PRO-WRESTLING in THE 50S - GORGEOUS GEORGE vs FRANKIE TALABER
I've watched professional wrestling nearly all my life, but when I read the comments of other pro-wrestling fans or have conversations with friends with an encyclopedic knowledge and an unshakable memory of the medium, I sometimes feel like I need to play catch-up. I watch WWE religiously today, but my childhood and teens (even my early twenties) are filled mostly with impressions - stints of watching very intensely, and then not watching at all due to frustration.
Prior to today, I watched most consistently between late 1999 and 2002. And I only ever saw the WWE (I could never get in to WCW, perceiving it as subpar and gimmicky, and ECW seemed like that horribly violent show I definitely wouldn't be allowed to watch).
I remember those three years as if they were a decade.
My own memories of the medium and the characters I've loved are so specific and ingrained in me (The Rock, Mick Foley's various characters, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Dudley Boys, The Hardy Boys, Edge & Christian, Lita, Chyna, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Randy Orton, CM Punk, AJ Lee, and, most recently, the entire NXT roster), but I'm realizing that when I tug on the thread of memory and explore the vast and seemingly infinite well of professional wrestling performance something new always turns up.
I envy those wrestling fans who have that encyclopedic knowledge, who absorbed not just WWF/E, but also ECW and WCW all at the same time. My mind simply doesn't work that way - I've tried to make it work that way, but it just doesn't. I hone in on a few particular characters at a very particular time in my life and I stick with them. The same is true of the podcasts I listen to, the music I listen to, and the books I read - I don't have much of an attention span or a memory for things I don't regard as the absolute best of its kind.
So I'm very choosy about what I watch. I need to stay up to date on the current WWE product, I want to see things like the lauded WrestleKingdom9, and should find the time to catch up on everything important that I've missed.
The process has made me increasingly interested in the medium's past, back when kayfabe was king and a lot of people really believed what they were seeing. I've been periodically reading Bret Hart's book and it fills me with a nostalgia for a time I feel I understand and yearn for, but never got to experience for myself. I long for the WWE to return to its roots as a "legitimate sports organization", because, like most die-hard wrestling fans, I believe when pro-wrestling presents itself as legitimate, remaining in keeping with the most fundamental conceit of the medium, it more effectively moves you to pop.
So I'm delving into pro-wrestling's past and searching for matches to watch.
I've often heard pro-wrestlers talk about Gorgeous George, but I'd never actually seen him wrestle for myself. A quick Google search led me to the following match from 1955.
And what I saw shocked me.
I imagine there are a great deal of pro-wrestling fans who probably haven't seen any pro-wrestling like this before. I also imagine a lot of people will write this off as "boring".
I encourage you to set that instinct aside if it's in you. Just absorb these performances. Understand that you're simply not watching the pro-wrestling you see on Monday Night Raw. Instead, pay attention to the roles these performers play, pay attention to the immersiveness of the scene, pay attention to the sincerity in all of the performances (commentary included), and then pay particular attention to how much things haven't changed.
George is the heel (villain) and Talaber is the face (hero). The roles are as clearly defined in 1950 as they are today. The tactics of both characters are the same. The motions of the match and the purpose of each spot synonymous with everything we watch on a regular basis today.
Tyler Breeze, NXT's "Prince Pretty", is a modern-day Gorgeous George - a fussy, self-absorded, fey, superficial, elitist. It's a classic character that elicits immediate heat.
What might register as "boring" or "slow" in some viewer's minds is George milking every aspect of his character. He works that crowd in this performance, every single motion meant to irritate them. And it's incredibly effective, the crowd popping in a rage when he has his manager wipe his shoulder with a brush, screaming when George uses the ropes for leverage.
I've seen several old matches before, but I found George's work particularly eye-opening. It's refreshing to see that no matter how much things have changed, no matter how much the pro-wrestling gate keepers of today might want to change the medium into "sports entertainment", a heel still uses the ropes for leverage.
You can watch the rest of the match by following the links in that YouTube video.
Thanks for reading and watching. If you have a classic match you recommend, post a link in the comments section below.
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