You are here: Home>KM Interviews...>Jerry Jarrett Part 2
I called the Sheik and pitched the idea to him and asked for a date on him and Bobo Brazil. I called Dick the Bruiser and asked for a date on him. I spoke to Eddie Graham, Dory Funk, Sr., Sam Muchnick, Jim Crockett, Sr., Vince McMahon, Sr., and Fritz Von Erich. I explained the program to each of them and asked for their cooperation. The 'Quest for the Title', with the help of so many promoters and great wrestlers, established Lawler as a top title contender. One of the highlights of my promotion career from an emotional standpoint was the night Lawler wrestled Jack Brisco for the championship in Memphis. The fans were as ready as a crowd can be. Everyone there could feel electricity in the air. I was filled with emotion and Eddie Graham could see my feelings. In a rare moment among two supposedly 'macho men', he put his arm around my shoulder and said simply, 'Well done kid.'
One of my regrets about the wrestling business today is that the fans and promoters have become too accustomed to instant gratification to spend a year building to a night like that one in Memphis. That night paid dividends for years to come at the box office. Lawler went on to draw many big houses in his continuing 'Quest for the Title'. The principal that, 'it's not achieving a goal that counts or winning the race, but the chase for the goal and the running of the race' that is important, was the thought behind this promotion. I was a decent track star in school and therefore learned this lesson early in life. I found that the true joy was not in winning a 100 yard dash, but in the preparation. Our current project is another example of this principal. We have started a project that most think is impossible. I think we can succeed. The everyday joy I have working out the many setbacks and problems is my personal reward. I'll enjoy the financial reward when we succeed, but it will not equal the chase. Lawler and the promotion were rewarded by the quest, by the chase for the title.
Dills: The promotion began sending a camera to the arenas in the 1970s and playing back selected highlights on the TV show. Was this your idea? What advantages did doing this bring to the promotion? Did the idea to do music videos come from this?
Jarrett: We were, I believe, the first promotion to develop our own in-house production. We were the first to use music videos in our promotion. Mike Shields came to work for us and set up the production studio. Later I sent Mike to help Verne Gagne set up his production studio and Randy West took over ours. The ability to video tape action from the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday nights as well as other towns such as Louisville, Lexington, Evansville and Nashville greatly aided our promotion and allowed us much more freedom than being limited to the studio on Saturday mornings. We were also able to show the fans a bit of the excitement of the arena matches.
Dills: In the winter of 1976 and into 1977, the split came between you & Gulas. I know you have covered this in other interviews but could you briefly walk us through what happened after you knew there was no way to reconcile the differences you and Nick had at the time. On the surface there seem to be some interesting sidelines here since Roy Welch's son, Buddy Fuller, who I believe was still a partner at this time with Eddie Graham in Florida, sided with you against his father's longtime partner, and also since Lance & Dave were still at Channel 13 for a time before jumping over to Channel 5 a little later after you debuted wrestling on Channel 5. Lance especially seems in an interesting spot here since he was in programming at Channel 13 and Channel 13 made the decision to cancel the TV show due to a potential legal battle.
Jarrett: Okay. Where to begin? I had a meeting with Gulas as a fifty percent partner. I explained that I could not put my investment at risk by bringing his son George to Memphis. Nick got his attorney, Cecil Bramstetter, on the phone. This is the attorney that drew up the partnership papers. At the time, I was so dumb, that I did not have my own attorney and simply allowed Nick's attorney to draw the papers. Cecil informed me that the money I had paid for the fifty percent interests was only option payment and I owned nothing. I left the office with my head spinning and called another lawyer, who after looking at the contracts advised me that I had been screwed. I asked him what I could do and he tells me that he is sure he can get the contract dissolved in court but it would probably take a couple of years. I told him that in my opinion, the business would be gone in that time period. I told him that I wanted to start my own company regardless of how small it was. He said for safety, I should submit a letter of resignation and a letter giving up my stock in Gulas-Welch. This seemed nuts at the time in that Nick's position was that I owned no stock. He prepared the letter and I started making calls.
I called key talent and advised them of my plans. Tojo and Fargo, who I just knew would stick with me, stayed with Gulas. Lawler and most of my men just asked what to do and said they were with me. I advised them to keep wrestling and I'd let them know when I was ready. Lawler and I went to see Mori Griner at Channel 5 in Memphis. At the time Channel 5 was in third place in the market and Channel 13, which had the wrestling show was number one. I told Mori that I could bring my wrestling to him and I could also bring Lance Russell and Dave Brown. I explained that not only could he get the number one television show in Memphis away from Channel 13, but he could get the program director, Russell, and the number one weather man, Brown. I promised him that he would become the number one station in Memphis within one year. Well, bless his heart, he believed in us and true to my word, Channel 5 became the top rated station in less than a year. This moved sealed my relationship with Channel 5 for years to come and also launched my promotion company.
