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KM: Were you, as magazine writers, let in on some of the angles that were occurring? It seemed as if certain articles or newsbits were foreshadowing something that might be happening. How instrumental were the magazines is helping to launch or get an angle going?
SS: For the most part, what we would get from a promoter was, "Apter, make sure you're in [place] on [date]." That told us what we needed to know. Sometimes it might look like we had prior knowledge of angles. Back in October 1995, for instance, we ran a cover story "WCW Civil War! Will Ex-WWF Stars Spark A Revolution?" The New World Order concept began in May 1996. Read into that what you will.
KM: Going through issues from 1981 and 1982, it's surprising how many articles dealt with Ken Patera. How was it determined who would have articles written on them?
SS: Patera won an Olympic medal in weightlifting and competed in the World's Strongest Man competition on I believe CBS. He was known to the mainstream and was indeed a top star in the sport. He's the type of wrestler we liked to cover because he legitimized the business, and as a result, our magazines as well.
KM: What was a typical month like for you in regards to deadlines, etc.?
SS: You pose the question in the past tense. Do you know something I don't? Even though the magazines have typically had a monthly frequency, with the amount of total releases we have, we're basically on a weekly schedule. It can be tough, but we have had some amazing people working here. As Craig Peters has mentioned, we hire professionals in the journalism field or young people who have the college training to become solid pros. If they have a wrestling background, that's a bonus. They can learn wrestling, but they have to meet our standards for writing and editing coming in.
Allow me to rant here about a pet peeve of mine: the constant reference to our magazines as the Aptermags. I love Bill and have the greatest admiration for him and what he brought to this company. He was trusted within an industry that is understandably very guarded. He was our front man, for sure, but he was not the only man. He was part of a team. Again, taking nothing away from Bill, because he has earned everything he ever got in this business, it bugs me to see the contributions of so many people reduced to a handy label, Aptermags. How about Westonmags? There wouldn't have been a Bill without a Stanley.
How did the magazines view their role in the
professional wrestling business? What role did promoters view the magazines?
What role did wrestlers view the magazines?
SS: In the mythology of wrestling as sport, we look at ourselves as playing the role of Sports Illustrated. We had our goofy years through the'60s and into the'80s, but at some point we settled in to being a magazine that tried to promote wrestling as a sport. I think the industry respects that. Of course, prior to the nationalization of the industry with the advent of cable-TV and the launch of WWF magazine, we were the only source of national wrestling coverage.
Wrestlers are no different than any other entertainers-they want to see media coverage of themselves. Ninety-nine percent of the wrestlers appreciate how we portray them. A half-percent will call us if we are missing the mark. The remaining half-percent has no use for us.
KM: When you traveled, what were your favorite cities and arenas to visit?
SS: I am not a big traveler. That was more Bill's thing. But I have good memories of a five-day trip to New Orleans back in 1981. I photographed the Leonard-Duran "no mas" fight for our boxing magazines at the Superdome and stayed to shoot a big wrestling card, also at the Superdome. Steve Farhood, who was the editor of KO magazines, arranged to get us freebies to watch a Monday night football game featuring the lowly "Aints."
KM: How did the company view other newsstand wrestling magazines? Was there a conscious effort to have content different than these other magazines?
SS: Aside from the WWE publications, of course, we've had several competitors, most notably the Norman Jacobs titles, which are packaged by George Napolitano. I think we just stressed different things. George's magazines were more photo-driven and ours placed more of an emphasis on the written word.
KM: Did the magazines ever get any heat from some outside of the business for their often bloody covers? If so, who and how was it handled?
SS: At one point, we used two different national distributors. Kable News Company was and is our main distributor, but just before I got here, we developed two new titles to be distributed by Dell: Pro Wrestling Illustrated and KO. Dell, which is no longer around, was insistent that we not have blood on the covers. Kable News, which distributed Inside Wrestling, The Wrestler, and all the rest, placed no such restrictions.
KM: Even though wrestling newsletters didn't become really prominent until the late-1980s and 1990s, they had been around for years. How were they viewed by those on staff of the London mags?
