Don Laible is a prolific figure of professional wrestling - whether it be as a newsletter writer, magazine writer, manager, or on-air personality, he knew his craft, and his immense contributions to professional wrestling are still talked about to this day. Don used to work extensively with George Napolitano, and would also be a figure in the WFIA/UAWF fan scene of the 1970's and '80's. Don eventually would join John Arezzi's Pro Wrestling Spotlight as a correspondent.
Today, Don is a prolific sports journalist, who mainly writes for the Utica Comets AHL Hockey Team, which is the farm team in Utica, NY for the NHL's Vancouver Canucks.
Episode 29 - Transcript (from the Dennis of the Week)
Here with us today for the Dennis of the Week is someone I haven’t spoken to in quite a while, but someone who I remember spending time with around Dennis, someone who actually stayed at Dennis’ house with – at least once or twice – and that is Don Laible. Don – how are you today?
Don: I’m very good, and nothing makes me feel better than I get to talk about old time rasslin’.
(laughing) Well, you’re in the right place and I’m glad you said rasslin’ and not wrestling, because that’s another thing that’s popular on the show recently. I guess, with Dennis – how did you first meet Dennis and what were your first impressions of him?
Don: Well, you know, I used to hear about Dennis often because of my association with John Arezzi, and Dennis would come to John’s conventions. I heard his name promoting shows in New Jersey and didn’t really get to know him much until he started promoting shows after John did his conventions, and then we passed once in a while at shows, but when Eddie Gilbert died and Dennis started doing his tribute shows and put on nice banquets and brought in people, I got to know Dennis. Immediately, I think I’m a pretty good judge of character and I judge people on how they are to me, and I’ve heard so many Dennis stories and when you’re around wrestling, you hear so many stories that, you know, you don’t know what is true, what is not; so you really have to find out on your own. The times that I spent with Dennis, from the 1st Eddie Gilbert banquet – because when he planned that, he contacted me: he knew I knew Eddie Gilbert well and the family, he let me get involved and he invited me into his home. Regardless, you know, wrestling so many people – especially back then – did things to be involved: they wanted to be close to the action so they acted certain ways, and unfortunately, many of them lost a lot of things, including their family and all, but Dennis was always pleasant to me and made me laugh.
So, here’s my one really good Dennis story: I have two of ‘em, but this is my lead-off. We’re going to – Dennis picks me up at the airport, we’re gonna go down to the hotel where he’s having the convention, and he says “You know, I gotta stop by my office.” This was not his insurance business - this was his office, his wrestling office, where he had all his tickets there; he had a place posted up and all. It was really nice. So he says to me – now, we’re some place in New Jersey, it’s about 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He says “I have to go inside and get some things – wait here for me in the car.” So I’m just sitting in the car and there’s a Burger King, there’s a strip mall, there’s lots of foot traffic and lots of cars going by. Dennis comes back – I’m sitting in the front – and he’s got 2 fabulously looking, well-built ladies with him: blondes, I mean, anything you could imagine. Gorgeous ladies. He brings them over to the car. One thing I learned in wrestling for years, you became – or at least I did: paranoia sets in on everything. You don’t know what’s gonna happen next.
So Dennis brings the ladies over to me, introduces them to me, and he also introduces me to the ladies as a doctor! So, I said “OK – let me go along and see how far this goes.” Evidently, one of the ladies just had a breast job – had her breasts enlarged. So Dennis tells her that I’m a plastic surgeon and he wants me to check out her recent work. Again, I tell you: we’re in a parking lot with lots of foot traffic, cars going by, and Dennis is selling me to the ladies as a Plastic Surgeon from upstate New York. So – they lean in over the car, they’re looking at me, and by the way: they were Lesbians. It didn’t matter, but this is what Dennis is telling me in front of them – that they had an accounting business and blah blah blah. So, Dennis says “Well, go ahead Donny: check ‘em out!” I’m thinking “What?” So he’s going “You gotta check ‘em!” Dennis grabs my right wrist and he brings it towards this person who I never met before – this smoking hot lady – and he puts my hand on her breast and I’m thinking “Holy smokes – how far is this gonna go?” So he says “Well, what do you think?” and I’m thinking “Ehh, it’s good – little textures, a little lumpy here.” Next thing you know, Dennis is telling them “Well, let him see. Let him see what you did.” So I’m thinking “This cannot be happening.” So next thing I know, the girl – she was probably 25, 28 years old – she looks at me even closer and we’re nose to nose as she’s leaning into the car and she says “Are you really a doctor?” I said “No…but I work with them!” She goes “Oh! Okay!” So with that, she lifts up her blouse, here in the parking lot, and she takes her breasts out of her bra and she’s leaning over the car with her breasts just hanging there, and Dennis is telling me to feel them to find out the texture. Even though he already knows she knows I’m not a doctor, Dennis is still going along with this and so is she. Then, she just nonchalantly put everything back in place and they left, and I’m going “I can’t-“ Every time in wrestling you think you’ve seen it all – you don’t. Only Dennis could do that and get away with it, and I’m thinking “Oh my gosh – I came here for an Eddie Gilbert convention and these people are thinking I’m a plastic surgeon and in broad daylight, somebody I don’t even know just takes off their top to show me what they got!” That was just something that you could only experience with someone like Dennis Coralluzzo.
Episode 33 (Transcript - Part 1)
With us here today is Don Laible – some of you may remember that name as the person that did the news on John Arezzi’s Pro Wrestling Spotlight; some of you may be a little older and remember him from the Fan Club scene from the WFIA conventions, he was a friend with many wrestlers, and more importantly, a friend to professional wrestling. He hasn’t been heard from in a while and thankfully, he’s here with us today – Don, welcome to the Superpodcast.
Don: It’s called parole – they let me out! That’s why I’m – and the first thing I wanted to do was go on the 6:05, so there you go! I’m doing well, doing well.
