Book Review: ‘The King of New Orleans’
Author: Greg Klein
You were practically pinned to your seat.
They called it a smackdown, but you knew it as pure adrenaline. The good guy with white tights and the bad guy in blue, in the ring together, and you were never more excited about anything in your life—so much so, that they were miles away from your living room and couldn’t possibly hear you, but you screamed encouragement until the match was done and so were you.
Some say pro wrestling is fake, but you don’t care: you love it, but what do you know about it?
Read “The King of New Orleans” by Greg Klein (c.2012, ECW Press, $19.95 U.S. and Canada, 180 pages), and you might learn something new . . . .
Born in North Carolina in December, 1952, Sylvester Ritter was raised by his grandmother because neither of his parents were around to do it. He was a good kid, but not much of a scholar, so he was happy when his school integrated with the White school. Integration meant that Ritter had a better chance at football. In eighth grade, at over six feet tall and 228 pounds, he seemed made for the game.
After high school, Ritter played football at Fayetteville State University and later tried out with the Oilers and the Packers, but injuries kept him from a pigskin career. His dreams dashed, he joined his hometown sheriff’s department where, during a wrestling tournament, he discovered a talent for takedowns.
Promoter “Cowboy” Bill Watts was looking for a “superstar,” but it couldn’t be just anyone.
Watts was looking for an African American babyface who could win audiences and matches.
Watts knew about Ritter, but he thought he needed more experience before he was ready for New Orleans and “real money.”
Eager to lose his amateur status, Ritter headed for Canada and threw himself in the ring to learn.
By 1979, he was back in New Orleans—which was good because Crescent City residents adored Ritter, who was performing as “The Junkyard Dog.” They cheered for him, worshiped him, filled arenas for him, and physically assaulted his ringside “enemies” on his behalf. Finally, Watts had his superstar and Junkyard Dog had pockets filled with cash.
Cash that, unfortunately, also bought cocaine . . . .
So you say you’re not really a wrestling fan? That’s OK. Go read the business section, because this book isn’t for you anyhow.
Author Greg Klein writes with a fan’s-eye view of pro wrestling before it became a TV sensation, and that’s going to appeal to anyone who follows the sport. I liked that Klein explains in detail why Ritter’s career is noteworthy and why it’s important to remember his contributions.
What I couldn’t appreciate are all the names. There seemed to be hundreds of men involved in the few years about which Klein writes and, even for fans, that’s a lot to keep track of.
Still, if you’re a wrestling fan, how could you pass up a book like this? Could you live, not knowing this history? No, you can’t, because, for you, “The King of New Orleans” is a knockout.
Truthfully, the bad news came as no surprise.
Your Mom hadn’t been feeling well lately, and for weeks you’d heard your parents whispering. You knew she was having some tests done. Still, when they finally told you she had cancer, you couldn’t believe it. You cried for 20 minutes, ran out of the house, kicked the door, or just quietly went to your room to think.
The song always pops up when you least expect it.
There you are, minding your own business, you hear a few notes, and you’re pulled back to a wonderful-horrible time, starry dreams, laughter, bitterness, love lost. That old love song might be just a “precious melody,” but it almost brings you to your knees.
Six o’clock, right on the nose.
That’s when your family sat down for the evening meal when you were a kid, and nobody dared be late.
Back then, Dad sat on one end of the table, Mom on the other, and you ate what was put in front of you.
All for one, and one for all.
That could’ve been the motto for you and your two best friends. Growing up, you were the Three Musketeers, sharing gossip, secrets, crushes, families, and truths. Everybody knew that you three were close as paint on a wall, and where there was one the other two weren’t far away.
Your child has caught some bug that’s going around.
He has a terminal case of The Gimmes, and he’s not getting any better. It’s “Gimme that” and “Buy me this” all day long. It’s Gimme Gimme Gimme, usually accompanied by whining, pleading, and a maddening inability to understand the word “no.”