Dirty Boulevard: George C. Scott in HARDCORE (Columbia 1979)

Cracked Rear Viewer: “Back in the day….”

Dear Readers: (groaning) “There he goes again. Another history lesson!”

CRV: “B-but it’s important to put things in their proper historical context!”

DRs: (sigh) “We guess you’re right. Sorry.”

CRV: (beaming) “No problem! Now, like I was saying…”

Back in the day, every major urban city, and many smaller sized ones, had what was known as a “Red Light District”, where sex workers plied their trade. These streets were loaded with sex shops, peep shows, massage parlors, strip joints, and Triple-X movie palaces, with hookers and drug dealers hawking their wares. New York City had its Times Square/42nd Street area, Boston had The Combat Zone near Chinatown, and Montreal the infamous St. Catherine Street. For Los Angeles, the action was on Sunset Boulevard, and it’s into this seedy milieu that writer/director Paul Schrader plunges George C. Scott in 1979’s HARDCORE, which isn’t about sex so much as it is about relationships, both intrapersonal and with society at large,  and a father’s frantic search for his missing daughter.

Dear Readers: (giving the fish-eye) “Boston, huh. That’s your neck of the woods.”

CRV: “Hey, it was a long time ago. I was young, dumb, and full of c…curiosity!”

Scott plays Jake Van Dorn, a repressed, heavily religious businessman from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He and his daughter Kristen lead a safe, secure life revolving around church and family. Kristen and her cousin Marcie are sent on retreat to a Calvinist Convention in California, and soon Jake gets word his pride and joy has gone missing from Knott’s Berry Farm with a strange man. The distraught Jake flies to LA, but when the police prove no help, he hires a somewhat shady PI named Andy Mast to find his daughter.

Mast does, but what he finds shocks Jake to his fundamentalist core… the detective procures an 8mm loop of Kristen having sex with two men. Jake and Mast butt heads, so Jake goes out on his own to roam the grimy side of LA, experiencing culture shock in a world he knows nothing about. The denizens of this grimy arena are an understandably tight-lipped lot, so he takes it upon himself to go undercover as an out-of-town porn investor, sinking ever deeper into the dirty swamp.

Posing as a casting director, Jake meets a lad with the moniker “Jism Jim”, who he recognizes from the loop he saw with Kristen. When Jake starts asking questions about Kristen, now known as “Joanna”, the young would-be stud talks trash about how kinky she was, and an enraged Jake lashes out, beating Jim mercilessly until he gets some info on his daughter’s whereabouts. This leads to Niki, a prostitute and part-time porn actress, who agrees to help Jake… for a price, of course. The unlikely pair, a conservative Midwestern businessman and a freewheeling hooker, travel to San Diego and San Francisco on a grungy trail that takes them to a man named Ratan, a notorious producer of S&M and “snuff” films…

DRs: (scowling) “Sounds pretty gross. Where’s the value in a film like this?”

CRV: “It’s socially significant. And says a lot about the state of America, even today. An apathetic society, turning it’s back on its values…”

DRs: (eyes rolling) “Oh, brother.”

Scott is a sight to behold, going from staid patriarch to obsessed father desperately trying to save his little girl, no matter what the cost. The scene where he sits and watches the stag loop is painful and uncomfortable, as he agonizes over the obscene footage. His veneer of civility, of reliance on God in all things, is shattered when he enters this sleazy world, and Jake in turn becomes as animalistic as the predators that roam those dark streets. Scott was one of his generation’s greatest actors, and he totally immerses himself in the part, adding subtle shadings every time more is revealed about his daughter and himself.

Season Hubley plays the hooker Niki, to whom Jake becomes a father figure. She’s brash, stoned, and street smart, the opposite of Scott’s Van Dorn. He needs her more than she needs him, but the two form a bond, broken only when Jake finds his daughter at last, leaving poor Niki alone to the streets once again. Hubley played a similar role in the 1982 exploitation classic VICE SQUAD, and is an actress who can always be depended upon to deliver the goods. She was the title character in THE LOLLY MADONNA WAR, played Desdemona in a rock version of Othello called CATCH MY SOUL, and appeared with ex-husband Kurt Russell in both the TV Movie ELVIS (as Priscilla Presley) and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Peter Boyle’s Andy Mast isn’t exactly Philip Marlowe, but a knight in rusty armor who knows all the players on the mean streets of LA. He’s got a bit of John Wayne in him, referring to Jake as “Pilgrim” throughout the film, and is an important part of the proceedings. Dick Sargent (the second Darin on BEWITCHED) is Jake’s equally repressed brother-in-law, worried Jake has gone too far down in the muck and mire of Hollywood. Marc Alaimo, Bibi Besch, and Tracey Walter have small roles, as does Hal Williams as “Big Dick Blacque”, a porn star auditioning for Jake who calls him a racist when he doesn’t get the (bogus) part.

This was Paul Schrader’s second film as both writer and director, the first being BLUE COLLAR. He made a splash with his screenplay for TAXI DRIVER, another movie exposing the dirty underbelly of American life. Most of Schrader’s films deal with the dark side of human nature, from AMERICAN GIGOLO to AUTO FOCUS, RAGING BULL to AFFLICTION, and contain religious overtones (Schrader also wrote the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST). Schrader uses music to represent the dichotomy of Van Dorn’s life; in the Grand Rapids scenes we hear the gospel strains of “Precious Memories”; when Jake hits LA, the industrial rock noise of composer Jack Nietzsche dominates. He puts Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Helpless” to good use when Jake enters his first porn shop, and the film ends again with the gospel standard, father and daughter reunited but never to be the same again. HARDCORE may not be an easy film for some to watch, but it’s not supposed to be. In the world of Schrader and HARDCORE, nothing is what it seems, and life is as hard as those grubby streets where anything can be had… for a price.

DRs: “OK, but next time why don’t you review a Disney movie or something. Next thing we know, you’ll be doing porn reviews!”

CRV: (lopsided grin) “Well, you know, some of them do have historic and cultural significance. There’s DEEP THROAT, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR…. hey, wait, come back! I was only kidding!!”

“Back in the day”: Boston’s Combat Zone
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One Hit Wonders #13 “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes (Reprise Records 1966)

Los Angeles psychedelic rockers The Electric Prunes rose to #11 on the Billboard charts with their 1966 hit, “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”:

The band were noted for their early use of fuzz-tone guitars, wah-wah pedals, and other studio tricks to add an eerie ambience to their rock’n’roll noise. Though they never had another hit, their 1968 album “Mass in F Minor” has become a psychedelia collector’s Holy Grail, a complex, baroque rock concept LP composed and arranged by David Axelrod (the jazz producer, not the political pundit) sung entirely in Greek and Latin. The record was so complex, in fact, The Prunes had difficulty playing the songs, and studio musicians were brought in to fill in the gaps. A song from “Mass in F Minor” called “Kyrie Elieson” gained some notoriety when it was used in Dennis Hopper’s 1969 biker classic EASY RIDER:

As for The Electric Prunes, they went back to a simpler sound before breaking up in 1970. There were several reunions and re-reunions over the years, but far as I can tell, The Prunes are no longer in existence. Anyone who knows otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment – Prunes fans wanna know!!

Pre Code Confidential #18: FIVE STAR FINAL (Warner Brothers 1931)

Tabloid journalism has been around far longer than the cable “news” channels of today, with their 24 hour a day barrage of nonstop sleazy scandals and “fake news”. A circulation war between publishers Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) in the 1890’s, filled with sensationalized headlines and mucho muckraking, gave birth to the term “Yellow Journalism”, derived from Richard Outcault’s guttersnipe character The Yellow Kid in his comic strip Hogan’s Alley, which appeared in both papers. This legacy of dirt-digging and gossip-mongering continued through the decades in supermarket rags like The National Enquirer and World Weekly News, leading us to where we are today with the so-called “mainstream media” stretching credibility to the max and bogus Internet click-bait sites abounding. All of which leads me to FIVE STAR FINAL, a Pre-Code drama about headhunting for headlines starring Edward G. Robinson and a colorful supporting cast.

Robinson and director Mervyn LeRoy , fresh off the hit gangster epic LITTLE CAESAR, reunited for this sordid little tale as E.G. plays Randall, managing editor of the fictional New York Gazette, pressured by his publisher to boost sagging sales by jazzing things up with girlie pics and juicy scandals. Rehashing the twenty year old Nancy Voorhees murder case, in which a young secretary shot and killed her boss/lover, Randall assembles his team to dig up everything they can on her life today. Staff floozie Kitty Carmody hunts down her whereabouts; Nancy is now Mrs. Michael Townsend, whose daughter Jenny is about to be wed to wealthy manufacturing heir Phillip Weeks.

Isopod, an ex-divinity student ejected for drinking and lasciviousness, impersonates a reverend and visits the Townsends, learning the couple is afraid all this bad publicity will harm Jenny, who was born out-of-wedlock and isn’t Michael’s child. A drunken Isopod brings the scoop back to Randall and the smear campaign is on! A distraught Nancy ends up committing suicide; when Michael finds the body he follows suit. Kitty and her photographer sneak into the Townsend’s apartment and take a pic of the two bodies on their bathroom floor. The scandal causes the upper crust Weeks’s to demand the wedding be called off, and a hysterical Jenny grabs a gun and confronts Randall, Isopod, and publisher Hinchcliffe in an amazingly tense dramatic scene, concluding with Randall telling Hinchcliffe just what he can do with his bloody paper!

Robinson’s staccato line delivery and perpetual scowl make Randall seem as real a newspaper man as you can get. Reluctant at first to sensationalize his paper, he dives right into the mudpit to deliver the goods. His forlorn face when he learns of the tragedy is unforgettable, and his compulsive hand washing throughout the movie suggests a man who can never get all the filth off of them. The fact that Robinson, who gave brilliant performances in films like DR. EHRLICH’S MAGIC BULLET, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SCARLET STREET , KEY LARGO , and so many others, never won an Oscar, only awarded a posthumous statuette two months after his death, is another black eye on the Academy.

A pre-FRANKENSTEIN Boris Karloff plays the unctuous reporter Isopod, a leering slimebag of a man just as creepy as any monster or mad doctor he ever played… maybe creepier! Ona Munson (GONE WITH THE WIND’s Belle Watling) is Kitty, the girl who’s “been around”, George E. Stone (E.G.’s LITTLE CAESAR henchman) is Ziggie, a street hardened “idea man”, and Aline MacMahon makes her film debut as Randall’s secretary Miss Taylor, who’s secretly in love with her boss. Marian Marsh as Jenny is cloying at first, but heats things up when she becomes unhinged at the end. Veterans H.B. Warner and Frances Starr as Michael and Nancy are okay, but Anthony Bushell is rah-ther wooden as Phillip. Familiar Faces include Oscar Apfel, Gladys Lloyd (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson), and the hypnotic Polly Walters as an uncredited switchboard operator.

One innovative scene I found fascinating was a triple-split screen with Nancy frantically trying to call Randall and Hinchcliffe, leading to her death. Le Roy moves his camera to good effect; the film is rarely static, yet LeRoy’s work as director seems to get overlooked in conversations among film buffs today. FIVE STAR FINAL is admittedly creaky in some spots, but overall holds up well, and is as relevant in today’s world as it was 87 years ago. The more things change, the more they remain the same… and more’s the pity.

Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid

Hand-y Man: Peter Lorre in THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (Warner Brothers 1946)

Warner Brothers was in at the beginning of the first horror cycle with DR. X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM , both starring Lionel Atwill. The studio concentrated more on their gangster flicks, Busby Berkeley musicals, swashbuckling epics, and the occasional highbrow films with George Arliss and Paul Muni, but once in a while they’d throw horror buffs a bone: Karloff in 1936’s THE WALKING DEAD, ’39’s THE RETURN OF DR. X (no relation to the original, instead casting Humphrey Bogart as a pasty-faced zombie!), and a pair of scare comedies from ’41, THE SMILING GHOST and THE BODY DISAPPEARS.

Come 1946, Warners took another stab at horror with THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, a psychological thriller about a dead pianist’s crawling hand out for murderous revenge… well, sort of. The movie was assembled by a host of horror vets, directed by Robert Florey (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE ), written by Curt Siodmak (the man who brought THE WOLF MAN to life), and headlined by the great Peter Lorre as a pop-eyed astrology nut. It’s even got a score by KING KONG’s Max Steiner, yet despite all this terror talent going for it, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS isn’t quite the classic it should be. It’s eerie and atmospheric, but the seemingly tacked-on comic ending almost ruined the good will haunting for me.

The story: In a small Italian village, Francis Ingram, a paralyzed concert pianist, assembles his closest acquaintances together to attest to his sanity as they cosign his last will and testament. They include hustling American ex-pat Bruce Conrad, who adapted symphonies to fit Ingram’s one-handed playing, nurse Julie Holden, with whom the elderly musician is in love, sycophant and astrology buff Hillary Cummins, nephew Donald Arlington, and lawyer Duprex. When Hillary informs the old man that Julie is planning to leave him for Bruce, an angered Ingram tries to strangle him. Later, on one of those dark and stormy nights familiar to horror fans, Ingram tumbles down the staircase in his wheelchair to his death.

Local policeman Commissario Castanio investigates and, finding no signs of foul play, declares the death an accident. At the reading of the will, Donald’s stodgy father Raymond shows up, aghast that Julie gets the bulk of the estate. Lawyer Duprex tells the relatives there’s an old will that may supplant the updated one… for a hefty fee, of course! Meanwhile, “there’s a light on in the mausoleum”, and soon piano music is heard, with Ingram’s ring found atop the instrument, and Duprex’s dead body discovered. An investigation finds Ingram’s corpse has had its hand cut off. All signs point to a disembodied hand returned from the grave, and the local villagers believe the villa is now cursed (because that’s what local villagers do in these things!). Nephew Donald attempts to open the safe containing the older will, and another attack is accompanied by the sound of piano music…

The best scene comes when Lorre bugs out upon being visited by the hand, richly enhanced by Steiner’s score. Peter’s at his stark, raving mad best in this movie, his last for Warner Brothers, and though I won’t give away any secrets for those who haven’t seen the film, suffice it to say our boy Lorre does a fantastic job in his role. Robert Alda (Bruce) is glib but good; he’d later have “hand” problems of his own in 1961’s THE DEVIL’S HAND. Andrea King (Julie) was a Warners contract player whose only other genre credit was 1952’s RED PLANET MARS. Victor Francen (Ingram), John Alvin (Donald), Charles Dingle (Raymond), Gino Corrado, Pedro de Cordoba, and Ray Walker also appear.

J. Carrol Naish plays the Commissario, and is the one who gets the dishonor of spoiling the fun with that “comedy” end bit. Naish, a master dialectician and two-time Oscar nominee (SAHARA, A MEDAL FOR BENNY), was no stranger to horror; fans know him as the hunchbacked Daniel in Universal’s all-star HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN . Among his chiller credits are two Lon Chaney Jr/Inner Sanctum entries (CALLING DR. DEATH, STRANGE CONFESSION), DR. RENAULT’S SECRET, THE MONSTER MAKER, and JUNGLE WOMAN. Naish’s final role was in Al Adamson’s DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, reuniting him with old costar Chaney for one last horror hurrah.

Besides my griping about the silly denouement, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS is worth your time. The good points (direction, music, Lorre’s performance, the cool special effects) far outweigh the one bad. As for Warner Brothers, horror aficionados would have to wait another seven years before they returned to the genre, but it was worth it… Vincent Price in the 3D shocker HOUSE OF WAX!

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #16: Herman’s Hermits in HOLD ON! (MGM 1966)

In yesterday’s  ‘One Hit Wonders’ post on the Blues Magoos, I told you Dear Readers my first concert was headlined by Herman’s Hermits, five non-threatening teens from Manchester, UK – Karl Greene, Barry Whitwam, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby, Keith Hopwood, and lead singer Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, known as Herman for his slight resemblance to cartoon character Sherman (of “Mr. Peabody and…’ fame). Their infectious, peppy pop rock and Herman’s toothy grin made the teenyboppers scream with delight, with hits like “I’m Into Something Good”, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, and “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”. Even parents liked The Hermits, and they seemed destined to follow in the cinematic footsteps of The Beatles. MGM, who released their records stateside, concocted a ball of fluff for Herman and the lads called HOLD ON!, and any resemblance between that title and The Fab Four’s HELP! is strictly not coincidental!

It’s your basic Sam Katzman production, who’d been cranking out teen oriented rock flicks since 1956’s ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK . Like most (okay, all) Katzman movies, the budget is decidedly on the low side, aided and abetted by some clever camerawork and plenty o’stock footage, not to mention veteran director Arthur Lubin, who’d been around since the 1930’s, directed the first five Abbott & Costello films, the Francis the Talking Mule series, and created the TV sitcom MR. ED. He wasn’t outstanding, but very competent, especially when it came to comedy.

The plot? It’s thin as a cup of weak tea, with Herman’s Hermits going on a big U.S. tour, and NASA astronauts (or rather, their kids) wanting to name their new space capsule after the band, causing an apoplectic State Department official to send a man to follow the boys a “get a full report”! A couple of subplots (yes, there are subplots!) involve a publicity hungry starlet determined to be linked with Herman, and a rich young girl who falls for the singer. There’s some merry mix-ups and slapstick gags along the way, as a charity ball the Hermits play becomes a catastrophe, but by the end everything works out for the best, as these things usually do.

This flimsy story, written by Robert E. Kent (WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS ) under the pseudonym James B. Gordon, serves as an excuse to hold together a plethora of songs by Herman’s Hermits. Besides the title tune, we get hits like “A Must to Avoid” and “Where Were You When I Needed You”, as well as lesser songs “All the Things I Do For You, Baby”, “Got A Feelin'”, and “Wild Love”. There are a couple of fantasy sequences set to “The George and Dragon” and “Leaning on the Lampost”, but again, this is a Sam Katzman production… don’t expect anything fancy!

The supporting cast consists mainly of TV actors. Bernard Fox (BEWITCHED’s Dr. Bombay, HOGAN’S HEROES’ Col. Crittendon) plays the band’s manager, whose job is to keep girls away from Herman (and vice versa!). Shelley Fabares (THE DONNA REED SHOW, COACH) plays Herman’s love interest, and gets the chance to warble “Make Me Happy” (Shelley had a #1 hit of her own in 1962 with “Johnny Angel”). Herbert Anderson (DENNIS THE MENACE’s dad) is the put-upon State Department guy spying on the Hermits, getting constantly doused with water for his troubles. Sue Ane Langdon, a frequent TV gust star who costarred with Elvis in FRANKIE & JOHNNY, is the publicity-mad actress.

I loved this when I saw it in the theater, but then again I was only 8! Times change, and now that I know a little more about films, I can tell you it’s not all that great. If you’re not a fan of the band, you won’t understand what all the hype was about. The songs are good, but you won’t find any thespic talent among Herman and his Hermits. It’s a time capsule movie of a more innocent era, when the group was riding high on the pop charts. As I said, times change, and the harder, more experimental rock sounds of the late 60’s soon left Herman’s Hermits by the wayside. I still like ’em though, and even own a double-CD of their music (and break it out of a couple times a year).  In fact, I’ve heard Peter Noone himself will be playing the Cape Cod Melody Tent later this summer with another 60’s pop rock group, Tommy James & The Shondells. Yeah, you just KNOW I’ll  be there!

One Hit Wonders #12: “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” by The Blues Magoos (Mercury Records 1966)

The very first concert I saw was… er, a very long time ago! Teenybop pop rockers Herman’s Hermits headlined the show, and the opening act was The Blues Magoos, performing their #5 Billboard hit, “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet”:

The Blues Magoos, from The Bronx, were early practitioners of psychedelic rock’n’roll, going so far as to name their debut album “Psychedelic Lollipop”. They were loud, heavy, and wore these electric suits that blinked on and off during their rendition of the classic “Tobacco Road”:

Even without the suits, they were pretty far out, man! The lineup consisted of Emil “Peppy Castro” Theilheim (vocals, rhythm guitar), Mike Esposito (lead guitar), Ralph Scala (organ), Ron Gilbert (bass), and Geoff Daking (drums). They made the rounds of all the TV shows, like AMERICAN BANDSTAND, THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR , and the above clip from a Jack Benny-hosted episode of THE KRAFT MUSIC HALL (Jack doesn’t seem to dig ’em… Well!). After four more groovy LP’s and a handful of singles, The Blues Magoos disbanded, only to reunite ten years ago. They continue to spread the Gospel of Psychedelia around to small clubs across the country.

Oh, there was a second group playing that night between The Magoos and Herman, an obscure British band noted at the time more for destroying their instruments onstage than their music:

Hmmm, wonder what ever happened to those lads?

American Idol: RIP Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino, who passed away yesterday at age 82, wasn’t just a professional wrestler. He was an institution, an icon, a true American Dream success story, a hero to millions of kids now “of a certain age” (like me), and the biggest box-office star of his era, selling out New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden a record 187 times. He held the WWWF (now WWE) Heavyweight championship for close to twelve years during his two title reigns, facing the best in the business and vanquishing them all. Face it, Bruno was THE MAN!

