Bobby Simmons' impact on the wrestling business reaches back to the Georgia Wrestling War of the 1970's, in which Bobby was mostly known for being an NWA representative referee for what would eventually become Georgia Championship Wrestling. Bobby maintained and fostered friendships throughout wrestling with such important figures as Jim Barnett, Moondog Mayne, and Ole Anderson.
After retiring from wrestling, Bobby moved into becoming a Pastor. Bobby is an integral champion and figure for the Cauliflower Alley Club, where his presence at every CAC reunion is always appreciated and welcomed, as he performs the opening grace for the beginning of each nights Award Ceremonies.
You can hear more of Bobby's stories through his shoot DVD on Crowbar Press, entitled "Shooting With The Legends: Bobby Simmons," located at this link.
Episode 18 - Transcript (Part 1)
(A few weeks back, I was talking to our friend Beau James about a bunch of different topics, and he suggested that we talk to his friend Bobby Simmons, who was a referee, worked in the office for years in the Georgia office – and also for Ann Gunkel – and he set that up. Right now, Brian and I are talking to Bobby Simmons – Bobby, how are you doing?)
Bobby: I’m doing wonderful; it’s good to be with you guys today.
(Very cool to talk to you. I guess I’ll let Brian start – what do you got to start with there?)
Well, Bobby, I know you started working for the Georgia office in 1969, and I’d like you to tell me a little about how you first got into the office. I know you were a rather – you were a young man at the time – so how did you first get involved with Georgia Wrestling, and what are your early memories and experiences that you could tell us today?
Bobby: My uncle took me to my first wrestling match in February of 1964. I was 8 years old; I’d never been, never watched it on TV. But, I was very close to my uncle. He takes me to the matches and I fell in love. I was 8 years old, I had no idea what it was, knew nothing about it, but I fell in love. I knew then that it was something that I wanted to pursue. In 1968, a friend of mine that I went to school with named Larry Nichols was putting up the TV ring for ABC Booking, which was the promotion at the time, it was owned by Ray Gunkel – well, he was the majority stockholder. I started helping Larry put the TV ring up, and in 1969, Charlie Harben – who was Ray’s office manager – hired me to start running errands. I lived less than a mile from the wrestling office, and I’d go over every day after school and in the summer I’d go over in the morning and run to the café, to the corner store; whatever had to be done. Some days – nothing. But that’s how I got started. I progressed into Ushering at the auditorium on Friday night, we would go to Griffin – which was 40 miles south of Atlanta – on Saturday nights and I’d sell programs and help care tickets and whatever else I needed to do, and that’s how I got started. When the split came in 1972, Gunkel Enterprises became a reality. I was hired for $65 a week to ride on the ring truck 3 days a week and put the ring up at spot shows. We put the TV ring up in Atlanta and we put the auditorium ring up, or the Oglethorpe gym or whatever we were running, but that’s how I got started: right place, right time, life-long dream and the good lord let me live out my dream. I stayed in that business full-time until December of 1982 and part-time had my hand in it ever since. That’s how I got started.
Going back to your first show in 1964 – do you recall who was on that show?
Bobby: Heh. I’ll tell you a funny story to go along with this – Chuck Thornton, who was a local guy here in Atlanta, he’s a historian. He collects local memorabilia and does all sorts of stuff. He gave me – we would get together here about every 6 months and he lives here in the Atlanta area. We’d get together at my church – I passed through church – we had the fellas and we’d all get lunch together. But, he brought me a poster – I remember the main event being Lorenzo Parente against Fritz von Erich – and checking records, it was the only time these two guys ever wrestled each other in the main event in Atlanta. So, he – Chuck – brought me the original window card – window poster – advertising that and the semi-final that night was Stan Stasiak against Joe Scarpa.
As a kid, what do you think when you see Fritz von Erich?
Bobby: Scared to death. Scared to death. You know, these guys were monsters. I mean, I was afraid – the noise in the ring, the crowd, I mean, everything about it I was afraid. But, yet it was so, I guess because it was real, it wasn’t a movie – it was there. I was hooked. I was hooked, and it’s – to show you how much god blessed me, all four guys on this poster – I was in the ring with all four of them, so I have lived out my fantasy and my dreams.
Wow. You know, from your early days in working for the office – you started in 1969 – who was the booker at that time and what was the make-up of the Atlanta booking office: the ABC booking?
Bobby: Ray Gunkel was the majority stockholder, Paul Jones – the promoter in Atlanta – he had a pursuing interest in the office. A gentleman named William Hart – but I’m not sure what Mr. Hart did – he was an owner. Charlie Harben was the office manager. Ed Capral was the TV announcer and he did the advertising for the office, and when I first started running errands, the booker was Tom Renesto.
Who would end up being the booker when the split happened with Ann Gunkel – he was the booker for Ann Gunkel Enterprises.
Bobby: He went to Ann Gunkel Enterprises, and the booker that came in to take his place was Bill Watts or Jerry Jarrett, I guess, might have been the first one, but Watts had followed.
(I have a question - before we get to that – going back from more of your perspective or your earlier days in the business. We’ve done our research and stuff and we’re a little younger – there’s no video tape – how would you compare, was there a different flavor to Georgia wrestling to the kind of – I guess – the pre-Jim Barnett, pre-WTBS period? Was it different – did it feel different since it did kind of change too a bit when Barnett came in. How would you compare it?)
Bobby: It was very serious, I mean, of course it was a much slower pace. I can remember seeing matches here – again, when I was a kid growing up – I can remember seeing matches where a guy would give up with a hammerlock. If you suplexed a guy, it was over. Airplane spin was a finishing move. It was a lot of wrestling – Gunkel being a collegiate champion, he focused and he stressed – and I learned this later when I got into the business and after watching it, it made a lot of sense – he stressed wrestling. There was not a lot – I mean – a drop kick was an oddity. There were high spots, but it was not a lot of flying. There was a lot of wrestling. As years went on and when Jim came in – and I call it the War – when the War started between the two promotions, things got a lot – there was a lot more things going on and things got flashier. It was just – it was a wrestling territory and everything was very believable.
(Yeah, I mean, when you said that, I just started thinking back to the stories you hear – some of the stories you hear – about when Ray Gunkel passed away is – just how stiff and a hard hitting the matches between him and Ox Baker were – because there’s some of the speculation about if the forearm shots to the chest have any legitimate contribution to Ray’s death. So yeah, is that kinda thinking – is that style the way people talk about those matches? Very hard hitting?)
Bobby: Oh yeah. I’d say this: the speculation of Ox and the chest, you know, you gotta go back to three hours before that happened when Ray sat down at a boarding house there that we all know about where it was all-you-can-eat and he had a great big huge supper. So, there’s a lot of things that might have contributed to that, but I’m sure getting hit in the chest by Ox didn’t help.
Of course it was the death of Ray Gunkel which would be the catalyst for the split in the Atlanta office and the beginning of Ann Gunkel Enterprises and one of the more bitter promotional wars of all time. You started working there in 1969 so you had a few years of working under Ray Gunkel – what was he like as a person and how long did it take you – as a kid working there – to get to know him?
Bobby: I didn’t know him very well at all. I answered to Charlie Harben who was his office manager. I do know that Ray was a taskmaster: he expected no less than 150% from anybody that worked for him. Again, I had not that much contact with him. I actually knew Ann better than I knew Ray because there would be days she’d be needing things done when we’d go over to her house and move furniture, so we kinda got to know Ann a little bit even back in those days. Ray was – Charlie Harben, who was my mentor, the guy that hired me and kinda helped me along through the years – he suffered from Gout. I, later in life, I suffered from Gout – Gout’s the most painful thing I’d ever have happen to me. Can’t stand to have a sheet touch your foot when it flares up, it’s just horrible. Ray would make Charlie Harben go referee, even though his Gout had flared up to where he could barely walk. The people that worked in the ticket office there in the front of the sports arena, if you were working in the ticket office, most of the time it was the referee that worked the ticket office. If they refereed the night before, it didn’t matter where they were, didn’t matter what time they got home, he expected them to be at the office at 9 o clock, and he was prone to call at 1 minute after 9 to see if you answered the phone. I’ve also been told by people that worked in the ticket office that he would call at 1 minute to 5 to see if you were still there. Again, it didn’t matter where you had to go, what time you had to be there, if you worked the ticket office, you worked from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. Also, I’ve been told it paid a whopping $15 dollars a week extra to work the ticket office. So, he was very strict and a hard taskmaster.
Now you mentioned going out to the Gunkel house to do some errands or, you know, help fix things up for Ann – was she around the matches themselves often?
Bobby: Not very often at all. Every once in a while, she’d come on Friday night with Ray to the auditorium, but it was not very often. The wives – it was sorta known not to take your wives to the matches – and Ray led by example. He didn’t go against his own rules, but just every once in a while, she’d come to the matches.
Of course, Bix just mentioned the Ray Gunkel match with Ox Baker – which of course, we know what the end result of that was which was Ray’s untimely passing – what from the best of your recollection was it like for Ox Baker at that time? In Atlanta, how did the fans react to him after that, and how did he take everything that happened?
Bobby: Well, here again, I wasn’t in the dressing room at the time all of that went down. Ray died August 12, 1972 in Savannah, Georgia. Ox already had a reputation because Alberto Torres – who was one of the biggest babyfaces in the 60’s here in Atlanta – had died after a match with Ox in Omaha, and there again, it was something that Ox didn’t do and it was something else that happened, so Ox had a reputation with the fans as a killer – quote unquote – and after Ray died, it just enhanced his reputation as a brutal heel. Of course, it just put more heat on him. They didn’t play it up strong, but the people knew about it, so yeah, but Ox dealt with it fine. He didn’t do anything and people weren’t afraid to work with him, and as I got in the business, I was in the ring with Ox many times, so it was not something you were afraid of.
(I mean, by reputation, I mean, I’ve always heard of him as being one of the nicest guys in the business, too.)
Bobby: I’ll give you a little story about Ox. You know, we lost Ox within the last year or so, and Ox was a super funny guy, but I remember the first time I went into the dressing room as a referee and Ox painted his toenails. Each toenail was a different color, and I’d seen them in the dressing room and bam – I finally got up the nerve to ask one night “Why do you do this?” and he said it was a thing with him and his wife. He said “as long as I promised I was in love with her, I’d paint my toenails and I’d not be embarrassed by it.” And he’d sit and paint his toenails. He was a good guy, he was a fun loving guy, he was a little stiff; he had a lot of arthritis in his elbow and his knees. He was a little clumsy, but other than that, yeah, he was a good guy. Everybody loved being around him; he was very funny. Last time I saw Ox was at Cauliflower Alley Club three or four years ago – maybe five years ago – and he was just as funny as he ever was. He’s a good guy.
So, in 1972, Ray dies. Shortly thereafter, the other partners in the company continue to move forward not thinking that Ann Gunkel – thinking that they’re just not going to deal with Ann Gunkel – and even though she maintains the stock that her husband had, that they just weren’t going to have anything to do with her, and right after that she starts he own company and almost everybody leaves and goes with her. What do you – tell me about where you are at that time, and what are the whispers you’re hearing before it happens and what makes you – and the colleagues you had at the time – go along with Ann?
Bobby: There again, I’m still not in the ring. I’m still working for Charlie Harben. We heard rumors or just – it was rumblings that something wasn’t right. The day Ray died – Ray died on a Tuesday and I called the office Wednesday morning. Charlie Smith – who was working at the box office at the time – said it was true; we had heard rumors but nothing was confirmed that we could find in the Atlanta paper – at least in the early edition. I call the office, Charlie told me that it happened, it was true. Charlie Harben told me to stay away from the office that day – he didn’t know what was going to happen, what was going to go on. It was probably – that happened in August – the actual split took place in November. It was business fairly well as usual, I would say. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as I was concerned. The wrestlers were meeting, but they were meeting secretly; they were meeting privately. The actual “blowup” occurred on a Monday morning when Ann went to the office early, was sitting behind Ray’s desk, when Eddie Graham from Florida, I heard Lester Welch – who might have been a partner at the time, I’m not sure-
I believe he was.
Bobby: I believe – the Welch’s, you know. Buddy Fuller may have sold some of his part to Lester – who was his uncle – but they show up at the office. We’ll never know the whole truth, but what was rumored was they were going to disband – they had told Ann that it would be business as usual and she would get her percentage. Whatever the profits were, she’d get her percentage, and I believe Ray had around 51%; he had majority control. What we heard was they were going to disband the company. They were going to tell her that they were going to disband the company, form a new company, and go on with business and just kinda shut her out of it. The guys – Renesto had been promised by Ray Gunkel he was going to sell him some points in the business. I heard with the other partners had created some problems and didn’t want another partner. Not real sure what happened there, but when the split came, of all the guys on the roster, everybody left and went with Ann except for Darryl Cochrane and Bob Armstrong. Everybody else on the roster left. The final meeting with the wrestlers when they decided to do this happened on a Wednesday – two wrestlers that were not at the meeting that day were Bob Armstrong and Rock Hunter, and Columbus normally was the Wednesday night town, and they ran that night and they were the only two guys that showed up; nobody else decided to go. They worked a match against together and Mr. Ward gave the money back, everybody went home that night, and he paid those two guys for working, but that was the shot heard round the world when they did that actually on that Wednesday. Leading up to it, as far as the fans were concerned, as far as people even on the outskirts of the business – not many people knew about it. They kept it very, very, quiet until it happened.
You mentioned Bill Watts would be the booker for what would become Georgia Championship Wrestling, and it made me wonder that there is someone – to the best of my knowledge – no footage – and I haven’t seen too many things about him – but what are your memories of Gorilla Watts, who was obviously a play on Bill Watts – an African American wrestler for Ann Gunkel enterprises. Tell us a little about him.
