Sunday, June 02, 2019

Andre The Giant's First Tour Through the Mid-Atlantic Area (1974) - Part One

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Recently Les Thatcher sent us an incredible package of memorabilia related to Andre's first tour of the Mid-Atlantic territory, including never before published photographs and a story Les wrote for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine that was never published.

Andre the Giant with Raleigh's First Family
of Promoters: Joe, Elliot, and Carl Murnick
(Photograph by Les Thatcher 1974)
If you are a regular visitor here at the Gateway, you know of our deep respect and affection for Les Thatcher. It's hard to imagine a more versatile, multi-talented person in the history of the wrestling business. Wrestler, writer, photographer, publisher, commentator, host, producer, booker, promoter, trainer, podcaster - - he literally has done it all.  

Les's story "Andre the Human" chronicles his day with Andre as they left Charlotte on the morning of June 4, 1974 to make television appearances in High Point and Raleigh, NC, as well as a wrestling show at Raleigh's Dorton Arena. Along the way there were some adult beverages consumed and even a movie at a local movie theater! More on all that later.

Andre would make many tours for Jim Crockett Promotions over the years from 1974-1984, until he became exclusive to the WWF. But this was history in the making because this was the first. In years to come, Andre would come in as part of a main event, involved in one of the top storylines or feuds. But on this first tour, it was simply the time to introduce Andre to the fans. On all of these shows on this first tour, he either wrestled in mid-card handicap matches, tag team matches, or participated in battle royals. 

This first tour through the Mid-Atlantic territory in 1974 lasted 11 days. Here is a brief run-down of that schedule:

  • Mon 6/3 - Greenwood SC - Andre beat Pedro Godoy and Mike Paidousis
  • Tue 6/4 - Raleigh NC - Andre defeated Mike Paidousis and Bill White
  • Wed 6/5 - Anderson SC -Andre & Sandy Scott def. Mr. Ota/Mr. Hiashi
  • Thu 6/6 - Greensboro NC - Andre participated in a Battle Royal
  • Fri 6/7 - Richmond VA - Andre participated in a Battle Royal
  • Sat 6/8 - Roanoke VA - Andre def. Chuck O'Connor and Mike Paidousis
  • Sun 6/9 - Rocky Mount NC - Andre def. O'Connor/"Two Ton" Harris
  • Mon 6/10 - Charlotte NC - Andre & Nelson Royal def. Mr. Ota/Mr. Hiashi
  • Tue 6/11 - Columbia SC - defeated Mike Paidousis and Bill White
  • Wed 6/12 - Raleigh NC - Studio TV Appearance
  • Thu 6/13 - Norfolk VA - Andre participated in a Battle Royal

Although Andre is remembered as the "King of the Battle Royals," he didn't win a single one on this first tour through the Mid-Atlantic area. He competed in three Battle Royal events: 6/6 in Greensboro won by Bob Bruggers, 6/7 in Richmond won by Tiger Conway Jr., and 6/13 in Norfolk won by Johnny Weaver. In all three cases, it took several wrestlers ganging up on the "Eighth Wonder of the World" to eliminate him mid-way through. A photograph in the Greensboro newspaper the following day showed Chuck O'Connor and Rip Hawk (along with a couple of others unidentifiable) forcing Andre over the top rope.

It's also interesting to note the Saturday 6/8 card in Roanoke, VA. This is very likely the first time Big John Studd (then known as Chuck O'Connor) and Andre the Giant faced each other in the ring, a match-up that would achieve legendary status eleven years later at the first WrestleMania. (Late edit: Not so! Our friend Chris Owens, who is knowledgeable in all things Andre, let us know that Andre and Studd first met in the ring back in September of 1972 in a six-man tag match in Quebec City. Thanks Chris!)

In PART TWO of this 3-part feature, we will proudly present Les Thatcher's never before published story of Andre's full day in the territory, June 4, 1974. Thatcher, along with pal Scott Casey, accompanied Andre on two media appearances and a card in Raleigh. This will include never-before-seen photographs Les took that day, including Andre with Joe Murnick, Nick Pond, Charlie Harville, and Scott Casey. Plus a look at how they killed some time in between stops that day. An incredible day, for sure, and one captured in great detail in Les's marvelous account.

Then in PART THREE, we'll put the events of that day in the context of the times, including a look at the whole card in Raleigh that night, as well as a famous (unrelated) confrontation on TV that took place at WGHP the very same day Andre visited there involving one of wrestling's greatest (and most brutal) rivalries.

Stay tuned!

Thanks to Mark Eastridge and Carroll Hall.