Funk and many other wrestlers have written books about their lives and times. But nobody else in the business has Pat Patterson’s back story. Not only was Patterson a big gate attraction in the 1960s, he also was gay.
Pro wrestling in the 1950s was a rough-and-tumble business, and even the hint of something less than a macho heterosexual could be detrimental to a man’s career. One shtick on some wrestling shows was to put the loser of a match in a dress — demeaning his masculinity, so to speak.
But the effeminate character worked for Gorgeous George, a headliner in the 1950s who wore elaborate robes; had perfectly coiffed, bleached-blonde curls; and passed out Georgie Pins (since bobby pins were so pedestrian, he explained).
But outside the ring, nobody ever admitted to being gay. Until Patterson. In Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE (ECW Press; hardback; $25.95; 258 pages), Patterson mixes in his professional career and personal life in an entertaining narrative. There are plenty of stories that wrestling fans will love, anecdotes about Killer Kowalski, Ray Stevens, Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But Patterson also chronicles his 40-year relationship with Louie Dondero, a man of many talents (cook, barber, wrestling valet) who was admired by many in the business.
Patterson was never open about his relationship with Dondero, who died of a heart attack in 1999.
“We never introduced ourselves as in a relationship or showed affection in public. We were hiding in plain sight,” Patterson writes. “That just goes to show you how deep you needed to pretend back in the day.
“Even if things have changed since, I still can’t completely shake it off.”
In 2014, Patterson came out on Legends’ House, a WWE reality television show, which depicted him and other wrestling stars living together in a California mansion.
“While many people knew I was gay, I had never expressed it in front of a crowd,” Patterson writes. “I was ready to let go of the burden of secrecy.”
Patterson is not the only gay pro wrestler. Darren Young came out in 2013, the first active performer to do so.
But Accepted is not just about lifestyles. Wrestling fans will learn some of the inner workings of World Wrestling Entertainment and its owner, Vince McMahon Jr. (a classic workaholic who also wrote the book’s foreword). They also will discover more details about Patterson’s life away from the ring. They will read about Patterson’s decision to step down as a WWE vice president after he was accused of sexual harassment. He returned at McMahon’s behest in 1992 after the WWE owner conducted his own independent investigation, and continues as a company adviser.
Born Pierre Clermont in 1941 and one of 11 children, Patterson realized he was different. His first gay experience as a teen was an eye-opener.
“We were just two people, together, sharing their feelings,” Patterson writes. “It was a strange sentiment.
“In fact, I couldn’t see straight.”
Patterson left his comfort zone in Montreal and traveled to wrestle in Boston. In addition to being new to the business, Patterson also could not speak English. But his wrestling skills attracted attention, and Vachon moved him west to Portland, Oregon, where he excelled.
After a fruitful wrestling tag team career with Stevens (they were AWA world champions at one point), Patterson became the first Intercontinental champion of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now WWE). He retired as an active wrestler in 1984 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996. Many forget that Patterson was the referee in the main event of the first WrestleMania.
Patterson also writes about the pranks he pulled on other wrestlers, his night-time drinking binges in Japan with Andre the Giant, and his battles with promoters like Roy Shire and Verne Gagne. He writes fondly of wrestling colleagues like Lord Alfred Hayes and Rene Goulet, and also recounts his classic 1981 Alley Fight match with Sgt. Slaughter. He praises McMahon’s vision, which made his company the top pro wrestling organization in the world.
McMahon “saw wrestling like the world of Disney, with all those characters aiming to be bigger than life,” Patterson writes.
And it’s true. Hulk Hogan. The Ultimate Warrior. The Rock. The Million Dollar Man. “Macho Man” Randy Savage. All were great characters that flourished under McMahon’s umbrella.
Patterson also gives his side of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” in the 1997 Survivor Series match that saw Bret Hart “lose” his WWF title to Shawn Michaels by submission, even though it was clear that Hart did not submit. The punch McMahon took in the jaw from Hart after the match was real.
“They made sure I wasn’t in the know,” Patterson writes, “because I would have tried to find a way to talk Vince out of it.”
Hart believed for many years that Patterson was in on the fix. In his 2007 autobiography, Hart wrote that Patterson approached him during the funeral of his brother Owen in 1999 and tried to convince him that he wasn’t. Hart claimed that Patterson “shut up” when the Hitman asked, “So, where were you when they brought the midget out all dressed as me?” That was a reference to Michaels escorting “a Mexican midget wrestler wearing a leather jacket and a Hitman Halloween mask” to the ring two weeks after the Montreal match.
At the time Hart wrote his book, his bitterness with Patterson was evident. For his part, Patterson said he and Hart finally made their peace a few years ago.
“Bret had good reason to be angry,” Patterson writes. “Just not forever.”
Patterson has been dedicated to the business for nearly 60 years, but it’s the stuff outside the ring that he remembers. “That’s what I look back on most fondly,” he writes. “There’s plenty of them, and they all still make me laugh.”
Patterson also discusses his part as one of “the stooges” with Gerald Brisco in the late 1990s, and how he was not enamored with a clownish role.
“I was a main-event wrestler and I used to draw thousands of people,” he writes. “I was never comic relief.
“It was a hard pill to swallow … but it’s remembered fondly.”
Accepted is a funny, warm book. Patterson is a great storyteller and recounts his episodes with relish. He is obviously having a good time throughout most of the book, and he playfully tells readers to skip ahead to Chapter 8 to read about Stevens’ wild life.
But he grows serious when he discusses his lifestyle and the business he loves.
“No wrestler ever refused to work with me because I was gay,” he writes. “I loved the business, but the business never took over my life.
“It was difficult just being me. I never wanted to be branded as ‘just a wrestler’ or ‘just a gay man.’”
And that should be acceptable to those who read Patterson’s book.