Writing this on the weekend and posting during the week to see if it makes a difference with views. I tried a few different shoots to review but it just wasn’t working, so I’ve gone for this one which is ostensibly Jim interviewing JJ. JJ had written his book Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls around this time, which was very good, and he was open as always to doing interviews to talk about it. Scott reviewed an interview with him that went about five hours back in the day. This ONLY goes three, so it won’t be word-for-word and will be highlights for some things and then greater focus on stuff towards the end of his career.
JJ started off as a fan in New Jersey and talks about how many of the wrestlers he saw were like cartoon characters (although they look normal now), and going to his first event hooked him. He became a fan club president for Johnny Valentine as a teenager because of his rugged style. He then got into selling programmes at the matches and working on the ring crew, which built his familiarity with the boys. This led to him doing everything from the bottom up, including wrestling, managing, booking, promoting, refereeing, initially while being a substitute teacher and having other jobs.
The Sheik gave JJ his first proper break, wrestling Chris Colt, who is a Corny cult favourite. He was also around Bruno Sammartino, which leads to an appreciation session of him keeping what he did limited but having great psychology, which would match with the current love for Bruno on the blog.
He was very green at first, so Al Costello would polish him up in the locker room. He almost dropped veteran Pedro Godoy on his head with a slam and expected to get beaten up backstage for it, but Godoy was very patient with him and had him pick him up for a slam in the locker room to get the right feel for it, then had him slam him the next night and it was perfect for a bit more training and confidence.
He moved around the territories and ended up in the Carolinas, which was so different from where he’d been due to the Bible Belt influence and dry laws. It wasn’t too far away from the days of segregation either, with the WHITES ONLY signs painted over in as thin a coat of paint as possible.
JJ was friends with Luther Lindsay, who was Stu Hart’s favourite wrestler. He was at one point an incredible wrestler and shooter, but a serious car crash had physically destroyed him. Guys would gently rib him about a restaurant chain he’d bought stock in by saying they’d visited the other day and they were giving the food away. JJ even substituted for him one time when he was terribly sick as long as Luther was still paid.
Lindsay died after a match of a heart attack in the ring. The guy he’d just pinned had to shuffle out from under him as he wasn’t moving. He rolled over, tried to sit up, couldn’t get feeling in his hands, then crumpled back down and began to die. Lindsay’s best friend was Abe Jacobs, and he was teaming with JJ in the next match against the Andersons. He took 95% of the match to occupy his mind. JJ came in at the end and took the loss. They returned to the locker room and found out Luther had died.
JJ describes Jim Crockett Sr. as the archetypal Southern Gentleman, but was never ostentatious because he thought it would be disrespectful to the people paying to see his shows each week. He had Leo Burke and Bobby Kay down from the Maritimes one time and they took JJ back up as a main event cowardly heel for them (instead of the big monsters they’d had before), with Mr. Crockett giving him a loan to get up there. He made more money than before and it increased his value overall. He had a great relationship with him and it was big news in Charlotte when Jim died.
JJ also developed a relationship with the Funks, so worked in Amarillo. He and Corny laugh about the occasion where JJ was asked to put over El Santo, who was in for a guest appearance, and not being happy about it. Normally, he didn’t have an ego about who he was asked to wrestle, but he’d met him in the car on the way to the show and he looked like a little old man at this point. As he was involved in programmes he didn’t want to hurt his value and didn’t appreciate the historical significance of wrestling him. Reluctantly, he put him over.
Talk moves to Florida. He’d been in a heavy programme with Karl Kox and had just been beaten by him in a cage match when Blackjack Mulligan came out and threw black ink in Kox’s eyes, which gave them a lot of heat. On the way to the back a teenager ran down and kicked Mulligan in the gut. Blackjack slammed him twice on the floor, with blood coming out of both nostrils and ears, causing a lawsuit. It was advised that JJ get out of the territory to avoid litigation too.
