ICON RESTORATION: Gorgeous George, TV’s First Superstar!

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 17•18

By his first TV appearance on a local, live broadcast out of Los Angeles in 1947, Gorgeous George (Wagner) was already a national superstar. Filling arenas across the country, often to SRO crowds of over 15,000 people, the “Gorgeous One” commanded 50% of the box office at every venue. Papers across the country announced his arrival and every move. Entire essays were printed on “Gee Gee,” both in positive and negative light. The “UP” out of New York declared, “He should have been accompanied … by a chef instead of a valet: his ‘smellodrama’ reeked of ham.” The NEA New York bellowed, “Gorgeous George Sets Wrestling Back 12 Years.”

Hollywood news correspondent Erskine Johnson decided, “Georgie already is one of the country’s leading actors!”
His gigantic personality and magnetism created a national lighting rod, sparking sales of TV sets across the nation. It would take a couple years for the mania on TV to truly take hold, as the earliest TV wrestling broadcasts were poorly produced kinescopes of older bouts hastily filling blanks in local TV stations’ schedules. With the completion of the Mid-west co-axial cable in 1948, however, live bouts broadcast over half of continental United States began to favor professional wrestling as TV’s greatest sport. And most of that excitement was due to the allure of Gorgeous George.

As reported by The Albuquerque Journal (or nearly any paper in America), Gorgeous George would arrive by limousine in the morning, with his valet, and delivered to the most luxurious hotel in town. Throngs of people would arrive to peer into the windows of a local beauty salon to see George have his bleach blonde curls tidied up for the evening event. Later in the afternoon, he would briefly stop by a local TV station for an elegant talk with the station and viewers about the finer things in life.

By showtime the local crowds were wound tight into a Gorgeous George frenzy as the last remaining tickets were being sold, and the last unclaimed reservations being snapped up.

Wrestling tours had become a popular traveling attraction for over a decade, and several popular but lesser bouts would kick off the evening’s event. Finally, it was time for the arrival of Gorgeous George. Wearing gowns befitting Elizabethan royalty, George would enter while “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the loud speakers. The crowds erupted into boos and jeers that were nearly deafening. Gorgeous George’s valet would first take the stage, spraying perfume, identified as Chanel No. 5, over the entire stage with an elegant version of the vintage DDT aerosol pump sprayers. George, deciding the stage was fit for him to stand on, would cross over the ropes, and slowly disrobe from his frilly satin and lace robe, carefully folding it over and over and over before handing it off carefully to his valet. The crowds would again erupt into a scornful melee!

Gorgeous George, pridefully effeminate and arrogant, was ready made as a TV star! His ringside theatrics followed him into the ring, where George would pull out all the stops, even cheating, to win the match. By late 1948, bars and saloons were purchasing televisions and filling up with wrestling fan patrons that loved to hate Gorgeous George. Wrestling mania for television exploded when ABC and DuMont put the first, national broadcast of the sport on their weekly schedules in 1949.

Gorgeous George is credited as one of the most important early TV stars to push TV sales into American homes. Some dealers believed Gorgeous George was selling as many TV’s as Milton Berle, Howdy Doody, and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and is often cited as the “First American TV Superstar.”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.