Professor Publishes Biography of Pro Wrestler, Cultural Icon

Published: Aug 29, 2008
The name Gorgeous George is not one that tends to ring familiar these days. Yet, it is the name of a man whose impact on American culture is seen throughout modern arts, athletics and elsewhere.

That is what intrigued John Capouya, assistant professor of journalism and writing, whose new book “Gorgeous George,” chronicles the life and untimely demise of the long forgotten professional wrestler and details his remarkable cultural influence.

George, who was renowned in the 1940s and 50s for his flamboyance both inside and outside of the professional wrestling ring, is credited with helping to establish television as an entertainment medium.

“I don’t know or don’t care anything about professional wrestling,” Capouya said. Rather, it was George’s effect on American popular culture that intrigued Capouya enough to write the book.

It was James Brown’s 2005 memoir that first sparked Capouya’s interest, he said, when the legendary soul singer credited George as the inspiration for his own performance techniques.

Similarly, musician Bob Dylan, in his own memoirs, referenced a childhood encounter with George as an influence on the persona that he adopted later in life. George’s wrestling antics are also mirrored in the life of boxer Muhammad Ali.

“There you have three of the great performers of my lifetime saying they owed something to this man,” Capouya said. Yet, even with the enormous impact George had on American culture, the man himself is largely forgotten.

Capouya worked on the book for three years. With many of the people who knew George now deceased, the task of digging up information on the legendary performer was an arduous one. Nevertheless, Capouya found some surviving old-time professional wrestlers as well as fans and others to use as sources for the book.

However, his most valuable source of information was George’s first wife, whom Capouya successfully tracked down after multiple sources told him the woman was deceased. Betty Hanson wed George in a ceremony held inside a wrestling ring and was instrumental in helping her husband craft the image of a “bad-boy” wrestler.

“He and his wife hit on the idea to become the ultra bad guy,” Capouya said, noting that George had previously achieved only limited success as a “good guy” wrestler. “Without her the book wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.”

“Gorgeous George,” published by Harper Collins, is the second book Capouya has written. A former editor for Newsweek, the New York Times, SmartMoney magazine, and New York Newsday, Capouya began teaching at UT recently in order to assist with the development of the University’s journalism program.

Capouya recently talked about Gorgeous George’s life and legacy in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“Gorgeous George” is set to be released Sept. 2. The book will be available in the UT bookstore.