Remembering Gordon Solie
For what it's worth, my name is Bill Thomas, and in my humble opinion, Gordon was the best sports commentator of all time, with the possible acception of Red Barber. After that, they are all second fiddle.
I started a television engineer/cameraman/video tape/EVS op career at tiny WXLT-TV in Sarasota in 1973. It was there, while working as a "air-switcher" on a Saturday morning, alone, that I dropped "Championship Wrestling from Flordia" on my foot and broke a couple toes. I limped for weeks. This was an hour long, two inch, video tape show, which came in a big pizza box but much thicker and much heavier. I was rushing to load it up as it was airing in a minute or so, and I was in a 2 minute break. It slipped out of my hands after ripping it out of the box. I hopped over the RCA-TR-60, loaded it, cued it, openned up the drawer and turned up the "cue speaker" which I'd prepared, before hand, to give an audible "10second" countdown to each commercial possition. I remoted the machine and got it on at straight up, noon, when it aired. I sat down and tears came out of my eyes as the pain seared through my foot, leg and brain. However, as Gordon came on I was releaved that I'd done the best I could and got the best show on TV up and onto the air for the good folks of our 140th Arbitron rated market, that being the Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice area. This show and others of the period featured our very own, Coach John Heath, the evil Russian, Boris Malenko, Eddie Graham, Brad Armstong, Dusty Rhodes, Sailor Art Thomas, Thunderbolt Patterson and others. The tapes were "bicycled" around the state for air at various stations.
Then, years later, I moved to Atlanta and went to work for WTCG-TV Channel 17. One Saturday morning, Pooch, our assistant production manager had me scheduled to run camera for my very first CWG, or Championship Wrestling from Georgia show, and after we'd set the risers and metal chairs for the audience, the ring being built the night before, in walks, the man, the legend, the one and only Gordon Solie! I was very impressed. I met him that day and we, because of his graciousness and courtessy were on a first name basis after that for the next several years. He'd always fly to Atlanta from Tampa on Saturday morning to do our show and then back to Tampa in the late afternoon. That day I ran camera two, in the middle, right next to the desk and I recall one match between Ernie "The Big Cat" Ladd and Chief Jay Strong Bow, I think? It was one of the Indian Chief characters and Ernie stuffed his feathers in his wrestling trunks and in his mouth as he destroyed him in the ring. It was a glorious day and I was walking on air for the rest of the week! The routine was to do Tuesday inserts which were produced by Freddie Miller. One camera and the steady stream of wrestlers stepping in front of the lens, issuing treats and other promotional taunts towards their nemises on the upcoming cards. What the public never saw were those same nemisis sitting in chairs just off camera, some snickering and some bored and reading the newspaper. Then we did the show on Saturday, again promoting the live matches as well as selling and making money with the actual show. That call was usually 7:00am and it was a bitch, as we were young and had usually been out on Friday, doing what all single young men did on a Friday night. Sometimes we never got to bed and just came to work straight from where ever we were. We slept good on Saturday night. Those Number 4 risers were very heavy as were the lights we hung in the grid. Gordonisms are still quoted today by myself and the guys who ran camera on that show. The ones that are on the internet, plus some of his pet names for the various mussle groups of the body. Ernie Ladd brought one of his son's with him that day and was one of the nicest men I'd ever met in my life, standing there and 9' and tipping in at 5000 pounds, in great shape after a great career with the Chiefs. Just a true gentleman as was Gordon. Most all of the wrestlers were.
Admittedly,Gordon Solie belongs in the world of what's commonly considered fake professional wrestling.Yet,,he and it,was a real part of my world growing up in Vero Beach,Florida.
I don't know about other people in other places but the part such things as pro wrestling on broadcast tv had to play in our lives back then had influences on me that helped shape me into the person I am.I was born in 64 so I am sure I was hearing wrestling matches in the womb.
My father was responsible for that I suppose.Being born in '24 he was a wrestling fan from way,way back,,he used to tell me stories of going to those old style 'prize or purse matches' that would take place in warehouses and stables or other places suitably secluded and large enough for a crowd and a ring for a couple of battling men.He even had been to many of the well knnown venues that hosted other sports events such as Madison Square Gardens and others through his life.So as wrestling eventually gained some greater form of popularity,,even if not much respectability,as a crowd drawing sport event,he was pleased so can you imagine how him and all those old fans felt when they started getting to watch it on a regular basis on broadcast t.v.?Well,he was one of those folks,,and then out of West Palm on Channel 5 comes Championship Wrestling from Florida.Yes,the studios were in Tampa,,but we got the signal from the station south of us.
My earliest clear memories are of the t.v. screen,,looming large in my sight.It was black and white of course but we soon got a color set so my general recollections are of these fellows in short tight weird looking 'trunks' with high laces boots grappling on the screen narrated by a smooth talking eloquent commentator who seemed to have an uncanny ability to not only identify a move one of the wrestlers was using on his opponent but also to state the name of it along with a modifying word or phrase so quick that it almost seemed scripted.No matter if the action was a singles competition,a tag team or even the old time lumberjack and battleroyal matches he called the shots on the money.He could keep track of what was going on,and talk about it,better than I could track the action on the screen.He amazed me.Even if ones eyes weren't on the screen you could count on knowing what the action was thanks to his radio style narrative.One could easily identify his professional roots. But he left an impression on me in more ways than simply through his mic skills.Along with the well executed descriptions of the physical events occuring in the ring his obviously large vocabulary enabled the descriptions to include words and phrases that carried 'emotional intent' and 'moral declarations' that not only enhanced the dramatic elements but also made it quite clear as to who was heel.
