The Definition of a Heel
By: Christopher Ray Patton
Heel (Rudo) : A wrestler who is villainous, who is booked to be the antagonist of the story line.
George Wagner, better known by his in-ring name Gorgeous George was a professional wrestler during what is considered the “Golden Age of Professional Wrestling.” He was born on March 24, back in 1915 in the small town of Butte, Nebraska. His love for wrestling however would start at the age of seven when he moved to Houston, Texas where he trained in amateur wrestling and eventually started to stage matches at the local YMCA.
By the age of fourteen in the year of 1929 he had dropped out of school and was working several different odd jobs to support his family. At the time this meant competing in Carnivals. For those unaware this is where the sport of “Professional Wrestling” was originally conceived. It was a sideshow exhibition in most North American traveling carnivals and vaudeville halls, but eventually would take a life of it’s on blooming it into the multimillion-dollar / or billion-dollar entertainment industry we love today. He would “work” these carnivals for 35 cents an hour if he could win. A win however in a lot of scenarios meant that sometimes these staged performances could become a bit violent. This as most of you who are taking the time to read this would be known as a “shoot.”
By the Age of seventeen he was getting booked by the region’s (Northeastern Texas and Louisiana) top promoter, Morris Siegel. Where he would win his first title the Northwest Middle Weight Crown, and then eventually the Pacific Coast Light Heavyweight championship.
At this point into reading this you might think well that is all fine and good but why should I care about a wrestler who was literally born a hundred and two years ago and especially the beginning of his career where he worked for some wrestling promoter I have never heard of nor care to hear about. This can be answered in one simple song. One associated with who some consider if not the best, at least in the conversation for the greatest wrestler of all time. That song is “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Now let me take a moment so we can focus on the non-mentioned wrestler above, especially between the years of 1985 and 1987 to help break down why the hell Gorgeous George is probably one of if not the most important wrestlers of all time.
At 5ft 9 and 215 pounds as his billing weight George was by no means the most physically imposing as far as professional wrestling standards go, nor was he an amazingly gifted athlete. But he was known as a great amateur wrestler which soon developed into him being what is known in the wrestling business as a solid in-ring wrestler. In the 1930’s, he met Elizabeth “Betty” Hanson who would become his wife and who he would eventually marry in an in-ring ceremony. When the wedding proved to be a huge draw the couple re-enacted it in different promotions around the country. Does this at all sound familiar to anyone?
Around this same time, Vanity Magazine had posted an article about a wrestler known as ‘Lord’ Patrick Landdowne., who would come down to the ring with two valets also known as managers while wearing a velvet robe and a doublet. George was impressed with how much of a character this wrestler had created but knew that he could take it a step further. I wish to reference this here; simply to point out any gimmick can be reused and that I am not just taking a dump on the Macho Man Randy Savage. Inspiration is inspiration.
In the 1940’s it is said that George had a wrestling match at the Portland Oregon Armory, and as he walked down to the ring there were two mature women on his right, two rows back from the ring. One of these women loudly exclaimed, “Oh, isn’t he gorgeous.” That word would stick with George Wagner the rest of his career. His wife Betty’s mother who was a skilled seamstress would eventually at the request of George make him several capes and robes that would be used in almost all his future matches.
It was in 1941 that George who debut his new gimmick on a card in Eugene, Oregon; where he quickly antagonized the fans with his exaggerated effeminate behavior when the ring announcer introduced him as “Gorgeous George”. A character of this magnitude was unheard of at the time. This would cause crowds to start to show up and huge numbers to ridicule and boo Gorgeous George.
Shortly thereafter he was hired by a Los Angeles promoter by the name of Johnny Doyle. George would begin to work as “Human Orchid.” His persona would change a bit and with him growing his hair long and dyeing it platinum blonde. He would also start to include gold-plated bobby pins, which would soon be referenced as “Georgie Pins” to the fans. Followed by a single purple spotlight and with his valet team beside him, he would walk down to the ring in an elegant robe jazzed up with sequins. The “Jeffries” which was what he would call his valet would carry a silver mirror while spreading rose petals at his feet. When George would remove his robe, the Jeffries would spray down the ring with disinfectant, which was supposedly Chanel No. 5 which George would call “Chanel # 10”. “Why be half safe.” This saying he was well known for. He also required the valet to spray the referee’s hands before the ref could check for any illegal objects. Which also prompted the George to scream “Get your filthy hands off me!” Once the match would begin George would cheat in any necessary means to win the match. It would infuriate the crowd. It is said his creed was “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.” Gorgeous George was the world’s first true cowardly villain. The world’s first true wrestling heel in what we would consider a heel in this day and time.
With the creation of television, Gorgeous George would become the biggest draw the industry had ever known up until that point. Gorgeous George was littered into living rooms across the nation. His over the top character helped him become among the top 100 televised acts of the 20th century.
Muhammad Ali and James Brown both listed being influenced by George’s flamboyance. It can be heard every time you hear an interview were Muhammad Ali would exclaim just how damn pretty he was. He might had even said a few times…. “Gorgeous.” Countless wrestlers would take pieces of George over the years. Wrestlers like Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and even to some extent lower card talent like Gold Dust. It is evident in every ounce of wrestling I have watched over my life time just how important Gorgeous George was, and is; in turn making him my one true definition was a heel.