Jim Cornette: A to Z in Wrestling History (Part 2)

Corny guides us through more of his memorabilia – then dives into Memphis history!

Presented by RF Video

We open up back in Corny’s vault of memorabilia. He shows off his drawers full of wrestling newspaper clippings from around the world.

Jim started watching wrestling when he was around 10 years old. His first territory was Dick the Bruiser’s WWA, which exposed him to Bobby Heenan.

A Bruiser shirt from the mid-70’s is shown from Corny’s boyhood collection.

A clipping from 1976 reveals Memphis is averaging 7,000 fans each Monday night. The promotion had drawn $796,000 in ticket sales in the previous 50 weeks.

Wrestling died down during World War 2, since the men were fighting. The women wrestling drew well, but the males had to often rely on freak shows to draw a crowd.

Don Fargo broke in on the DuMont network in the 50’s and lasted all the way to the mid-80’s where he worked on AWA TV on ESPN.

A pic is shown of Fargo working in the AWA in the 70’s as Jack Dillinger. He is wearing swastikas and a patch that says “Fat Christ”.

Fargo had a pierced penis, so he’d drive nails into it in order to freak out rookies.

A Japanese poster from the Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki fight is on the wall.

Corny got much of his rare stuff by going to conventions, then snagging the best stuff from vendors before the doors even opened for the fans.

He has a plethora of WWWF programs including from the big Shea Stadium shows, the night Billy Graham beat Bruno Sammartino for the title and other hyped events.

The WWWF publicity was so great that Corny and his friends thought the MSG shows must all be amazing. When he finally saw a show on cable it was so dull he never bothered to watch more WWWF shows thereafter.

Al Snow got his first wrestling lesson from reading “Fabulous Kangaroo” Al Costello’s pamphlet on submission holds and takedowns.

Mario Galento was taken off the Memphis wrestling roster. In response he attacked Jerry Jarrett on live Memphis TV and tried to gouge out his one good eye. Jerry Lawler and Sam Bass, heels at the time, saved Jarrett and the fans freaked at the incident. A few weeks later Galento tried to get Lawler while he was working in the ring. Galento brought a straight razor, so Lawler ran to the locker room to get his gun.

Gordon Solie’s personal copies of the early Omni programs are reside in Jim’s pile of stuff.

Oklahoma programs with Danny Hodge and Bill Watts are shown. Corny explains that he knows he can’t have a copy of everything, so he tries to get key guys on programs in areas they are most famous in.

Transcripts of Lou Thesz and other unedited wrestling books have also found there way into Jim’s collection.

Now we head back to Jim’s sit down interview:  

Corny managed to annoy Jerry Jarrett without trying, so Jarrett decided to give Cornette a shot as a manager since it seemed Corny might be a natural heat magnet.

Memphis wrestling could book some way out there gimmicks and angles, but they always somehow managed to bring logic into their world.

Robert Fuller was brought into Memphis as a booker. He brought in the Mongolian Stomper, Toru Tanaka and others from his Knoxville promotion. They bombed and crowds dropped to 3,000 people. Jarrett fired him and reignited business by booking Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee against Larry Latham and Wayne Ferris in the ‘concession stand brawl” which popped business.

Christine Jarrett and Ms. Baba are probably the best two women promoters ever.

Jackie Fargo sold tickets for three decades. His stardom is never given it’s due outside of the Memphis area.

Fargo earned over 100 grand in 1971 working for Nick Gulas, who was notoriously poor on payoffs, so Fargo had to be drawing some serious crowds to earn that kind of cash.

Jim covers Sputnik Monroe’s role in Memphis’ civil rights history.  Monroe. a white wrestler, went into black businesses’ and ended up arrested for doing so. He then hired a black lawyer to represent him in court. This helped lead to the black fans filling their assigned portion of the Mid-South Coliseum. Since business wasn’t that great, the pressure was on the promotion to integrate the fans in order to allow more black people in the building. This finally came to pass and it was a major blow to segregation.

Monroe was once knocked out by a fan. The promotion jumped on this bad press by welcoming the fan to face Monroe the following week. The fan figured he was being set up, so he didn’t show up. This allowed Memphis to declare the tough guy a coward instead and save face.

Eddie Marlin was in charge of carrying the box office cash, as well as anything else the promotion needed including hauling the wrestling bears, finding weapons for gimmick matches and many other things.

