Family focus of Hall of Fame inductions
GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
|Jack Brisco admires his new ring.
photos by Steven Johnson, SLAM! Wrestling
AMSTERDAM, NY -- Family was the theme of this year's Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night in its new home of Amsterdam, New York. Nowhere was this more evident than the usually loquacious Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer turning over the microphone during his induction speech to his three children, Richard, Kris and Kurt.
"You people have heard a lot about me," Beyer said, who had previously been honored by the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum (PWHF) in 2003 with the New York State Award. "But three people came a long way to come here tonight. My youngest son, Rich, came from Charlotte. ... My oldest boy, Kurt, and my daughter Kris, they came from Michigan. I want them to come up here and give my speech."
"My father didn't do it with steroids. He did it with two things, the love of wrestling and pure heart. That has really touched my heart, and he led by example," said Richard Beyer. "Our hero is right in front of us. He's our father." His sister Kris recalled the difficulties. "Growing up in the professional wrestling business was not easy. I can't tell you how many times my brother got beat up on the way home ... I got dragged out of swimming camp, out of my girls dormitory to be in the boys dormitory because they locked the doors to prove to me how fake professional wrestling was."
But it was Beyer's oldest son, Kurt, who teamed on occasion with his father in the ring in Japan, that stole the show with his storytelling. When he was four years old, Kurt attacked Mr. Moto in the ring in California as he took advantage of his father. After a talking to by his dad, Kurt was given another chance. "Two weeks later, because they couldn't trust me not to jump into the ring on my own, I'm sitting at ringside with timekeeper Jerry Murdoch," Kurt Beyer recalled. "Mr. Moto had my dad's mask turned around. There was blood everywhere. Mr. Moto was a typical Japanese heel. He wore the knee tights and bare feet. They were right in front of us, and Jerry Murdoch looked at me and said, 'Kurt, your dad's in trouble. What are you going to do?' Without thinking, I grabbed the hammer from the bell and broke Mr. Moto's toe. Mr. Moto jumped all over the ring. [Dad] didn't know what was going on because the mask was turned around."
Kurt was dragged to the dressing room and his father pleaded with him to understand. "Kurt, I can't bring you to the matches. I can't let you sit here. You've got to understand that this is my business. Mr. Moto is your sister's godfather!"
Eventually, Mr. Moto limped over to see Kurt. "[He] came out of the dressing room, and he had the goatee. He looked down at me and said, 'You mad at me?' I was just, bottom lip quivering, I was mad. He said, 'Okay, here, pull my beard.' He bent all the way down, right to my face. I grabbed his beard, and I was four years old, and I pulled it. He bounced off the wall, fell down, tripped over a chair and screamed and ranted and raved. Then he slowly stopped and looked at me, and gave me a wink. And I got it. I understood it. With one simple gesture from my sister's godfather, I got it.
"I have a story like that for everybody here. I grew up with George Steele, the Vachon brothers, Red Bastien. Red Bastien, Nick Bockwinkel and my uncle Bill (Red Lyons) were the three classiest and the best-dressed wrestlers that I knew. They were the classiest men that I knew growing up. Freddie Blassie used to give me big, wet kisses on the cheek. I complained about it one time and he said, 'You're four, kid, and you've got to be kissed by everybody. But when you're five, you don't got to get kissed by nobody.' On my fifth birthday, my mother tried to kiss me. I swear to God, I said, 'Uncle Freddie said I don't got to be kissed by nobody.' She called Freddie in the morning, and Freddie said, on the phone, 'Kurt, you've always got to be kissed by your mother.'"
In the wrestling family, Kurt Beyer felt comfortable. "I saw most of them in the locker room, covered in blood and sweat and grime, cigars and guys drinking beer, playing cards. These are people I called Uncle Red, and Uncle Billy, and Uncle Freddie. That's the place I felt safest. Nobody could touch me there. I think when I was 8 years old, and watching Batman on TV, and what a horrible worker he was. I'm thinking at eight, 'My Dad could beat Batman.' Then I realized that all my Dad's friends could beat Batman too."