After securing the television deal, I called Buddy Fuller and told him I was opening my own promotion. Buddy had never liked Nick, so he began helping me inform the NWA membership of the split. I took Buddy in as a partner mainly for political reasons and also because Roy, Buddy's father, was responsible for me being in the business in the first place. We had to start our Memphis promotion at Ellis Auditorium, because the Mid-South [Coliseum] contract was in the name of Gulas-Welch. Channel 13 realized that they had lost their top rated TV show so rather than have a second rate program, they chose to cancel the contract. This left us the only promotion with a television show and the battle for Memphis was over. Because I had started Louisville, Lexington, and Evansville myself, there was never a real fight for those towns. So almost without a real fight, I had what had been known as the Memphis end of the promotion. Fargo and Tojo finally returned to the fold, but the relationship was never really the same.
Dills: A point of clarification, you mention starting the new promotion in Memphis at Ellis Auditorium because the Coliseum contract was in the name of Gulas-Welch. I thought you first ran at the Cook Convention Center. I know the promotion ran at Ellis before the Coliseum. Are Ellis and Cook the same?
Jarrett: Ellis Auditorium was the first building I wrestled in Memphis. Ellis became Cook Convention Center.
Dills: You and Nick promoted against each other off and on over a near two year period in some cities. Some promotional wars get nasty, did this one? I ask because it seemed some guys would work for Nick and then come work for you or some would work for you and then work for Nick. I also ask because the late Lou Thesz made a point in his book, Hooker, to tell how he left Nick for you during 1978 and Lou was not kind in his recall of Nick at this time.
Jarrett: Lou and I were friends from the first time I met him. I never tried to hide the great respect and awe I held for him as a man and as a wrestler. Nick booked him and he called and asked if I had any problem with him making the date. I told him that this was a battle between Nick and I and that I did not want or expect any wrestler to suffer because of it. Lou made the date, but then called me and said that he respected my position and admired me because of it, but he would not work for Nick again and would be available whenever I needed him. Lou Thesz was a man of high principal all his life.
I really had the same feeling with all the wrestlers concerning not dragging them into my battle with Nick. I told everyone who asked that if they choose to work for Nick and later a spot opened in my promotion, they would be welcome regardless. I hold the same feelings today. Wrestlers should be independent contractors and therefore the relationship with the promoter should be as partners rather than employees. All of our talent are free to work for whoever they choose, when not under contract for our dates.
Dills: In 1977, you're on your own as a promoter. When I look over some of the line-ups from that time it really was an eclectic group you had in the area, the Hollywood Blondes, Jim Garvin, Bob Ellis, Paul Orndorff, Leroy Brown, Sylvester Ritter [who eventually became the Junkyard Dog]. I think Terry Gordy and Jake Roberts [as Jake Smith] worked a few shows for you as well. Several on this list went on to become major stars elsewhere in a few years, did you recall having any idea at the time that any one of these had that special something to make it in the business?
Jarrett: Yes, of course I did on some of them. I've either told you or written about my misses on Wrestling Classics. The biggest miss was with Sting and Ultimate Warrior. I called Bill Watts and told him that Ritter would draw for him. Bill promoted in some areas that had large black populations. I was in Florida visiting Eddie Graham and saw Paul Orndorff being used as enhancement talent on television. I asked Eddie to let me have Paul because I thought he could be a big star. I brought Paul to Tennessee and started him pretty high on the cards. Paul became a main event wrestler here and then went to WWF.
Dills: In 1975, the team of George Barnes and Bill Dundee debuted in the area. Barnes stayed a few months then left but Dundee stayed behind and became one of the bigger stars in the area. How did this team end up half way around the world in Tennessee and what made Dundee stay?
Jarrett: I got Bobby Shane the job running Australia. I asked Bobby to send me talent when he ran across good wrestlers who wanted to come to the U.S. Bobby sent Barnes and Dundee to Tennessee. Bill loved it from the beginning and brought his family here. George was homesick from the beginning and finally returned home. Because Dundee was originally from Scotland and then moved to Australia, he was perhaps more adaptable to such a drastic move. Dundee had a unique personality that was popular with our fans and he adapted to our style of wrestling very easily. Dundee went on to become a superstar in Tennessee.
