Gorgeous Moneybags

Minneapolis Tribune – May 8, 1955
By Daryle Feldmeir

Mr. Gorgeous George of Beaumont, Calif., is just a simple Nebraska farm boy who owns four orchid Cadillacs, 127 flamboyant dressing gowns insured for $50,000, and, on some nights, maybe, wears an orchid ‘twined in his marcelled curls.

Mr. George parades his foppish mannerisms before arenas full of wrestling fans who shriek many epithets at his sissiness and plead with his opponents to pull him apart, golden lock by golden lock.

This moves him to walk to ring apron and disdainfully sneer “Peasants!” at the assembled multitudes, who pay for this privilege.

To give you an example of what the fans have paid for this privilege in the past several years: Mr. George eats in the finest restaurants, he owns a $220,000 turkey ranch in Beaumont, he has literally thrown away a million gold-plated (tax-deductible) “Georgie” pins in five years, and he still has enough left over to pay his valet a modest salary of about $400 a week.

His conspicuous affluence has not made Mr. George stuck up.

He fluffed the petals of the pancake-sized orchid on his lapel and said diffidently: “You just call me G.G.”

G.G. is not the only thing the 210-pound muscled dainty has been called, but while he has suffered the usual number of broken bones from sticks and stones — words have never hurt him.

“The only things I worry about,” G.G. said with a nonchalant shrug when the matter of spectators’ slurs came up, “the only things I worry about are money and taxes.”

Oh, you will get a wrathful rise out of G.G. if you mention him and Liberace in the same breath.

“Liberace,” he bites out the word scornfully, “he’s imitating me.”

What is particularly irksome to G.G. is Liberace’s use of candelabra.

“I was using candelabra long before Liberace did. Back in late ’47 or early ’48, the wrestling commission in Los Angeles made me stop using candelabra on account of the fire hazard.

“I had Jeffries (his valet) bring in the candelabra and set it in the center of the ring before I entered, but they made me stop it. Liberace picked it up.”

G.G. used the candelabra touch on his recent trip to the Twin Cities last month, snuffing out the candles with his pinkies. The crowd hooted in derision and almost drowned out the tinkle of silver and the rustle of greenbacks being counted in the box office. But not quite.

The folks back in the farming country around Butte, Neb., in Boyd County, might not recognize little George Wagner if they saw him today in his olive green slacks, the mink bow tie and the rust sport coat with the big orchid pinned on the lapel, but that’s where it all started.

G.G. celebrated his 39th birthday (just like Jack Benny) last March 24. In honor of the occasion, he sliced a 50-pound birthday cake in the center of a New Orleans, La., wrestling ring, handed the pieces to four lovely girls who distributed them to ringsiders. That done, G.G. performed a somewhat similar feat on his opponent for the night, a gentleman named Tarzan White.

The Wagner family left Nebraska when George was a baby, moving first to Waterloo, Iowa, then to Sioux City, Iowa, and then — when George was seven — to Houston, Texas, for his mother’s health.

George got the wrestling bug in Houston, but not until he had been bitten by the desire to be “noticed.”

G.G. put it this way: “Even as a boy, I didn’t want to look like anyone else when I walked down the street. I wanted people to notice me. I used to wear knickers so the other kids would tease me and pick a fight.”

Then young Georgie Wagner would lay them out.

One day, when he was 9, as he tells it, his daddy gave him a dollar bill and told him to get a haircut.

“We were studying George Washington in school,” G.G. recalls, “and I looked at his picture on the dollar bill and I noticed he had long hair.”

That was where the Gorgeous curls originated, and though he later wrestled on occasion with short hair, there was a sharp correlation between long hair and dollar bills and he always went back to the fancy hair-do.

Nowadays, G.G. justifies his long hair theory by whipping a wad of greenbacks from his pocket and pointing to the picture on the face of the bills. Thjey aren’t dollar bills any more — they’re 20s or bigger. And the hair is long.

George Wagner began wrestling as an amateur around the Houston YMCA, and ;when he was 17, he wrestled a seven-minute match at a carnival and was paid 35 cents. His wrestling coach happened to be in the crowd and when George went up to him after the match and prooffered his hand, his coach spurned the handshake.

“You’re not an amateur any more,” he told him, “you’re a professional.”

So George Wagner became a professional wrestler. His formal schooling had ended three years before, when he had to quit to help make the family living, and the wrestling trade appealed to him about as much as any of the odd jobs he’d turned his hand to.

He was, and is, a good wrestler. Scrape away all the showmanship today and even at his professed age of 39, he would whip most of the opponents at his own weight, matchmakers say.

George Wagner won his first championship, as wrestling championships go, in 1938 (he was 22) in Eugene, Ore., when he beat Buck Lipscomb for the northwest middleweight crown. Two years later he added the Pacific Coast lightheavyweight title at a tournament in Portland, Ore., and two years later claimed the world’s lightheavyweight title.

