It started in 1974 with Joe Jares’ classic book, “Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George?” Since then, there have been books written by Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Chris Jericho, Lex Luger and Bret Hart — to name but a few.
They tell some great stories about life on the road, ribs, swerves, works, shoots and kayfabe.
But Scott Teal is the best interviewer of pro wrestlers. Hands down. Since 1996, he has published 53 issues of the newsletter, “Whatever Happened To …?” and has authored books with pro wrestlers like Ole Anderson, Tony Atlas, Don Fargo, J.J. Dillon and Stan Hansen.
Teal knows the sport, has an uncanny ability to put the wrestlers at ease and prompts them to speak in great detail about their lives and careers.
It’s pure gold.
And “The Wrestling Archive Project: Classic 20th Century Mat Memories, Volume 1” (Crowbar Press; Paperback; $22.95; 406 pages) is golden. In Teal’s words, he is doing what he has enjoyed more than anything in the wrestling business — “conducting in-depth interviews with the legends.”
Teal is promising that each volume will contain two or three new interviews, along with 10 from the “Whatever Happened To …?” series.
The first volume contains an interview that has to be classified as a main event. For the first time, former wrestling heel Buddy Colt opens up about his career and the plane crash in Tampa Bay south of downtown Tampa that ended it and took the life of Bobby Shane in 1975.
The interview with Colt is 117 pages and covers every part of his long career. It’s also the first time Colt has given a detailed account about the plane crash, which also impacted the careers of Mike McCord (later known as Austin Idol) and manager Gary Hart. Colt did give a few quotes for a Tampa Tribune story on February 1, 2015 — and the story was a good narrative — but Teal’s interview provides much more detail and puts the reader in Colt’s head as he tried to land safely.
Fans of “Championship Wrestling From Florida” during the 1970s will enjoy the back-room stories Colt tells, and all the big names are mentioned — Eddie Graham, Jack Brisco, Louie Tillet, Paul Jones, Johnny Walker, Don Curtis, Hiro Matsuda and the Great Malenko — the interview reads like a who’s who of the golden age of Florida wrestling.
Colt always had a humorless, all-business persona in the ring — he portrayed a ruthless heel who included a taped thumb to the throat of babyfaces in his arsenal of tricks — but his sense of humor comes out in his interviews with Teal.
On wrestling Sonny the bear in Oklahoma City, Colt cracks that “it was really pretty easy.”
“In fact, the bear was easier to work with than Tim Woods,” he said.
Teal also includes fresh interviews with Adrian Street and referee Mac McMurray. The McMurray interview is another highlight of the book, giving readers a perspective of the business from a referee’s point of view.
His stories are funny, too. He had a memorable night in 1972 driving Andre the Giant south on Interstate 95 toward Miami. McMurray was just south of West Palm Beach when Andre wanted some beer. McMurray went into a convenience store and bought “two king-sized Budweisers.”
“He looked at them, looked at me, looked back at them and said ‘Wait here.’” McMurray told Teal. “He went into the store and came back out a minute later with a case of Budweiser for him and a six-pack for me.
“Before we got down to the exit for the Miami airport, he had one beer left and I still had three left of my six-pack.”
The other highlight of this compilation is Teal’s February 2001 interview with “midget wrestler” Lord Littlebrook. He got his start in the circus (where he peeled potatoes) and later married “a six-foot Dutch girl.”
Littlebrook gives a unique view of the sport and notes that he was “friends with just about everybody” in the wrestling business.
“I don’t think, in all my years in the business, that I ran across five people that I didn’t like,” he tells Teal.
Filling out the volume are interviews from the past with Gene Dundee, Dandy Jack Donovan, Lou Thesz, Dick Cardinal, Benny McGuire, Pepper Gomez, Gorgeous George Grant, Frank Martinez, Gene Lewis, "Hangman" Ernie Moore and Joe Powell.
There were two glitches I found in the Buddy Colt interview. The first involved a caption that asserted that the Opa-locka Marine air base was in Jacksonville, when in fact it is in Miami-Dade County. The second was a mention of the benefit event given by Jody Simon at the old Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa (now called the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation). The event is listed in the interview as taking place July 11, 2015, when it fact it was held on June 11 — the day that longtime Florida wrestling star Dusty Rhodes died.
Throughout “The Wrestling Mat Archive Project,” the warmth and passion of the wrestlers come through.
“When you like your job, it’s not a job, and I loved my job,” Colt said.
“We had so much of ourselves as people invested,” McMurray tells Teal.
Consequently we were rewarded. We gave and gave and gave and the people responded.
“It was a good feeling.”
Investing in this first volume of wrestling memories should give fans a good feeling, too.