oh isn’t he gorgeous?

George Raymond Wagner (1915 – 1963) was an American professional wrestler best known by his ring name Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George and Betty found here

At 5’9” and 215 pounds, Wagner was not physically imposing by professional wrestling standards, nor was he an exceptionally gifted athlete. Nevertheless, he soon developed a reputation as a solid worker. In the late 1930s, he met Elizabeth “Betty” Hanson, whom he would eventually marry in an in-ring ceremony. When the wedding proved a good draw card, the couple re-enacted it in arenas across the country. Around this same time, Vanity Magazine published a feature article about a pro wrestler named Lord Patrick Lansdowne, who entered the ring accompanied by two valets while wearing a velvet robe and doublet. Wagner was impressed with the bravado of such a character, but he believed that he could take it to a much greater extreme. 

image found here

Betty (George’s wife) told how he got the name Gorgeous George. In the early 1940s he had a wrestling match at the Portland Oregon Armory. As he walked down the aisle to the ring, there were two mature women on his right. One of the women loudly exclaimed: “Oh, isn’t he gorgeous?” That word struck a chord with him and he immediately decided he would be “Gorgeous George.” As Elsie Hanson, Betty’s mother, was a skilled seamstress, George asked her to make him some resplendent capes that would accentuate his new persona. From then on George wore those capes in all his matches.

photo by Stanley Kubrick found here

Gorgeous George was soon recruited to Los Angeles by promoter Johnny Doyle. Known as the “Human Orchid,” his persona was created in part by growing his hair long, dyeing it platinum blonde, and putting gold-plated bobby pins in it. Furthermore, he transformed his ring entrance into a bona-fide spectacle that would often take up more time than his actual matches. He was the first wrestler to really use entrance music, as he strolled nobly to the ring to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance,” followed by his valet and a purple spotlight.

George and Jeffries found here

Wearing an elegant robe sporting an array of sequins, Gorgeous George was escorted down a personal red carpet by his ring valet “Jeffries,” who would carry a silver mirror while spreading rose petals at his feet. While George removed his robe, Jeffries would spray the ring with disinfectant which George referred to as “Chanel #10” (“Why be half-safe?” he was famous for saying) before he would start wrestling.

image found here

Moreover, George required that his valets spray the referee’s hands before the official was allowed to check him for any illegal objects, which thus prompted his famous cry “Get your filthy hands off me!” Once the match finally began, he would cheat in every way he could. Gorgeous George was the industry’s first true cowardly villain, which infuriated the crowd. His credo was “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!”

image found here

His first television appearance took place on November 11, 1947 and he immediately became a national celebrity at the same level of Lucille Ball and Bob Hope (who personally donated hundreds of chic robes for George’s collection) while changing the course of the industry forever. No longer was pro wrestling simply about the in-ring action; George had created a new sense of theatrics and character performance that had not previously existed.

Bob and Lucille found here

By the 1950s, Gorgeous George’s starpower was so huge that he was able to command 50% of the door for his performances, which allowed him to earn over $100,000 a year, making him the highest paid athlete in the world. His most famous match was against longtime rival Whipper Billy Watson on March 12, 1959, in which a beaten George had his treasured golden locks shaved bald before 20,000 delighted fans at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and millions more on national television.

image found here

Advanced age and extended alcohol abuse had taken their toll on his body and as his wrestling career wound down, Wagner invested $250,000 in a 195-acre turkey ranch built in Beaumont, California, where he used his showman skills to promote his prized poultry at wrestling matches. He raised turkeys and owned a cocktail lounge in Van Nuys, California, which he named “Gorgeous George’s Ringside Restaurant”.

Gelatin turkey found here

Published in: on March 18, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (55)  
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55 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wonder if he knew Liberace? As a rival, perhaps?

    • they would have made a great double act.

  2. This guy is absolutely hilarious. I’m labeling this one as my favorite post by you.

    • Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Ha! Dinah nicked my comment.
    *Exits across a freshly strewn carpet of scarlet rose petals*

    • the colour suits you my dear

  4. Gravatar is being awkward today…

    • Yes, I’ve been hearing that 😦

  5. Wonderful! On a smaller scale I am reminded of the wrestling shown on tv on a Saturday afternoon. Who can forget the likes of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks or Kendo Nagasaki!

    • I never watched it…. somehow I don’t think I missed much

  6. So now we know who started the drama in wrestling. Gorgeous George has a pretty nice ring to it, somehow.

  7. George certainly possessed a dramatic flair, style and sense of humour (“Chanel # 10” – ha!) but was a bit iffy re: his moral code.
    Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens holds many wonderful memories for me – alas, that famous match is not one of them!

    That turkey looks disgusting!

  8. So, lets see. If you aren’t really very good at something, cheat and become a dramatic personality and you can win anyway.

    • It works for some

  9. What a character! But why not take it to extremes? Wrestling – this type – is all about the character and the drama. That’s why people go see it really.

    That gelatin turkey is quite disturbing.

  10. 48 years total for George. Reminds me of the Cabaret song.
    “Start by admitting
    From cradle to tomb
    It isn’t that long a stay.
    Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
    Only a Cabaret, old chum,
    And I love a Cabaret!

