Wrestling at The Aud: from The Hulk to Gorgeous George

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hulk Hogan is going to be in Buffalo this weekend, and had some nice things to say about Buffalo Wrestling and the fans here. Steve Cichon has more from the Hulk and wrestling’s glory days in Buffalo.

Hulk Hogan is making an appearance at the Nickel City Con at the Convention Center this weekend, and he spoke with Mark Ciemcioch at The Buffalo News about his times in Buffalo.

He has great memories of wrestling in Buffalo, and like so many of us, Hulk Hogan has great memories of Memorial Auditorium.

Hogan traveled to Buffalo many times during his career, even having knee surgery here. He particularly enjoyed working the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium before it closed in 1996.

“I had some great matches in there,” Hogan said. “I’d hit people with a punch in the middle of that ring, and it sounded like a cannon would go off. The whole crowd would go along with it, (chanting) ‘Boom, boom!’ It’s a great wrestling crowd, a great city and a (I have) lot of fond memories of Buffalo.”

Hulk Hogan on ‘Hulkamaniacs,’ Buffalo and his biggest comeback yet

Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo– to big Friday Night sell out crowds through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows), and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.

“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.

“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”

And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.

“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.

“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”

As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.

“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered his flair for marketing outside the ring.

“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”

Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!'”

See some photos of Gorgeous George and read more about his career:
Buffalo in the ’50s: ‘Gorgeous George’ arrives in Buffalo, perfumes his room
Buffalo in the ’50s: Gorgeous George brings showmanship to the Aud

Buffalo in the ’50s: Gorgeous George brings showmanship to the Aud

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Gorgeous George was wrestling’s first bad guy. He invented the persona after he married his real-life wife in the ring, and then over and over again, seeing the potential for showmanship in the sport, which had little of it before his silk robes and atomizer.

Buffalo News archives

This photo comes from a 1949 match at the Aud, with GG (as the papers of the day referred to him) against Ray Villmer, “The Mighty Yankee.”

You can be sure the crowd was erupting as it looked like “The Human Orchid” might finally lose. From a clipping on another match:

Gorgeous hardly is gaining in favor with the populace. Mincing down the aisle in a cream robe, cape style, he was the target for assorted paper cartons and one entire beer. He was thrown out of the ring early in the mill, and his well-being appeared endangered until he escaped.

GG is well-remembered for rebuffing any touch with a boisterous “Get your filthy paws off of me,” but two events remained etched into the psyches of Buffalo wrestling fans. One, the night Stormy Bob Wagner “gave Gorgeous an authentic beating” at Memorial Auditorium, complete with a real head wound created by GG’s perfume bottle.

The other press event involved Gorgeous George driving to the Aud down Main Street in a convertible, waving around handfuls of dollar bills. When he began to throw them out to “the peasants” in Lafayette Square, a riot almost ensued.

The stories are emblematic of a showman whose curly locks and silky robes helped make wrestling into a popular attraction that became the multi-billion dollar industry it is today.

To remember GG as merely a heel wrestler — even only as “The First Heel Wrestler” — belittles his memory. The Human Orchid was one of the great stars of early television. Wrestling was cheap, flashy and easy to televise — and Gorgeous George was the performer that people loved to hate. It was said that in TV’s earliest years, Gorgeous George’s appearance on TV sold as many televisions as Milton Berle’s.

Gorgeous George — his legal name after 1950 — died of a heart attack at age 48 in 1963, just as another boisterous, flamboyant, larger-than-life personality began his career in the ring — albeit the boxing ring.

In the same 1964 Associated Press story that asked if Cassius Clay was “a hoax … or the new golden boy,” his promotional style was offered up as patterned after Gorgeous George.

Buffalo in the ’50s: ‘Gorgeous George’ arrives in Buffalo, perfumes his room

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Sixty-five years ago,  wrestling was treated like a legitimate sport on the pages of The News, with the comings and goings of wrestlers and blow-by-blow details of the matches detailed in words and photos.  It was also covered live on Buffalo’s only TV station, The News’ Channel 4, as well as on radio stations, including WBEN.

August 3, 1950.

What can only be described as the entrance of “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid” Gorgeous George into Buffalo and his eventual defeat of Maurice “The Angel” Tillet were right there with Bisons news from Offermann Stadium.

The review of the match was written by Hall of Fame writer Cy Kritzer — who was best known for his nearly 40 years as The News’ main baseball writer.