Sunday, March 25, 2012

Freddie Blassie

Frederick Kenneth Blassman (February 8, 1918 – June 2, 2003), better known as "Classy" Freddie Blassie, was an American professional wrestling villain and manager born in St. Louis, Missouri. Renowned as "The Fashion Plate of Professional Wrestling", He was also a one-time NWA Georgia Heavyweight Champion (later known as the NWA Wildside Heavyweight Championship), and a one-time NWA Florida Heavyweight Champion.

Blassie came up with his famous "pencil-neck geek" catchphrase early in his career to describe a fellow carnival performer known as "The Geek", who bit the heads off chickens and snakes. Blassie described this geek as having a neck like a stack of dimes, and that he was a real pencil-neck geek.

He soon got work from more established promoters: Tom Packs in St. Louis and George Simpson in Kansas City. The more he worked in the business, the more the veterans were willing to let him learn about the wrestling business.

After the United States entered World War II, Blassie enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific Theater for 42 months. The war was a trying time for his family back home because of his parents' German heritage. They were often accused of being unpatriotic. In addition, he married a Jewish girl named Nettie Needles in California while on shore leave. He achieved the rank of Petty Officer Second Class before he was discharged.

Upon Blassie's return from the war, he was billed as "Sailor" Fred Blassie to capitalize on the wave of war-time patriotism sweeping the country, but that gimmick was unsuccessful. He worked for Jack Pfefer, who he claimed would only employ people who looked like sideshow freaks at his shows, and whose wrestlers included Tor Johnson, who made movies with director Ed Wood, and Lillian Ellison, the Fabulous Moolah.

In 1960, Blassie returned to Strongbow's promotion in Los Angeles where he was a big star for the World Wrestling Association of southern California, drawing many fans to the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. He was so hated there that uniformed police officers were regularly brought in to protect him as he made his way to and from the ring. He had main event-level feuds against stars such as The Destroyer

On June 12, 1961, Blassie defeated the "Flying Frenchman" Édouard Carpentier in a best-of-three-falls match for his first WWA Championship title. On July 7, Blassie successfully defended his title against the former NWA Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz. During that same title reign, in a match against Lord James Blears a fan threw acid on his back, and he had to return immediately to the locker room to wash it off.

Blassie claims that he made Regis Philbin into the celebrity he is today. When Philbin had a late-night weekend talk show in San Diego, Blassie would routinely show up to yell at the audience, throw furniture, and threaten Philbin. In later years, Blassie also appeared on The Mike Douglas Show when Philbin was a guest host.

After regaining the WWA Championship from Rikidōzan, Blassie lost the title two days later to the "Masked Destroyer" Dick Beyer. In 1963, Bearcat Wright defeated him to become champion, and it was quite a statement during the fight for civil rights that an African-American had won such a title. In 1964, "Dick The Bruiser" Richard Afflis defeated Blassie to become champion, and Blassie headed east to work for the World Wide Wrestling Federation.

Blassie returned to the WWA in 1968 just as promoter Mike LeBell decided to rejoin the NWA. In the early 1970s, Blassie "turned face", or became a good guy, since so many fans were cheering his famous antics. While there, he feuded with Soulman Rocky Johnson, The Sheik, and "The Golden Greek" John Tolos. One of his most famous feuds took place in southern California in 1971, against Tolos. The final match of their series took place in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and set new California records for both attendance and gate.

In 1964, Blassie feuded with Bruno Sammartino and Bobo Brazil. Blassie came in to the WWWF with his own world title belt, claiming to be the Pacific World Champion, and was coming to Sammartino's "back yard" to unify the world title. The series began at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ in 1964, with Blassie winning on a technicality, but not a pin. The rematches were held at Madison Square Garden in New York, with Sammartino winning out. Behind the scenes, Blassie befriended Gorilla Monsoon. He returned to the company in 1971 to challenge Pedro Morales for the WWWF Championship. During this stint with the company, Blassie was managed by his future nemesis, "Captain" Lou Albano

Andy Kaufman was enamored with Freddie Blassie and constantly hounded him to get him a spot in the wrestling card. Eventually, a movie of the two was filmed in 1982 at a Sambo's in Los Angeles called My Breakfast With Blassie. Kaufman, Blassie and the film itself were name-checked by American rock band R.E.M. in their song "Man on the Moon" from their 1992 album Automatic for the People. The song is addressing Kaufman, and makes reference to "Mr. Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess."

"Classy" Freddie Blassie appeared in a live-action segment of the cartoon "Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling." In the segment he is interviewed by "Mean" Gene Okerlund when the two are interrupted by a little old lady in a housekeeper outfit that Blassie claims to be his own mother.

In the early 1990s, the wrestler starred in a documentary directed by Jeff Krulik, titled Mr. Blassie Goes To Washington. In it, Blassie is picked up at the Washington, D.C., airport by a limo full of young women, escorted around the nation's capital, gives his opinions and confronts tourists. When meeting someone, he would ask where they were from, and no matter their response, he would reply with, "Oh, that's God's country!"

Blassie also appeared in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that featured a new dance craze called The Twizzle. Rose Marie's character Sally Rogers brought him on at the end of the episode claiming to have discovered another new dance sensation. In the demonstration of the dance Blassie picked up Rob Petrie and twirled him over his head.

"Classy" Freddie Blassie also made a cameo appearance as himself, along with "Wrestling's Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino, and Ric Flair in the 1986 film "Body Slam" starring Dirk Benedict, "Captain" Lou Albano, and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

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