Good, good. Well, give us a little bit of background on who you are, and of course, how did you first get into wrestling and what are your earliest memories?
Don: Well, I’ll tell you, I’m so glad you asked that because for me, that brings a smile to my face. A happy time in wrestling, because I remember reading somewhere that Bret Hart had said “The closer you get to wrestling, the further you wanna be away,” something along that line. For me, over 20- almost 25 years, that really was the case. One Sunday afternoon, I was about 12 years old, and I was at somebody's house and they had a black and white TV. They had UHF on – it was in the afternoon – and they had Channel 47 from New Jersey, and there was wrestling, and I never saw it before. The first people I saw on television were The Grand Wizard as he was managing Beautiful Bobby Harmon and Handsome Jimmy Valiant, and then I saw Blackjack Mulligan come on and Bill Cardille was the announcer and I see that they’re talking about coming to Madison Square Garden and Sunnyside Garden, and I was just immediately taken to this and I said “My gosh, I love this thing.” So come January 1971, I was 12 years old – a friend of mine where I lived – I grew up in Bridgewood, Queens – and I’m not far from Sunnyside Gardens. So, a friend of mine said to me “I’m going to wrestling.” This is great, because at that time, I was not old enough to go to Madison Square Garden – you had to be 13 years old – and believe it or not, when I was 13, I went with my parents and my birth certificate to prove that I was 13, and they did not let me in the Garden because they didn’t think it was my birth certificate because I was rather small for my age. That’s how things changed so much! In fact, the main event that I missed was Pedro Morales against Freddie Blassie with Joe Louis as the Guest Referee.
So I go to Sunnyside Gardens, it’s January ’71 – the first main event is Pedro Morales defending his championship against Jimmy Valiant in a singles match; the Masked Russians are on there with Nikita Mulkovich; Victor Rivera; Manuel Soto; Tomas Marin; Bull Pomenti; All the undercard guys. This was - man, I came home going “This is the greatest freaking thing in the world!” Little by little, I’m going to Sunnyside Gardens and I’m watching it on television, and of course Channel 41, which was carrying the tapes from Los Angeles – the LeBell promotions – which you could understand the Spanish, but it was great: John Tolos, Roddy Piper was there at the time, Raul Mata, Black Gordman, Goliath, Don Carson – all these guys. It was fabulous, and I was – I went and bought my first wrestling magazine. It was Wrestling Revue November of ’71 - I believe it was - with Bobo Brazil on the cover and I said “I’m hooked on this stuff.” I was just hooked! A long story short, come 1975 I start going to Madison Square Garden. 1975 – it’s January – and I see a guy walking around before the matches outside where the wrestlers would come in and he has a newsletter – a bulletin – and it was called United East Coast Wrestling Nuts and his name was Mose Konachowski (sp.) from Kew Gardens. He was the publisher of the newsletter, and he said “You know, there’s gonna be a convention – we’re all going to this convention – in July in Boston: the WFIA convention.” I go – I didn’t know what that was but here I am: I’m 16 years old and I’m getting ready and I said “I’m going to this,” and I remember that night because that night, even though as a kid you think “Well this stuff can’t be real, or is it?” You don’t know. I remember seeing Killer Kowalski coming out of the darkness walking into the Garden, and I got caught up in the moment and the one and only time I ever did something like this really stupid – I went to kick him, and he looked at me, turned around, and I was like “Oooh.” He scared the hell out of me!
So 1975 I go to Boston at the Madison Motor Inn, and anybody that’s been to the old Boston Garden knew that the hotel was on top of the Boston Garden. You remember back then that wrestling was very closed, wrestlers didn’t really mingle in general with the fans – it was so closed. So I go to this, and I met up with these people – there was a group of- they look like they were important people. So they invite me up to their room, and there’s Tom Burke, who turned out to be a dear friend of mine, who was in my wedding, who was running Ring Magazine at the time; there was John Arezzi, who was doing some magazine work and also had the Fred Blassie Fan Club; there was Dave Burzynski, who was Dave Drason in Detroit as a manager for The Sheik; and there was a couple other people and there was this guy named Mel Phillips who was there, who was doing something with the WWWF, but I never knew what it was. But, I know when I’d watch the tapes from Philly, there was Mel at ringside taking the jackets, so I thought “Wow, I’m in the know here! I’m with big movers and shakers,” and a 16 year old, you’re pretty impressed by this. So I got to know John, because as it turned out, John’s grandmother lived near me and what I started doing was on Saturdays, I would take a cab from my neighborhood to John’s grandmother’s house when John would visit – he and his sister – and I would buy some pictures from him and we just became good friends. I got to know Tom Burke, who put me in the Ring Magazine. I started doing a column there in 1976 for free. It was called “Mat Heresay” and if many people remember Ring Magazine, in the wrestling magazine in the back, they had all little columns about different regional promotions. They didn’t pay you, but just to see your name – in fact, my first column was next to a Leukemia ad that had Johnny Bench on it (laughing) and I thought that was the greatest thing: seeing my name next to Johnny Bench and the Leukemia foundation. So I got to know these people, and Mel Phillips was a guy who got very friendly with me. You know, even as a kid, I like to think growing up in New York, I was a little ahead of the pack if somebody was from suburbia that I knew something wasn’t quite right when someone kept wanting to put me in a headlock all the time or taking me down on the floor at the hotel or something, you know?
