Sports Entertainment

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Revisiting a West Memphis Wrestling School Documentary, Discovering a Nightmare

Posted By on Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 10:39 AM

COVER PHOTO BY JONATHAN POSTAL
  • Cover photo by Jonathan Postal
The most exciting part of moving offices after decades in one place is the archeology — all the lost and forgotten wonders you find along the way. I recently cranked up an old G4 laptop with a badly damaged screen and a keyboard that only half worked to see if it contained any photos or files I wanted to keep. The machine I hauled across Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and barely saved from being  trampled by police horses while covering protests in St. Paul, was shockingly clean and mostly broken. I did, however, find and extract a crudely-made half-hour documentary titled "School of Slam" about a wrestling in school in West Memphis. Finding this was exciting for a couple of reasons but mostly because I thought the video — originally created as a "web extra" for a Memphis Flyer cover story about Mid-South wrestling culture — was lost forever during an update of memphisflyer.com. 

Technology changes so fast it's funny to compare the future you once imagined with the future we got. 8-years ago I bought a Flip digital video camera and thought it would revolutionize how I prepared long-form stories. Why not shoot all my interviews and fact-finding? Why not develop stories and lo-fi web documentaries simultaneously? Sounds like a reasonable plan, right? My first (and only) real attempt to work this way resulted in "School of Slam," a Memphis Flyer cover package and short documentary about students at the Nightmare Ken Wayne School of Professional Wrestling. The whole process wound up being more work than I'd anticipated. It took forever to assemble using the slow-moving gear at my disposal, and while the story found its audience, the accompanying video hardly seemed worth the effort. Looking back, knowing it was made with an $80 camera, a zero-$ budget, and a whole lot of desire to create as much regionally flavored content as I could with what I had, it's not a terrible effort, and entertaining top to bottom. I couldn't wait to re-share the "lost" package. 

This is the point in the story where things start to go dark.
The Nightmare
  • The Nightmare
Before posting I wanted to check in and see if the school was still open. What I discovered was unsettling. Last year the school's namesake Nightmare Ken Wayne was sentenced to 20-years in prison for child pornography.

From The Clarion Ledger:

The former professional wrestler known as Nightmare Ken Wayne has been sentenced to 20 years for child exploitation, officials said Thursday.

Attorney General Jim Hood announced Wednesday afternoon that Kenath Dwayne Peal, 57, of Horn Lake will serve five years and spend 15 years in post-release supervision after he was found by investigators with the attorney general's Cyber Crime Unit and the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department to have numerous images and videos of child pornography. He was arrested in September 2014 by the attorney general's Crimes Against Children Task Force. 
Now that you know the rest of the story, to borrow a line from the late radio personality Paul Harvey, here's the original "Flipumentary" — School of Slam


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Legendary Memphis Wrestling Announcer Lance Russell Dies at 91

Bye-bye to ol' Banana Nose

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 10:16 AM

Andy Kaufman and Lance Russell
  • Andy Kaufman and Lance Russell
It's a terrible day for fans of Memphis wrestling. Lance Russell, a longtime program manager for WHBQ and one of the most beloved wrestling commentators in the history of sports entertainment has died. In 2014 the man known to heels coast-to-coast as ol' Banana Nose, talked to The Memphis Flyer about King Lawler, Memphis wrestling, and playing himself in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. This is a reprint of that interview with lots of links.


Memphis Flyer: You and Dave Brown were
the eye of this colorful, chaotic storm. Calling wrestling like it was any other sport during the glory days of Jackie Fargo, Tojo Yamamoto, and Jerry "The King" Lawler vs. Andy "the clown" Kaufman. Can you even go a day without talking to somebody about wrestling?

Lance Russell: Well, it's easier down here [in Florida] than it was when I lived in Memphis. When I wasn't talking in person to some fan about wrestling, I was talking on the telephone. Somebody was always calling. You know, people say, "Boy, whatever happened to the good old days of Memphis wrestling?" Well, I can tell you Memphis wrestling is just as alive as it ever has been.

You'd be the one to know.

My son was looking at his computer a couple of nights ago and found where somebody had made a list of people who were involved in wrestling as promoters or wrestlers or managers or referees and even announcers. And they have them ranked by age. My son said, "Did you realize that in the United States you are the fifth oldest person involved in wrestling that is still alive?" When I got up the next day I said to my son, outside of wanting to kill you, I was amused all night long. I didn't sleep, but I was amused.