Ricky Gibson, Robert’s brother, was great in the mid 70’s. Jim thinks he could have pushed for being the NWA champion had he not gotten injured. He was great at high spots and taking big bumps – but the style killed his neck, knees and back. A car accident all but ended his career in the early 80’s.

Jerry Lawler decided to capitalize on the Ali vs. Inoki hype and they brought in Rocky Johnson as a “boxer”. Johnson had been wrestling for almost a decade, but they decided to ignore that since he wasn’t really known in the area. The local press played along and Memphis went so far as to have weigh ins and everything. The match drew huge and set up many rematches.

Paul Morton was the ref Memphis used every time they were going to use a “fuck finish” because the other refs did not want the heat for blowing the win for the babyface.

Some Memphis fans noticed one of the office guys would wander out when it was time to wrap up a match and would actually scream “Com’n Mr. Coffey, Let’em wrassle!”

Bill Dundee liked to use Corny more than Jimmy Hart as his main heel manager-mostly just to be different from Lawler’s booking habits. Dundee was stiff as hell in the ring.

Jimmy Hart was managing Lawler when Jerry broke his leg in a football game. Hart went on TV and turned on Lawler, saying “What do you do with a horse with a broken leg?” Lawler was legit pissed watching this at the hospital. This led to him potatoing Hart with a punch and injuring his jaw upon The King’s return.

Jerry remains the only WWE wrestler Corny still makes a point to watch the matches of when they go down on RAW.

Dutch Mantel, Jimmy Valiant, Dundee and Lawler were the four top stars of Memphis during the early 80’s. The guys did not necessarily get along, but they knew that the money was fighting against and with each other in the ring, not sabotaging everyone else backstage.

Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey had worked in the south for 8 years and somehow never actually teamed with each other before the Midnight Express formed. Bill Watts saw something in them as a team despite the fact that they weren’t even on the same heel/face side when Watts spotted them.

Eaton was self trained. He was part of the ring crew as a teenager in order to get into the matches for free. He and his buddy would work spots in the ring and the promoters noticed how much of a natural he was.

Randy Savage went from sleeping on the floor and being dirt poor to being a top guy in the WWF in less than 2 years after his father’s outlaw promotion went under.

Koko B Ware was great in Memphis. Once he went to the WWF he got a goofy bird gimmick and put on weight. He never recaptured the magic he had.

Jim’s first charge was Sherri Martel. She was suppose to last 2 weeks and then fire Corny. She ended up in a battle royal which saw her get fallen on by Plowboy Frazier. This broke her leg and Jim was alone again quite unexpectedly.

The Fabulous Ones were originally planned to become heels and join Cornette. The plan was for them to turn on Jackie Fargo, allowing the rich boy Corny to sign them. They ended up getting over to a super crazy level thanks to Fargo giving them the rub and all the plans for a heel turn were scrapped.

The Rock and Roll Express’ first feud was with Cornette and the Galaxians. It was almost destiny fot the Express to become Corny’s most famous foil.

Lawler and Boogie Woogie Man wrestled weekly for almost 5 months straight. They had magic in their promos and the fans flocked to the matches.

Kamala got his gimmick as a cannibal because “Sugar Bear Harris” was considered to be a horrible wrestler, so Jarrett and Lawler decided to make his weakness part of the gimmick and made him a savage who did not know how to wrestle. He went from a heatless jabroni to a headliner for a chunk of the 80s thanks to them taking a chance on an idea.

Plowboy Frazier was once knocked out accidentally by a pipe in the bowels of the Mid-South Coliseum. He was so big that they could not budge him to pull him out of the tiny hallway. Corny claims they had to grease him up to pull him out of the way.

The Mongolian Stomper had great facials and looked like a killer. He and Bob Armstrong bled buckets against one another and Corny (among the thousands of other fans) just loved the matches. Riots were a common threat when Stomper was getting heat on Bullet Bob.

Terry Taylor, Bobby Fulton, Stan Lane and many other sexy men were on the Memphis roster in the early 80s. This led to crowds consisting of 60% women coming to the Mid-South Coliseum.

Memphis wrestling TV drew around 300,000 viewers each Saturday, making it number one in the whole area among ALL television shows for the week.

Final thoughts: The collectables were again amazing to see, and Corny’s passion for history makes him so fun to listen to! Part 3 of this series will be coming next week as we dig into Castle Cornette even further.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

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

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