So I got to meet these people and everybody was very nice to me, and my coming out in wrestling happened December 30th in 1975. We all went to John Arezzi’s house in West Babylon. The WWWF was having a show at Nassau Coliseum so Mel Phillips, Tom Burke, John Arezzi, and a couple other people, we all went to the show. We stayed over at John’s house, had a good time, but that night they were talking – and today, people use the words kayfabe this and that like it’s, you know, like they know everything, back then it was so closed to the average person – and I overheard a conversation they were having about the Grand Wizard. Even though they were all very good friends with Ernie Roth, somehow it came up in a conversation that he was gay, and I thought “Oh my god – I learned something here. I know something nobody else knows!” and they all looked at me because they forgot I was sitting in the room with them. So that was my coming out – that I was on the ‘in’. Little by little, they were taking me and teaching me a little bit about the business and who’s who and this and that. From there, I started doing magazine work – I like to say I had over 1000 newsstand magazines; I worked for everybody. Just had a lot of fun. Years later, I got to go in the ring for about 5 years under a hood as, being like a Walter Mitty type thing where I would take pictures and then I’d go in the locker room and change, and my dear friend Killer Kowalski - who I tried to kick but I never brought it up to him because Walter would never forget that – he let me manage for him. We became best friends outside of wrestling and all the way up from 1971 to 2001 when I had the (sigh) worst episode of my life.
To show how wrestling changed so much, (sigh) it was with ECW. You know, anybody who knows things about ECW knows it was crazy. I’d like to say Rick Martel once told me that Bobby Heenan said that “Wrestlers were cut out for two things if they weren’t wrestlers – one would be working in a Circus and two would be a prisoner in a prison.” That’s the way I used to feel a lot when I was around the ECW people. Well, what happened to me, why I ended up getting out of wrestling and maybe it was time after about 30 years or so with this: we’re in Boston. I used to come up for all the Boston shows – the Boston Area shows – my good friend Paul Richard used to promote the shows for them, and I got a million stories about ECW but this is the one that made me leave wrestling and it scared the hell out of me. It was a couple weeks before Christmas and ECW got kicked out of two or three hotels over the 2 and a half years that they were going to the Boston area simply because of the craziness that was going on in them. The Howard Johnson’s was the nicest one and the most convenient one in Revere – that’s where WWF guys stay, WCW guys would stay there, but ECW got kicked out of there twice. So, we’re in a motel in Reading, MA, which is where Killer Kowalski lived. So we’re in a motel there – they have 2 shows: Friday and Saturday. I get up there on Friday morning. I go with Paul and his associate; we go to the motel. It’s a beautiful day, it’s cold, but it’s a beautiful day in New England. There’s a man working at the desk – he looks about a hundred years old. Somebody would immediately call him in a movie “Hey, Pops,” and he’s behind Plexiglass to protect him, I guess, from robbery or what not, and Paul says “Are any of the wrestlers here?” and he goes “Yes, that Spicolli guy was here but he passed out in the lobby so the ambulance came and took him away,” and whatnot. So it just so happened – this could only happen in wrestling and only with ECW – at this Motel, only 1 television channel was working and that 1 television channel that was working was a pornography channel. So, only with wrestling people, you’d say “Hey, we got porno!” right? However, this comes back to bite ECW and myself.
So we go to the show on Friday night, and have a show; everything’s fine. Saturday night, the shows’ over, and I usually go home Sunday morning – I was taking the Greyhound Bus – I would leave about 5:30 in the morning. So my friend Paul Richard would take me to the bus station so I would be there by 5 AM. Just so happens of course, like any road stories with wrestling, you know – right after the show, the guys would either get Chinese and then they would go out to Strip club – have a party, whatever. Since I get up so early, I go back to our room. I’m with Paul Richard, and I did not know the room next to me had the guys from the FBI, Tommy Rich, and Balls Mahoney. So, I’m sleeping – it’s about 3 o’clock in the morning – it’s about 2 weeks before Christmas: it’s snowing out. It’s the wee hours in the morning – I have to get up in an hour and a half, an hour, whatever – and the phone rings. Everybody else is out at some place having a party. They ask for Paul, so I assume they want Paul Richard, but they were looking for Paul E. So I hang up the phone and I said “I don’t have time for this.” Phone rings again – now they’re getting a little angry at me and they go “We want Paul. We want Paul.” I said “Look, there’s no fuckin’ Paul here. Go to sleep – whoever you are.” Boom; hang up the phone. The next thing I know, I started hearing this, like, banging on the walls and stuff and I’m thinking “OK, what’s going on there?” Then, in a matter of seconds, it’s like a cartoon – you remember if you watch a cartoon and you see a door, somebody pounding on the door like it’s coming off the hinges and it’s bending: that’s what I was experiencing. All of a sudden, I see this door just being beaten on like it’s gonna come off the hinges, so I’m shitting a brick. So, all I could think of is my life’s flashing in front of me – that I’m gonna get killed, someone’s trying to invade the room; whatever. So I have a pair of shorts on, I throw on my jacket, and I have sneakers and I go “OK, I’m gonna have to make a run for it. I’m gonna fight my way out of here and just run through the parking lot.”