Dills: One of the big feuds of '77 was Lawler-Dundee. This series really pulled out the stops...cars at stake, money at stake, hair at stake, etc. Was this the feud that really cemented things for you in Memphis during the year on your own? It really seemed to draw some big crowds and just how did you convince BOTH Bill & Beverly Dundee to lose their hair?!?
Jarrett: This feud was big box office for us. Bill Dundee was a very loyal wrestler and felt that he was a major part of the business. I'm sure that money was a big part of his decision to put his hair at stake, but Bill also understood the value of being in hot feuds. Bill came to me and suggested that I talk to Bev about putting her hair at stake. I thought it was a great idea and asked Bill to talk to her about it. He said 'Hell no and if you tell her I suggested it, I'll say you're lying.' I asked her and her cost was double that of Bill's hair match.
Dills: After the Lawler-Dundee feud, Lawler 'retired' to pursue music. You staged a tournament to name a new Southern champion and this introduced Jimmy Valiant to the area. Describe Valiant's impact on the area at the time, he really seemed to step right into the mix straight away.
Jarrett: Valiant was so great on the mic and his style was very different from everyone else here. The fans took to him from the first match. The Lawler retirement deal was based on a simple principle in the wrestling business. A promotion can never get anyone over as well as the established superstar, if the established superstar is still on the cards. With Lawler 'retired', the top spot was open in the fans minds. As soon as Valiant got over, Lawler returned and we had two superstars. More recent history of the WWF confirms my theory. Hogan left and Bret Hart was able to get over. Bret left and Shawn Michaels got over. Hall and Nash went to WCW and this opened the door for Austin and Rock. All these superstars did not really shine until the previous stars left. Now that Austin is gone, someone will rise to superstar fame. History can also confirm this theory with the reverse situation. Dick the Bruiser never quit and no one ever became a superstar in his area. The Sheik never quit and no one ever became a superstar in his territory. In both cases, their territories died with them still on top.
Dills: I think Tim Woods came in to work some as Mr. Wrestling for that 1977 tournament and for a few dates but left and you replaced him with Dick Steinborn as Mr. Wrestling, why did Woods leave? Did he come in just to work the tournament?
Jarrett: Yes, Tim was not supposed to be long term. He really just did me a favor.
Dills: In 1978, Jos LeDuc debuted in the area. Discuss two incidents that LeDuc was involved in that are well remembered by fans, when LeDuc tossed Lawler over the top rope and onto the announcer's desk in Memphis and then when LeDuc went on TV and cut his arm with an ax.
Jarrett: I don't really recall the incident where LeDuc tossed Lawler on the announce table. I do remember that he had a wild brawling style that created a lot of excitement during his matches. However, I recall the incident when he cut his arm with the ax. It seems to me that the interview was pre-produced and I seriously considered not showing it. I was standing off the set and I assumed that he was taking the ax as a prop. When he started cutting his arm, I was not in a position to see the extent of damage. When the interview finished and I saw his arm, I reran the tape. I remember it was very graphic and I told him we could not run it. He pleaded his case and the interview ran. LeDuc was an intense person both in the ring and outside. I always felt that he put out all he could for this business.
Dills: Also in 1978, you began an association with the AWA. What led to this and did you retain NWA membership?
Jarrett: Again, I'm not good at recalling exact dates. I know that I knew Verne and talked to him often about talent. I've explained my attempts to buy AWA and the combined efforts to work with him on joint shows.
Dills: I am also interested about a December 1979 event. Tom Snyder and an NBC news magazine show called PrimeTime Sunday did a feature on wrestling and it was totally focused on your promotion. You were interviewed and so was Jerry Lawler and a fan or two as well. They aired clips of Lawler, Dundee, Ron Bass, Tommy Gilbert and others. How did this come about and what did you think about what ended up being aired? When Snyder 'revealed' red paint capsules were used sometimes for blood I nearly fell in the floor with laughter.
Jarrett: The network called and asked if they could do a segment for his show. A crew showed up at my home in Hendersonville. They interviewed me and then followed the crew for about a week. The segment that aired was not what I had expected. However, they were so far off base with a great deal of their ideas that it was almost humorous.
Dills: In 1979, Superstar Billy Graham worked a few weeks for you. Graham was one of the biggest names in the business at the time and because of his physique and charisma is one of the most influential stars of the last 25 years. How did he come to work for you and did you see his success then as being as influential as it became with so many that have followed with great physiques, etc.?
