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

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 said to be patterned after Gorgeous George.

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