Jimmy Hart: Secret History of The Mouth of the South

From his bestselling gold record, extravagant ring jackets, and distinctive high-pitched voice that addressed everyone as “baby,” “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart was a one-of-a-kind wrestling personality. Learn the surprising story of the man behind the megaphone!

"The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart over the years.
“The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart over the years.

Soaring to the top of the Billboard Hot 100

Born James Ray Hart in Jackson, Mississippi, on January 1, 1944, Jimmy Hart experienced his initial success in the music industry.

The Gentrys featuring Jimmy Hart front and center.
The Gentrys featuring Jimmy Hart front and center. [Photo Credit: LastFM]
A member of The Gentrys, they soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1965 with their million-seller, “Keep On Dancing.”

This hit record garnered the band appearances on weekly music TV shows such as “Hullaballoo,” “Shindig!” and “Where the Action Is.”

In addition, Hart and the Gentrys toured with The Beach Boys, as well as Sonny and Cher and other giants.

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“The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart: His Foray Into Professional Wrestling

Jimmy Hart was recruited into the professional wrestling business by Jerry Lawler, who was acquainted with Jimmy; both were alumni of Treadwell High School in Memphis.

Hart, a musician with a passion for wrestling, and Lawler, a wrestler with a love for music, initially collaborated on a recording that Lawler was working on for the Memphis TV wrestling show.

A friendship was forged, and Hart started to assist Lawler with promotional activities for local wrestling shows.

Jimmy Hart and Jerry Lawler in Memphis Wrestling.
Jimmy Hart and Jerry Lawler in Memphis Wrestling. [Photo Credit: WWE]

The First Family of Wrestling in Memphis

When Jimmy Hart was brought in on the wrestling end, he initially aligned with Jerry Lawler as his manager. However, in time, Hart split with the King and formed The First Family, truly the heel central of Memphis.

Mainstays in The First Family included Hulk Hogan, King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude, “Leaping” Lanny Poffo, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Kamala, Ox Baker, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, The Iron Sheik, and Kevin Sullivan.

Jimmy Hart and the First Family in Memphis Wrestling.
Jimmy Hart and the First Family in Memphis Wrestling. [Photo Credit: WWE]
The mission of The First Family was to eliminate Jerry Lawler from professional wrestling.

Sullivan assumed a similar role years later as The Taskmaster in World Championship Wrestling; there, he had the singular purpose of ending the career of former First Family member Hulk Hogan. Round and round go the wheels of professional wrestling.

Achieving Success in the CWA

Jimmy Hart with classic CWA stars Bobby Eaton, Bill Dundee, Jim Cornette, and Duke Myers.
Jimmy Hart with classic CWA stars Bobby Eaton, Bill Dundee, Jim Cornette, and Duke Myers. [Photo Credit: Continental Wrestling Association, WWE]
Although most fans remember Jimmy Hart from his time with the World Wrestling Federation and later World Championship Wrestling, he achieved phenomenal success in the Jarrett-Lawler Memphis-based Continental Wrestling Association (CWA). While there, he led Austin Idol, Eddie Gilbert, and Masao Ito to International NWA/AWA titles.

Hart was also critical in the ongoing feud between Lawler and comedian Andy Kaufman.

Jimmy tagged with Kaufman during the one-year-plus fracas and even wrestled against the Hollywood icon. However, his primary role in the storyline was that of Andy’s manager in his never-ending attempt to orchestrate the demise of The King.

Jimmy even managed to capture a championship of his own, somehow defeating Lawler for the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship in Memphis on June 22, 1981. However, Hart’s reign lasted all of five days, when First Family member Chick Donovan defeated him (Hart allowed Donovan to pin him).

“Wimp” Nickname

Although Jimmy Hart would acquire several nicknames during his illustrious career, he earned his very first during his term in Grind City. Hart was dubbed “Wimp” by Jerry Lawler (ironically, this would be inherited by former First Family member Iron Mike Sharpe during his run in WWF).

