Friday, September 28, 2007
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
This column is dedicated to the memory of Mark Markley, a perfect pro wrestling name if ever there was one. (It was legitimate). Mark passed away unexpectedly in his Lynnwood, Washington home on Sunday, September 23rd, one month after celebrating his 50th birthday. Among his many and varied interests, Mark was a knowledgeable wrestling fan that grew up an enthusiastic supporter of Don Owen’s Portland, Oregon promotion from the time he discovered it in the 1960s until the company shut down in the early 1990s. In the 80s, Mark became a standup comic, primarily in the Northwest region, and once opened up for Jerry Seinfeld. He enjoyed a close relationship with his family, and is survived by his sister, Lisa, his daughter, Sarah and his son, Steven. The wrestling community has lost a close friend who always found the upside of life and infused it with his own special and unique sense of humor. With Mark in mind, let’s take a close look at one of his all-time favorite wrestlers, “Playboy” Buddy Rose.
Tucked away neatly in the frequently moist upper left corner of the United States, the Pacific Northwest has always held an allure for those with a love of nature, a spirit for adventure and a sense of community. In 1925, when Herb Owen became the boxing and wrestling promoter in the territory, he introduced a style that spoke directly to the people that lived there.
In 1948, his son, Don, purchased the territory, an act that would be duplicated in the northeast by the father and son tandem of Vincent J. and Vincent K. McMahon four decades later. But Don Owen (and his brother Elton, who co-promoted) had no designs on expansion; they were satisfied keeping their pro wrestling empire limited primarily to Oregon and Washington state. Once television became a reality in the 1950s, the promotion (NWA Portland was the official title) never looked back, resulting in a loyal following that grew steadily and rarely faltered. Because he knew his audience and what they wanted, Owen managed to stay one small step ahead by offering them action that was athletic and exciting, sprinkled with unpredictable dramatic developments and a quirky off-the-wall humor. Portland Wrestling never became dull or routine.
Perhaps the one name that stands above all in association with the territory is that of “Playboy” Buddy Rose. To look at him, Rose was not physically imposing, especially as the years went on. Ultimately resembling a close relative to the Pillsbury Doughboy, Buddy was actually in tremendous cardiovascular condition, as well as a consummate professional between the ropes. A talented heel, the fans jeered him for his underhanded tactics, while quixotically expressing a certain amount of grudging affection, considering him to be their own version of Peck’s Bad Boy. Rose would find a way to tip the scales in his favor every chance he got by applying underhanded trickery, protected as he was by an entourage that ran roughshod everywhere they went. His most prominent partners in crime included Ed Wiskowski (later to become known as Colonel DeBeers), Rip Oliver and briefly, The Dynamite Kid.
Proving that a bodybuilder’s physique wasn’t essential when it came to making a large impact, Buddy Rose was inevitably involved in some of the more memorable moments in Portland. And, according to those that observed the proceedings at the time, one of the memories that has remained among the most vibrant was, after years of infuriating the crowds, Rose turned babyface!
But, before we get into that story, Buddy Rose explains the secret to his success as a heel wrestler. Through the courtesy of his website, Playboy Buddy Rose, he writes:
It's a mixture of ring psychology, charisma, and being able to do the unexpected. If you know how to work that into your own character, you will always be successful. Not everyone gets it. A select few understand how to incorporate themselves into a promotion, and they have the best chance of working their way to the top. You have to be able to see the big picture, and be realistic with how you fit into it.
A simple statement, yet an eloquent one. Buddy Rose, through his ring experience, his use of psychology and his native intelligence, knew how to present himself as someone greater than his physical appearance suggested. After all, there were plenty of overweight men in wrestling that went no farther than their girth would allow. Buddy went well beyond that, to the point where his size was almost ignored, it becoming a minor sidelight unless he himself made it an issue. He took charisma (something he possessed in abundance) and blended it expertly with a ruthless cunning and a dash of seeming cowardice, all of which became the very definition of the Playboy. Combined with his wrestling technique and skill, he caused Northwest wrestling fans to reach varying stages of apoplexy countless numbers of times over the years.
According to long-time Portland wrestling fan, Ben Foxworth, “Buddy Rose was fat. If you saw him, you know what I mean. He wasn’t obese. Just fat. But that didn’t matter because he was exciting in the ring. He could credibly work a 60-minute match and keep you wanting more. No, the rage you felt for him was due to his stuff on the microphone. Unlike many heels, he wasn’t representing the authorities that put us down. He was that jerk you worked with, or went to school with. He always seemed to win and stay on top. When I started watching, Rose was in a blood feud with Roddy Piper. Like almost every feud that involved the Playboy, it started with Rose double-crossing his partner. The matches were brutal and tight, with the interviews being legendary for Northwest fans. Rose did it so well, and he was beyond hated.”
Taking a breath before continuing, Ben went on to say, “Everyone I knew hated Buddy Rose. Like I said before, he was the irritating asshole in your life that made things hard. He was the co-worker that screwed everything up that you had to fix, and yet he still had a job. He was the obnoxious neighbor that made your life hell. He was, just simply put, a real asshole. He seemed to be rich, yet he was a fat, lazy coward. And you just yelled at every fool who teamed with him, ‘He's gonna turn on you!’ And he always did! Buddy Rose kept the heat machine going by teaming with Roddy Piper, then betraying him, bringing in The Sheepherders and then betraying them. He would never go away. Don Owen would bring in hot, viable talent and somehow, always in some freaking way, Rose would run them out.”
