Don Fargo – Living The Gimmick ‘The Hard Way’

Most people live from day to day; others live like there is no tomorrow. Then there was Don Fargo.

Don Fargo during The Chain Gang years
Don Fargo during The Chain Gang years

“I’d get so pissed when a fan would say, ‘You guys use razor blades to get blood.’ I’d tell them, ‘Take a close look at my face, motherfucker. Razor blades don’t make jagged scars like I’ve got. And how dumb would I have to be to carry a razor blade into the ring?’

One night, I was sitting at a bar in the airport. I had stitches above my right eye and it was quite black from the pounding I had taken earlier that night. The guy sitting next to me turned and asked, ‘Are you a fighter?’ I said, ‘No, I’m a wrestler.’

He leaned towards me to take a closer look at my eye and said, ‘You guys use that fake blood, don’t you?’ I said, ‘What do you mean by fake blood?’ He said, ‘Well … capsules.’ ‘Blood capsules?’ ‘Yeah, like they use in Hollywood.’ ‘What do you mean Hollywood blood capsules? I’ve never heard of ‘em.’

He said, ‘Well, you know … you take a blood capsule and you bite it, or you take it and push it on your forehead.’ ‘Where would I keep them?’ ‘Oh, you put them in your tights.’ I asked him, ‘Did you ever see us bleed?’ ‘Oh, gosh, yeah. I’ve seen wrestlers bleed all over the place.’

I said, ‘Let’s talk a little common sense here. I put blood capsules in my trunks to get blood on my head. I’d have to have blood capsules about this big,’ and I held my two hands about three inches apart. I went on and said, ‘I’d have to have ten to twenty capsules to make it look good. Then, while I’m wrestling, I reach down into my tights and don’t find a capsule because the son-of-a-bitch melted and the blood’s running down my fuckin’ leg.’

He just stared at me because he was beginning to realize just how stupid and foolish he was. I said, ‘So what do you do for a living?’ He told me he was a doctor. A doctor! You’d think a doctor would have enough common sense to realize you couldn’t put enough blood in one, much less ten capsules, to make it look like we were bleeding.

I said, ‘Sir, I can’t read or write, and I have no education, but I do know I can’t put twenty blood capsules into my tights and not have them melt while I’m sweating or bust while I’m bouncing around the ring.'”

– Don Fargo, from his autobiography, “The Hard Way


Don Fargo (Donald Vincent Kalt) never learned to read or write, was unsure of his birthdate and wasn’t even sure where he was born. School? In his words: “I didn’t go to school for very long unless you count the three years I was in the third grade. I eventually moved up, but I think the teachers passed me out of pity. I just wasn’t interested.”

But something attracted Don to wrestling even as a youngster.

“The first time I saw wrestling, it was on television, before I got into bodybuilding. I was amazed and captivated by it. I thought it was the greatest thing ever … two guys beating the hell out of each other. That appealed to me because I was getting into fights every day when I was a kid.”

Years later after a series of menial jobs, a stint in the military, and taking second place in the Mr. Pittsburgh bodybuilding contest was when he considered maybe becoming a pro wrestler.

After an offer to get trained in Columbus, Ohio under the promotion of Al Haft, Don Fargo would get his first dose of being “taught” what wrestling was about by “working out” with the likes of Speedy LaRance and Ruffy Silverstein. He didn’t understand why for two straight days they had tortured him, but they would later encourage him to come back. He did return for a third day to “workout” with a guy named Stu Hart. “The man who loves to give pain,” is how he heard a fellow student refer to Stu.

Don tells the story, “Stu gave me a triple dose of it that day and kept me in the ring for a good five minutes. Many years later, during the short time I was wrestling for him, I went to his house to visit him. Stu was foolish enough to ask me to join him for a workout in his dungeon. I said, ‘You know, Stu, I have a pretty good memory. There’s no way I’m gonna go down there!'”

After being properly tested and learning that all of the stretchings he received was for his own good and as a test to see if he could handle the pressure of the business, Don was ready.

Don Fargo competed for three decades and used at least thirteen different gimmicks throughout his career. Gimmicks that he lived 24/7, not just inside the ring.

“I laugh when I think about those days because, not only did I convince the people, but I convinced myself. In fact, it’s a bit scary when I think about it. Even today, my wife will tease me and ask, ‘Who are you today, Fargo?'”

