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Cucch's Book Review: "Animal"

No turnbuckles were harmed in this review...

In the nature of full disclosure here, I must be honest. I became a wrestling fan right around the end of 1989 and early 1990. While I was aware of the existence of the wrestler known as George "The Animal" Steele, he was someone more on the periphery of my viewing as opposed to being a featured player. My memories of the Animal are pretty much limited to his 1986-87 run with Randy Savage, and not much else. Sure, I saw an odd battle royal featuring him or some grainy black and white footage of one of his matches in the 60's with Bruno Sammmartino on old Coliseum Video releases, but for the most part, George was that lovable goof with the crush on Miss Elizabeth who dined on turnbuckles. Sure, it was fun to see as a kid (he is featured prominently on the old WWF Wrestlemania VHS Board game) but as I grew older and my wrestling tastes became, for lack of a better way of putting it. more refined, the Animal took a backseat in this man's mind, and aside from older fans wistfully remembering the mayhem that the madman caused in his heyday, I never gave it much of a second thought. That changed last week.

You see, it was my birthday last week (no big deal, just one year closer to death) and I received a gift of a Barnes and Noble gift card. So I was able to go to the store and just unmercifully abuse this thing with wrestling book purchases. I had a whole game plan mapped out and a list of books I was going to purchase. However, the books I had on my list fell by the wayside. Usually, I have no problems finding these things at my library, but three books just immediately stuck out to me, and once I fingered through them (easy guys) and reading some passages, I picked three absolute must buys. Some of you have probably seen the review of Lex Luger's book I posted the other day. There is another book I will be reviewing in a couple of days or so, but it is so different that I have to reread it for a third time before giving it justice. The other two books I am mentioning here dealt with personalities who were at the forefront of my wrestling viewing life of the last 24 years. The third was adorned with the cover you see, displaying this hairy simpleton with his stuffed toy on the cover.

Now, I am not an idiot (contrary to some folks belief here), I know the legacy of George Steele. I know he was a fierce heel back in the halcyon years of Vince McMahon the elder, a man who caused near riots at MSG every time he encountered Bruno Sammartino. I have also seen him portray Tor Johnson in the Johnny Depp vehicle "Ed Wood." I also knew he was a very well educated man, having seen some non-wrestling interviews conducted with him. Yet as much as you think you know a man, you never do until you hear it straight from the horses, or in this case, Animal's mouth.

Let me first state this: "Animal" is an incredible read. It has a tendency to jump all over the place and is not necessarily the most in depth biography you will ever read, but since when do all wrestling books need to resemble Foley or Jericho or Hart's books? "Animal" is a completely different...well, animal. Or species. Or Sub species. Whatever. The character of George The Animal was a far cry from the man born Jim Myers in 1937 in Madison Heights, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Jim was not a happy child, as he was dyslexic. Now, in those days, mental illnesses such as this were not readily diagnosed or treated. So Jim had a very tough time adjusting to his school work. These are the most enlightening parts of the book, and, as the dozens who view these blasted reviews know, I may harp on and on about a book, but I omit the really good parts that make all the difference in buying the book or reading what I write. Suffice to say, Jim had a tough childhood because of his condition.

One thing helped young Jim Myers out: he was a LARGE boy at a very young age, and thus he excelled in sports. Baseball, basketball and football were the three he was most adept at, until, at a fairly young age, Jim's mother ended up changing his life trajectory.

Jim was always large, but his father always warned him against fighting. One day Jim was being picked on by some older High School students and, as per his old man's decree, was doing nothing to defend himself. He came home crying and Mrs. Myers had had enough. The next day she marched her young animal back to the playground where the previous day's melee had occurred, challenged the boys, and let Jim loose. Jim kicked the shit out of the kids, in short order. Jim had found his calling in life. Soon, in addition to football (now his chosen sport) he joined the wrestling team.

Jim earned a football scholarship to Michigan State. By this point, Jim was not only a delinquent ass beater, but also married to his high school sweetheart, who was expecting. Jim got into all kinds of problems at Michigan State, never suiting up for one football game or one wrestling meet. ROTC was not his thing. He had serious issues with authority. However, a teacher at Michigan State helped to set him straight, and by his senior year, he was teaching similarly disadvantaged kids at a reform school off campus. And he was good at it. While many will identify with the character of George Steele, Jim Myers had found his life's calling: teacher.

Myers returned to his hometown of Madison Heights, and became a Health and Physical Education teacher. And he loved his chosen vocation. There was, however, one problem: the vocation did not pay well, and Jim needed to provide for his expanding family. But what could someone of Jim's unique talents, looks, makeup possibly do? What indeed.

One day he happened upon a man who was a wrestling promoter. Jim inquired about it. The promoter took one look at him and licked his chops. He trained Jim in the loosest sense of the term, and started booking him on his Detroit cards. Jim Myers was a teacher, so the promoter, scholar and thespian that he must have been, put Jim under a hood and dubbed him "The Student." The mask was a necessity for Jim, as he would teach through fall, winter and spring, and in the summer months he would wrestle. Thus began one of the strangest wrestling careers ever.