Jarrett: Superstar Graham was a great talent and always drew money. He, like so many other great stars of the day helped us establish Memphis as one of the top wrestling towns in the nation. Memphis was built based on great in-ring wrestling and the fans were not impressed positively or negatively by the build of the talent. Danny Hodge was small compared to Bobo Brazil. Both men got over big in Memphis. Please note that sometime I refer to Memphis when I'm talking about the Tennessee territory. I think is because we produced the television in Memphis.
Dills: Also around 1979, it seems you mended fences some with Nick Gulas as Lawler & Dundee worked some dates for him and Jackie & Tojo worked some for you and Nick was even advertised as CWA President. Nick's business was failing though. From what I understand Buddy Fuller bought the territory from Nick and Dick Steinborn was Buddy's booker. Since you were partners with Buddy around this time, was it really you and Buddy that bought Chattanooga and Nashville then or did Buddy buy it on his own separate and apart from you? I ask because whoever owned it had a somewhat separate talent base than what you had in Memphis at the time but within a few months after Nick sold, you were running Chattanooga and Nashville with your crew out of Memphis and I take it this was around the time you bought in. Is this fairly accurate and can you add anything to it?
Jarrett: This is not accurate at all. I'm not sure of the dates, but Nick called and said he had to close because he had lost all his money. My first response was, 'Okay.' My mother suggested that because things were so good for us, that I make a token offer to Nick to buy his remaining territory. I did. We began running the towns. Great damage had been done and the fan base had eroded. Some of his towns we closed and a few we continued to run. Buddy was never involved in running any part of this area. His only involvement was in Ohio and that is another story.
Dills: Since we're talking some about Buddy Fuller, he became your partner after the split. Buddy had a long career working behind the scenes in Georgia and Florida after retiring from the ring. How involved was Buddy in working with you those first few years and what led to Buddy selling his part of the company? I have heard about the Welch family training wrestlers through the years around Dyersburg, did help train some guys when he came back?
Jarrett: As stated, Buddy was never involved in the promotion of the Tennessee territory. For a time, Buddy owned a farm in west Tennessee and during that time, he opened a wrestling school. I brought Buddy into the business as a political move and because his father was in great part responsible for me getting started in the business. Buddy asked if I could secure television in Ohio because he wanted to get active again in the business. I got television in Cincinnati, Dayton, and a couple of small markets in Ohio. I put the Memphis TV on in the towns and booked the first couple of tours with this talent. Buddy and Louis Tillet moved to Ohio. The plan was for them to begin with some of the Tennessee talent and develop a crew and begin producing their own television shows. The split was fifty-fifty in Ohio between Buddy and I.
On the first night of the first tour, Bill Dundee called me and alerted me that things were 'beginning to smell funny' already. Dundee said Fuller came to the dressing room and told the talent that he had found a back door to the building open and hundreds of fans were coming in the door. Bill said the place was very near a sell-out. Various stories came in during the remainder of the tour, much like the first night, but with different twist. One spin was that the talent was told that most of the crowd was 'paper' because they wanted to have a big crowd on the first night. There is an old saying that goes, 'if it walks like a duck and quacks, it is probably a duck.' Well, this tour was walking like a duck and quacking loudly. I called all the buildings and because I had set the buildings up in the first place, asked that copies of box offices reports be sent to me. When Buddy showed up in Hendersonville with a check and reports that failed to match the reports from the buildings, he realized his hand had been called. I advised him that he and Louis could have Ohio and I'd run the Tennessee area. I already had a contract drawn in anticipation of his report. He signed the contract and that was the end of our partnership.
Years later, Buddy called and asked if the IRS had contacted me. I said no. Buddy advised that they would be calling and that he had told him that he had no assets and asked if I would do the same. I said no. I explained that while I had few fears, the one I did have was messing with the IRS. I told him that unless he forgave the remainder of the contract, I would have to report it. Buddy was then faced with being caught lying to the IRS or forgiving the balance of the contract. Buddy forgave the contract. After Buddy's death, his wife and Ron Fuller, Buddy's son, found the contract and got an attorney and sued for the balance of the contract. With Buddy dead and the issues of involving the IRS, and the fact that Buddy had left small children with little means of support, my attorneys advised that winning the lawsuit could be as costly as the settlement. I settled with Buddy's widow.
Dills: Some of the most memorable video highlights from Memphis ever actually occurred in Tupelo with the famous concession stand brawls, Latham & Farris with Danny Davis vs. Lawler & Dundee from 1979 and Eddie Gilbert & Rick Morton vs. Onita & Fuchi with Tojo in 1981. How did this idea originate and who did you have to convince to get to do that to the stand?
