Old School with Lars Anderson (hosted by Steve Corino)

As I’m sure many of you have, I gave the new show Young Rock (such a bad title!) a look. Almost immediately it started getting my back up (“Look, ma! Dad’s really over!”) but I gave it a bit longer. The third episode seemed a bit more promising because it didn’t include the goofy Asian reporter, but instead it had the goofy blonde assistant, and I really don’t have that much interest in the aspiring singing career of Ata Maivia, so I’m out.

As that third episode focused on the Hawaii promotional war, from a far more fictitious perspective, I recalled that Steve Corino interviewed main star and booker Lars Anderson a few years ago, with stories that painted Lia Maivia as less likely to have a dog full of tumours and more likely to have attack dogs on guard, so I’m going to look at that today.

Corino introduces Lars and talks about how Ole was supposed to be with them, but he’s not there and he’s far too grumpy for them to call him on it.

Lars wasn’t a fan of wrestling growing up in Minnesota, but wrestled in college. He was aware of Verne Gagne as a star and was friends with Buddy Wolfe while doing his masters degree in psychology, so with money not coming in as he’d hoped he went to train with Verne.

He and Steve take a detour to talk about their Finnish relations (Lars is really called Larry Heiniemi) and Steve was married to a Finnish lady at one point.

Lars got on with Verne fine even though he knew he had an ego. Verne punched a martial artist one time in the training school who said wrestling was bullshit.

Gene Anderson and Eddie Sharkey helped Lars get the fundamentals down of stuff like bumping. Early days saw him crawling around on his hands and knees with how hard the bumps were in the tough rings. It took about three months during the summer to train. They smartened him up about six weeks in.

He debuted in the AWA and was pushed early with a focus on his college background. Stars like John Tolos were brought in to put him over on spot shows and were pissed off about it. The pay was pretty decent too and he was paid on the house.

Gene talked him into moving out of Minnesota and becoming an Anderson with him, so they got booked out with Nick Gulas in Tennessee “which was a wonderful experience(!)”. Gene was skilled but had never gotten over, so he latched onto him. The pay was so poor that Lars was relying on making money on trans (driving other guys around). He was maxing out his credit card until he called Verne and he got them booked with the Crocketts in ’66.

Charlotte was a tag team territory so the Andersons were pushed against Boris Malenko and Larry Hamilton. Then to Atlanta, where they really got over, so the money was back up to the level of what he was making in Minnesota. It made life easier for his young family, they were comfortable.

Lars knew Ole from his college days when he played football in Colorado. They had a little bit of conflict when they were younger during an amateur wrestling match but got past it. Ole went into the army and then got into wrestling because he was a fan and imitator of the Crusher. Lars suggested making him the third Anderson in 1968. They christened him Ole because it was a Scandinavian name, Swedish specifically, and he and Steve laugh about the antipathy between the Finns and the Swedes.

Lars brings up Luther Lindsay, who Jim Crockett Sr. would complain wasn’t “black enough” because he was college-educated, and Sailor Art Thomas being a team that Ole was brought in as a surprise to triple-team. They’d be backed up by another babyface, leading to a long series of sellouts in the territory with six-man tag matches on top. Steve remarks on how impressive Thomas was physically as one of the first bodybuilders in wrestling when that wasn’t common.

Norfolk and Raleigh were the best towns for weekly shows, with sellouts for six months at one point. Lars, while not originally a fan, learned how to be creative and realised they were doing a lot of business. He credits Bronko Lubich as someone who really educated him.

Lars returned to Minnesota in ’69 because he was bored of tag matches and wanted to become a singles wrestler again. One of his first matches back was proposed to be with a bear, which he told them to fuck off with, so they kept him off the cards a bit longer and then programmed him with Bill Watts. He was there for a year and a half, then off to Australia, where Jim Barnett was promoting.

Lars really liked Australia and stayed there for three months. TV was in Sydney on Saturday, then Melbourne on Sunday, then places like Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, plus Hong Kong once a month. Corino remarks on how big Australia is, so that means a lot of travelling. The office was very organised with plane tickets and transportation, so that made life easier.