Bobby: (laughing) Let me back up a little bit here – this is just something that gets lost in the shuffle of this story. When they disbanded ABC Booking – which was a company that was Gunkel’s company – when they disbanded, it did not become Georgia Championship Wrestling right away: it became Mid-South Sports. It became Mid-South Sports before Georgia Championship Wrestling was ever born. Georgia Championship Wrestling was born when Barnett came here, but M-SS, when the war started – I keep calling it a war. It wasn’t a war! Everybody – we were not – I broke into the business as a referee with Gunkel Enterprises in early 73. There was no – I mean, I never had one of those guys – we taped at the same TV station. They did their show first, because they had Columbus TV in the afternoon and it was live, so they guys had to get out of there, do 100 miles, do a live show. So we came in after them and did our hour – both of us were on Channel 17; we did some remotes from Oglethorpe Gym but were eventually both at 17. We passed each other in the parking lot! These guys had known each other for years, most of ‘em, and they never said anything to me – I was just a new kid on the block and there was nothing ever said, there was no war of words, there was no – it was just guys trying to make a living. But, when we first started, we were drawing good houses, I mean, we were drawing great houses because the fans here in Atlanta knew all the guys we had. They were the guys that had been here! They were the guys that had been on TV every week, so the people knew these people, and this was not like your basic little corner independent group firing up. We had the Assassins, we had Dick Steinborn, we had Tommy Siegler, we had Rock Hunter, we had El Mongol, we had Bill Bullman and Joe Turner, Ox Baker; the list goes on and on. I mean, these were top guys – it wasn’t like, you know, people knew who they were so they came to our matches. Mid-South, when they started, they maintained the Friday night contract with the Auditorium, they brought guys in from all over the country. I mean, they’d have Hiro Matsuda, they’d have Jack Brisco, they’d have Jerry Brisco, they’d have Bill Watts. All of these people that people were seeing in the magazines, but they didn’t know ‘em. So, it took a while for them to catch on and for them to get a crew in here. Once they got a crew in and was established on TV, we were both drawing good houses. That leads us up to the Gorilla Watts incident. Bill Watts would go on TV – Ray Candy, who was a guy who worked for the city of Atlanta, he had been training for some time, but Tom Renesto finally broke him into the business after Gunkel Enterprises became a reality, and they made Ray Candy the Georgia Heavyweight Champion – first Black Georgia Heavyweight Champion ever. It got over super – people loved Ray, Ray was a good guy, had a great demeanor. Well, Watts would go on TV and say “Ahh, they got nothing but garbage men over there,” knocking the guys. He’d not say us directly but it was innuendo and people knew who he was talking about. That’s when Gorilla Watts came in – I think Renesto brought him in as a slam on Bill Watts. I don’t know his real name (laughing). He was about 5 foot nothing and he weighed about 300 pounds; he could not lace his own boots up. He had a girlfriend that would lace his boots up at home; he would come in with his trunks under his pants. We would – somebody would feel sorry for him in the dressing room and would help him slide his pants over his boots to help him get them off. Guys would go in and fly over the ring for him because he really couldn’t do a whole heck of a lot, but yeah, he was here for a few months but that was the deal: they brought him in – it was a stab at Watts; that’s all it was.
(Now with Ann, how much of what went down – and this is either a mix of what you knew at the time and what you heard later because some of it was when you weren’t in the locker room yet – but how much of everything that went down with forcing her out and reincorporating as the new company without her: how much of that was just that “Hey, the majority shareholder died, we’re gonna capitalize on this,” and how much do you think had to do with that she was a woman and they didn’t want a woman as part of the company or potentially bossing them around to a degree as the primary shareholder?)
Bobby: This is purely my opinion now: my opinion now is that they were going to capitalize on the fact that Ray wasn’t there anymore. They were just going to move in and say “OK, we’re gonna – “ I think the reason why they was moving was to keep it going and then reconstitute a new company to cut her out. I don’t think they had the intention of paying her long-range. It’s just, you know, it was a good old boy network. I mean, let’s face it. It was very hard to get into the business – you either had to know somebody or be kin to somebody and that always didn’t work either – but they had a stranglehold on the business as far as it was concerned, and they were determined to keep it going because Atlanta had short trips, had a reputation of drawing good houses almost everywhere we worked, and they weren’t going to let it get away. So – as we found out later on – Aaron Newman was a promoter in Savannah; he was Jerry Oates’ father-in-law. Jerry is convinced that they were trying to steal Mr. Newman’s town because Mr. Newman had been there a long time and they thought “Well, he’s an older guy, we’ll just take that,” and they tried to take his town, but they didn’t realize the clout Mr. Newman had in Savannah. Fred Ward was the promoter in Columbus – in the Central Georgia area – and of course, they took care of Mr. Ward because when it first went down, Mr. Ward originally had said he was going to go with Ann, and then they got to him some way and he stayed with the NWA office. I think they were gonna cut her out but my opinion is that they were just gonna capitalize on Ray being gone and they were just going to move in and keep it going.
This – in my eyes – is probably the best example of the NWA doing what it was, you know, created to do: there’s a promotional war and they all get together and they send talent in there and do their best to fight it back. At that time, also, with the Welch family having a piece of Georgia, obviously they had points in Florida, they had Tennessee, they had Alabama; the Welch family was everywhere, so it was really easy for those relationships to help them. I’m curious – you said, obviously, with the boys and with the staff like you, there wasn’t much heat when you’d see each other at the TBS studio or in the parking lot. Just from a pure competition, you know – what was the competitive nature like? Obviously you guys knew that the intention on Mid-South Sports – and then Georgia Championship Wrestling after that – but Mid-South sports was to put you guys out of business. What was the competitive nature like?
Bobby: It was every day business as usual, basically. I mean, we were just going out doing our thing – we couldn’t control, you couldn’t control what they did, they couldn’t control what we did. There was a lot of things going on behind the scene – contracts on buildings, you know, was an issue. The promoter in August, GA went with us – with Ann, I say us, he went with Ann Gunkel – so for the first year we were in business, we had the Bell Auditorium on Monday nights and Mid-South was, they would run the National Guard Armory down there. Tuesday nights – the Macon Coliseum; Mr. Ward had that sewed up. We, the whole time I was with Ann – the two years I worked for her – we never were able to get inside the city limits of Macon, GA. We never had a building in Macon; we’d run little towns around Macon but we’d never got into Macon. Columbus, GA, which was another Tuesday night town. Albany, GA – Mr. Ward, he ran Allison’s Skating Rink – which is a big skating rink that Mr. Allison turned into an arena for the wrestling. There was not another building there; we ran Albany state College one time and didn’t draw flies, so, that was an issue. Wednesday night, Columbus, GA, the city auditorium – Mr. Ward had a contract with the auditorium that turned into a lawsuit. Dick Steinborn promoted Columbus for Ann. We ran national guard armory there for a while and it turned into a threat lawsuit to get into the Auditorium and we were finally able to get into the City Auditorium on Monday nights, so they were running Monday and Wednesday wrestling in Columbus. Thursday nights, the two towns that normally ran on Thursday – Savannah, and Athens, GA – we had those. Friday nights – Auditorium stayed with Mid-South office, and then we eventually were able to secure a contract to go in on Tuesday nights, but those were the kind of things that were behind the scenes that the fans really didn’t know about. As far as the business was concerned, I’m still a fan of old time wrestling, it was the best of both worlds. You went from having one night of wrestling a week to two, and these bookers were matching move for move, trying to out-do the other. The only problem we had eventually was the longer we ran, the harder it was to get talent. They’d begin to shut us out on talent and once that happened, it was kinda the beginning of the end for Ann Gunkel’s promotion.
What was your relationship like with Tom Renesto – who was the booker – and his partner in the Assassins – Jody Hamilton?
Bobby: Well, my son is named after – does that kinda tell you? (laughs) Tom was – I got along well with both of them. Tom was my boss for a lot of years, and then he was the booker. Jody took me under his wing as a kid of 17 out on the road; he would let me ride with him and he’d tell me something most of the time he’d tell me something I’d done wrong, but he helped me, he encouraged me. He was just a good guy, I mean, just an all-around good guy; still is. Lives not too awful far from me; we still talk time to time. They were both great guys. I mean, they were the most knowledgeable guys I guess I was ever around as far as knowing this business inside and out. So, I never had a problem with either one of them, but I named my son Joseph Anthony and he’ll be 40 this year and I still call him Jody, so I got along well with both of them.
You mentioned that it became difficult after a while to get talent, so I’m just curious about one specific wrestler that was working there: tell us about Thunderbolt Patterson, and specifically I’d like to know – because there isn’t enough footage around there from that time – how big was he in Atlanta?
Bobby: He came in for Ann Gunkel’s promotion; he’d never been here before. Thunderbolt was…he talked like nobody had ever talked on TV. I don’t – he could talk the jive that related to the blacks with their lingo, he could talk in a way that the educated blacks and the educated whites could understand, he talked – he was not above anybody, he was not below anybody. He could reach all levels. If you ever heard Dusty Rhodes do an interview, he copied Thunderbolt Patterson. Dusty became the American Dream after Thunderbolt came to Atlanta. He was an instant success here in Atlanta – we started selling out everywhere we went with him for a while there, because he got over; he was that popular. He could wrestle, he’d been in the business a long time, and he could perform and people’d come to see him. He was very over here and he was very good. He was – I never seen nothing like him when he got here and neither had these fans and they loved him.
(So now on the same idea, someone who was an established booker who we were talking about a few minutes ago – Tom Renesto, so talk about him a little bit as a booker. How would you compare him to the other guys either who came through – he was booking for Ann Gunkel – but either who came through Georgia Championship Wrestling or whatever like Watts, Gary Hart, or Jerry Jarrett. How would you compare him as far as the different bookers you were around?)
Bobby: I never worked for Jerry Jarrett. I worked for Bill Watts – Bill Watts was a stockholder in Georgia Championship Wrestling. He booked anytime Ole would take a sabbatical or whoever was booking would leave and they needed someone to bridge the gap, you know, Jim would always call Bill and he’d come in and help out. Bill was very demonstrative. He’d scream, yell, throw things; he was very demanding. That was his personality. Tom was very – I never saw Tom yell, I never heard him raise his voice. To see Tom Renesto outside the environment of the arena, if you didn’t know who he was, you’d have thought he was a lawyer or a banker. He dressed very well; he carried himself very well. He was very, very, articulate, and the furthest thing in the world you’d ever thought Tom Renesto was was a wrestler. But as a booker, he had a mind like a Steel Trap. He could watch things and he would – he had vision of seeing something that would happen down the road or a week from now. Tom booked out 2 or 3 or 4 weeks ahead; he was always building on something. Another thing Tom did that no other booker I was ever around did – and I couldn’t never figure out why – if tom had something on top that was very hot and was drawing money, Tom would start building something on the underneath card, because he knew that on top was going to run out at some point so he would start building something underneath and bring it along, until finally it got to the point where he had to have a blow-off on the main event, he had something coming right behind it; he didn’t have to start over from scratch. I’ll give you a great example of that when we were working for Gunkel Enterprises – he had a match one night between Ted Oates and Wayne Keown, who later became Dutch Mantell. Wayne and Ted were young guys, they hadn’t been in the business very long, and they went out and they had a whale of a match; I mean just tore the house down doing a 15 minute time limit draw at the beginning of the show. Tom recognized that – he saw these two guys – they worked well together, they fit well together, and he turned that into a feud. First week, they did this, second week they’d come back – there was a second match on the card with a 30 minute time limit; they wind up going through again. Next week, they come back as the 3rd match on the card and they end up disqualifying both of them for fighting outside the ring. It built and it built until this thing became a feud, and this feud lasted the whole time both those guys were here. It was so strong because in Atlanta, the police that guarded us that we paid to be our security force, they thought it was a shoot. They would go to cuss, and when they’d seen these guys going to the ring, they’d go “here they go again,” and that’s just one example of Tom building something, and he did it over and over. He did it when he was booking for Gunkel, he did it with Roberto Soto and Billy Spears; same kind of deal. Start it on the opening match, built it up, until finally it was a big time feud. He had that long-range vision and that was the great thing about Tom; he was – I called him Ol’ Silvertongue. He could look at you and tell you something and even if he was ribbing you, you wanted to believe it; he was that convincing.
(What did you think of his decision early in the All-South Run to go on TV and voluntarily unmask, explain who he is as the Assassin and then unmask as Tom Renesto explaining who he is, but because he had heard that the NWA office was going to take a picture of him as Tom Renesto and expose him or whatever. Did you think that was the right call? In the end, he set up a program with him and Jody Hamilton was still masked as the Assassin and they built a feud off of it, but in terms of – did you think there was actually a necessity there or was it an overreaction?)
Bobby: Well, part of it was a business move, because he wanted the freedom to be able to go in and out of the office and in and out of the arenas as a booker and I guess eventually as an owner, part owner, whatever the case may be. He told me this himself: the only person that knew he was going to do that was Joe Hamilton, and Joe was in Japan at the time and he called Joe in Japan and told him what he was gonna do and Joe tried to talk him out of it. He said “I don’t think you need to do it” and he said “Well, I think I do and I made my mind up.” He had no – Ed Capral, the TV announcer didn’t know he was going to do it, nobody in the dressing room knew he was going to do it. I was standing behind the camera man that was actually shooting the interview and I’d like to think that I’d never would have believe he did what he did but he just – of course, the interview he reached up and took the hood off and told everyone who he was. In his mind, it was a business decision – only a business decision – and he wanted, I think, he wanted the freedom to be able to move around and do the things that he needed to do without being in cover by that mask. Also, if in fact that’s what they were going to do – and that was a rumor – he just, he took the glory away from ‘em and did it himself. So The Assassin, for all purposes, he did that run the way he wanted it done instead of how somebody else wanted it done.
For the two year run of Ann Gunkel Enterprises in wrestling, what do you remember being the hottest drawing feuds for that company?
Bobby: Wayne Keown and Ted Oates was one of them. The Royal Kangaroos – Jonathan Boyd and Norman Frederick Charles – came in; they had a good run working with anybody they put them with. Ernie Ladd and Ox Baker had a pretty good feud here in and out – mostly in Atlanta and Augusta being the two major towns; Columbus, to some extent. Hmm…we had guys in and out of here – Rock Hunter – who was a manger and also a wrestler – he was involved in a lot of stuff. You had one feud where Tom and Jody were against each other, you had ‘em as partners, they revealed that the Missouri Mauler was actually Joe Hamilton’s brother and they teamed them up for a while. We had Mil Mascaras in and out. I guess the hottest thing – any combination, and a lot of tag matches. Any combination of tag matches with The Kangaroos or a single with Ox Baker against just about anybody – those were kind of the top things.