Jarrett: (Laughs) We were hardcore before it was called hardcore. My idea was to create a situation that appeared to get out of hand. After the fact and not before, I told the concession owners that I would pay for the damages. This calmed their nerves. Of course, by the time I got the bill, I could have bought a small market for the cost.
Dills: In 1979, a young guy named Terry Boulder worked for you. He later found fame as Hulk Hogan. What do you recall from his time working there so early in his career?
Jarrett: Louis Tillet called and told me about Terry and his size. Louis also told me how 'green' Terry was as far as working ability. When Terry arrived, he was all Louis told me and more. I brought Terry to my home and we did the first video on him. I personally took him to Tupelo where we had a ring set up on a permanent basis. Finally we decided on the legdrop because of his limited experience. We worked for several weeks and finally developed enough moves for him to have a match. His size and personality made him an instant box-office attraction. After he had his run here, I sent the video to Vince McMahon, Sr. and he passed on Hulk. I then sent the tape to Verne Gagne, who was glad to get Terry. I smiled later when Vince Jr. went to such great pains to get Terry from Verne.
Dills: In the early years of your promotion and up until the mid 1980s you were recognized as the promoter yet you often stepped back into the ring fairly often. What made you, a successful promoter, decide to wrestle again from time to time?
Jarrett: I was active on a continuous basis from 1967 until the mid 80's. Then I decided to get out of the ring. I really came back only twice after that. The first time I returned to the ring was to please Tojo. From the time I decided to quit wrestling, Tojo would call every couple of weeks and tell me that it was just not the same. Tojo picked a time when business was down and came to the house to make his pitch. I came back to help get business up. I realized very quickly that my heart was really not in wrestling in the ring and quit again. The second time I came back was simply so I could have memories in my old age of wrestling with my son Jeff. I also wanted to team with Jeff and Tojo once and Jeff and Fargo once. Both times I returned were for brief periods of time.
Dills: Terry Gordy & Michael Hayes had had a good run with Nick Gulas in 1979 before they came to work for you. Nick didn't want them using entrance music but you let them use entrance music and they were first called The Freebirds in your promotion. While they were there though they just seemed on the verge of putting it together but they never really worked top of the cards often for you. What kept them from breaking through for you? They left and went to work for Bill Watts and hit there, did you send them there or did they leave on their own?
Jarrett: I don't really remember the circumstances of them leaving. However we had some great teams that were already established. Sometimes timing in this business is very important. They just happened to be here when there were already several teams in front of them.
Dills: In 1979, Jerry Lawler turned heel and added Jimmy Hart as a manager. In early 1980 though Lawler broke his leg in a football game. Do you recall any plans you had for Lawler before he broke his leg and how did his injury affect your business the year he was out?
Jarrett: I was very disgusted with Jerry when he broke his leg. I had seen one of his football games and realized how dangerous they were. It was called 'flag football' but the style they played was a football game without pads. I explained to Jerry that we would be in a bad shape if he got hurt seriously in one of his football games. About two weeks after our conversation, he broke his leg. When we got the news, several of us had a meeting and decided to go with Jimmy Hart bringing out a new 'King' the next Saturday on Memphis TV. Jimmy Hart came out on TV and Lance asked him what he was going to do now that Lawler was out. Jimmy became very animated, as he always was, and asked Lance, 'What do you do when your horse who is running in the Kentucky Derby breaks his leg?' Jimmy answered his own question, 'Well, you shoot the horse and get a better one.' Jimmy then brought out Paul Ellering dressed in a crown and cape. We continued on and did good business with Paul and Jimmy.
An interesting side note to this story: Lawler called Jimmy and complained about the interview. It seems he thought Jimmy should have been somewhat sad that Lawler was laying in the hospital hurt. Jimmy's explanation about how Jerry should be complaining to me instead of him fell on deaf ears. When Lawler returned to action, during a spot in Evansville, Indiana, Jerry hit Jimmy so hard it broke Jimmy's jaw. Jerry says it was an accident. Jimmy says it was payback for the interview. This is one of those questions that may never be answered.
Dills: You mention Jimmy Hart. It almost seemed that with Lawler's strong presence that Hart was more in the background until Lawler's injury and then Hart really came into his own and had a great run for you. Describe what Jimmy Hart brought night after night and week after week for years for your promotion.
