In the late 40’s, television began to impact American households, with professional wrestling emerging as the most popular programming. ‘Gorgeous George,’ a California-based wrestler, revolutionized the sport with over-the-top theatrics and the first ‘bad guy’ persona. Almost without fail, George would be hammered within an inch of his life. When his last glimmer of hope had faded, his valet would jump into the ring with the only thing that could restore his phenomenal strength, a few whiffs of FLORIDA AIR.
Pro wrestler Gorgeous George, born George Raymond Wagner in 1915, spent his childhood in Houston, Texas, becoming an orphan at 14. He was taken in by a local family with three other sons. The four boys gained renown for their willingness to face all challengers in neighborhood wrestling matches. Dropping out of high school, George started wrestling professionally, earning money in local challenges.
As a publicity stunt, Wagner announced his marriage to Elizabeth Hanson in a wrestling ring in Eugene, Oregon. The event was a huge success, leading George to recognize the value of publicity and the advantage of standing out. He adopted the alias “Gorgeous George” and developed an act at the suggestion of his wife Betty.
After World War II, George and Betty settled in Hawthorne, California, with George working as a milkman. Adding bad-boy behavior to his persona, dying his hair blond, and wearing capes, George drew larger crowds. Before each match, George would be preceded into the ring by Jeffries Brown, his impeccably dressed “ring valet”, who would prepare the ring by tidying up with a whisk broom and spraying perfume. His elaborate pre-match rituals became as important as the matches, making him a TV star during the golden era of his career.
After 1950, he spent much less time in California, opting to travel constantly from one match to another. It took a toll on his family, leading to divorce in 1951. Nevertheless, he persevered with his trademark flowing blond hair, later transforming it into a distinctive gimmick. He boldly proclaimed that he would undergo a haircut in the ring if defeated. This decision resulted in numerous occasions where he endured the humiliation of uproarious laughter from the crowd as his once-iconic blonde locks were shorn away.
Despite financial and health issues, including alcoholism, George continued wrestling until his retirement in 1962. He died of a heart attack at his Hollywood apartment on Dec. 26, 1963. He was 48 years old. While hospitalized in 1962, he was asked if he had any regrets about his life. “I wouldn’t trade my career for anything in the world,” he answered.