So I take the chain off the door, open the door – I can’t get out. It’s Balls Mahoney. Balls is standing in front of the door: he’s high, he’s drunk, and he’s angry, and I’m there alone. So I’m thinkin’, all in a matter of seconds, I’m gonna die, and in that second, I said “Listen,” – I started praying, I said – “Lord, you get me out of this, I’ve had it with this fuckin’ business. It’s changed, it’s just not what I grew up on, not where I fit in. You get me out of this – I’m done.” Well, all in a matter of seconds, Balls is angry at me for hanging up the phone. I had no idea he was looking for Paul E., and I don’t know what’s gonna happen to me. So Balls, every two minutes that he’s talking and screaming at me, he’s throwing up. So this is not a good situation on myself – he backs out, I managed to get myself out of the door and Balls grabs me by the back of my jacket and he’s holding me like a little puppet, and he’s just cursin' and throwing up and this and that. So he starts complaining that “We only have one channel in this hotel and it’s a porno channel and we have to do something about it.” This is when it’s REALLY getting bizarre (laughing) because, you know, most guys are not gonna complain about this, and especially at 3 AM in the morning and in the snow. So, he’s got me by the collar, literally. So here I am, in the snow, with just my shorts and sneakers – no socks on or anything – I had a t-shirt on. So Balls has got me by the back of my neck and he’s taking me across the parking lot of the hotel – can’t get away or anything like that. So, then, “We’re gonna do something about this!” and he’s gonna attack the guy at the front desk, this hundred year old looking man. Balls goes into the lobby and the guy’s behind the protective glass, and he’s got me by the collar, and he’s pukin’ and he’s throwing up and trying to scream at the same time, but he can’t because he’s just throwing up. I’m thinking “Please, call the police. At least this way I can get saved!” I don’t remember exactly what the guy said to Balls but Balls just turns and leaves the lobby and he’s still got me by the collar, and the absurdity continues when he’s telling me that all of a sudden, he’s hungry. I’m thinking “This really is a friggin' dream. I don’t believe this.” He’s telling me “I’m hungry!” We were – the motel – was across from Route 1 and on the other side- I mean, Route 1 is a major, major highway that goes through New England. So, Balls sees there’s – in the Boston area at least, there’s a chain called Brian’s Roast Beef; it’s open 24 hours. So Balls is ordering me to get him something to eat, so I figured “OK, I’m gonna make my escape now.” Mind you, there’s nobody else from ECW around, there’s no people in the parking lot, because every sane person is asleep! So – Balls lets my jacket go and he tells me “I want a Roast Beef and I don’t want ANY CHEESE ON IT!” Brrrrrruuuuh – he’s throwing up. Like some person in a Chuck Norris movie escaping the Vietnamese, I run across our parking lot, I go down a hill, I look – I run across Route 1, I go to Brian’s Roast Beef. I had $5 in my pocket, I get him a Roast Beef Sandwich. I figured here’s the plan: I’m gonna throw the sandwich at him, go in my room, lock the door, put the dresser in front of it or whatever until my friends Paul and Mike Bonassi get back, and I’m gonna be saved. Well, I take the sandwich, I come back, I throw it at Balls and he goes “WAIT A MINUTE! COME HERE!” and he grabs me back by the jacket, so I’m thinking “Man, any second, this guy could just beat the piss out of me!” He opens the sandwich up and don’t you know, they put cheese on the fuckin’ Roast Beef sandwich, so now I know I’m gonna die here. Balls is complaining about the sandwich,
I took a swing to get loose from my jacket, I run into the room, I barricade the room. It’s about 3:30, and mind you: while I get in the room and I barricade myself in there, all the other guys – Big Sal, The FBI people, Tommy Rich – all these people are laughing their ass off thinking this is funny, and not one of these assholes ever came to help me because I’m good for a joke, but this was serious shit that I thought I was gonna die. I barricade the door, and then about 3:30, Paul and Mike come back. I tell ‘em the story – they see me: I’m sitting on the bed, my bags are packed, I’m all dressed. They come in, and I said “Take me to the fuckin’ bus station, NOW.” They wanna know what happened, and I said “I can’t tell you,” because I was so friggin’ scared. They take me to the bus station. Well, the next day, they call and they said “Paul E. wants Balls to apologize to you,” blah blah blah blah. I didn’t want anything to do with that and when I got to the bus station, I said “I’m outta here,” and that was the last wrestling show I ever went to and I said “You know what? I’d rather see my family than to possibly be around these nuts,” because so many of the other guys there I was afraid of: everyone was either high and or drunk at the same time and some of these guys were very unstable. I think they were taking, you know, any type of anabolic steroids to make themselves bigger, and they were crazy, and I just said “Enough.” I used to have to give up my bed at the motel for New Jack, because somehow he didn’t have a room or blah blah blah, didn’t get paid, so I would sleep in a bathtub. He wouldn’t address me by name or this and that – I was always “Hey, come here fuckin’ little white boy,” and that’s how he addressed me. I never knew if he was working it or not, and it was just scary the whole time. I said “I’m outta here,” and I couldn’t run away fast enough from the business and it was mainly because of the Balls Mahoney situation.
Wow. Uh. (laughing)
It’s hard to think of a follow-up question to all that, Don. Um…well, let me ask you this: you mentioned that Paul Heyman wanted Balls to apologize to you and you weren’t interested in that. I mean, Paul Heyman knew who you were – you had known Paul Heyman for years, correct?
Don: Yeah! Oh yeah! Let me tell you: I’ve known Paul E. probably since 1985 and ’86. Kinda funny how I got to know who he was before I met him in person. I’d occasionally get correspondent letters from The Grand Wizard, and The Wizard, because he knew I knew certain people – like I was telling you some names before – and he would say “Well, if you ever come to the Garden shows, look me up at the Edison,” – that’s when they’d stay at the Edison Hotel or the Holland Hotel – and he said “Look me up. I’ll be there with so and so and Paul Heyman’s there,” so I knew the name. Then, I got to know him through the magazines a little bit – I did some work with the same magazines he had, and one time: if you remember the New York Knockouts, the NWA show that they did from Troy, NY with the I Quit Match with Terry Funk and Ric Flair?
Don: Well, um, when the guys were there, they stayed in Albany and I went to the hotel. I was gonna drive Eddie to the show. I get into the room and I’m talking to Eddie and the shower was going-
You’re speaking about Eddie Gilbert.
