George Wagner
Milby High School

Professional Wrestler


Wagner was a wrestler with an undistinguished career until he recreated his professional image in the early 1940s as the flamboyant Gorgeous George. His famed "Human Orchid" persona was created in part by growing his hair long, dyeing it blonde, and putting gold-plated bobby pins in it. He had a valet accompany him in his ring appearances, and was the first wrestler to have entrance music, Pomp and Circumstance, played during his appearances, as he entered the ring, followed by his valet and a purple spotlight. He wore costly sequined robes and the air had to be sprayed with perfumed disinfectant "GG" referred to as "Chanel #10" ("Why be half-safe?" he was famous for saying,) before he would start wrestling. Once the match began, he would cheat in every way he could. His credo: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!" This flamboyant image and his showman's ability to work a crowd were so successful in the early days of television that he became the most famous wrestler of his time, drawing furious heel heat wherever he appeared.

Gorgeous George attained his wrestling peak in May 1950 when he won the American Wrestling Association (Boston) world title by defeating Don Eagle. While George Wagner may have been considered a mere gimmick wrestler, he was actually a very competent freestyle wrestler, having started learning the sport in amateur wrestling as a teenager, and he could handle himself quite well if it came to a legitimate contest. The great Lou Thesz, who would take this AWA title away from Wagner, and who was probably the best "legit" wrestler in professional wrestling during the 20th century, displayed some disdain for the gimmick wrestlers. Nevertheless, he admitted that Wagner "could wrestle pretty well," but added that, "he [Wagner] could never draw a fan until he became Gorgeous George."

Wagner wrestled for another ten years. In one of his last matches he was defeated by the up-and-coming Bruno Sammartino. As his wrestling career wound down he raised turkeys and owned a cocktail lounge in Van Nuys, California, which he named "Gorgeous George's Ringside Restaurant".

Wagner invested $250,000 in a 195-acre turkey ranch built in Beaumont, California, and the wrestler used his showman skills to promote his prized poultry at his wrestling matches and sport shows, popular during his heyday.

He appeared in one motion picture, "Pardon My Toehold", aka Alias the Champ, made in 1949.

He was married twice, first to Betty Hanson in the late 1930s (they were married in the ring). They had two children (adopted). In 1951, after divorcing Betty, he married Cherie Dupré. They had one son, Gary. Although Gorgeous George earned a lot of money during his career, he died nearly penniless. His funeral was attended by many notable people from the show business and the sports world; his fellow-wrestlers and those who promoted his matches (they donated $2000 towards the funeral, Cherie had to work a further 8 years to pay the other $8000). A plaque at his gravesite reads "Love to our Daddy Gorgeous George".

Wrestling historians give differing accounts of the inspirations for the Gorgeous George gimmick; according to Thesz, Wagner admitted he got the initial idea from another wrestler, Lord Patrick Lansdowne.

In any event, the Gorgeous George persona has had an extensive direct and indirect influence on entertainers since. Muhammad Ali and James Brown acknowledged that their own approach to flamboyant self-promotion was influenced by George's. The Looney Tunes wrestling character "Ravishing Rono" is modeled after Gorgeous George. Musical performers such as Liberace, Little Richard, and Elton John show signs of the George meme. Some consider George to have been an early advancer of camp. Without doubt, uncounted numbers of dyed-blonde professional wrestling heels in the decades since can all trace their heritage back to Gorgeous George.

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