Today is the birthday of "Gorgeous George" Wagner, 1915-1963, 5'9", 215#, the straight man who ushered arena wrestling into the television age by peroxiding his long hair and styling it in a marcel, wearing feather boas, and walking to the ring to Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance," accompanied by a male valet who sprayed the ring with fragrance before every match.
He started his wrestling career at the age of 17, but it was not until he was in his thirties that he hit upon the persona he's remembered for. His outlandish gimmick changed wrestling, for better or worse, and arguably the beloved spectacle that continues to inspire me would not have survived on television without him. But his impact was felt far beyond wrestling--as showmen as diverse as John Waters, Andy Warhol, Little Richard, Liberace, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Morris Day, James Brown, and Muhammad Ali have claimed George as an influence.
I read John Capouya's biography last summer, Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture (2008), and it was mesmerizing and life-changing.
Love or hate him, he deserves not only his official holiday here on Skull Island, but I believe the USPS should seriously consider commemorative postage stamps of him and other golden-age wrestlers--and I'm excited at the prospect of a biopic, rumored to be in development for a release date in 2013 (I think George Clooney, whose nickname is "Gorgeous George," ought seriously to consider playing the role--it has Oscar written all over it.)