What do Muhammad Ali, James Brown—the late Godfather of Soul—and Bob Dylan have in common?

Clearly, they are all legendary performers, three of the greatest American entertainers and artists of the last half-century. But very few know these men shared another attribute as well: All three said they were inspired and influenced by a wildly (over)dressed, bleached-blond and quasi-effeminate wrestler, a ring villain who became a huge celebrity in the early days of television: Gorgeous George. Who was this man, and how could he have such an impact on these three titans—and such disparate ones at that? Read on...

“Ladies and gentlemen, introducing The Toast of the Coast......The Sensation of the Nation......that Human Orchid...............GORGEOUS GEORGE!"

When the announcers in the wrestling arenas cried out his name, Gorgeous George appeared at the top of an aisle with his hair long, dyed platinum blond and put up in a woman’s hairdo known as the marcel. His elaborate curls were kept in place with gold-plated “Georgie pins.’’ This at a time when all men’s hair, including President Truman’s, was short, neat and innocuous. George’s hair was anything but innocuous: It shrieked.

He wore elaborate—and deliberately effeminate— long robes of wildly colored satins and silks, trimmed with luxurious furs and silver sequins, festooned with ruffles and lace. Then “Pomp and Circumstance’’ would blare over the loudspeakers and George would begin his famous strut to the ring, as some fans laughed cheered uproariously while others hurled jeers and curses, as well as wadded-up programs, popcorn and other detritus at the arrogant faux-royal character. But before that The Gorgeous One was preceded to the ring by his valet or manservant, who would spray perfume everywhere his master might tread. George said his perfume was “Chanel Number 10.’’ Number 5 was good enough for other people, but...

Then, when the wrestling finally began, Gorgeous George was the ultimate heel or ring villain, cheating, kidney punching, eye-gouging—and a startlingly good athlete. “Win if you can, lose if you must—but always cheat,’’ was his motto.

This was the mid-1940s. World War Two had finally, mercifully ended, and America was changing—into what, no one quite knew. But it would be something different, you could tell. Amid that transformation a transformed professional wrestler shocked and thrilled the nation, through that revolutionary new entertainment called television. Read more!

blurbs from John Waters, Ismael Reed, Jeremy Schaap, and  Mark Kriegel


[in the news]

Reviews are in the New York Times, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.

Read an interview with John Capouya in the Wall Street Journal.

Read an interview with John in the St. Petersburg Times.

Gorgeous George makes Gawker.com.

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George and Betty pinning hair
Betty fixes George Wagner's famous
hair before the court appearance that
changes his name legally to Gorgeous
George. --Los Angeles Times

GG in a satin robe
In his finest fabrics, ruffles, and lace.
--Jack Pfefer Collection, University
Libraries of Notre Dame




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