Jarrett: Jimmy had more energy than any person I've ever known. He always had a positive attitude also. Jimmy became known as the 'Mouth of the South' while in Tennessee because of his rapid fire interviews. Jimmy was the same backstage as what you saw on television. There was never a interview or a personal appearance that Jimmy was not eager to do. He was always on time and sharp. I only wish everyone had his work ethic.
Dills: When Lawler came back from his broken leg, you brought in a number of stars after Lawler. Notable on that list would be Jack Brisco and The Funks. One of the more memorable events from this time period was when Terry Funk and Lawler wrestled in the empty Mid-South Coliseum. Whose concept was this? What do you recall from this event? Did it help business?
Jarrett: Terry was a complete nut, but a fun kind of nut. I'm sure the empty coliseum was Terry's idea. One day Terry called me and said he had a great idea. He asked me what was the best night of the year for wrestling? I told him of course that Thanksgiving Day was the single best day. Terry said 'Of course it is. Now here is my idea. All promoters around the country are bad business people. None of them lock up their dates in buildings. Lets you and I go rent every building in the country for next Thanksgiving Day. Then we can charge the promoters a lot of money to give up the building.' I said, 'Terry, that's a great idea, but what happens if they all get mad and say let them have it. We will be broke.' Terry laughed and said he thought I would have had more balls than I did. We respected the world champions and always treated them well. Over the years, I became good friends with the Funks and the Briscos.
Dills: A sense of area history has always been present in your promotion and I think a good example is how you used Jackie Fargo over the years. You used him a handful of times a year. This seemed to satisfy long time fans yet it also exposed newer fans to a legend and area history. Was using Jackie this way deliberate? Was Jackie content on coming in every so often or did he ever want to work a more full time schedule? You would also bring Roughhouse in some. The Fargos were almost always good box office, weren't they?
Jarrett: Yes, the Fargos were and are legend here. When Jackie retired, he would always make me beg him to come back, but I'm sure it would have hurt his feelings had I not called. Roughhouse was and is a good guy too and he would always come in when we requested him. When someone becomes a superstar in a promotion, it serves the promotion and the talent well to always treat them as superstars.
Dills: There came a time when Jerry Lawler and Lance Russell had thoughts of opening up their own group against you. How far did this get and how did you resolve it?
Jarrett: I had promised Jerry Lawler an additional percentage of the company after we were up and running and profitable. We got started and got up and running and profitable. I simply forgot to make the transfer and Lawler never brought it to my attention. Because of this, when Lawler advised me that he was going to go into business for himself, I thought he had justification. While I thought it was childish that he did not bring up the issue, it was wrong of me to forget about something so important. I advised Lawler of my feelings and he understood both his fault and mine in the situation. We solved our differences within a thirty minute conversation. The situation with Lance Russell was entirely different. Lance had received his pay check every week from me while planning to run against me. I felt this was dishonorable and never held Lance in high regard after the incident. I advised Lawler of my feelings and he agreed that the circumstances were very different. I gave Lance the option of leaving or taking a rather large reduction in pay.
Dills: In the early 1980s, the Poffos ran shows in Kentucky in some of your towns. Legend has it that things got nasty from time to time. They would call some of your guys out on TV and show up at your house shows. Once Bill Dundee was out of action for a few weeks and when he came back he subtly acknowledged a run-in with Randy Savage. Were things really this wild and woolly? Before you brought the Poffos in, had you seen enough of Randy Savage to know how talented he was?
Jarrett: Randy Savage and his family were not very smart in their efforts to run against us. They spent far too much of their television time knocking us and not building their talent. I received tapes in which most of the time was spent challenging Lawler and Dundee to matches that they and the fans knew would never take place. Randy's crew did show up at Rupp Arena in Lexington which only made them look bad to the fans coming into our arena. I have no idea if their threats to jump into the ring at our matches were fantasy thoughts or reality. They did not make that mistake.
Randy and Dundee got into a fight at a gym parking lot. Randy told me later that it was a personal issue between him and Dundee and was not business related. Dundee told me it was because Randy was mad because he had used the name 'macho man' on occasion. The Poffos brought a lawsuit against us charging us with selling tickets at below market value to put them out of business. It was a silly lawsuit because our prices were higher than their prices but it was costly defending the lawsuit. In matters like this our lawyers wanted to continue the lawsuit forever. It did continue until I advised my attorneys that I no longer wanted to defend myself in court and that I would not be paying them in the future. The lawsuit was thrown out as soon as I took this position. During this entire situation, I never took their actions personally. I felt and still feel that we live in a free country and anybody should be able to try to go into business. Therefore after Randy gave up his promotional efforts and called me to advise me that he was out of business, I suggested that perhaps we could make some money working together. Randy Savage came to work for us and to this day, he has been a man of his word with everything he ever told me. He is one of the few wrestlers to tell the WWF that he had to work out a notice before leaving us. I respect Randy and consider him a friend to this day.