Don: Yes. So I assumed that, you know, somebody was with him but I didn’t know who and I didn’t really care – we’re just chatting and again, I’m getting set up now by Eddie. Eddie says to me “Hey, what do you think of that Paul Heyman guy? What do you think of Paul E.? He comes across kinda amateurish, that New Yorker,” this and that. I go “Well, he’s OK. I like him.” Well, whole time – I said to Eddie “Who’s in the bathroom?” He says “Oh - Bobby Eaton – he’s taking a shower,” but the whole time, it was Paul E. in there just running the water waiting to hear what I’m gonna say about him! I never said anything bad; I didn’t really have anything bad to say about him. He came out and it was a nice little laugh that we had. I knew him when he worked in Continental with Eddie – he came to a convention we had, a WFIA type convention in Memphis-
Don: Yes. I could remember his car because I had to go get something out of his car, and he musta had a hundred – and I’m not exaggerating – a hundred VHS tapes in there. He just, like, had to watch everything that he could get his hands on, and he was just a different individual that I came across in wrestling. I was told – I remember Eddie telling me, he says “He doesn’t even cash his checks. He doesn’t even need the money – he just wants to be involved in the business.” So, Paul E., even though he wanted Balls to apologize: you know what? I can’t condone behavior like that because me, I probably would have – and it’s maybe not feasible – but something like that, I’d fire somebody because you’re a liability. I mean, you can’t do that to somebody because in the real world, you could be sued for things like that, and I just thought “You know what, I’m not interested,” because I want to get away from this thing for a while anyway for as long as I can, because it- it just changed. The whole ECW thing just changed so much for me.
Wow. Uh, you know – certainly ECW is- people regard it now as what it was, which was a madhouse, especially when it came to drugs and alcohol and violence during the matches. It had a very unique place in professional wrestling history. Let’s take a step back – let’s go back to your younger days around wrestling, Don. You start getting in with John Arezzi and that crew – the inside fan scene, the fan club scene, as it were – and you start attending shows. What were the characters around wrestling in New York like back then?
Don: Ahhh. They are characters. I mean, there was Jimmy Mac and Jay Rosen, who had a WHBI radio. It was, like, midnight, they had a half hour show or an hour show on where anybody could buy time at the time, and they had a wrestling radio show and they both look like they were down in the Bowery as some poor bums. Just sad; but they had a wrestling show. They even put out a record with Lou Albano, a 45. There was Barry Bang Bang - Barry (last name bleeped) was a photographer: he had to be the single world’s worst pedophile. This guy – I went to maybe the 3rd or 4th show I ever went to at Sunnyside Gardens and someone said “Hey, that guy over there – he’s selling pictures!” and “Wow, I could buy pictures of the wrestlers!” So I go over to him, and next thing I know, the guy’s putting his arms around me like he’s hugging me, and then he’s pretending he’s putting a bear hug on me, and I’m thinking – even as a young teenager though – “This is not right,” you know? So anyway, what do I know? I buy the pictures and he says “Give me your phone number and when I get pictures of Jimmy Valiant,” like, he knew everybody. He says “When I see Jimmy, I’ll get some new pictures and I’ll call you.” So, Barry Bang Bang, as they called him, Barry (last name bleeped) , he was probably, I’d say, 25 or so at the time, and again, I was 13 / 14 years old, and he’d call my house and the first thing he’d say is “How many phones do you have?” (laughing) I’d say “I have one!” Then, we’d be talking just about wrestling, and then he’d start mumbling stuff to me – I didn’t know what the hell he’s saying, and he’s saying “You only have one phone, right?” and I just knew. I said “There’s something not right with him.” There’s Professor Elliot – it’s kinda funny: Professor Elliot was around since George Hackenschmidt, and then he calls me up a couple of years ago and he says he’s got a brain tumor, he’s not gonna make it – oh, by the way, he was calling me collect too – and he wanted me to make a donation to him because he needed blood or something like that. I mean, even after decades and decades of knowing these people, they still try to keep working you. There’s Professor Elliot – there were some really neat people that had fan clubs. I got involved with the Jimmy Valiant Fan Club. This lady, Marilee Nitzel (Sp.) who lived in the Boston Area, and many of the wrestlers when they came up through the years working for the Santos Promotions in Boston, and when they’d wrestle at Jack Witschi’s Arena in North Attleborough, to save money, they would stay at her farm! Jimmy and Johnny Valiant would stay there; even before that it was Chris Colt and Ron Dupree, the Hell’s Angels; Pat Patterson used to stay with her. I used to write little stories on the Valiant’s and what not in her newsletter. There was, of course, John’s bulletin – the Freddie Blassie one – was done just so classy, no pun intended there. There was the Spiros Arion fan club. It was a nice time where when you were with the guys away from when everybody else was there, they would co-operate and do interviews.
I can remember after the Boston Garden shows going into Dominic DeNucci’s room and just say “OK, you want something for the newsletter?” and he would talk. I remember going with Marilee to meet Billy Graham up when he first came – it was November of ’75 he was starting his run with Dominic DeNucci before he would take on Bruno. We would pick Billy Graham up at a health food store and we’d drive him back to the hotel, and Billy was always very engaging and pleasant. So, I met the right people who knew the right people and got along, but I could tell you this: of all the shenanigans we heard about – Mel Phillips – I gotta tell you, the guy- he never did a single thing to me except put me in a headlock! Maybe that was enough for him. One day, he comes and he says to me “You wanna go to Boston?” and I can’t imagine letting my kid- if I had a child that was 16 years old and they said “Hey – Mom, Dad? I’m gonna go to Boston with this guy for the weekend for wrestling matches.” I can’t imagine doing that these days, but Mel came to my house in Queens, picked me up on a Friday around 3 o’clock, and we made our way – we got to Jack Witschi’s Arena, which was the greatest place to see wrestling because it was a big barn, in essence. It was a barn – it was near Providence, and you were right on top of the matches there; it was so personal. We got there for the start of the matches at 8 o’clock at night - Mel brings me back to the hotel in Boston at the Madison, and I don’t see him until he’s picking me up on Sunday to go home, because he had another “friend” to see; some other kid. You know, I heard all these accusations, but I can tell you this – maybe it was the soap I used or whatever, but Mel NEVER, ever, did anything other than have an urge to put me in headlocks (laughing) all the time.
