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Who is Gorgeous George?

Gorgeous George, born George Raymond Wagner, was a flamboyant professional wrestler who transformed the sport with his charisma and showmanship in the 1940s and 1950s. His theatrical antics and self-proclaimed beauty set the stage for the entertainment-driven wrestling we enjoy today. Discover how his legacy paved the way for modern wrestling's spectacle—what impact did he truly have?
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

If you’re a fan of Johnny Nitro or Rick Flair, you may be surprised to learn that many of today’s professional wrestlers credit much of their success to Gorgeous George. Born George Wagner in 1915, Gorgeous George wowed fans with his theatrical antics in the ring from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

Gorgeous George is best known for his flamboyant stage personality. In the past, most wrestling villains had gone out of their way to appear ugly and dirty. However, Gorgeous George set out to appear as dainty as possible. He curled his long, platinum blond hair and used gold bobby pins to keep it in place before a fight. He went to the ring dressed in frilly robes made from satin and silk that had been trimmed with sequins, lace, and fur. When he entered the ring to “Pomp and Circumstance” he made an elaborate show of folding his robe and having his tuxedoed valet spray the ring with his favorite perfume. Since most professional wrestling fans were still recovering from the end of World War II and had very traditional ideas about the definition of manhood, this behavior was instantly controversial.

Liberace might have used Gorgeous George's influence to craft his public persona.
Liberace might have used Gorgeous George's influence to craft his public persona.

Gorgeous George’s professional accomplishments included being named an AWA World Heavyweight Champion, NWA Southern Heavyweight Champion, GCCW Heavyweight Champion, and Northwest Middleweight Champion. He was also a two-time Pacific Coast Light Heavyweight Champion and a charter member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Of course, as a physically average wrestler, Gorgeous George earned most of his titles by biting ears, punching kidneys, gouging eyes, kicking crotches, and pulling hair. His outrageous cheating was simply part of his villain persona.

Gorgeous George secured his place in history by bringing professional wrestling a mass appeal. As the performer people loved to hate, he got the public talking about the sport in a way that no one else had been able to accomplish. He was such a sensation that he inspired many Americans who had never even owned TVs to purchase their first sets just to see what he would do next. Even celebrities such as Little Richard and Liberace are thought to have drawn the inspiration for their public personas from Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George passed away in 1963 after suffering a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Although he was one of professional wrestling’s best paid performers, he died nearly penniless as the result of the alcoholism he struggled with throughout his career. However, his fellow wrestlers chipped in to ensure that he had the lavish funeral he deserved.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Gorgeous George and why is he significant in wrestling history?

Gorgeous George, born George Raymond Wagner, was a professional wrestler who rose to fame in the 1940s and 1950s. He is significant for transforming the presentation of wrestling from a sport to entertainment, with flamboyant costumes, elaborate ring entrances, and a larger-than-life persona. His influence extended beyond wrestling, impacting the entertainment industry and the self-promotion of athletes and performers. According to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, Gorgeous George was inducted in 2002, underscoring his lasting impact on the industry.

What were some of Gorgeous George's most memorable antics or contributions to the showmanship of wrestling?

Gorgeous George was known for his pompous character, which included wearing lavish robes, having his hair meticulously styled with gold-plated bobby pins, and using perfume sprays, which he called "Chanel #10." He demanded that a red carpet be rolled out for him, and he had a personal valet to spray the ring with disinfectant, dubbing it "Georgie's Secret Disinfectant." These antics made him one of the first wrestlers to emphasize character and theatrics, setting the stage for future showmanship in the sport.

How did Gorgeous George influence other wrestlers and entertainers?

Gorgeous George's influence extended to many wrestlers and entertainers who adopted his flair for showmanship. According to WWE, legends like Muhammad Ali and James Brown credited Gorgeous George with inspiring their own brash personas and understanding of audience psychology. His legacy is evident in the theatrical elements now commonplace in wrestling, with many performers creating elaborate personas to captivate audiences, a practice that can be traced back to George's pioneering approach.

What was the impact of television on Gorgeous George's career?

The advent of television had a profound impact on Gorgeous George's career. As one of the first wrestlers to appear on TV, he understood the medium's power to reach a wider audience. His extravagant appearance and persona were ideal for the visual nature of television, helping to boost wrestling's popularity in the early days of TV broadcasting. His matches drew large viewerships, and he became one of the first TV celebrities, as noted by television historians.

Did Gorgeous George win any championships during his wrestling career?

Yes, Gorgeous George did win championships during his illustrious wrestling career. He was a multiple-time titleholder, capturing various regional and national championships. Among his accolades, he won the American Wrestling Association (Boston) World Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship (Los Angeles version). These titles helped cement his status as a top wrestler of his era, in addition to his contributions to the entertainment aspect of the sport.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the PublicPeople team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

Learn more...
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the PublicPeople team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

Learn more...

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    • Liberace might have used Gorgeous George's influence to craft his public persona.
      By: Alan Light
      Liberace might have used Gorgeous George's influence to craft his public persona.