Guest Booker with Gary Hart
Presented by Sean Oliver and the Kayfabe Commentaries Crew
The Man: I have the misfortune of not being old enough to really remember or appreciate Gary Hart when he was in his glory days as a World Class Championship Wrestling manager. I’ve since learned Gary Hart was a gem of professional wrestling. Whether it was as a booker, manager or occasional in ring participant – Gary brought the goods. Of course I was able to find this all out retroactively through the wonders of Youtube, tape trading and many websites devoted to the days when kayfabe was prevalent.
The character of Gary Hart was a slick talking, incorrigible human being. Hart would trash talk the dim witted but well-meaning Von Erich family and the fans would plop down their hard earned cash to see Hart have his braggadocios claims shattered. Of course down in Texas good usually triumphed over evil…if only until the next TV show where Hart would send One Man Gang or another monster out to maul the heavily muscled super heroes that the fans fawned over. Gary had the talent on the stick to keep his heat and his minions as threats even in defeat. Gary may have been humbled at times – such as when he lost his hair in front of over 20,000 fans in Texas Stadium in the Summer of 1985 as a result of his charge losing a match – but he never lost face. His head remaining bald for good after this event may have been Hart just saying to the Von Erichs “Hey I look good either way! You got nothin’ on me”.
Hart’s formidable skills in front of the camera were complemented wonderfully by his skills as the booker behind the scenes. Hart’s talents had been honed since his career started out of Chicago in the early 60’s, first as a worker – then a manager. When he was offered the WCCW gig in 1979, Gary had to contend with owner Fritz Von Erich, who was already plotting for his barely in their 20’s (and others much younger) sons to be the tent poles by which WCCW would be held up by for the next several decades. Problem was that Fritz himself was a former AWA World champ and had great stroke in the NWA – having just relinquished the Presidency of that organization 3 years prior. Thus Fritz had a great (and mostly deserved) ego that made him desire a top spot in the promotion; essentially taking up the very spot he had planned for his children’s careers. The Von Erich boys were hot commodities in several promotions by 1979 – youthful good looks, cartoonish muscles and “aw shucks” charm certainly contributed to their success. Fritz had NWA champion Harley Race pinned on TV by David, when David was at an age that most wrestlers were still jobbing out in opening matches and trying to catch a break.
Fritz eventually complied with Hart’s wishes and retired in 1982 – going out by beating the promotions top heel for a title belt no less. After that Hart was able to orchestrate his biggest booking success: The Von Erich vs Fabulous Freebirds feud. One cage door slam to the head to Kerry Von Erich by Terry Gordy in midst of a World title match with Kerry and Flair set the promotion on fire and started a feud that went on and off until 1994 in various promotions.
Hart’s hands on role on both sides of the camera made what happened to the WCCW roster from 1984 till Hart quit in 1987 terribly hard on him. Hart the booker had to deal with the deaths of David and Mike Von Erich, a crippling infection that nearly killed Mike Von Erich, premature deaths of top draws like Bruiser Brody, Gino Hernandez and others, Kerry Von Erich being forced out of action for over a year via a drug fueled motorcycle accident, Fritz quitting the NWA and thus losing access to proven draw Ric Flair, Hart’s chosen WCCW champ Chris Adams being fired after assaulting a stewardess on a flight while intoxicated and a huge roster purge in 1986 by Bill Watts – who was either making one last run at promotional survival or trying to sweeten his roster to make a Jim Crockett Promotions buy out more enticing.
One has to consider the personal cost of being in that environment, surrounded by young athletes who you helplessly watch take copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, ruining their own lives while hurting the promotion by no showing events and bringing bad public relations to the forefront via arrests. The fan base was fed lies every time a negative incident occurred: When Gino Hernandez died – the promotion tied his death in with his “blinding” of Chris Adams that same week. When Kerry was caught with drugs at an airport – the fans were told the Freebirds planted it. The most vile lie told was probably the time Mike Von Erich went missing and many thought he may have committed suicide – the promotion announced that former Von Erich best friend Brian Adidas was a suspect in the disappearance – just to add heat to a wrestling angle. Fritz ordered counterfeit autographs of recently deceased David written up and sold as genuine at the card designed to celebrate David’s life. Fritz faking a heart attack in 1987 can be written off as simply a wrestling angle – but one probably designed to bring back the sympathy the family tried to capitalize on in the past when tragedy struck.
