Saturday, June 08, 2019

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

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Andre in Joe Murnick's Office

Some of the interesting things that crossed my mind when putting this feature together from Les Thatcher's memorabilia were the other things happening both on the day of Andre's trip with Les as well as the day following.

Preserved documentation of events back in those days is hard enough to come by at all, much less several events within 48 hours of each other. But along with Les's story and photographs of his trip with Andre on June 4, 1974, there exists video footage of two other bits of Mid-Atlantic history that took place at the exact same time. That these recordings and photographs all exist from those two days when very little else does, is almost a matter of divine grappling kismet!

Here are the three bits of documented history from June 4 and 5, in 1974:

(1) Andre the Giant's first visit to the Mid-Atlantic area
The story and photographs of June 4, 1974 that you've already read, written and preserved by Les Thatcher, now published all these years alter.

Andre, Bill Ward, and Frank Valois
(2) Andre's interview with Big Bill Ward at WBTV
In the late 1980s when Jim Crockett Promotions was moving their offices from Charlotte to Dallas, dozens of reels of 16mm film footage were to be thrown away as they were cleaning out storage. Jim Cornette rescued and saved a majority of this footage, which he currently sells on DVD sets through his web business and personal appearances. One of the clips is an interview that Andre did with Charlotte's "Championship Wrestling" host Big Bill Ward on Wednesday, June 5, 1974 before the taping of the wrestling show at the WBTV studio that night. This was the day after Andre's trip with Les Thatcher as recounted in Les's story in Part Two. That interview with Bill Ward can be found searching YouTube.

(3) Wahoo McDaniel and Johnny Valentine fight on WGHP TV
As Les wrote about in his story, and as we observed in a rare photograph that he took that day, Andre did a prerecorded interview in High Point, NC, with channel 8 sports director Charlie Harville on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 4 in the parking lot outside the studio. After that interview concluded, Andre then traveled to Raleigh to do a similar prerecorded interview with Joe Murnick at WRAL-TV and then on for a wrestling match at Raleigh's Dorton Arena.

But while Andre was in Raleigh that Tuesday night, the regular weekly TV taping of "Championship Wrestling" took place that same evening in the studio of WGHP-TV, which Charlie Harville hosted. That show aired every Saturday on WGHP channel 8, as well as on a delayed basis in a few other select markets. (This was at the very end of the era where Jim Crockett Promotions taped three different TV wrestling shows in High Point, Charlotte, and Raleigh.) On that taping that night at WGHP, legendary wrestler Wahoo McDaniel made a special appearance in our area, a couple of months before beginning his long 13-year run as a Mid-Atlantic regular in August of 1974.

Wahoo defeated Gene Lewis in a typical TV match that night, but sitting at ringside doing commentary with Harville was Wahoo's longtime nemesis Johnny Valentine. The two were bitter rivals from their days in Florida and Texas going back to 1968.

Wahoo McDaniel and Johnny Valentine square off
moments before one of the most brutal TV brawls
ever witnessed.
Wahoo took exception to Valentine being at ringside during his match and challenged him to climb in the ring with him on the spot. Valentine obliged and what resulted is to this day one of the most brutal slugfests ever seen on Mid-Atlantic TV. They exchanged blows and chops for the better part of the next five minutes with poor referee Angelo Martinelli trying to break it up to no avail. The matches between these two over the years, especially in Texas, were notorious for their brutality as both men enjoyed working very stiff. It was no different here, and in front of the small WGHP TV studio audience, they weren't going to let any light shine between them.

A tape of this altercation was shown six years later on a 1980 "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" highlights show. It has been seen only one other time, presented at a tribute to Wahoo McDaniel at a show in Mooresville NC in October of 2005 promoted by George South. The entire confrontation was shown on a large projection screen to the lucky folks in attendance that night. While there are highly edited (and poor quality) versions of this that still float around online, the full complete unedited confrontation hasn't been seen since.

It's fun to think that while Andre was in the ring making his first appearance in Raleigh, and only his second appearance at all for Jim Crockett Promotions, this lost classic between Wahoo McDaniel and Johnny Valentine was happening the very same night. And amazing that a record from both of these days exist.

* * * * * * *

I'd like to share one other photo taken by Les during his day with Andre the Giant. It was taken outside in the parking lot of WGHP TV in High Point while Andre was waiting to do his interview with Charlie Harville. Scott Casey had accompanied Les and Andre that day.

Andre the Giant and Scott Casey

Once again, we want to thank Les Thatcher for sending his story and photographs to us, and allowing us to publish them all these many years later on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway. It brought back great memories, as well as resulting in the look at some other things happening at that time.