SS: As a great source for insider news, just as they are intended to be. Everybody in the business reads Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer and Wade Keller's Pro Wrestling Torch, whether they care to admit it or not. They play a huge role in the business-but maybe too huge. When people in this business base their decisions on what the newsletters or various Web sites might write, they are playing to a loud minority and forgetting that most people who watch wrestling are just plain old wrestling fans who want to be entertained by plain old wrestling. They don't care about the backstage stuff and they shouldn't have it forced down their throats by wrestling promoters.
I can relate to the people who are more interested in the business of wrestling than wrestling itself. But they are still very much in the minority. The wrestling industry should try to learn from the newsletters, because 90 percent of the time, they do have their fingers on the pulse of the real wrestling fans. It's what they do with that knowledge that makes all the difference.
KM: When PWI Weekly came out, was this an attempt by the company to capitalize on the growing wrestling newsletter business? How successful was PWI Weekly?
SS: We never thought of PWI Weekly as competition for The Observer or Torch. PWI Weekly was our way to get around the six- to eight-week lag time that is inherent in the monthly magazine business. It was very successful until the advent of the Internet. But it was also very time-consuming. We'd kill an entire Monday for our entire staff putting it together. That's 20 percent of our work week!
KM: Who were some of the best promoters and wrestlers to work with?
SS: The best promoters and wrestlers to work with are the ones that understand what we are trying to do and how much we help the industry. There are some people in the industry who understand that in order to assist their efforts, we had to establish a level of credibility with the public by being critical at times. Some people just can't understand that a magazine that always has glowing things to say about everybody and everything is not going to have that credibilty. And only with credibility will the positive things you say have any impact. Whose analysis are you going to trust, Tim McCarver, who speaks his mind, or the local announcer, who says what the team hires him to say?
KM; Do you recall any stories that you or someone else worked on that never made it to publication? Why weren't they published?
SS: Steve Farhood, who was our lead boxing editor and is now the color commentator for ShoBox on Showtime, wrote the most outlandish wrestling columns. I drew the line at a column he wrote on Izzy Slapowitz. It was in no way anti-Semitic, mind you, but it was so far off the wall, I just said "no!" Steve still thanks me for that decision. He used it as an excuse to never again write for the wrestling magazines, which is what he had wanted for years!
KM: The magazines used to advertise old back issues dating back into the 1960s. Is there a stash of these somewhere?
SS: Except for our archived binder copies, all we have is what is advertised in the back issue ads.
KM: Clear up once and for all which writers were real people and which (i.e. Matt Brock) were worked characters.
SS: To paraphrase Hawkeye Pierce, I think there is a little bit of Matt Brock in all of us.
KM: Was (is) the PWI end of the year award voting legit or is it worked?
SS: Every letter is opened. Every vote is counted. The winners are selected by the readers. The vote totals were proportionally inflated, I confess. Now we present the totals as percentages, rather than actual numbers.
KM: Have any wrestlers or promoters ever been angry with the magazines over something that was or wasn't written?
SS: More so that latter. Wrestlers want coverage. The ones who don't get much want more, and everybody wants to be on the cover. Of course, every wrestler wants to be in the main event at Madison Square Garden, but only a few get there. Primarily, we have to concern ourselves with selling magazines. If we can't do that, there won't be any covers.
KM: Since the magazines were printed so far in advance of hitting the newsstand, were there ever any cases of wrestlers turning or quitting promotions or angles being dropped that made certain articles look especially dated?
SS: Yes, the time lag between production and the actual on-sale date presents a huge challenge for us both in wrestling and boxing. We try to make the articles as timeless as possible, directing our readers' attention to what might happen in the future rather than what will be two months old by the time they get their issue. That lag period is just the nature of the beast. Weekly magazines are distributed in an entirely different way than monthlies. SI, Time, and Newsweek don't have the problem. But do you remember Inside Sports? They used to write about football during the baseball season. If you always keep in mind the time frame of when a given article will be read, you can gear your editorial accordingly.
