To wrestling fans, Morton Downey, Jr. is best known for his Wrestlecrap-inducted appearance on Piper’s Pit at Wrestlemania V. For those Wrestlecrappers (like myself) who are too young to remember Mr. Downey, he was one of the original “shock jocks” of the radio. (He would also be the namesake of a boss in Nintendo’s Super Mario World: Morton Koopa, Jr.)
After getting kicked off the air, he landed a television show creatively titled, The Morton Downey, Jr. Show, which may be best described as a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Springer in which the brash, chain-smoking host would join in with audience members in relentlessly berating his guests for an hour.
Perhaps no episode exemplifies the lunacy of the program better than the 1989 episode about professional wrestling. The show’s main guest, a former wrestler named Jim Wilson, claims that he was blacklisted by wrestling promoters after refusing the sexual advances of his boss (allegedly NWA promoter Jim Barnett). Among his shocking allegations is the rumor that wrestling is (get this!) fake, and that the matches are pre-determined. This would come as a shock to approximately no one in 1989, except for about 100 people, all of whom happen to be in the audience for today’s show.
Squaring off against Wilson is the industry’s most credible spokesman, David Schultz. Schultz, if you might recall, gained infamy (and a pink slip from Vince McMahon) for slapping ABC reporter John Stossel, who was producing an exposé of the wresting business for 20/20 (a report that also featured none other than Jim Wilson).
Dr. D immediately goes on the offensive against Wilson, saying that he never had any promoter want to “make love” to him because he always “had plenty of women” (unlike, say, Hulk Hogan). He accuses Wilson of being a liar and a publicity hound and then, in a great bit of kayfabe logic, blasts the guest for never having beaten anybody in the ring.
This sets off the studio audience, who goes into a frenzy against Wilson.
As you can tell, this episode deals with topics for mature audiences only, but unfortunately, Morton doesn’t have one.
As Wilson tries to explain himself, Schultz repeatedly shouts out such pertinent questions as “Are you gay?”, “Did you kiss him?”, and “Did he say ‘hooker’ [instead of ‘booker’]”?, drawing laughter from the studio audience.
It’s a rather partisan crowd, is what I’m saying.
Wilson starts to explain the “blade job.” Downey quips, “I’m glad he said ‘blade’, ’cause after your first thing, I was wondering what kind of a ‘job’ it was.” Morton’s referring to sex acts, folks.
Wilson says that his booker had wanted him to blade, but before he gets a sentence out, Schultz interjects once again:
“I know what a booker is, I know what a fool is, I know what a liar is, and a goof, and you’re a liar and a goof, and I don’t think you can rassle and you never could!”
Anyway, Jim says that he refused to use a razor blade to make himself bleed, leading Schultz to tell him that he could make Wilson bleed without a razor as he is drowned out by more applause. You’d think that such diehard wrestling fans would already know about blading, but they don’t know the secrets!
He then accuses Wilson and fellow kayfabe-breaker Eddie Mansfield (whose name is bleeped out) of being gay lovers, telling Jim to move to the West Coast so he can hold hands with whomever he wants. In the wrestling ring, says Schultz, “they’ll tie your head up and stick it up your behind and send you on your way.”
Nope, there’s nothing gay about wrestling.
A promoter steps up to the podium and asks the audience if Wilson’s accusations will “stop youse people from going?” “Noooo,” he answers himself, “so what are you tryin’ to prove?”
(The argument of “If wrestling is fake, how come it makes so much money!?” will be a common refrain on this program).
Up next, we get another guest from the wrestling world who literally phones it in, none other than Paul E. Dangerously (who is curiously labeled a “pro-wrestler”). Paul says that the reason Jim Wilson was blackballed was that “he was such a loser, he never drew a dime in his life and nobody wanted to pay to see him.”
Paul E. at least has the foresight here not to out-and-out claim that wrestling is real.
After more witty banter by Downey about how his guest isn’t sexually attractive enough to warrant his promoter’s advances, the host promises to bring out, and I quote, “The World’s Strangest Man.”
Yes, you read that right (even if Morton didn’t). World’s Strangest Man.
Our host is referring to Ted Arcidi, the so-called world’s strongest man. It’s too bad Morton didn’t invite Joan Rivers on the show so she could introduce “Ace Comedy and Funny Man, Bob Orton” like she did at Wrestlemania II.
Before we get to the very strange Ted Arcidi, we hear from Claude “Thunderbolt” Patterson, who complains that he never got to be world champion because he was black.
Patterson and Schultz then get into a shouting match, with Dr. D mentioning something about Terry Funk beating Patterson in Atlanta. According to kayfabe logic, remember, the fact that white wrestlers always beat black wrestlers is proof that African-Americans aren’t discriminated against. Claude, who is willing to accuse wrestling of being racist but not of being fake, has no answer to this.
Meanwhile, Jim Wilson sits there wondering what he’s gotten himself into.
Ted Arcidi, who would soon go on to prove Dangerously’s theory about people who can’t draw money, chimes in to defend David Schultz for paying his dues. If anyone knows about the wrestling business and paying one’s dues, it’s Ted Arcidi, who was hired by Vince McMahon because he was really, really muscular.
