I was planning on looking at Spider-Man: Blue today for my comic review, but when I went to the bookshelf to pull it I remembered I had this put aside and hadn’t properly looked at it, so today I’m going to read and review Jim Cornette Presents Behind the Curtain: Real Pro Wrestling Stories.
Cover art is not fantastic, with a bad illustration of Corny in front of unrecognisable wrestlers silhouetted in white in a ring. It’s certainly impressionistic rather than accurate. Corny writes a detailed introduction of wrestling’s roots with some subtle jabs at Vince McMahon and the internet on the way to the present, then acts like the Cryptkeeper as he segues into different stories from wrestling’s history.
First up, Sputnik Monroe is highlighted in The Man Who Defeated Jim Crow in Memphis. Corny’s colloquial narration style is evident from the start. This is the interesting story of how Sputnik stood out as a white heel beloved by black fans, ultimately integrating black fans into the white audience. It’s a good story and I’ve heard Monroe talk about it in surprisingly humble fashion for a guy who was known for being a verbose talker otherwise. I would’ve been interested to see a scene where he clarified that it was his intention to bring down the divide rather than it being a coagulation of circumstances.
A brief anecdote follows with The Man Who Knew the Sheik’s Name. It only goes three pages and doesn’t have much of a “punch line” to it, although there’s a cool picture of a fan who has sustained a gory gash on his arm from one of the many blades on the Sheik’s fingertips.
We stay Southern, as many of the stories in the book do, with The King and the Man on the Moon. Corny takes a massive shortcut by saying, and I’m paraphrasing, if you want to find out who Andy Kaufman is then Google him. We get an abbreviated history of his connection with wrestling, leading to the match with Jerry Lawler. I doubt the King would be flattered by his chubby depiction in the book, although he gets to look like he’s delivering a flying Zangief piledriver at one point. I felt like they missed a good comedic chance when they recall the infamous appearance on David Letterman’s show. It ends at the slap, but they could’ve shown Kaufman’s subsequent rant with cuckoos inserted instead of expletives. Corny does share some awesome shots from ringside of the original match and was just as skilled at capturing Kaufman mid-drop as the artist does here.
Next is the hyperbolic-titled The Man Who Saved Pro Wrestling. The story behind the story is the plane crash that took down Ric Flair, Johnny Valentine, Bob Bruggers and David Crockett. Also on the plane was masked Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods. To preserve kayfabe, as he was a babyface among heel wrestlers, he gave his real name and claimed he was promoter and sucked it up to still go and wrestle while injured from the crash.
Never did Michael Hayes’ mullet look more extreme than in the following story, The Dog, the Birds and the Gun. It’s another tribute to kayfabe and the days where the fans “believed”. There’s a giveaway that this book was edited in a slightly sloppy manner when Corny refers back to the Sputnik Monroe story “last chapter”… four chapters ago. Then, revealing that the Junkyard Dog was blinded by the Fabulous Freebirds’ hair cream, without any real explanation of it. Hayes’ beard also disappears towards the end of the story. It’s a really awesome moment of a fan jumping to Dog’s defence with a gun, but it’s not effectively built up.
Next, The Doctor and His Momma. I have to point out Antonino (misspelled as Antonio) Rocca being drawn like a hunchback in the first page of the story. It’s the shocking story of Dr. Jerry Graham, partly his life story in wrestling, but featuring the time where his mother died and he invaded the hospital and carried off her corpse to his car with a shotgun in hand and cops surrounding him. I felt the story structure was poor and relied a little too much on contrived linking devices. A shame, because Jerry Graham is worth a biography alone.
Another brief (two pages) story follows that as Corny gets to tell a story of his own, the time the Midnight Express faced the Mulkeys in their hometown. First page is an extremely abbreviated explanation of who the Mulkeys were and how they came to fight the MX. It’s established that most of the people in the crowd were relatives, but no explanation of what happened to spark a riot beyond that.
Before we get to the biggest and most familiar story in the book, Corny shares some newspaper clippings to confirm that everything he is referring to is absolutely true. It also reveals more than that – the newspaper stories are written better and more engrossing than his versions.
Corny uses the story of Bret Hart being double-crossed at Survivor Series ’97 to provide a flashback to the original Montreal Screwjob in The Wronged Men, as well as confessing his unwitting part in engineering it. I won’t spoil the story from the thirties, as it is a good one, but it is the reason now why titles can’t change hands on a disqualification. In the more familiar story, Corny can’t resist taking shots at the usual suspects (Russo, Michaels, even Trump), which spoils it a bit because it becomes such assumed references. A good first half, not so good second half.
Comedy ends the book from a storytelling perspective in The Disposal of the Body. Published in December of last year, the humour probably doesn’t date very well given real world and wrestling world events that have taken place since. Don Fargo shows off (thankfully captured from behind) his pierced dick and Jackie Fargo shows off everything else regardless of body piercings, courtesy of a flashing midget passenger. They then pick up a black hitchhiker and “rib” him by feigning one shooting the other (with a blank). I think you had to be there.
Extra material includes manufactured lineups for imaginary matches (Ravishing Ric [sic] Rude against Seth Rollins for some reason), including Dusty Rhodes against the Rock in a Bionic Elbow vs. People’s Elbow match, then a glossary of terms from advance to worked shoot.
Maybe it was the mood I was in, but I was very disappointed with this book. Corny is an excellent wrestling historian, but I didn’t feel it lent itself successfully to this format. Of course, there is a writer for the book, Brandon Easton, who is a skilled writer with comic and TV credits, but it’s a flawed attempt at writing in his voice and emulating his phrasing. I’d be interested in another volume with another narrator, but I wouldn’t know who. Maybe Steve Austin cracking open a case of beers to tell some drinking stories. The stories themselves would benefit greatly from running 22 pages rather than a random number fitting (or not) the rough length of the story.
Mild recommendation to check out, but don’t go to great expense to do so.