Wrestling and Gorgeous George

Wrestling sign - Arena Park - General Sign CoWhen I saw this sign in the treasure trove of General Sign photos Terry Hopkins‘ dad loaned me, I immediately thought of going to wrestling matches at Arena Park with Dad.

The funny thing about it was that I thought I had memories of seeing Gorgeous George wrestling there. The only problem with that is that he died in 1963 at the age of 48. His last fight in Cape was in 1955, I can’t see Dad taking me to a wresting match when I was eight.

Cape matches

A Gorgeous George fan tried to list every fight George Raymond Wagner (his real name until he changed it the day after Christmas in 1950). Here is a list of his Cape bouts:

  • May 4, 1953 – Cape Girardeau, MO Red Roberts(sub for Gorgeous George) vs. Lester Welch
  • November 26, 1954 – Cape Girardeau, MO Joe Tangero beat Gorgeous George in a 2 of 3 falls match
  • November 18, 1955 – Cape Girardeau, MO Dick Hutton beat Gorgeous George in a 2 of 3 falls match

Joined WWE Hall of Fame in 2010

The WWE website has some bio information:

Born in 1915, George Wagner grew up poor in Nebraska during the Great Depression and turned to professional wrestling as a way to earn a living. Early in his career, Wagner was a normal, clean-cut grappler like most of the competitors of the era. Due to his small stature and limited abilities in the ring, he experienced little success. Then he got an idea.

Seeing an opportunity to bring more entertainment to the world of professional wrestling, George Wagner became Gorgeous George, a snooty, platinum blonde villain who draped himself in lace and fur and entered the ring to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Accompanied by a manservant who sprayed the ring down with Chanel perfume, George would enrage the audience just by walking into an arena. When the official would attempt to check George for foreign objects, he would recoil and shout, “Get your filthy hands off of me!”

While this behavior may seem tame by today’s standards, it was unheard of in the 1940s. Needless to say, audiences ate it up and bought tickets just to hate him. At the same time, televisions were becoming a fixture of American households during the post-World War II economic boom and professional wrestling was what everyone was watching. With his over-the-top antics and self-proclaimed nicknames like “The Beautiful Bicep” and “The Sensation of the Nation,” Gorgeous George quickly became the biggest attraction on this new medium. By the end of the decade, the man who grew up poor was now the highest paid athlete in the world.

High school wrestling

Helen Ketterer watching wrestlingI covered a Central High School wrestling match where mild-mannered Miss Helen Ketterer, let her wild out. It was a side I had never seen before.

You’re going to be shopping, right?

Everybody is all agog at the idea of getting up from the turkey table on Thanksgiving to fight the crowds for bargains. If you are more inclined to relax on the holiday and do your shopping on line, keep me in mind.
Buy From Amazon.com to Support Ken SteinhoffI encourage you to shop locally, but if you order from Amazon, click on the Big Red Button at the top left of the page (or this one) to get to Amazon. I’ll make about 6% on anything you purchase, and it won’t add a penny to your cost. There’s also a tiny yellow button that will allow you to make a donation to the site. You don’t even have to put a bow on it.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving if we don’t get together before then.

10 Replies to “Wrestling and Gorgeous George”

    1. Jesse the sign used to be right out in front to the Drive into the Area Park. The sign faced east off of KingsHighway…to you and catty corner across from Wimpy’s.

    2. Jesse, Terry is right. The sign is at the entrance to Arena Park at the intersection of Cape Rock Drive (Wimpy’s would have been behind the photographer).

      The street in the background is Maria Louise Lane.

  1. Well my Grandfather was great wrestling fan and rarely missed the fights or matches, as they were called, at the area in Cape. When he lived in Chicago Gorgeous George was regular on WGN or channel 9 for years. He was the guy everyone loved to hate. I watched him on TV many, many times and was ‘fan” which my grandfather did not understand, see George was a villain and not to be liked. I was just kid and Geroge was the fist of the anti-hero’s I guess. I don’t remember seeing him in Cape but I think I did see Haystack Calhoun at the area… BTW: nice sign too!

  2. Don’t forget the “Wrestling at the Chase” show from St. Louis that we watched in southern Indiana. In addition to Gorgeous George, they featured such talent as Dick the Bruiser, Handsome Harley Race and Gorilla Monsoon.

  3. Yes, Gorgeous George did wrestle in Cape, in the fieldhouse in Arena Park. My dad (and I seem to recall my grandpa being there, as well) took me to see the event. It was my first and only wrestling match.

  4. I’m sure I saw Gorgeous George! Being an only child my dad took me to wrestling matches and stock car races at Arena and I loved both of them. I remember the Welch brothers, I think they were from Caruthersville. My mother in law dated one of them! those were fun times…..

  5. Enjoyed your history of Gorgeous!! My Dad was also a wrestling fan. I remember seeing George at the Madrid Palestra in Harrisburg,PA in the 40s. He really put on a show!! Ken, did Chief Don Eagle and Billy Two Rivers ever come to Cape? They were quite a pair, too!!
    They were in the 50s at Hershey Arena.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *