George Steele – “Everything that happened with me happened by accident. One of the things I’m always asked about is, ‘Why did you have a fetish for turnbuckles?’”
“The turnbuckles did become a bit of a fetish…” – George Steele
In an interview on Busted Open Radio in 2013 (H/T: ProWrestling.net), George Steele opened up about a host of topics including what it was like to lead a double life as a wrestler and a teacher, how he became “The Animal”, and of course, turnbuckles.
“When I was wrestling in New York or in the North East, [students and colleagues] didn’t know that back in Michigan.”
After earning a bachelor of science degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University, the real-life Jim Myers became a teacher, amateur wrestling coach, and football coach at Madison High School in Madison Heights, Michigan. There he would eventually become a member of the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame.
“Back in Michigan, I was wearing a mask so, you know, the students really never knew what was going on. Occasionally, a student from the North East would move into the Madison Heights area and say, ‘Is that you? You’re a wrestler, you’re George Steele.’ And I’d simply look at him and say, ‘Do you really think I’m that ugly?'”
George Steele on How He Got the Nickname “The Animal”
“I was wrestling around Michigan [where I lived] with a mask on. I was spotted and taken into Pittsburgh. And they didn’t want me to use my mask. I did not want to use my real name because of teaching and coaching. So Johnny DeFazio, one of the guys there, said, ‘Well, this is the Steel City, let’s call him Jim Steele.’ I didn’t like the Jim, somebody else said George. So George Steele it was. I was about 46 years old.”
“Back in the black and white TV days in ’67, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania they had their wrestling promotion in a studio – channel 11 studio.
“They would put plywood around the outside of the ring, sit people in front of it. Now the plywood was painted black and they had faces on it so it made the crowd look bigger. I mean we’re talking about old, old wrestling. Vince McMahon would die if they did that today.
“They would give away a gift now and then to get fans to come there for the promotion. This particular Saturday afternoon, they gave away couch pillows. Satin couch pillows from the ‘60s packed real tight.
“So we’re in the match and somebody got mad at me, I think it was a lady and she threw her pillow at me. So what am I gonna do? If I sit on it, it’s going to be boring. If I throw it back, I’m gonna get bombed with 300 of them. So I took it and I bit it. And it exploded! So I started throwing the stuffing up in the air and it comes down and stuck.”
George Steele continued, “The stuffing was lighter than air so it stuck in my hair, I looked like the abominable snowman. And then I put it over my opponent’s head and started choking him. When I pulled it off, because the stuffing was lighter than air, it almost killed him.”
“When I got to the dressing room, wrestlers, being like wrestlers were back then, all laughed and said, ‘Gee, you almost killed that one. If you get someone to throw a pillow sometime, that was really exciting!'”
“Do you really think I’m that ugly?”
In a spontaneous, reactive moment in the ring, “The Animal” was born, a gimmick George Steele would use for the rest of his career.
“About three weeks later,” Steele continued, “I was wrestling Chief Jay Strongbow. He always had exciting matches [but] our match was just boring, it was not working. How do you have a boring match with him? Anyhow, I looked over at the turnbuckle, I went over and there’s an old Everlast turnbuckle. I took a bite out of it, tore his head, rubbed it in his face, ran his head into the turnbuckle.
“From kind of a flat match, we had a riot. So from then on, the turnbuckles did become a bit of a fetish…”
“I’m not an animal, I’m a people!” – Separating “The Animal” from Home Life
So how could someone as intelligent as Jim Meyers create someone the complete opposite as George Steele?
“Let’s say I was in the main event at Madison Square Garden on a Saturday night. I come home Sunday and I’m gonna be on the football field on Monday with a whistle around my neck. My wife had this process of we have to get George in the box and get Jim OUT of the box. And that mentally had to happen cause it was a huge swing in personalities.”
“When I first came to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, the WWWF, I did my own interviews. And I was very articulate. The first year I was in there they called me I think it was George ‘The Destroyer’ Steele. And the next time it was George ‘The Bruiser’ Steele. I didn’t like either one of them. But the people, because of the hair, the body; I was pretty vicious-looking, started calling me an animal. And I’d get on the microphone using my intelligence and say, ‘I’m not an animal, I’m a people!’
“As soon as I did that, the more they would call me The Animal. And finally, about the third or fourth year, the WWF picked up on The Animal thing. So that was not created, it just happened by the fans. The fans are the greatest creation team.”
WATCH: George “The Animal” Steele vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage: Boston Garden, September 6th, 1986
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