So, when someone is so universally despised AND making money for a promotion, why turn him babyface? Isn’t that running the risk of killing the golden goose? Not in the case of Buddy Rose, who showed how it to do it properly, making it a welcome change of pace for both the fans and for himself.
Rose had reached the stage where he was splitting his time between Portland, Japan and the WWF, where he wrestled Bob Backlund in Madison Square Garden. In his absence, Rip Oliver, who had been Rose's favorite partner in the northwest, had taken on the mantle of top heel, and he was a great one. His interviews were lucid, his swagger wordlessly proclaiming that he was the cock of the walk. Oliver openly stated that his goal was to cripple his opponents, and his actions were nothing short of diabolical. As Rose had before him, Oliver formed a protective group, which he dubbed “The Clan.”
Close by his side were the hyperactive and dangerous masked Assassin and the maniacal Sheik Mohammed, a short, evil, violent and hairy man who in reality had probably never been any closer to Iran than Spokane, Washington. These three men never hesitated to storm the ring at the slightest provocation, real or imagined, and took over Portland wrestling like a street gang.
Cue the music! The time had come for the heroes to enter the picture. Curt Hennig, who was young, curly-haired and inexperienced but with a bellyful of fire, and Hack Sawyer, the youngest Northwest champ of all time, fought the good fight. And, of course, Billy Jack (Haynes) was a vital factor, too. Fans immediately responded to Billy, who was an explosive force from the first day he appeared. His body builder’s physique and his humble demeanor melded perfectly with his street fighting skills. His feud with Oliver was intense, bloody and seemingly never-ending. What made his occasional victories all the more fulfilling was that in Portland, the good guys didn’t always win. Sometimes, plain and simple, Rip kicked Billy's butt. But Billy Jack got his licks in just as much.
So with the focus squarely on the feud between Billy Jack and Rip Oliver, Buddy Rose’s position had been relegated to number two, maybe even three. Oh, he still had designs on creating another super-group like he’d done in the past, but it never quite jelled for him. He was still a force but had clearly taken a back seat to Oliver, with whom he had an uneasy truce. While they had stopped teaming together, Rose would pretty much stay out of Oliver's business and vice versa.
One week, Buddy happily announced to the world that he was bringing in a new partner. Not just a partner, but someone tremendously respected all over the world; indeed, he would soon be introducing the one man that would help Buddy Rose reclaim his rightful position on top of the northwest wrestling scene. That man was The Dynamite Kid.
Rose made it abundantly clear that bringing in Dynamite was a huge financial burden for him. But the time had come for him to make his move, and if opening up the purse strings demanded it, then the investment would surely be a worthwhile one. The Kid was just what the doctor ordered. Sure enough, a few weeks later, the supremely talented little Brit with a huge chip on his shoulder arrived. Buddy Rose was on his way back to the top, baby!
Well, maybe not. Their very first tag match was a surprising loss, and a visibly angry Dynamite displayed the disgust he felt towards his benefactor by retracting any agreements they had between them. Even more troubling was the fact that almost immediately, he accepted an offer to join Oliver’s crew. Rose, now desperate for the stability he might have by belonging to a group, tried to ingratiate himself by helping Oliver in a match later on that same night. His good intentions backfired, costing Rip an important win. The Clan glowered but did nothing.
The next week, Buddy verbally expressed his frustration with Dynamite going over to Oliver's clan. After all, it was he who had paid the man’s way overseas. The clan viciously attacked Rose and beat him severely, The Dynamite Kid joining in with relish. Not one wrestler came to save Rose, because for so many years he’d taken delight in doing the same sort of thing to them. It was the old adage come to life, the one about chickens coming home to roost. This was proof positive that when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Nobody wanted any part of Buddy Rose, given his long history of turning on people. The bloody and beaten man finally limped off, barely conscious, to lick his wounds and consider his options.
Later on in the same TV program, Billy Jack and Curt Hennig took on Rip Oliver and The Assassin. With each team having won a fall, the third was interrupted when The Dynamite Kid hit the ring to make it a 3-on-2 beat down. And then … Buddy Rose hit the ring! His head was taped from crown to chin, creating an immediate association with Boris Karloff in the original 1932 movie, “The Mummy.” And damn if Rose didn’t turn the tide by helping Billy Jack and Curt Hennig drive The Clan away. Buddy then completed his shocking turn-around by using the microphone to apologize to the fans for his years of rule-breaking.
Again, a man that witnessed the event, Ben Foxworth, fills us in. “Emotional fans ran to ringside and even began climbing into the ring, where it soon filled up. As referee Sandy Barr and matchmaker Dutch Savage tried to stop the rushing wave, with no luck whatsoever, the fans took over the whole show and it was Buddy ... BUDDY F’N ROSE … who had facilitated it!”
Buddy Rose was a true original. He was, and he remains, a highly intelligent man that understands professional wrestling only as someone who has lived the life could. Still active in the business and approachable via his website, Mr. Rose is a reminder of a time when professional wrestling was fun to follow. He was a talented individual with an aptitude for constructing a personality that was simultaneously infuriating and endearing. All of which paid big dividends to the thousands of fans that watched weekly to see what “Playboy” Buddy Rose would do next.
Richard Berger is a freelance writer and editor with an extensive background in professional wrestling. His career includes media production for Stampede Wrestling, ring announcing, regular columns for WOW Magazine and IGN.com, and special feature work for other publications. Between June, 2007 and June, 2008, he wrote a weekly column for The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. To discuss Richard’s articles or just about anything else, contact him at: WriterGuy1A@hotmail.com.
The small sampling of his work found here was originally published at The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. The majority will appear in a soon-to-be-released book along with new material. Stay tuned for information as it becomes available!