When Ann Gunkel Enterprises finally folds, you – correct me if I’m wrong – you were the only employee that was hired by Georgia Championship Wrestling from that office-
Bobby: Again, I go back to Charlie Harben and Tom Renesto and I have to thank them for this. Our final show was a spot show on a Friday night in Montezuma, GA in the National Guard Armory. Charlie Harben showed up that night and I knew when I’d seen him there, I knew something was up because he never went to the towns. He called everybody in and we were all in the dressing room and he told us all that was our last show and we were through, and that we had been bought out, and he said “everyone be at the office at 9 o clock in the morning; Jim Barnett’s gonna meet with everybody and if you want some help getting booked out, he will help you. If you don’t want any help getting booked out, just let us know and then you don’t have to come,” and then he called me off to the side and he told me “Stay away from the office in the morning – don’t come to the office.” I said “ok.” The next morning, I’m at home – it’s 9 o clock; I know everyone’s at the office and I’m sitting at home and I had no idea what was going on. I was 19 at the time, and I’m thinking “My career’s over,” or I got to go somewhere. I sat there and finally about 9:30, I stood as long as I could; I went to the office. When I walked in, Charlie screamed at me and said “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” and I said “I gotta know something Charlie – what’s happening? Why am I staying home? Am I through? What’s happening?” and Barnett was there and he heard me and that was the first time I ever met Jim Barnett. He called me back to the office. Everybody pretty much had left – a lot of guys didn’t go down there. They had too much pride to go down there and ask Jim Barnett to help them get booked. Some of the underneath guys did, but none of the main eventers were there. I walked back and I sit down and Jim says “I understand you drive the ring truck for Ann,” and I said “Yes, sir.” “I understand you know how to work on rings and repair ‘em,” and I said “Yes, sir,” and he said “You referee as well,” and I said “Yes, sir,” and he said “You work a little bit around the office?” and I said “Yes, sir. It’s kinda what I do.” He said “Monday morning, 9:15, I want you to be at my office on Sports Arena and I want you to meet the booker. You got a job working for me.” So out of 31-32 guys on the roster, I was the only one who walked out of Gunkel Enterprises with a job Monday morning and didn’t have to go somewhere else.
Episode 20 - Transcript (Part 2)
What was your first impression of Jim Barnett, and what had you heard about him from the boys in the Gunkel office before you had met him?
Bobby: Well, Dick Steinborn had worked for him for years, and Dick did a good impression of Jim. They say imitation’s the greatest form of flattery, so these guys would, you know, they would try to talk like him, they would try to walk like him. That was the first time I’d ever met him. First time I’d ever laid eyes on him – he’s sitting behind the desk, and very seriously it was all I could do to keep from laughing when I heard his voice because I had heard Dick mimic him, and (laughing)- but, you know. He’s a businessman and I was, you know, I just went out of there. Didn’t think a whole lot about it, and Monday morning and over the course of the next several weeks, I got to know him a whole lot better as far as working for him, being around him. But, all I knew was everywhere he had ever been, he made money – not only for himself, but for the guys that worked for him. I had heard he was a good payoff man, so I found that out real quick. I walked in Monday morning – working for Ann Gunkel, I made $175 dollars a week; I was on salary. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot of money, but I was driving the ring truck, so I didn’t have to buy any gas. If I had to stay over, they paid the room. The only expense I had was what I ate, so I was able to put a little money away, and I was very happy. I was enjoying what I was doing. So when I walked in, Harley Race was the booker. I walked in and met Harley, and the first thing Harley tells me is, he says “Bobby, we have a problem,” and I said “OK.” He said “Mr. Ward does not want to use you in his towns,” and I said “Okay. Can I ask why?” I said “I’ve never even met the man,” and he said “He don’t wanna use you because he thinks you’re – you were the opposition, quote unquote.” OK. Fine. But he says “I will use you and we will go from there.” So I had, you know, that was Monday. I would be off on Tuesday and Wednesday, I’d work Thursday, and Friday night – most nights I’d do refereeing at the Auditorium but they wanted me there in case they needed something – and Saturday I’d work TV in Atlanta and I’d work the shows Saturday night. Barnett asked me, he said “What did you make working for Ann?” and I said “$175.” He said “Well, effective today, you make $350 a week.” And he told his office manager – who was Doug Smith – said “Write him a cheque for $350.” The first day I was there, I got a cheque for $350 and I hadn’t even done anything. Within two weeks, I was making $500 a week. So, you know, business man, I had no problem with him at all. That was my first impression – I thought “This is gonna be alright if I’m gonna be able to make this kinda money compared to what I was making.”
One more thing before we move into your time working for Jim Barnett and his office, but, one name we haven’t mentioned at all so far is Ted Turner, and obviously, when the promotional war was at its hottest, both promotions had television on Ted Turner’s WTCG Channel 17 in Atlanta, which would later become Superstation TBS. Was Ted ever around? Did you ever see him, and second question would be: there were always rumors that the reason Ann was able to get TV on WTCG was because she had a relationship with Ted. I don’t know what it was – it may have been a social relationship, but that was always a rumor that we have heard. Have you heard that as well?
Bobby: If it was social, it was just – they attended the same parties, or something. I never heard anything about her dating Ted Turner or, you know. But yeah, he was around. He was – Ted was very much the, well, let me back up. When I started – when I first went to work putting up the TV ring – which would have been in ’68-69 – we were at Channel 11 in Atlanta. Channel 11 jacked the time around – for years, it was live Atlanta Wrestling from 6 to 7. Then it went from 6:30 to 7:30 and then all of a sudden, they said “it’s gonna be on at Midnight next week or 1 in the morning.” The fans couldn’t find it because they never knew when it was gonna be on and it was starting to hurt business. Ted Turner came to down and he bought channel 17. There was – it was the first UHF channel other than educational TV to come into Atlanta. So, we moved – we were the Indianapolis Colts of the wrestling business: we moved the ring in the middle of the night down to the new station. The first Saturday that I went in to put the TV ring up, I get there about 8 o’clock in the morning and I cannot get in the station: ring the doorbell, nothing’s happening. You gotta understand: Turner – it was not the slick production company it turned out to be when it first started. I took my pocket knife and I jimmied the back door. I was afraid there was an alarm gonna go off, but it didn’t. I was able to get in by using my knife that way to get into the building. I go down, I weave my way through the control room to tell somebody I’m there to put the ring up so they know I’m in the building. There’s a guy running the control panel – he was bare-footed, he was strumming a guitar, and smoking a joint, and it was 8 o’clock in the morning. I told him “I’m here to put the wrestling ring up,” and he said “Hey man, no problem,” and he was doing his thing. Turner was very much the bachelor in those days – he was the man about town, that’s when he had the reputation of doing the crazy stuff, but there was a – I went in on Saturday morning and heard something upstairs one Saturday and I went up there and looked in to see what it was, because I knew it was the business offices, but didn’t think anyone should be up there. So I walked upstairs, I’m looking around, and of course, Mr. Turner was under his desk trying to figure out how to get out from under there, and I just left, but he had had a long night; let’s just say that. But Ted loved wrestling, let me say this: there’s a catwalk above the light-frame in the studio. It was – I don’t know, 10 feet above the lights. Unless you knew it was up there, you couldn’t see it because the lights blinded you when you looked up. Many Saturdays after I started refereeing, I’d look up there and see him out on the catwalk watching the matches because he had a door that came right out of his office right onto the catwalk. So, he was around – not always in the forefront, but he was always around in the background. He loved wrestling. That’s why he eventually bought WCW or whatever he called his company – he loved the wrestling business, and he loved; and I would have too if I’d have been him. For years, we had the greatest numbers on his polls. We were outdrawing the Braves and anyone else he had. When it became the Superstation, he had great sponsors on that national broadcast, because people loved our wrestling. Yeah, he was around.
(That story just makes me think of – I don’t know if this whole little thing extended to the people on the wrestling show, if you guys ever used this – but my dad worked in TV for decades, and he always used to tell me about how people would joke that WTCG – which actually stood for Turner Communications Group – that WTCG really stood for 'Watch Ted Chase Girls'.)
Bobby: Oh yeah. That’s what it was to begin with – he was very much the man about town. Until he married Jane; then he calmed way down. But yeah, it was nothing to see him around a little inebriated. He was always in the newspaper, on TV, but that was him. It was the way he loved the publicity, he loved to be in the limelight, and, you know, it’s just the way it was.
Bobby, you mentioned earlier that on Saturdays you had Atlanta TV in the morning and then you had Columbus TV later in the day at the Columbus Sports Arena. At some point during the week, you also had Macon TV – what was the schedule like with TV’s, and how hectic was a Saturday with both of those TV tapings and – correct me if I’m wrong – that’s over 100 miles apart: Columbus to Atlanta.
Bobby: From downtown to Columbus – probably 118, maybe. Something like that. It was not interstate back then, either. It was not an interstate that went all the way to Columbus; there is now, wasn’t then. The police knew in all those little small towns – we’d be coming through there and they’d watch for us. We were, uh – after Gunkel went out of business and we were Georgia Championship Wrestling, we taped 2 hours on Saturday morning. It was supposed to start at 10 o’clock and be over shortly after noon. If that was the case, you could get out of there – you would be to Columbus by 3/3:15 and then you had 45 minutes until the show started, and it was live; there was no tape. So, but that was never the case, because it never started on time, and there was always some sort of technical glitch between shows that would slow you down – from starting the second hour. You would get out of there – I had gotten out of Atlanta TV as late as 2 o’clock, and have to be in Columbus. I had actually walked through the sports arena in Columbus, GA, throw my bag over the counter to the guy running the concession stand, and went to the ring, because the guys were on their way to the ring, and they were gonna use another wrestler for a referee, and as I walked in, he’d peel off and I’d go to the ring. I’d find out from the guys in the ring what we were doing.
And that was live TV, Columbus, right?
Bobby: It was live TV. It was that close. Mr. Ward and Ralph Freed – his son-in-law – and Leon Ogle – who was his son-in-law, Ralph worked in the office and Leon – Leon actually booked for Mr. Ward for a number of years. He – oh, they would pull their hair out. They’d go crazy, sitting there waiting. You’ve got a live TV show, you’ve got no wrestlers, you’ve got no referee, and we’re all on the road trying to get there, but we could not leave Atlanta until we got through the Atlanta TV, and it was very close sometimes. Macon TV was on Thursday afternoons when I first started working for them. It was done from, like, 1 to 2 or 2 to 3; it was in the afternoon. I can’t remember exactly what time it started, but we were running Savannah, GA – which was another 175 miles south of Macon – and you had to, you couldn’t leave until you got through with that TV, so it made you push to get to Savannah on time. So that was those TV’s. One other TV they did for a while – we used to tape a TV at the Atlanta Wrestling Office; was in the old Atlanta Sports Arena and for years was used as a back-up to the Auditorium. If you couldn’t get the auditorium. They eventually started doing a TV there where they would – it was for Macon, it was for Albany, it was for Augusta, it was so we could send in the different tape other than that Atlanta TV tape, and we did that for a while on Tuesday afternoons. There again, sometimes we wouldn’t get out of there until 4 o’clock, and if you had to go to Albany that night, you had about 20 minutes to grab a hamburger and hit the road. So, it was – the TV, that was the TV’s we did, and they were, you were always pressed to get wherever you were going when you got through with them. The only time you weren’t in a hurry was after Columbus TV: because it was live, it was over at 5 o’clock, so you had 2 and half hours to get where you were going Saturday night, and the two towns we ran on Saturday were back toward Atlanta, so it wasn’t bad getting to those. You actually could sit down and eat a meal on Saturday night on the way.
(Now, I guess since we’ve, you know – we’re a little younger and not from the area, basically – so we’ve never seen the Columbus or the Macon TV; just a couple matches. I mean, no more than 5. Describe for us…was it formatted differently at all? Were the angles that different, or did the programs overlap between the three shows? How exactly did that work?)
Bobby: Well, you know, Fred Ward was - the Macon TV, the Columbus TV were his. There were times when Mr. Ward – as I’ve said, Leon Ogle, who was Fred’s son in law – booked Fred’s towns for a while and he did his own angles. Everything they did there was geared for Columbus, for Macon, for Albany. They would – angles were different, the top guys could be different, even. Bob Armstrong – I’m sure you’re familiar with, Bullet Bob. He wrestled for Continental, he’s been all over. But Bob and a guy named Bill Dromo – who, great friend of mine, but Bill was never a top guy here in Atlanta. They always used him opening to middle of the card, but in Columbus, Mr. Ward used Bill and Bob on top. They were like saints in those towns – people loved them in those towns, because Mr. Ward built his own angles and did his own thing! There were times that they would use the Atlanta booker to book the towns and run the whatever – lot of times it’d be a continuation of whatever we’re doing anywhere else. Columbus TV was filmed in the old Sports Arena in Columbus, which was an old warehouse. Someone told me it was used for a mule barn at one time, but it had bleachers. It would hold about 2000 people, they charged a dollar a piece to get into the live TV show on Saturday. They always drew 4/500 people, and if the Auditorium was unavailable, they would run Wednesday night house shows in the sports arena, so it was a good sized building. Macon TV was in a studio, and they were – that’s pretty much how it worked. Those tapes – those Columbus tapes – rumor has it they’re still around, but they’re salted away and they’re afraid to dig ‘em out and try to sell ‘em or do anything with them. They’re afraid that Vince might claim he owns them too, so, you know. Nobody thinks he does, but, you know – our lawyers are bigger than your lawyers, so I guess they’re afraid to try. Some of those Columbus tapes probably still exist.
You know, Bobby, earlier you mentioned - you didn’t get to really work with him - but Leo Garibaldi as a booker, and you got to work with Tom Renesto, Bill Watts, and Harley Race was the booker when you first came into Atlanta – when did you first meet Ole Anderson?
Bobby: Uhhhhh. I’m bad about years, okay, so I can’t tell you the exact year. Ole and Gene followed Renesto into Atlanta to be the booker. The – what we were told, or the way everyone here was told, Gene was actually going to be the booker. Ole would be his assistant; that’s what we were told originally. I had never met either one of ‘em. Tom called me off to the side – and me and Tom had a good relationship – he called me off to the side and he told me, he said “You’re kind of my protégé or everybody perceives you as that because you worked for me for so long,” he said “Do what they tell you to do and keep your nose clean, kid,” and I went yes sir. I met Gene and Gene’d come to the office – Ole didn’t come to the office; Gene did. He was introduced as the booker, but Ole’s personality was so domineering over Gene’s because Gene was very quiet, that he eventually just sorta became the booker, and then was then named the booker. But, Gene – they were wonderful to be in the ring with; I loved refereeing their matches, because their idea of heat was out-wrestling the babyface, which didn’t get a lot of heat on the referee. But they – quiet, funny senses of humor, but they were; I was just helping around the office this time – I hadn’t gone to the back yet – but they were fun to work with, both of ‘em were. Ole’s very outspoken – a lot of people talk about Ole – and I’d much rather deal with someone who tells you were you stand and you know where you stand than somebody sugarcoat it and do something else, so I never had a problem with either one of ‘em.
Well, in terms of Ole, any stories you have about him, we’d love to hear it – but one specific one, I believe you have: it’s about Ole Anderson going to jail.
