Found: A wrestling trea­sure from the 1960s

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - David Car­roll News and Notes

Those of us who grew up watch­ing TV in the “baby boomer era” surely re­mem­ber these names: Jackie and Tojo.

Jackie Fargo was one of our first TV su­per­stars. Yes, we had cow­boys, but they were on film and lived far away. It was a plea­sure then, to tune in “Live Wrestling” on Satur­day af­ter­noons, be­cause there was a good chance that Jackie would be tan­gling with the evil Tojo Ya­mamoto.

Early in his ca­reer, Jackie started out as a “heel,” a bad guy. By the 1960s, Jackie had ev­i­dently seen the light, and turned into a good guy with a hint of mis­chief. His usual op­po­nents were in­tro­duced as Ja­panese or Ger­man, and we fans were happy to see Jackie cheat a lit­tle to beat them, as pay­back for World War II.

Tojo was a scowl­ing, schem­ing pres­ence. Niceguy Jackie would be do­ing a friendly interview with TV host Harry Thorn­ton when Tojo would wage a sneak at­tack with a wooden shoe. Jackie, caught by sur­prise, would wipe away blood (or some­thing that looked like it) and vow re­venge. Harry would set up a grudge match be­tween the two, but not for TV. This match was so big, it would have to be staged in front of 5,000 scream­ing fans at the lo­cal au­di­to­rium, all of whom would cough up five bucks to see it.

Jackie was in big de­mand in cities like Chat­tanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, At­lanta and Birm­ing­ham. His fans will al­ways re­mem­ber his charis­matic per­son­al­ity and “The Fargo Strut,” his sig­na­ture stride after de­feat­ing a ri­val. It was of­ten im­i­tated by ador­ing 10-year-olds.

As I got older, my big-city friends re­vealed a shock­ing se­cret. After the matches, they said, Jackie, Tojo, and the other wrestlers would go out to eat at the same restau­rant. “Im­pos­si­ble,” I would re­ply. “They hate each other!” No, they would as­sure me, these guys un­der­stood their roles, and how not to se­ri­ously hurt each other. They traveled to­gether, they roomed to­gether, and they ate to­gether. This fi­nally solved a mystery to me, of how wrestlers could seem­ingly beat the day­lights out of each other ev­ery night, while box­ers like Muham­mad Ali would take sev­eral months be­tween matches. I had not been able to un­der­stand why box­ers got so much at­ten­tion, when they only fought three or four times a year.

Still, the pas­sion they in­spired was fierce, and their ath­leti­cism was real. Satur­day wrestling was my orig­i­nal Must-SeeTV, and I wasn’t alone. Jackie and his fel­low grap­plers in­spired count­less kids to roll around on the play­ground pin­ning each other in our own lit­tle role-play­ing games.

While I was look­ing through my mem­o­ra­bilia boxes, I found a fairly well­p­re­served wrestling au­to­graph book that was pub­lished and dis­trib­uted in the 1960s. It turns out that some­time dur­ing my wrestling-ob­sessed child­hood, I met Jackie and got his au­to­graph. How could I have for­got­ten that?

I used to have great sym­pa­thy for guys who seemed to be wrestling on TV each week, and lose ev­ery sin­gle time. An older guy billed as “Rowdy Red Roberts” comes to mind. If he was wrestling in the open­ing match, I knew he would lose. It turns out he was called a “job­ber” in the wrestling trade, and his job was to make his op­po­nent look good. The win­ning wrestler was al­ways younger, and usu­ally more hand­some and fit than the job­ber. He would build up enough wins to even­tu­ally be­come a head­liner. Thanks to the hard-luck job­ber, the fair-haired op­po­nent would build a loyal fol­low­ing.

A few years ago, I looked up Jackie Fargo, and learned that he was liv­ing his re­tire­ment years in North Carolina, still mak­ing a few per­sonal ap­pear­ances. He’s not that far away, I thought. I fig­ured that one day, I would track him down, make a visit and tell him how much I ap­pre­ci­ated his style and show­man­ship. I’d tell him it couldn’t have been easy, chore­ographed or not, to take those hits, make those falls and flips, and deal with us ra­bid fans. I’d thank him for en­ter­tain­ing folks from 4 to 104, get­ting their minds off their own prob­lems for a cou­ple of hours each week.

I would also tell him how rich some­one would be, if they had fig­ured out a way to video­tape and re-sell those 1960s wrestling shows a half­cen­tury later. At that time, they had no way of know­ing their weekly slugfests would be in de­mand in the 21st cen­tury.

I waited too late. Jackie died in 2013, at the age of 82. I hope that some­where, in that big South­ern diner in the sky, Jackie, Tojo, Rowdy Red, and the oth­ers are laugh­ing heartily as they swap sto­ries about those wild nights in the wrestling ring.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” avail­able for $23 on his web­site, Chat­tanoogaRa­dioTV.com, or by mail. You may con­tact him at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, TN 37405 or 3dc@epbfi.com

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