He talks about how Brisbane had the biggest, hardest rings and a hot ring, but the hotel they stayed at did awesome steaks and ice cold beers, so he’d think of that while taking the tough bumps. Dick Murdoch was his tag team partner and very changeable from night to night, so they couldn’t gel as well as he had with Gene. Plus Lars was naturally a bit distant, which he puts down to his heritage, so he couldn’t get into the silliness with the other boys. Australia was a bit more behind America and more akin to Europe with the different population groups.

Next, to Japan. Prompted by Steve, Lars said he didn’t really notice any racism or hatred towards Americans, in fact the only place he did was Hawaii. He was there before Baba and Inoki split. The Japanese wrestlers were very stiff. Ohki Kintaro tried him out one time by going for his knee, so he shot back and Ernie Ladd and Giant Baba were holding the two of them back.

Next trip there, Kintaro was running a tour in Seoul. Both he and Bob Roop were asked to be part of it. The Korean audience was a lot more heated than the Japanese audience, so that led to some riots.

Back to the US, with a stop in Minnesota before heading down to San Francisco. He enjoyed living and working there and set up a cabin and had some hobbies like skiing and dirt-biking. Roy Shire was a little dictator as the booker/promoter. Lars was matched against Pat Patterson but couldn’t have good matches with him, which he implies was because he wasn’t comfortable around him because of his sexuality. Corino presses a bit on that and Lars says everybody in the business knew he was gay even though it wasn’t common knowledge. Lars just couldn’t click with him in singles matches.

Minnesota was always a go-to territory for him between shots. He divorced his first wife and had a new girlfriend so got out of wrestling and began a t-shirt and screen printing business early on in that business. He set up stores all over the country via franchises. His retirement was from ’72 to ’76.

Upon his return, he realised money was to be made from promoting. He was making money off printing t-shirts for wrestling companies too. Georgia was the first place he went to and tried to run. He also tried to run Cobo Hall with the Sheik but thought he was really unprofessional, so quit working with him. Ole warned him that he’d made himself unemployable by falling out with him, but then Johnny Valentine got injured in the plane crash and they needed a replacement. He talks about how he and Ole had serious differences of opinion at times and that “he’s full of bullshit”, but they still get along.

Replacing Johnny Valentine meant adopting a style close to his, which meant long, pounding matches. Eventually he got over with the crowd with that style. Then, down to Florida, continuing that, and also pushing the t-shirt business, which he managed to sign up all of the major names for except for Dusty Rhodes. Then they had a match in St. Petersburg and he really pushed Dusty to go long, close to an hour, to the point where Dusty relented and signed up with him as long as they had shorter matches. Lars then balked at doing a job for someone, possibly Don Muraco, so Johnny Valentine, who was booking Florida at that point, had to let him go.

Jim Barnett took issue to him selling t-shirts in the Omni, but Lars reminded him he’d established a contract with the wrestlers and the building, so he couldn’t do anything about him. His daughter would work in the concession stand for him. This led to him working in opposition of Barnett and Ole. That stretched out from Georgia to Ohio and to the West Indies, with them making decent money because it was a lot of wrestling school talent on the shows, so they were paid not much.

Talk turns again to the fractious relationship with Ole and their ongoing personality conflict. Corino jokes that it’s a good job he’s not there after all as things might get a little salty. Lars: “Nah, we’re OK, we both know he’s an asshole.”

Lars comments on how Jim Barnett was a perfectionist, while Ole was much more “That’ll just do”, so it wasn’t a shock that they fell out in the end.

First trip to Hawaii was in late 1982 following a tour in Winnipeg. Peter Maivia had passed away and Lars wanted a change from the ice and snow, so he was in Hawaii to co-promote a fortnight later. The business was totally down and all they had was Samoans (no JYD or Rocky Johnson or Andre the Giant or Iron Sheik, guys!). They had TV, but it wasn’t worth much and they were just showing old tapes. Lars went to the TV stations and sold them on a new studio show with the tapes cycled round. He jokes about how his previous Georgia promotion was called World League Wrestling, which Harley took years later and claimed he didn’t know had originally belonged to Lars, even though he worked for him.

Lars started bringing guys in from the mainland. It would cost a small fortune, but they had to pop the territory. There were also Japanese guys brought in too. They extended to California, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. He faced a bit of racism being “a Caucasian, sitting in a high chief’s chair, telling a bunch of Samoans that they didn’t know what the fuck they were doing”. They’d ask what he thought he knew about anything, and he’d argue back with them, and they didn’t like white people to begin with, who were considered the lowest level of people there.

They had plans of using Aloha Stadium to broadcast wrestling shows worldwide, but it never came off. He had a run there from 1983 to 1986 “when I ended up in the hospital”. Corino asks what led to that, and Lars drops the bombshell – they tried to kill him! The “they” in this case were a stockholder and employee of Lia Maivia, who hit him from behind, which meant he was in the hospital to get stitched up. Lars had built up the business and had big plans for marketing, which Maivia and her guys took issue with, so they hit him out of nowhere.

They had a meeting after he came out of the hospital and agreed they couldn’t work together any more, so Lars set up an opposition company. He was scared and very cautious, but went ahead with it. His smaller promotion, which mostly consisted of fundraisers with some TV on public access TV, ran for about two years. He spent his time looking over his shoulder, but the Maivia promotion struggled without him, so they reunited after a while.

Corino talks about how wrestling back in the day had a very mafia-like feel to it, except it was wrestling rather than organised crime (Lars: “Well, it was some organised crime too!”). Lars talks about how they start producing TV show and one of the commentators wanted to run his own show, which led to the final breakup of the company and heavy legal bills. Maivia had one of her referees threaten the commentator, but he made the mistake of leaving a message for him. The FBI got involved and had the commentator wired. He met with Maivia and Lars, where they questioned why he split off from them, and concluded with saying the commentator could use some of their guys for a booking fee. Maivia and Lars walked out of the office and had guns pulled on them and were arrested. Another stockholder was arrested too.

Lars sat in jail for a few days, then prison for a few days, then was let out and called back six months later for a trial that lasted thirteen weeks. “Little Jimmy Crockett” came over to testify against them, while Bob Geigel stood up for them. Geigel said that sometimes wrestling promoter meetings could be pretty tense to normalise what had been going on. Crockett had his own ulterior motive, wanting to run shows in Hawaii. Inevitably, Maivia and Lars were found not guilty.

Lars quit the wrestling business at that point and started selling cars in Hawaii for Acura. He became the top salesman in the business because it was just a case of working people, so he transferred his wrestling working skills to selling cars. He retired after 21 years and returned to the US. His son had an idea for vacuum sealed bags for the hydroponics industry, so they’re doing that and he enjoys it akin to the t-shirt business.

He doesn’t really watch wrestling any more, but had watched the WrestleMania where the Rock came back and was impressed from knowing him as a kid. He acknowledges that wrestling evolves and it’s different to when he wrestled with no hard feelings about it.

His favourite guy to wrestle was Bad News Allen because he was legit and had a good background.

He believes he was the best wrestler of the Andersons because he had the purest style.

Best money he made was in Minnesota.

He thinks he could’ve been the NWA world champion with his legit style, but it’s nothing that keeps him up at night.

He attends fan-fests because it’s nice to see some of the guys, especially with people like Ernie Ladd and Allen Coage passing away. It surprises him how many people come out.

Steve thanks him for joining him for the interview.

The Bottom Line: Lars has a very low tone, which is punctuated by the times where he’d just start dropping fuck and shit left, right and centre. He didn’t seem bitter or to take things too seriously and was quite dry. The Hawaii stuff, which you can Google and get different perspectives on, was dropped like a hand grenade and could’ve been far more deeply investigated, but I think Corino either wasn’t knowledgeable about it or, more likely, didn’t want to offend him by asking or challenging him about it.

Not that I’ll be watching, but it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a version of him in Young Rock. He certainly didn’t talk about the Rock like he was a guy, as the Rock claimed in his book, that threatened him as a teenager. Far worse wastes of 90 minutes than watching this.