Name: George Raymond Wagner
Year Inducted: 2002
Induction Category: Television Era
George Raymond Wagner became one of the first exciting television wrestling personalities by generating tremendous crowd reactions everywhere he wrestled. He became one of the most famous celebrities of the 20th century. With his unique ring attire and his famous "Human Orchid" persona, which showcased his long dyed blonde hair, George's career almost did not turn out the way that he expected. Struggling as a wrestler under his own name, Wagner did not attain stardom until the 1940's when he reinvented himself to become one of the most detested wrestling characters of all time.
Born in Seward, Nebraska on March 24, 1915, Wagner's wrestling career began in his early teens when his family moved to Houston, Texas. With a strong amateur background in freestyle wrestling, he left home at age nineteen and wrestled professionally for small sums wherever he could. During the early stages as a professional, George perfected the art of getting the crowd involved in his matches and this technique would define the rest of his career. An original showman and theatrical performer, Gorgeous George's career hit it's highest point during the late 1940's and early 1950's. In 1949, George headlined Madison Square Garden with a victory over Ernie Dusek. This was the first wrestling event held at MSG after a twelve year absence from that venue.
In addition, George also appeared in his one and only motion picture entitled Alias The Champ. Subsequently, in 1950, George won the American Wrestling Association's (AWA) Boston world championship by defeating Don Eagle. George would capture championship gold in various promotions throughout his illustrious career thus legitimizing his character as something more than just a showman. George was an NWA Southern Heavyweight Champion a two-time Pacific Coast Lightweight Champion, a Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, and a one-time Northwest Middleweight Champion.
When he changed his name to "Gorgeous George", he was accompanied by valets who regularly sprayed the ring with various perfumes and disinfectants. The Gorgeous one was the first wrestler to ever have entrance music. He was even noted for tossing roses and gold plated bobby pins, known as "Georgie Pins', from his hair into crowdsto showcase his wealth. A true master of the ring entrance, "Gorgeous George" played a pivotal role in the expansion of the new television medium. Record numbers of people would tune in to see George, who was one of the most identifiable public figures during the time period as a result of the popularity of wrestling programs. An original villain of wrestling, he lived by the motto, "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!" and created controversy from match to match.
The persona of Gorgeous George continues to influence new generations of performers in and out of the ring. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali tailored his personality as a result of the impact that George had on his life by utilizing self promotion and an eccentric appeal. His name has been mentioned on television shows such as, "I Love Lucy", "Jeopardy" and "Seinfeld". He even had a charity match "against" Burt Lancaster with Lou Thesz as referee and Bob Hope as George's valet. The list of professional wrestlers of the past and present that have been influenced by "Gorgeous George" is impressive. "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Buddy Rogers, "Adorable" Adrian Adonis and Macho Man Randy Savage have been significant figures stemming from George's establishment of new ground in professional wrestling.
As the glamorous wrestler of the television age, George will be remembered for changing the industry. "Gorgeous" George Wagner died on December 26, 1963. His legacy will live on for being a public figure that possessed the important abilities to draw and cultivate an audience.