Detailed account of the irrepressible Vince McMahon and the rise of his popular World Wrestling Federation by ESPN writer Assael (Wide Open, 1998).
This is a quintessentially American success story of a cocky opportunist defying the odds and hitting it big. McMahon, son of a wrestling promoter, had a vision: to take the low-rent, late-night TV pro wrestling of the 1960s from tawdriness to mainstream by making the sport’s bombastic plotlines and cartoon characters even more outrageous. He set about buying smaller wrestling TV syndicates and creating his own stable of marketable heroes and villains. By the late ’90s, with WWF’s weekly “Smackdown” a primetime hit, McMahon had fully come into his own. Assael’s account overflows with inside information about pro wrestling’s Machiavellian promoters and managers, scandals and double-crosses, and the author delights in revealing how bouts are scripted for maximum entertainment value. Colorful personalities abound: Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Sable, Chyna, the legendary Mick Foley, Cyndy Lauper, Captain Lou Albano, Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, and Karl Malone. The author is conversant equally with the behind-the-scenes manipulations of such TV moguls as Ted Turner (who, like McMahon, saw early on that there was big money to be made from primetime wrestling) and the gritty facts of some of the sport’s best-known tragedies, including the deaths of fighters Owen Hart and Brian Pillman. There’s a solid background chapter on wrestling’s humble beginnings as the twisted offspring of vaudeville, carnival midway, and the late-night TV wasteland. Assael acknowledges that McMahon, while at times despicable, is motivated by a real love of pro wrestling and is as lovable as he is crass. What makes the WWF story so compelling is that, like B-movies, Betty Page pin-ups, and other once-marginalized cultural phenomenon, it’s thoroughly representative of America’s late 20th-century trend toward populist vulgarity.
Sparkling cultural history from an author wise enough to let the facts and personalities speak for themselves.