Bobby: (laughing) I was refereeing on a Sunday night in Marietta, GA, and we come out of the ring – and if the match had any kind of heat on it at all, I would always go out of the ring and follow the heel. I did it for two reasons: number 1, I could watch the heels’ back, number 2, if there was a lot of heat, there was more security around the heel than there was me going the other way. So as I’m going up the aisle, there was a gentleman standing on the end of the row and he had a Motorcycle helmet in his hand, and I really didn’t think nothing about it but the guy was screaming and yelling – of course, everybody else was too – but as Ole stepped past him, this guy took this motorcycle helmet and he wind-milled it, similar to the fashion of a fast-pitch softball pitcher but only in a reverse mode, and he come down on top of Ole’s head with that Motorcycle helmet. When he did, I was – when he came down, his arm is outstretched across his body – and I had a free shot, so I took it. The guy went down, I’m trying my best to kick the guy, the cops are pulling me. They finally get the guy to his seat and they told Ole, they said “Ole, help us get him outside” and Ole said “If I touch him, he’ll sue me.” Now Ole hasn’t put this motorcycle helmet over at all – he acted like nothing happened. So the cops say “No, he’s not gonna do anything; help us get him out.” So Ole front face-locked the guy and backed him up the aisle; me right behind him. We walked all the way outside, Ole turned him loose, we went to the dressing room. Now when we got in the dressing room, something – nobody but me will ever had the pleasure of seeing: when we got behind closed doors, he put that motorcycle helmet over. God, he screamed bloody murder, and he had a knot on his head the size of a baseball. You know, we thought that was the end of it; got dressed. Next day, I’m sitting in an office; the phone rings and it’s Ole. I said “Where’re you at?” and he said “I’m in jail,” and I said “What do you mean you’re in jail?” He said “The guy pressed charges against me for assault because I put my hands on him,” and I’m thinking “He didn’t get me too?” Nothing was said about me. I guess they didn’t – you know – want to say the referee jumped on him. I said, “Well, what are you doing?” He said “They told me to come down, they’re walking me through, and they said hopefully I can be released tomorrow with cognizance,” and my remark to him was this: I said “If this is your one and only phone call they gave you, you have made a serious mistake,” and of course he busted out laughing – it’s one of the few times I ever made him laugh out loud, and then he cussed me out. But, they let him go, and eventually it was all dismissed, but yeah. Those things happened way too often; he’s been sued hundreds of times, probably, for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How would you describe the relationship – obviously there were a lot of dynamics so it changed over time, culminating at the end of ’82 with Ole forcing Barnett out of the company – but how would you describe – at least in those early days – the relationship between Ole and Barnett?
Bobby: It was good; It was a working relationship. They tolerated each other, that’s the best way to put it. You know, Ole was – Ole is very gruff, he’s very- *phone starts ringing in Bobby’s background*
Is that Ole? (laughing)
Bobby: Oh yeah. Boisterous. I know Barnett – I’ve never heard Jim raise his voice. Jim would be very – could be very – temperamental. He got his feelings hurt easy. There was times that, you know, he would get upset with Ole and he would stay away from the office for a few days. It was – it was a working relationship, and tolerating each other is the best way I know how to put it. Ole was making money, he was making money for the company, and that’s pretty much how it went.
(So, was it – when did it really start to sour between them, though? Was it just right at the end? All of a sudden? Or did it build up over time for a long time?)
Bobby: I’m not real sure how it all got started – Jim (sigh) – Ole got; let’s see. There was something – let’s just put it this way: I had moved into the back, I was Barnett’s office manager. I worked directly for Barnett – I didn’t answer to Ole, I didn’t answer to nobody: I answered to Barnett. On some of those times, I mean, there’ve been times that Ole would say something to Jim that would upset him, Jim would disappear. I’ve actually called Barnett at home and said “Look, I work for you – you gotta to talk to me. I don’t care what’s going on with you and Ole, I don’t care what’s going on with you, but you gotta talk to me. Tell me what you want ME to do. What do I need to take care of?” and I knew my job well enough that the job was getting done, and he knew that, so he didn’t worry about that. But, it was just, you know. Those things went on for years, and there was – something was going on but I did not know what. Barnett was leaving – Barnett used to go to Hong Kong every two years to get his clothes made. He had a tailor over there, and he’d go buy 15 suits, and he would come back and they were all custom fitted, you know. He would wear those for a couple years, and then he’d donate them to charity and go get 15 more made; it was just what he did. He was leaving for Hong Kong – it was a week before Christmas. Something was going on – I didn’t know what; I could feel it, I could sense it, but I wasn’t sure what was happening. I went to the airport that morning he was leaving, and I met him at the gate, which I had never done before – and I scared him. “What’s the matter?” and he said “Well, I don’t know.” And I said “Jim, you don’t need to go to Hong Kong today – you need to stay here.” And he said “Why?” and I said “Something’s going on. I don’t know what, I can’t tell you what’s happening – all I know is something’s not right,” and he said “You’re too nervous. Go to the office, take care of payroll today, close the office down the rest of the week for Christmas. Go home; forget about this,” he said. “I’ll be back in two weeks and we’ll talk about it,” and I said “OK.” I left the airport that morning, and I drove to the office. When I got to the office that day, Ole was sitting behind Barnett’s desk – as soon as I went through the door, he said “Come back here, Bobby, and close the door,” and I closed the door and Ralph Freed – which was Mr. Ward’s son in law – was back there. He’d been involved with this – whatever the scheme was. Ole told me, he says “You don’t work for Barnett no more – you work for me now.” He says “I know Jim’s gone to Hong Kong. We won’t hear from him for two weeks. When he comes back, I’ll talk to Jim and tell him he don’t run this company no more.” So, how it happened, I know he got the Briscos to go along with it, he got Watts to go along with him: he managed to manipulate enough – and I never quite understood this, because Jim had 51% of the company. Well, Jim had 40 something % and someone else had part of it as well. So, that was – not sure how it all shook out, but that’s how I found out Ole had taken over the company and Barnett was out of the country when it happened and didn’t find out about it until he got back home.
(Now, going back a little bit with Barnett – just in general, because when you think about it, I feel like historically he’s almost starting to become underrated in terms of his historical significance because he ran promotions very successful – big money promotions – in so many different places. So, I guess, from your interactions with him, what made him special as a promoter? What types of ideas did he have? How much did he seem like he contributed to the booking, etc. What made him stand out from everyone else?)
Bobby: My dealings with him – he had very little to do with the booking in Atlanta. When Ole took over as the booker, Ole called all the wrestling shots. Jim had probably zero say-so in the booking at that point. Over the course – since I’ve said earlier – everywhere he ever promoted, he made money. He not only made money for himself and his partners: he made money for the wrestlers. Jim’s formula for payoffs – which he taught me, and a lot of people didn’t know this – but the last year and a half I worked for Jim Barnett, I did the payoffs. Jim would approve ‘em – he always could override me, but I knew his formula and I knew how he did it, and I started doing it to take it off of him. Jim’s formula was simply this: you take the gross house, you deduct the sales tax, and the talent got 33% of whatever that figure was. You know, on a $100,000 house, you know, they’re gonna get 33,000 dollars. Everybody always thought they should make more money, but Jim was a good payoff guy. He paid guys good. The – from a business perspective, he was; he understood you had to spend money to make money. He took care of people, and when I say he took care of people, if it was a building manager that was extremely good to us about giving us dates that we wanted, you know, we would make sure that guy was taken care of. He got a little bonus somewhere or another. Station managers for TV stations – Christmas time, they were always remembered, and they were remembered very well. There was nothing chintzy about what Barnett gave: I remember he gave Ted Turner a very expensive Gucci briefcase. When the Urban Cowboy movie hit and that became the big craze across the country, we – everybody, all the station managers and people, the building managers we take care of – they all got Stetson hats for Christmas that year. I mean, he understood you had to take care of these people that were taking care of you. When Ole took over, he quit doing that, and the rest is history. He lost buildings, he lost dates, he lost – you know. It’s just the way it was. So Barnett understood – he was an excellent business man. He was very big – Barnett was very big politically behind the scenes. Another reason Barnett was ever seen around the wrestling – Jim Barnett was – when Jimmy Carter became president of the United States, he nominated and Jim passed Mustard through the confirmation hearings. Jim was on the Democratic National Finance Committee. Jim was on the National Endowment for the Arts. Jim was on several Boards and local government here in Georgia because of the governors: Zell Miller – who was governor of Georgia at one point – promoted the little town he lived in North Georgia, but no-one knew he did it because we did everything on the QT to keep his name out of being associated with wrestling. That’s the way Jim operated – that’s what made him a good promoter; he was a good business man. A lot of people forget it was a business – you were there to make money at the way you made money was to take care of the people who could help you make money. I’ll give you one example of something he did – I don’t know how he pulled this off: the city auditorium in Atlanta, GA, seated about 5500 people. We ran it every Friday night. The only time we did not run the city Auditorium was – they used it for High School graduations middle of May to middle of June, so we missed about 3/3.5 weeks there. There was a Holiday on Ice that came in February for 10 days, and the Shrine Circus came in in April. Every other Friday night, we had the building. The contract we had with the building, we paid $500 rent on that building. That was it! We agreed to furnish our own security, so we had some operating costs as far as paying ushers, paying security staff. In a 5500 seat building, 500 dollars a week, in a town of 2 million people and that building sold out and drew 24,000 dollars, and if you sold it out at $24,000 dollars, it paid your office staff, your overhead, and covered most of your payroll for the week so that everything else you ran the rest of the week was gravy for the owners. Smart business man, and that’s – you know – I learned a lot from him, and as far as how to conduct business, how to treat people; him and Ole just kinda bumped heads and Ole found a way to take it away from him. When he left here, he went to work for Vince McMahon, so, you know. Vince was still paying him the day he died. He was very – he did alright.
And they would get the office away from Ole, so, you know – it all came around.
Bobby: It was full circle. Full circle.
Let me ask you this – you said you handled the payoffs for at least the last year or so, and you were in the office with Barnett; you ran his office for a long time. What wrestlers seemed to have the most problems with the payoffs? Were there wrestlers who just complained all the time, like one specific guy who always had a problem with the payoff – other than Thunderbolt Patterson – was there someone who regularly had a problem with the payoffs?
Bobby: No, and when I say that, I made that a very general statement. Everybody thought they should make more money, you know. Everybody thought they should make more. You know, in Georgia, ticket prices – when I started in 1972, the guarantee was $15 a night. I mean, you could work 5 nights and make $75 bucks; that was it. That was what you made. ‘Course, gas was .26 cents a gallon, but, you know – when Barnett got – the guarantee when I left there in ’82, the guarantee was $65 dollars a night. There were some towns, regardless of how you drew in ‘em, they were small buildings – you knew you were only going to make $65 dollars. Now, Ole had a – we did a sheet for each town that broke down the expenses and had a list of the talent. I would give those sheets to Ole on Fridays at the Auditorium, and Ole, the way he took care of people was he would put an X by their name if he wanted them taken care of a little bit. You know, he would put two x’s by certain names, and then he’d put 3 x’s by certain names. You know, like, let’s say the main event in Atlanta: he wants them taken care of. The tag match – they may have 3 x’s by those four names. The semi-final, they may have 2 x’s, and a couple guys may have an x and everybody else you didn’t pay ‘em. Sometimes you were able to do that with the money you had allotted to do it with, sometimes you weren’t. But – that was Ole’s pay scheme of who he wanted taken care of. But you know, guys here – a good week when we weren’t running the Omni, when we were just running our normal towns, you know, top guys were making anywhere from 800 to 1100 a week. We’re talking back in the 70’s, you know, early 80’s: once the Omni started running, that went up substantially if we had good houses there, but you gotta also remember: we eventually sold Savannah to Crockett, so we didn’t have that trip anymore. I mean, the average trip in Georgia was 130 miles each way, but it’d be 140. I mean, if you took a week – a normal week – if we ran the towns, Augusta’s 150; 300 you’re home at night. Tuesday nights we ran Macon – that’s 90 miles from Atlanta; 180 round trip. If you went to Albany, that’s 175; 350 round trip. Columbus – most of the guys lived on the south side so it was anywhere from 90 to 100 miles to Columbus; 200 round trip, you’re home. Thursday, we ran Athens and Rome, those are both about 75 miles from Atlanta. Friday night was Atlanta, and then of course, TV on Saturday, and you ran up in Carlton and Griffin, and those are 45 miles each. One’s on the west end of Atlanta and one’s on the South-east side of Atlanta. So – you know, the trips were short and the guys were home every night. There was very little expense and people loved working here; not to mention the exposure on TBS, and we started doing those tours and guys started making a lot of money. So, but everybody thought they should make more; nobody’s happy.
Episode 22 - Transcript (Part 3)
You know, you mentioned earlier that when you began to work for Georgia Championship Wrestling, Fred Ward did not want you working his shows. How did that coldness begin to thaw?
Bobby: (laughing) Supply and Demand. There was a Thursday afternoon, the guy that was supposed to referee Macon TV calls. He’s broke down and he can’t make TV. They didn’t have a referee for TV. I was sitting in the office, and Harley says “Well, there’s nobody here but Bobby.” “Send him – we’ll use him.” So that’s what broke the ice – they didn’t have anybody, so all of a sudden, I was better than nothing, I guess. I went down there and refereed their TV, and from then on, I never had another issue. I refereed all of the towns from then on.
I wanna ask you about some of the talent that you’ve worked with through the years, and please share with us any memories you have of working with them, or just any funny stories that come up. I know you worked with at least 2 different Graham brothers – you worked with Dr. Jerry Graham and Crazy Luke Graham: what are your memories of them?
Bobby: The thing I remember the most about Dr. Jerry Graham was his charisma. Here was a guy that he walked into a building, he didn’t have to open his mouth and he got heat with people. I mean, the fans hated him, man. All he had to do was walk in, and the guy had such tremendous talent and such a great knowledge of the wrestling business. ‘Course, he had gotten so big he couldn’t do a lot anymore, but he just – he was a; he had it. Whatever it is, he had it. Not everybody did, but he was phenomenal with the way people just hated this guy. He was- even the guys in the business didn’t like him too well. He was notorious for getting drunk and doing crazy things, and he would – you had to be careful with him if you rode with him, because he would get drunk and would urinate in your car, he would throw up. He was just – it was really sad more than anything. I’ll give you one little story: Carlos Colon was working for Ann. Carlos Colon was coming into Atlanta and working some. Ann was sending some talent down to him to work his shows in Puerto Rico, and they had sent the good Dr. down there, and he worked a town one night and he was staying at the El San Juan hotel. They had a swimming pool in the middle of the lobby – it was inside the building. They said he came in one night and he had been drinking a little bit – or a whole lot – and he jumped in the pool with all his clothes on and stripped down naked and floated around the pool naked with a 6 pack sitting on his chest. So that was one of his – they finally: Bill Bolin, who recently passed away, a dear friend, they called Bill because he had managed him for a long time on the Gulf Coast. Bill went over to talk him out of the pool, and he got out, picked his suitcase up and walked up the steps butt-naked, and they said all that was left was his clothes floating in the pool. So, that’s a good Dr. Jerry story.
What about Crazy Luke?
