King of the Ring
Vince McMahon has built his World Wrestling Federation into a sports entertainment titan
By PERRY LEFKO --
Whether it's as WWFE chairman Vince McMahon or ring personality Mr. McMahon, the hands-on approach has helped create a billion-dollar empire.
In the world of sports entertainment, Vince McMahon is Da Man.
Known worldwide as the controversial owner/chairman of the World Wrestling Federation and its subsidiary World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, the self-made billionaire has taken his bumps in and out of the squared circle.
In his ring character, Mr. McMahon, he has alternated between being a good guy (baby face) and a bad guy (heel). And, in many ways it is a fair representation of how he is regarded in real life.
To many people who follow the soap-opera drama and the character actor/athletes who perform acrobatic stunts and speaking roles, he is loved.
To concerned parents and right-wing activists aghast by scenes of sex and violence, McMahon is loathed.
But, there is no stopping McMahon, whose empire continues to expand into book publishing, movie production and music recording.
Which is not to say that everything McMahon touches turns to riches. His brazen attempt to change the way football is played and presented died in one season last year when the much-hyped XFL ended after NBC, which was a partner in the project, bailed out after its ratings plummeted to perilous depths.
McMahon's attempts to revolutionize body building with a show built along the lines of wrestling also suffered a quick count out.
And, beyond just those ventures, his product has been rocked by scandals involving sex and drugs and the death of one noted performer, Canadian Owen Hart, whose family received an $18-million US judgment last year from the WWF in a wrongful death lawsuit.
And yet, all that will be nothing more than pieces of history in the life and times of McMahon, who is like a big kid trying to titillate audiences with bodacious women and stone-cold tough guys in strange story lines.
And, he's developing those plots with his family -- wife Linda, to whom he has been married more than 35 years, son Shane and daughter Stephanie.
Whether it's in front of the camera as performers or behind the scenes as producers or creative talent, the McMahons are the four ring posts upon which everything revolves in the WWF.
Linda McMahon plays a significant role as chief executive officer of the company and has played the tough matriarch in the ring.
"Pretty well what you see with Linda is what you get," McMahon said of his wife. "She has always been my right-hand man in business and in life. The best move I ever made was marrying her. Her persona is not too far removed from who she really is. She's kind of like the peacemaker in the family. She is the one who's easygoing and the one who says, 'now wait a minute' and makes us all think. You can imagine (the importance of that) with my personality, which is not the one that's on the air, but I have a pretty strong personality."
In an interview with Playboy two years ago, McMahon openly admitted to marriage infidelity and how he realized the error of his way and the support of his wife.
"She's my best friend, always has been," McMahon said. "It's like you make mistakes in life and you need to be man enough to apologize for your mistakes and recognize your mistakes first of all, which is sometimes difficult for us as human beings to do.
"Recognize when you've been a jackass, if you have been a jackass, and say, 'you know what, I realize it now, I was a jackass, but I'm not going to be a jackass anymore. You either do something about it or you live your life as a jackass or you say, 'I was a jackass, but now I'm not.'
"Life is what you make it. We here in North America have such privileges that's not to be believed. That glass is half empty or half full and in my life it has been half full and always will be.
"I always say I'm the luckiest person in the world -- and I am. There is no one in the world who has had the luck and fortune that I have had. When you think about my family situation and the number of hours that I work, which is off the chart, the nice part about it is my family has appreciated that and embraced that and understood that.
"I'll never forget Shane when he was just a little kid, he tugged on Linda's dress -- and I happened to be home that day because I travelled so much trying to build the foundation for this business -- and said, 'Mommy, can Dad and I go out to play?'
"Ooh, that was a rough one for me because of the way that he was looking at me. I'm not trying to say, 'woe is me' by any stretch of the imagination. These are sacrifices that people in the world make every day, in one way or another ... balancing our career with our personal life."
Shane, president of media content development, has a ring persona of Shane-O Mac, alternately plotting against his father's character and occasionally engaging in physical encounters against him, while also acting as an underhanded manager for some of the top talent. He has demonstrated his ability to execute high-flying manoeuvres, while also becoming the ring leader of World Championship Wrestling, the real-life promotion that the WWF purchased about a year ago at this time to create a monopoly. The story line merged with the creation of the Alliance, including another purchased property -- Extreme Championship Wrestling -- but has since gone in a different direction.
Shane, who bears similar physical features to his ruggedly built father, began learning the business literally from the ground floor of the warehouse at the WWF's headquarters in Stamford, Conn. He graduated to working with the ring crew on the road and eventually became a personality.
Stephanie, whose title is director of television writing, apprenticed by doing everything from sweeping floors at WWF headquarters to reception work to creative design, television production and eventually into a ring performer. She debuted as a kind-hearted, if not naive, ingenue, to a cunning, manipulative witch. The curvaceous beauty is billed as the Billion Dollar Princess and is involved in a marriage story line with real-life boyfriend, Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Paul Levesque).
"It's important that they learned all aspects -- all phases of our business -- from the ground up," McMahon said. "And at the same time have the unabiding appreciation for what it takes to be a talent and the sacrifices that are inherent in that, as well as keeping their feet on the ground and understanding our audience and what our audience wants."
Critics have suggested that McMahon has pushed the family angle too much and it is time to move his son and daughter away from the ring. McMahon, in response, said that Shane hasn't appeared in front of the cameras in almost three months.
"All these story lines basically have a shelf life and (as for) the McMahon ones, it just happens they're all very good performers, both Shane and Stephanie," McMahon said. "They both actually prefer being on the other side of the camera, producing and directing. I prefer that as well because you can live vicariously through all your performers instead of having the spotlight put on you, which is uncomfortable a lot of times.
"I love it, don't get me wrong, but I prefer being on the other side of the camera, not being out there. I prefer producing and directing and so do they."
Tomorrow: McMahon on Bret (Hit Man) Hart