Billy Two Rivers and Dick Brown.
For posthumous awards, family members fit the bill admirably.
Steven and Kevin Pesek drove to Amsterdam from Nebraska to accept the induction of their father, "Tiger Man" John Pesek as one of two Pioneer Era inductees. Pesek was a real "hooker" of a wrestler from 1916 to the mid-'50s, and had a reign as world champion. "I've been a member of the wrestling family all my life. I have to tell you that wrestlers and the wrestling family are the best people in the world," said Steven Pesek. "The Tiger Man is in the great ring in the sky, and I'm sure he's got a great, big grin on his face, and I'm sure he would send his thanks," said Kevin Pesek.
Also inducted into the Pioneer Era category was former world champion Orville Brown. His son, Dr. Dick Brown, who also wrestled for 20 years, accepted the honor. "He was a great father, a great family man. My earliest memories are of him taking me with him to the gym. And when he went into the ring, I went out, five years old in my little three-piece suit - vests were big in those days. When his opponent was announced, I went across the ring and shook hands with Ed 'Strangler' Lewis, or as I called him, my Uncle Ed, Jim Londos and Everett Marshall, George Zaharias and Ray Steele, the greats of that time. Let me say how fitting it is that dad is going into the Hall with the man who was champion just prior to him, the great John Pesek." After his acceptance speech, Brown presented a photo of Orville Brown that used to be under a spotlight in Kansas City's famed Ringside Bar & Grill to the Hall of Fame.
Valerie Boesch was unable to attend the ceremony, but sent a thank you letter to the PWHF in appreciation for her husband Paul Boesch's induction into the Non-Participant category, for his decades of honest promoting, broadcasting and wrestling, out of Houston, Texas. "I am grateful to everyone who is responsible for nominating someone who loved wrestling as much as Paul. I always said that it was his first love. This day will be a very special day for me in my life. The wrestling family is still out there. We love each and every one of you," wrote Valerie Boesch.
More than 300 people filled the Cliffside Restaurant in Amsterdam for the fourth annual induction and awards banquet. The master of ceremonies was former wrestler Davey O'Hannon (saying it wasn't true that "the only reason I got this job is because I got this tuxedo"), who presided over a crowd that included numerous dignitaries from around New York State, to compliment the wrestling royalty in attendance.
New York Senator Hugh Farley praised PWHF president Tony Vellano. "What he has accomplished with this is very evident that wrestling is alive and well in New York State and in the United States. This is one of the largest turnouts at anything I've seen around here, and I go to a lot of chicken dinners!" said Farley. "Tony Vellano is a like a dog on your pants leg. He won't let go, he keeps going when he's interested in trying to get something accomplished."
The Hall of Fame moved from Schenectady, NY to Amsterdam this year, and is located right in downtown. It's an attempt from the State and city levels to rejuvenate Amsterdam, as well as find a permanent home for the ever-growing collection of wrestling memorabilia. The building itself is still a work in progress, but a special permit was granted in order to have the first floor of the Hall open on induction weekend.
Amsterdam mayor Joseph Emanuele couldn't have been more thrilled by the turnout and the change it has made to his city of 17,000. "Seeing really is believing," Emanuele said. "Amsterdam downtown hasn't seen this much action since the '60s. ... The Best Western hasn't seen a packed parking lot there since the construction workers were actually building the place.
"I'm a schoolteacher by trade, and kids look up to athletes. When my school heard that wrestlers were coming to town, they couldn't wait. I know this morning, they were waiting in line to get into that Hall of Fame," Emanuele concluded, before handing George "The Animal" Steele a medicinally-inspired bag of garlic as a present.
