Believe it or not, there was a time when Triple H was under-appreciated in the WWF. The man born Paul Michael Levesque was brought into the Federation under an embarrassing gimmick like a common grappler and not the King of Kings. That’s because, before he was Vince’s Only Begotten Son-In-Law, he was just another solid worker jobbing to Alex Wright in WCW as a Frenchman.
Thus, in the spring of 1995, the world was introduced to Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a “snob” gimmick that saw Levesque trade in his bad French accent for a bad British-ish accent. That’s not to say that the gimmick was meant to bury Helmsley from the get-go; pretty much everyone coming into the Federation at the time was saddled with a laughable gimmick, whether they were in line for a push (like Sparky Plugg, Double J, or Adam Bomb) or simply meant to fill out the undercard (like Mantaur, Rad Radford, or Man Mountain Rock, to name a few). Come to think of it, there was little correlation at all between the stupidity of one’s gimmick and the level of success one was meant to achieve.
Unlike, say Mantaur, Helmsley’s gimmick was supposedly a personal dig by Vince McMahon against his snobby neighbors in Greenwich, Connecticut (unless said neighbors actually did construct a labyrinth to imprison a part-man, part-bull creature, and there is no evidence to suggest they did). See, to get back at the snooty “old rich” who stuck their noses up at Vince’s sports entertainment empire, McMahon created a hated character to ridicule the snobs, no doubt making the Greenwich aristocrats spit out the merlot they sipped from their wine glasses at live events or while watching WWF Superstars on Saturday mornings.
Truly, Vince had his finger on the pulse of wrestling fans, who hated people from Greenwich, Connecticut almost as much as they hated Ted Turner…
…and E. Stan Kroenke.
Levesque’s new name derived from famous rich folks. “Helmsley” came from Leona Helmsley, famous hotelier, “Queen of Mean,” and tax evader…
…while “Hearst” came from the famous newspaper family whose heiress Patty was abducted, brainwashed by militants, and turned into an evil degenerate.
As for the name, “Hunter,” that never struck me as a very highfalutin Christian name; maybe it was the fact that the only “Hunter” I knew at the time had a rat-tail, or that it was the name of one of Cletus’s kids on The Simpsons, but HHH’s first name always stuck out like a “protruding proboscis.” Then again, “Henry” was already taken by the WWF’s resident hog farmer, Henry Godwinn, while Hank, Herbert, Howard, Huey, or Harold wouldn’t have been any better than “Hunter.” But that’s just me; maybe you would have bought into “Harold Hearst Helmsley.”
The WWF presented HHH’s foppish persona with a series of vignettes taken from Hunter’s mansion, wherein he criticized the “riff raff” in the Federation — that is, when he bothered to grace us with his words at all, having refused comment in his first promo.
Hunter wore riding gear to the ring and waved off the lowly fans with his handkerchief…
…sometimes bringing a pipe with him, although this aspect of his gimmick was soon dropped. I’m guessing his Clique-mate The 123 Kid borrowed it and never gave it back.
And let’s not forget about that elegant vanity cane with the horse’s head. I think he called it “Lilian.”
In the ring, he would curtsy after hitting a big move or winning a match.
His finisher, of course, was the Pedigree, referring to his pure-bred lineage and not the dog food brand. (Now that would have been a gimmick! I’m thinking, “Alpo Montoya”)
Fans greeted the Blue Blood with the same warm welcome they’d give any other effete fancy boy. Namely, lots of limp wrists.
The WWF made sure to contrast Hunter with his opponents as much as possible, debuting him against the most slovenly jobber they could find, a certified piece of garbage (although that has more to do with all the sexual abuse Buck Zumhofe would commit than with his physical appearance).
To further drive home the complexity of Hunter’s gimmick, the WWF even sold a shirt with tips on “How to Be a Snob.” I say, “a” shirt because, near as I can tell, only one person ever bought it. Somebody in Titan Towers actually thought fans would hate the Connecticut Blue Blood strongly enough to wear this t-shirt in public and confuse everyone who saw it. Fat chance!
In between complaining about the one Christmas when all he got was a Bentley and how Jim Cornette’s clothing was “just ghastly,” the Blue Blood engaged in ready-made gimmick-based feuds with the hog farmer and the garbageman (but never the plumber, since the bond among the heel locker room was strong enough to overcome socio-economic prejudice). In such cases, Hunter displayed his arrogance, spraying the ring with what may have been the Rick Martel cologne of the same name.
These “class warfare” feuds led to the memorable hog pen match against Henry Godwinn, though not a dumpster match against Duke Droese (and I don’t even want to think about what kind of gimmick match they would have come up with for TL Hopper).
The only time HHH was able to show any genuine personality behind his dandy façade was when he snuck in the occasional reference to his sexual potency via jokes about the size of his “balls” and how he had pleasured Sable.
Otherwise, it was “for the love of polo” this and “civility” that. Puh-lease!
Perhaps to further remedy the perception that he was a bit — how shall I put this — light in the loafers (and gay), Hunter would eventually bring along a different gold-digger every week to watch his matches from ringside, leading to a feud with Mr. Perfect where Hennig would steal Helmsley’s valet and cost him the match due to the distraction… in every single match! As his New Age Outlaw buddy would say, “Welcome to the dog house!”
Helmsley would later famously join up with Shawn Michaels to form D-Generation X, where he was less likely to give Mantaur etiquette lessons and more likely to ask him for directions to the island of Lesbos.
Regardless, the stench of the old “Blue Blood” gimmick lingers to this day, with Levesque still going by the “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” name despite being a WWE executive, and still executing the “Pedigree” despite the fact that we all know his parents aren’t aristocrats.
Then again, now he really does live in Greenwich, Connecticut, is part of a wealthy and powerful family, and fancies himself royalty…
…so perhaps the HHH gimmick suits him better than ever.