The Hitman: From rugrat to king of the mat
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
Bret "The Hitman" Hart is known the world over as wrestling's good guy. In his trademark pink tights, Hart climbed to the very pinnacle of the World Wrestling Federation and ruled that glorious ring for a number of years. Now grabbing hold of the rival World Championship Wrestling ropes after a falling out with WWF boss Vince McMahon, Hart looks back on his life with Sun writer Eric Francis. Today, The Hitman reflects on a childhood many holds ago.
It's not the sort of admission you'd expect to hear from a hulking pro wrestler.
But the revelation stems from a time when he was less than 80 lbs. and far too young to know where his life was headed.
As a student at Calgary's Wildwood elementary, Bret Hart thrived on getting home to his parents' Broadcast Hill mansion, where he would play with toy soldiers, dinky cars, marbles and Crayolas.
Other than having to constantly jostle for position amongst his 11 siblings, he hadn't a worry in the world.
Until he came across the laundry room.
"Panties, bras, leotards ... all that stuff really bugged me when I was a kid," Bret sheepishly admits.
"If I ever had to pick them up, I'd use a coat hanger or something."
And with that in mind, Bret tells a tale of irony that isn't lost on the 40-year-old grappler.
"We had a school play where everyone had to wear green leotards," he begins.
"I was upset for days until Stu (his dad) stopped me and asked what was wrong. I broke down crying and said I didn't want to wear them.
"He rarely sided with me but the next day he walked into school with me and told the teacher 'he doesn't wear leotards.'
"I had to sit out and watch everyone in the play for three months ..."
Bret pauses, cocks his head and flashes his trademark grin.
"To think someday I'd be running around wearing pink leotards for a living ... yeah, it's a bit ironic."
To further add to the irony, his mother Helen revealed Bret was originally expected to be wearing such aforementioned garb -- perhaps as a ballerina.
"Bret was supposed to be a girl," says mom.
"We had five straight boys, then two girls and we thought we'd have one more girl so they could all play together."
They didn't stop there, ending up with 12 kids including four girls.
Gender bending aside, Bret has clearly come to grips with his leotard problem.
Million-dollar paycheques can do that.
But as he sits alongside the indoor pool and wrestling ring set up downstairs in the 8,000-sq.-ft. northwest Calgary home he shares with wife Julie and four kids -- Jade, 14, Dallas, 13, Alexandra, 9, and Blade, 7 -- he reflects on a childhood that had him geared towards a wrestling career from Day 1.
"I guess I thought about being a wrestler," said Bret, whose father was a championship grappler and founder of Stampede Wrestling.
"I always drew posters of myself wrestling as the world champion, but I didn't really think I'd be one."
Helen always hoped her mild-mannered, pleasant young boy wouldn't stray into the world her husband dominated. However, with seven older siblings to contend with, Helen isn't surprised Bret turned out to be such a great fighter.
"His two older sisters (Ellie and Georgia) had many a skirmish with him and it seemed they always got the best of him," recalls Helen.
"I guess the other five boys were too big for them so they targeted poor Bret. He sure learned to defend himself at a young age."
He also learned a thing or two about tag teams.
"It seemed my brother Dean and I would get up every day and try to figure out how we'd get them," says Bret. "It was a real dog-cat relationship with my sisters since I was in diapers. I wouldn't want to go through that again."
Constantly surrounded by his father's stable of wrestlers, Bret sold programs every Friday at Stampede Wrestling from age five to 13.
Who knew it would mark the beginning of his ascent towards being a five-time World Wrestling Federation champion, international superstar and perhaps Calgary's best-known citizen?
"Never work for your father," laughed Bret. "I got three cents for every program I sold. When I say I started out at the bottom, I mean it."
At age 15, he worked the doors at the Stampede Pavilion as a bouncer before taking to the ring as referee at age 18. Although all the while collecting city and provincial wrestling titles, he swears he had no inkling he'd ever lace up the boots as a pro.
"I always resisted it -- I made up my mind I was going to be a film director," smiles Bret, who idolized Martin Scorsese.
After graduating from Ernest Manning, Hart took a maintenance job at a Balzac petro-chemical plant so he could save up money to attend Mount Royal College's film studies program. Once there, he admittedly spent too much time prepping for the college wrestling title and stopped attending classes.
"I didn't tell a soul because I planned on going back," he says. "I used to get up every morning and make like I was going to school. Stu would shake me up and I'd just drive around all day and come home."
With his bank account shrinking, Bret took a summer job with the city raking around headstones at Queen's Park Cemetery.
It was around that time he decided to work full time as a referee/roadie with Stampede Wrestling to help pay for a tiny, rundown house he bought in Ramsay.
Driving all over Western Canada, Bret endured a rigorous schedule of having to set up the ring, referee the evening matches and then tear down the ring in a different city every night. That's when it dawned on him there had to be a better way.
"Jacques Rougeau (later known as The Mountie) was wrestling on the tour, and I started realizing I could do everything he could do," says Bret. "He had all the chicks, was making three times the money I was, and I was doing all the work -- at minimum wage."
He finally decided to listen to all those who encouraged him to wrestle professionally.
Then Stampede tag-team champs Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakarada convinced Bret to let them train him in the infamous dungeon at the Hart mansion.
The tiny basement room, complete with wrestling mats, custom-made weights and a heavy bag, had played host to hundreds of aspiring young wrestlers over the years.
Not only did Stu train his hopefuls in it, he also taught most of his sons a thing or two down there.
After months of being pummeled, Bret filled in for an injured wrestler on a local card to face, who else, but his tag-team teachers.
"They kicked the crap out of me," recalls Bret. "I thought they might take it easy but they really hurt me. I remember almost having tears in my eyes. They told me they had no choice -- it was all part of paying my dues."
Bret then filled in at the last minute for brother Bruce on a three-month wrestling trip to Puerto Rico with brother Smith. Living across the street from prison, with gunshots ringing out all night long, the experience "changed my life forever."
Upon his return, he began donning the wrestler's tights full time simply as Stampede Wrestling's "Bret Hart from Calgary."
It still seemed unlikely at that point, 21 years ago, that a star had been born.