JJ teamed with Bobby Shane, who was the booker. Buddy Colt took Shane, Austin Idol and Gary Hart in his plane one night to cut down on some driving time. The weather changed abruptly and the plane crashed, injuring Idol and Hart badly, ending Colt’s career, and killing Shane. JJ and Bob Roop and Dick Murdoch and others arrived on the scene to recover them alongside the emergency services. Shane was still strapped into his seat inside the plane, under the water, but probably died on impact as opposed to drowning to death. Divers released him and his corpse just floated out of the seat when they cut the seat belt.
Eddie Graham probably had the biggest influence on JJ over anyone else, especially booking finishes and developing psychology and angles. For example, if he used manager interference it would be from something very quick, rather than the manager grabbing the referee for five minutes while the heel did something behind his back.
Paul Boesch in Houston wasn’t a big fan of him, so he had to wrestle a bear and a retired Boesch in a bathtub match (bathtub in the ring full of water, taking bumps into the water). JJ had transitioned into being a manager for the Mongolian Stomper after Bearcat Wright beat the shit out of a fan in Memphis who had tried to attack him and had to leave town. Corny was actually a photographer at ringside for the event and had pictures subpoenaed as evidence. Stomper was flighty and left Houston for Stampede, so JJ was the spare manager and had to go through angles with Boesch. Boesch didn’t like him wrestling like a wrestler still, so he had to adjust to wrestling like a manager.
JJ managed to get work wherever he went, including Australia, Japan, Germany, and Kansas City as a booker when there wasn’t a lot of talent there. Eddie Graham was in the process of sorting something out for him and he was constantly having to call him back while working in Calgary. Jim Neidhart was driving the van and was getting up to mischief, so everyone was winding him up and getting him to think that he was calling up Stu to report him. The job was that booking job for Bob Geigel. Corny teases him about having such great talent to work with such as Rufus R. Jones, Bulldog Bob Brown, Bob Sweetan, a rookie Terry Taylor… He was the booker when Dusty Rhodes won the NWA championship in ’81, although it happened around him not because of him.
A brief discussion of Australia takes in it being quite dilapidated from the Jim Barnett days a decade prior, and Waldo Von Erich managed to cause trouble by using a sandbag as a foreign object, shutting down the TV. Corny remarks on him having a habit of killing territories (Waldo told a joke in Buffalo of “What’s the difference between a Jew and an apple? An apple doesn’t scream when you put it in the oven.”).
JJ talks about the headaches of trying to book with limited talent in Kansas City even with a lot of patience, because TV was developing ahead of the nature of the territory. Geigel thought you just needed to book hot angles when things started getting tough, but the real issue was that he was wanting to send the same tape around the territory for three weeks when people in the week three area had already found out on TV what had happened two weeks before. His crack technology and distribution system was sending the tapes out in a shopping trolley on a Greyhound bus.
Better booking days were ahead in Florida with Dusty Rhodes, but he was also doing promos for Kamala in Memphis via tape. Kamala was intended as the Memphis version of Kendo Nagasaki. They did an angle with Jimmy Hart managing his enemy Jerry Lawler against Dillon because he was annoyed that another heel manager was trying to step on his turf.
JJ tried to start a small promotion in Canada with some Florida tapes to promote stars in the territory, but the TV fell through, so he called up Dusty Rhodes who was on the way to Charlotte, which got him hired as a manager there and as Dusty’s assistant. Initially it was just with Ron Bass and Black Bart, which was OK, but the Four Horsemen was the thing with him that went through the roof.
Both Jim and JJ bemoan scripted promos and talk about how ad libbed promos like Arn making his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse analogy led to years of success. Dusty’s direction would be no more than “Cornette, you’ve got two minutes, tell me why I wanna see the Rock ‘n’ Rolls wrestle the Midnight Express”. Jim’s promos were very different to JJ’s.