Patterson and Schultz then argue over who made less money, with Patterson claiming to have wrestled for $15 and Schultz one-upping him (or is it one-downing him?) by claiming to have wrestled for five bucks. “Well I worked for nothin’!” retorts Patterson.
Arcidi then explains how the wrestling business does not discriminate against black people, citing Tony Atlas (the future Saba Simba), SD Jones (the jobber who was squashed by King Kong Bundy in “9 seconds”), and Rocky Johnson, then tells Claude Patterson that he should have paid more attention in school. Amen. I myself always got A’s in pro wrestling history in high school.
Patterson responds by saying that those men only got famous by serving the white man. Preposterous. Rocky Johnson is not world-famous today because he was an “Uncle Tom.” No, he’s world-famous today because his son Dwayne became The Rock.
A former tag team partner of Captain Lou Albano (Tony Altimore) just happens to be in the audience. He interrupts the enlightening debate to say that he once shook “Thunderbolt’s” hand and didn’t care whether he was “black, green, yellow, orange, or whatever color you might be.” Quick, somebody pair this guy up with Jeff Hardy.
Captain Lou Albano is on the set next to disagree with the “half-wit” Jim Wilson, insisting that he has never used a blade to cut his face.
Video evidence on Youtube tends to disagree…
He also denies ever having lost a fixed match, much like he would do on Fox television while hooked up to a lie detector. He must have gotten amnesia, though, when he wrote about wrestling being a work throughout The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wrestling (this same dementia could be responsible for his claims that The Rock calls himself “Rocky Melvin” or that Owen Hart’s finisher was the dropkick).At this point, we get the first good camera pan on the audience, which includes a masked man and a Bubba Rogers impersonator in a Hawaiian shirt.
In a brief return to sanity, Jim Wilson starts to talk about money in wrestling, with the wrestlers themselves receiving only a small fraction of the money they make for the promoters.
Again, about one sentence into his speech, he gets interrupted by David Schultz, who asks if he wants a handout.
Capt. Lou says that, sure, it would be nice for wrestlers to be compensated for hospital bills, but there’s money to be made in wrestling, and Bruno Sammartino drew money and he was Italian and Albano was Italian but never drew money as a wrestler because he wasn’t any good but then he started managing and he was good at that and drew money so there’s no discrimination in wrestling.
Got all that? If not, Lou will repeat that spiel a few more times throughout the show, whether it has anything to do with the subject at hand or not.
Morton asks Lou point-blank if the wrestlers know who’s going to win before the match. Lou lies point-blank.
He will admit, however, to the practice of “overmatching,” where wrestlers of vastly different skill levels are paired up against each other so that the outcome is obvious. “You never see a Hulk Hogan against a Ric Flair,” he says. Well, aside from the fact that they were working for different promotions, and that they have wrestled countless times since then, that’s about as honest a kayfabe answer as we’re going to get on this show.
David Schultz takes this as an opportunity to explain that he can beat Jim Wilson any time without a booker predetermining the outcome. Thank you, Dave. I didn’t hear you the first five times.
Up next, we have Mrs. Lou Albano, who testifies that her husband has often come home injured, therefore wrestling is real.
Just like how Brandon Lee was killed in an accident on the set of The Crow, therefore movies are real.
Captain Lou makes a passionate argument about how wrestling can’t be fake, because 150,000 people a month call his hotline (1-900-909-4LOU). Explain that, smart guy!
Wilson, says Lou, is a “half-wit moron with the brain of a dehydrated BB,” which is the Captain’s stock insult. In fact, he would call Bobby Heenan that twice in a single segment of Monday Night Raw.
Jim Wilson then quotes Vince McMahon before our gracious host Morton Downey interrupts him, telling him to hurry up. Vince is quoted by the Associated Press (supposedly, says Downey) as saying, “If they really did the things it looks like they’re doing to each other, there would be a lot of dead wrestlers.” (Wow, that quote is really harsh in hindsight)
Captain Lou’s ex-partner Altimore storms the stage to call Wilson a liar. Lou comes to the rescue, explaining that Vince didn’t really mean what he said, and that he really meant that there is a certain element of showmanship and that the WWF has the top athletes of the day and the greatest wrestlers, et cetera, et cetera.
Lou could talk himself out of a jam better than Rocky Melvin himself.
Schultz continues berating Jim for whining, saying that he himself was kicked out of the WWF, but you don’t hear him crying about it.
Well, we do hear him crying right now, but regardless, given the popularity of the film The Wrestler, it is baffling to the modern wrestling viewer to see how far Schultz will go to protect his old business at the expense of health insurance and a comfortable retirement.
Schultz jumps up and calls Wilson a “piece of sh**” multiple times before our host tells him to calm down. Give Dave a break, Morton! It was either that, or let wrestling look bad.
Our next entrant into the three-ring circus (the three rings being homophobia, racism, and kayfabe) is “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe, wrestling trainer. He says that if there were a union in wrestling, people like Wilson and Claude “Thunderbolt” Patterson would never make it because they can’t wrestle. Don’t think too hard about that one, please, lest your brain tie itself into a pretzel.
