Sunday, November 18, 2007
That Book-Leg Guy: "Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling"
Synopsis: The long-awaited autobiography of former pro wrestler Bret "Hitman" Hart covers his 20+ year career, his upbringing in Calgary, dysfunctional family members, numerous personal tragedies and a splash of pink.
The Goodness: Any chapter, paragraph or anecdote on Hart's f*cked-up family is wonderfully sordid and always interesting. Where to begin? There's the one about Bret's brother Smith, who hastily married a Puerto Rican named Maria then had a daughter they named Satanic Ecstasy Hart. And, how about Bret's brother-in-law, Davey Boy Smith? He allegedly left Bret's sister to steal the wife of Bret's brother. Another Hart brother, Dean, died of kidney failure as none of his siblings even opted to get tested for a possible donor match.
Morbidly enough, the book's best moments are rooted in such heartbreak. Hart's retelling of the physical and emotional breakdown of former peer Tom "Dynamite Kid" Billington is dark and disturbing, with more detail than in Billington's own book. Then, when Hart discusses the passing of his parents, Stu and Helen, to say nothing of the loss of his brother, Owen, you can practically feel Bret's spirit dying with them. The behavior of Bret's siblings during these difficult times is just jaw-dropping (one Hart sister allegedly conspired with the WWF in the Owen Hart wrongful death suit, while another supposedly verbally assaulted Owen's widow - while giving the eulogy for Helen Hart!)
Of course, if you're like me and followed Bret Hart's career for any length of time, you'll be most interested in the stories from the road. Bret claims to have kept an audio diary of his entire career, which has allowed for phenomenal detail on everything from PPV matches, to obscure house shows and every plane ride, rental car and cheap hotel in between. And, save for a few "you-know-whos", his criticism of certain workers (Bad News Brown, Dean Malenko(!)) is as constructive and even-handed as his praise (Curt Hennig, Bam Bam Bigelow).
Not-So-Goodness: This is a fascinating read in that Bret's tone, right around page 300, gets instantly insufferable. Probably not a coincidence that this is where he describes his first WWF Title reign. Up to here, his story as an undersized David in a locker room full of Goliaths is almost inspiring, but for the rest of the way his "wrestling hero" self-references (and personal notes on every real or worked award he's ever won) get a little grating.
And, the number of times Bret refers to himself as your "hero" is roughly the same as the number of stories he shares about shagging wrestling groupies. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the detail (and he goes into a LOT of detail) but as his rocky marriage remains in a perpetual state of crap, Hart shows only superficial remorse for his serial adultery. Hard to take his bitching about the death of wholesome role models in wrestling seriously...all I'm sayin'.
Not nearly as surprising - but a little more disappointing - were the amount of odd, out-of-place homophobic stories from the road. I get that even pretend sports need to maintain a macho veneer, but what's really that impressive about punching a guy who makes a pass at you in the face? The whole point seemed to be a sad, insecure reassurance for readers that, yes, this guy who shaves his body and holds similarly hairless men for 30 minutes a night doesn't have "the gay".
On a kind-of related note, can we please introduce Hart to some Black people? He couldn't possibly grasp the unintentional hilarity of the word "mulatto", as he uses it a few times to describe assorted ring rats. Elsewhere, he describes that Mabel/Viscera guy as "black as coal"...and, it reads like he means it as a compliment. Trust me, I'm not mad about this...I just wanna save Bret from getting his ass kicked one day.
TBG Sez: Thanks to a week-long cold that combined bird flu with bubonic plague, I was able to plow through this 550-pager in a couple of days. I've only read four or five of these 'rasslin autobiographies, but this one's definitely going to be one of the better ones you'll read. The detail is amazing, the Hart family stuff will floor you at times and the paranoia that builds in the year or so up to the Montreal screwjob is absolutely palpable. This one's currently only available in Canada, but you can get it off of Amazon.ca for about $25(US). If you're a fan of the "sport" or the author, I can't recommend this one enough.