Sunday, April 14, 2019

Best of the Gateway: Les Thatcher's Peacock Masterpiece

by Dick Bourne
From the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Archives

          “The pride of the Peacock is the glory of God.”
                            – William Blake, 19th Century English Poet

Nineteenth century poet William Blake may have been onto something here in this line from a proverb he wrote on expression and relationships. The relationship between Ric Flair and his fans has indeed been a glorious manifestation of the unique way he has connected with them over his long career. Even as a “bad guy”, most fans have never been able to escape the irresistible bad-boy charms of the Nature Boy.

One of those charms has always been his collection of resplendent robes, especially in the 1970s, early in his career, something in which he took great pride. It wasn’t long into Flair’s career that Les Thatcher recognized that Flair’s colorful robes had become his signature, and he put that to work in one of his projects.

Les Thatcher
Les Thatcher is known within the wrestling industry as one of the most versatile and creative minds in the business. For over four decades, he has literally done it all: wrestler, television announcer, television producer, magazine editor, magazine writer, promoter, booker, trainer - - you name it, he’s done it, and done it pretty darn well.

In the 1970s, Thatcher’s work in television and magazine publishing was cutting edge for the wrestling business at that time. He hosted and produced the “Southeastern Championship Wrestling” program in Knoxville TN for Ron Fuller, and created unique segments for the show, such as the “Personality Profile”, ideas that had never really been tried before on wrestling programs. He convinced Jim Crockett Jr. to allow him to publish an in-house full color wrestling magazine, a risky prospect unheard of at the time primarily because of the additional costs involved. Within the pages of those magazines, he would come up with increasingly clever ideas to feature the wrestlers.

When Ric Flair exploded onto the national wrestling scene in the mid-1970s, he had successfully crafted the image of the “Nature Boy”. It wasn’t always going to be that way. Flair originally wanted to be a cowboy, asking promoter Verne Gagne if he could be “Cowboy” Ricky Rhodes, and be billed as the younger brother of his idol at the time, Dusty Rhodes. In a moment of great wisdom and judgment, Gagne emphatically told him “no”.

The “Nature Boy” was born a few years later when booker George Scott had a vision of Flair as the second coming of the flamboyant “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, a former world heavyweight champion and one of wrestling’s top stars in the 1960s. Rogers made famous the peacock-like strut that Flair would later adopt and custom in his own image.

Flair carried Scott’s vision, not to mention Roger’s style, to an entirely different level. He became a peacock, embodied in the colorful robes he quickly collected in the years following his return from the 1975 plane crash. Flair commissioned his robes crafted by the great Olivia Walker who made some of the most famous robes in wrestling for some of the greatest names in the business. In fact, one of his most popular robes was a gorgeous creation adorned in colorful peacock feathers. Sadly (and infamously) that robe was destroyed in the “hat and robe” angle in 1978; Blackjack Mulligan ripping it to shreds in response to Flair destroying Mulligan’s cowboy hat given to him by Waylon Jennings.

In 1977, Les Thatcher came up with an idea for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling magazine to further allow Ric Flair his expression as the most colorful wrestler in the territory. The famous peacock graphic was born.

Flair at this point had amassed an impressive collection of robes in many different designs and colors. Thatcher conceived of a montage of photographs of Flair in each of his robes, each representing a single feather in a peacock’s plumage.

Thatcher brought photographer Woody Smith into the project. They met at Flair’s house one afternoon and set up a tripod in the backyard. Smith had Flair stand in the same spot so that he would be in identical proportion in each shot. Flair would put a robe on, Smith would take a photo, Flair would change into the next robe, hit his mark, next photo taken, and so forth. In all of the photos Flair had his back turned to the camera, showing off the “Nature Boy” inscribed on each, except for one. The one photo where Flair faced forward was the one where he wore that now famous peacock robe. Flair squared with the camera, arms open wide, seemingly ready at any moment to break into that famous strut. You can almost hear the “Wooooo!”

Thatcher and art director Cal Byers took a drawing of a peacock and placed the photos of Flair inside each of the peacock’s feathers. It was the perfect way to highlight Flair’s colorful, cocky character and to feature the robes which had quickly become his trademark.

It was a very creative idea (as most of Les's ideas were) that resulted in a special graphic image that is still enjoyed today, and kept alive forever here on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

See also: The Hat & The Robe

This feature was originally published on the old Mid-Atlantic Gateway 
in February 2009 and was republished on the new 
website on July 27, 2015.