The nickname gained so much steam that Lawler recorded a music video entitled “Wimpbusters,” recorded in the tune of Ghostbusters, which featured many of the Memphis stars of the day, including Lance Russell, Randy Savage, Dutch Mantel, Rufus R. Jones, and Jimmy Valiant.

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Getting the Call from Vince McMahon

In 1985 Vince McMahon, at the behest of Jim Morris (known to many as Hillbilly Jim), left word with Jimmy Hart to give him a call. Thinking this was a rib by Austin Idol, Hart ignored the message.

The following week, he received a message from WWF booker George Scott, which he similarly ignored.

Hart eventually called Idol, who assured him that, at least on this occasion, no rib was involved. Shortly afterward, Hart received a call from Morris (who had recently wrestled in Memphis as Harley Davidson), informing Hart that he would receive a call from McMahon.

The call came moments later, and Hart was “leavin’ on a jet plane” the next morning for WWF Headquarters in Connecticut.

Jimmy Hart and Vince McMahon.
Jimmy Hart and Vince McMahon. [Photo Credit: WWE]
Jimmy met with McMahon, who extended a lucrative offer to the future Mouth of the South. Hart accepted but told Vince he needed to return to Memphis the next day to run the territory’s weekly TV show. This further ingratiated Hart with McMahon, who commented that he respected Jimmy’s integrity and commitment.

Hart had gotten suspended in Memphis due to dumping flour on legendary announcer Lance Russell. It was to be Hart’s last appearance on Memphis television.

Jimmy Hart on the Difference Between Working in the WWE and Memphis

Jimmy Hart was initially overwhelmed by the difference between Memphis and New York. So when he spoke with Jerry Lawler about a month after signing with the WWF, he was asked by the King to compare the respective promotions.

In an interview with Highspots Wrestling Network, Jimmy Hart described what he said to Lawler.

"Out in front of the Ponderosa Steakhouse, there were two paper racks. One has the USA (Today) paper in it, and one has the Memphis Commercial Appeal. That Memphis Commercial Appeal was in black and white.

“But buddy,” Hart continued, “the front page of that USA paper was in living color. So when I put that fifteen cents in to get the Memphis Commercial Appeal, I pulled it out and there was still a big ‘ole stack in there. But when I put that twenty-five cents in, at the time, to get that USA paper, there was only one paper left. And that’s the difference."

Hart, expressing true humility, quickly added, "I wouldn’t be up there (WWF) if I hadn’t learned everything (in Memphis) and if you hadn’t brought me in, King."

Jimmy Hart continued about the differences between the highly successful but relatively small Memphis promotion and the rapidly expanding WWF.

"We went from driving in cars down in Memphis to flying everywhere. Instead of staying at the Days Inn, we were staying in the Hilton, the Hyatt, or the Ramada Inn. Everything was a major upgrade to us."

Jimmy Hart’s Impressive Body of Work in WWE

Jimmy’s World Wrestling Federation run started with the inaugural WrestleMania, where he managed King Kong Bundy to a fairly easy victory over Special Delivery Jones. However, Hart performed double duty that day, as he also managed reigning Intercontinental Champion Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, who lost to Junkyard Dog via countout.

In his rookie year in the WWF, Jimmy managed Bundy, Valentine, The Missing Link, Adrian Adonis, and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, who became part of The Hart Foundation upon Bret’s entry into the WWF in 1985.

"The Hart Foundation" Bret Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart with manager Jimmy Hart.
“The Hart Foundation” Bret Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart with manager Jimmy Hart. [Photo Credit: WWE]
Jimmy Hart’s body of work during his tenure with the WWF could fill a college-ruled notebook.

Hart guided many WWF superstars to championship gold. Greg Valentine (although he was already champion upon Hart’s debut), The Honky Tonk Man, and The Mountie all wore the coveted Intercontinental Championship under Mouth of the South Management.

