Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 1, 1998
By Gus Schrader
I’m being honest when I say I never saw any of Jerry Springer’s controversial TV shows before the big storm erupted over the revelation of scripting for those participating — or combating — on the air.
I have watched just enough since then to turn my stomach, and that takes some doing, as I used to look at pro wrestling, which is very similar. Actually, I never COVERED pro wrestling for The Gazette. I always maintained that should be left to the theatrical section of the paper. However, once in a blue moon I would go to Memorial Coliseum and do what I considered a playful column on the strong, brutal and well-scripted “rasslers.” I don’t believe the promoters appreciated it, but — what the hey — in pro sports any publicity should be welcome.
One of my favorite rasslers was Earl Wampler, called “the Scranton (Iowa) farmer.” Promoter Pinkie George sent him and his sweaty playmates around Iowa. Usually the whole cast all rode in the same car, probably discussing the plot of their next “bout.”
I enjoyed watching old Wampler, even though he was always cast as the villain. Wampler usually had some kind of illegal gimmick that was very obvious to the fans but, for some reason, was never seen by the referee. For instance, he would pull a length of dirty twine from his trunks and use it to choke his clean-cut adversary. When the poor hero protested, the ref could never find the offending cord while ringside watchers would scream, “It’s in his trunks!” or “He put it in his mouth!” (he really did, too).
The clean-cut guy usually would win, garroted or not, but sometimes Wampler would prevail with his nefarious tricks and there would be a rematch next time. I recall once when the promoter announced, “There will be a revenge match Feb. 12 with Wampler competing against an opponent to be named later.”
Another villain was a good friend of mine. He was Bob Geigel, a former U of Iowa heavyweight wrestler from Algona. Bob made a lot of money in pro wrestling, and later became the promoter out of Kansas City when Gust Karras died.
But, let’s get back to Geigel’s own days as a wrestler. He learned all of the dirty tricks and used most of them in the ring struggles. I’ll tell you how effective he was. When I was sports editor of The Gazette, the wrestling promoters used to leave a handful of free tickets to each rassling show. Few of them were ever used.
Then I discovered our family’s wonderful old baby sitter just loved to watch rassling. She actually believed it was real, so I used to give her passes whenever she wished.
One evening when she came to sit with our kids, she drew me aside and said, “I think I am obligated to tell you this, Gus, although I don’t want to. I know you are a good friend of Mr. Geigel, but you should be told that he really is not a very nice person in the wrestling ring. In fact, I must say he is downright dirty and underhanded.”
I didn’t want to tell her the whole thing was a charade, so I urged her to overlook any villainous habits of my friend Geigel. I think our sitter went to her grave failing to see how I could call such a blackguard a friend.
Well, I came far afield of the Jerry Springer TV shows, which I found as disgusting as any pro rassling circus. However, I did learn a certain admiration for the way Springer defended his practices when interviewed by critics on TV.
When he was asked how he could promote such phony and degrading spectacles especially with youngsters watching — he looked at his questioner and asked why his shows could be called any worse than the daily soap operas shown on the same commercial networks. He cited soap plots that included cheating, infidelity, cruelty, sex, violence, crime, even murder and incest.
Yes, Springer at least made a strong point. Now if he would just find himself a good villain like Earl Wampler or Bob Geigel he could really build entertaining shows.