This article was originally published in Wrestling Perspective, Volume XIV, Issue #107. Copyright © 2003 Wrestling Perspective.
Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks
By "Classy" Freddie Blassie with Keith Elliot Greenberg
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I was sitting in Mike Tenay's living room shortly after moving to Las Vegas in 1989 and he promised that he had "something special" to show to Ric "Hotline" Carter and me.
Such words from 10-A were not taken lightly. The last time I'd visited Mike and his lovely wife, Karen, Billy Robinson was seated on the friggin' living room couch, sipping a Pepsi and commenting on a match on the TV between himself and Antonio Inoki that had recently been transcribed to videotape, but had not been seen in some 20 years.
So when Mike says he has something good, he always delivered. Whether it was the bloody eruption of Mt. Eric Kulas at the box cutter-wielding hands of New Jack or some incredible new addition to his collection of luchables, the man I called the Secret Master of wrestling always delivered.
This time out, the saliva-inducing treat was a Japanese wrestling special, a tribute to the Gorgeous George Washington of puroresu, Rikidozan. A gallery of some of the biggest names in the business, on both sides of the Pacific, had assembled via the miracle of television to galvanize Kim Sin-Nak's legend in terms of awe and deep reverence.
The show began to fall into the usual respectful doldrums that accompany such events - especially in Japan where willing marks still walk the Earth - when suddenly everything crashed to a shocking halt. An especially familiar figure appeared on screen, and transformed from an elderly man into a youthful, vampire-like monster before our eyes!
It was my boyhood idol, the man who started me on a lifetime of loving heels! It was he who could work magic with words and make you want to see his matches so bad you'd do anything to buy a ticket. Freddie Blassie may have had snow on the roof - hell, his hair had been dyed peroxide blonde for so long, pictures of him with a curly brown 'do are all but unrecognizable - but he still had fire in his belly.
Rather than lay down another tribute at the long-decayed feet of the Japanese legend, Freddie did the unthinkable - he cut a promo on a dead man! Not just any promo. He roared, he threatened and he barked, in that voice that resembled nothing so much as an enraged sea lion. The man they called Vampire invoked the spirit of his incomparable opponent and called him back from the other side of mortality to do battle one last time.
If that wasn't good enough, Blassie promised to kick Rikidozan's ass when they met up in Hell. It was a promo from another time, before worked shoots and shooting star presses and work rate and theme songs and entrance videos and all the other things that people think of today as comprising the heart of professional wrestling.
Today's wrestling contains more promos per televised hour than you heard in a week of shows during Blassie's salad years. There are wrestlers (did somebody say "Shane Douglas?") who would enter the ring sans trunks before venturing out to the squared circle without a microphone. I've spent almost half a decade doing play-by-play for a local promotion in Las Vegas, and I've seen wannabes who could barely execute an arm drag without crippling their opponents who still felt compelled to grab the mic and lavish props on themselves.
But the words Blassie spoke on this occasion were different. You didn't think: "Wow. Great promo." You just listened. You were in the palm of Blassie's hand, the hair standing up on the back of your neck. It was visceral; a crippled ex-wrestler challenging a dead man to a fight, and all I could think was: where can I buy a ticket?
But then, nobody cut a promo like Fred Blassie. It is no great surprise, therefore, that the Hollywood Fashion Plate (with excellent support from writer/editor/interviewer Keith Elliot Greenberg) would turn out an autobiography that is pure page-turner (and just to make sure it got optimum press, the son of a gun died following its publication - and one last appearance on WWE TV). Sure, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks has its share of worked stories (including the now-classic urban legend about the expression "pencil neck geek" dating back to Fred's days as a carny wrestler), but this is no Hogan-style fantasy hagiography. This is the self-told story of an old-fashioned "man's man" who possessed a level of animal magnetism that is beyond my ability to adequately describe.
Fred doesn't paint himself as a saint. He cops to having blown his relationship with his children and to being ignorant of any subjects beyond porn and pro wrestling. And the greatest grappling pitch-man of his era was an admittedly abject failure during his stint as a car salesman.
Freddie's vulgarity was also the stuff of legend. When Bobo Brazil introduces Freddie to his family in one anecdote, the Classy One is no charmer.
"I was standing with a bunch of the boys," he writes, "and Brazil walked over and said, 'Freddie, I'd like to introduce you to my family.'
"Yeah," I joked. "If they're anything like you, they're a bunch of shit heels.
"Bobo shook his head and laughed, then brought me to the table. One of his daughters looked up at me and said, 'Daddy…this is the one who bites and hits foul when the ref isn't looking.'
"Clearly, Brazil's family had been kept in the dark about the business. So I said, 'Man, I can tell there's no sense talking to you. You talk like your father. You talk like an idiot.' And I just walked away."
Blassie is also a con man with the guts to admit to being worked by the McMahon kids during the Invasion angle when, at the end of that PPV, Shane and Stephanie confronted him in the parking lot and insulted him. Stephanie says: "You and the World Wrestling Federation have a lot in common. You're both about to die!" Freddie, who had not been let in on the angle beforehand, is non-plussed. "It took me a couple of seconds to realize that it was all just a work - the same type of angle I'd orchestrated hundreds, if not thousands, of times in my career."
There's also a lot of fascinating space devoted to Fred's ambivalent relationship with Japan. He started out over there as a greater monster than Gojira, wound up falling in love with and marrying a young Japanese woman and eventually became known as a shinnichika - or Japanese-loving person.
The book also spares us no details on some of Fred's most notorious ribs. Near the end of the book, Vince McMahon relates a crude rib that Blassie practiced on hundreds of wrestling wannabes over the years. Freddie would tell the jabronie that he was taking him under his wing, becoming his manager. "You'll be my new cham-peen!" he'd declare, then force the poor stiff to attempt 300 push-ups ("He can do it - I've seen him!"), only to see the poor bastard wind up spent, exhausted and on his back, with Fred standing over him waving his dick in the guy's face.
I once saw Fred attempt to pull this number on a jobber and member of the ring crew at Nassau Coliseum in the mid-Seventies. But by then, Freddie had "pulled" this rib so many times that even the densest enhancement guy was wary of his approach. On this evening, Fred was using me as the prop "wrestling photographer" who was to capture the historic moment when Fred began to manage his "new cham-peen."
But the jobber wasn't biting. He kept trying to find a reason to get out of Dodge but Fred held fast. Eventually, however, the poor stiff simply broke and ran, promising to bring back a soda.
Fred, his fine jape ruined, was disgusted. He shook his head and looked at me and said the words I have lived by ever since: "You can't make bullets out of shit."
Love ya, Fred.
Bill "Potshot" Kunkel is a regular contributor to Wrestling Perspective. To read more of his great writings, subscribe to Wrestling Perspective today.
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Copyright Notice: This article is Copyright © 2003 - 2006 Wrestling Perspective. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be quoted, reprinted or distributed without written permission from Wrestling Perspective publishers Paul MacArthur and David Skolnick.
Kunkel, Bill, "You Can't Make Bullets..." Wrestling Perspective, Volume XIV, Number 107, (2003).
Web address: http://www.wrestlingperspective.com/blassiekunkel.html