Gordon Solie Book Review

 

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Book Review: Gordon Solie...Something Left Behind

By Pamela S. Allyn, Florida Media, Inc. 2004

Gordon Solie, the dean of wrestling announcers, passed away on July 27, 2000 after a battle with brain cancer, but thankfully his daughter, Pam Allyn, and son-in-law Bob Allyn have preserved Solie’s memory with Gordon Solie…Something Left Behind, a wrestling book like none other before it.

When people talk about the all-time greats when it comes to wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie is always at the top of the list. Solie was often referred to as the "Walter Cronkite of professional wrestling" because he lent an air of legitimacy to professional wrestling. This was done in many ways, but most importantly in the areas of stressing the major angles and making the matches seem more serious and important. Old-time fans who grew up watching Solie will tell you that Solie's commentary on a match was an event onto itself.

While much of Solie's commentary is not readily available to fans, you can get a taste of his style during the Ric Flair/Harley Race Starcade 83 match on ”The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection” DVD. Solie sets up a theme for the match saying that it is going to come down to two things, intensity and execution. Throughout the match, Solie keeps coming back to the themes he established and the points always hit home. The Race/Flair match is good (although no classic) but Solie makes it even better with his commentary.

It should be noted right off the bat that this book wildly succeeds where so many other wrestling books have let us down, and that is in the area of an extraordinary amount of pictures from Gordon Solie’s personal collection. There are well over 150 pictures in the book, from all stages of Solie’s career, but it truly shines when it covers the wrestling personalities that Solie interacted with. We’re talking about a guy who was the voice of southern wrestling, especially in Georgia and Florida, for over three decades, so everyone who was anyone is here. On one page you have Lou Thesz in his prime, while another may have Bruiser Brody screaming into the microphone while a page later may have a rare shot of the Assassins, in their mask, in a candid picture. The sheer amount of pictures is incredible, and anyone who was a fan of Georgia, Florida or Continental Championship Wrestling needs to drop what they are doing and order the book. There are so many wonderful shots of wrestlers from that era’s TV shows with Solie such as Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase and Roddy Piper, among others, along with the goofiest picture of Diamond Dallas Page you’ll ever see. Page seriously looks like the love child of Sammy Hagar and former WCW wrestler Van Hammer.

   

Now, unlike just about every other wrestling book you have ever read, …Something Left Behind is not just a biography of Solie’s career. Instead it has a collection of Solie’s writings throughout his life. I bet you had no idea that Solie wrote poems, short stories and actual screenplays. I know I didn’t. I found this other side to Gordon Solie, one that was passionate, tragic and uplifting, to be incredibly rewarding.

The book also covers Solie’s career the standard way, giving the dates and facts about what he did and when he did it, but I kept finding myself mesmerized when Solie’s personal writings were presented. Early in the book is a short tale entitled “Dyna and the Truck” and is a simple story about a daredevil stunt racer doing a jump over an elephant which does a great job in getting across how much Solie loved his other passion, daredevil car shows. As much as we know Solie from wrestling, he had another lengthy career as the announcer of race tracks throughout the south. There is a poster for one of these events on page 26 for a show called “Swenson THRILLCADE” and it is a campy, circus-like poster, but makes these shows seem quite fun and I can see why Solie was drawn to them. Recently, when I was down in Tampa for WrestleReunion, I made a trip to the Ringling museum and picked up a book on the old Ringling Bros.’ circus posters as I am just overwhelmed with how they used to advertise shows in an era before computers and not many people had TV. Solie was born in 1929 with the name Jonard Frank Labak, but changed his name to Jonard Pierre Sjoblom in 1938 when he was adopted. Finally, in 1961, he legally changed his name to Gordon T. Solie. “Josie” was Solie’s nickname and it must have been based on his original name of Jonard, unless Solie was a closet fan of Josie and the Pussycats. We get an in-depth look at Solie’s career starting with announcing Championship Wrestling from Florida. This section has the greatest wrestling picture I have ever seen and it has a referee telling the babyface wrestlers to stop signing autographs, while they are in the ring, because their match with The Assassins was about to start. Seeing this picture with kids at ringside getting autographs reminded me of the iconic scenes during baseball spring training with all the kids hanging over onto the field asking players to sign their program or baseball cards.

The book gives Solie’s 1960 account of The Sheik as being, “I have seen everything now; I have seen wrestlers use almost every conceivable device or weapon in order to win a match, but I have never seen anything quite as spectacular as a man who spurts fire from his fingertips.” I think my favorite parts from RF Video’s Sabu Shoot Interview was where he talks about his uncle, the Sheik, and told stories of how Sheik would get out of a cab throwing a fireball. That makes Gene Snitsky look about as evil as Bob Backlund. 1960 was also the year Gordon Solie went through a divorce, and the Solie-penned short story “Big Daddy Takes a Walk” is a scathing look at a man walking to a divorce hearing, and what goes on in his head, with a nice little twist ending.

