Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Les Thatcher's Lost Opus: Andre the Giant arrives in the Mid-Atlantic Area (1974)

As we mentioned in Part One, Les Thatcher sent us an amazing package of memorabilia related to Andre the Giant's first visit to the Mid-Atlantic territory, including never before published photographs and a story Les wrote that has never seen the light of day. Until now.

Rarely are we fortunate enough to get such a detailed inside glimpse of a day in the life of an international star making his first tour in a territory. But that's what Les story gives us, a rare and special gift because this story was never published as originally intended, stored away for over four decades.

So now, we proudly present Les's lost article, likely originally intended for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine (which he published for Jim Crockett Promotions), rediscovered all these years later, like hidden treasure now for all of us to enjoy. Exclusive to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, originally written in June 1974, and published for the first time.

Andre the Human
Story and Photographs by Les Thatcher
Charlotte/High Point/Raleigh NC, 1974

What do you think it would be like to be a seven-foot, four inch, four hundred plus pound Superstar in the world of wrestling? Well, I got the chance to find out. No, I didn’t have my fairy Godmother turn me into a giant. I just had the chance to spend the day with one!

Running late as usual, I bounded up the steps of Jim Crockett Promotions in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, my friend and tag team partner, Scott Casey, right on my heels. As we entered the door and rounded the corner, I was almost knocked over by the “Great French Wall”.  Andre the Giant.  A large size smile looked down at me and an enormous right hand was extended. I put a meek smile on my face and stuck my hand into what appeared to be a flesh covered baseball glove. I muttered the only French word I knew, meaning hello, as my hand was engulfed by his. His smile was warm and the English hello came from down deep, but was soft and matched the smile.

On this beautiful June morning, Casey and I were to take Andre on a nice Tuesday drive. It would take us up to High Point, North Carolina for a television interview, and then on to the State Capital of Raleigh for still another interview and a wrestling match that night. After a few words with the promoters, I loaded my cargo into my car and we began our trip. As we sped through the North Carolina countryside, Scott and I both talked to the big man. His command of the English language was not great, but he made himself understood. In the hour it took us to reach our first stop, the three of us had become well acquainted.

Charlie Harville and Andre outside the
WGHP studios in High Point, NC.
We arrived at High Point’s WGHP, Channel 8, where we were greeted by their sports director, Charlie Harville. The TV crew was setting up their equipment in the parking lot below their studios. They weren’t quite ready for us. During the wait, Andre was patient and watched the goings on with great interest. He stood quietly off to one side until he was called before the camera. The whole affair took only about 20 minutes and then we headed across the state toward the Capital. On this second leg of our trip, Andre sat without speaking in the back seat, watching the small towns and trees roll by.

Our trip made Raleigh in time for lunch, which we were all in need of. Our meal consisted of four steak dinners.  Yes, four! One each for Scott and myself and two complete meals for our friend. The two dinners were joined in that massive body by at least seven glasses of iced tea and a couple of glasses of water. While we ate, we talked to “The Giant” and he told us of his travels around the world and how he enjoyed being in the United States. He was looking forward to a trip in the near future to Japan. We were pressed for time and had to hurry on to the TV station, but I was left with the impression that my recently made friend, Andre, was not full and could have eaten more.

As we pulled to the entrance of WRAL, Channel 5, a welcoming committee consisting of wrestling promoters, station officials and cameramen awaited us. They filmed Andre stepping from the car and talked with him briefly. It was all over until six o’clock when we were to return for an interview on the news program and another interview filmed.

WRAL Sports Director Nick Pond and Raleigh promoter Joe Murncik escort
Andre the Giant into the studios of WRAL TV for an interview.
(Pond was also the Raleigh-only host of  "Championship Wrestling" in the 1960s and early 1970s)

We had two hours to kill so we strolled off through a shopping center nearby. We window shopped and finally found ourselves in front of a movie theater. Andre said the tickets were on him, so inside we sent to settle down and watch Goldie Hawn in “Sugarland Express”. “The Giant” made himself comfortable in the theater seats and seemed to get the whole plot of the movie. The sight gags broke him up and the laughter would pour out. As we left the theater, Andre made the comment, “It was a good movie.”

Casey and I both agreed. Meanwhile, back at Channel 5, it was time for more interviews. Again, we met with news director Nick Pond and Raleigh’s family of wrestling promoters:  Joe Murnick and sons Elliott and Carl. The tapes were made in short order. Andre smiled and made the comments that he must have repeated a thousand times before. We piled back into the car and made our way to Dorton Arena.

Andre the Giant with Raleigh's First Family of Promoters: Joe, Elliot, and Carl Murnick

We were at the arena one and a half hours before bell time, but “The Giant” busied himself getting reach for his match. As other wrestlers arrived, Andre introduced himself and shook hands. He joined in the normal dressing room chatter and took a lot of good-natured kidding about his size. Around 9:30 he entered the ring and some 12 minutes later, was back in the dressing room, having wiped out two opponents!

Joe Murnick prepares to interview the Eighth Wonder of the World" Andre the Giant

On the return trip to Charlotte, the big man seemed more at ease than he had all day, laughing and telling stories about his travels. Upon our arrival in Charlotte, Andre put away another large size meal, had a few beers and said good night.

It had been a long day for me, but after talking to this friendly Frenchman, I didn’t feel too bad. Since rising to the top of the pro wrestling wars, Andre has been following this pattern seven days a week, wrestling from coast to coast. He is up early every morning appearing on TV shows, making interviews and wrestling someplace that night. It’s a tough pace and lonely life. My overall impression of the man was this:  His mind is as strong as the over-sized body in which it lives. In my day with him, I saw him happy, sad, moody, friendly and lonely. At the end of that day, he put it all together and was a fine human being. He patted the children on their curly heads, he smiled at the lovely ladies, he answered the same questions over and over, and above all, he was tolerant of his fellow man. As I dragged myself home to bed, I felt refreshed that I had a chance to spend some time with this wrestling Superstar and I had been touched to find him to be a super human as well.

[For a look at Andre's full tour of the Mid-Atlantic area in June 1974, visit PART ONE of this series.] 


Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine was the in-house publication of Jim Crockett Promotions that began in 1973 when Les Thatcher talked the office into letting him put together a "program" that could be sold at matches across the territory. Prior to that, Charlotte was the only town in the territory that had it's own program for its weekly events.

Those first issues in 1973 and early 1974 were printed in black and white and were only eight pages, but included a wealth of information for fans, including articles, photos, a station list, early t-shirts, and Les's own signature column that would be included in all the issues he would publish over a five year period - "Wrestler's Eye View."

Around the time Les wrote this story on Andre's first visit, JCP temporarily ceased production of the newsletter and instead published two photo albums during that year. This may be the reason that the Andre story didn't appear - - there was no magazine at that moment for it to appear in.

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. We are eternally grateful to Les for sharing this lost story with us, as well as his photographs from that day in 1974.

Coming up in the third and final part of this series, we'll take a look at couple more of Les's photos, as well as put the whole day in t he context of the times. We'll highlight a few other things going on in the territory, including 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 for PART THREE.