While discussing wrestling careers that have crossed over into the mainstream of American culture, there is no way to overlook the trail of a St.
Louis native known to millions of appreciative wrestling fans as "Classy" Freddie Blassie.
He was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an overnight success. "Sailor Fred Blassie," was his ring handle while serving in the
armed forces during World War II and moonlighting in wrestling rings when he could get leave for a night or two. Just as he was beginning
to attract main event stature, he suffered a broken neck when Ernie Dusek pile-drove him during a 1947 Cleveland match.
After a lengthy period of recovery, Blassie began to gain national exposure on the Marigold Gardens television shows of promoter
Fred Kohler from Chicago in the early '50s. In Los Angeles, though, his name wasn't considered enough of a draw, so he went there
in 1952 as "Fred McDaniel.", the “brother” tag-team partner of Billy McDaniel.
It was while based in Atlanta, Georgia, from the mid to late 1950s, that Blassie became the peroxide-blonde wild man of the ring
(and FOURTEEN-TIME Southern heavyweight champion) who forever imprinted his colorful personality on the memory of wrestling ringsiders.
He was "Blassie - King of Men" upon his celebrated return to Los Angeles in the 1960s - a time span in which he held a version of
the world title. He later saw his classic novelty record, “Pencil Neck Geek,” become a staple of the syndicated radio broadcasts
of the famed Dr. Demento.
Let's not overlook the fact that the "Classy" Mr. Blassie could pull 'em through the turnstiles, too. His 1971 L.A. Coliseum
showdown with archrival John Tolos attracted 25,847 and a gross gate of $142,158.50.
Before he was through as a coast-to-coast headliner, Blassie would be a part of the 1981 cult film, “My Breakfast With Blassie,”
a 90-minute parody featuring Fred and wrestling comedian, Andy Kaufman. It is a treasure trove of the rapid-fire retorts and wry
wisecracks which made Blassie such a darling of Los Angeles and New York TV wrestling fans over the final 25 years of his lengthy career.
The man Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray once called "the worst villain since Hitler" died, age 85, on June 2, 2003.
- J. MICHAEL KENYON