Bobby: Luke was – he was from Georgia. He got his big break and he became a Graham brother and he made a lot of money up in New York. I worked with Luke many, many, times here; super nice guy. There again, Luke was known to take a drink, but Luke was never crazy – matter of fact, he was one of the people that I kinda wanted him to have a drink before we went in the ring, because it mellowed him out. He was another funny guy. Give you a story on him: we were working in a National Guard Armory somewhere – don’t even know where we were – and he was working with Ray Candy. Spotted a guy on the back row – probably 10-15 rows back: huge guy, probably weighed about 400 pounds back there, and he was screaming; yelling. I put a bug in Luke’s ear and said “Keep an eye on that guy – don’t know what he’s doin’ but he’s kinda actin’ a little crazy.” Luke goes over to the ropes and goes into the crazy bit with a guy. So we go back into the match, we’re working along, and I look out, and the guy’s moved up; he’s on about the 4th row now. I told Luke, I said “The guy’s on the 4th row now – keep an eye on him.” Work along, work along, and suddenly the guy’s sitting on the front row. I told Luke “He’s on the front row,” and Luke loaded up his gimmick in his thumb and he hit Candy with the thumb. Candy went down face down and Luke goes over to the ropes, sits down on the middle rope, pushes the top rope up doing the crazy bit, and motions for the guy to come in the ring. So I walked over and I tapped him on the shoulder and I said “Excuse me.” I said “This is really none of my business right now, but it could become my business shortly.” I said “What are we gonna do if that big guy comes in here?” and he turns around and looks at me and goes “Let’s make sure we don’t have a double knockout as we go out the other side,” and I said “Okay…” But, the guy never came in, so.
What about someone you mentioned earlier – the Missouri Mauler, Larry Hamilton?
Bobby: Only guy in the wrestling business I was afraid of. I mean literally scared – I was literally scared of. I never had, I mean, I had hair over my ears, but it never was – I never could put it in a ponytail or let it grow down my back. I just wore it over my ears, but Larry was always – he hated Hippies, he hated anybody that was a non-conformist; he just, ohhh. He’s like “Hrrrrrrrnnnaaa” – redneck, you know. You look up in the dictionary - that was Larry. When I first broke in and he’s here and I heard him talk in the dressing room, I’d just get over in the corner and cower. I’d sit there – I wouldn’t say nothing. First time I was ever in the ring with him, we’re in a spot show and he’s wrestling a guy named Charlie Cook. It’s a 2 out of 3 falls match: the first fall, he’s supposed to get disqualified for hitting me. So, I was literally so afraid of him, when we got ready to do the deal, he threw the punch at me, and he got about 3 or 4 or 5 inches from me. I mean, he was literally a few inches from touching me – I flew across the ring; took this big huge bump. I thought “God, you idiot.” I peeped out of my eye and I looked up at him and he was standing in the corner looking at his fist and looking at me. So, I disqualified him. We go to the dressing room between falls – he’s laughing, and I was scared to go back there. When I get back there, he’s laughing. He goes “Bobby, at least let me touch you,” and I said “Yes sir, I’m sorry.” So we go back out and I’m thinking “Well, I’ve survived that.” I felt better, he’s not that bad a guy, he laughed about it – I’ll be ok. Charlie Cook bealed him from one corner to another and the rope broke – not the rope, but the ring broke. The welding on the pole came off, and it just set out on the floor on that side, and me and Charlie Cook slipped – because the ring was at such an angle – and we slid down and we’re on top of him and we’re kicking him trying to get up. He was cussin’, me and Charlie Cook were laughing, and we couldn’t get off of him. That was my initial encounter with Larry Hamilton, but Larry was never anything other than nice to me. He was a remarkable wrestler, he was a good guy, and when he got out of the business, he went home to St. Joe, Missouri, and became a bail bondsman. I, for the life of me, could not think of any reason in the world why you would jump bail when you knew he would be coming after you.
(laughing) Another wrestler I wanna ask you about who I believe you worked with, is someone who fortunately there is at least a little bit of footage of out there – very unique individual, and that’s Moondog Mayne.
Bobby: (laughing) That’s, yeah. Unique – that’s a good word for that. I had the privilege of meeting Shane, his brother, a few years ago, and me and Shane had become good friends. We stay in contact, I get to see him at Cauliflower Alley every year. Lonnie was unique – he was different. You never knew what he was gonna do. He was a great jokester. First thing he did to me – we were coming out of Albany one night, and I was by myself, and I mean, it was country roads; it was dark. You’re out in the middle of no-where. I had the radio wide open, I had the window down, I’m trying to stay awake, and all of a sudden, I feel something pushing me. I look in the rear view mirror and I can see absolutely nothing – there’s nothing back there, but I’m being pushed. All of a sudden, the bright lights come on, he comes around me in his van, and I don’t remember who was riding with him, but whoever was with him had his butt hung out the window. He had run – I don’t know how fast he ran and how far he ran with his lights off to catch up to me to do that to me. I mean, he’s just – insanity: he could have hit a deer, he could have hit anybody, but he chose to hit me. That was the first thing he did to me. Second thing he did – we’re at a Spot Show somewhere, and he had these combination locks on these high school lockers. On the back of them, there’s a place for a passkey so the Principal can open the locks if he has to. Lonnie had one of those passkeys; nobody knew it. So, I go to the ring, and when I come back out of the ring, my suitcase is closed and there’s about 10 of those locks on my suitcase. So, I can’t get it in it, and the Coach for the sponsoring school comes in and Lonnie says “You the coach?” and he says “Yeah,” and he says “I’m glad you came back here.” He said “Guy right there, he’s a kleptomaniac.” He said “He’s trying to steal all them locks – there’s no telling what’s in his suitcase.” Well, I’m sitting there and I don’t know what’s going on. The Principal comes over and opens all them locks, and when my suitcase opened, there was about 25 brand new softballs, couple of baseball gloves, and the bag’s full of stuff! The guy looks at me and I’m like, I said “Sir, I have no clue what’s going on. It wasn’t here when I went to the ring.” So Lonnie sits over there, never says a word, never bails me out. So the Coach thinks I’m trying to steal half his locker room. But, I guess the funniest thing he ever did was we left Columbus TV on a Saturday. It’s the Saturday before Christmas. We’re closing down: it’s the only time of the year we’re closed down, and Christmas is on – I don’t know – a Wednesday or a Thursday the next week. So, we’re closing down for 3 or 4 days, everybody’s gonna go home. So the main event in Carlton that night was Moondog and Dick Slater, and from when we left Columbus, everything was good. When we got to Carlton, he was knee-wobbly drunk. I mean, he was soused. So we get in the ring, and Slater goes “Can he work?” and I said “I don’t know.” As soon as the bell rings, Lonnie becomes Moondog Mayne, and I mean, they go into their match. Things are going along well, and the finish is, he slams Slater, he’s gonna climb up to the top rope, he’s gonna miss an elbow or a leg drop – or whatever he was gonna do – and Slater was gonna make a little comeback and pin him. He slammed Slater, he climbed up on the top rope, and when he was up there, he’d begin to fall backwards. His knees never bent – he fell like a tree. I’m standing there watching him, and I’m watching – it was like it was happening in slow motion, and there was nothing I could do to help him. Slater can’t help him – he fell backwards and went out of sight to the floor. I look down at Slater and Slater looked up at me and goes “He’s dead,” and I said “Yeah, maybe.” I walked over, and I remember dreading going over to look because I didn’t know what I was gonna see. I walked over, I looked down on the floor – he is laying on the floor and he’s laughing. He looked up at me and he went “Bobby – would you count me out, please?” I said “Not a problem!” Gave him a 10-count, turned around, raised Slater’s hand, and we went home for Christmas! But, I know he fell 12 feet, but he was so drunk, he just laid there.
(laughing) Well, I know you worked a bunch with Rocket Monroe – was Sputnik Monroe around at all?
Bobby: Never was in the ring with Sputnik. When I was a kid – matter of fact – first match I said was in February ’64. In March of ’64, Sputnik came to Atlanta. His first night in Atlanta, he worked with a guy named Guy Taylor. He hardway’d Guy Taylor – I, of course, I didn’t know what a Hardway was back then, but there was so much blood – I’ve never seen anything like it. I absolutely was terrified of Sputnik Munroe. Rocket came in to Atlanta – him and his partner Flash, who was Gene Serrison; was working as his brother Flash. They came into Atlanta, and I was 14 years old, and me and Rocket just absolutely hit it off. For whatever reason, me and him hit it off. We became lifelong friends. I would – and it was crazy: my mother – who thought I was nuts for hanging out in the wrestling business all the time and didn’t like none of them, liked Rocket for some reason. She developed a rapport with him, and she would let me – I would spend more time at his house than I would at home. So from the time I was 14 until he died – about 4 or 5 years ago - we were the best of friends; never had a hard word between us. Matter of fact, the last conversation we had was on the Saturday before he died Monday. He had been in the hospital a few days, he called, and he says “I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d run up here and there ain’t nothing you can do.” The last thing we said to each other was “I love you, bud,” and we had that kind of relationship. But, Sputnik I got to know at reunions – I told him and said “I was afraid of you as a kid and I’m still afraid of you,” and of course, he laughed about it. But Rocket was a heck of a guy. Probably one of the best friends I ever had in the wrestling business. I had a lot of acquaintances, but he was a friend. He – couple of things with him: we were going to Macon TV one Thursday, and we stopped at this little diner. It was an old single-wide mobile home, and you went in one door, you placed your order, then you couldn’t walk straight – you had to walk sideways down to the next window to pick your order up and then out another door. We got our Hamburgers, jumped on the Interstate and went on the way to Macon TV. We’re running late – it’s gonna be close. He looks over at me and he goes “Does your Hamburger taste funny?” I said “Well, no – it’s just a greasy Hamburger.” He said “Mine tastes funny,” and I said “Let me see it.” I took it and I took a bite – I thought about it a minute and I’m driving – I lay it down on my leg and I opened it up: they had given him two hamburgers with the works – mustard, ketchup, onions, lettuce – and they hadn’t put any meat on ‘em. Needless to say, we were late for TV ‘cause he made me turn around and go back. But, yeah – funny, funny, guy. He was – Rocket was from Memphis, TN. He was as country as cornbread, and his voice did not match his body, and that’s why you never heard him do many interviews – he just came out with this little shrill high-pitched voice, but tough as nails. I miss him tremendously, but yeah, he was a good guy.
When Jerry Blackwell was first breaking into the industry, you know, him being a Georgia boy – I believe he worked for Ann Gunkel Enterprises. Did you work with him at all back then?
Bobby: Sure did. He started with Ann – he would come to TV to start with. He, one Saturday on TV, somebody hit him, he backed up – Jerry was short. Jerry wasn’t very tall, and he backed into the ropes and sat down on the bottom rope, and when he did, he leaned back on the middle rope and he was so short, the rope just kinda went across his head, and as it went across the top of his head, it slingshot-ed him backwards down to the floor. He went out headfirst backwards to the floor.
Bobby: There’s another one of those instances where I’m pushing whoever he’s wrestling back thinking “He’s dead.” I turn around and he’s climbing back in the ring. Finished the match, we go out of the ring and go back to the dressing room, and Renesto was waiting on us as we opened the door. He said “Boy,” he said “I thought you was dead!” He said “You landed on your head,” and Jerry was country too. Jerry’s remark was “Well, I’ve always been stout about my head and my shoulders.” That’s what he said. They put a mask on him – he, I don’t remember what they called him, but we had a wrestling bear come in here and he wrestled the bear every night. Every town we went to, he wrestled the bear. The funniest thing that ever happened with me and him: we were at a little spot show one night and he was wrestling somebody, and he was the heel. He hit the guy and the guy went out on the floor and he went out after him. Normally, I’d stand in the ring and count, but for whatever reason – this particular night – I went out on the floor too. I pushed him – I separate them and said “Get back in the ring and leave this guy alone!” He started away from me, but for – I just knew what he was gonna do, which was one of those things where your mind said “Hey, he’s fixing to do something.” So as he’s going, I start chasing him to try to make him get back in the ring. As we rounded the corner of the ring, there was a timekeepers table. Where the bell was, there was a hammer where they were hitting the bell with. He picked that hammer up, and we rounded the corner and on the far end of the ring was a Deputy Sherriff sitting there working security. As we rounded the corner, this Deputy Sherriff un-holstered, pulled a .357 out and pointed it at us. What he said was “There will be no hammers in Newman, Georgia.”
Bobby: So Jerry drops the hammer, we roll into the ring, and we come up facing each other, and if we choreographed this, we’d have screwed it up. We stood up, we looked at each other, and we both went “There’ll be no hammers in Newman, Georgia.” You know, you get a gun pulled on you, you work it. These guys – evidently, he was a believer. But yeah, Jerry was a good guy. We lost Jerry way too soon.
You mentioned working with Wayne Keown earlier – what was a young Dutch Mantel like?
Bobby: Tough as nails, hot tempered. I worked many, many, matches with him and Ted, and I worked a lot of matches with him and everybody. We made some trips together. He was – Wayne was a pleasure to be around. He was a heck of a guy. He’s 3 or 4 years older than me; Ted was 3 or 4 years older than me, and I loved being in the ring with these guys. They were – they thought outside the box, and did some things sometimes that people would say “That’s crazy,” but it worked if it was done right. Just a quick example: we were somewhere one night and Wayne’s in the ring. I’m in the ring, and Ted comes out to get in the ring, and Ted had told me, he said “Take a folding chair and set it beside the ring.” He said “Use it to step up in the ring and leave it there.” So I did. So when Ted comes out, he goes to step on the chair, he kicked the chair out from under himself and took a bump and started selling his back. I jump out on the floor, and, you know, I’m like “He can’t continue. He won’t be able to wrestle,” and Wayne just raises Cain, and of course, being a babyface, once he got sympathy, he crawls in the ring and Wayne just proceeds to pound on that back and pound on that back. Kicking the chair out from under you and taking a bump before you get in the ring – people say “Oh, look at that clumsy oaf.” To begin with, they laughed, but then all of a sudden, they realized he was hurt because he sold it properly; those kind of things. Another time, they put him in a series of 2 out of 3 falls matches. Gave the instructions in the middle of the ring – Wayne turns around and goes back toward the corner. Ted follows him – doesn’t charge him, doesn’t jump on him. He follows him. I ring the bell – Wayne turns around, Ted small packages him, 1-2-3. First fall lasts 3 seconds, you know? People say “That’s crazy” but it was believable because it was done the right way. They were fun to be with, and Wayne – Wayne was a smart guy. He went on to be a pretty good booker and made some money as a Booker, but he learned his craft. He was – him and Tom were big buddies, and him and Tom talked a lot of wrestling, so he was always fun to be around.