In his early days in the business, Don Fargo got advice from the wrestler he admired the most: Buddy Rogers. He feels that there have been many charismatic performers, but nobody topped Rogers. His advice was key in shaping how Don would go about his gimmicks: “Be what you are and live it.” In other words, don’t just “act” like the character when you’re in the ring. “Be” the character at all times, both in and out of the ring. Fargk also remembers Rogers telling him, “If you can make the people stand up, and then make them sit down, anytime you want, you’re in control and you’ll be very successful. Not too many guys have the ability to do that.”

“All I cared about was making the people believe. I lived to make them either ‘hate’ or ‘love’ me.”


Recommended read: BUDDY ROGERS: The Man Who Drove a Wedge in the NWA


Don Fargo
Don Fargo [Source: Don Fargo Facebook Page]

When wrestlers were resorting to bleeding in the matches to add a dose of realism, Don wasn’t for it at first because he didn’t want to “blade” (cut himself with a razor in order to bleed during a match). He wanted to keep it all legit so he decided to use another method called “the hard way”, which consisted of getting his opponent to strike violently but with precision right on the bone over the eye so that it would split open and start bleeding. Many times it wasn’t done right and he’d get hit in the nose and start bleeding, but that, of course, didn’t have the same effect.

Don had a chance to get busted open the hard way by a young and green Jim Harris (who later would become Kamala). “When he hit me, the gash above my eye opened and the blood began to flow. I staggered around the ring and bled puddles, but I watched him as he stood there. If you’ve ever seen the old horror movies where a black guy sees a ghost, that’s the way James looked. His mouth dropped open and his eyes opened wide. I loved every minute of it. I knew that if I had convinced James, I had convinced the audience.”

Doing it the hard way not only added realism to the already stiff matches that were taking place, but there was also a monetary incentive.

“Promoters would pay an extra $25 for a hard way, which, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, was a lot of money. We could buy draft beer at a bar for just ten cents, and my car payments were only $90 a month. If I was running short when the rent came due, I could do hard ways and make my rent money in a few nights, and the extra cash allowed me to buy more rifles and pistols. Pistols were really cheap. We could get them for $50. I had a girlfriend when I was wrestling in Baton Rouge in the late ‘60s. Her family was poor, so every time I got a payoff for doing a hard way, I’d take the $25 and buy groceries. I could buy enough groceries with that money to last them almost a week.”

Fargo admits that perhaps he was addicted to the pain, but also wanted the people to believe what they were seeing in the ring.

“I loved the brass knuckles matches too. I always told my opponents to ‘lay them in!’ When I went back to the dressing room, my eyes would be swollen. I was very adamant that, no matter what I did in the ring, it was important that I convince the people that what we were doing was real. There are some people you can’t convince unless you go to extremes.”

When speaking about today’s wrestling, Don would get upset because fans many times comment on how wrestling used to be boring in the old days where they’d just lay around and apply holds to each other. He feels that wrestlers from his time would get more serious heat “laying ’round” than all the high flying stuff they do today.

Don Fargo busted open the hardway! [Photo by Dan Westbrook]
Don Fargo busted open the hard way! [Photo by Dan Westbrook]

“You’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of Fargo’s matches and promos on film spanning the three decades he competed and most of the footage is from when he wasn’t in his prime anymore.”

To name just a handful of the wrestlers Don Fargo worked with over the years, there was: Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, Greg Valentine, Jackie Fargo, Jimmy Snuka, “Cowboy” Bob Kelly, The Bruiser, The Crusher, Ray Stevens, Sputnik Monroe, Dory Funk Jr., Andre The Giant, Harley Race, Angelo Poffo, and the list goes on. But you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of his matches and promos on film spanning these three decades he competed and most of the footage is from when he wasn’t in his prime anymore.

Unfortunately one of his most memorable matches not on film took place in late 1971 in Mobile, Alabama where he challenged for the NWA World Championship versus Dory Funk Jr.

“In the weeks leading up to the title match,” Cowboy Bob Kelly once said, “Fargo had been engaged in a feud with Ken Lucas, perhaps the top babyface ever to appear in the territory. The people were anxious to see Funk beat Fargo (wrestling as Mr. D at the time) and remove his mask. The two of them wrestled for 50 minutes of the 60-minute match and the people had been pulling for Funk all the way. During the last ten minutes of the match, the people were on their feet. They were cheering and screaming encouragement … but not for Funk. They had changed their tune and were supporting Fargo. The longer the match went, the harder the two fought, and the harder Fargo fought, the more they got on his side. In the last couple of minutes, Funk looked like he was running out of gas, but Fargo was coming on strong. The people were so disappointed when the bell rang signaling the end of the match. They had hoped to see the belt change hands right there in Mobile … and they wanted it to go to the man who, just a few minutes earlier, they had hated with a passion … Don Fargo.”