Do we get caught by the time lag? Yes, unfortunately.
KM: At a certain point, did it get harder to come up with articles as the number of territories dwindled?
SS: To some extent, yes. But we don't have as many releases as we did in years past either, so it balances out.
KM: Describe the nature of the London Publishing group's fall-out with the WWF in the mid-1980s. Looking back, do you feel that the editorial stance heavily burying the WWF during that era was correct or was it wrong in hindsight? For that matter, was the coinciding push given to the NWA (especially JCP and World Class) justified or was it a step too far?
SS: It's no secret that the WWF cut off access to wrestling magazines when it began to publish its in-house magazine. That was a big blow to us after all the years we had been welcome to cover their events. At that point, we went into survival mode. We did take some shots at the WWF, and I have admitted in the magazine that in retrospect we were wrong in stripping them of world title status for a period of time.
Our goal was not so much to retaliate against the WWF, but to help raise the profile of the NWA, which shared our philosophy of wrestling as sport and which cooperated with our reporters and photographers. We still covered the WWF the best we could given our limitations, and we obviously never burned any bridges, because they eventually lifted the ban and welcomed us back. To this day, we have a terrific relationship, and we still criticize them when we see fit.
KM: In retrospect, did the hype for the Von Erichs in the magazines go too far in the mid-1980s?
SS: Not at all. It's hard to imagine now, but wrestling was huge in Texas and was so until their economy went bad. The Von Erichs were a great story, so much so that the WWF ran a feature on Kerry Von Erich in what I believe was the very first issue of what used to be called Victory Magazine and later became WWF Magazine.
A few years back, Kostya Kennedy, a Stony Brook alumnus who freelanced for us and is now a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, spent a week with Kevin Von Erich, putting together a huge piece on the tragedies that befell the family. Unfortunately, it never ran.
KM: Was it easy to decide things like which wrestler got the cover or which wrestler was in the PWI centerfold, or were there arguments or troubles coming to a decision?
SS: I don't recall any arguments. I think the editors are pretty much on the same page with these things most of the time. Whatever Matt Brock says goes!
KM: What are your all-time favorite articles, headlines, photos, magazine editions, and stories?
SS: Personally, my favorite column came in response to Eddie Mansfield exposing the business on 20/20. I think I did a good job in discrediting everything he had to say. My favorite cover was a caricature painting of Hulk Hogan ("America's Hero") drawn by William Robert Laird in 1991. When that issue didn't sell anywhere near as many copies as I had anticipated, I knew wrestling was in a down cycle.
What was PWI's actual involvement with Bill Watts
and the UWF for the PWI/UWF Challenge Cup tournament in late 1986 and
early-1987? Did you have much or any input?
SS: It was our idea, but we had very little involvement beyond that. The UWF had good national exposure at the time and attaching our name to the tournament gave us both some exposure. Before the tournament, Bill photographed the heels and faces having a tug o' war with the Cup. That was a neat cover, too.
KM: As a fan, what was your favorite promotion? Wrestler? Match? Feud?
SS: I grew up in New York, so like most, my favorite was Bruno Sammartino. I still get warm and fuzzy thinking about the old days. In 1980, I lived in a house with a bunch of guys, none of whom were wrestling fans. We were all into the brilliant buildup to the Sammartino-Zbyszko feud. It doesn't get any better than that.
KM: Do you feel that the likes of Tommy Rich, Lex Luger, Billy Jack Haynes, and the Von Erichs would have been as big without the many articles and photos published by our magazines or did you feel that they'd have made it as big regardless?
SS: Local TV and the promoters' push were of course the biggest factors in the success of wrestlers back then, but the magazine coverage gave them a passport to other territories. Remember, the height of most of these wrestlers preceded the Internet, and to some extent cable-TV, so the only way they could be known outside their base of operations was through the magazines. You could tell by the reaction they would get that people knew who they were, and certainly promoters used that to their advantage.
KM: Who was your favorite wrestling personality to deal with on a professional basis?
