Former WWF star grabs attention at SC toys/comics/games convention
By Romi Herron For The Courier-News June 23, 2013 2:42PM
Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, shown with his signature shears, awas fans at the Mighty Con Toys, Gaming and Comics Convention Saturday at Pheasant Run in St. Charles. | Romi Herron~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 25, 2013 6:26AM
ST. CHARLES — With a vintage barbershop chair in his corner space, oversized shears in hand and dozens of glossy self-portraits ready for autographing at the Mighty Con Comic Convention Saturday, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake reminisced of his 1980s glory days with the World Wrestling Federation.
Part of a two-day event at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Edward Harrison “Beefcake” Leslie shared stories of his three-decade career in a sport that he says embodied the art of showmanship as much as it did athleticism.
Comic book, toy and gaming vendors also sold their wares at the conference.
“Our profession is the toughest in the world — wrestling is one of the toughest sports ever,” said Leslie, with two of his early-edition action figures positioned on the table before him. “I’ve probably performed in front of a billion people.”
For him, it’s annoying when the public believes “that wrestling is fake and that we are a joke,” he said.
The performance element, he said, followed preparation that was handed to him from many trainers. It was prior to “the mechanical era” of wrestling training that emerged in the 1990s, he said. At age 19, and “small,” it was a grappling event in Chicago that drew him into the mix, he said, recalling the need to bulk up so he could compete against guys weighing up to 500 pounds. His duel with “Andre the Giant,” a 600-pound foe, was also mentioned.
“It wasn’t about egg whites then. We used to eat everything we could get our hands on,” said the 56-year-old Wrestling Hall of Famer with tattoo-covered arms. “It was about getting as big as I could get. It was about packing on the weight.”
Aside from his actual time on the mat, Leslie also starred in a talk show segment that showcased the good guy/bad guy dynamic of the various wrestling characters, he said. None of the dialogue was ever scripted, he insists, but talking points were suggested before each program. His schtick was the giant cutting shears and “barber” nickname, for his signature move of cutting his opponents’ hair and throwing it into the audience.
Grateful for the experience and perspectives his many trainers shared with him, Leslie said coaching traditions have changed — along with marketing and commercial appeal of professional wrestling. In the mid-70s when he was just beginning his career, the sport’s tradition held for up-and-comers to compete in various geographical territories before going on to the next. That exposure gave him a chance to train under many wrestlers and understand the psychology of the crowd and his opponents, he said.
Engaging the audiences, which ranged from a couple hundred people to tens of thousands, was an art of psychology and theater, he said. Some nights, Leslie was hit by beer bottles, batteries, ice, darts, hot dogs and hamburgers, he said.
But with both the cheers and jeers, he was the showman.
“It was about involving the crowd. They want to be part of the show. They want to feel like they are involved,” he said, adding that it took him years to know just how to reach the crowd, using some subtle, and some dramatic, gestures. “Eventually, I could get them up on their feet and then bring them down, and manipulate the crowd. It’s kind of like Broadway.”
Decades ago, fans bought tickets in eager anticipation of who would win the good guy/bad guy confrontations, he said. But in today’s era of pay-per-view broadcasting, Internet feeds and digitization, predictability has replaced real competition, Leslie said. From his perspective, the popularity of professional wrestling is not what it used to be.
“Now, all the wrestler interviews are scripted by writers from L.A.,” he said. “What do they know about psychology in the wrestling business? Nothing whatsoever.”
These days, audiences, or viewers, in many situations, are engaged by what goes on outside the ring.
“In my day, wrestling wasn’t so much on TV. You really had to go to the live event,” he said. “Now it’s about the monster trucks and motorcycles, and fireworks, and girls in bikinis,” he said, as his former WWF professional Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Greg “The Hammer” Valentine sat at an exhibitor table next to his, chatting on a cellphone.
Back in 1987, Valentine and Leslie were known as The Dream Team, two WWF tag team champions. In 1990, a boating accident left Leslie with titanium pins that he said remain in his skull today and limited his wrestling involvement in the years that followed.
“I used to be just the big show, myself, walking out to the ring, with my shears,” he said. “And the people were on their feet for me, cheering and screaming.”