It all started in February 1997 when Bob Brown died. Over the next few days, the Kansas City Star published several letters-to-the-editor from people who expressed how Brown had touched their lives and how much they would miss him. You might be wondering who this Bob Brown person was, and exactly what he did that affected so many people.
“Bulldog” Bob Brown was a professional wrestler. He appeared regularly on All-Star Wrestling out of Kansas City for the better part of twenty-five years. Even though he was a heel (villain) for most of that time, Brown’s popularity spoke to the relationship between professional wrestlers and their fans, particularly prior to the emergence of nationwide wrestling promotions in the mid-1980s. Whether they encountered them in a wrestling arena, watched them on television, or ran into them at a late-night diner or bar after the matches, many local wrestling fans felt a personal connection to the performers they watched every week.
At the time of Brown’s death, I was part-owner of a video production company. My business partner and I were both wrestling fans, so we noted the outpouring of affection after Brown’s passing and talked about doing a video project about the history of professional wrestling in Kansas City. Several weeks later I mailed a letter to former wrestler, promoter, and NWA President Bob Geigel to find out if he would be interested in helping with the project.
Geigel’s response was positive, and he agreed to let us access the surviving broadcast video tapes in his possession as well as promotional photos he’d accumulated through the years. Even more importantly, he put me in touch with some other men who spent many years as part of the wrestling business in Kansas City.
I made several trips to Bob Geigel’s home in North Kansas City, where we browsed through hundreds of wrestling photos. He identified wrestlers I was too young to recognize, and told me a lot of stories that served as great background. Prior to one of those trips, Geigel informed me that Harley Race would be joining us. I’d spoken to Race on the phone and got his commitment to be part of the project, but had never met him before.
To say Harley Race is a wrestling legend is an understatement. Race is a member of multiple wrestling Halls of Fame (including both WWE and WCW) and is considered a wrestling god in Japan. Race was an 8-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and held dozens of other titles in various wrestling territories around the world. Race eventually joined Geigel as one of the owners of the Kansas City promotion, and later bought into the St. Louis promotion as well. His participation in the project gave us added credibility.
For more than a decade, announcer Bill Kersten started off each week’s episode of All Star Wrestling by calling out “Hello-o-o-o Wrestling Fans.” Eventually, we chose that as the title for our project because his weekly greeting from Kansas City was echoed on affiliated television stations all across Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, as well as parts of Nebraska and Illinois. Fans today still remember how he kicked off each show.
Mike George was the final wrestler we recruited for the documentary. A native of nearby St. Joseph MO, George spent much of his career wrestling in the Central States. He also had success in Mid-South Wrestling out of Oklahoma, where he tag-teamed with the Junkyard Dog and also won the Louisiana and Mississippi state titles.
My partner and I decided to use four components to make our documentary:
- Footage from Bob Geigel’s video archive
- Still photos from Geigel’s collection
- New interviews we would tape with our four participants
- Voiceover narration to tie everything together
The wrestling footage part of the package didn’t turn out like we’d hoped. Because of the way the promotion recycled their tapes to their affiliated TV stations each week, most of them were recorded over every couple of weeks. This system saved the promotion a lot of money, but resulted in a severe lack of historical footage. A fire in the building that housed the promotion’s offices resulted in water damage to many of the remaining tapes. This left us with only a few hours of tape from 1980-86 and a few hours more from 1988, when Geigel withdrew from the NWA and operated for a few months as an independent. The tapes from this time period were not high quality, and featured Bulldog Bob Brown, Rufus R. Jones, and Mike George near the very end of their careers.
After seeing the small amount of quality action footage we had to work with, we knew we would be relying a lot more heavily on still photos and our interviews. I wrote one to two pages of interview questions for each of our participants, and then we taped the interview sessions over the course of a couple of weekends.
The first step in writing the script was to create a general outline of how we wanted to approach the topic. When that was done, I began piecing together the combination of wrestling footage, interview footage, and still photos to use in each section. I created an edit sheet with specific time codes and in/out phrases from the interviews plus time codes for any specific action footage needed. I had also separated out the still photos I wanted to use, numbered the back of each one, and included numbers on the edit sheet for each photo to be included.
That part of the writing process focused on organizing the various pieces of the puzzle to fit the story we wanted to tell. We still needed a narrated introduction, transition material to bridge the various segments, and a closing statement. That was where actual writing skills came into play.
When the script was done, we hired Bill Grigsby of the Kansas City Chiefs broadcast team as our narrator. Grigsby, who passed away in 2009, was also one of the broadcasters during the early days of televised wrestling in Kansas City.
My partner did the actual editing of the project. When I wrote the end credits, I originally listed myself as writer, but was eventually credited as producer. I don’t list this among my writing credentials because of the length of time since I did it, and the fact that I chose myself to write it.
You can watch the finished video on YouTube below (sorry for the watermark on the video, but I’m too cheap to pay $30 for the full version of the software to convert the full DVD for YouTube). Marketing the video was another adventure, but this story has run pretty long, so I’ll save that for another post later.