SS: Again, the past tense. I'm getting nervous ... I like Dave Lenker and Brandi Mankiewicz. I see them ever day and never get tired of them. I hope that's politically correct enough.
KM: Did you ever wish that you could shoot more and kayfabe less in the 1970s, 1980s, and early-1990s?
SS: I wish I could have kayfabed until the day I died. It's more fun, there's infinitely more story possibilities, and that's the way pro wrestling was meant to be. I've read posts on the KM message board where people criticize us for breaking kayfabe, and I empathize with their view. But I also read one today from someone who said that we can't write down to our readers, and he's right. We can't do the type of stories we did in the past. In fact, one of the issues we had a great time putting together was a Wrestling Superstars where we poked fun at some of the sillier stories we have run in the magazines through the years. The hardest thing for us is to gauge our readership and what they are looking for in the magazines. Having Mitsu Arakawa pearl diving during the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima and coming up to see his city in ruins is not believable by any standard, but does that make it any less entertaining? Somewhere along the line, we made a conscious decision to be a sports magazine and did away with pearl diving.
Right now we are trying to be everything to everybody and the inconsistency of our editorial policy is somewhat unsettling to me and probably a segment of our audience. It's no different from watching wrestling on TV. Smart, dumb, kayfabe, shoot-it's all there in one not-so-neat little package.
At the same time, I think the magazines are stronger than they've ever been. The writing, editing, design, and printing-I'm very proud of all of it. The people who come down hardest on us seem to have forgotten that wrestling is supposed to be fun. If you've come to the point where you can't have fun with it anymore, maybe it's time for another hobby.
KM: We remember the magazines vocally "outing" Jimmy Jack Funk as Jesse Barr, Super Machine as Masked Superstar, and Blackjack Mulligan as Big Machine in 1986. Wrestlers had often changed gimmicks and identities, but rarely if ever had anyone been so roundly exposed for doing so. Obviously, this was a slam against the WWF rather than those individual wrestlers, but was there ever any sense of regret as to what effect that may have had on their careers?
SS: I don't believe we did that unless it was so blatantly obvious that it made everybody look stupid to cover it up. We protected the business to a fault-I think everyone knows that.
KM: What ever became of the likes of Eddie Ellner, Bob Smith, and some of the other writers of the past?
SS: I just contacted Eddie for the first time in years. He's a yoga instuctor in California. Bob is a blues singer, Chris Bernucca I tracked down at Sportsticker.com through a post on the KM message board, Gary Morgenstein is doing P.R. for the Discovery Channel, Peter King is teaching journalism at Hofstra University, Bill is working for a magazine based in the U.K., and everyone knows that Craig is with Ringling Bros.
KM: What kind of process do you go through when sitting down to write an article. For instance, in the Feb. '83 issue of PWI, you wrote a Dressing Room Confidential column regarding Ted DiBiase (this was during Ted's heel turn in Mid-South). The column dealt with how Ted had called you and left a message that he wasn't going to do any interviews. It was surmised that Ted was reaching out to someone he knew and trusted. Assuming Ted never actually called, how did the seed of this column get started? Where do the topics of your columns come from?
SS: It's no different from any other columnist. Everyone formulates opinions on the news of the day. A columnist articulates his or her views. Age-wise, I was Ted DiBiase's contemporary, so it seemed to make sense that we could have a relationship. Thus the column. I guess it worked; otherwise it wouldn't be remembered 20 years later. Ted, by the way, is a nice guy. He spent a good half-hour preaching the gospel to me before a WCW show in Philly a few years back.
KM: Finally, did anyone on staff ever buy one of those blow-up dolls advertised in the back of the magazines from the 1970s?!?!?
SS: I think Liz Hunter ordered one.
KM would like to thank Stu for participating in this interview. The "Westonmags" as Stu would prefer they be called, were an important part of old school wrestling. For those of us who lived in other territories, these magazines was a prime way to become acquainted in some fashion with what was happening in the regions we weren't privy to see. Thank you to everyone involved in them.
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