Dills: You have mentioned your great respect for world champions. One that we haven't mentioned yet who worked a good bit for you is Nick Bockwinkel. Nick seemed to have all the skills, great in-ring, great presence and great interview skills. How would you rate Nick among the greats?
Jarrett: I rate Nick at the top of the list with greats such as Lou Thesz, Dory Funk and Jack Brisco. Not only was Nick a great champion but he is a honorable and good person. I considered Nick a friend. I'm sure, had he not spent most of his career with Gagne, he would have been an NWA Champion.
Dills: You've discussed how Andy Kaufman ended up working for you. Andy seemed to anger the fans better than some of the bad guys did, what made Andy so good at being someone the fans disliked so much?
Jarrett: Andy was a student of the personality of the masses. He developed skills over years doing his nightclub act. He also seemed to instinctively know the right buttons to push. Another important factor in Andy being so effective was his attention to detail. He gave a lot of thought to every word he said and his body language as well. Andy was a true professional that took pride in his work. The traits that you saw in Andy are the same traits you see in most superstars.
Dills: Ole Anderson approached you in 1983 and asked your help in sending talent to a group he wanted to run in the old Georgia territory while he took the group seen on TBS to work a circuit in Ohio and Michigan. Other than supplying talent such as Dundee, Cornette, Koko Ware, Taylor, etc. what involvement did you have with this project? Ole pulled the plug on it pretty quick, considering the talent base would it have succeeded if he had given it more time?
Jarrett: My only recall is that I did send talent for a brief time. I also know that it did not last long. I can't recall the details.
Dills: You gave Jim Cornette a break into the business as a manager. He had also worked as a photographer for you. Of course, Jim went on to become successful in several capacities in the business. What qualities does Jim have that helped him become a success in the business?
Jarrett: He observed well and retained what was good and filtered out the b-s. He also was a person who worked hard at everything he did.
Dills: How did you come up with the idea of the Fabulous Ones? Did you imagine they would prove as successful as they became?
Jarrett: My pal Jackie Fargo was known as the Fabulous One, Jackie Fargo. When Jackie retired he was a legend in the business. I called him and asked what he thought about the idea of creating 'The Fabulous Ones'. Jackie liked the idea and agreed to make introduction via interviews for the team. Jackie and I discussed the wrestlers I had in mind and Jackie liked all three of my choices. I had selected Stan Lane, Steve Keirn and Terry Taylor as possible candidates. We finally went with Stan and Steve, in part because I thought Terry could get over as a single wrestler, which he did. I'm the eternal optimist. Therefore, I think every idea I have will be great. Sometime I'm right and sometime I'm wrong.
Dills: In 1985 for a few weeks you brought in Bruiser Brody. Brody had a rep for being difficult to work with at times. How was your experience in dealing with Brody?
Dills: Another guy that you used some in 1985 was one that you had used years before named David Shultz. By 1985 though David had been in the news for slapping TV reporter John Stossel when Stossel asked about wrestling being fake. Shultz had had a fairly high profile stint with the WWF but Vince cut him loose after some incidents. Was there much difference in Shultz the wrestler and Shultz the person?
Jarrett: No, David was David.
Dills: How did Jerry Lawler get his own TV show in Memphis? Was this something the station approached you or him about?
Jarrett: Ron Klayman, the station manager at TV 5 approached us about the show. It began with Lawler as the talent and I produced the show. I found that it required too much of my time because I lived in Hendersonville. Jerry lived in Memphis and it was not as much inconvenience to him, so he began producing the show himself.
Dills: You've talked previously about how talented Eddie Gilbert was. When the original Fabs left in 1984, you paired Eddie with Tommy Rich and it flopped. The best thing though that seemed to come out of the New Fabs was when Eddie turned on Tommy. Eddie seemed to really take to being a heel, why do you think Eddie was so adept at being a heel? I'm also curious when Eddie did a 'This is Your Life, Jerry Lawler' interview, he gets 'Jim White' on the phone and it sure didn't sound like Jim, it sounded like you, was it?