You know, something we’ve talked about on a previous episode of this show is someone who I’m not sure if you were around after you broke in in ’69, but it may have been someone who you saw as a fan, but we have talked about Mario Galento and his wife Smokey, you know, pulling a gun on wrestlers regularly in Atlanta (laughing) until the office forced him to smarten her up. Do you have any memories of Mario Galento?
Bobby: I never met Mario – never was in the ring with him, never met him. However, me and Smokey were good friends. I met her through the wrestling reunion. As a matter of fact, I saw her the year she died – she was at the Gulf Coast Reunion. Mario was inducted into the Gulf Coast Hall of Fame, and she was there to accept the award. She had her son with her – he’s an attorney – and she came over and sat down and we talked a while. Yeah, heard a lot of stories about her pulling guns on people, and just doing all sorts of crazy stuff. You know, she even wrestled some. It was – but, sweet lady. You know, she was defending her man: that was the way she put it. She said “I didn’t know any better and I just did what I had to do to protect him.” I never got to meet Mario. He was a big heel in Atlanta – he had a big run here when I was a kid; ‘musta been around ’69, I guess. Somewhere in there. He had a big run here – big feud with Buddy Fuller. But, I never had the pleasure to be in the ring with him. From what I’ve heard from some of the other guys, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t. They said he wasn’t everything you thought he was, so, um – god rest him. He was another character that came down the pipe – that’s something missing from the business today: there’s no characters anymore. Everyone’s cookie-cutter and Mario, he’d have never made it in today’s world, but in that world, he was quite a figure.
I asked you earlier just how big Thunderbolt Patterson really was to Georgia wrestling. Same question, but about Mr. Wrestling II.
Bobby: Oh, goodness. The Wrestling II phenomena started during the War; they brought him in here. He was working as The Grappler in Florida. They brought him in here as Mr. Wrestling II to be Tim Woods’ partner. Tim Woods was the biggest – here again, as I was growing up, Tim Woods was the first masked babyface that I ever remember. He was a Leo Garibaldi creation here in Atlanta, and Tim was so over here, it was unreal. You guys might know the story where Tim got his finger bit off in Columbus, Georgia on a Wednesday night by a fan, and that Friday night, he was wrestling Gene Kiniski for the World Heavyweight Title. They read a story in the paper on Friday morning about the finger being bit off – it was well-known, everybody knew it was real, and the finish of that World Title match: I remembered it all these years, because Tim Woods had the upper hand the first 35 minutes of the match, and at about the 35 minute mark, Gene Kiniski grabbed that finger and he worked it, and he worked it, and he worked it, and Garibaldi stopped the match; he was the referee. He stopped the match. Tim Woods never gave up – Garibaldi took all the heat for stopping the match, and then on TV the next day, Tim comes out and goes “Hey – I respect the referee’s decision, I hate that it happened that way, but that’s what it was.” When they brought John in as Wrestling II, it was to be his partner, and he was instantly over; instantly. As they worked an angle where they actually worked against each other for a while; had a great interview on Atlanta TV where they actually took a hatchet and drove it into the desk and said “We’re burying the hatchet,” which was a great interview. But, they – John became the premiere babyface in this territory for a lot of years. All you had to do was put his name on a poster, and you were gonna draw a house: he was that over. He protected his gimmick, he was very protective of it. People – they all guessed, they all thought they knew who he was, but it was one of those things where they were never sure because he protected it that well, and it was until some of these fan fests here recently did he ever appear around here without that mask. So, he was very over. I mean, he was very over. You know, Ole decided one time he was going to retire him. He said “You’ve been here too long – we’re gonna put you into retirement and have you do some commentary” and this and that, and this and that. That didn’t last long, because the people wanted him, and he came back, and every time he came back, he just – he just made more money. The only time he ever did anything that I wished he had thought about – we had a guy here in Georgia, his name was Joe Powell. Joe Powell was working the little independent shows, and he was working as Wrestling II. Somehow, one of our guys happened to see him. This guy was the spitting image of John. When you put that mask on him, they could walk down the hall together or pass each other – you couldn’t tell ‘em apart; you didn’t know who you were talkin’ to unless they opened their mouth. So, they worked the angle – John was working for Bill Watts’ Mid-South, and they worked the angle where Joe Powell would come on TV as Wrestling II. He’d work a house show as Wrestling II – nobody was the wiser; none. Until, one Saturday, he’s in the ring, and John walks out, and they just stare at each other. There could have been so much money made with this angle – so much. (laughing) It could have went around the territory, it could have lasted for weeks. They booked ‘em in the Omni against each other, and Ole asked John and said “John, please don’t kill this guy.” He said “We got a lot of money here, let’s do the deal, and let’s continue and it’ll make some money,” but John was so protective of that gimmick, he went out and just ate this guy’s lunch; just ate him up. When it was over, the gimmick was dead – he didn’t unmask him, but it was over. People knew, you know – there was no way you could bring it back because people knew there was no way this guy could beat the real Wrestling II. I wish he’d have thought about that, because that would have been a whole lot of money available for everybody, but he was just that protective of his gimmick.
You know, we’ve mentioned a bunch of different bookers: how did you feel Buck Robley and Robert Fuller did in that job?
Bobby: Robert Fuller, I love – I’ve been around Robert a long time. Robert’s a friend; I love Robert. I think Robert was a little overwhelmed with it. Booking Atlanta was different than booking anywhere else in the world, because of the TV. This TV was so strong, and you had to be careful how you booked it, and what you did with it, and, you know. I just think he was a little overwhelmed – he was not very successful as a booker here. He brought in Stan Frazier as Plowboy Frazier, and he teamed him up – him and Robert teamed up, and they were in the main events, some. People just didn’t buy it, and not necessarily Robert’s fault. Robert was a good booker everywhere he went, but I think he was a little overwhelmed here. Buck Robley – same thing. I think Buck was a little – he made so much money as Watts’ booker in Oklahoma and he thought he would come in here and everything would be just the same, but this was a rare breed of animal here and just neither one of ‘em were very successful, and neither of them lasted very long.
(So, something that’s a big part of the legend of Mr. Wrestling II since we just talked about him was the TV ratings he drew. I mean, what do you remember about – if not the TV ratings, if that wasn’t something you dealt with on a regular basis, just how big he was in Atlanta, and the rest of the territory and Georgia. Not just to wrestling fans, but people on the street; that type of thing.)
Bobby: Everybody knew him. I mean, I can’t really explain it. Everybody knew – I mean, he wore it, like I say. He protected the gimmick. Nobody knew – we could go out and eat together. His family and me, I was a season ticket holder for the Atlanta Falcons for many, many, years. We would go to Football games together – people didn’t know who he was. We went to the Ringling Brothers circus together – his family and my family: nobody knew who he was. His neighbors thought he sold insurance for a living, because they’d see him leave and he was at appointments. We had one guy – we rode together quite a bit. I was very careful who I rode with, just being perfectly frank and honest. If I was going to jail, it was gonna because I did something stupid, not because someone decided to smoke dope or get drunk, or whatever. So I was very careful who I rode with – so I made a lot of miles with Ronnie West and John Walker. We would ride together, especially on Wednesdays: we parked at the same place. The guy there thought we were Yacht salesmen. We told him we had to go Panama City every week to check our inventory. They just, you know, nobody knew who he was, but put that mask on, and people clamored to him: they wanted to be around him. He had that magnetic personality, and it was the mask. It was the aura of Wrestling II, because people believed him. People believed in that Knee Lift, and I can attest. If you ever took one of them knees, you believed in that knee too. I mean, it would just knock you silly, but people believed it! I really don’t know what caused it or what – people believed in him. The TV ratings were good: I’ll give you a story about the TV. Bill Watts was booking, and we had a match in the Omni between Harley Race – who was the champion at the time – and Wrestling II. I forget what finish they used, but II won the match, and then the belt got taken away on a technically of some sort. I don’t remember what it was, but they filmed it and put it on Atlanta TV. So Watts came up with the idea of having a Champion of Champions Cup. We bought this big huge trophy, paid several hundred dollars for it, and presented it to Wrestling II as the Champion of Champions; that was a Watts idea. Well, the only problem with that, is NWA bylaw says you cannot recognize any champion to supersede the World Heavyweight Champion, and of course, they had made this out to be “well, you beat the NWA World Champion, so you’re Champion of Champions.” So, anyway, just set up a return to get rid of the trophy and to get Harley to win the match; to get rid of it. So, we get rid of the trophy and we get that out of the way. Then, we say “Who would you, the fans, like to see wrestle Harley Race for the title the next time the champion’s here?” Now – the whole reason for doing this was this: we were about to begin the tours going up north. We wanted to find out where the most letters would come from. We had no idea the amount of mail we would get. A US Mail truck would back up to the office door every morning, and would unload sacks of mail. I’m talking hundreds of letters per sack, and they would throw 10, 12, 15 of those sacks in the middle of the floor. We hired somebody to come in and to open these mail sacks and all they had to do: they didn’t have to open them. All they had to do was check the post mark. Well, of course, 90 to 1 was Columbus, OH. We had strong ratings there, and that’s where we got the most mail from. We began to open the letters. Every letter to a person was: Mr. Wrestling II; Mr. Wrestling II; Tommy Rich; Mr. Wrestling II; Tommy Rich. We finally wound up going to Columbus, OH – was our first town we ran up north. It was all because of this letter campaign, but, I think the main event that night might have been Tommy Rich and Harley for the title. But, Wrestling II was in the semi-final, and just, we sold out that building in 13 minutes when the tickets were on sale. So, it was just, I don’t know what it was. It’s just – it was one of those things. I guess, you know, I mean – as a fan from the south, I never got Bruno in New York. I never got why people adored him like they did, but I guess up there, why would somebody adore a guy with a white mask? That’s what happened. That’s the way he was, and I got news for you: you can still bring him into town now for an independent show and advertise he’s gonna be there, and you’ll draw 3-400 people.
Episode 24 - Transcript (Part 4)
(Since you mentioned the northern tours and all that with Ohio – what exactly went down as far as everything between The Sheik and Barnett, because I know The Sheik had his side where he was supposed to get paid for it and he didn’t, and other sides – Gary Hart said in his book that Barnett always paid a booking fee, and I’ve heard other stories too. So, what exactly went down and how did that all kind of fall apart?)
Bobby: I love Gary Hart but take Gary Hart’s book with a grain of salt. We drove – Scrappy McGowan’s dad, Charlie McGowan – the ring truck for the wrestling office after I went to the back to work for Barnett. There was a guy that I went to school with – we’d been friends for years, he’s still my friend. His name’s Randy Korin. Randy I’d hired to run the box office, and then after we brought someone else to run the box office, Randy was on the ring truck and he ran errands and did things for the office. Me and Randy and Charlie McGowan left on Saturday morning before the first Columbus, OH show on that Sunday. We drove up, we installed the ring – I put the ring light together that Friday night, got it ready to hang. We left and went to the hotel. Next morning, I met Barnett at the Hyatt-Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio Center – here in Atlanta, we had what they called the Omni International. It was a hotel, a skating rink, restaurants, offices. It’s where CNN Center is, and the Omni was right next door – it was one big complex. The Omni being a separate building. The Ohio Centre was the same kind of setup: it had a Hyatt-Regency hotel, it had a food court, it had restaurants, office space, but the Ohio Centre – which was the building, it’d hold about 8000 people – was actually attached to this building. It was all one big complex. So, I met Barnett at the Hyatt-Regency the next morning. We went upstairs to the restaurant, and I sat at the table probably 25 feet from him and The Sheik, because they had a meeting that morning, and Barnett handed him an envelope. The envelope was stuffed with cash. I do not know how much was in it – all I was there for was to be a witness to this. He paid him for the use of the town. At the time we ran Columbus, OH, the Sheik could not get TV there, he could not get a building there, he could not do anything there: he was out of business in Columbus because of all the business things he had done – advertising people that didn’t show up; different things. But, that’s the way it was. We sold out the building in 13 minutes; we ran a show that night. I know he was paid that time. Don’t know what happened from that point forward – I don’t know if Barnett bought the town; I don’t really know what happened. After about 3 or 4 shows in Columbus, OH, we booked – there was 3 of us: myself, Ole Anderson – there’s 4 of us actually – Mr. Saito, and Kevin Sullivan. We stayed over on Sunday night after the show at Columbus, and me and Ole and Saito had a rental car, and Kevin Sullivan was picked up by someone who worked for The Sheik, and we drove to Parkersburg, West Virginia, for a show at the Catholic High school. The deal was: after expenses, we split the profit – we split the shows. The first night we ran Parkersburg, I had to go outside in my Georgia Championship Wrestling blue blazer to assure the people we were there. They were coming up, but they wouldn’t buy tickets because so many people – he’d put people on the cards that wouldn’t show up, or he didn’t have ‘em booked. He was just putting names up to try to draw a crowd. So, I stood out front and of course, I don’t remember what the house was that night, but we had a good crowd; wasn’t sold out, but it was a good crowd. We stayed over in Parkersburg that night. I checked in a room – I had my own room, Saito had a room, Ole had a room, and I told Kevin Sullivan, I said “I know you’re the only babyface on the tour, but if you want to stay with me, you can. I got a room with two beds.” So, he said “Naw, I’m gonna stay with The Sheik’s guys because they’re having a rough time.” From Detroit to Parkersburg was, like, 400 miles. About 1 o’clock in the morning, I’m sitting in the bed. I was eating a pizza and watching TV and someone knocked on the door. I opened the door and when I did, Kevin Sullivan kissed me right in the mouth. He said “I’ve never been so happy to see anybody in my life,” and I was like “What’s going on?” He said there was about 8 guys – or 9 guys – in a hotel room, because they could only afford to stay together. They were starving to death. He said they were sleeping in the bathtub, they were sleeping on box springs, they were sleeping on the mattress on the floor; anywhere they could find a spot. We left there that night and went to Huntington, WV - the next morning. We worked in the Fieldhouse. Here again, wasn’t sold out, but it was darn close. Got through that night, went to the locker room with The Sheik, we split the houses up just like he said we would, had no problem. He made a lot of money, we made a lot of money, and we flew home the next morning. 3-4 weeks later, we go to do the same thing. This time, it’s me, Wrestling 2, and Ted DiBiase. We travel together, we went over to Parkersburg, had a good house there that night, we agreed before we’d do the split the next night in Huntington. We get to Huntington the next night, we’re working the big building – the Civic Center – and they had it on a half-house set-up and we turned people away. Sheik came to me before the show started, and he says “I don’t have a ring announcer. Would you mind doing the ring announcing?” and I said “No, that’s not a problem.” He said “We’ll settle up after it’s over.” So, I did the ring announcing that night. As soon as the matches are over, I go to the locker room and he goes “We got a problem,” and I go “What’s the problem?” He says “My girlfriend didn’t know we were splitting tonight. She went upstairs and settled up and has left.” I looked at him and I said “You mean to tell me you want me to believe you have a girlfriend that you allowed to check-up this house, leave with all the money, and you didn’t know about it?” I said “That’s called ‘Theft’. Let’s get the police on ‘em.” “Well, I don’t want to do that,” – long story short, he stole the house; both of ‘em. So, of course, I had to call Barnett and tell him what happened, and Barnett says “Well, somebody will probably have to lose their job over this – probably be you since you allowed it to happen,” and I said “Well, you know, there’s no way I could have stopped it. Here’s what happened – “ and he said “You shouldn’t have done the ring announcing,” and I said “Here’s the problem, Jim – the contract is in his name. The man at the building told me he would have not allowed me in there to do the checking-up anyway because we weren’t on the contract.” So, when I got back to Atlanta, of course Barnett was mad: he was mad at me but he was more so mad at The Sheik, but that’s what ended our relationship with The Sheik. That’s when we started doing the northern tours up through Michigan and West Virginia, and that’s an absolute fact with my hand to the good lord – contrary to all the other stories that have been floated around – that’s exactly what happened.
