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George Was Villainous, Gutsy and Gorgeous
Joe Jares
March 17, 1969
And those were the qualities it took to make a wrestling hero in the early days of television, when the fans wanted their partisanship well seasoned with glamour and histrionics
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March 17, 1969

George Was Villainous, Gutsy And Gorgeous

And those were the qualities it took to make a wrestling hero in the early days of television, when the fans wanted their partisanship well seasoned with glamour and histrionics

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"It was one night in Eugene," said Don Owen, the czar of wrestling in Oregon. "Betty had made George a robe, and when he went into the ring that night he took special care in folding it.

"The fans got on him pretty good and Betty was there and got into it with the fans. She slapped one of them, and George went out of the ring and belted the fan. Even when he was a clean wrestler, George had a hot temper, and he would fight a buzz saw.

"Anyway, the booing was tremendous, and the next week there was a real big crowd and everyone booed George. So he just took more time to fold his robe. He did everything to antagonize the fans. And from that point on he became the best drawing card we ever had around here. In wrestling they either come to like you or to hate you. And they hated George."

Slowly through the 1940s the character of Gorgeous George evolved. At first the brown hair became auburn. Then he read about an old friend, Dizzy Davis, throwing gardenias to the crowds in Mexico and getting a new nickname, Gardenia Davis. So George decided to become a glamour boy, too. He let his hair grow longer and wavier. The next step was to a beauty salon in Hollywood to inquire about a wig. After some thought, it was decided a wig would be too easy to yank off in the ring, so the beautician turned George over to two Hungarian hair stylists, Frank and Joseph, who recommended that he grow his hair long and bleach it blond—"if he had the guts." "If guts is all it takes, I've got plenty," said George.

Guts, gall, nerve—whatever you want to call it, George had it. During World War II he worked at a shipyard during the day and wrestled at night. He broke his leg in a match one evening, but instead of seeing a doctor right away, he gritted his teeth overnight and went to work at the shipyard the next morning. There he feigned a fall from a ladder and enjoyed a leisurely vacation while his employer paid the medical bills.

In the early 1940s George boarded a luxury liner to Honolulu with only his ticket—no money. He threw his wallet on the floor in one of the men's rooms and reported that it had been stolen during the bon voyage festivities. It was found that day—empty, of course. The captain and the other passengers took pity on him and he got free meals all the way to Hawaii, and—always important to G.G.—free drinks.

TV Announcer Dick Lane remembers strolling through Beverly Hills with George during the height of his TV fame. The wrestler wore a white gabardine suit, a black tie and a big white Panama hat with a black band. They stopped in front of a fashionable men's store, and a crowd gathered immediately. G.G. beat on the store window with his ivory-handled black cane until a clerk came scurrying out, then demanded to see the entire selection of handkerchiefs. The clerk obediently brought out an armload, and George went through them one by one, tossing them over the man's shoulder. At last he picked a black one identical to the one he was wearing in his coat pocket, discarded his old one over the clerk's shoulder, carefully installed the new one, gave him a $20 bill and sauntered off. He took Lane around the corner to his bank and got out his safety deposit box. It was stuffed with cash. Lane asked him why he did not keep his money in a savings account.

"I want it right where I can take my shoes off and walk around in it if I want to," said Gorgeous. "Right now I feel like flying to Buenos Aires." So he took out a handful of bills, hopped in a cab and headed for the airport.

Outrageous characters, preferably villainous, were the big thing in that heyday honeymoon of television and the wrestling ring—and Gorgeous George was the most outrageous of all. A natural showman, he had an extravagant routine that put him way ahead of all the monocled lords, Indian chiefs and masked terrors of the day as the biggest draw in the history of pro wrestling. Before each match his valet, a personification of dignity in striped pants, vest and tails, would walk stiffly down the aisle and enter the ring carrying a silver-plated tray. On the tray was a mirror, a little carpet and a fancified Flit gun full of perfume-scented disinfectant. ("It's Chanel No. 10," said Gorgeous. "Why be half-safe?") The valet, always somber, would set the tray down in one corner and carefully spray the mat. Then the lights would dim, a magnificent rendition of Pomp and Circumstance would thunder out of the loudspeaker and a spotlight would pinpoint the star as he strode majestically down an aisle.

When G.G. reached the ring, the valet would hold the ropes apart so he would not have to bend too far to enter. George would wipe his white shoes on the carpet. The valet would remove a spun-gold hairnet so everyone could admire G.G.'s long blond hair, done up in the latest style. Then the great man would make a haughty inspection and order the servant to give the spray gun a few more squirts here and there.

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