The Man himself was born in Italy in 1935, and as a child hid from the Nazis in the Italian mountains. Coming to America in 1950 and settling in Pittsburgh,  Bruno was a sickly, scrawny child who couldn’t speak English, and was bullied in school. This caused the young lad to begin working out with weights, and by 1959 he set a world record in the bench press hefting 565 pounds, a record that stood for eight years. Bruno began performing feats of strength in his hometown, and soon a wrestling promoter offered him a chance to make some money in the squared circle.

Beating Buddy Rogers in 1963

Sammartino wasn’t a great technical wrestler; he was a brawler and a bruiser whose matches were usually won with his devastating bearhug hold. Wrestlers at the time were marketed towards local working class ethnic groups, and Bruno became a hit in Italian strongholds like Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York/New Jersey. New York promoter Vincent J. McMahon (father of current WWE chairman Vincent K.) was about to form his own East Coast alliance called the World Wide Wrestling Federation, and he knew a good thing when he saw it. Naming “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers his first champ, he set up a match between the arrogant heel and the popular Sammartino, and Bruno won the belt on May 17, 1963 in 48 seconds! The rumor is Rogers had suffered a heart attack the week before and needed to retire, and some backstage shenanigans involving the athletic commission doctors allowed the “Nature Boy” to pass a quick physical that night so the belt could be put on Bruno.

Verses the evil Killer Kowalski

Shenanigans or not, Bruno faced all the top heels in the game during his initial seven-plus year run. “Bad guys” like The Shiek, Ernie “The Cat” Ladd, Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, Professor Toru Tanaka, and Killer Kowalski tried and failed to wrest the crown from Bruno. My Portuguese grandmother (‘vovo’) used to get real heated whenever Kowalski came on the television – I can’t describe how shocked I was as a kid to hear my sweet little Vovo yelling, “You dirty son of a bitch!” at Kowlaski’s dastardly deeds on the TV set!

Eventually, Bruno tired of the travel schedule, and dropped the strap to Ivan Koloff in 1971 (who in turn lost to Puerto Rican sensation Pedro Morales a month later). The now ex-champ made sporadic appearances here and there, but soon McMahon Sr. came a-calling. Though Morales was a better technical wrestler than Bruno, box office receipts and TV ratings were down, and Sammartino was persuaded to carry the crown again. Pedro lost to Stan “The Man” Stasiak (‘Master of the Heart Punch’), and a month later Bruno beat Stan, once again lighting up the ratings and box office for another three-plus years, battling villains like George “The Animal” Steel, Ken Patera, Nikolai Volkoff, Stan Hansen, and the hated Kowalski, finally relinquishing the title to “cool” heel Superstar Billy Graham (who, as we all could plainly see, had his feet on the ropes for leverage!).

But Bruno didn’t need a title; he was still the top star in wrestling. He headlined everywhere he went, and the fans went wild seeing him beat the crap out of his opponents. I remember a 1980 card at the old Boston Garden pitting Bruno against his protégé Larry Zbysko, now a hated heel for turning on our hero. The two brawled for an eternity, both men a bloody mess before Sammartino gained the victory, and the crowd went berserk! Yeah, we knew by then it was fake, but damn, it sure was a lot of fun! (For those of you interested, also on the card were The Wild Samoans, Gorilla Monsoon, Pat Patterson, Baron Mikel Scicluna, and “The Duke of Dorchester” Pete Doherty!)

 

Bruno was now called “The Living Legend”, an appropriate title if there ever was one. He became a color commentator alongside Vince McMahon Jr. after the son bought the company from his father, but still wrestled on occasion. He participated in the first two Wrestlemanias, and feuded with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. But Bruno didn’t like the cartoonish direction the younger McMahon was taking the company, nor the rampant use of steroids, and departed acrimoniously in 1987. Things between Sammartino and the now-WWE remained bitter until 2013, when Paul “Triple H” Levesque pleaded with him to bury the hatchet, and Bruno Sammartino was finally awarded his proper place in the WWE Hall of Fame, inducted by his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. But like every warrior, even the mighty Sammartino could not defeat Father Time. He leaves behind his wife of 59 years Carol, three sons, four grandchildren, and many beloved memories for his fans.

I recall an old issue of Sports Illustrated that had a piece on Bruno’s phenomenal popularity, the first wrestler ever to be profiled by the magazine. In the story, an elderly female fan was interviewed. On her wall, there were three pictures. On the left, John F. Kennedy, on the right, Pope Paul. And the man holding the prestigious spot in the middle… Bruno Sammartino. Holy Trinity, indeed. Godspeed, Bruno.