Ole was in the first version of the Horsemen, but was replaced by Lex Luger, the first guy to get a contract ($350,000 per annum) to much resentment and the knowledge of having been in the cage incident with Bruiser Brody. The Horsemen welcomed him in so they could groom him. Barry Windham was far better, though. That was JJ’s favourite version.
Financial problems in ’88 led to Jim Crockett selling to Ted Turner. JJ was working in the office and as talent seven days a week. Everything happened so quickly and got too big to handle. Buying the UWF complicated things as well, plus David and Frances felt in distant second place to Jim. Dusty had his grand dreams of making “major motion pictures and sitcoms” while not having any fiscal responsibility. JJ had been burnt already on getting a financial involvement after buying 5% of Florida from Buddy Colt for $3,000 “and when I think about what I could have done now with that three grand instead…”. Add in the UWF invasion being botched as well.
One day, accountant Dave Johnson went into Jim Crockett and said they needed a million dollars to cover expenses, which they got. A week later, he needed another million dollars and Crockett started panicking over why. Corny recalls Sandy Scott telling him that Dave went in the office and came out white as a sheet, followed thirty seconds later by Jimmy even whiter. That led to the sale to Turner.
Everyone was somewhat optimistic that the Turner backing would improve things. Turner had bad blood with Vince McMahon from their ’84 incident, so was determined to show him he meant business. There were a lot of discussions with the crew about wider promotion of the show, but promises that there would be no interference in the creative process were quickly broken. Corny zeroes in on Jim Herd as the cause of the NWA/WCW heading down the tubes. Although he had most recently been a Pizza Hut executive, he had a prior link with Sam Muchnick in St. Louis, which was enough qualification for TBS.
JJ left the NWA in early ’89 after getting a bad feeling about things like Herd and George Scott replacing Dusty Rhodes as the booker. Tully and Arn were already gone after a fallout with Dusty and management and Tully called JJ to come to the WWF in creative because things were getting too much for Vince and Pat to handle alone. JJ made the call to Terry Garvin, who despite his issues he was good friends with. He and his wife went for a “shopping trip” to New York to have a stealth meeting with Vince. Corny talks about his similar experience in ’86. Vince would push the boat out for potential recruits, then when you were there you were getting McDonald’s meals and a taxi cab. A price was agreed and JJ went up in January, moving to just creative and not being on screen.
Corny, who was later on the creative team, talks about how demanding Vince is as a boss at times, which JJ managed to live with for seven years. Vince had a far more organised and professional infrastructure and paid a lot of attention to detail. He didn’t take any time off, though, and resented anyone not being “as passionate” about the business as he was. Bruce Prichard was called back from vacation one time to be fired, for instance. Jim Ross also got similar treatment.
Vince was also spreading himself thin with No Holds Barred and other projects, so booking was done on the weekend for hours on end, by the pool in the summer and in the dining room when it was cold. You’d have to eat where Vince wanted to go and eat what Vince liked. Vince also had to swear to his father to keep certain people he liked in a job for life, but the guys he brought in he would hire and fire repeatedly and keep them on their toes all the time regardless of their loyalty. JJ thinks Vince got some perverse pleasure out of building people up and then knocking them down. Pat Patterson was the only person who truly mastered how to agree to disagree with Vince. Vince said he didn’t want yes-men, but hated when people disagreed with him.
Jerry Jarrett was brought in to help out in the nineties and didn’t master the same level of diplomacy as Pat. Bruce Prichard got some of Pat’s methods from him, but it was mostly just knowing what things not to pitch to Vince or challenge him on. Vince worked backwards from WrestleMania for the year with the match he had in mind on top. There would be a lot of brainstorming that would go nowhere because of either injuries or firings or whatever.
Also, Vince liked to have his inner circle around him at all times, which meant you couldn’t do anything without waiting for Vince to say to come over. Pat was free much more of the time because he was gay and had no children, so he’d be ready to go over to Vince’s any time. JJ had a wife and kids, so he wanted to make the most of his free time, and would feel judged for it if he got called in.
