While working CM's Billy Bob Thornton problem I came across some notes from a couple of visits with Ray "Thunder" Stern when we were both living in Dallas -- early to mid-1980s -- and thought I'd share them as a holiday gift for the posters here. I may have posted his comments about Buddy Rogers on another site long ago, but I'm pretty sure the rest of the stuff is virgin material. Ray was a close friend of Lou's and was a big help to me in terms of understanding a lot of what the wrestling life was like. There's no particular hook for these tales, just thought you might enjoy them....
THE EARLY DAYS: "I broke into wrestling in 1950 at age 17 in New York City, working for Rudy Dusek. The only thing bigger than wrestling in those days was Milton Berle, so I quickly became a 'star.' (laughs) I worked five nights a week, two of them on TV, and everyone thought I was a celebrity -- except my parents. I was making $10 a match, and half of that seemed to go for travel. My parents couldn't figure it out, how come I was this "star" and wasn't bringing home enough money to carry my share. 'You're a bum,' my dad used to tell me."
STAYING IN THE 'LIFE': "I wrestled for 16 years and really can't say why I stayed in it so long. When Claire (his second wife) and I got married, I knew that I wanted roots, a home life, so I announced that I was retiring. Then I got to looking around at my situation; here I was driving a new Cadillac with gold wire-rim wheels and wearing these sharp clothes and being treated like a celebrity, and it came to me that I couldn't do anything that would enable me to live that same quality of life. So I stayed in wrestling another 10 years."
"We used to sit around and laugh at the squares -- you know, the people working a 9-to-5 and busting their ass for a house in the suburbs and making insurance payments and going to some nowhere place for two weeks a year in the summer. Living a routine. Ugh!
"And then one day you look around with a fresh eye and you realize you really don't have a damned thing. You can't buy a house because if the promoter figures it out, your price goes down, because he figures he's got you over a barrel. You probably don't have a family, and you probably can't get insurance, unless you're willing to pay some real steep premiums. You've got no union, which is another way of saying you've got no money for retirement. You've got no skill to sell, except your wits (smiles suddenly) -- but that's enough."
BUDDY ROGERS: "He was as influential as Gorgeous George. George gave the business the show-biz element, while Buddy give it aerials. He was one of the world's greatest a------s, a cruel guy with almost no morals...but people were always drawn to him. I was one of them for a while. He had this aura. Once you'd had enough of him, you'd get away, but there was always someone else ready to run with him. You know what his philosophy of life was? These were his exact words, and he said it enough to me that I can't forget it: 'Be nice to your enemies and f--k your friends.' His reasoning was the you couldn't f--k your enemies until you made friends with them. A real cynical guy...and probably the best performer in the business."
GAGS AND SWERVES: "We were always pulling stunts on each other, just to break the monotony of the road. In Southern California, we used to steal each other's cars. Danny McShane was working there, and I discovered that my ignition key would work on his Cadillac. So, one night while he was in the ring, I used a coathanger to open the door and then moved his car two blocks away, locking it up before hot-footing it back to the arena. Later that night, after the matches, Danny is going crazy; he can't find his car. One of the other wrestlers spots it as he's leaving and goes back to tell Danny. This goes on for a couple of weeks. Wherever we were wrestling, I'd go move his car while he was in the ring. One night we even drove it to his house and left it parked in the driveway, locked up tighter than a drum. A couple of the boys drove him home that night after he'd gotten tired of looking for it, and they said the look on his face when they got to his house and he saw his car was priceless. Finally he thought he'd figured it out -- he believed his wife was in on the gag and had had a copy of the ignition key made and given it to one of the boys. He never did figure it out, though.
"Of course this had just started out as a gag on Danny, but pretty soon we're stealing each others cars. One guy's car was missing for two weeks, and he never said a word about it because he didn't want to give anybody in the dressing room the satisfaction of hearing him ***** . One morning the cops show up at his door and tell him they've recovered his car. Turns out it had really been stolen, and he hadn't reported it because he figured one of the boys had taken it."