Who’s The Daddy?: The Life and Times of Shirley Crabtree by Ryan Danes

May 17, 2019

Who’s The Daddy is as much a story of Shirley Crabtree the man as it is Big Daddy the wrestler. Much like its subject, the book has clear strengths and weaknesses and its reception will depend largely on what the audience is looking for.

It’s the fresh content that is the main advantage of the book. Author Ryan Danes has spoken extensively to Crabtree’s daughter Jane and uncovered some genuinely informative insights into his personal life. These build up a picture of a man with simple tastes who was never overly worried about money.

We also learn a lot about some of Crabtree’s unusual quirks, his relationship struggles (including a shocking revelation involving the breakdown of one of his marriages) and the stresses of stardom and life on the road. It combines to give a balanced look at the man behind the character and serves to remind readers that simply labelling somebody as a good or bad person is overly simplistic.

Unfortunately, like Daddy’s own in-ring performances, this isn’t enough to carry the show. The most striking negative is the book’s use of references to historical and world events with nothing to do with either Crabtree or wrestling. While this can be a useful tool in moderation, adding context and background to the events of the subject’s life, it is completely overdone here and at some points goes on for several paragraphs, the most striking example being the detailing of the time fish fingers first went on sale in the United Kingdom.

The book as a whole could have used more careful editing: several stories and incidents are effectively repeated at later points, while some details of the wrestling side of events aren’t quite on the mark, such as the claim that wrestlers would cut themselves during the match using a Stanley knife.

Most frustrating is the way the book regularly includes lengthy passages of quotes in the words of Daddy himself, but fails to cite their origins. It turns out these sections come from a variety of sources, both first-hand (including letters written by Crabtree) and reconstructed from recalled conversations. This process leads to a particularly baffling section where Daddy is quoted as expressing his sadness at the drug-related death of Davey Boy Smith, an event that came five years after Crabtree himself had passed away.

Just like a Big Daddy match itself then, those with a keen interest in personality may find the book intriguing, while more dedicated wrestling fans may well be left feeling unsatisfied.

(This review originally appeared in Fighting Spirit Magazine.)

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