Somewhere along the line, Wagner figured out that you have to do something more than just wrestle to make money at the game. He had his long hair and he already was indulging in some fancy robes and wrestling tights, sometimes spending more on clothes than he earned.

Then, the story goes, he entered the ring one night and overheard a woman at ringside sigh, “Isn’t he gorgeous?” The announcer overheard her, too, and introduced him as “Gorgeous George Wagner,” and that’s where Gorgeous George was born.

He began using the name professionally in 1941 and in 1950 he legally changed his name to Gorgeous George in a Los Angeles court.

G.G. entered the courtroom dressed in a deep violet suit, yellow shirt, gray silk tie on which an orchid was painted. His bright cornstalk-colored curls were pinned in place with “Georgie” pins. His attorney, Mrs. S.E. Gramer, told Judge W. Turney Fox that G.G. “is known as ‘the Human Orchid’.”

So by 1941, he had the name and the fancy robes, so many fancy robes, in fact, that he had to hire someone to care for them. He never wears the same robe twice in the same city. He hired the first of seven or eight valets who have served him as “Jeffries.”

Then the gimmicks came one at a time — the prayer rug, his bath mat, the red carpet, the spray gun and atomizers — many of them starting quite by accident.

The year after G.G. hired his first “Jeffries,” he acquired a bad mat burn that became infected. His doctor told him the infection was caused by dirty wrestling mats, so G.G. instructed his valet to slip into the auditorium before the crowd gathered and spray the ring with disinfectant.

One night in 1944, G.G. and “Jeffries” were late for a match in Klamath Falls, Ore. A couple preliminaries already had been completed, but G.G. instructed “Jeffries” to go out there anyway and spray the ring just before his match. Jeffries did. The crowd was convulsed and G.G. adopted the routine.

He insists the spray is really a disinfectant, camouflaged with perfume so as not to offend the sensibilities of ringsiders. “We use Chanel No. 10,” he says with a smile. “Why be half safe?”

The “Georgie” pins came by accident, too. G.G. was the world’s best beauty salon customer.

“I have my hair done in more beauty salons than any woman in the world,” G.G. proclaims modestly. “I have it done every time I make a public appearance.” Then he adds, “And the gossip I have heard! Well, you could write a book about it but you couldn’t get it printed.”

G.G. scorned using black bobbie pins to hold his flaxen curls in place, so he found a firm that gold-plated them. Opposing wrestlers insisted he remove the pins before the fun started, and one night in 1949, as G.G. coyly lifted out a “Georgie” pin, a woman at ringside swooned, “Throw it to me, Gorgeous.”

With all the disdain he could show, G.G. threw her the pin. And that started that.

Throw in a musical entrance and you’ve got it. First he used a portion of a recording of “Faust” but when he lost that record, he picked up a recording of Elgar’s “Pomp and Cirumstance” and has used it since.

Then television came along.

No more seven-minute matches for 35 cents. He was big boxoffice now. In 1951, he is reported to have collected a clver $160,000 for 277 performances and the same year he is reported to have collected another $128,000 selling “The World’s Most Gorgeous Broad-breasted Turkeys” from his Beaumont ranch.

He did say he made “at least” more than $150,000 in his top year.

G.G. spends lavishly but he has a knack for making it bounce back into his pocket. He gets his money’s worth in publicity, if nothing else.

Another man might wince if he ruptured a ligament in his leg, as G.G. did in a match about a year ago. And another man might wince even more if he spent his seven-day recovery period in the maternity ward of a Tulsa, Okla., hospital, as G.G. did. But the Gorgeous One did no wincing.

“It made all the papers from coast to coast,” he explained, “and one national television newcast spent three of its five minutes on my story alone.” You could see the cash register clicking in his mind.

Then he has his turkey ranch — “the largest and most sanitary in Southern California.” His ex-wife, Elizabeth (they were divorced in 1951), and his two children (Carol Sue George, 10, and Donald George, 9) live on the ranch, all of whose buildings are painted G.G.’s favorite color. That’s orchid, of course.

With an eye to scraping up a few extra bucks that might be lying around, G.G. spent last week in Las Vegas, Nev., writing a night club act for a four-week engagement at the Silver Slipper at $3,500 a week. He also is contemplating a one-week run (for $5,000) at the new Riviera club in Las Vegas (Liberace got $50,000 a week to open it recently).

Some say G.G. is near the tag-end of wrestling’s most colorful career. Tag-end or no, the week he spent in the Twin Cities last month brought him about $2,000, according to Minneapolis matchmaker Wally Karbo, and it would have been about $600 more if G.G. had not worked for a half-fee in a Minneapolis baseball bond drive charity match. Not bad for a week’s work.

Of course, you need that kind of money to maintain four orchid Cadillacs. G.G. owns a ’55 limousine, a ’53 convertible, a ’52 limousine, and a ’51 model.

“I don’t know whether you can even count the ’51,” G.G. explained with a show of modesty. “We just use it on the turkey ranch to make hot-shot deliveries to local butcher shops.”

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