A stand-out character in an entertainment industry where persona is everything, George "The Animal" Steele shares how he balanced his real life as Jim Myers, a highly respected high school teacher and coach, with the green tongued, hairy backed, turnbuckle eating wrestling icon he was in the ring. The memoir delves into the golden era of wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s and his entry into the World Wrestling Federation where he earned a spot in professional wrestling history despite only speaking in animal-like grunts. Steele worked alongside legends such as Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan, and in this excerpt of Animal, he discusses the Randy Savage-Miss Elizabeth angle that pushed his popularity to an all-time high.
Truth be told, Vince had no real long-term plans for Randy and me. None of us knew how our feud would go over. Randy was the heel and I had become a loveable cartoon character. It soon became apparent the possibilities were endless, and most of them revolved around Miss Elizabeth.
George "The Animal" Steele was smitten with her. Of course, my ring character could not express his emotions very well. Give me a crayon and some paper and, in character, I couldn't draw a heart. Give me the opportunity, and I couldn’t say "I love you," even with the Rosetta Stone. Randy played the part of an enraged husband very well. Some might say he was typecast.
Typically, we would be in the middle of a heated match when, all of a sudden, I would stare, owl-eyed, at Elizabeth. I would go from hammering Randy to ham-handedly approaching Elizabeth. I might go over and stroke her hair the way a child might pet a Labrador retriever. That would incense Randy. He would jump off the top rope and clobber me. He would blast me with a chair. He would come from behind and hit me with a haymaker that could have taken a Clydesdale to its knees. Randy would then scoop Elizabeth up and hustle her out of harm's way. To Randy, my name was harm.
I remember prior to an event in Tampa, we spent a lot of time on outtakes that would be shown during the televised match. In one, we were at a water park, and Randy was teaching Elizabeth how to swim. They both were on a diving deck, and he pushed her into the pool. She was screaming mad, and I am not certain that part had been agreed upon. At the same time, I was in the kiddie pool surrounded by beautiful models. It was Beauties and the Beast, and the Beast was starting to sweat profusely. Nothing is more attractive than a bald head beaded by perspiration. So, I went down a slide that was all of about four feet long. Once I splashed into the pool, I grabbed a rubber duck and kept saying "Duckie." Johnny Depp, eat your heart out.
The match itself was held in an arena on the campus of the University of South Florida. Randy showed up in the locker room with a script that was probably four or five pages long. I felt like he wanted me to audition for something by Scorsese. What was this, pro wrestling or Broadway? Now, I was an old-school guy. I learned about the business in the backseats of cars going to and coming back from shows in places like Kalamazoo and Muskegon. I learned from the likes of Crusher Cortez and Leaping Larry Chene. I went to school between bites of bologna sandwiches and swigs of beer. The class was called Wrestling 101, and everything was impromptu. There were no scripted scenarios, there were only instincts. Everything we did was to get heat on our opponent. You’d back off just before a riot broke out, and then turn the knob on the stove again to get it reheated. You played the crowd like Pee Wee Herman played a Stradivarius (or was that a bicycle horn?). I'd been wrestling since the 1960s, and this was 1986. To be honest, I took offense to what Randy wasproposing. So I pretended to read the first page, slowly crumpled the paper, and tossed it into the trash can. I did the same thing with the rest of the pages, very slowly and very deliberately. All the while, Randy was going ballistic. I just told him to calm down, listen to me in the ring, and we'd have a great match. What's that old saying -- what goes over in L.A. might not work in Peoria? That was exactly how I felt.
You can't teach an old Animal new tricks. I was nearly 50 years old. I was on another sort of slide, and this one was not into a kiddie pool. It was my career as a wrestler. I was two decades older than a lot of the other guys in the locker room, including Randy. In a ring full of chiseled bodies, I was not all sharp angles. I looked like I’d come out of a Jell-O mold. Any reference to six packs had more to do with Stroh's or Pabst's than abs. I looked a lot more like the guy sitting in the 21st row than I did somebody that Michelangelo sculpted.