Vince would also live by his own rules, as Corny recalls. A diverted plane due to bad weather saw Vince knocking on the pilot’s door for an explanation. He’d also drive like a maniac at all times. JJ had a son with cerebral palsy late in life and realised the importance of being there with him and didn’t want to end up wrapped around a telephone pole because of Vince’s stupidity, so moved to riding with Howard Finkel who was far safer and quieter. Vince would then call him in for a meeting and ask in a snotty fashion “You don’t like Vince any more?”. JJ would ask him if he wanted the truth and Vince would insist “By all means!”, so he gave him the truth, which didn’t go well.
JJ didn’t have the financial independence that Pat and Gerry Brisco had, so being straight with Vince had far greater consequences for him that it did for them. JJ went by whether he could look himself in the mirror and considers that he didn’t hurt people like Howard Finkel, who was teased by Vince and co.
Corny leads into saying he didn’t know the real reason why JJ quit the WWF abruptly other than the version Bruce told him, which was the WWF version of the story because presumably Bruce thinks Vince has his house bugged. Corny says Bruce lied to him on this one and a lot of other times despite being his friend. He had the impression that JJ was the heel in the situation and really couldn’t believe it for a long time. So, JJ tells it.
The steroid investigation was held and Vince really thought he was going to be sent down regardless of being in the right or wrong, just to make an example out of him. Jerry Jarrett was brought in to help keep the company afloat if that happened, with Vince envisioning JJ and Pat coming to prison with paperwork to do booking over the prison phones. Luckily for him, he was found innocent, negating the need for Jerry to be there any more. Cuts began to be made to pay the legal fees.
After the steroid trial, the “wrestling” executives got their salaries cut in a big way while the “non-wrestling” executives didn’t. Lord Alfred Hayes quit the company immediately in response. Vince had also insisted on JJ getting a house in Stamford, which was really expensive. This cut made it difficult for him to afford the house any more even with a loan. He and his wife put it up for sale in secret with the idea of as soon as it was sold they would get out of town. His opinion of Vince had drastically changed because his children could’ve ended up on the streets. He ended up taking a $50,000 loss on the house, but an insurance payout on a burst boiler helped make up a bit of the difference.
JJ, as the precursor to Jim Ross as VP of Talent Relations, was having to keep a game face every day while organising his own departure and hoping nobody found out. They managed to close the house sale on Friday the 13th of September, 1996, the weekend that Shane McMahon was getting married, which Corny adds was also mentioned by Bruce as part of JJ’s evil plot, to go to the newspapers and dish the dirt on the family.
JJ went in that day to give in his written notice, with the wife tying everything up with the lawyers and everything in a moving van and rental car, with $20,000 in the wife’s purse. JJ had a meeting with Vince in his office. That led to a conversation for two hours with Vince. There was a false rumour later that he had a job lined up with WCW, which he didn’t at the time. Vince couldn’t really believe he was actually quitting on him. JJ had been discretely clearing out his office for days, so just had to remove a box of stuff before going, which Vince’s secretary Priscilla helped him down to the car with. He gave a copy of his resignation letter and keys to HR. Vince was trying to nice guy him on the way out, rushing down to the car park to get him back, but he was too late. Legal action was later threatened in regards to if he ever spoke about the steroid programme, for instance.
Corny promises a part two about the WCW years, which never came, with both pairs of feet on Vince Russo. One more plug for the book, then they’re out at just over three hours.
The Bottom Line: A bit slow to start, although punctuated by some wrestler death stories, before they get to the awesome WWF stories in the last hour, both getting a lot off their chest about life with Vince McMahon, and that’s before he REALLY went mental in the last twenty years. JJ came back to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and Corny made himself available to WWE for some other projects, but you can tell they were both glad to be fully out of there.