I suspect that makes you a go-to resource, having seen wrestlers from so many territories and having also worked for Turner Broadcasting.

I can tell you as a director of programming for WHBQ in Memphis for all of those years, I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't put an edict out that there will be no erasing of tapes from Talent Party or wrestling or any of those kinds of things. We erased everything. And sometimes we would record on the same tape two weeks in a row. We kept telling ourselves we were saving money.

You know Vince McMahon is getting ready to program Memphis wrestling on the network he started so he's trying to pin down all the programs. And, in Memphis, everything we ever had in terms of tapes is all just blasted asunder. Jerry Lawler ended up with the biggest quantity of tapes. Jimmy Hart, a wrestler and wrestling manager who worked with Vince McMahon in New York after he left Memphis, ended up with a lot of tapes. People pay good money for them too, and now Vince McMahon wants to broadcast Memphis wrestling every day.


Why are people still fascinated with Memphis wrestling?


I'm gonna tell you, Memphis was absolutely totally different than any territory in the country. I eventually went with Turner Broadcasting, and when I went there and I ran into guys from the East Coast and West Coast they'd say, "All you clowns in Memphis spend more time making jokes than anything else." And we did, because it made people happy. They were tickled to death to look forward to some of the foolishness that went on. And we were proud of it. It was good entertainment.

You and Dave Brown had great chemistry.

What made Dave and I different was the programming. The different matches that we booked. The different characters that were made up. Like Kamala the Giant, who is from right down in Mississippi and was very popular all over the country. I hired Dave to work in television. Dave was an all-night radio jock for WHBQ, and I knew him as a person and liked him very much. Anyhow, he questioned wrestling. I said, "Man, if you want to work in television, you will learn more in two months of wrestling than two years of anything else." So he took a chance, and he was great. Dave and I also agreed on one thing you never talk about in wrestling. See, I was a wrestling fan, and I had been ever since the days when I grew up in Dayton, Ohio and worked in the auditorium as an usher. I never wanted anybody to say to me, "Hey, I'm going to win in the third fall on this match." I don't want to be a stiff actor saying some lines, I wanted to call things as I saw them in my face for the first time.
No matter how over the top it was, it was completely alive. Anything could happen.

We had great matches too. But in the meantime, we didn't mind tickling your funny bone. We'd have a guy or a gal shaved bald right there in the middle of the ring.

I thought I was going to get killed one night in the Memphis Coliseum, when Jerry Lawler put up his hair and Bill Dundee put up his wife's hair and Dundee lost. We had our own barber who was there to cut hair when necessary. He thought he was going to be killed. The crowd was incensed that Lawler had cheated to win and this vivacious young redhead was losing her hair. It's hilarious when you stop and think about a situation getting that serious over what was actually a very funny incident.

But that's the Memphis audience, right? It's why the famous Lawler/Kaufman feud couldn't have happened anywhere else.

You're right about that. There was a kind of audience reaction that we had cultivated either on purpose or unknowingly. And this is the thing that attracted Andy Kaufman. As a kid, Andy would watch wrestling and he would see the bad guy: Just by raising his hand he could get this big reaction from the crowd. That power that wrestlers held captivated him, and he initially tried to get the attention of Vince McMahon's father and his grandfather who, in addition to promoting boxing, also promoted wrestling. They said "What are you trying to do, make a joke out of wrestling?" Well, Andy ran across a guy who worked for the wrestling magazines and he said to check out the guys in Memphis, who will do anything. And they're great show people.


Even if the outcomes are known, this is unscripted stuff.

I got a big guy from Canada supposedly. He comes out there [to interview] and he says, "Jerry Lawler! I'm going to get him! I'm taking a blood oath!" And I'm the program director at WHBQ, so I say, "No, I don't want any blood. Don't be busting his eye open on television. We don't want our audience to have to put up with that." And this idiot has got one of these big double-headed axes, and he runs the blade down his massive arm and I'm sitting here looking at it, and I know that the camera is right on this thing, and all of a sudden here comes the stream of red right into the camera. I thought, "Oh my God, he's cutting his arm open on television for crying out loud." I almost had a heart attack.

