Archive for March 26th, 2011

Wrestling Note on Late Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro

Below I’ve corrected the original post, which said that the Felt Forum is now the Manhattan Center. Manhattan Center is a different nearby building. Thanks to David Bixenspan and Dave Meltzer.

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated by a major party on a presidential ticket, has died. Ferraro was Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in their unsuccessful 1984 attempt to block Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Ferraro also was among the first, and perhaps the very first, prominent national politician to be duped by Vincent Kennedy McMahon and Linda Edwards McMahon, the first couple of what is now World Wrestling Entertainment. Here are a few morsels of the Ferraro obituary that won’t make it into The New York Times.

In 1984 singer Cyndi Lauper, a pro wrestling fan and a friend of wrestler-manager Captain Lou Albano, had one of the first breakout music videos, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which co-starred Albano as her finger-wagging father.

Throughout that year, Lauper got involved in an extended skit on the McMahons’ wrestling telecasts – then finding a national audience in the early days of cable – in which she feuded with Albano and ultimately turned him from a “heel” to a “babyface.”

In December 1984, Ms. Magazine held its annual awards banquet. The honorees included both Lauper and Geraldine Ferraro. Hulk Hogan attended and a then-World Wrestling Federation crew recorded it as documentation of the new “rock and wrestling connection.” The WWF producer talked both Ferraro and Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms., to “cut promos” on Hogan’s No. 1 antagonist of that season, Rowdy Roddy Piper. With some misgivings, Ferraro and Steinem went ahead and recited their lines. Since they included homophobic catcalls about the “Scottish” Piper’s “skirt” (the kilt he used to wear into the ring as part of his gimmick), the verbiage was both imbued with undeniable populist humor and politically incorrect.

Two months later WWF was building toward its first WrestleMania extravaganza on closed circuit and pay-per-view TV. The main event of the set-up February 1985 show at Madison Square Garden in New York was Hogan vs. Piper. The Garden was sold out with an audience that legitimately included Andy Warhol. Along with the rest of the overflow crowd, I watched the closed-circuit feed in the adjoining Felt Forum (now called The Theater At Madison Square Garden). The show was simulcast on both the MSG regional cable network and the emerging national cable channel MTV. I believe it was the first non-music-video programming in MTV’s history and it drew record ratings.

Ferraro and Steinem were not at the Garden show. However, WWF, in building the buzz for their camp-art phenomenon, neatly edited the December clips of them into the opening cut-in of the broadcast to create the illusion that they were there. Ferraro looked at the camera and challenged the skirted Piper to “fight like a man.”

The tabloid gossip columns picked it up. Ferraro complained that she’d been had by WWF.

She wouldn’t be the last.

Irv Muchnick

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March 2011