(Now, something – I know you have a lot of interesting views on, and strong feelings about, but I wanna get it out of the way before we get to our last few topics – is Jim Wilson. I guess I’ll give a quick refresher – I think most of the people who listen to this have an idea that he was a football player, went into wrestling in Georgia, was kinda sorta recruited but not exactly by Ray Gunkel, but they had some kind of relationship, and Ray died, and then he had all sorts of issues with Barnett and other promoters. He co-wrote a book, it came out at least a decade ago – ‘Chokehold’ – and it has some interesting stuff in it, but it’s mostly the stuff he sourced from other things like lawsuits and all that. His story – which I think most in wrestling have all kinda said was, you know, not always felt wasn’t the truth. He always said that Barnett hit on him and that’s why he got ran out of the promotion and stuff. I don’t think anyone really believes that, but, what are your thoughts on his whole situation and everything he’s said over the years?)
Bobby: He played football at the University of Georgia. He played pro-ball a little bit for the Atlanta Falcons, he played a little bit for the Los Angeles Rams. He was an All-American in Georgia – I believe he was an offensive lineman; pretty good football player, I guess. He was never – when he played for the Falcons, I never knew who he was; I’ll put it that way. When he started wrestling, you know, I seen him wrestle a few times as a fan and then I was around him a little bit when I started refereeing. First of all, this is my opinion and it’s the opinion of almost everyone who’d ever come in contact with him: the very fact that he states that Gunkel told him that he’s sponsor him to be the World Heavyweight Champion – he wasn’t qualified to take the World Heavyweight Champion’s suitcase into the building; he was horrible. He was just not a good worker, he was not very polished, he was, you know. After he got on the drugs – I say drugs – he showed up in Columbus one night: we were working at Golden Park which was the minor league Baseball park. The baseball team was in town – it was just an off night, so we could not use their dressing rooms. We had to dress at a hotel a few blocks away from the arena. He left to go over to change clothes. He got time for his match – he was part of a 6 man tag – he’s not back yet. He’s been gone for an hour and a half. I sent over there to get him – he was sitting reading a paper. He was so messed up, he forget what he went over there for. So, they finally get him back – it was, you know. He’s not here to defend himself, I hate talking bad about the dead, but number one: He was never gonna be the world’s champion. He was absolutely horrible in the ring. He was mediocre at best as far as talent’s concerned in the wrestling business. As far as Barnett hitting on him, I worked for Jim Barnett for 9 years. I was around the man on the daily basis for a lot of those years, you know. I was in and out of his home. I’d never – not one time – saw his sexuality become an issue, come up as an issue with any of the guys or with anybody else. I never saw it. Whatever he did in his private life, he was very, very, private about it, and, you know, like I said: it wasn’t none of my business. I didn’t – whatever he did in his private life was his business, and I like I said, it never became an issue with us. As far as him hitting on Jim Wilson, I don’t believe that for a minute – I didn’t believe it when it was talked about, I don’t believe it now, and I never will. The thing about the lawsuits: Jim was so private and Jim, like I say, was very big politically. He had a lot of connections and was in a lot of things that was totally separate from the wrestling business. He did not want these lawsuits to come to light. He settled a lot of those things just to keep them quiet. He was, you know – I know he wasn’t guilty in some of that stuff, yet he did it just so he didn’t have to, you know, so all this stuff didn’t come to light. Jim had a good reputation around this town with people outside the wrestling business, and he just did not – he did not want it; I know that for a fact. Jim helped a lot of people – he did a lot of good. He never gets credit for any of that, and just all this negative stuff. I’ve never read Jim’s book, I have no desire to read his book, I heard some things out of it, and there again, I think it’s just – he found a way to try to get a buck or two because he couldn’t make it in the wrestling business and off he went.
(Yeah, I was actually gonna ask you because I wasn’t sure if you actually read it – if the non, because he had that co-author who he worked with – if the non-Jim Wilson-centric parts of the book, if you had any knowledge if it was accurate. Like, the stuff about the War, but I guess not, then. I’ve always, I think Brian’ll agree with me – when you read the book – I know it’s been a while since Brian’s read it – but would you agree with me, when you read the book, the feeling you get is that some of the stuff in there that may have been contributed by the co-author has a decent likelihood of being true, but everything that Jim Wilson says about himself comes off as not true?)
Yes. I don’t believe Jim Barnett killed his dog.
Bobby: Oh jeez. Listen – let me tell you something that happened, just to give you- when Thunderbolt quit working for Gunkel, and you know, the racism thing came up, and they were, you know. ‘Course, immediately he hooked up with Jim Wilson or Jim Wilson hooks up with him: they’re going to promote, or they’re gonna do something. The rumor got out that they were gonna show up at our matches on Tuesday night and jump in the ring. So, we’re told to come on Tuesday night – Renesto’s booking and he tells us all “Look, this is what they’re saying they’re gonna do. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t; be prepared.” He said “If they do jump in the ring, it’s like everybody else: take ‘em out.” So, first and second match is in the ring, and here comes Thunderbolt and Jim Wilson – they bought a ticket. They came back and they’re sitting about the 5th row of Ringside. Well, we see them out there. Tom sent John Foley to ringside. Now, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with John Foley-
(Oh yeah. I mostly have seen him from when he was in Calgary later on as a manager and stuff, but he has a big time rep as a shooter.)
Bobby: Well, when you talk to people in the wrestling business and you’re talking about famous Shooters, the name Karl Gotch always comes up. John Foley taught Karl Gotch, OK? I asked John one time, I said “John, if it came down to you and Gotch, who would win?” All he said was “A teacher never teaches his pupil everything.” That’s all he said. I believed him. So, they sent John to ringside – John sat at the timekeepers table the rest of the night. Needless to say, no-one jumped in the ring that night, but they ran a couple of promotions here in Atlanta, and it wound up where guys didn’t get paid, they argued over who’s gonna get the money; you know. They contacted me one time – I don’t remember what year it was. They were gonna run a show at Morris Brown College at the football stadium and they wanted to know if I wanted to referee, and I just graciously – Jim Wilson, as a matter of fact, was the one who called me – declined. I said “I’m not interested; I’m retired.” But, yeah. It’s – that’s all that stuff, you know. He told – let me put it this way: he believed it all. He told it so much he believed it, but it was a lot of that stuff’s the furthest thing from the truth as it could be.
(And for people who wanna see for themselves just how bad Jim Wilson was, I believe it’s the only video that exists of him – it’s when he was working for Eddie Einhorn’s IWA. There are a few matches on YouTube, so if you look up something like “Jim Wilson IWA” or something like that, you’ll see it. I mean, he – the best way I can describe it is it almost looks like someone playing pro-wrestler; almost making fun of pro-wrestling.)
Bobby: Yeah. He was awful.
(You know, it’s the kind of, just, he didn’t get it. Enough about him, though – that’s enough about Jim Wilson.)
Yeah. To move on from there, I have a few more questions for you, Bobby.
One is - while you’re working for Jim Barnett and he’s running Georgia Championship Wrestling, he was also – from the mid 70’s on – booking the NWA champion for all their outside dates, as well as some other talent. How busy was he? Not just with wrestling work outside of Georgia Championship Wrestling?
Bobby: He was part owner of Florida Championship Wrestling. There were weeks he’d go down there for a couple of days to meet with Eddie Graham. Booking the champion – he did that mostly from home. That was not a, you know, people would request dates and he would book the champion 6 months at a time. There was a lady here that did a lot of his typing – I’m not a polished typist, but I could ___ and sometimes I’d type up a sheet or whatever and she couldn’t get to it, but everything was tied up 6 months at a time, and we’d mail a copy to the Champion and we would make sure that the promoters knew they had the champion for certain days. The bylaws again said that the NWA was paid 3% of their net house for booking the champion, and I kept the chequebook for the NWA. He was the treasurer, and the NWA paid me $50 a week. I got a cheque every week from ‘em, and my job was to make sure that the money came in and matched the dates that they had the champion, and put it in the chequebook and so forth. Other than that, you know, that was pretty much it as far as wrestling was concerned. He had so many other things going on that he would come to the office sometimes one day, two days a week. Sometimes he wouldn’t come at all – just depended on what he had going on that particular week. When Jimmy Carter was President, there’d be a lot of times he’d be in Washington in meetings. I remember one time I had a flat tire on the way to work, and when I got to work, Randy was in the box office and he said “Jim called,” and I said “Where’s he at?” “He said to tell you it was probably the only time he’s ever missed a call from the White House.” He was – he was always in and around doing things, but wrestling I guess he was pretty well – Florida and Atlanta and booking the champion; that was it. His NWA duties.
Well, you mentioned before that there a lot of things have said unfair things about him, and that you never ever witnessed him allowing his sexuality to interfere with his business. You know, one of the stories that has been told throughout the years – and it’s one that I believe now is at the point where it’s finally been debunked – and that is about Tommy Rich winning the NWA Championship in 1981. I think enough people now realize that there wasn’t any sort of sexual shenanigans behind that, but what do you remember being in the office about the decision to make Tommy Rich an NWA Champion for what would end up being a few days?
Bobby: The title switched hands in Augusta, GA. Buck Robley was the booker here at the time, and Barnett went to the Board of Directors of the NWA – I didn’t know anything about all of the preliminary stuff. He went to the promoter – to the Board of Directors – and he requested that Tommy get the belt for 4 days. The only thing – the only reason it was done was to establish Tommy as a legitimate contender, because Barnett had Tommy on a guarantee, and he was going to book him out some for some dates around the country. But, to legitimize him being a top contender, Tommy didn’t have the best body in the wrestling business, but Tommy – the little girls melted when he’d come on TV. Let me back up and tell you how Tommy got this position in Atlanta: he was sent here from the Nashville booking office to be fresh meat for Abdullah the Butcher on Atlanta TV. They were gonna kill him on TV, pay him, and send him back to Tennessee. Barnett happened to come to the TV station that morning and saw him, and he told Renesto, he said “Put him on TV, sit him next to Gordon. Don’t let him open his mouth – don’t let him say a word. Just let people see him, but do NOT put him in the ring.” He went back home, called Nick Gulas, cut a deal to get Tommy down here. Tommy Rich was born, and of course, he got the big push because he became a big babyface; people loved him. But, Barnett went to the Board of Directors, got the approval to do it. The only people that knew it was going to happen was Jim Barnett, Buck Robley, and myself. The only reason I knew about it – if you’ve ever seen a program from anywhere in the country, when you have a new World Champion, they always have a copy of a Western Union Telegram in their program. I’m sure you’ve probably seen one.
Bobby: “Title Changed Hands” – those were shoot. I would send out a Telegram to every wrestling office in the NWA roster as soon as the title changed hands to let them know what happened, so they could legitimately tell their people, put it in their program – however they wanted to handle it – that the title had changed. That’s the reason I knew about it. I sat at home that night until Charlie Harbin called me – he called Jim from Augusta. Jim called me at home and I sat there and sent Telegrams to every office. So, we were the 3 that knew about it; nobody else knew. Tommy did not know about it until he got to the building that night.
Bobby: So, he worked with the title Tuesday night in Macon, GA. He worked with it Wednesday night – he wrestled Harley every night! He wrestled Wednesday night in Columbus, he wrestled Thursday night – I wanna say he was in Rome, GA – could have been Athens; I’m not sure. Friday night, he wrestled in Gainesville, GA at the Gainesville Civic Center that will hold 350 people if they’re hanging from the rafters, and he dropped the title back to Harley in Gainesville, GA. I sat here, I sat at home Friday night until I got the phone call again. I sent Telegrams to every office on the NWA roster that Harley Race had regained the World Heavyweight Championship. So, it’s – that’s the way it worked. That’s the way it went down. You know, all these rumors started flying and it was people and innuendo. It was simply done to make him legitimate in the eyes of other promoters and other fans, and he never appeared on Atlanta TV with the belt. There were some pictures surfaced later on, but he never appeared with the belt on Atlanta TV. As a matter of fact, he never appeared on ANY TV with that belt. He just simply held it those 4 days, and he lost it, and that was the end of it.
Another guy who had a couple short title reigns around that time was Dusty Rhodes, who obviously was also a major star in Atlanta. What are your memories of the Dusty / Ole Anderson feud, which would end up – really, one of the great things still out there on YouTube is called “The Big Turn of 1980” where Ole tricked Dusty into being his friend, and then turned on him in the Cage match against Ivan Koloff, and Gene was involved – what is your memory of that whole period of time?
Bobby: That angle lasted one year – turned him babyface, and that match took place a year later. For one solid year, he worked as a babyface, and, I mean, it was a hard sell. People didn’t trust him. They did not trust him. He teamed with Dusty several times – several times he teamed with him; in the Auditorium and different places. They always knew he was going to turn on him, but they always end up with their hands raised. This went on for one year, and when it was finally all said and done and it boiled down to the big switch in Atlanta, the deal was: the reason they did it that night was because they had a cage around the ring. That’s as close as we’d ever come to having a riot in the Omni. I was at ringside when it all started going down, and they were – people started throwing things. I mean, they were on him, and it was just – nobody could get in to help him. Babyfaces were trying to climb the cage – they’d knock him off. It just went on. I’m not sure how long the whole thing lasted; probably several minutes. It seemed like several days, because, I mean, it was – it had gotten to the boiling point. We fought our way out of the ring – we had to fight our way to the dressing room, but I met him as they’d come through that cage and we started back. We had our own security force at the Omni – we paid a group of about 26 police officers to do nothing but work the ringside area, and I mean, it was horrible. But, that angle alone with dropping Ted DiBiase on his head – that The Freebirds did – were probably the two hottest angles we ever did while I was associated with that office. It generated as much heat as they did.
How did it affect the office financially, having to go full-time to the Omni from the City Auditorium?
