5 QUESTIONS WITH DIANA HART
I recently had the pleasure of of interviewing* Diana Hart (novelist and member of the legendary Hart family). She offers insight into her creative process for her latest novel, Cauliflower Heart (available for purchase here), as well as a fascinating, deeply personal glimpse into the affect John Stossel's 20/20 expose had on the wrestling business in 1984.
WOW: What inspired your latest novel, Cauliflower Heart (the first in a trilogy) and how long did it take to complete?
DH: I missed wrestling so I began writing about it. It started out as just a way for me to fill that void. It was like a gaping hole in my heart. I am not trying to sound dramatic; that’s just how it felt. Wrestling had been such a big part of my life since birth, and I felt entitled to still belong in that world but I was sort of un-invited. The WWE was my last connection to the old life, and when my son Harry (DH Smith in WWE) departed from them in 2011, I really felt like I didn’t belong there. And I couldn’t find a lot of what my son was doing in Japan on TV in Florida, so I started to write about what I remembered or what I heard about. Fast forward to 2014, and about 2000 handwritten pages later, I decided to turn it into a novel. It was a great catharsis for me. I got very emotionally attached to my characters. I want people who read Cauliflower Heart to also get attached. I think there are a lot of people who want to recall the world of wrestling I have described in my story. I hear such nice things from people who grew up watching the old style, and that is what I have tried to capture in Cauliflower Heart.
WOW: What do you love about wrestling?
DH: I was born into wrestling and in my eyes, I grew up in the greatest wrestling territory in history. Of course, it was made great by the influences of other wrestlers from all over the world, but what they produced in Calgary, under the promotion of my dad, created something second to none. I love the wrestling of the past, or the style that still reflects what my father’s promotion produced. I am not really passionate about some of what I see now, but I do still love wrestling. I just gravitate towards the story being told in the ring; the skill behind working a single body part, piece by piece, wearing your opponent down. I love that there are characters in wrestling, and how they tell a story through movement.
WOW: You and your family members often discuss needing to defend pro-wrestling from detractors. Do you think public perception of pro wrestling has changed over the past 30 years? If so, how?
DH: Yes I do think it has changed. There are more wrestling fans than ever, perhaps more than any other sport, on a global basis, so I can’t say the perception of it is tainted to a point where it's dying. But, it is not the same as it once was. Like anything. Change must happen in order to survive, sometimes that leads to a death, sometimes it means something thrives. Up until the mid-1980s, professional wrestling was fairly protected. Within the industry, wrestlers never spoke out against it. They had an unconditional loyalty to it, like being a Shriner or a Mason.
I was proud of that.
It was very real despite how much it was knocked/criticized. People couldn’t actually say it was fixed, because no one knew that was for certain back then. They could only speculate. Then the “Eddie Mansfield Expose’” based on the bitter sour grapes of a mediocre wrestler and his friend from the southern United States decided to scorch the earth. It was spiteful and he had no integrity, in my opinion, and what he said and did was not necessarily the truth. His accounts were embellished and exaggerated. And the interviewer, John Stossel, was on a witch hunt.
He (Stossel) was really looking to do an unfair number on professional wrestling, using his power as a national reporter on a very well-watched television program, and he got his pigeon (Eddie Mansfield) to help him try to bury professional wrestling. There was nothing favorable about wrestling in the entire clip. All John and Eddie and some other no-name wrestlers were doing was picking on the wrestling industry.
All these wrestlers were just standing there watching this reporter go around with his camera, antagonizing and interrogating the wrestlers, in their own back yard. Finally, he got a good cuff or two to the side of his head by a wrestler who I knew quite well from Stampede Wrestling, Dr. David Schultz. Eddie Mansfield was deliberately trying to throw professional wrestling and all the wrestlers under the bus because he was unhappy with his own career and his own lack of ability.
It just made people watch even more, but it was exposed. I was furious that wrestling went through that sort of mean-spirited exposure. Later, WWE (then WWF) had so much trouble with the sports commissions that they made the huge decision to step out of the box and declare wrestling sports entertainment. The fan base continued to grow, but I admit, I was not embracing the idea of it being called “entertainment.” I still saw it purely as wrestling, but that was how I was raised. I still saw wrestlers like my brothers Bret & Owen, my late husband Davey, Dynamite Kid, going out there and doing the old school moves and keeping the Calgary Style alive. So to me, it was still real.