Not many people know Don Fargo was quite a good artist. Caricature of Dory Funk Jr. by Don Fargo.
My condolences to…

Posted by Dory Funk on Sunday, November 8, 2015

 

Arguably, other than the thirteen gimmicks he used in his career and him living them day and night, the thing people in the business remember Don the most for was his constant pushing of the envelope in order to get attention and the ribbing of his fellow workers.

“I played so many ribs on the guys that they would look at me in the dressing room and ask, ‘What the fuck are you thinking about doing now, Fargo?’ If I wasn’t wrestling, I was thinking of something I could do to make someone laugh, or a prank I could pull on somebody. The guys would all look at me with that ‘He’s up to something’ expression on their face.

“My favorite routine was to take my cigar, stick it in my butt crack, and walk into the dressing room. ‘Hey, you guys. Has anybody seen my cigar? I had it sitting right here where I was sittin’ and I can’t find it.’ I’d point to the bench and turn around as if I was looking around the room for it. Of course, they’d see it hanging there. Someone would laugh and say, ‘It’s in your butt!’

“I’d pull it out, stick it in my mouth, and say, ‘Anybody got a light?’ ‘Oh, god. You’re sick, Fargo.’ Yeah, we were, but we had a lot of fun doing those things. I admit I did things that drove everybody crazy, especially the promoters, but Jackie Fargo was the instigator. ‘Go do this, Don,’ or ‘Go do that, Don.’

“Jackie and I ribbed each other so much. There was a time when I was afraid to leave the table in a restaurant or bar. If I had to go to the bathroom, I’d hold it as long as I could because he’d piss in my drink the minute I was out of sight. You may think I’m lying about all this, but that actually happened. I got him back, though. There were a few occasions when he went to the bathroom and I stirred his drink with my dick. Most of the time, though, we looked out for each other and reserved those pleasures for other people.”

The Fabulous Fargos in black and white
The Fabulous Fargos – Jackie and Don Fargo

“Don and Jackie wrestled on and off as a team until 1965, when Don turned into wrestling’s greatest quick-change artists… A tremendous worker by any standard, Don’s devil-may-care attitude was summed up on July 29, 1975, in Mobile, Alabama, in a Hell’s Kitchen Street Fight against Nick Kozak. Both men wore suits to the ring and the loser was the first to be stripped to his skivvies. Which, Kozak found during the course of the match, Fargo had neglected to wear. “He told me to pull his tights down,” Kozak said. “He was naked as a jaybird. You should have seen the flashbulbs going off even though cameras were supposed to be barred. I thought Lee Fields (the promoter) was going to have a heart attack.”

Steve Johnson


Don Fargo in his later years
Don Fargo in his later years [Source: Don Fargo Facebook Page]

Later in life, when asked what he missed the most about the business, Don confessed, “I miss the excitement, the thrill of entertaining the wrestling fans, the glory, and the glamour. I miss the money, too, but that comes last on the list. I was too much of a glory hound. I didn’t care that much about the money. I’d spend it as fast as I made it.”

“What do I miss the least? That’s easy. The promoters’ bullshit. ‘We’re gonna do wonders for you, boy!’ ‘You’re gonna make more money than you ever made before.’ ‘You won’t ever want to leave this territory.’ ‘We’ll have you farting through silk.’ No, that’s the one thing I don’t miss at all. Promises, promises.”

Don Fargo sadly passed away on November 8th, 2015. He is a Cauliflower Alley Club 2004 Honoree and was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2014 (located in Amsterdam, NY at the time) along with his longtime partner “Wildman Jackie” Fargo (posthumously) as part of “The Fabulous Fargo Brothers”. In 2009 he was also inducted into the NWA Wrestling Legends Hall Of Heroes.

SOURCES: All quotes come from the book “The Hard Way” by Don Fargo with Scott Teal except for the quote from Steve Johnson which comes from midatlanticwrestling.com.

Javier Ojst
Javier Ojst is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories. He is as an old school wrestling enthusiast and the creator/administrator of the Facebook page "Classic Wrestling Stars". He can be reached by e-mail at jojst1@gmail.com.