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Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling Paperback – September 15, 2009
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Ron Hall's new book Sputnik, Masked Men, and Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling, is one of the best collections of black and white sports photos I've ever seen and a hell of a lot of fun. The old Ellis Auditorium in the convention center was the site of wrestling matches in the 1950s and '60s that drew crowds of 5000 people to watch the heroes and heels take their falls. There was Johnny Valentine, who bled a lot, Farmer Jones, who brought a hog into the ring with him, and Dick the Bruiser, who played football for the Green Bay Packers. There was Lou Thesz, who was handsome and as successful at promoting as he was at wrestling, and the Swedish Angel, who was bald and looked like he had had a lobotomy. There was Gorgeous George, who came out in a dress, and Scotty Williams, who wore a tam, and Bonnie Butch Boyette, who looked like Wild Bill Hickock and wore a string tie and boasted of having 242 stitches in his head. There was Bobo Brazil, who opened the door for black wrestlers. There was Kurt Von Brauner, who spoke German and never seemed to understand the referee although he attended Whitehaven High School in Memphis, and Princess Little Cloud, who looks like she couldn't have thrown your kid sister, and Haystacks Calhoun, who was bigger than The Mighty Jumbo. There was no cable television in these days, and wrestling would not move to the Mid-South Coliseum for almost two decades. Promoters relied on gimmicks and fights with police and the crowd that might or might not have been staged to generate coverage. A match between Sputnik Monroe and Billy Wicks drew 13,000 people to the old Russwood Park. The introduction to the book is written by wrestler and mayoral candidate Jerry Lawler, who recalls interviewing Tojo Yamamoto when he was a disk jockey and asking him if wrestling was fake. His unexpected and lethal reaction was to reach across both microphones and slap me. He then asked me, 'was that fake?' --The Memphis Flyer, John Branston
Mention the town of Memphis to most folks, and chances are the first name that comes to mind is Elvis. Mention the town of Memphis to any longtime wrestling fan, and chances are they ll start talking about Jerry The King Lawler, Jackie Fargo, Sputnik Monroe or some of the other legendary figures who helped make Memphis one of the most successful and longest-running territories in the business. A new book, Sputnik, Masked Men and Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling, helps capture the style and splendor of that era in grand pictorial fashion. Author Ron Hall and editor Sherman Willmott have done a terrific job putting together an attractive, coffee table-style volume that contains nearly 400 nostalgic black-and-white images from a bygone age in wrestling history in one of wrestling s most enduring cities. Most of the book s photos are from a period ranging from the early 50s to the late 70s, and many of the images have never been published before. There s even a bonus CD of rare music tracks by Memphis favorites Sputnik Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Jimmy Valiant and Len Rossi. Lawler, who was regarded as the King of Memphis long before his stint as WWE color commentator, wrote the introduction to the book and notes that he patterned his speaking style after another famous Memphian. The book consists primarily of old posed and action photos, but also includes reproductions of Memphis wrestling posters, clips and 45s. Hall, a post office clerk by trade, pursued the project after writing a couple of nostalgia-based books on Memphis garage band history: Playing for a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage & Frat Bands in Memphis, 1960-75) and The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook. A longtime music buff, Hall unwittingly helped create a new audience for the genre when many of the groups he wrote about decided to reform years later. It was through ingenuity and a little luck that Hall got the idea for the books. Hall came across a treasure trove of material while going through files and documents that were housed at the University of Memphis Museum. Much of the material previously had been the property of the Memphis Press-Scimitar, a Scripps-Howard afternoon daily that closed its doors in the mid- 80s. Everything that had been written about folks in Memphis was probably in their collection, says Hall. Once the newspaper closed shop, he says, most of the photo archives were earmarked for disposal. It was a godsend for historians like Hall. You wouldn t believe the stuff I found going through there. It s unbelievable. They had a great catalog. --The Post & Courier, Mike Mooneyham
About the Author
Memphis music historian Ron Hall created a whole audience for the over-the-top Memphis garage rock scene of the 60s & early 70s with his first two books: Playing for a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage & Frat Bands, 1960-1975 and The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook as well as two compendium CD's. The compilation CD's gathered unbelievably rare lost 45 gems from many of the bands featured in the books. Not only did the books break all garage rock book sales records in Memphis, they also revitalized the historic Memphis garage rock scene and helped many of the bands re-form 35 or 40 years later! Now Ron Hall has turned his attention to the also amazing Memphis wrassling world -- pre-cable tv, bleached hair, and steroids with a new book--Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling published by Shangri-La Projects. Memphis wrassling WAS the roots and forerunner of the WWF and the WWE. Many of the giants of the corporate cable wrestling world first wrestled in Memphis including Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Hart, Lance Banana Nose Russell, and many others. But before Lawler, in Memphis, there was Sputnik Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Don and Al Greene, Tojo Yamamoto, and Plowboy Frazier.