Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion, 2004
Ann Casey (right) and Penny Banner,
two queens of the ring.
We needn't have worried, largely because a more friendly, warm-hearted bunch of people you couldn't hope to find. Which is kinda ironic, given their "day jobs" in most cases involved beating the living daylights out of each other. But now, they seemed genuinely delighted by our interest, signing autographs, taking photos and talking to us in an incredibly gracious manner which soon put us at ease - and from which a lot of 'famous' people could learn.
A couple stood out in particular, both women wrestlers. Ida Mae Martinez, won the Mexican Women's Championship in 1952, and is now a yodelling star(!), as well as featuring in an upcoming documentary with the intriguing title, Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling. Equally as fascinating to talk to, was Ann Casey, who wrestled into her fifties, then became a truck driver. With a life that also includes meeting Elvis, a degree in criminal justice, bounty hunting, poetry and getting shot five times in 1972 while sitting in her car, Hollywood really should do a bio-pic of her - Madeleine Stowe would be Ann's personal choice to play her role.
|Ox Baker hugs a nervous-looking Chris!|
This was, sadly, another feature of the event: at Saturday's night banquet, they named the wrestlers who had died in the past year. It was a lengthy list, led by Stu Hart, patriarch of the Hart dynasty which included his sons Bret and Owen. Hard Boiled Haggerty's daughter also sang God Bless America, her voice cracking with emotion, and even I - who doesn't believe in God and isn't American - had to admit it was a moving moment.
|George 'The Animal' Steele|
Though it has to be said, crowd disapproval seemed limited to the inappropriate word, rather than any actual argument with the sentiment. The general feeling appeared to be that the antics of the WWE overshadowed the good work being done by independent promoters, that wrestling was going through one of its downturns, and that things were better in the good old days. However, I noticed a prominent phrase on one of the old promo cards which was part of the silent auction, and probably dated from the 50's: "Huge reserved section for coloreds". Not everything about the old days was good...
Another notable exhibit was a cast made of Andre the Giant's arm and foot (right - the hand rattling around inside, feeling very lonely, is Chris's for comparison). I'd seen footage of the 7'4", 520 lb man in action, but apart from The Princess Bride, only with other wrestlers, and didn't realise how big he truly was. Also ongoing was a Cribbage tournament, which may seem like an odd inclusion at the event, but CC told us that it was a favourite pastime of wrestlers backstage, while waiting to go on. Maurice 'Mad Dog' Vachon was defending his title - much like baseball players, it seems that wrestlers had much cooler nicknames in the golden days. Though, having said that, I guess there's still the odd one around who's old-school in this regard, such as Chris 'The Rabid Wolverine' Benoit!
All this, and I haven't even mentioned the show on Saturday, where up-and-coming wrestlers got to do their thing for promoters, bookers and everyone else - difficult to think of a tougher crowd to perform in front of than this one! No folding chairs; no pyrotechnics; no lingerie matches; just traditional wrestling. One yearns for the days when this again becomes the normal perception of the sport, rather than a sputtering flame, barely kept alive by a bunch of die-hards.
We left on Sunday with a whole new appreciation for the wrestling industry, and those who are part of it, using their skill to put their health on the line for our entertainment, day-in and day-out for years on end. In most cases, they don't do it for glory or riches, but because they love the sport, and a comment from one of the speeches on Saturday really brings this home. Someone once asked a wrestler what he'd do if he had a million dollars; he replied, "Put it in the bank, and wrestle until it's all gone." The knowing laughter which greeted this anecdote was proof of truth, and is why we'll be back in Las Vegas for the 2005 reunion. We're already brushing up on our cribbage skills.
Visit the Cauliflower Alley Club website.