Wrestling’s Country Kitchen – the Legend of Gorgeous George by Norine Stice

One of the first and most outlandish wrestling gimmicks was that of “Gorgeous George” Raymond Wagner. Wagner was born in 1915 in Nebraska; as a young adult worked as a laborer by day and wrestled by night. Unfortunately, George was not one to draw a crowd and his wrestling career stalled.

That might have been the end of it for Wagner, and he could have disappeared from the wrestling world with a whimper. However, he was a showman first and foremost and in order to be seen and heard by wrestling promoters and fans, he created the persona of “The Human Orchid”, and Gorgeous George was born. Wagner was the first wrestler to bleach his hair blonde and have it styled complete with gold plated bobby pins. He began wearing a silk cape to the ring and later added frilly, outlandish robes to his wardrobe. Wagner was billed from Hollywood, California, and claimed his robes were Hollywood designer creations.

He eventually brought in valets who would escort him to the ring armed with a spray dispenser that allowed them to disinfect the ring and the malodorous opponents Wagner was forced to face. He was the first wrestler to use an entrance theme and “Pomp and Circumstance” played as he sashayed his way to the ring sometimes seemingly oblivious to the catcalls and other times stopping to argue with the fans who jeered him.

According to Wikipedia, although born in Nebraska, Wagner grew up in Houston, Texas, and was a high school drop out. His wrestling training came from the local YMCA where he staged matches with his friends before Morris Segal, the local promoter, signed him to compete in matches in 1932. Georgia Wrestling History, his career began in Georgia in 1936, working for promoters Frank Bettis and Nate Jones.

It was not just the outlandish attire George wore to the ring or the bobby pins, known as Georgie pins (which he bestowed upon his female fans), that defined him. He was a cheating, cowardly heel and because of his ability to play his role to perfection, he became the man wrestling fans loved to hate. There were articles that called in to question George’s wrestling ability but his opponents said otherwise. Wagner was considered an equal in the eyes of his adversaries. People filled arenas to see him and most of them wanted to see him lose. In a brilliant fit of foresight, George Wagner legally changed his name to Gorgeous George. It may have sounded eccentric during that period of time but this prevented anyone else from attempting to use his Gorgeous George gimmick. George played his part so well that for twenty years he ruled arenas all over the country and in 1949, he wrestled Ernie Dusk in the grandest venue of them all, none other than Madison Square Garden.

The Human Orchid’s popularity grew and his timing could not have been better. He became known through newsreels at the local theaters. The medium known as television had been born and he became a star as seen in Gorgeous George Vs. Larry Moquin. In an era when men were men and a dainty dandy who coiffed his hair and wore outrageous attire to the ring was considered anything but, George crossed a line into uncharted territory and he made it work.

During his career, he held several titles, including the AWA World Championship, the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship, the GCCW Heavyweight Championship, the Northwest Middleweight Championship and two Pacific Coast Light Heavyweight Championships. He is a charter member of the Wrestling Hall of Fame.

When Gorgeous George had made his mark in the ring and his career was considered over, the almighty dollar beckoned him one last time according to Robert S. Griffin. Professional wrestling matches were becoming a thing of the past and while the era of television had been a moneymaker in the beginning, other types of programming had come along sending the sport to the sideline. A Los Angeles promoter was looking for something that could again pack the arena and a hair vs. mask gimmick match was created pitting Wagner against the current World Champion, The Destroyer. People would have the opportunity to see the maligned Gorgeous George lose his precious locks or see the identity of the masked Champ. Wagner needed the money and he agreed to the match.

In 1962, in front of an audience of 7.634 fans, the two faced each other in the squared circle with George giving up to a figure four leglock after a legitimate knee injury occurred during the match. Wagner’s loss should have been the wrestling fan’s gain and the arena was loudly calling for the finale. But when the shears began to hum, taking the blondish coiffed curls with it, the audience reaction was one of stunned silence. Gorgeous George Wagner, exhausted from the match that later was proclaimed as one that gave the fans their money’s worth, sat in a chair in the center of the ring and there were no more jeers and catcalls as silence turned to sympathy for the man who had spent his career being the most hated man in wrestling. One man called out for the men shearing Wagner’s hair to “leave him alone”, other calls demanding it to stop followed and people filed out of the arena unable to watch. The promoter did not get what he was hoping for and George found that being the most hated wrestler of his time had somehow made him the most adored by the fans.

George was the epitome of the gimmick wrestler. His flash and daring paved the way for wrestlers such as “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Jesse “The Body” Ventura to bring fashion to the ring. In the end, a flamboyant lifestyle marred by an affinity for alcohol caught up with George and he died at the age of 48, the year following the hair vs. mask match. Gorgeous George Wagner was much more than gold bobby pins and fancy lace frills sprayed with perfume. He was a creative genius, an entertainer, and an accomplished professional wrestler. Buried in Pierce Brothers Vahalla Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California George Raymond “Gorgeous George” Wagner, his stone reads: “Love to our Daddy, Gorgeous George”.

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