But, I got to know these kind of people, but the fun came – the real fun came – when I said “You know, I did newsletters – I wanna do more,” and I got involved with the wrestling magazines. At that time, one of the greatest things I did was on Sundays, I would take the subway into Manhattan, and at 42nd Street, I go to the newspaper stand and they would have sometimes, like, a dozen different newsstand magazines. It was fabulous and I wanted to get involved with that. I started – matter of fact: the first wrestling show I went to, somebody said to me – they point to this guy at ringside – “Hey, go get his autograph,” and I did. He goes “He’s a famous photographer!” and it was Bill Apter. So I got to know the guys, know who they were. I started to do some stories with Tom Burke for Ring Magazine – the first featured story I did was on a prelim guy from the WWWF named Silvano Sousa, and little did I know, we would meet up years later. So I did that – I got $50. I’m like “Whoa, this is great!” So I got to meet some of the other people like Norm Kietzer – who did Wrestling News and all his programs – he took stories, but Norm Kietzer didn’t pay anything. As much as I enjoyed that as a kid, you see this as potential income, so I wanted to get involved. I thought the best photographers, the best news people in the magazines – there was a guy from North Carolina named Gene Gordon, and Gene Gordon used to have in the magazines, it was called “Gordon’s Grappling Gems.” He had pictures of all the southern wrestlers; young Ric Flair pictures and what not. So, I saw Gene, I got to meet him, I got to meet Frank Amato, who took great pictures at Madison Square Garden; there was George Napolitano, who did a ton of magazines; and of course, Bill. So I said “You know, I wanna get involved with this.” So, when wrestling was really hot back in the early 80’s on up, I started doing a lot of work with George Napolitano, and George is a big baseball fan. I live right near Cooperstown, so I would see George when he would come up here, and George is a one-man show. He used to package all the magazines himself and what not, and he didn’t have time to write everything, and George was very gracious to me in letting me do a lot of work.
Over the years with the magazines, I earned about $100,000 and I made good use of my money, because I saw so many wrestling people who earned, and lost, it all. I knew when I was a kid as I was getting older – I wanted to make my money work for me, which it did. I like to say for all the people that somehow Bill Apter is this, you know, he’s the Babe Ruth of the ‘Apter Mags’, as they call them. I’m here to say my own opinion: he’s not. George Napolitano, as far as I’m concerned, is the king of the magazines. Bill Apter, when he was at GC London Publishing for Stan Weston, there was a whole staff of people there writing all the crazy stories back then. Of course, you had to protect everything when you wrote things and what not, and Bill did good work – don’t get me wrong – but Bill most of the time was promoting Bill from all the pictures of getting the Heart Punch, to getting pencils in his head by Abdullah and what not. I think Bill really enjoyed the attention that he was getting. I think he really liked that, where George is more introverted and George had many, many, friends in the business – from the Road Warriors who were close friends of his, Billy Graham, Andre the Giant. In fact, George’s son one day for show and tell in school brought Andre the Giant with him to school for his show and tell! I mean, who could do that, right?! So, George worked for a company – StarLog – on Park Avenue South, and his heyday, he probably put out about 50 issues a year. There was myself and a couple other people maybe that did stuff regularly for him, and making $6-7,000 a year from just him. Look, I was no great writer – I think I’m better now – but I wasn’t that great then, and George had patience, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He always made everything about what he did was about the wrestlers, where Bill was a lot about putting himself over at times, I think, in my opinion. With George, I would get paid – I first started getting paid $50, then $60, then $75 a story. With Bill, I’m gonna tell you something: you can’t squeeze a Nickel out of those people. For instance, they would take a picture of mine, they’d use it, I’d wait 3 months to get paid $10 for a picture. It was like “Why do I even bother with this?” They were horrible – the people from Inside Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Illustrated; terrible as far as getting paid. Then, of course, when you ask for your money “Oh, it’s not me, it’s this, it’s that.” It took forever. With George, every time I’d looked at him, he’d open up his wallet and there’d be crunched up cheques for me, so he was phenomenal.
It went from the absurdity of Mike O’Hara, who also put out a great fan club bulletin, the Bulldog Brower Fan Club, which was fabulous. He started putting out a couple low budget magazines, and I can remember one day getting a cheque from him for $1. He used a picture of mine that I took of Steve Williams and I got a cheque for $1. The reason why I say that: I remember getting it laughing my ass off, saying “I’m not gonna cash this thing!” because years later, the best that I was ever treated – and treated as a professional – was when WOW Magazine came out – World of Wrestling. Before I jump ahead, there’s also Wrestling World, which a fellow by the name of Sandy Krebs was the editor, and their owner’s name was Cheh Low. Their offices were in the Empire State Building, and they put out some Men’s Fitness magazines and this and that, and Sandy – they would pay me $75 for a story, and if they used pictures, they would pay me $125. Sandy was really good and I admired them because the owner was so cheap. One day, I’m in New York with my wife and I said “Let’s stop up at the office,” and in their waiting room, they had some of the magazines and I said “Jeez, I don’t have this issue. Let me grab-“ “No, no, you can’t take those.” It was like, man you could have anything – give ‘em a Kidney – but don’t take those magazines: you gotta pay for them! I was like “This is bizarre – I had stuff in these magazines!” That was another thing – trying to get magazines from these people was like “Forget about it.” I gotta take the money they pay me to go buy it. One day, we’re in New York, we go up to the offices in Empire State Building, I meet the owner, and I kid you not – before he even said his name or “Nice to meet you,” the first thing was “Cheh Low no cheap. People say Cheh Low cheap – I’m not cheap!” I’m saying “What in the hell is he talking about?” but that’s the craziness of wrestling. Carmine DeSpirito took over the Wrestling Eye, and then they also did a bi-monthly magazine called Wrestling Fury, and then they did a Girl’s magazine that was just god awful. But, they were very good at paying – they paid less. It was like, $40 a story, but never had to worry about it, took care of you, and it was all about just “Send us the stuff.” It wasn’t about trying to be your friend, it wasn’t trying to put themselves over or anything, but it was really good.
