The date was February 18, 1985. A trip to my grandparents back then always meant a chance to watch cable television and more specifically MTV.
But on that fateful night, instead of the latest music videos from Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna or Duran Duran, I witnessed something that would change my life forever… I witnessed the World Wrestling Federation’s War to Settle the Score.
Watching as various personalities from the music industry weighed in on the feud between Hulk Hogan and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper made me take notice of a form of entertainment I had never experienced before.
In 1986, the movie Body Slam would celebrate the pop culture mashup that was known as the “Rock-n-Wrestling Connection”…
Dirk Benedict plays M. Harry Smilac, a manager in the music industry that has hit a bit of a rough patch. Harry has lost all but one of his musical acts, his car has been repossessed, his checks are bouncing all over town and things are about to get rougher when he falls ass backwards into managing Quick Rick Roberts (Roddy Piper) and Tonga Tom (Sam Fatu).
The early success of Quick Rick Roberts and Tonga Tom as a tag team have the wrestling world buzzing and also makes M. Harry Smilac a marked man among his peers. Harry has upset the status quo and long time manager Captain Lou Murano (played convincingly by Captain Lou Albano) is looking to run Harry and his men out of the business. The battle lines are drawn when both managers appear on Ring Talk, a professional wrestling talk show hosted by Vic Carson (played by the legendary Charles Nelson Reilly). Fun Fact: Ring Talk was a spoof of Tuesday Night Titans (later shortened to TNT when it moved from Tuesdays), an actual pro wrestling talk show hosted by sports entertainment czar Vince McMahon (and later Mean Gene Okerlund) on the USA Network from 1984 to 1986.
Following the brouhaha on Ring Talk, Quick Rick and Tonga Tom are nearly put out of action when they find themselves in an impromptu match with Captain Lou Murano’s tag team champions The Cannibals! It is a massacre. Things aren’t much better for Harry’s other clients, the rock band Kicks…
Harry, who was hired by socialite Bitsy Vandervagen to coordinate a huge gala fundraiser for Senatorial candidate Norton Wilshire, pulls the old bait and switch and has Kicks perform for a crowd that was expecting the likes of Barbara Streisand and Julio Iglesias. The results were disastrous. Kicks was humiliated and Harry shot himself in the foot in regards to the movie’s romantic subplot between Harry and Bitsy’s daughter Candace Vandervagen (Tanya Roberts, Sheena).
Our protagonists have officially hit rock bottom and that’s about the time that Harry has the idea to take his wrestlers and rock-n-rollers on a nationwide tour of some of the country’s secondary markets. But a scheduling snafu almost derails Harry’s plans before they get started. Instead of having back to back nights, one for a wrestling event and another for a Kicks concert, Harry finds out he only has one date and that’s about the time Harry has an epiphany… why not combine the two events into one sports entertainment spectacular? “Rock-n-Wrestling” is born!
M. Harry Smilac has officially started a pop culture craze! Quick Rick Roberts, Tonga Tom and Kicks are selling out venues all over the country. Rolling Stone even does a cover story on “Rock-n-Wrestling”. And it isn’t long before Quick Rick and Tonga Tom are in line for a shot at the world tag team titles held by Captain Lou Murano’s Cannibals in the movie’s action packed finale.
The Hal Needham directed Body Slam did not manage to pick up any Academy Award nominations, but did manage to capture a special moment in time in professional wrestling history. For someone like me, who became a fan of the World Wrestling Federation and its larger than life characters in 1985, Body Slam is a cherished piece of nostalgia.