Again, I can’t say enough about the pictures throughout this book. I was stunned to turn to page 50 and see a photo from back in the day with pro boxer Rocky Marciano and “Slave Girl Moolah” (a/k/a the Fabulous Moolah). This is the first time I have ever seen a picture of Moolah before she was 50 and I just about did a double take. Now I have to see a picture of Mae Young in 1802, or whenever it was that she broke into the business.

Recently Amy Weber made the wrestling news as being so fed up with the ribs she had to endure while with the WWE that she just quit and flew back from Alaska on her own dime. Years ago Billy Silverman also quit the WWE after being emotionally (and maybe physically) tortured by current WWE Champion Bradshaw. Well, Solie also played his share of ribs back in the day but they were certainly much more harmless. There is a great story in the book about Solie planning on ribbing the boys by making them pay for his flying lessons, but in the end gets ribbed himself by having a band show up after a supposed “secret” flying lesson and the boys “clipped my shirt tail, pinned wings on me and the band played on.” Eddie Graham told Solie the next day at breakfast, “Gordon, never try to fool the pros.” This was just a wonderful story and it makes me wonder when the hell taking a dump in wrestlers’ bags became a “rib” instead of the classless, disgusting act it truly is. Welcome to wrestling in the new millennium!

I loved Solie’s writing about Ted, the Wrestling Bear, who I think I have on one of my Wrestling Gold DVDs. I think PeTA would have a heart attack with something like today but it’s not as if dogs like Matilda or the snakes that traveled with Jake Roberts had better lives. I was surprised to read about Eddie Graham’s suicide on page 114, if only because it is just quickly mentioned and not expanded upon at all. I got the perception from reading the book that Graham was a major influence on Solie’s life and it was just odd to me to read about the suicide and given no other details. A couple pages later I forgot all about Graham as there was another amusing story, this one involving Steve Keirn, the wrestler who would go on to become Skinner in the WWE, and Gordon Solie going alligator trapping. I just think the mental picture of Solie, who described himself as wanting “a .45 in his pocket, a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand.” I’m still laughing at that.

Several of Solie’s poems reveal a side of himself that you never would have thought existed just from watching him on TV. One entry “Pure Mediocrity” is a strong look at people who can’t understand how the world has become so insane when of course they are far from perfect. Here’s another one:

The Game To cope with total egomania… Coupled with complete ruthlessness Becomes…myopic in one’s approach to the day by day of business acumen One slowly…but so slowly realizes..chess is played at all levels. Death is the only victor.


Interpret that as you will, I know what I took out of it. The book concludes with another powerful entry by Solie discussing “Post Wrestling Depression.” I’m beginning to learn that fame can be just as powerful a drug as any narcotic. This is followed by a prelude that Gordon wrote for a wrestling book in which he wrote wrestling was “THE MOST UNFORGIVING SPORT IN THE WORLD” and showed how much regret he still carried with him after being taught to dislike his biological father.

Hope If I have somehow expressed… A fear, a philosophy or a frustration or acceptance That you have known or understand Then I am not alone.


Overall Thoughts: Gordon Solie…Something Left Behind is like no other wrestling book I have ever read, and I mean that in the best way possible. It is so rare that we see a side of these larger than life individuals that is outside what the wrestling promotions want us to see. The Gordon Solie in this book is not Gordon Solie the wrestling announcer, it is Gordon Solie, the human being. Through his poems and short stories, among other things, we get a rare look inside the mind of a man who lived the business his entire adult life. With over 160 pictures there is an unbelievable amount of previously unpublished photos that show another side of the wrestling industry and for a while you can forget about the backstabbing, drug use and bad promoters and instead bask in the things that made us all wrestling fans to begin with. …Something Left Behind is a rare book in that you walk away from reading it and yet it stays with you. Solie’s love, hate, fear, anger and happiness all but leap out of the book to grab your attention. I have a newfound respect for Gordon Solie and have to thank everyone involved for getting this book to print for allowing me the pleasure of being able to have that experience. Click Here to purchase Gordon Solie…Something Left Behind and lets hope than in the future there are more books like this released and less garbage like The Rock Says… or Chyna: If They Only Knew.

Special thanks to PWTorch’s official historian Keith Lipinski and Theology Guy Mike Roe for their help with this review.



Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.