Bobby: Well, not a lot. I wouldn’t – I mean, I’ve never been asked that (laughs). I don’t think it mattered a lot, because you drew bigger houses at the Omni. You had to go pull the ticket prices a little – you had a much bigger nut to crack at the Omni because the expenses were so much greater. You couldn’t run the Omni every week. That would have been cost prohibited, so you ran it about once every 3 weeks. But, I mean, it was very expensive to run that building because when you run a building that size, you have to pay their ushers, you have to pay their security, you have to pay a fee to the box office that prints the tickets. There’s just all sorts of charges involved, so it’s a very expensive place to run. There again, Barnett never shorted the guys – they got 33% of the net, you know. The office paid all the expense, but it cut into the profit margin for the office, and that’s one reason why Ole as the Booker did not like to use – he didn’t like to use the Champion, and he didn’t like to use Andre because of the guarantees they had, it cut into the money that the talent was gonna get, so. But yeah, the auditorium was such a sweet deal, and you knew that that was gonna cover most of your expense for the week, but when you went to go on once every 3 weeks, you had to try to fill in those spots with spot shows, and it made a difference in how you did business. It made a difference in the payoffs from week to week. But, there was still a lot of money to be made. One thing – and this is something that Ole brought up in his book and I agree: New York would always talk about their sellouts in Madison Square Garden. They ran the Garden once a month, and they were drawing less than 1/8th of 1% of the population of the Metro New York City area. They were drawing 18/19,000 and made a big deal about it. We ran our towns every week – EVERY week – and we drew good houses every week. Week after week after week after week after week. So, you know, we like to compare ourselves to them in that respect – we did alright; we did alright. You know, some weeks the Omni’d do great business, some weeks it wouldn’t. It’s like everything else - sometimes you got something they’d wanna see and sometimes you don’t.
In 1982 – for the first time in many, many, years – Gordon Solie was paired up with another commentator, and that was 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper. What did you think of the idea of putting Gordon Solie with a – what was a, at the time – one of the very first or the first heel commentators?
Bobby: Uh, turned out to be a good move. You know, it was something they tried to see if it would work, and the reason they tried it was because of Roddy’s ability on the microphone. He was such a good interview and he was so opinionated – just to do something different. Gordon had been out there by himself for so long, it was just something they’d give a shot to to see if it’d work. Fortunately, it gelled – it worked well. You know, they even turned Roddy babyface off of being Gordon’s co-host for a couple of angles they did. If you remember, one of the deals we did was with Don Muraco, where Don Muraco knocked Gordon down – that’s the first time that Gordon had ever been touched in all these years of doing TV in Atlanta. It was the first time he’d ever been touched. I had forgot about that until someone sent me a picture of me and Roddy closed the show and I went out and did a show with him, and someone sent me a picture of me and Roddy together. We did that and of course, we wound up with a pretty good angle between Muraco and Roddy Piper, so. It was – I don’t even remember who did that. I know George Scott is the one who originally brought Roddy in here when George was booking. But, I don’t remember if George was here when he did that or if Ole did that – I think Ole did. Turned out to be a pretty smart move.
Yeah. Earlier in this interview, you said that when Jim Barnett went to Hong Kong at the end of ’82, you got called into the office and Ole was sitting behind Barnett’s desk and said “There’s a change and we’re now running things.” How did that end up for you? Did you start working for Ole? Did you notify Jim Barnett? How did that end?
Bobby: That happened on a Monday. I worked Monday, I came in and worked Tuesday, I worked Wednesday. Ole was – Ole never came to the office; never. Even when he was booking, he didn’t come to the office. He would – we wouldn’t hear from him a lot of times until Friday afternoon, we’d do the TV over the phone. But, he – that Monday Tuesday Wednesday, he’s there all day. He would leave in the afternoon to go make the town wherever he had to go, but he, you know, he was there all week. That Thursday, I went in – I knew – I sensed that I wasn’t gonna be there. I mean, Ole knew where my loyalty was. No, I didn’t notify Barnett. I couldn’t see any need in calling Hong Kong – there was absolutely nothing he could do until he got back, if he could do anything at all. I couldn’t see him spoiling a trip that cost a fortune to go on, and I just; you know. I walked in Thursday morning. My side of the story is that I made my mind up that I’d had enough. I walked in, laid all the keys on the desk, said “I quit.” Ole’s side of the story is I walked in, he fired me, and I laid the keys on the desk. But, Ole, of course, one of his big deals is he fired everybody at some point in another and I guess that’s true. But, there was never any harsh words between me and Ole – we get along to this day; I still consider him a friend. We get together, I see him at reunions. Recently, I retired a couple weeks ago, so I’m hoping now that I’ll be able to – I know Charlie Smith and Ole get together for lunch once a month and I’m hoping I’ll be able to go with him, and yeah; it is what it was. It was time for me to go – my loyalty was to Jim. He’d been good to me, he’d took care of my family, he’d put groceries on my table for a lot of years, and with Ole, I thought at that particular time, we were dealing with a loose cannon. He didn’t know what he was doing, and I didn’t want to be a part of it, so I left. About a week later – two weeks later – I get a phone call from the office, and it’s Ole, and he goes “There’s some things here we don’t understand – can you come by and answer some questions?” and I said, “What does it pay?” He said “Don’t pay nothing,” and I said “No, I can’t come by,” and that was the last time we talked for several years. But, you know, like I say – is what it is, and had things been done differently, Ole would have never lost that promotion, but you couldn’t tell him anything – he had it all figured out. That’s just the way it was.
And after all this happened, what was your next communication with Jim Barnett?
Bobby: Huhhh. Jim came back from Japan – he came back from Hong Kong, rather. He called me at home on Sunday night and wanted to know what had happened. Evidently, Ole had reached out to him on Sunday. I told him, and he said “Are you no longer there?” and I said “No, here’s what happened.” I told him. He said “Ok, I’ll be in touch.” So, I don’t know – maybe a week or two weeks went by that I didn’t hear from him. The next time I heard from him, he called me and he wanted to know if I would meet him downtown at an attorney’s office, and I said sure. I found out when I got there – what had happened: Jim needed some cash for something. I don’t know what it was for; I wasn’t privy to that. He borrowed some cash from Ole and needed cash money that he didn’t have his hands on and he borrowed it from Ole – who evidently had a safe at home that he had cash in. We were paying Ole back – we were paying him back $500 a week out of the office. I was the one that made the payments. I would take cash money and I would, you know, put it with Ole’s cheque, and I was always the one to hand it to him because it was cash involved. So, evidently, Ole didn’t know that I was the one that was doing it, and he sued Jim saying Jim wasn’t paying him back like he was supposed to. So when I get to the lawyers office, the lawyer wanted to do a deposition about that money, and he said “I just wanna ask you some questions before we schedule a deposition” and I went “Ok.” He asked me and I told him “Look, I didn’t know what the money was for, I don’t know how much it was, but I know we were paying it back $500 a week out of the office money,” and I said “We were taking the cash out of the Marietta proceeds,” when we’d run Marietta on Sunday nights. I said “Now, I’ll tell you this: we did not short the Federal Government, we didn’t short the office, we didn’t short the boys. Nobody was shorted – we did everything like we were supposed to. Before I made the deposit, I took $500 cash and it went to Ole.” So, the guy said “I don’t care – that’s all I need to know. I’ll tell you what, we’ll schedule the deposition,” and he said “Do I need to subpoena you?” and I went “No, I’ll come do it.” Evidently, when the lawyers sent a letter to Ole had made the statement and said what I said, he knew that I knew about the payback and he dropped the lawsuit; that was the end of it. The last time I heard from Jim until he working for Titan Sports in Greenwich, CT. He called me – he wanted to know if I could fly up there and hook all his video equipment up. I took care of his video equipment at his house when he was here, and I told him “Sure,” and he said “I’ll call you back when I want you to come up,” and then he called me back and said “Well, you can’t do it. Everything up here is Union in the apartment house I live in – I have a Union person do it,” so I couldn’t do that. Another time I heard from him and there was a local guy here in Atlanta – Joe Pedicino was running, he started running – I forget what he called his show – but he got shows from all across the country: he had Dallas, Memphis, Florida. He had 5 or 6 different TV shows and he’d run ‘em back to back to back on Saturday nights and had 7 or 8 hours of wrestling, and Jim said he wanted to see the guy’s show and what he was doing. So, he called me and I videotaped it and sent it to him and I got my one and only cheque from Titan Sports for doing that, but that was – I didn’t hear from Jim again until he moved back to Atlanta. I talked to him the week before he died – we were gonna hook up and have lunch, and he fell and broke his arm on a Thursday and they put him in the hospital and he developed Pneumonia and he passed away in the hospital.
Now, I know you left at the end of ’82 – Georgia Championship Wrestling – after Ole ousted Jim Barnett, but did you have anything to do at all with when Ann Gunkel started promoting again shortly thereafter?
Bobby: She started again in ’85. I had went to work for Liberty National Insurance Company – I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I’d been with them for a couple of years, and she contacted me and wanted to know if I wanted to be interested in running her office. She was gonna promote some. So, I went out to see her on a Friday morning, and she says “Here’s a signing bonus” and gave me some money. She said “I want you to run my office for me and we’re doing our first TV tomorrow morning in Valdosta, GA,” and I said “Tomorrow morning?” and she goes “Yeah, and I need you there.” So I said “OK,” and I went home and packed a bag. Valdosta’s 260 out of Atlanta and off we went to Valdosta, GA. The next morning, I get to the TV station – she had Ted and Jerry Oates were booking for her. She had Les Thatcher coming in to do the TV. She had flown Lou Thesz in to do color with Les, and add some credibility to the show. She had Tommy Rich, she had Wrestling 2. Nick Patrick – who had been a referee for Georgia Championship Wrestling – they were shooting an angle to turn him into a wrestler, they had Randy Rose, Doug Somers, Luke Graham, Chick Donovan. She had – I mean, she had some nice talent. You know, enough to get by, but when we get to the TV station that morning, there was no format, no opening, no close, no bumpers – there’s nothing. I mean, absolutely nothing. I looked at Les and I went – you know, Les had done TV for years and said “Buddy, this is cold. We’re just gonna have to wing this.” So, we managed to tape 2 shows that day, but the thing was, she had booked a show for Valdosta that night in a building – in a theatre building – where the ring had to be set up on a stage, which was horrible. The TV didn’t run until 6 o’clock that night, and, you know, there was no advertising. It was the pits. She did it to give the guys a payday for going down there, because I don’t think she paid them much for TV, or paid them anything. But, yeah – I worked for ‘em for about 3 months, maybe 4. Just, uh, she didn’t have the fluid flow of cash you need to run a promotion. She set the office up in her basement. We did TV’s kind of on the fly – we taped 3 hours at Anderson, SC at a gym up there where we ran a show, let people in free and just tape TV. We taped some at Henderson’s Arena here in Atlanta – ran a show there, and we drew a decent house, and that’s probably the best house we drew. It just – there again, you know, Ann’s gone; she’s not here to defend herself. I love Ann, she took care of me, I made good money with her, but I honestly think she was trying to fish around to get some money to sue her for trying to promote again, and when it didn’t happen, she ran out of money, and that was the end of it. It didn’t last very long.
(Before we get to my last question, I did wanna follow up on something just since we were talking about that ’85 All South revival: what was the place where they taped TV that, like, had potted plants or whatever. It looked like a TV studio but it had little – remember it having potted plants and stuff like that on set?)
Bobby: Oh jeez. Let me think – I’m trying to think all where we taped TV.
(It was small. It was like a studio sized place.)
Bobby: We taped some shows at Channel 69 here in Atlanta – it could have been that.
Bobby: We taped – we taped one time at Macon, GA at a cable TV studio. There was a – I don’t know if you ever saw tapes we did at Macon. That was the one and only time Dandy Jack Crawford – the old manager – was on the show. I did the interviews because the guy we had hired to do it, he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He only made it one match and we run him off. We did – we taped there, we taped at 69, we taped at Anderson, SC, we taped in Valdosta. I think those were the only places – if it was a small studio, it was either Channel 69 or the deal in Macon: probably Channel 69. Was Freddie Miller doing the commentary? Do you remember?
Bobby: That was at Channel 69 in Atlanta.
(So, I was specifically told to ask you this – our friend Beau James said that there is some story involving Chick Donovan – a personal favorite of mine – something with him and how wrestling interfered with his day job, or something like that? I was told this would be a great story to cap this off.)
Bobby: Chick Donovan was a fireman for (inaudible) County in Macon, GA. Chick was a – he had been with the fire department a good while. Ole was using him on Atlanta TV – Chick was a good looking guy; had that blonde hair, had a pretty good body, you know. He’d come on TV, was doing jobs on TV for people. Ole was using him in some spot shows around when he could as a reward for coming and doing the TV’s. Getting guys to do TV’s was no problem, getting guys who looked decent was another issue. So, Chick made the trip to Atlanta to meet with Ole, and he wanted to quit being a Fireman and work full time; be a wrestler. Ole was very honest with him. He told him “Chick, you look good, you got a good body,” he said “I’m gonna use you when I can, how I can, as much as I can,” but he said “Chick, I don’t think you’re ever gonna be a star in this business – you need to keep your job. You’ve got benefits, you build vacation time up and can wrestle a few times a week in the summer. You got a retirement – don’t give that up. You worked a long time there: don’t give it up.” “OK, no problem.” So, it was a Monday morning and Ole – somebody called and they couldn’t make Augusta on Monday night. Ole said “See if Chick can go.” So, Chick had missed so much – he had laid out of work so much to go and wrestle that they had told him if he did it one more time, they were gonna fire him. So, I called down there and got him on the phone and said “Hey man, are you working tonight?” and he said “No, why?” I said “Well, Ole says if you can, you can make Augusta.” He said “I’ll be there!” I said “Chick, you sure?” He said “Yeah, no problem!” So, what Ole didn’t know is he called in sick, he rode to Augusta to wrestle, and when he walked out the dressing room for the first match, the Chief of the Fire Department was sitting on the second row of ringside, and when he walked by, he knew he was fired. So, that’s how Chick lost his job. He, I mean, it got bad. He wound up losing his family, he wound up divorced – he married later on. He married a young girl that became his manager, worked his ___, good looking lady I knew, a friend of mine. She was a good girl, and Chick traveled a lot and went a lot of different places, and I’ll say this: Chick’s in his 70’s and he looks as good today as he did back then. He still works out every day, still workin’. I hate to keep sneezing on ya – I don’t know what’s going on here – but Chick’s still doin’ good, and he’s only guy I ever know who told me he had a talkin’ dog, so, you know. He’s – he’s the only one who understand the dog, but he said the dog talks. That’s how Chick lost his job and became a full time wrestler.