Gorgeous George by John Capouya

September 27, 2019

Simply put this is one of the best biographies written about a professional wrestler.

The basics of the story of Raymond ‘Gorgeous George’ Wagner are well known: with a combination of flamboyance, ring music, an arrogant persona and an elaborate entrance, he became arguably the biggest star of the first TV wrestling boom in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He later faded from glory and died impoverished and with alcohol problems.

Capouya takes the story a step further however: rather than merely cover George’s in-ring antics, he chronicles his life in a way that is detailed but never dry. That’s helped largely by the co-operation of George’s first wife Betty, who was clearly interviewed at life. Unlike many wrestling spouses at the time, she traveled with George and helped develop his trademark image.

The result is an amazing level of detail including entire conversations — or at least Betty’s recollections of such conversations — and insight into George’s thinking and the way he established his box office magic persona.

Unlike many wrestling history books dealing with the vintage era, there’s no filler here: the detail of and references to historical and cultural events are all directly tied in to George’s career and fame.

The book is no fawning celebration either. It covers both George’s personal problems and the times when he failed in the ring, such as unsuccessful attempts to revive the wrestling scene in Madison Square Garden.

In an ideal world, every historical wrestling bio would be like this. Until then, this remains one of the very few genuine must-read wrestling books.

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One Comment

  • Jason Presley October 2, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    While I enjoyed most of this book, the initial chapters were heavy on speculation about Wagner’s early life, and the pop culture chapters really all could have been consolidated into a single piece and eliminated a lot of what felt like the same comments being repeated over and over. Beyond those quibbles, the rest of the book was very good and detailed.

    But I got it for $1 at the Dollar Tree, so I probably shouldn’t complain. I definitely got my money’s worth. I would put the Mildred Burke book above this one as far as a gold standard for a biography.

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