Jump aboard the wrestling time machine. Next stop, 1968. Fifty years later, this fan sets out to re-procure one of the most meaningful mementos from his past.
Be advised, you may experience slight turbulence and high levels of nostalgia ahead!
“It was as if someone had opened a whole new world for me.”
How many of you have seen the epic flick The Time Machine which originally came out in 1960 starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young (of later fame as Wilbur on the Mr. Ed TV Show), and Yvette Mimieux? A remake came out in 2002, but in my book, you can never go wrong with the original (see: Footloose and Arthur).
The purpose of this story isn’t to acquaint anyone with the Morlocks or Eloi from that movie, or with how hot Weena looked in her loincloth (trust me, she did). No, the purpose of this story is to transport you back to the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s, depending on your point of reference.
For me, it was 1968; May, to be specific. The previous month, I had seen my first live wrestling show at the Island Gardens in West Hempstead, New York. Bruno was in the main event (the reason I asked my dad to take me in the first place) versus Toru Tanaka. Besides being in awe of my hero, the two things that stand out in my mind from that night were walking up to ringside and shaking the hand of The Flying Frenchman, Edouardo Carpentier, and watching the great Baron Mikel Scicluna triumph with the help of an international object (although I am sure it was something he picked up on his way to the ring, as the Baron was not a big fan of littering). My position on Scicluna has done an about-face since my childhood. I have become a huge fan of his work and his longevity. The month after, my friend and next-door neighbor, Joe Paresi, was going to the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington, New York, to do some shopping with some birthday money he had just received. Somehow, I was able to convince my Mom to take the day off from school and to ride the bus to the mall. When I think about this now, I still wonder how I was able to pull off this huge double coup. Apparently, even then, I was, and I quote the very hot Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny), “Ooohh, you’re a smooth talker, you are, you are!”
I had a bit of spare cash on hand myself and I thought, “Perhaps I’ll hit Sam Goody’s and check out a Beatles or Monkees LP.” One year later, I would be purchasing Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, but I digress… I very clearly remember going into the mall, and immediately spotted a book store. I asked Joe if he wouldn’t mind going in, as possibly the latest MAD magazine was on sale. I think until that point in my life, MAD was the only magazine I had ever purchased. I will never, ever forget the feeling I had when I looked over to the magazine rack; there they were. Wrestling Revue, Wrestling World, The Wrestler and Inside Wrestling. Needless to say, I was hardly ten minutes and fifteen feet inside the mall and I was instantly broke. Well, moneywise that is. But, in that bag I carried with me were pictures and stories that would provide me hours of reading entertainment, and a half-century of great memories. I was a month shy of my 13th birthday, and I can tell you that all of my discretionary income for the next few years went towards my magazine collection.
I could probably go on for hours and hours, but in the interest of being able to write more stories for this great website, I will keep it brief. Keep in mind The Time Machine has taken us back to 1968. I had received a 12-inch Hitachi TV the previous Christmas. My entire wrestling perspective up until that point in my life consisted of what I was able to watch on Saturday night at 6:30 on WNJU-TV, Channel 47 from Newark, New Jersey. If I put the right amount of aluminum foil on the antenna, tilted it just the right way, prayed to the Patron Saint of Wrestling (I’m not even sure who that is), and clicked my heels three times, I might get a pretty decent picture. The show was Capitol Wrestling from the National Arena in Washington, D.C. The announcer was Ray Morgan, who I think lived on cigarettes and black coffee. The stars were Dominic DeNucci, Victor Rivera, Big Bill Miller, Toru Tanaka, Hans Mortier, Edouardo Carpentier, Bull Ramos, Crazy Luke Graham, Johnny Rodz, the great Baron Mikel Scicluna, and many others. I purposely omitted Bruno because he rarely wrestled on TV, although he would give interviews promoting his next match at the Garden.
