Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho and Terry Funk have put out some great books about life in and around “the squared circle.
Add Bill Apter to the mix. Apter, who has covered pro wrestling for more than four decades, has written a bubbly, funny, sentimental and insightful memoir that takes the reader behind the scenes in the dressing rooms.
“Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken: My Incredible Pro Wrestling Journey … and Beyond!” (ECW Press; paperback; $19.95; 282 pages) is a collection of Apter’s memories as a writer and photographer. There is really no structure to the book; it’s basically a hodgepodge of memories from the Bruno Sammartino era of wrestling to today’s glitzier, big-production efforts.
“I wanted to make a book that you could just pick up and dip into,” Apter writes in the prologue to the book.
As a kid, I remembered Apter. He was the guy that did the photo spread in one of the wrestling magazines in 1973 (it was either “The Wrestler” or “Inside Wrestling”), challenging the veracity of Stan Stasiak’s notorious heart punch.
And then there’s Apter, crumpling to the ground after taking the devastating hit to his chest.
Of course, kayfabe was still intact during the 1960s and ’70s, so even though it looked real, the photo shoot was staged.
Ah, those wrestling magazines. The ones that boasted cover photos of wrestlers whose faces were “crimson masks” (a nod to longtime wrestling commentator Gordon Solie), and headlines like “Bobby Heenan’s Bloody Obsession.”Apter’s memories of the Stasiak incident come early in his book.
Apter’s working relationship with his boss, Stanley Weston, are informative and gives the reader an insight to the publishing business in the 1970s. Before the Internet and social media, Weston’s magazines were a way for wrestling fans to stay in touch with the top performers, the feuds and the title changes. Wrestling territories were still relevant in the 1970s; Apter was the guy whose columns and photographs put the reader right next to the ring apron.
It was Weston’s advice to Apter that helped define him as a wrestling journalist.
“What I want you to do is write the way you talk,” Weston told Apter. “I want the reader to hear your voice.”
It was sound advice. Because of that, a generation of fans respected Apter’s credibility, and he has grown into an icon of the business.
You’re not going to find much dirt in “Is Wrestling Fixed?” Oh sure, there are episodes where he ran afoul of promoters like Vince McMahon Sr. and Fritz Von Erich. Readers can find out why “Macho Man” Randy Savage wanted to kill Apter, and how Don Curtis got a young Apter (then a wrestling fan in New York), kicked out of a wrestling arena for being underage.
Apter also recalls about writing about a wrestler who had died, only to discover that the grappler (Bearcat Wright) was quite alive several months later.
Readers will enjoy Apter’s campy, goofy antics as the creator of Championship Office Wrestling, where “Wonderful Willie” defended his title against all comers. The COW belt was an integral part of “Apter’s Alley.”
“I am simply amazed when I think about who has challenged me for the COW belt over the years,” he writes, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
One of the nice parts of “Is Wrestling Fixed” is the chapter about the night Sammartino lost the WWWF title to Ivan Koloff. Apter was tipped off to the match’s result, and “it was my first ‘I have to kayfabe this’ moment of my career,” Apter writes.
There are plenty of photographs in the book, but unfortunately none of the ones that defined his career. Those photos are owned by the wrestling magazines he worked for, so they were not included. That’s a shame.
Apter writes about his colleagues in the magazine business, and has an amusing chapter about “Apartment Wrestling,” a cheesy fad that pitted scantily clad women wrestling in an apartment. You know, drop kicks over the couch and figure four leglocks on the carpet.
An aside: a good friend of mine enjoyed Apartment Wrestling, so when he got married in 1981, I sent away for some of the magazines to present to him at his bachelor party as a gag. Everybody got a good laugh, but I got put on a mailing list, and you can just imagine the literature I received for the next year. My mailman was smirking.
Apter gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at the “feud” between comedian Andy Kaufman and wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler. Kaufman accompanied Apter to his apartment and talked incessantly about wanting to wrestle. Apter contacted Lawler, who was amused.
“You’ve got Andy Kaufman, the guy from ‘Taxi,’ in your little, roach-infested apartment in Queens?” Lawler asked.
The resulting feud changed the landscape of professional wrestling.
Apter also chronicles his adventures photographing boxing stars like Muhammad Ali and discusses his work as editor at 1wrestling.com.
If you’re a fan of pro wrestling, “Is Wrestling Fixed?” is a must read. Apter has had an amazing career as a writer and photographer, and his stories are warm, funny and entertaining.