McMahon is a tall, rather elegant man in his 60s, and he has seen many rough beasts in his time, but he recalls the day he first glimpsed Andre. "My initial thought was, 'My God, I never saw such a man,' " McMahon says. "I'd seen photographs and videotapes, of course, and I knew Andre was 7'4" and over 400 pounds, but I simply wasn't prepared for how he looked up close. He was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and I knew he could become the number one draw in wrestling."
McMahon, whose father, Jess, had worked with Tex Rickard in boxing and wrestling promotions in the New York area and whose son, Vincent K., is being groomed to take over his father's World Wrestling Federation, concluded that what had killed the crowds in Quebec was overexposure. "I saw right away that Andre needed to be booked into a place no more than a few times a year," McMahon says. "Most of our men work one of our circuits for a while and then move to another. It keeps things fresh. A guy may work New England for a few months, for instance, go from there to the South and then on out to spend some time with Verne Gagne in Minneapolis. But Andre's different. The whole world is his circuit. By making his visits few and far between he never becomes commonplace. Now, wherever he goes, the gates are larger than they would be without him. I book him for three visits a year to Japan, two to Australia, two to Europe, and the rest of the time I book him into the major arenas in the U.S. The wrestlers and promoters all want him on their cards, because when the Giant comes, everyone makes more money."
Not only did McMahon divine the best way to showcase Andre, he also realized that the name Jean Ferré would do little in the U.S. to pull a crowd. But what should the big man be called? What name would produce in the fans the desired frisson? It was a crucial detail. Wrestling has always been filled with creative handles, ranging from the alliterative (Whipper Watson, Killer Karl Krupp) to the ethnic (El Mongol, Abdullah the Butcher) to the ethnically alliterative (Bobo Brazil, Tosh Togo) to the mysterious (The Masked Terror, The Mummy) to the simply and manifestly wonderful (Whiskers Savage, Gorilla Monsoon, Fabulous Moolah), but McMahon correctly guessed that with the towering Frenchman, straightforward accuracy would be best. Hence, Andre the Giant. Perfect.
Fresh come to a land where size in almost everything has been the terminus ad quern everyone aspired; a land where possession of the biggest car, biggest farm, biggest house, biggest pool, biggest boat, biggest football team or biggest building signified rank and worth; a land whose seemingly limitless frontier had produced a people who went to the zoo to see the tiger rather than the ocelot, the elephant rather than the tapir, the gorilla rather than the gibbon and, no doubt, the greater kudu rather than the lesser, Andre quickly became the draw McMahon had predicted.
For many years in the U.S., Andre traveled with a bilingual companion, often Valois or another francophonic wrestler, but as his English developed and he got the hang of life on the American road, he struck out on his own, completely free of the sort of spiritual advisers, camp followers, school chums and second cousins-twice-removed that have had so withering an effect on Ali's profit and loss statement. One of Andre's advantages, of course, vis-à-vis Ali, is that he wrestles 330 to 340 times a year, presenting the same sort of moving target to potential hangers-on that Ali once presented to opponents in the ring.
Three hundred thirty to 340 times a year. Have mercy. What can life be like for this 500-pound, peripatetic butterfly? To find out, I traveled for a time in his company, going with him to Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, Atlanta and New York. Once, almost 10 years ago, I had met and spent some time with Andre in Macon, Ga., and I was reminded again of that earlier meeting as I approached him in the dressing room at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. As he had been in Macon, he was standing with a group of fellow wrestlers, and again lines from the Iliad describing Ajax came to mind.
Yon Achaian chief
Whose head and shoulders
tower above the rest,
And of such bulk
Such bulk prodigious. Exactly. In an odd way, Andre's height seems somehow less critical to the effect he creates than do his width and thickness. There are, after all, quite a few men these days who are seven feet tall, but they usually weigh around 250; Andre often weighs more than twice as much. Yet neither in his street clothes nor wrestling trunks does he appear to be particularly overweight. No victim he of Donelap's disease, in which a man's belly is said to have done lapped over his belt.
This bulk prodigious results primarily from two physical peculiarities—unusually heavy bone structure and relatively short legs. As for bone structure, the best single indicators are the circumference of the wrists and ankles; the circumference of the wrist, for instance, tells much more about the overall bone structure than does the length of the hand. Consider this. The largest wrist circumference on record of a non-obese person was believed until recently to have been that of Cleve Dean, a 6'7", 450-pound arm wrestler from Georgia, whose right wrist is 10¼" around. Seven inches is about average for an adult male; eight inches is a very large measurement. Andre's wrist, however, is almost a foot in circumference, far larger than most men's ankles. His wrist, in fact, is about average for an adult male western lowland gorilla.
And as for the effect of the relationship between his leg length and trunk length on his body weight, remember that most men of 6'6" and beyond have relatively long legs and short bodies. This produces both their comparative lightness and their somewhat storklike appearance. Andre's proportions are actually quite normal—for a man of about 5'6". The fact that he rises almost two feet beyond that height accounts for much of his weight, because the trunk of a man weighs far more per inch of height than the legs. One of the reasons a gorilla weighs so much, in fact, is that, compared to a man, his trunk is quite long, averaging approximately 63% of his standing height as opposed to 52% in a man.