This article is part of a larger feature on the history of
Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in the television studios by Dick Bourne.
Special thanks to the
Harville family, as well as Charlie Harville's friends and professional
associates who provided their time and invaluable assistance in the
preparation of this article.
RETURN TO THE MID-ATLANTIC GATEWAY
In the spring
of 1954 Jim Crockett spoke before an audience in the City of Lexington,
North Carolina to publicize the debut of professional wrestling at the
local YMCA gymnasium. He announced an agreement that he had entered with
the organization whereby a portion of the proceeds would go towards
funding the newly constructed arena. Crockett also told the assembled
group about his plans for weekly shows if the initial matches drew
wrestling matches would be through advertisements in local newspapers,
along with display cards in store fronts and on utility poles at strategic
intersections. Since locally affiliated wrestling was not televised in
the immediate area, Crockett described the need for a strong connection
with the population in the Piedmont section of the state. He then advised
the attendees about his new association with a prominent sports authority
who would play a significant role in providing a major event atmosphere,
while drawing sports fans not previously interested in wrestling. That
prominent authority was Charlie Harville.
Edward Harville was born December 15, 1918 in High Point, North Carolina.
From an early age he had a tremendous interest in playing various sports
that progressed into his college years. Not being as successful as he had
envisioned in football, Charlie turned to baseball but failed to make the
High Point College team. Showing his lifelong ability to overcome
setbacks through trust in his own self-reliance, he would later tell a
newspaper reporter that being cut during the baseball tryouts made him
strive to succeed in his second ambition – being a sports broadcaster.
still in college, Charlie went to his hometown WMFR radio and boldly
offered his services as a substitute play-by-play announcer for the
Thomasville Tommies baseball games. The station manager was impressed by
the articulate young man and decided to give him an opportunity in an
on-the-job audition on April 28, 1938. The next day he was hired as their
full time play-by-play announcer for baseball and football games.
World War II
interrupted his career, but after an honorable tour of duty in the Army
Air Corps, Charlie reemerged in radio working at stations in Martinsville,
Virginia, Goldsboro, North Carolina and then LaSalle, Illinois. During
his time at WLPO in LaSalle he created the unique closing phrase that
would always end his future sportscasts: “That’s the best in sports
In 1949 WFMY
Radio in Greensboro provided an opportunity for him to return to his home
area. The station had made the effort to broadcast the new medium of
television and obtained the license to do so later that year. Charlie was
selected as host of what is believed to be the first live local sports
show broadcast in North Carolina. Almost fifty years later he would tell
a staff writer for the Greensboro News & Record “It was a gamble on the
part of the station. I practiced by pretending I was looking at a camera
during my radio broadcasts. I had no doubt I’d succeed at it, but I
didn’t know if it would go over with the public. I was surprised at the
speed and breadth of its acceptance. By 1953 WFMY’s venture into TV was
so successful that it closed the radio station.”
radio continued to be a significant part of Charlie’s career. Through the
late 1940s and into the 1950s, he was a part of the Tobacco State Network
that broadcast big four Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. For the
next three decades he was the play-by-play announcer for numerous
universities’ football and baseball programs, including East Carolina,
Appalachian State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State.
* * * * *
night, May 1, 1954 Charlie Harville walked toward the ring, through the
then record setting attendance of 4,300, for the first professional
wrestling matches ever held at the Lexington YMCA. Neither he nor those
in the arena knew that they were a part of events that would significantly
impact him and wrestling in the region for the next thirty years.
climbing into the ring to open the show, an outbreak of cheers from the
capacity crowd swept through the building. The excitement for the debut
of wrestling was obvious, but so was the admiration for the man whose
reputation in sports broadcasting was unsurpassed. Charlie was moved by
the shouts of his name and waves from those in the stands, but as the
consummate professional he made his opening welcome and comments about the
inaugural event, and none to bring attention to himself.
Leading up to
the Lexington debut Charlie anguished over a decision he needed to make
before heading out to the YMCA. Being a proud man who cared for the
impressions that he made on an audience, what to wear was a major issue.
He discussed it in length with his wife and the decision was made – his
very best suit. But there was an issue that had not been discussed. In
the excitement of being offered the Lexington job, he had failed to
confirm payment for his services. However, it was not a priority concern
as he was thankful for the new opportunity.
of the event had such an impact on him that many years later, Charlie
would tell one of his sons how happy he was in the selection of what he
wore before an unexpectedly large and appreciative crowd. Also unexpected
was the generosity shown by Jim Crockett. The promoter was so impressed
that at the end of the matches he handed the young announcer a fifty
dollar bill. That’s fifty dollars in 1954. Charlie looked at the
fifty and told Crockett that he was sorry – he didn’t have enough money
with him to make change. “…you owe me no change…it’s all yours…you earned
it…” explained Crockett. A gratified Charlie Harville left the arena that
evening wearing his best suit, with a fifty dollar bill in his pocket. He
celebrated the success by taking his wife out for ice cream at a local
years to come, Charlie and the Lexington YMCA had a connection. Crockett
hired him as ring announcer whenever he was available. Conflicts with his
primary television duties
would sometimes keep him away, but wrestling was
often a subject on his nightly sports program. This was especially true
when a special event occurred in the area. On May 17, 1958 the first ever
World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship match was held at the YMCA.
Charlie made sure that his viewers were informed about the contest.
Lexington’s newspaper, The Dispatch, published a report following the
event that included: Television movies were made during the evening by
Charlie Harville and Buddy Moore of WFMY-TV, Greensboro. They will be
shown this evening at 11:05 on Harville’s sports show.
high regard for all athletes, no matter the arena of their performance.
While many mainstream sports reporters looked down on professional
wrestlers, he realized the athletic skills and abilities needed by the
grapplers to perform at the top of their profession. He admired the
acrobatics of Argentina Rocca, the legitimate wrestling skills of Lou
Thesz, and the intimidating presence of The Great Bolo. He understood the
antics of Gorgeous George, Homer O’Dell and other flamboyant heels as
being an important part of the psychology in the good-versus-evil show
that drew thousands of spectators. Wrestlers appreciated Charlie for the
personal and professional respect shown to them, and many formed
friendships that lasted through the years.
It was not
unusual for a wrestler to ask Charlie’s opinion of a current wrestling
angle or one that they had in mind to use later. One of those was the
villainous Karl von Hess, who wanted to further build the level of disdain
fans had for him. What better way than to accost the popular Charlie
Harville during a live show in Lexington! Von Hess talked to Charlie
about his idea and they got the angle approved. The stage was set. In
those days a large microphone was lowered by a cord from the ceiling. As
it came down to Charlie’s reach, through the ropes charged the evil
German. The chorus of boos from the crowd was resounding. A back and
forth shouting match ensued which further incensed the audience. Von Hess
lunged forward while Charlie defended himself by swinging the microphone.
One of the fan-favorite wrestlers eventually ran in for the “rescue”.
CONTINUED IN PART TWO