In addition, Hart guided several tag teams to the WWF World Tag Team Titles, including The Hart Foundation, The Nasty Boys, and Money, Inc.

On the distaff side, Hart also managed WWF Women’s World Tag Team Champions Judy Martin and Leilani Kai, who were known as The Glamor Girls.

Turning Face for the First Time

Jimmy Hart had a "change of heart" when he turned babyface in 1993.
Jimmy Hart had a “change of heart” when he turned babyface in 1993. [Photo Credit: WWE]
Although Jimmy had managed and wrestled as a heel for the entire duration of his career, that all changed on February 15th, 1993, during a live episode of Monday Night RAW. At that time, Hart managed Money, Inc., which consisted of ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase and Irwin. R. Shyster (Mike Rotunda).

DiBiase was in singles action on this particular night against Brutus Beefcake, who had recently returned after a prolonged leave due to a parasailing accident requiring extensive facial reconstruction.

At one point in the match, Shyster, who was at ringside, hit Beefcake in the back with his ever-present Haliburton.

After the referee disqualified DiBiase, Shyster entered the ring and struck Beefcake flush in his surgically repaired face with the Haliburton. At this point, Jimmy covered the now prostrate Beefcake and implored his team to halt the heinous attack and leave the ring.

Hart stayed with The Barber as he was taken out of the ring via stretcher. The segment ended with a very visual close-up of the blood-soaked mat.

After being publicly thanked by Hulk Hogan, Jimmy aligned himself with Hogan and Beefcake.

His First Managerial Stint as Manager of the World Heavyweight Champion

Jimmy Hart always had flashy jackets!
Jimmy Hart always had flashy jackets! [Photo Credit: WWE]
Hart managed their Mega Maniacs team in a losing effort (via disqualification) to Money, Inc. in a WWF World Tag Championship match at WrestleMania IX.

Undaunted, Jimmy managed Hogan in an impromptu match later in the evening against Yokozuna, in which Hogan captured the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.

Although Jimmy had managed numerous singles and tag team champions, this was his initial stint as manager of the World Heavyweight Champion. Hogan subsequently dropped the title back to Yokozuna at King of the Ring on June 13, 1993. This was Jimmy’s last WWF appearance, as he and Hogan left for World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

Jimmy Hart in WCW

Jimmy Hart and Mean Gene Okerlund in WCW.
Jimmy Hart and Mean Gene Okerlund in WCW. [Photo Credit: WWE]
After a brief hiatus in which Hart toured Mexico with Hulk Hogan and filmed several episodes of Hulk’s ‘Thunder in Paradise’ television show, Jimmy managed Hogan during his debut with WCW.

At Bash at the Beach on July 17th, 1994, he guided Hulk to his first WCW World Heavyweight Championship over “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Eventually, The Mouth of the South returned to his evil ways, turning on Hogan at Halloween Havoc (1995) and aligning himself with Kevin Sullivan and The Dungeon of Doom faction.

During this time, he managed Flair to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship over “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Starrcade ’95. Hart also resurrected The First Family, reminiscent of his halcyon days in Memphis.

Jimmy Hart’s duties were varied, and many during his tenure with WCW. In addition to his on-air managerial role, he was also responsible for booking the WCW Saturday Night TV show until its cancellation.

Additionally, Jimmy occasionally donned the tights, wrestling and defeating local Florida shock jock Bubba The Love Sponge on a house show in 1999. Later in the year, Hart was defeated by Norman Smiley in a Hardcore Match on Monday Night Nitro.

Composing Entrance Themes for Wrestling’s Greatest Stars

Jimmy Hart with guitar
Photo Credit: WWE.

It should also be noted that Jimmy Hart composed many entrance themes for wrestling’s greatest stars.

Hart, in collaboration with the late JJ Maguire, created entrance music for The Honky Tonk Man, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Dusty Rhodes, Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, The Rougeau Brothers, and many more.

However, perhaps Hart’s greatest composition is “Sexy Boy,” which has been used by Shawn Michaels for decades.

