October 21, 2012
Review: Compelling story keeps Destroyer's book moving
By BOB KAPUR - SLAM! Wrestling
Though Dick Beyer, a.k.a. "The Destroyer" is famous for covering his face, his biography, Masked Decisions gives us an uncovered look at both the wrestler, and at the man behind the mask.
Beyer worked closely with biographer Vincent Evans to make sure that it paints a full literary portrait, including details on Beyer's childhood and early adult life and throughout his entire storied career, from prelim guy to one of the biggest names ever in the sport. Even the book's full title is complete: Masked Decisions: The Triangular Life of Dick 'The Destroyer' 'Doctor X' Beyer; From American Athlete to International Icon.
The first quarter of the book focuses on Beyer's pre-wrestling life, starting with his high school years where he proved himself as a work horse on the football field. So much so that he was offered a college scholarship to play for Syracuse University. His tenacity and strong work ethic helped Beyer grow from an upstart rookie into a strong leader on the gridiron, eventually earning him the title of Athlete of the Year in 1952-53. He took up wrestling during the off-seasons and fell in love with the sport. His tremendous success at the college level opened his eyes to the potential of making a career out of it, and when the opportunity came to take that path or remain at Syracuse in a football coaching position, he chose the former.
The next portion of the book -- unsurprisingly, the lion's share of it -- is devoted to Beyer's wrestling career, from journeyman to legend. In the early days, Beyer had difficulty getting booked, despite being a local favourite whose technical prowess earned him many fan accolades. He persevered, though, and soon he was travelling the country, visiting territories like Chicago, Tennessee, Toronto and Hawaii. This portion of the book includes some great road stories, including some funny practical jokes. The names that Beyer worked with during his early career is a veritable who's who of wrestling, including Dick the Bruiser, Freddie Blassie, Rikidozan, and countless others.
It's just under halfway into the book when the mask is introduced (save for the introductory chapter). Beyer started working in Los Angeles where the booker, Jules Strongbow, asked Beyer to wrestle under a hood as a heel. Initially, Beyer was infuriated at the idea, having achieved a lot of success wrestling under his real name. But, after initially agreeing to portray the Destroyer for only four weeks, after seeing what a tremendous reaction was getting from fans -- and the resulting increase in his payouts -- he decided to make it permanent.
The Destroyer's career took off like a juggernaut, and the book goes into great detail about this period of Beyer's career. There are some interesting backstage stories peppered throughout, including about Beyer's mask-vs-hair match against Gorgeous George. A successful series of matches against the visiting Japanese wrestler Giant Baba, and the original relationship he had forged with Rikidozan, led to Beyer heading to Japan, where the legend of the Destroyer grew to even higher heights. Again, a lot of interesting stories of life on the road, backstage, and in the ring are shared.
Bouncing between the U.S. and Japan, the Destroyer became a legend in both countires. In Japan, he was a national hero, respected by the fans for his athleticism and revered for his mysterious character. He and his family were treated like near-royalty, and it wasn't long before the entire family were celebrities, being featured on variety shows long before the Osbournes and Honey Boo Boo.
In the meantime, Beyer was wrestling in the U.S. both as the Destroyer and, in a different costume, as the menacing Doctor X. This persona was adopted to shake things up a little bit and to give fans a new sensation to marvel while keeping them guessing as to who it was -- after all, everyone knew that it couldn't be Beyer, since he was the Destroyer! Again, the book goes into both the locker room and the Beyer family living room to give both sides of Beyer's story -- both personally and professionally. Both the ups and downs of his career, and his home life, are covered -- giving an honest and thorough look at Beyer's entire life.
By itself, that 360-degree view makes the book a compelling read. However, what makes it even better is the actual writing itself. Evans has to be given a lot of credit for presenting the book as he does -- as a biography, written in the third person, as opposed to the more traditional first-person perspective. While this may be a bit jarring initially -- it reads more like a fictional novel -- that feeling soon goes away. And soon enough, the reader simply gets drawn into Beyer's compelling story. Compelling enough to make Masked Decisions a highly recommended read for any wrestling fan.
Bob Kapur has been writing for SLAM! Wrestling for over ten years. And it feels like about half of that time since he actually got around to finishing this story. Sorry, Mr. Oliver. E-mail him your admonishments at email@example.com.