[Let's talk about] Jerry Lawler, the King of Memphis wrestling.


The superlatives for Lawler? I don't have enough of them. But I can tell you I've seen a lot of wrestlers, and Jerry Lawler is a guy who is gifted in so many directions. I promise, I don't owe him money or anything. I'm just telling the truth. He is the most talented guy in the business and people hated him in the East because of what he's done in Memphis. I mean, he became a television host on Channel 5, and he was very good at what he did.
And you recognized his skills right away.

When he was 15, his dad took him down to the auditorium every Monday for wrestling. We had no way to record the matches; it was too expensive at that time. So when Dave and I did the show, we'd have to just talk about what happened. Well, Jerry was a natural artist. He draws these 11" x 14" pictures on pieces of cardboard. He drew maybe the finishing move from a match or something. Then Dave and I could talk about the picture.

I found those pictures in my attic about five years ago. I've had them for 35 years.

You got to play yourself in Man on the Moon. That had to be affirming to have that Kaufman/Lawler feud become widely recognized as a big moment in pop culture.

Yeah, yeah. I've got several copies of it. Unfortunately they cut out some of my best scenes. That was fun though.

And what about the actual feud. Did you guys know you were making history?

We were all working. That's what we did for a living.


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Saturday, June 10, 2017

When Penguin & Mr. Freeze Came to Memphis: RIP Adam West

Posted By on Sat, Jun 10, 2017 at 12:14 PM

adam-west-batman-niagara-falls-comic-con.jpg
Adam West had one heckuva ride in this Batmobile we call life. He was  88-years-old when he went out with a BANG, POW, and ZAP. West, most famous for his role as the Caped Crusader in the 1966 Batman TV series, enjoyed a second career as a voice actor, returning to Gotham City as The Gray Ghost in what's possibly the greatest episode of Batman: the Animated Series ever. He also voiced Mayor Grange in The Batman, and reprised his role as the Dark Knight in 2016's Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.

And then there was that time he came to Memphis to thwart a plot by Penguin and Mr. Freeze and wound up face to face with Jerry Lawler in a Superman costume. The encounter is so Memphis it has to be seen to be believed, so here it is.


And here's a photo of Lawler in his own personal Batmobile.  
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Friday, June 9, 2017

Great Balls + Pay-Per-View = Mad Confusion

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 2:16 PM

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How in the world did Fly on the Wall miss this one for so long?

Apparently there was confusion among WWE fans when a July pay-per-view event originally called Bad Blood was rechristened Great Balls of Fire which, in the context of a wrestling event, does seem to be an awfully specific and descriptive title. Of course Memphis figures into the picture. And Jerry Lawler. And Jerry Lee Lewis too.

A sample of delightful speculation engendered by the name change:

"My best guess? Given this is a Raw-exclusive PPV, Finn Bálor and Bray Wyatt will have an inferno match. Or some sort of match involving fire. Or hell, maybe Jerry Lawler will just pop in to toss one of his patented (patent pending, actually) fireballs. Let’s just get one very important thing clear: if Great Balls Of Fire doesn’t involve some match with fire in it, this is a massive failure from all involved.
Unless …
Oh god.
It’s going to be a match involving balls, isn’t it? Oh no. Oh no no no."

Friday, June 17, 2016

Jerry Lawler Suspended from WWE Following Domestic Incident

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 11:00 AM

He said...
  • He said...
Cue "Also Sprach Zarathustra"...

Did he hit her? Did she kick him in the groin? And who put the pistol on the counter?
 
Jerry Lawler, the 66-year-old King of Memphis wrasslin' has been suspended indefinitely  from the WWE, pending the outcome of a domestic assault arrest. Lawler and his 27-year-old fiancee Lauryn McBride were both taken into custody early Friday morning following a violent encounter at Lawler's East Memphis residence. 
She said...
  • She said...

According to reports fire was thrown. Well, a candle, anyway

Lawler, whose feud with comedian Andy Kaufman helped to popularize professional sports entertainment — AKA wrasslin' — recently opened a club on Beale Street. His likeness — or something like his likeness — also appears on Overton Square, as a photo opportunity for visitors. 

King of Overton Square, Ma!
  • King of Overton Square, Ma!
Lawler was arrested once before for bad behavior following a traffic violation. 
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