June 23, 2006
Managers DVD frustrating but entertaining
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
At times fascinating and other times frustrating, the new DVD The World's Greatest Managers will bring back good memories and make you want to throw it across the room.
To call it an inconsistent effort is an understatement. For every great interview aired from a famed manager of the past (available in their entirety in the Extras section), there are puzzling choices and holes big enough to drive a bus through.
Culled from the ever-growing WWE video archive, The World's Greatest Managers takes an uneven, surface level look at managing, offering simplistic attempts to explain what makes a good manager, how to cheat and how to champion a wrestler. The irony of WWE stars of today talking about the roles of managers should not be lost; really, what, exactly, does John Cena know about managers? The guy can talk and has been on his own his whole career. Now Bobby Eaton, there's a guy who made a career out of having a manager -- but of course he's not on the DVD.
WWE historical revisionism abounds. In the segment on women managers, it's the current "valet-style" that are featured, yet even that doesn't talk about Missy Hyatt, Sunshine and Precious in the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling, which kickstarted it all. Needless to say, no mention is made of the fact that female managers have been around at least since Gorgeous George and his wife Cheri.
Talking heads abound on The World's Greatest Managers, but they are the same old talking heads; no one would ever accuse the WWE DVD production team of going over and above to get a really cool, unique interview or segment. In fact, rather than hiring someone exciting to even host the DVD -- c'mon, you can't tell me Jimmy Hart wouldn't have hosted the DVD for a couple of bucks -- WWE settled on Todd Grisham. What's worse, he even tries a couple of comedy spots that fall so flat it's downright embarrassing.
Alternating between the short analysis pieces are featurettes on a select few managers from the 1970s to the 1990s. Without a lot of rhyme or reason, other than for the most part they worked for WWE at some point in their careers, here's who is featured, along with my quick take on it, mostly listing the shortcomings.
- Freddie Blassie: The Hollywood Fashion Plate's wrestling career is, understandably, glossed over to concentrate on his managing. A few interviews from WWE archives are pulled up, and people talk about him. Do we understand what made him a great manager? Not really; but then you get to the Extras section, where he talks about the just-arrived in the WWWF Nikolai Volkoff in the mid-'70s, and you get an idea of the gift this man had to incite crowds.
- The Grand Wizard: Ernie Roth is one of the most fascinating people in the history of wrestling. A gay Jew who rose to stardom seconding The Sheik (Ed Farhat) during his heyday, Roth deserves so much better than he gets here. In fact, his days with The Sheik aren't even mentioned. Seriously. Instead, his stint as WWWF manager The Grand Wizard is the focus. Yes, he was great then, but he was great because of what he'd done before. There's a feature on the DVD about whether someone needs to be a wrestler to become a good manager. Roth is proof that you didn't have to be a wrestler, just someone who loved the business with his whole heart. ("What made Wizard so good was he never stopped being a fan, so he was able to feel what the fans felt," Tony Atlas once said in an interview with Whatever Happened To ... ?). Then, to add insult to injury, there's no extra with a full Grand Wizard interview.
- Sunny: She obviously pissed someone off in the WWE hierarchy because Tammy Sytch is the only person profiled who gets dragged through the mud. Her successes are talked about -- first WWE "diva", heavily downloaded images, tag team success -- but it's her faults that dominate. Her battles with drugs are a prominent topic, but her late husband Chris Candido isn't mentioned. There are a few comments from Sunny, but since she doesn't appear on camera, it's hard to tell when they were recorded. The only (small) redeeming factor for the male population is her breathy, torch-like rendition of Happy Birthday in a slinky dress.
- Jimmy Hart: Apparently, Jimmy Hart really only exists because of his WWF days. Forget the fact that he was Jerry Lawler's nemesis in Memphis for years, that he was a successful musician with The Gentrys -- and definitely forget that he was Hulk Hogan's toadie for years in WCW. If all that other stuff is put by the wayside, it's obvious that the bio on Hart will be short. Like cotton candy, it'll be sweet in your mind bringing back memories, and then evaporate and be gone. The extra, where "Mean" Gene Okerlund goes to "Hart Foundation Headquarters" is mildly amusing, if in serious need of some editing.
- Paul Bearer: So Jimmy Hart's Memphis days aren't brought up, but Percy Pringle III is shown managing in Florida and Texas before his startlingly effective transformation into the Undertaker's manager? No attempt is made to explain the convoluted storylines in Paul Bearer/'Taker history either. This segment really suffered by the absence of the subject. He's on a WWE Legends deal, so how come he couldn't be interviewed? In the bonus section, Paul Bearer hosts Sensational Sherri on his Funeral Parlor segment.