The piece de resistance, as they say, was when WOW Magazine came out, in which they also put out a couple other wrestling magazines, including the ECW Magazine, which I thought was ahead of its time – it was really good too. They paid $500 a story. So here I’m walking one day through a big drug store near me, and I see this new magazine – it’s thick, it’s glossy, and I go “Holy shit! Why do I not know about this stuff?” and I looked at some of the names. I said “I gotta get in on this – I earned this over the years!” So I contacted them, I said “Look, I know these guys, these guys, I can send you this,” so they said – I actually had to sign a contract with them which was phenomenal - I never did that before – saying that everything I send them is only for them, and this and that. Next thing I know, I’m getting $500 here, $500 there; it was unbelievable. One Saturday morning – so, I get the $1 cheque from Mike O’Hara. One Saturday morning, I get two cheques in the mail from WOW Magazine totaling $3000. So I’m looking at this $1 cheque and these two cheques here totaling 3 grand, and I go “Hmmm. How far have I come now?” So, WOW was just on fire. This publishing company put out a magazine, I guess their feature magazine, they were out of Chicago. They put out one on the Beanie Babies when they were hot, and a Toy Magazine. So they figured “Wrestling’s hot, so let’s do this.” They had professional people in the office – didn’t know anything about wrestling – but knew how to package a magazine and whatnot. They paid us like professionals, they treated professionals, sent all the magazine copies you want, blah blah blah, and then around 2000 or so, the economy goes into the tank and they file for bankruptcy.
Just before – I should say this, just before – they file for Bankruptcy, Bill Apter took over the magazine, and I go “Aw, shit. I’m outta here,” because…I had said something to Bill – I can’t remember the exact words – but I kinda just called him out. I said “You know, you people – you want this, you want that, and I gotta wait 3 months for $10, blah blah blah, stick it up your ass,” and then I’ve got this wonderful thing going with WOW and then they tell me “Well, Bill Apter’s taking over.” I’m going “Oh shit – I’m screwed now.” I tell you, to Bill’s credit – nothing ever came up, I continued to do my things – my columns – and stories, and then the economy went down, they filed for bankruptcy. They owed me, maybe 3 or $4000 and I tried to weasel it out of them so bad. I didn’t get it, but it was a wonderful way to go out of doing that, and ever since then, there really isn’t anything. I did try to get in with the WWE Magazine, but at the time, Vince Russo was in charge of it. Well, my association with him and John when they first met, I was there with John and Vince and we went out, we did this, we did that. I went with them, Vince would come to the radio show when it was on the 50,000 Watt in Manhattan, and I remember listen to John talk about that, which was a wonderful time. It was $1000 an hour that John was paying, and if you went over one minute, that cost another $1000, so it was a very expensive proposition, but I got to know Vince a little bit there. They did the newsletters, so when he took over the magazine, I thought “Well, maybe it’ll be ‘bygones be bygones’, it’s business and I could do some work there,” and I sent ‘em a letter, and one day I get a phone call – it’s Vince Russo. I thought “Oh, this is great!” and he says “You know Donnie, I remember what went on with us with John and everything, and right now, I don’t have anything for you,” and I think he felt so good. He thought I was groveling to him, and he couldn’t wait to tell me “No,” you know? So after that, the magazines really dried up, and the only thing that’s out there is some of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated stuff, which I know there’s no money there. I’m gonna leave you with the best – this is the best – wrestling story magazine that I can tell you about. You remember when RAW had a fella working for them – a creative guy – named David Sahadi?
Don: Yes – he was doing all the videos and all? Well, I called him one day, and I basically was telling him his father was a crook, and this is why: Lou Sahadi, for people that don’t know the name in Sports, back in the 60’s and the 70’s, he published some biographies on Baseball players, Football players, and he put out – he packaged Boxing magazines and Wrestling magazines. So, I knew the name, but I didn’t know he was the KING of all crooks that I ever came across in the magazine business. So Lou’s doing this magazine called Wrestling Today, it was coming out quarterly, and one day he asks me to take it over for him – probably because he screwed everybody and nobody else would work for him. So I go “Yeah, yeah, this is great!” Lou says “I’ll tell you what – I’ll give you $1000 an issue. Get all the stuff you can and pay ‘em what you want, keep it all to yourself,” like he was telling me to screw people. I live with guilt – I can’t do that kinda stuff. I put together a magazine and I get paid, and then – crooks always make a mistake somewhere along the line. So, what Lou forgot is I had a column in there called Mat Heresay, which I did at Ring Magazine, and I put my address on there saying – and this is before cell phones, this is before e-mails, this is, like, in the mid ninties or so – and I said to the readers, you know “Send me your pictures or send me anything that’s going on in your area, blah blah blah.” Well, I start getting letters from wrestling fans in England and Germany, and I’m thinking “Jesus, do they get these at the airport here in the states, or what?” So, I contact one of them and I said “How are you finding out about this magazine?” They said “Well, we read it here.” I said “Send it to me – let me see what it looks like.” What Lou is doing: I would give him the material for the magazine, then Lou would then take it and sell it to a publisher in England, who there, was publishing and selling throughout Europe. He changed the title, the cover was changed, but all the same pictures and the same stories and all, and I said “That sonofabitch is stealing from-“ At least say “I’m selling it, it’s packaged now in Europe, here’s $500 or here’s this or whatever.” So I remember watching something on 60 Minutes and this is what I did: I had a tape recorder and I bought something at Radio Shack so I could tap my phone – so I could tape whoever calls. I had it hooked up to the tape. So I call Lou, and, you know, Lou’s “Ahhhh, you’re doing everything! That’s the biggest bullshit in the world!” I said “So Lou, how’s the magazine going?” He goes “Ahhh, it’s going really good, really good!” and I go “No – the one in Europe.” All of a sudden, it’s dead silent and it’s classic. He goes “Ahhhh, Jesus Christ, these people aren’t giving me any money, I don’t know what’s going on with these people, I dind’t want to tell you right away,” and I said “Lou – you’re a fuckin’ liar. Don’t ever call me again,” and I saved that tape because the quietness in-between me “Gotcha” to him and him trying to think of saying something was the best silence I’ve ever heard. I saved that just to hear “Ahhhh, Jesus Christ! Ahhh!” but, you know, they’re all crooks! Everybody was out not to say “Look, we got a good thing going here – let’s all enjoy it.” Instead it’s “Let me screw with this guy so I can get an extra Nickel.” In a sense, that’s the story on wrestling magazines, and I liked – the one message I want to emphasize is that so much attention is always given to Bill Apter. I know he came out with a book this year, and to me, he accomplished a lot, but for someone who was involved with a lot of the stuff, George Napolitano – to me – is the king because he did as much or more, but he did it on his own, where Apter was at the office and they had the people there working WITH him on it, where George would have to package it together and then give it to them and they would put it together. I just don’t think George gets the props that he deserves because he, again, far more introverted, where Bill was, I think a lot of times enjoyed the attention and I just think people should hear more about George Napolitano.