Opening these magazines, I started reading about wrestlers I had never heard of before, like Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Bearcat Wright, Dory Funk Jr. (and Senior), Iron Mike DiBiase, Bob Orton, The Infernos, and also about managers like Saul Weingeroff and JC Dykes. It was as if someone had opened a whole new (wrestling) world for me. I absolutely loved Wrestling Revue’s rankings and results. I also loved that they had a couple of pages that showed images of posters of cards from all over the country. Wrestling World had excellent pictures and articles. But I became particularly enamored with The Wrestler and Inside Wrestling. I loved the articles because they really seemed to have the inside scoop on what was happening. I did sometimes wonder why none of the ‘reporters’ were ever mentioned by name. I did not become smart to the ways of the wrestling world until I was around 17. I particularly liked the Pen Pal section. I will get into this in a moment, although I have to digress for a brief moment to tell this sad but true story.
“It was likely the saddest day of my life.”
I am thinking some of you will read what follows and relate to it. One of the side effects of watching wrestling as a child was a desire to learn the holds and the proclivity of applying said holds to your younger siblings. I cinched the Boston Crab on my brother Jim and leaned back just hard enough to make him scream, which, of course, both of my parents heard. The punishment was not a loss of allowance, TV viewing privileges, or loss of a body part (which at the time I would have seriously considered as an alternative). No, the punishment was tearing up my entire magazine collection (which occupied an entire drawer in my dresser) in front of my parents. They sat and watched me as I tore up every single one. Maybe a bit melodramatic, but every rip almost hurt on the inside. It was likely the saddest day of my life up until that point. Needless to say, there were no more Boston Crabs at 142 Intervale Avenue. The only crabs after that were those that my mom bought at the Farmer’s Market for inclusion into her homemade sauce. In time, I was allowed to resume my magazine collection, but it wasn’t quite the same.
Back to the Pen Pal section. You would send one of your wallet-sized school photos, stating your name, age, who your favorite wrestler was, hobbies, and who you wanted for pen pals. I was 14 at the time, starting to like girls, scared to death to actually speak with one (a phenomenon that still exists), but I figured it would be easier to write to them. I actually got around 6 or 7 pen pals, most of whom dropped off after a letter or two, but there was one who I wrote to for about 5 years, and then reconnected with on Facebook around 30 years later. Mail is another long-forgotten great childhood memory. We go to the mailbox now and mostly cringe at the endless advertisements, as well as those pesky bills which never seem to go away. At 14 years old, the mail was a good thing, and an envelope with your name on it usually had something good in it. That of course unless it was addressed ‘to the parents of’, which was usually a note from your teacher regarding recalcitrant behavior!
Fast forward The Time Machine to 2018. The magazines have long since faded in prominence. I always remembered with fondness my one and only appearance in one, although I was clueless as to which issue I was in. The only thing I knew was that it was in 1969, but I didn’t remember if it was The Wrestler or Inside Wrestling. Thankfully, our trip forward in The Time Machine brought with it all the advances in technology over those many years, and through the magic of eBay, I started my hunt. Although there are many collectibles on eBay, I can assure you that 48-year-old wrestling magazines are few and far between. I guess the Patron Saint of Wrestling and the Good Lord were on my side, because on my fourth attempt, I secured the November 1969 issue of The Wrestler, with yours truly right there in the Pen Pal section. Since it took Vincent LaGuardia Gambini six times to pass the Bar exam, and it only took me four times to secure my prize, I must be living right. For your amusement and entertainment, I have included the photo in full.
For reasons that I will never understand, they listed Spiros Arion as my favorite wrestler, instead of Bruno. While I did like the pre-heel Arion, he was about number 4 on my list, below Bruno, Dominic DeNucci, and Victor Rivera.
One last Apter-thought. Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of meeting (via Facebook), and occasionally messaging, Mr. Bill Apter. Mr. Apter started working for ‘the magazines’ the year after I appeared, thereby launching a career which has made him, in my opinion, the foremost authority regarding professional wrestling (although Jim Cornette is also a wrestling encyclopedia). I learned from chatting with Mr. Apter that he lived on Carmans Road in Massapequa Park, which was literally minutes from my house. He actually shopped at the same Grand Union my Mom did. If I had only known, then.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, The Time Machine has taken us back to good old 2019. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.