Ring Leaders 

click to enlarge Lou Thesz - SPECIAL COLLECTIONS UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES
  • Special collections University of Memphis libraries
  • Lou Thesz

In this corner, there was Sputnik Monroe. In the far corner, there was Billy Wicks. That was the scene in 1959 at Russwood Park when Monroe vs. Wicks set an attendance record in Memphis wrestling history: More than 13,000 people watched, while thousands more were turned away. And that's not all. Inside Ron Hall's Sputnik, Masked Men, and Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling (Shangri-la Projects), you'll learn that the following year, Monroe had a run-in outside the ring. The charge by Memphis police: disorderly conduct. The scene of the crime: an establishment at the corner of Beale and Hernando. The problem: Monroe, who was white, had been seen, according to a newspaper account, "drinking in a negro [sic] café with negroes [sic]."

If you're a Memphian of a certain age or a wrestling fan of any age and care to look back on the good-bad old days, see here: tons of black-and-white archival photos of your favorites — including Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and Jerry Lawler (who's written the introduction to the book). Among the lesser lights pictured, there's Farmer Joe (and his ringside pig); the "brown basher" Bobo Brazil; on the distaff side, Penny Banner, who dated Elvis Presley; on the small side, the pint-size "mighty mites"; and among the big boys George "The Baby Blimp" Harris, the Mighty Jumbo, and Haystacks Calhoun (shown sitting down to a dozen eggs and what looks to be a fried rat).

Ron Hall supplied the book's preface, introductions, and photo captions. Sherman Willmott of Shangri-la Projects performed the editing. And Tara McKenzie, of the Flyer's art department, did the design. The big draw here, though, from the top to the bottom of the card: the 'raslers themselves.

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