Jarrett: We had had great success with the Fabs. I knew it was difficult to create the same characters with different talent. Normally the fans resent the concept. The only time it had been successful to me was when I created Mr. Wrestling II in Atlanta. We discussed the possibility that the fans would not like the idea and our escape from the beginning was that Eddie and Tommy would begin a feud with each other. This is what happened. Concerning the 'This is Your Life' skit, we made it as realistic as possible and the calls, from the best of my memory, were real.
Dills: You've also talked some about Bill Dundee. He left in 1983 to work for Bill Watts and helped turn Watts' business around. Dundee came back in 1985 and set about some really great times in Memphis. Who can take credit for Dundee's booking ability and what did you think when he approached you with the fact that he wanted Lawler to lose a loser leaves match at the end of 1985?
Jarrett: Bill Dundee was bright and took an interest in the business of wrestling as well as being a talent from the very beginning. He had helped me here in Tennessee. I told Watts that Bill was very capable and Bill took him. I don't recall the second part of your question.
Dills: In 1987, one of the great feuds of the decade in Memphis involved Lawler feuding with Austin Idol and Tommy Rich. It led to Lawler getting his head shaved. Were you there the night Lawler got his hair buzzed and if so, can you describe the chaos as it appeared the crowd was rowdy?
Jarrett: I was there, but I don't recall the details.
Dills: In 1988, Jerry Lawler won the AWA title from Curt Hennig. Obviously this was a milestone for Lawler as he had chased the world title since 1974. Did you also get a sense of satisfaction as promoter since in a sense you were also chasing the title as you had set Lawler on that road with 'The Quest for The Title' series years before?
Jarrett: By this time, the magic of 'Quest for the Title' was over. Also, the AWA belt was not the focus of the [original] quest.
Dills: Let me ask a question about your son, Jeff. With your experience in the business and seeing first hand father-son relationships like Nick & George Gulas and Fritz & the Von Erichs boys, how do you handle both you and Jeff being in the same business and company?
Jarrett: These examples were very valuable to me and I learned so much from watching some of their mistakes. I was able to explain to Jeff concerning the wrestling business and Jason concerning the construction business, that because their last name was Jarrett, gave them a handicap and not a break. Early in their lives, I was able to explain that people would expect so much more from them than they would an outsider. We discussed it so much before fact, that when they each got into the businesses, they were well aware that they had to work longer and harder just to get on level ground. They were both aware that not only did they have to be good at whatever they did, but that they had to be humble in the process. I'm proud of both of them and their achievements in their respective businesses.
Dills: Since you worked with both WWF and WCW over the past decade, what did you learn from your time with each to help you with NWA TNA, what did you learn to avoid?
Jarrett: I think everything that happens in life is a learning experience. Sometime we learn what to do and sometime we learn what not to do. I had great learning experiences with both companies. I learned that the lessons I learned early in this business have remained true. Wrestling fans want wrestling. Wrestling fans want their promotion to respect the titles. I also learned at both companies that it's a much more diverse world we live in than I had thought living here in the southeast. The tastes and lifestyle are many and varied.
Dills: Obviously some fans raised some eyebrows over the fact that you brought in some guys with a poor track record over the last few years, what is your reasoning on using these guys?
Jarrett: I don't judge people by hearsay. I save my opinion so that it is based on my relationship. (Laughs) When I was in New York, I drank two bottles of wine each night. Sometimes your environment can make you choose to escape, if only for a few hours. We are going to attempt to create a good environment for our talent that is conducive to a healthy home life.
Dills: You have made a splash in certain circles on the internet, what role does the internet play in determining how NWA TNA develops?
Jarrett: We listen to all our fans. We will listen to the people that feed us with their purchase of the program.
Dills: You've associated with the NWA, what advantages does the NWA provide your group as it gets off the ground?
Jarrett: We are so lucky that the NWA allowed us to again be a part of their great organization. No wrestling company has more history or more tradition. WCW is gone and WWF is gone. WWE is less than a year old.
Dills: I have many more questions but time won't permit us to continue at this time. I do though have one last burning question. With NWA TNA, the Flying Elvises have grabbed some attention. This year is the twenty fifth anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It's been said Elvis was a wrestling fan. Did Elvis really ever attend the matches in Memphis?
Jarrett: Yes. Red West used to call up and let us know Elvis was coming to the matches. He would arrive and sit on one of the darkened stages and watch the action.
Dills: Jerry, interviewing you has been my pleasure. Thank you for your time and cooperation.
Jarrett: I've enjoyed it.
Thanks to Edsel Harrison for the Jerry Jarrett photos.
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