A longtime supporter of the PWHF, Steele was inducted into the Modern Era category. "We hear about WWE, been there, done that. Entertainment. We were entertainment before we knew it was entertainment. We thought the stuff was real. But it was entertainment," Steele said, explaining that despite any animosity between the workers, everyone would stick around in the dressing room until the show ended to be crowd control if necessary. "We stayed there for each other, for crowd control, to get guys back to the dressing room without a knife stuck in them."
Penny Banner, inducted into the Women's category, excitedly recalled the phone call from the PWHF, asking her to keep her induction a secret. "That's not what you tell a girl!" she laughed, going into road stories. "I remember stories of us going down the road with our baloney blowout, your baloney and your loaf of bread, a six pack of beer -- depending on how far you went, it could have been a six-pack trip or a two six-pack trip, 200 miles or 400 miles -- radio going like crazy ... Nobody had more fun than we did on the road!"
The former NWA World champion Jack Brisco, a Television Era inductee, was referenced again and again by the people at the podium. "[Brisco] brought more respect and dignity to this business than anybody," said Davey O'Hannon. "Jack Brisco, in the '70s, was one of the coolest people that I knew. He was one of the first wrestlers to have the mod hairstyle. He looked like Joe Namath. He had girls everywhere, trying, to get a kiss," gushed Kurt Beyer.
In his acceptance speech, Brisco was short and to the point. "The only thing that makes this dream better is that I get to share it with all of you. I want to congratulate all my fellow inductees. I want you to know that I'm very humbled to be a part of your class. ... this is a memory I'll keep with me for the rest of my life."
Among the honorees not in attendance was Brisco's perfect in-ring match, Dory Funk Jr., an inductee into the Modern Era category. Other inductees included Fuzzy Cupid (Midget category), Dick the Bruiser & Crusher Lisowski (Tag Team category). Each inductee is presented with a PWHF ring and a plaque hangs in the Hall.
Back row: George Steele ('05), Jack Brisco ('05), Penny Banner ('05), Paul Vachon ('04), Killer Kowalksi ('03), Dewey Robertson; Front Row: Ray Stern (NY State Award '05), The Destroyer ('05), Mad Dog Vachon ('04), Dick Brown, Kevin Pesek.
The New York State Award (since renamed the Senator Hugh Farley International Award) was presented to the late Mike Mazurki, a famed wrestler, actor and founder of the Cauliflower Alley Club. Accepting the honor on his behalf was the mayor of Cohoes, New York, John McDonald, who recalled seeing Mazurki perform in Of Mice and Men at the Cohoes Music Hall as a youngster. Mazurki's Award will hang at that very Cohoes Music Hall.
The other New York State Award winner was Ray "Thunder" Stern, who was raised in Brooklyn. Stern was thrilled to see old friends like Billy Two Rivers, who he hadn't seen in 51 years. "I was back talking to him yesterday like it was 51 hours ago," Stern said. He raved about the reception of the wrestlers and the Hall in its new home of Amsterdam. "I came to this small, quaint little town Thursday evening. ... Now, three days later, I have to say that this town has the biggest heart, the most simpatico. It is unbelievable. I have been all over the world, many, many times, but the respect, the appreciation, that is being shown here to the wrestlers is beyond anything I truly have ever imagined. ... It's just overwhelming to be treated this way. It's beyond anything that I could have imagined."
Besides the inductees, the afternoon memorabilia show / autograph signing and banquet was attended by many other wrestlers as well. Among the names in attendance: past inducees Killer Kowalski (TV era, 2003), Mad Dog Vachon and Paul "The Butcher" Vachon (Tag Team, 2004), Dewey "The Missing Link" Robertson, Ray "Doink The Clown" Apollo, Billy Two Rivers, Red Bastien, Al Mandell. Lord Zoltan, and Ox Baker.
More SLAM! Wrestling coverage of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame
The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame website
Greg Oliver is the Producer of SLAM! Wrestling, and volunteered his services for the PWHF to design and layout their program this year. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.