- Arnold Skaaland: Consider this the kayfabe section of the piece. Apparently, it was Skaaland's influence that made stars of Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund, the two men he managed. (The extra is a tongue-tied Sammartino trying to interview Skaaland, which perhaps gives a little credence to the theory.) "The Golden Boy's" wrestling career is touched upon, and he interviewed, so it's not all bad -- just kayfabe.
- Sensational Sherri: For anyone who saw her during her prime, or even in April at her WWE Hall of Fame induction, Sherri was an absolute presence. She could dominate with the best of them, and was both a great woman wrestler and great manager. It's primarily AWA footage of Sherri with "Playboy" Buddy Rose and "Pretty Boy" Doug Somers, or wrestling Candi Devine, that is shown, which is fine. But again, no interview with her?
- Jim Cornette: Given that he left on bad terms, and is now employed by TNA, it's understandable that Jim Cornette wasn't interviewed for The World's Greatest Managers. His interviews on WTBS still stand the test of time entertainment-wise today, and the one preserved in the Extras section is Cornette with Tony Schiavone after the Midnight Express' TBS debut. Anything else that Cornette did besides the Midnights -- Memphis, running Smoky Mountain Wrestling, managing Yokozuna, Owen Hart, British Bulldog and others in the WWF -- is ignored. But hey, at least the Rock 'n' Roll Express throwing him into the cake is there.
- Paul E. Dangerously: Focusing on his AWA days with the massive cell phone, Paul E.'s segment gives a little more perspective to those who just know him from ECW. His WCW days running the Dangerously Alliance are ignored, probably because Steve Austin asked the producers to ignore it. The 1987 interview Paul E. does with Larry Nelson in the AWA, stored in the Extras, is great; I really wanted to see one with Ted E. Bear, however.
- Captain Lou Albano: Talk about short shrift. Albano's wrestling career isn't mentioned, and there is no list of his tag team champions -- or the fact that he managed Ivan Koloff to the WWWF championship in 1971. More focus is put on his bizarre look than his skills as a manager. Albano himself is an interesting interview, proving that more effort should have been put into getting subjects interviewed. The Extra of Albano battling Arnold Skaaland could have been left off with ease, but it's better than the Cornette vs Dangerously match.
- Miss Elizabeth: With Liz Huelette no longer around and Randy Savage off the deep end somewhere (The Surreal Life, apparently), we're left with people raving about what a beautiful person she was. The dynamic of the domineering Savage and the cowering Elizabeth is never broached, but hey, it was romance and they got married on TV. By this point in the DVD, I wasn't surprised that her dark days in WCW weren't shown, and her untimely death is only mentioned through a graphic of the date. For those with a strong stomach for cheese, there's a video in the Extras of the wedding put to the song Together.
- Bobby Heenan: The king of managers is purposely left for last. "The Brain" is interviewed, and much is made of his early days in Indianapolis and the AWA. (The 1976 Manager of the Year award is an Extra, which features Ray Stevens' babyface turn as a bonus; another extra is Greg Gagne vs Heenan in the Loser Wears A Weasel Suit match.) In the WWF, Heenan really hit his stride as a manager and as a commentator. He could be a DVD on his own, and hopefully he might be. This one barely touches the surface of what made him the best.
And to avoid going into full rant mode, I'm just going to list some of the great managers that were left off The World's Greatest Managers
: Bobby Davis, "Wild" Red Berry, Dr. Ken Ramey
, J.C. Dykes, "Gentleman" Saul Weingeroff, George "Crybaby" Cannon
, George "Two Ton" Harris, Scandor Akbar
, Sheikh Adnan Alkaissy
, J.R. Foley and Gary Hart
Others, like King Curtis Iaukea, Slick, Oliver Humperdink, Teddy Long, J.J. Dillon, and Paul Ellering, we only get a tiny glimpse of.
Looking back on my thoughts to this point, it might seem that I hated this DVD. I didn't. I had a lot of fun revisiting some old friends -- there's even a Fuji Vice episode (far more painful that I remembered).
But given that I've grown up from that teenager obsessed with WWF wrestling, shouldn't the company have grown up too, providing me with intelligent, well thought-out entertainment packages? The 16-year-olds aren't the ones buying these vintage DVDs.
The World's Greatest Managers isn't intelligent or well thought-out, but it does have its fun moments.
Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!
The Worlds Greatest Wrestling Managers DVD
Greg Oliver, a pencil-neck geek in every sense of the word, sends a shout out to a manager you've never heard of - Will E. Beatum, who has appeared under a Destroyer-like mask in southern Ontario cards in tiny towns like Tilsonburg. Send Greg your own obscure managing favourites to email@example.com.