Sharpe then cries reverse-discrimination because Tony Atlas got pushed because he was black and he didn’t because he was white.
Now, I’m not going to defend the wrestling ability of Tony Atlas, but take a look at Larry Sharpe:
Then take a look at Tony Atlas.
Call me naïve, but perhaps there were reasons besides skin color that one man was pushed over the other.
Thunderbolt, unwilling to let the other side hog all the boneheaded views on race, says that Tony Atlas only got pushed by white promoters because he was “their boy.” At least I’m hoping that he’s talking about race, and not about Jim Wilson’s allegations of why wrestlers get pushed and buried…
The meeting of the minds continues as Sharpe claims that only 1% of people who try out at his wrestling school are black because they lack guts and “intestinal fortitude.” Again, there’s no racism in wrestling, people.
Let’s not overlook this gem by Schultz: “I was watching basketball the other night, I didn’t see a white man on the court!” Thank you, Dave. Next thing you know, some wannabe basketball player is going to come on the show claiming that the Harlem Globetrotters’ games are fixed!
Then Dave jumps out of his seat and says the following: “You’re black! You’re black! You don’t wanna work! You don’t wanna work!” No, I’m not kidding.
As the debate of the century draws to a close, we get questions from the audience. The first question is for Jim Wilson, wondering why he didn’t make these accusations until after he had wrestled thousands of matches, instead of, say, ten matches. This question comes after every other guest on the show writing off Wilson because he wasn’t a successful wrestler.
Naturally, Captain Lou responds by mentioning that wrestlers raised $29 million dollars for multiple sclerosis. Thanks, Captain.
Ted Arcidi then asks the audience if any of them would pay ten bucks to see Claude “Thunderbolt” Patterson wrestle. Yes, that’s Ted Arcidi lecturing a wrestler about “drawing power.”
Remember all those great Ted Arcidi main events at Madison Square Garden? You don’t? Well, that’s mighty strange (although not nearly as strange as Ted).
Our next question comes from a guy with a mullet, mustache, and sunglasses who may or may not be Rob Bartlett (I’m kidding of course; this fan appears to have seen a pro wrestling match before). Well, it’s not so much of a question as a condemnation of “Thunderbolt” Patterson for not staying in the business and proving that there could be a black world champion. You know, because wrestling is real.
“Dr. King would roll over in his grave,” says the fan, exactly seven seconds after calling the African-American guest, “boy.”
Finally, a fan asks Lou why Las Vegas doesn’t take bets on wrestling matches if they’re real.
Lou says that it’s because the promoters “overmatch.”
Ted Arcidi says that Vegas took bets on the Hogan-Andre match. I doubt that, but keep in mind that this is the same city that gambled on an XFL franchise.
In our closing segment, Jim Wilson shows a picture of Jimmy Carter putting Mr. Wrestling II in a headlock, which Wilson uses as a pretty lame metaphor for the unmasking of the politics of pro wrestling. If you’re unmasking politics, shouldn’t Jimmy Carter be the one wearing the mask?Doctor D, who has come off like a Klansman on this show, makes a final plea that he’s not racist at all, saying that as a bounty hunter, he picks up criminals who are white, just like he picks up “the black man, the Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, I don’t care!”As Lou and Schultz yell at each other to close the show, Downey shrugs his shoulders and says, “You gotta love ’em. Doesn’t matter whether it’s real or fake. At least in the world of wrestling, unlike the world we live in, the bad guys aren’t killing anyone!” Make your own tasteless jokes here.
It’s kind of amazing that a show about homosexuality in wrestling featured a guest named “Patterson” who wasn’t Pat. Likewise, it talked about being paid to take dives and had a guest named “Sharpe” who wasn’t Iron Mike.
Moreover, this show provides a fascinating view of the wrestling industry dragging its heels into the era of “sports-entertainment” and openness about the nature of the business. Despite Vince McMahon all but admitting that the sport is fixed, even using that fact to get the WWF deregulated by athletic commissions, there were still holdouts from a bygone era who went to great personal expense to protect the business. Claude Peterson tried to make the case that promoters are racist, but he wasn’t willing to break kayfabe and admit that all the matches are predetermined. David Schultz assaulted a reporter and got fired by the WWF in order to protect the business, then lashed out against the idea of a wrestlers’ union (which could have saved his job) because the man suggesting it also said that wresting was fake. Neither man could make any more money in the wrestling business, yet they still would not fess up that it was staged. Ultimately, by trying to “protect” the business, they made it seem like it was filled with a bunch of genuinely unpleasant, violent racists and homophobes. What is most insane about this entire spectacle is that we now know for a fact that every single participant, from Captain Lou who wrote a crappy book that still broke kayfabe, to Morton Downey himself, who would be sprayed down with a fire extinguisher just a few months later by Roddy Piper, was absolutely lying about the sport that they argued so passionately about.
You’ve got to wonder, though, how a show could attract a studio audience where all but a few people were true believers in the sport of wrestling.