In addition, Hart penned “American Made” for Hulk Hogan when they transitioned to WCW in 1994.

Hart remained with World Championship Wrestling until its sale to the World Wrestling Federation in 2001.

Forming the Short-Lived Xcitement Wrestling Federation (XWF)

Jimmy Hart in the XWF.
Jimmy Hart in the XWF. [Photo Credit: Xcitement Wrestling Federation]
Upon his departure from WCW, Jimmy Hart and several investors formed the Xcitement Wrestling Federation (XWF) to provide fans with a more family-friendly entertainment brand.

Jimmy Hart was named Head of Talent and amassed a star-studded lineup to include Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Curt Hennig, The Road Warriors, Buff Bagwell, Greg Valentine, and many others.

Other wrestling legends such as Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, Mean Gene Okerlund, Tony Schiavone, and Jerry “The King” Lawler were also involved in non-wrestling roles.

Television tapings for the XWF were held at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, on November 13th and 14th, 2001. Hart compiled approximately ten hours of footage, which was to be used to present the show to several networks, hoping to procure a lucrative television deal.

Unfortunately for Jimmy, most of the XWF wrestlers’ contracts were only for the duration of the Orlando tapings. Vince McMahon quickly swooped in and signed several of the stars, including Hogan, Piper, Hennig, and Lawler.

After three house shows in the Midwest, the XWF was, for all intents and purposes, no more.

Jimmy Hart in Later Years

Jimmy Hart with the Nasty Boys in TNA.
Jimmy Hart with the Nasty Boys in TNA. [Photo Credit: Impact Wrestling]
Failed venture notwithstanding, Jimmy Hart forged on and worked on and off for Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling from 2003 through 2011, when he re-signed with World Wrestling Entertainment.

Although Hart was no longer an in-ring personality, he remained active behind the scenes.

In 2014, Hart starred in “Legends House,” a WWE Network-based reality show where several WWE legends- Hart, Roddy Piper, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Tony Atlas, Pat Patterson, and Mean Gene Okerlund, attempted to peacefully co-exist in a Palm Springs, California residence.

The 10-episode series included many laughs, a couple of scuffles, and quite a few tears.

Outside of professional wrestling, Jimmy Hart was part-owner of ‘Hogan’s Beach,’ a wrestling-themed tiki bar in Tampa, Florida.

The venue contained a treasure trove of Hogan memorabilia and an endless loop of memorable WrestleMania matches. Jimmy was a hands-on owner, frequently mixing with the patrons and always available for a picture. In 2017, Hart opened ‘Jimmy Hart’s Hall of Fame Bar and Tiki Deck’ in Daytona Beach, Florida.

As with Hogan’s Beach, The Mouth of the South was a constant presence, regaling his customers with the countless stories he had accumulated during his epic wrestling journey.

The Mouth of the South’s Indelible Impact on Wrestling

Jimmy Hart WWE Hall of Fame photo.
Photo Credit: WWE.

Despite standing 5’10" tall and weighing no more than 170 pounds soaking wet, James Ray Hart is a giant in the wrestling, business, and entertainment worlds.

He has managed and even been a champion, participated in arguably one of the most publicized angles in history with Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman, acted on a popular TV show, and succeeded in his various business endeavors as well as in the music industry, where he recorded a classic and earned a gold record.

Also inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, the man has done it all. Kudos to a true renaissance man and one of wrestling’s all-time great managers and personalities.

For even more on the life and times of the remarkable Jimmy Hart, you can search out his autobiography, “The Mouth of the South: The Jimmy Hart Story.”

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Benny J. Scala is a senior writer at Pro Wrestling Stories and co-host of the Dan and Benny In the Ring podcast. He is also a writer/promoter for Jimmy Valiant's Boogie’s Wrestling Camp and Hall of Fame Museum (BWC). Benny is a licensed Florida Realtor and recently joined the writing staff of the Through The Fence Baseball website. He has been a fan of professional wrestling since the late '60s.