Gary moved on to JCP after WCCW was essentially dead in 1988. Booker Dusty Rhodes gave Hart his WCCW charge Al Perez and eventually added Larry Zbyszko to his fold. Perez feuded with Nikita Koloff and once Larry was added, the two men teamed on the bottom of the cards against other unpushed talent. Hart’s luck changed in early 1989 when Dusty was fired and the new booking team gave Hart “The Great” Muta, a revolutionary worker in the eyes of American fans. Hart’s stable added Terry Funk, Dick Slater, Buzz Sawyer and a repackaged Kendo Nagasaki over the next year. The “J-Tex Corporation” (Japan/Texas) group feuded with the NWA’s top stars like Sting and Ric Flair. The group would dissolve in early 1990 due to Funk’s injuries and Muta’s desires to return to Japan.
Gary Hart faded into the Texas indy scene after this and spent the 90’s reliving past glories on a small scale – even helping to open “World Class 2 – The Next Generation” in the mid 90’s. Hart released a book late in life that received a unfortunately limited printing and thus is very valuable and hard to acquire today. Hart died March 16, 2008 of a heart attack but thankfully left us a glimpse of his genius in shoots like the one that follows.
The Shoot: The concept of the shoot is Gary Hart is handed the May 1986 World Class roster – without any talent raids or injuries affecting the company. WCCW also chooses to not leave the NWA.
We start off discussing how the territories worked as an effective feeder system for promotions to thrive and prosper in the long term.
Hart tells us how stiff workers were in the Texas areas. Wahoo McDaniels, Johnny Valentine and Fritz started the trend in the 60’s and that led to the 80’s generation working the same way.
We learn how Houston promoter Paul Boesch caused Hart headaches by insisting on booking non-NWA champions. The Alliance wasn’t amused.
Fritz had serious influence over his fellow Texas promoters like Boesch and Joe Blanchard, once they broke away from Fritz in 1979 – their promotions died on the vine.
WCCW ran 32 different towns.
Hart explains how hard working with Blanchard was.
Hart delves into the circles he had to run during his opportunities to book NWA champ.
Andre the Giant and Harley Race were booked in the first “Dusty Finish” by Hart in the 70’s.
NWA President got 3% of the house from any show the World champion worked.
Gary covers why he was furious at Fritz for canceling WCCW’s NWA membership.
Gary feels ECW made fans feel like anybody could be a worker since anybody can get hit by a frying pan.
Hart tells an amusing rib involving The Spoiler and marital infidelity.
We also learn not to besmirch Gary Hart’s wife unless you enjoy blood loss through another story.
The Spoiler’s violent encounter with a promoter who cheated him on a payoff is also shared.
The 1986 WCCW this exercise is using is: Freebirds, Von Erichs (Plus Lance), Rick Rude, Chris Adams, Bruiser Brody, Abby the Butcher, Iceman Parsons, Brian Adias, Kabuki, Missing Link, One Man Gang, John Tatum, The Grappler, Mark Youngblood, Brickhouse Brown, Steve Simpson, “Mr. Electricity: Steve Regal, Jerry Allen, Blackjack Mulligan, Matt Bourne, Killer Brooks, Brad and Bart Batten, Percy Pringle, Skandor Akbar, Sunshine and Missy Hyatt. – Gary will also be allowed access to JCP talent.
Really a more interesting concept would’ve to have had Gary be stuck with all the issues that happened in reality and have to pick up free agents to rebuild along the way.
The 6 months Gary re-books sees him add the Rock and Roll Express and Road Warriors on to WCCW’s roster – the Roadies going after the Freebirds and the Von Eriches over the upcoming months. Brody and Mulligan brawl with each other for several months -which branches out to include Kabuki. Hart also brings in several of the old guys from JCP who I can’t picture getting over in this era of WCCW. Gary also ignores the WCCW’s top champion as Rick Rude’s reign is not touched upon through the bulk of the breakdown.
Gary creates a Supercard at the end and we see how he develops plans to pop a house and still draw the next week based on who goes over and how. Gary admits that the real roster would have provided a much worse card and was widely played out to the audience.
They close with a nice montage of family pictures from Hart’s collection as they memorialize the then recently deceased legend.
Final Thoughts: As is the case with the Guest Booker series, breaking down the mindset of the booker is intriguing but once they get into the “fantasy” portion, the results have proven to be tedious. Partly due to the advance age of the participants interviewed and also because the men who lived through these days often have problems keeping track of who was where on the card at the given time vs reality. The first portion is interesting and fun to listen to, but your mileage may vary on how you feel about the second half as Hart takes us through a somewhat implausible booking scenario.
Front page photo credit: www.thewcwproject.com