Just by reading its table of contents, and knowing that Joe Hamilton has been in the wrestling business for a half century, I knew going in that this book would have plenty of insight, and sure enough, it did not fail to deliver. Scott Teal, the Tennessee Titan, has brought forth yet another fine effort when it comes to wrestling history, Assassin: The Man Behind the Mask (not to be confused with Alice Cooper's rockin' tribute to mad slashin' Jason).
Mr. Hamilton's autobiography is a fantastic look at wrestling history and history in general. I enjoyed reading about some of the regional territories that didn't exactly get a whole lotta ink in the old Apter mags, like Vancouver, Knoxville, and the short-lived 1970s Tennessee version of the UWA (which Lou Thesz was involved in). The 'ribs' and road stories are fun comic relief (such as graceful Tex McKenzie having a true case of the 'blues'), but for me, the real meat and potatoes in this book involve Hamilton giving us a behind-the-scenes look at his tenures as a booker, ring crew leader and wrestling school teacher, as well as his valuable lessons regarding the psychology of wrestling (which some of today's young wrestlers should learn more of). He also offers his views relating to the downfall of WCW.
It's great that an old school main eventer, who truly paid his dues and survived some personal hardships growing up, is still involved in the wrestling business today. These days, I can just picture Hamilton as Yoda, passing along his wisdom to many young Luke Skywalkers ('May The Flame be with you!'). A straight up 'thumbs up!' --John Watanabe
Sometimes it just can't be helped. You can't live in every era. You can't see every match or performer at his peak. Even for a seasoned wrestling fan like myself, the name of Joe Hamilton and The Assassin doesn't instantly provoke memories of matches or times gone by. I was but a mere babe when Hamilton was one half of the hottest touring tag team of the 60s, The Assassins. Yet when I did first see him on TV two decades later, he left me with a twitch that'll never be cured.
It was during a WCW PPV that had a legends theme with vets coming back and doing some matches. Hamilton was wearing his classic US style wrestling hood, incredibly plain compared to the stylish Lucha masks we see so much of today. All he did was cut some promos on Dusty Rhodes, constantly referring to him as Jellybean. But to this day, whenever one of my closest friends and I refer to Dusty, we still call him that. We might not have been around for the heyday of the Assassin, but he was still able to make an impression, even in the final stages of his career.
Well, I'm happy to say that even if you have no connection or perception of the Assassin as a character, as a wrestling fan, you can't help but both enjoy and be somewhat awestruck by parts of his story. This book chronicles an era of professional wrestling that almost seems like it was 1000 years ago rather than just 40. Back then, there were no wrestling schools, so anybody wanting to get on board had to gain the confidence of veteran workers and then get stretched and beat on for months before that first match. Then they worked their way across North America, staying in territories guided by a promoter of, more often than not, dubious character until they were burnt out and moved on.
Like JJ Dillon's and Ole Anderson's books (also co-authored by Scott Teal), Hamilton offers up glimpses into every side of the business since he too has done it all from worker to booker. It's almost become sad to read some of these veterans' autobiographies and seeing how solid their booking minds are in comparison to those of today. Sure wrestling is a completely different beast than it was in Hamilton's time, but there are some basic booking principles that needed to be remembered, even in 2006.
Although you may be shaking your head in disbelief at the stupidity of modern booking after reading Hamilton's approach, the stories he weaves about his run-ins in with fans are even more mind-boggling. He was a prime heel in the era when people were convinced that these guys lived the dastardly life 24-7 and fans weren't afraid to show how much they hated them by physically attacking their person or smashing up their car. Many heels from the past casually mention this kind of stuff in passing and may have one or two stories to tell. Not the Assassin. He devotes a whole chapter to these crazed fanatics that would trash their cars, challenge them to fights or just try to stab them.
It really does seem like a whole other world. But on the other hand, look how effective it was. There probably isn't anyone showing up to stab Edge at the next WWE show. It's a perfect example of the Catch-22 of pro wrestling: it has to be realistic enough that fans can get emotionally involved, yet still maintaining the showbiz side that separates it from anything else. Even more than the story of Hamilton, that seems to be the real message here.
This really is a book that should be read by all wrestling fans, especially the younger ones who grew up on the 80s and 90s product just so they can see how different it really was. Even more important, maybe it will finally show some of those that were so excited to break kayfabe just why it was there in the first place.
--Dan Lovranski on "Live Audio Wrestling"