8 Wild Facts About WrestleMania I

Hulk Hogan gets his hand raised by Muhammad Ali during the first WrestleMania in 1985.
Hulk Hogan gets his hand raised by Muhammad Ali during the first WrestleMania in 1985.
Amazon

Every spring since 1985, World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) puts on a sporting spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. WrestleMania brings together contemporary (John Cena) and vintage (Hulk Hogan) pro wrestlers in the WWE for an extravaganza of athletic and theatrical melodrama. With WrestleMania 36 broadcasting from Tampa, Florida on April 5, we’re taking a look back at some of the more intriguing facts behind the event that started it all, held 35 years ago in Madison Square Garden.

1. The WrestleMania name was inspired by the Beatles.

Unlike other wrestling promoters of the 1980s, who promoted in regional territories across the United States and Canada, WWE (née WWF) promoter Vince McMahon had larger aspirations. After signing a number of top stars from across the country like Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and the Iron Sheik, McMahon wanted to promote an event via closed-circuit television that would be available nationally and emulate large sporting attractions like the Super Bowl. Originally, McMahon was going to call it The Colossal Tussle. According to ring announcer Howard Finkel, it was Finkel himself who suggested the name WrestleMania based on a pop culture phenomenon of the 1960s.

“[McMahon] was trying to come up with a name for what we could call the event,” Finkel told Bleacher Report in 2013. “And I said, ‘The Beatles, when they came to the United States in back in 1964, their phenomenon was dubbed Beatlemania. Why can’t we call our event WrestleMania?’” (WWE employee George Scott, who was a matchmaker for the company at the time, has claimed he was the one who came up with the name.)

2. MTV and Cyndi Lauper helped promote WrestleMania.

In order to make WrestleMania a success, McMahon knew he would have to reach audiences beyond wrestling fans. Fortunately, he had a point of contact thanks to wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano, who appeared in Lauper's 1983 music video for the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Lauper and Albano struck up a friendship encouraged by Lauper’s manager and boyfriend, David Wolff, a wrestling fan. The partnership eventually evolved into a marketing strategy known as the Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection, with Lauper making appearances in WWE programming and MTV airing WWE specials like The War to Settle the Score, which helped raise awareness for WrestleMania. Lauper even solicited feminist icon Gloria Steinem and politician Geraldine Ferraro to insult Roddy Piper in taped comments that aired on MTV. (Lauper occasionally got physical inside the ring and later appeared during WrestleMania.)

3. Mr. T was not necessarily a welcome participant at WrestleMania.

In order to maximize the general public’s interest in his event, McMahon enlisted actor Mr. T, who appeared as the villainous boxer Clubber Lung in 1982’s Rocky III and was a regular on the NBC action drama The A-Team. (Mr. T's talent agent, Peter Young, also worked with Hulk Hogan, who had also appeared in Rocky III.) With no pro wrestling experience, Mr. T met with a mixed reception in the locker room, with some wrestlers resenting his presence—and large paycheck. “The wrestlers whose minds worked old-school, they didn’t like Mr. T,” wrestler Nikolai Volkoff told Bleacher Report in 2013. “They felt he didn’t belong there. But, as entertainment, he was perfect.”

Mr. T was apparently aware of the friction his presence was causing and even contemplated dropping out the day of the show because he allegedly feared one of the wrestlers going rogue and hurting him in an unscripted assault. While Mr. T went through with it, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper—who was wrestling opposite Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in a tag-team match during the main event—insisted that Mr. T never pin his shoulders to the mat. “I wasn’t being difficult,” Piper later said. “I’m not going to let someone come into my business and treat me like a clown.” Instead, Hogan pinned Paul Orndorff, Piper’s partner, to win the match.

4. Liberace was the guest timekeeper at WrestleMania I.

WrestleMania had no shortage of recognizable faces. In addition to Cyndi Lauper, McMahon invited possibly the most famous athlete in the world, then-retired boxer Muhammad Ali, to be a guest referee for the main event. To fill the role of timekeeper, he enlisted singer Liberace. “If my mother was alive today, she would say, ‘Son, you’re finally a man,” Liberace told reporters during a press conference in 1985 to promote the show. “Because she was a great fan of wrestling.” Liberace took to the ring to dance to “New York, New York” with another group of guests: the Rockettes.

5. “Mean” Gene Okerlund sang the National Anthem at WrestleMania.

Subsequent WrestleMania events were notable for enlisting A-list talent like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But for the first WrestleMania, no performer was able or willing to step into the ring. Instead, the WWE asked ring announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund to sing the song. Okerlund wrote some of the lyrics on his hand.

6. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T hosted Saturday Night Live before WrestleMania I.

McMahon got a significant amount of publicity when Hogan and Mr. T hosted Saturday Night Live the night prior to the March 31, 1985 date for WrestleMania. They were late fill-ins for comedian Steve Landesberg, who couldn’t appear in the entire show due to a family illness. The episode is probably best remembered for cast member Billy Crystal commenting while in character as talk show host Fernando on Hogan’s heaving pectoral muscles, causing Hogan and Mr. T to begin laughing.

7. Hulk Hogan got sued for promoting WrestleMania.

As Hogan and Mr. T made the press rounds, it was a spot on cable talk show Hot Properties that garnered the most attention—from lawyers. Demonstrating a choke hold on host and future Law & Order actor Richard Belzer, Hogan squeezed too hard and rendered Belzer legitimately unconscious. Belzer popped up, blood trickling from his head, and went to a commercial. In 1987, he filed a lawsuit for $5 million against both Hogan and Mr. T, who encouraged Hogan to put him in a submission hold, or what he called a “pipsqueak sandwich.” The case was settled before going to trial in 1990.

8. A technical glitch angered a lot of WrestleMania fans.

Before pay-per-view on home cable boxes was common, major premium sporting events like boxing matches were broadcast on closed-circuit, which meant theaters or other locations would pay for the signal and screen it for customers. WrestleMania went out to 200 locations, with an estimated 400,000 people watching. Not all of them went away happy. Roughly 11,443 fans entered the Civic Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to watch the show, with tickets priced at $8 to $10 each. Unfortunately, a technical glitch prevented the signal from being unscrambled, and they were met with a blank screen. After hearing an announcement that the show would not go on as planned, fans pushed over a television and began throwing folding chairs. All attendees were refunded. Three were cited for disorderly conduct. Pittsburgh fans were able to see the show a week later on local station WTAE.

The refunds didn’t hurt McMahon. WrestleMania grossed a reported $12 million, including ticket and merchandise sales, and has been an annual tradition for the WWE ever since.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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