This helped shape my impressions of bullies and bad guys,,believe it or not.The wrestling world was way different back then.The bad guys were bad,, and the good guys were good.As far a I am concerned the way things are presented in todays V-Mac dominated wresting world are poorly defined and lacking in the solidity that those by gone grapplers had thanks in large part to Gordons Solies influence on the sport genre.The fare that is accepted as professional wrestling today has about as much solidity and character integrity as tapioca pudding.No,,NOT the physical skills,,the production skills in the writing of plots,swerves,gimmmicks,character development and portrayal.The wrestlers themselves are an amazing group of athletes and I stand in awe of them constantly.But even considering it is aimed at the 9 to 14 year old male market,,the backstage management seems exceptionally juvenile and I regret to be the one to point it out,,often amateurish.But yes,,I still watch what I get on my broadcast t.v.,,every Friday night,,8 to 10.And I thank ol'Vinnie Mac,his dad and granddad for their part in the history of it and for keeping it going.
The thing is,,back in the day,,Gordon and others like him generally had NO idea what was part of the show and what wasn't so their reactions to the action had a much more realistic flavor than todays common fare.The way Gordon would react with feeling that was definitely unfeigned carried an impact that you don't feel in todays shows.
His commentary included statements such as villainous,dastardly,horrific and others that I often doubt the guys I see every Friday night could work in to a script with a pencil let alone on the fly like Gordon.But they were pivotal to the tapestry he wove with his words.The way he had of working the television show with the verbal skills of a play by play radio sports announcer just seemed to bring the show alive in a way that you didn't get with other shows,not even other sports shows with play by play comments.Now to me,,that just an illustration of his skills being far superior to the 'radio pros' of that time and especially so when compared to those working wrestling and radio now.
But don't get me wrong,,I have respect for the current commentaters,,such as I see on Friday Night Smackdown and I thank them for their parts and contributions to the industry.You guys know who you are.
Yet they don't carry the impact nor make the impressions that Gordon was able to.There are obviously many differences in style and in the personas that make a giant difference.For one thing,Gordons wasn't staged.Well,to be honest,I did miss his later appearences with V.Mac's productions so maybe he had a different take on things then.I do hope he didn't seem too different to his old fans who caught those shows.
The way he came off when he liked a wrestler,or didn't,was allways genuine seeming and I rarely doubted his opinions of the characters or events he talked about.The fact that his opinions allmost allways coincided with mine and my fathers naturally affected this sentiment greatly.
I can't credit Gordon Solie directly with fostering in me what I like to call a 'bully fighting mentality' but I can say that his comments and stated opinions did influence my young mind regarding how to identify a bully like act.As to a direct fostering influence,,I can identify my older brothers and sisters as a major one.But that's a different story alltogether,,well,maybe not entirely.
The way Gordon called the action became the 'typical way' to call action for us kids.His was the pattern and cadence we would emulate,,or try poorly to that is.While we would be playfighting or even releasing the common frustrations and or aggressive tendencies for real,,which we we thought nothing of back then,we would be doing our own verbal play by play calls while imitating him.Yep,,not one of the famous sports anouncers who you might catch on the majors sports events,,Gordon Solie the guy on Championship Wrestling from Florida.
Every Saturday after the morning cartoon line up that was the call for me and my father to watch wrestling.After him and my mom divorced and her and my siblings moved out this became a 'thing' for us.Right around noon it seems,we would put one of those frozen solid store bought pizzas in the oven.Grab some Ruffles or Wise potato chips,Freetos and soda,,Mr.Pibb,for me and Busch beer for dad and settle in for the show. I can't really recall the variations in the line up that we watched but sometimes there were more than one wrestling show and that allways made for a better Saturday.But mostly I remember that they would roll old chop-saki's,spaghetti westerns or monster movies,,mainly the japanese genre and old b flick black and whites after the wrestling was over.And that was the rest of my Saturday viewing regime.Any number of other thngs began after that. To this day,,when I think of or look at a picture of Gordon Solie I can't help but recall my own father.It's not so much that they look a bit like each other.Yes,both had the receeding hair line,wore glasses and had a common look forged in a common era.It was more of an attitude I think,,or maybe just a way in which things were a bit plainer for them to state in terms of good and bad.I suppose it could be called part of that generations flavor though.And one that I am glad I got a taste of before it got drowned out by what is sprinkled around so much today. So I have to tip my hat to Gordon Solie and thank him very greatfully for the part he played in the history of professional wrestling as well as the very treasured part he played in my childhood and continues to play in my memories.I personally wish that some of todays 'commentaters' in the industry would apply some of what he used to their work.But that's up to Vinnie Mac, I suppose.
“His face is a crimson mask, this has turned into a Pier six brawl”. Famous words routinely heard from the greatest wrestling announcer ever, Gordon Solie.
Gordon was the voice and face of wrestling from the 1950s, through the late 1990s before his retirement. Solie brought legitimacy to an entertainment-sports fusion known as professional wrestling. Tuesday nights at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory and Saturday mornings at The Sportatorium on North Albany, Solie was ever present.
There wasn’t a kid in my school who did not benefit in physiology class from Solie’s style, describing the muscles of the torso, and in a way we could all understand. There were many among us who could mimic Solie’s voice. I remember in school being told by my teacher that I would never add up to anything, and in that Soliesque voice I would respond “no doubt about that”.
Gordon Solie influenced every decent wrestling announcer that ever came down the pike. His deadpan stare at the heels who were constantly threatening him, to the loveable Dusty Rhodes, who Solie turned into a mini Muhammad
Ali, they all owe their ring success to this man from Minnesota.
Gordon Solie was wrestling, Gordon Solie made wrestling what it is today, without him there would be no Wrestlemania.
This gifted barker graced our screens for many years, made us laugh, made us cry, made us happy. As I have stated before; “before him there were none, after him there shall be no more”.
Gordon Solie, one of a kind.