Fred Kenneth Blassie was born on February 18, 1918. Who could have guessed (his mother certainly could not have wished) that he would grow up to be one of the greatest-drawing, most hated wrestling heels of all time. He passed away only a few weeks to the day that he appeared, sick-looking, on WWE Raw. He had troubles with both his kidney and heart, and it is believed his death was to natural causes. As wrestling fans, it is a rare treat to take a trip to a bygone golden era in the business but Blassie’s book, published shortly before his death, Listen You Pencil Neck Geeks (Pocket Books, $26, 272 pages), by Freddie Blassie and Keith Elliot Greenberg, affords us that opportunity. In his death, it only means much more.
Blassie passed away on June 2, 2003 and his death was announced on WWE Raw only hours later.
From a wrestling fan and student’s perspective, such a book is a treasure. To read about the times and successes of a wrestler consistently employed throughout the developmental stages of the business to its current era is made possible by the nature of a business that constantly changes and the longevity of stars that had decades of experience under them in the 50s and 60s and had the charisma to make things last. Blassie had this and the stars aligned in his favor (and not to mention some smart business deals).
Blassie is one of the most successful heels of his time. His original success was in the south with Jim Crockett Sr., also when being the first great American heel in Japan as wrestling that country’s relationship grew with Rikidozan after World War II as he riled up a staid and sedate Japanese crowd, then more so as he aged in the late Los Angeles territory, and then in his 60s and 70s working as a manager. When Blassie left the managerial scene, due to times a-changing and his inability to keep up with them, as a behind-the-scenes front office guy putting his own trademark on promotion and in various other capacities.
The book is interspersed with writings from people with a different perspective than Blassie, which helps this book maintain a sense of integrity. My favorite example is when Blassie talks about promoter Mike LeBell’s horrible reputation and how horrible a person he was and then Mike LeBell comes in and says something completely different. This is not a tool which confuses, as it may seem, but rather enlightens. Quite frankly, it’s not a literary tool that’s common in autobiographical books, at least from what I see, but the choice to use it in this book was interesting. In the end, it was also effective.
Blassie: “Even during the best of times, I was always waiting for (LeBell) to put a hatchet in my back. I feel pretty confident saying that every wrestler in the territory felt the same way…”
LeBell: “…I imagine that Fred was happy (like the rest of the guys, despite complaining about pay). Oh God, we were like brothers. Just tremendous. As close as you could be.”
Blassie: “I think LeBell based his affection for people on how much money they could make him. If he was thinking that way, yeah, I could have been his brother. I know there was one winter when someone asked him what he wanted for Christmas. LeBell answered, “Another Freddie Blassie.”
While Blassie says one thing, you always have another opinion to look to. Additional, Mr. Goldberg, the man that co-wrote the book did a serious and more than respectable job of maintaining factual integrity & thanks to several key sources. Blassie has a no-holds-barred sense of humor and it shines through in this book without being too conversational (like The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle) and flows as a good book should.
Many are quick to remember Blassie’s most successful marriages, and at the same time, probably one of his last greats. Blassie vs. Tolos was the culmination of dedication of the booking and the talent of the two involved. Blassie was a newly-christened successful face and Tolos was a hot heel. The angle coincided with an injury Blassie needed surgery on, so fans were allowed to visit him in the hospital, helping the feud because they thought he was nearly blinded by Tolos. Blassie would milk them, “Oh, you just don’t know how hard it is to lose your sight!” Blassie, because of his mastery of crowd psychology enjoyed a long, full, and successful career. The richness of the people Blassie knew, the places he went, and the times he lived through, make his life perfect for this type of autobiography.
It’s hard to think about Blassie’s carrer without thinking of his crossover appeal and his success it hollywood. He cherished this so much and that’s why he stayed with Mike LeBelle so long.
Regis Philbin: “When Blassie talks about making my career, he’s not exactly lying. I took him everywhere I went because I knew he’d pay off.”
Mike Tenay in the 6/9/03 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: “Who else in wrestling was considered a mainstream personality during that time period? Between the Dick Van Dyke stuff and he was all over local TV. He was the one guy who, really wasn’t above it (considered being more than a wrestler locally), but close to that level.”
I can even remember one of my favorite episodes (and one of the highest-rated, from what I hear) of The Dick Van Dyke Show being a 1965 episode when Sally (played by Rose Marie) comes back from the wrestling matches with “Classie” Freddie Blassie during his heyday in L.A. and then he manhandles Dick Van Dyke. That segment was extremely short but goes to show exactly the kind of success Blassie enjoyed, not only within it, but in Hollywood as well.
Like many others before him, and certainly that is the case for Jerry Lawler, who wrote a book not too long ago, Freddie Blassie’s personal and family life was lacking, and that’s not a moral judgment on him but merely a representation of how the business affects it’s participants, even the most successful ones. For Jerry Lawler, he had several wives but because of Lawler’s relationship to the business, they ended in tumult. Blassie was similar. He had several wives and was only satisfied when he met Miyako Morozumi, a kind, native Japanese woman that he would marry and have an extremely happy relationship with until death & Vince McMahon, Sr. once told her “I don’t know how you stand living with him…he’s the grouchiest man in the world,” according to Blassie in the book. Within his family, he maintained solid friendships only with his stepfather and Ron Blassie, his oldest son. His first wife and other two children are estranged from him. His sexual exploits on the road are infamous, and like Jerry Lawler, stayed mostly away from drugs and alcohol. Also, like Lawler, he would develop a touching relationship with Andy Kaufman. One of Andy’s few true friends. In death, Bob Zmuda even found a way to capitalize on his death.
Out of the wrestling books that come out each year, some are gems, some are good, some are mediocre, and some are atrocious. For me this book fits in the category of a gem and the insight, perspective, and historical information it provides are only part of the reason. Blassie is honest about his opinions, the factual and writing ability of Mr. Goldberg smooths over the fact that Blassie had not a perfect memory nor literary genius.
I would like to dedicate this column to Fred Blassie, who is survived in death by wife, Miyako, and three children.
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