Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Seventies are disappearing right before our eyes

It doesn't happen every day, thank goodness, but yesterday we lost three people who were, in their own ways, fairly prominent figures in the entertainment world of the 1970s and 1980s.

The first one we heard about was "Mean" Gene Okerlund, who started out here in the Twin Cities working with Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association as an announcer/interviewer, who then parlayed that gig into fame and fortune with Vince McMahon's various wrasslin' empires. Okerlund didn't have a lot of dash; I always thought he looked like a claims adjuster. But it's difficult to imagine the wrestling world without him. Here is an example of his early work in Minneapolis, featuring the one, the only, Da Crusher:

It's actually subtle -- he lets Da Crusher bluster on, occasionally giving the audience a somewhat worried expression, yet his "questions" invariably lead the viewer where Mean Gene wants the interview to go. Professional wrestling is all about stagecraft and narrative and Mean Gene was a one-man Greek chorus.

Later in the afternoon, we found out that Bob Einstein, best known (I think) as Super Dave Osborne, passed away. Einstein started out his career with the Smothers Brothers, playing an absurdly by-the-book officer named Officer Judy. This bit with another dude from Milwaukee, Liberace, is hilarious:

I loved the Super Dave shtick, which started out as a goof on Evel Kneivel but became something far more amusing. Einstein did a bunch of these Super Dave bits; this one is a personal fave. It's essentially an elaborate setup for an obvious sight gag, but it's a lot of fun a long the way. Trailers for sale or rent:

Einstein's genius was never breaking character -- he was as good at deadpan comedy as anyone I'd ever seen. What was even more amusing and amazing? His younger brother, Albert Brooks, is a master of the neurotic comedy style. Einstein also played the Marty Funkhouser character on Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" series; those bits are often hilarious but most of them are NSFW, so I'll let you head to YouTube for those on a separate visit.

Finally, we learned that Daryl Dragon, best known as the "Captain" in his musical pairing with his wife Toni Tennille. This song was unavoidable in 1975:

Dragon and Toni Tennille had a five-year run through the back half of the 1970 where their music was regularly part of the Top 40. He was also a well-known session musician who did extensive work with the Beach Boys. We haven't seen much of these two in recent years, but they were able to draw an audience long past their heyday.

We are now 40-45 years past many of these performances, so it's not surprising that the performers are leaving the stage. Still, it brings me up short.


Gino said...

you totally lose me with anything that has to do with wrestling. I never watched that bullshit, never appealed to me.

the Capt'n and Tennile, though... wow, they were the late 70's shit... showing just how much shit was bought in to back in the late 70's.
I still remember them fondly, but i was too young to know better.

in real life, they were good people. We could use more of that, i think...
it's always good, when the good, do well.

Mr. D said...

you totally lose me with anything that has to do with wrestling. I never watched that bullshit, never appealed to me.

Sure. Don't blame you. Don't like anything about Vince McMahon's empire. The old AWA was amusing and when I was a kid, their penny ante morality tales were a lot of fun. I realized it was all crap, but some of the fake rasslin' moves were a lot of fun to use on other kids on the playground or, especially, younger brothers. That's how we rolled back then.

R.A. Crankbait said...

I grew up in Indianapolis in the 60s and 70s, and the local wrestling (rasslin') circuit was connected in some way to the AWA. We watched those matches on our black & white TV, with local favorites Dick the Bruiser and his cousin, the Crusher (I once saw the Bruiser attending a jr. high wrestling match where his kid was competing) and Chief Thunder Cloud, along with exotics such as Baron Von Raschke. We knew it was fake, but the story lines and morality plays were compelling (good vs. bad, bad guys becoming good, good guys going bad), whatever it took to keep the stories going.

When I moved to Minnesota in the early 80s, the Verne Gagne-Wally Karbo ("there's going to be fines and suspensions!") enterprise was familiar, and Mean Gene was perfect, along with guys like Mad Dog Vachon and Bobby "the Brain" (or Weasel) Heenan. The McMahon enterprise was abominable (though I got paid to work at a couple events held at the Metrodome), and despite all the glitz it didn't really satisfy. Looking back, I think I feel the same way about "old" country music compared to the frothy country-pop of today.

I think the old style wrestlers connected with their audiences in ways the new ones can't or don't (not that I give it a lot of thought). I remember, though, working a Twins game at the Dome when a 70-something Baron von Rashke, wearing a turtleneck and sport coat, came down the aisles to his seats in front of the press box. The fans in the area went nuts, chanting "Baron! Baron!" and he obliged, snarling, and showing them "The Claw" before laughing and waving. I loved it, and was also surprised to see that the fearsome Baron, though bigger than life itself, was actually shorter and slighter than me.