(Now, when you talk about the less-than-desirable payments that you’d get from the wrestling magazines, how much of it do you think was kind of a wrestling kinda, you know ‘let’s all keep it for ourselves, screw them’ mentality, and how much do you think it was a ‘oh, they’re wrestling fans, they do it for free anyway’ type of mentality?)
Don: Yeah. I think that has a lot to do with it, just like today. I write a newspaper column and I work for a professional Hockey team and what not, and the – trying to do work with a lot of blogs where I said “Look, I could give you interviews with Hall of Famers, with major names in Hockey and Baseball and Basketball,“ everybody – including Sports Illustrated – contacted me saying “You know, we’d like to have this and that,” and I’d say “OK – how much money are we talking?” Dead silence. “Oh, you wanna get paid? We don’t pay.” Wait a minute – you want my work, but you don’t wanna pay for it, yet you have advertising and whatever on your sites. I think that had a lot to do back then with wrestling as well, that somehow the wrestling fans were always dismissed as being less intelligent than somebody else, or, you know – “Aw, frig it. It’s just wrestling people.” I think that had a lot to do – I think a lack of respect to the wrestling public.
(So that even happened with Sports Illustrated? Like, what time period are we talking about?)
Don: Yeah. Sports Illustrated has a number of websites – sports sites – it doesn’t say Sports but it’s theirs. They’re really cool sites and I contact them and said “Listen: I can give you a lot of major names and it’s not about me, it’s about the interviews I could do with these people,” and I sent them copies of my work, and “Yeah, yeah, we’re interested,” and when I ask them about getting paid, they go “Well, we don’t pay you. You get your name out there.” I don’t want my name out there- I had my name out there; I wanna get paid. Then, they come back to me and said “Well, I’ll tell you what – we’ll make you the editor of the site and then, for every month if you reach a certain amount of hits, then we’ll pay you after that.” Now, I’m gonna tell you something – that there tells me their crooks. If they truly appreciate what I do, they’ll pay for it. How many times do you think I’m gonna reach that amount that’s gonna let me get paid? I could tell you this – when Paul and Richard and Mike Bonassi used to promote ECW in Boston, they used to get $1 a ticket for the people who come in. One of the place they’d promote was Wonderland Ballroom – it was next to a Dog Track in Revere, Mass. If they got anything over 1,000, they would get $2 a ticket. Well, I wanna tell you something: every single time they’d look at the crowd and go “Here’s the attendance.” Paul E. would go “No – it’s only 987 or 982.” Every time, it was just “You just missed,” because they didn’t want to pay! There was a time – it got to a point where the 3 of us and others, we would have clickers counters at each entrance to say “OK, we’re gonna reach that amount this time,” and it was always “Nope, nope, you missed that number by *this* much.” That’s the same thing I believe I would experience with some of these websites and say “Well, we’ll pay you, but you have to reach a certain amount of hits.” Well, if you guys are doing the counting, why should I be suspicious that I’m actually going to reach it each month? So, that’s just basically a turn-off right there
(And then, didn’t Paul E. also even change, eventually, the way he did the ticket money with the house show promoters to that it wasn’t even – it was even worse than that? Like, there would be incentives taken away or made much harder to hit, or something like that?)
Don: I can tell you, personally, I’m not sure. I never experienced that because they just wanna basically, in New England, we said “We don’t wanna do this anymore,” because Paul or Mike and Myself are very close with Perry Saturn and John Kronus. They had left the promotion, some of the other people were leaving the promotion, and it was just – things got unrewarding as you’re talking about, that they just said – after about 3 years or so or 2 and a half or 3 years – they just said “Forget about it; we’re not gonna do this anymore.” After the shows, a lot of the guys would be waiting to get paid, and other people that had to get paid for things that they did for the show, and it was almost like trying to get a meeting with the Pope where Paul E. would be sitting in the seats that would be facing the Dog Track and the back area which they used as the dressing area, guys would stand around – I’m not kidding you – 1 or 2 in the morning and they’d just get fed up and leave and not get paid, and I think that was the strategy that Paul E. probably had at the time, because it was just sometimes impossible to get paid. You’d hear some stories “Oh! I’m sorry – I don’t have it with me right now, but I WILL get it for you…” Paul E. has a way of making everybody feel like at that moment, they’re the most important person to him and everything is gonna be fine, so I’m not really sure exactly what happened there, but in New England, they just got fed up and just said “Enough.”