I beg to differ when people say it is choreographed and they read their lines from paper, or whatever. I still only see it as improvising and winging it. They might get an outline of things to do, a basic idea of what is going to happen, but isn’t that the same deal in any sport? Except for the outcome. Don’t other sports have a game book with plays in it? I admit the final outcome is already determined, but it is quite amazing, actually, to think it is going to be carried out over a period of several weeks, and yet, at any given time, due to injuries or extenuating circumstances, it can all be changed.
I see it happen all the time. Injuries in the ring, and all of a sudden, the whole outcome of the match is different. That is real life, in wrestling, not a rehearsal, and not a script. The wrestlers are getting hurt, taking no breaks, and just improvising. Other than the finish, nothing was really choreographed, as far as what I saw in wrestling with my family.
Darren Aronofsky did a critical, but sympathetic film on life in wrestling. It made not just the diehard fans, but the judgmental, non-wrestling public see how hard the life is, predetermined or not. It is a hard life, and only a few can make it, and even then, it is not easy. There are many parallels to wrestling and other businesses like music, acting, theater, boxing. If it is all you know, and once you have a taste for it, it is really hard to adapt to what people say is the real world. The real world, for each of us, is different.
So even if people think now more than ever that wrestling is a phony business (which it is not) there are still amazing, devoted fans who keep the wrestling traditions alive. It is like a family. It is what keeps me going and I’m not even a wrestler.
WOW: How would you like the Hart name to be remembered?
DH: Funny you should ask that question now. In Calgary they're looking for suggestions on what to name the Calgary International Airport. Right now there's an online petition taking place trying to get the airport to be named after my dad Stu Hart. The city is seriously considering having the Calgary airport being named "The Stu Hart Calgary International airport".
I also want the Hart family name to be remembered for the contributions they made to the world of professional wrestling, and making it a successful business. I also want the name to be remembered in the Calgary and the Alberta communities for how much my dad gave back to hospitals, charities, animals, and sports. He always had an open door policy. He welcomed so many people into his house, and he always wanted to help anyone who needed it.
My family, including myself, would give you the shirt off our backs if you needed it.
WOW: Is professional wrestling art?
Yes. It is an art.
You can't just be a good athlete to excel in this field. You have to be incredibly creative and push the envelope to make yourself great. But being great isn’t about being famous either. It is about being your best creatively, emotionally, and physically.
Yes...indeed, professional wrestling is an art. It is not something that can be learned by simply pretending. It must be experienced. You have to really hurt and you have to feel pain and you have to feel loss in order to become truly great. Some people don’t give it enough credit, and think that wrestlers are a bunch of daft planks of wood who have no feelings or understanding of art. The poor wrestlers are the greatest artists of all the sportsmen, in my opinion. They go through more than people will ever know.
If you don’t believe me, watch a few of my brother Bret’s interviews on and off the record, and watch some of his matches.
You will see what I mean.
WOW: Thank you so much, Diana, for your time, your candidness, and for your family's invaluable contributions to the art of professional wrestling. Best of luck & success to you!
Cauliflower Heart synopsis: Claudine Bellamy grew up in a strong family of wrestlers and married a champion fighter. She feels protected and cared for and she likes it that way. When circumstances change, however, Claudine finds herself unprotected and alone. First in Cauliflower Heart trilogy, A Romantic Wrestler, introduces Claudine Bellamy, who thinks she has the perfect life. She has a superstar wrestling husband, and her family enjoys all of the perks of celebrity. But when life grows bitter and Claudine’s husband needs help, will she be strong enough to save him?
Diana Hart Smith bio: Trainer, writer and artist, Diana Hart was born into Stu and Helen Harts’ legendary pro-wrestling family in 1963 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Diana studied Fine Arts at the University of Calgary before performing in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), then known as the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) alongside her late husband Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog), late brother Owen Hart, and brother Bret Hitman Hart.
In 2001, whilst based in Tampa Florida, Diana’s autobiography, Under The Mat, made Alberta’s top ten nonfiction best-seller list. She has two children, Harry, who wrestles all over the world as Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Georgia, an actress and voice-over artist based in England. Diana now resides back in Calgary. Her latest novel, Cauliflower Heart: A Romantic Wrestler is the first in a trilogy and it has been honorably recognized by the Hollywood Book Festival, Miami Reader’s Favorite, and the Southern California Book Festival. Her book is available on Amazon.com or www.OfficialDianaHart.com
*This interview has been edited for clarity.