Friday, November 16, 2007

Your Grandfather's Professional Wrestling

I've always thought of "professional wrestling" as a relatively new phenomenon, but I just discovered it is at least thirty years older than I thought. I am referring, of course, to the type of wrestling that is more opera than sport, with tough guys leaping from the ropes and whacking each other with chairs. I remember it on TV as early as the 1970's and always thought it was originated about then. I've certainly never seen earlier TV clips of anything like it.

Imagine my surprise to find essentially the same drama depicted in the 1941 film "Shadow of the Thin Man." It wasn't quite as gaudy, but all the elements were there: the wrestlers were big, fat and mean; the bout was acrobatic and exaggerated, nothing like olympic wrestling; and the fans relished the battle between good and evil, cheering wildly as the bad guy took a beating.

It seems the sport had a reputation of being fake even then. As Nora Charles passes the ring on her way out, she looks at the losing wrestler, his face down on the mat, struggling to escape a head lock. "I hope you get out of that," she says. He immediately stops grunting and replies, "Thank you, ma'am," as calmly as a doorman, then returns to his struggles.

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