There was nothing wrong with Randy’s approach; he was just being a professional. Me, I was being a hardhead and I took it the wrong way. He was part of wrestling's future and he was getting a big push. There were big plans for him. Meanwhile, I was becoming part of wrestling’s past.
George "the Animal" Steele was in wrestling's rearview mirror. My ways were becoming past tense. Eventually, Randy and I compromised. While we never choreographed a single one of our many matches, we repeated a lot of things that had worked well in the past.
While Randy was always very professional, having Elizabeth there made things tough for him. I think it would have been tough for anyone. She was a beautiful young lady. They were married, and it was never easy having your wife with you on the road. Most of the guys I knew who tried it wound up divorced, and they were no exception. Professional wrestling was not exactly the set of The Waltons. Sometimes, the only thing warm and fuzzy about it was the hair on my chest and back. There was always something going on that would raise his hackles. When Randy and Miss Elizabeth would walk to the ring, people would reach out to touch her. Randy was constantly yelling at the security guards to keep the fans back.
Once we were wrestling at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Randy beat me via a count-out when he hit me with a lifeguard chair. That's where Elizabeth had been sitting. The pre-match stipulation was that the winner would walk away with Elizabeth as his manager. After I’d lost the match, I hugged a poster of Elizabeth in the middle of the ring.
Prior to the match, the Junkyard Dog had been ribbing Randy. He said that when Elizabeth was sitting on the lifeguard chair, I would be looking right up Elizabeth's dress whenever I was on my back. Everybody had a good laugh -- everybody but Randy, that is.
Honestly, Randy was the most jealous man I had ever met, and it created a real problem. Was his love for Elizabeth as strong as his love for money? Our whole schtick was built around me being smitten over Miss Elizabeth and Randy being jealous. I had to keep reminding Randy that not only was I married, but I had a daughter who was older than Miss Elizabeth.
One night I put her over my shoulder and ran out of the arena with her. When we were all back in the locker room, Randy started shouting, "What are they going to think that George is doing to my wife?"
Another night in Detroit, Vince McMahon asked me to grab Miss Elizabeth by the ankle. You guessed it, Randy went R.P. McMurphy crazy. We were not flying over the cuckoo’s nest; we were living in it. Every night it was something different. Randy's jealousy was driving him crazy. There were times when he would lock her in the dressing room. Randy was always screaming at somebody.
Believe me, Randy was not the only wrestler out there with an ego as fragile as porcelain. Wrestling is a make believe business, and the stars are never truly in control of their own success. Plenty of superstars had a hard time reconciling reality with what they portrayed in the ring. Beneath the loud and brash exterior of most professional wrestlers resides an unbelievably insecure person, and that is the way the bosses want it.
The wrestling business is constructed on total subjectivity. How tough a person happens to be, or how legitimate his wrestling skills are, often have absolutely nothing to do with his or her success. Sure, certain physical characteristics help. While Hulk Hogan took complete advantage of his looks and charisma, Sid Vicious did not. But the bottom line is that success is not up to the individual wrestler.
It was the McMahons who determined success or failure. First, it was Mr. McMahon; now it is Vince McMahon. This not unique to the WWWF, the WWF, or the WWE. It is just how the business works.There is no other business that I know of in which success has more to do with what I call "office politics." The office decides, based on different factors, who will get the push and who will not. So what are those factors? Unfortunately, they are pretty much like a cell phone plan -- family and friends.
If you're the boss, your position is there for eternity. Marry the boss' daughter and your position will solidify. Be the boss' kid and your job security is ironclad. Be the boss' buddy and you will find steady work. That is the way it works in a lot of businesses. Just ask the Fords, the Vanderbilts, or the Kennedys.
-- Excerpted by permission from Animal by George "The Animal" Steele With Jim Evans. Copyright (c) 2013 by George "The Animal" Steele With Jim Evans. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow George Steele on Twitter @georgesteele.