President, masks, moms with Mr. Wrestling II (Part 2)

 

Mid-South Legends FanFest

Mr. Wrestling II, Cowboy Bill Watts, The Midnight Express (Beautiful Bobby Eaton and Loverboy Dennis Condrey) with Jim Cornette, The Rock-n-Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), Dark Journey, Mr. Olympia, Bill Dundee, Kamala and more for autographs, Q&A sessions, photo ops and a VIP Cajun dinner.

Friday, April 4

Sigur Center

8245 W. Judge Perez Dr.

Chalmette, La.

www.midsouthlegends.com


jvarsallone@miamiherald.com

A masked man entering a convenience store or a bank or even approaching the President would alarm anyone, unless it was the masked pro wrestling legend Mr. Wrestling II.

“I was probably the only wrestler to wear a mask who could go anywhere back then,” he said. “In Florida, I could walk into a bank with that mask on, and no one would say anything but ‘Hi.’ Don’t misunderstand me. I wouldn’t do that all the time, but I could.”

Mr. Wrestling II (real name Johnny Walker) wore the mask meeting politician Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. Carter, who became Governor of Georgia, later won the election for President of the United States.

It all started in Georgia for Carter, and Georgia was also where the Mr. Wrestling II persona began.

The American Dream Dusty Rhodes had the million dollar smile, and Mr. Wrestling II had the million dollar knee lift. Long before fans were echoing a referee’s two count, Mr. Wrestling II had them shouting “two” for him.

And one fan, in particular, loved yelling “two” for Mr. Wrestling II.

“I was invited to the President’s mom’s house,” he said.

President Carter’s mom, Miss Lillian, loved pro wrestling. She attended the matches regularly in Columbus, Ga., and her favorite was Mr. Wrestling II.

She wasn’t alone.

The shimmy, that patented running high knee lift and his fiery, sincere gift for gab, Mr. Wrestling II shined bright as one of the most popular wrestlers in the 1970s and 80s.

“The promoter came to me one night and said, ‘Johnny, would you care to have an interview with the President’s mom?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We got together at her home in Plains, Georgia. She told her sister and the maid, ‘We’re going to this little room, and I don’t want to be disturbed by anybody.’ So we went back there, and we sat and talked for about two hours. She never, not even one time, asked me to remove the mask.

“They also had police at her home, the Secret Service, and I kept the mask on at all times. No problem whatsoever. She was a smart woman, intelligent, and her son was the President.”

On a prior occasion, the sheriff drove Jimmy Carter, who was then a candidate for Governor of Georgia, to Columbus for a wrestling show which featured Mr. Wrestling II.

“He came in after the matches were over, and I got to meet him then,” Mr. Wrestling II said, “and that’s when I had him throw a headlock on me [a famous photo]. You can see the photo in [Jimmy Carter’s] book.”

You can also see the photo on the Internet, in historical Georgia exhibits and in other books.

http://www.georgiawrestlinghistory.com/host/johnnywalker/photographs.html

Well, did Mr. Wrestling II vote for Jimmy Carter for Governor or President?

“No,” he laughed. “I liked him. I was just so involved in wrestling, and with my mom and I surviving the obstacles we went through, it never entered my mind to vote for anybody, but I thought he was a good man in many ways.”

After Carter was elected President, the new Governor of Georgia also met Mr. Wrestling II, and the wrestler remained masked.

“He knew who I was. The President knew who I was, what I did and probably where I lived and everything else, so it was OK,” he said. “Because of the badness that has gone on in the world today, I probably couldn’t meet people like that today with the mask on.”

As well as one time in the 1970s.

Mr. Wrestling II was invited by President Carter’s mom, Lillian, to the White House for President Carter’s inauguration, but the masked was not allowed.

“So I refused it,” he said.

“They had a chair for me right next to her [Lillian], and I would have loved to have gone. I explained to Lillian, ‘You have to understand me. It’s not that I don’t want to go, because I do. I want to go in the worst way, but my mask is my life, my livelihood, and it means everything in the world to me.’

“At that particular point of my career, no one knew who I was without the mask.”

Mr. Wrestling II wore the mask often, but he didn’t wear it at restaurants.

“The mask prevented me from chewing,” he said.

His signature white mask was custom made.

“My mom [Olivia] made my mask,” he said. “She was the head dress designer for Lanz in Los Angeles. She could do anything as far as clothes were concerned. For the mask, we had to get material they used for swim trunks.”

Walker’s father, a U.S. Marine, died when Walker was a toddler. His mom, a widow, raised him as a single mom in Hawaii.

“My mom worked a lot, and she depended on me a lot, when I was a kid,” he said. “I made what few pennies I could make selling newspapers and stuff to live, survive. Things were kind of rough for us back then.”

In 1956, when he debuted mask-less in a pro wrestling ring in Hawaii as Johnny Walker, his mom attended.

“She would go to the matches and holler and scream,” he chuckled. “She about beat me half to death, watching it. She was into it, big time. She enjoyed it very much.”

He continued: “She cared for me a lot, needless to say. We had a wonderful life, not a rich life but a good life.”

When Walker became Mr. Wrestling II, he wrestled in New Orleans, and his mom attended. Masked, he walked her to her seat in the family section.

“My mom told me a great, big, black lady -- the mom of one of the other wrestlers -- sitting nearby asked her ‘Have you ever seen him without his mask?,’” he laughed. “It’s strange how people think sometimes.”

His mom died at age 56.

Born in Charleston, S.C. and currently living in Hawaii, Mr. Wrestling II is 79.

Mostly a fan favorite throughout his 33-year career, this legend can be seen on YouTube and on WWE Network.

The likeable Mr. Wrestling II starred throughout the Southeast in the 1970s and 80s, including Florida, and he spent quality time in Mid-South Wrestling. He battled the biggest and the best in the business including The Assassin, The Spoiler, The Masked Superstar, Cowboy Bill Watts, Jack Brisco, Buddy Colt, Magnum T.A., Jimmy Garvin, Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods, The Minnesota Wrecking Crew (Ole and Gene Anderson), Larry Zbyszko and The Road Warriors.

• The Mid-South Legends Fanfest is Friday, April 4 at the Sigur Center, 8245 W. Judge Perez Dr. in Chalmette, near New Orleans.

Meet Mr. Wrestling II and other legends like Cowboy Bill Watts, The Midnight Express (Beautiful Bobby Eaton and Loverboy Dennis Condrey) with Jim Cornette, The Rock-n-Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), Dark Journey, Mr. Olympia, Bill Dundee, Kamala and more for autographs, Q&A sessions, photo ops and a VIP Cajun dinner.

“It means a lot to me to meet the fans because fans still remember me, and that’s a treat within itself,” Mr. Wrestling II said. “I get the biggest thrill going to these fanfests, and as soon as I reveal myself, the people respond happily.”

The Internet can keep the legend going, growing for old school wrestlers. Younger fans can watch these warriors from a different era of the sport via YouTube and WWE Network. A different time, place and discipline for sure.

“I’m thrilled to know that fans can see me wrestle on the Internet. Some young fellas at fanfests have even made the remark that they’ve seen me wrestle by going on the Internet, and I say, ‘Well, how was it?,’” he chuckled.

Good then and still good now.

Also, the Battle Lines live wrestling event starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature the JYD Memorial Cup Battle Royal, Mickie James, Angelina Love, Tommy Dreamer, The Pope Elijah Burke, Chris Adonis, the Rock-n-Roll Express and Bill Dundee.

Log on to www.midsouthlegends.com for a VIP package and more.

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