the money JCP was making and paying the guys, everyone had great new cars except for Corny and the Midnight Express because they came from Jerry Jarrett’s promotion and remembered making next to nothing for years.

Magnum TA had so much neck muscle that it saved his life during his horrific crash. The doctors had a hell of a time working on his spine though because they had to cut through so much to get to the bone.

Everybody hated Tully Blanchard because he was a cocky little shit. Even Arn Anderson was at odds with him. Ric Flair loved him though and that basically saved Tully from being fired on several occasions. Tully was great in the ring and on the mic, which certainly helped his cause.

The modern equivalent to Arn Anderson is Bobby Roode. Both were great at mechanics and could cut promos.

The Road Warriors were limited, but if you worked into their formula you could have good matches. The Warriors were best served killing small heels instead of matching power with other muscle heads.

The Warriors knew the Midnight Express made them look great, and loved working together with them. The Road Warriors put the Express over in Memphis and St. Louis on their way out of the NWA, despite Jim Herd demanding them to win.

Nikita Koloff didn’t want to be tempted to spend any money, so he did not cash any checks from his first six months with JCP until the accountants had to basically force his hand in order to keep the books in order.

Wahoo McDaniel is underrated by younger fans because they only saw his last run when he was in his late 40’s. Corny relates the famous tale of Wahoo winning a bet by drinking a quart of motor oil.

Ole Anderson was so old school that he thought Cornette’s wrestling ideas were too outside of the box. Ole had to hire a lot of green and old guys to try and stabilize spending in WCW 1990 and he and Corny had heat over his booking because of it.

We next hear the story of Arn and Tully leaving the NWA just as their feud with the Midnight Express was beginning to draw big money.

Dennis Condrey was a better worker than Stan Lane, but Lane looked better for a TV and PPV era of wrestling. Condrey’s era of the team was positioned to draw money, by 87 when Lane took over, the Express were largely used to put on great matches.

When Flair took over as booker in 1989, he put himself in position to have great matches. This led to him booking himself on TV against Eaton, which pissed off Jim Herd because he thought Eaton was a nobody. The matches popped a rating and Herd was steamed.

Baby Doll was such a stiff worker that she’d hurt herself by hitting Jim so hard. She dislocated Jim’s jaw with a slap. She knocked him out with a punch once too. The angle where he cracked Doll in the belly and “wrecked her chance to have kids” caused so much heat that Jim began carrying a gun.

Big Mama once cut a promo so bad that they edited it off the TBS show. There was NEVER any editing on the show, so this was very rare.

Corny once compared the Challenger explosion to a fireball he threw in Ron Garvin’s face. Dusty nixed that from airing.

Jim Garvin loved saving money too, so he liked to ride with Corny and the Express since they were all cheap asses. This talk leads right into the story of Jim Garvin taking roids to bulk up, which led to him working as a tough guy instead of a pussy heel. Garvin went nuts on Corny for not selling a punch to his liking, and it soured Cornette on Garvin.

Garvin’s behavior led to him pissing off Dr. Death by not selling for him. Dr. Death took a chair and stiffed the shit out Garvin with it. Garvin ended up bloody and bruised up. Terry Gordy was with Garvin and a backstage brawl almost broke out, but the normally quiet Eaton spoke up and everybody relaxed.

Sting was a good worker, but could not draw money. Guys who drew against others suddenly failed to draw when paired with Sting.

Al Perez was a good hand, but his lack of promo skills stalled out his career.

Tommy Rogers was great in the ring, but is now a physical mess. (He has since died since this was taped.) Bobby Fulton was a huge wrestling fan and he and Corny are both history nuts.

Corny hilariously compares Paul Heyman to Hitler as he explains how he got Heyman booked in the NWA to give him a prick manager to work with.
The Mulkeys still get a reaction from fans when they come to conventions. It’s a testament to the power of TV.

George South was a great talent, and Flair was scolded by management for giving South too much offense when he’d work him on TV. Flair argued that South was too good not to have competitive matches with.

Vince McMahon established the rules of the wrestling war, and JCP was always playing catch-up. Reacting instead of innovating was not the way to survive.
Cornette is terrified to fly, but never minded riding up front by the pilot on JCP’s planes. Corny figured if the pilot wasn’t scared, he need not be.

It cost 2 grand for each hour JCP used their company plane. The guys were using it for 100-mile trips, with Crockett smiling while riding along. Cornette drove the same strip and got to the town before the plane.

The WWE could do better if they were less homogenized. Different areas of the country are into different styles of wrestling, so a lot of people are not being served by what Vince is offering up.

Final thoughts: This was a fun look into Cornette’s awesome collection, and part two promises a deep dive into more of his stuff, plus more of his shoot interview – this time focusing largely on Memphis.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin’ and true crimes.

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