September 27, 2009
Swimming with Piranhas: A preview of the upcoming book IV
By HOWARD BRODY - Special to SLAM! Wrestling
Without question, the most powerful individual in professional wrestling today is none other than Vince McMahon, chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment. Over the years I've had my fair share of interaction with Vince and his wife Linda, who, on September 16, announced her candidacy for the United States Senate, in hopes of representing the state of Connecticut.
Although my relationship with the McMahons hasn't always been a stellar one, as you will read in my upcoming book, Swimming with Piranhas: Surviving the Politics of Professional Wrestling, for the most part it has been cordial over the last 11 years and unlike many people in the wrestling industry, I actually respect the McMahons a great deal. In reading the book you will understand why.
In this week's excerpt, I recall how writing for a small South Florida newspaper in the early '80s gave me the opportunity to speak with wrestling's future monarch -- and who the unlikely candidate was that actually opened the door for me to do so.
From Chapter 2: "Political Science 101"
In March '83 my then fiancé and future wife, Sharon, and I moved from Gainesville back to the Fort Lauderdale area, and before long I found myself working in Pembroke Pines (a city adjacent to Hollywood and nestled between Miami and Fort Lauderdale) for a local throwaway newspaper called the Pembroke Mirror. Although it wasn't exactly the Miami Herald or Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, it was a writing job, and for the $196 per week plus $30 in gas reimbursement they paid, it might as well as have been the Daily Planet.
Before long I grew tired of the gig, as it was filled with a lot of city council meetings, visits to the police station to check the crime blotter and attending local chamber of commerce gatherings. It was also a lot to write each week, much more than I found I could produce. I don't know how I did it, but each week I produced at least two to three feature stories, six hard news items, a couple of photo essays and two editorials.
During this time there was also a bit of a debate as to where Joe Robbie, the beloved owner of the Miami Dolphins, would build his new stadium for his NFL franchise, as he wanted to move them out of the Orange Bowl. So, like every other person who had an opinion on the subject, in the August 21, 1983, Sunday edition of the Pembroke Mirror, I suggested a multipurpose sports complex be built in Pembroke Pines. I argued the location was ideal because it would be easily accessible to fans from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
What I didn't know is that a lady by the name of Vickie Askew -- who not only worked for the Pembroke Pines Chamber of Commerce but was the wife of the city's vice mayor, Harold Askew, and one of my regular news sources -- sent a copy of my editorial to her son and daughter-in-law who owned the Cape Cod Coliseum in Massachusetts. She sent it with the hopes they might be interested in building a facility in South Florida. However, her son was not interested, as he was busy trying to run the company he had recently bought from his father.
I was pretty excited to hear this and asked her a ton of questions. That's when I got the idea of doing a story about the wrestling business for Playboy. I was growing tired of the grind and lack of creativity of the newspaper job, and I was interested in writing for a more meaningful publication. Despite being a skin magazine, from a literary perspective, Playboy had a history of helping to bring authors into national prominence; Ian Fleming, Arthur C. Clarke and even Alex Haley conducted many Playboy interviews throughout the '60s, including its very first with jazz legend Miles Davis. In addition to the notoriety, they also paid a hefty price for both their interviews and feature stories. When you're normally bringing home less than $200 a week, a $2,000 payday for a freelance piece is a lot of dough!
Eager to see if my idea held water, I reached out to Reg Potterton, an editor at Playboy I had met a few years earlier. After bouncing the idea off him, Potterton told me that while he thought it was an interesting proposal, it was hard to break into Playboy as an established writer, let alone as a new one. He also said because the piece was unsolicited that anything submitted would be strictly on spec, meaning there wouldn't be any guarantee it would be taken once sent in. While the prospects did not look very good, he did tell me he would see what he could do after I had the piece written. It was only a twinkle of light but enough to energize me.
At my first opportunity, I stopped by the Pembroke Pines Chamber of Commerce and told Vickie that I'd like to speak with Vince about a story I wanted to write for Playboy. I explained the situation, and instead of making excuses why she couldn't make the introduction, she picked up the phone and called her son. Within minutes she told him about me -- reminding him of the editorial I had written about the sports complex -- and by the time she hung up the phone, she had handed me his private phone number. "He'll be expecting your call," she said.
In Swimming With Piranhas, the former president of the National Wrestling Alliance, Howard Brody gives a first hand account of how he’s been able to survive the world of pro wrestling politics, despite getting a few bloody noses along the way. It covers aspects of the pro wrestling business that have yet to be captured on paper. This book reveals the true war stories as Brody takes the reader into the boardrooms and back offices of the most exciting business in the world: professional wrestling.