Eventually, the Student traveled to Pittsburgh. Detroit was in flux because Jim's first booker was being put out of business by the original Sheik. Bruno Sammartino threw a life jacket to Jim, brought him to his hometown, took the mask off, and soon, Jim was George "The Animal" Steele. It was a symbiotic, if chaotic, relationship that would earn both men a shit ton of money and notoriety.

Bruno was the one who, begrudgingly(read it), to New York to work for Vince Senior (who Steele refers to as Mr. McMahon. Vince Jr. is Vince). The Animal relays a bunch of stories of how he caused near riots at both MSG and the Boston Garden, in great detail, as George (even though he has a ghostwriter here) is a marvelous storyteller.

You get the normal in and out of ring stories that you get from any other wrestling book, but here is the thing: George the Animal and Jim Myers are two completely separate entities. Basically, The Animal wrestled for Vince Senior from June to August every year, making sure he had leverage to make as much money as possible. Those were the vacation months for the family Myers. From September to was Mr. Myers, gym teacher, wrestling and football coach.

Now, I went to High School at a place that you could call a football factory. My High School, if you are an NFL fan, has produced, among others, Matt and Tim Hasselbeck. Matt was the idiot who said in a playoff coin flip that we will take the ball and win (Idiot) and Tim is on ESPN now days, and his wife is Elizabeth of the View (I think she is still there...not appointment viewing for me). Which is to say I have seen some damn imposing football coaches. Now, much like any book, there is a picture section here, and MY GOD, Jim Myers is the single most intimidating football or wrestling coach I have ever seen, especially in his 1970's leisure suits.  It is frightening, and I am getting some bad flashbacks here. Lets move on...

Jim Myers and George "The Animal" led dueling lives for 25 years. George terrified New York fans, while Jim helped mold future generations through his teaching and coaching. It was not until 1986, when the WWF was becoming a money making machine that Jim decided to retire the whistle and concentrate full time, at 48 years of age, on pro wrestling. Instead of the maniac psychotic heel he had portrayed so convincingly for so many years, George became the loveable beast enamored with the beauty. For most fans like myself, the lasting memory of George "The Animal" Steele was his feud with the late, great (and that is an understatement) Macho Man Randy Savage. Steele devotes a whole chapter to Macho, but, if you are anything like me, that was the portion of the book that was leaked to the media before the book was released. So you may have read it. Suffice to say, it confirms all the things we know about Macho Man. He was obsessive to the point of psychosis. He planned every match. The young lion Savage and the old pro Steele did not initially get along, but eventually found a happy medium where they could coexist. When Savage accused Steele (of all guys) of improprieties with Liz, George could simply say "Look at me, for one, and I have been married for 25-30 years!" That assuaged the Savage beast.

George retired from in ring competition following the Savage feud, and settled into a 9 year run as an agent for the WWF. He does not describe too much about those years, with the notable exception of ribs. And where there is a wrestling book describing ribs, there is Owen Hart. George describes some of the more commonly seen Owen ribs (as far as books go) and is just absolutely effusive on what a man Owen was. Just yet another sobering reminder of what the world lost on May 23, 1999.

The man known as George Steele came off the road in 1997 (shortly before WWF exploded) and retired back to Madison Heights. His children had grown up, all outside of the wrestling business and all to varied degree of success. His hometown recognized his contributions and named the football stadium after him. No, not Animal Stadium, but Jim Myers Stadium. Jim had a nasty problem for some of those years, in the form of Crohn's Disease, a debilitating stomach disease that is unbelievably painful. (I know...a friend of mine has been afflicted with it for over 20 years now...constantly in and out of the hospital, prednisone is his best friend and worst enemy). Jim fought it, and the last few chapters deal with his spiritual rebirth. Now, I am not one to judge, but I went to Parochial Schools, yet am not particularly religious. But I do not begrudge people finding religion. Jim Myers found it, and preaches it to this day. It has become almost sort of a cliche ending to these books, and Jim mentions it quite a bit, and if that is your cup of tea, fine. It is just not mine. Yet.

Don't let that last sentence dissuade you from the rest of this book. It is excellent, and I deem it a must read. There is only one criminal omission I find here. There is no mention of Mine...


  1. Please curse at me.


  2. I might have to check this one out. I've always liked George "The Animal" and this sounds like an interesting story. In a lot of ways he was a very progressive character. I wonder if Steele's experience working with kids and likely learning disabled ones informed his character work. If so, they were kind of ahead of their time portraying him so sympathetically.

  3. I like Steele and thought his 1986 WWF Timeline was pretty good too.

  4. This is the first positive review of this book I've heard. I might have to check it out after all as I already wrote if off, which I tend to do if they aren't written by Scott Teal or Greg Oliver.

  5. guess ill check it out

  6. Dyslexia is a learning disability, not a mental illness.


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