February 16, 2011
Ex-grappler is Nintendo ModelYears after his career, Marshall still keeps people fit
By STEVEN JOHNSON - SLAM! Wrestling
Want to work out with a pro wrestler? If you're sweating to the popular Nintendo Wii Fit Plus gaming system, you already are.
Marshall Caplan, known to wrestling fans of the 1970s as "Flying" Bobby Marshall, is one of the models for Wii Fit Plus, which incorporates dozens of interactive exercise routines into a gaming console.
You'll find Caplan on the cover of the Wii Fit Plus box and on its website, looking grayer though just as enthusiastic as he did when he was bouncing from pillar to ring post 40 years ago.
"It was kind of cool," said Caplan, who won the assignment with the help of his Seattle, Wash.-based agent. "I had to practice for a couple of hours to pull it off, but it was fun. It has certainly gotten a lot of exposure. It's all over the place."
While the idea behind Wii Fit Plus is to engage gamers in physical exertion, Caplan's photo shoot was so orchestrated that he didn't have a chance to break a sweat.
"They shoot hundreds of shots, then they pick the ones they want for the cover. I simply had to practice the moves and then they put you in a position and then you hold. Essentially all the shots were done in still," he said.
Still, the Wii Fit Plus gig was a natural for the Hamilton, Ont., native, who has a lifetime of experience in athletics, real and worked.
Caplan was a star football player at McMaster University, where he was captain and team MVP in 1970, and left enough of a legacy as a hard-hitting linebacker to be named to the school's all-1970s team.
At the same time he was at McMaster, he met several wrestlers working out in the gym -- Hamilton was one of North America's top breeding grounds for young grapplers -- and decided to give the pro game a whirl.
Caplan worked primarily for promoter Pedro Martinez in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a fresh-faced fan favorite, with a repertoire of dropkicks and fast-paced moves. His roll call of opponents included Pampero Firpo, Dick "Bulldog" Brower and a young Greg Valentine, going at the time as John Fargo.
"'Stay in university. Finish your education. Don't do this full-time,'" Caplan recounted. "I got a real kick out of him."
And a sleepover that fiction writers would be hard-pressed to imagine.
"I remember staying at his house overnight in Tonawanda N.Y., just outside of Buffalo. I stayed in the basement and I was surrounded by all these tropical fish tanks. He made a lot of money with the exotic fish, but here I was spending the night and I was just surrounded by fish tanks. It was one of the weirdest experiences."
If wrestling was his second career, he found a third one about 25 years ago when a Toronto agent suggested he dabble in modeling and acting.
"It's been a great part-time thing for me and I've had some really good years," said Caplan, who has lived in Vancouver, B.C., since 2001. In the demographics of the trade, he's a "zoomer" -- that's a baby boomer with zip.
Chances are you've seen him, even if you haven't invested in a Wii Fit Plus. He was in the TV show Hellcats last fall, and has appeared in such series as Smallville, Due South, and The 4400.
His TV commercial credits include General Motors, Seiko and Sears. And one print ad for financial heavyweight TD Waterhouse reminded him of his days in pro wrestling.
"We shot it in Calgary. We were sitting on a truck and the truck had a crane attached with a ski lift suspended from the crane of the truck. So we were actually sitting on this ski lift, suspended from a truck. The next day, the photographer went up in a helicopter and shot the background of the Rocky Mountains and imposed that on to the photo. Similar to pro wrestling, all is not what it seems," he laughed.
In addition to his modeling and acting work -- he retired as a counselor from the educational sector a few years ago -- Caplan is a zealot when it comes to the need for ex-wrestlers and ex-footballers to stay in shape. He runs, lifts weights and takes yoga classes, and he's down a good 50 pounds from his top weight of 220 pounds.
"That combination of diet and exercise is crucial. You can't function with a heavy bodyweight if you've had a lot of injuries over the years. It just makes it worse. The whole idea is simply to improve the quality of your life. Not necessarily the quantity of your life -- you may not live longer -- but you can certainly improve the quality of your life. That's kind of my mantra that I try to push."
Caplan still keeps an eye on the mat game, though he recognizes it has changed from the days when he'd travel with bad guy Kurt von Hess (Bill Terry) and hop out of the car a block from the arena to avoid being seen fraternizing with the enemy.
"In those days, it was the heels who drew the heat. They really made the matches. It was a morality play, good against bad. Now it's more storylines. You're selling personalities and characters as much as the plot," he said.
So looking back 40 years later, he considers himself lucky to have worked with legends like Al Costello of the Fabulous Kangaroos, with whom he did scientific demonstrations of holds for TV audiences.
"The characters and personalities that I met were bigger than life. I was able to live out a fantasy and still develop and prosper in another profession."
With Greg Oliver, Steven Johnson is co-author of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams, and Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick). He is a reporter and editor in Virginia.