  11. did he ever win a match? seems that he didn’t really need to, as the cash rolled in regadless.

    i wonder if i adopt a trained “monkey butler”, dress like Xena, and start screwing up on the job if i can still get paid?

    • well, you have the right experience for Xena

  12. Quite the character. And he certainly did leave his mark on an industry.

  13. If I wasn’t already a vegetarian, the sight of that turkey would do it !

  14. I always understood that wrestling was basically a theatrical performance, completely hammed up and neither party doing any real wrestling. Wagner’s elaborate showmanship certainly confirms this idea. *Exits with Scarlet across a freshly strewn carpet of fragrant rose petals*

  15. At least he had the sense to invest his money. Does the story say whether either venture was successful??

    • “In 1962, Wagner was diagnosed with a serious liver condition. On advice of his doctors, he retired. This, combined with failed finances (due to bad investments) worsened his health.”

      Doesn’t sound like it.

  16. During 50’s – 70’s wrestling era the wrestler was the show. Now the show is the show and wrestlers bit players.

  17. Wrestling is a very silly sport. I think this guy had exactly the right idea.

    British wrestling in the seventies followed much the same themes – there were heroes, villains, gentlemen, cheats, pretty boys, thugs, masked men – just as long as you had some sort of schtick going on.

  18. Cool story! I guess he set the groundwork for today’s WW matches. I like the rose petals strewn at his feet! I think I’ll try that at work.

    • You could strike up a deal with the local florist…..

  19. At first I thought to comment on the idea of having a wedding ceremony in a wrestling ring. But no, that’s too obvious.

    Then, the turkey ranch seemed worthy of some sort of quip.

    But in the end I decided to just say thanks for making me aware of the fact that Stanley Kubrick was a photojournalist before becoming a film director. Having been a Kubrick fan since 1968, that this significant detail of his life has so long eluded me gives me pause. And you have remedied that. So thank you!

    • His photos of Chicago are fantastic aren’t they?

  20. This reminded me of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’. Mickey Rourke in the lead role having his roots rebleached. It’s one of my favourite films by one of my favourite directors.

    • I liked that one a lot but I think Requiem for a Dream is my favourite

  21. I had always heard of Gorgeous George but now I know a little about him. He sounds like quite a character.

  22. Hiya, nursemyra,
    I’ve been trying to comment for the last two days but WordPress won’t let me. It thinks I’m some sort of imposter.

    I remember Gorgeous George. I’m sure he appeared on some of the 1950s-1960s British wrestling shows, because my Granny always made sure she watched him. Seeing she was well into her 70s then I’m not sure what reason she was so infatuated with him, but she wouldn’t allow anyone else to change channels.

    Seeing her other mandatory TV viewing was “Songs of Praise” (A Scottish happy-clappy view from churches all around the UK) we were getting some confused signals about her morality.

  23. It took me a minute to figure out what makes the gelatin turkey so disgusting, but I finally decided it looks like a raw turkey on a serving platter.

  24. if i didn’t know anything about Gorgeous George, i wouldn’t have associated him with wrestling at all.

  25. When I was just a whippersnapper, Saturday afternoons were given over to wrestling on the TV…there were quite some characters in the ring by the 1970’s

  26. Okay…
    watch this, N.M…
    it’s gonna be really good…
    just give me a moment to climb to the top rope…

    • Still watching. and waiting.

  27. Bob Hope donated “hundreds” of capes to GG? Crickey, how many did he have?

    I remember everyone trying to get Kendo Nagasaki’s face mask off. Then one day, in a ceremony of magnificent pomp, he unmasked himself. Bad move! Destroyed the mystique. He looked less like a imposing fearsome fighter from the forbidden East, than a steelworker from mystic Doncaster.

    (Could someone go and wrestle unfairly with whoever has put this fuckwit change into WordPress?)

  28. Great Story!
    There’s a Warner Brothers/ Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Bunny_Hugged” (1951)- which is a hilarious send up of this guy.
    Gorgeous George is portrayed as “Ravishing Ronald”.
    Bugs is one of Ravishing Ronald’s entourage as they come in to face the “Crusher”. Foppish, blond Ronald is quickly dispatched, so it falls to Bugs to carry on.
    Very funny cartoon, and makes even more sense now that I know about Gorgeous George.

  29. I’ve never heard of Gorgeous george before but I LOVE him.

    Have you seen the fabbo wrestling doco, Beyond the Mat?

    • No but I’d love to!!

  30. I knew about Gorgeous George, but didn’t know the details. And I didn’t know he died so young.

  31. There’s something of Bob Hawke in that visage and hair as well.

    I’m also moved to ask what dead women think of Chanel No5 and whether that has been a question posed by mediums over the years…

    Diverting as always NM.

    The King

  32. This guy was ahead of his time. He would have LOVED Purell.

    • Does it come in Chanel flavours?

  33. Off topic: Have you ever done a write up of the Duke of Kent 1902-1942?
    I was reading about him on Wikipedia, and I instantly thought of you!

    • I mentioned him in a post on the Duchess of Argyle but he hasn’t had a feature of his own (yet) 🙂

  34. A little before my time, but my father tells a story about how he and some of his friends ran into Gorgeous George in a park on the North Side in Pittsburgh. They yelled out to him and he waved them off, dismissively, chin raised and pinky extended.

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