When you think of any degree of separation within the pro wrestling business, chances are Bill Apter is part of the chain.
The pioneer journalist reflects on 50 years covering an industry he loves to this day with his first book: “Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken!”
The origin of the title is a story in itself.
“Back in the 1970s down in Georgia, a young fan saw Mr. Wrestling II and Abdullah the Butcher wrestling,” Apter explained. “They really got into it. The kid knew I was taking pictures. So after the match he said, ‘Mister, is that fixed?’ I just came out with, ‘I didn’t know it was broken.’ The father said, ‘Well you can’t fix somethin’ that ain’t broken, son.’ I use that as a joke many times in the business. When ECW Press, the publishing company was looking for a title, I felt I’d rather it be a catchphrase. That’s the first thing that came out of mind. They loved it.”
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Apter spent many nights on the computer propped in his recliner with dog, Lexi, by his side. The native New Yorker brings a unique perspective, taking readers ringside and providing a front row seat behind the scenes to the evolution of pro wrestling. Fellow journalist and author Greg Oliver served as editor for the project. The writing process was therapeutic for Apter, who was able to clear up misconceptions about his role at the various magazines he worked for.
“A lot of people thought I worked for Jim Crockett Promotions because I was on his TV shows or we put their wrestlers on the cover because I was paid by them,” he said.
“All this dispels all of that. How the rankings were done, a lot of people think we just pull that stuff out of the air. Every Monday I called every wrestling office and got the information on what they are doing. Also, the realization for people that when I go to conventions they say, ‘Hey Bill, How is Dan Shocket and Eddie Ellner?’
“They think they are fake, but Dan died at a very young age of cancer and Eddie is still around. People can look him up on the internet. He owns a place called Yoga Soup out in California. I didn’t sit there alone writing all these characters like people think I did. I was part of fabulous teams that put the magazines together. I was the guy out in the trenches that people saw shooting pictures. I was the guy presenting the awards. More important than any picture I ever shot or column I ever wrote was my relationship with the people in the business. They accepted me as one of the boys.”
Before the prevalence of television or social media, pro wrestling enthusiasts kept up with the happenings in territories thanks to Stanley Weston-helmed publications like The Wrestler and Inside Wrestling. These beloved morsels of printed history chronicling the territory days and beyond were dubbed “Apter Mags” because Apter was who the people saw at events with his trusty notebook, tape recorder and camera in hand.
The author has received unanimous praise from his peers and fans. The book’s release has also given him an opportunity to connect with figures from his past.
“I had a friend named Jon Cooper., who I went to high school with. We lost touch,” Apter said. “He went into the army. About four weeks ago he found me on Facebook. He said, ‘I’ve been following you. You’re Bill Apter, my old high school best friend.’ He lives in Illinois now, and he came to see me inducted into the St. Louis Hall of Fame this past weekend. He read the book already. He remembered all the stories of me wrestling on the grass in the old neighborhood. So that was a nice surprise.
“Steve Corino texted and instant messaged me during the whole process of him reading the book. A lot of fans are doing the same. It hasn’t gotten one bad review at this point. I like to read wrestling books, but many of the guys complain about their careers. Some of them are these think hardcover books. It’s like going through a textbook. The motive of mine to do this book was to just make like someone sitting on the couch and asking me about stories. Hopefully, they can hear my voice telling stories. There is no dirt. There is no dirt in the book.”
One of the reasons for Apter’s longevity is the level of respect he has shown everyone from Vince McMahon Sr. to Vince McMahon Jr. Even during some rough patches of mis-communication or something got published that was out of his control or when Macho Man wanted to kill him, he went out of his way to smooth things over.
“The problem with wrestling journalism, worst thing people can do is they get online and they are negative about stuff,” Apter said. “I always say if you want to make an impression on people in the business, don’t tick anyone off. That’s the worst thing you can do. The way the internet is right now, the performers and promoters and everyone looks for their name. They want to know what they are saying about them. If you have a wise guy comment, you’re not going to move to the next level. Though there is really no next level because wrestling now in the media is really mixed in with entertainment. It’s not that separate genre when we did the magazines. That doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a different perception.”
Everyone who reads the book will have a favorite chapter. For the man himself, it’s number 40: “Apter Makes a Historic Meeting Happen: When Andy Kaufman Met Jerry Lawler.” This delves into how Apter was really the liaison to an angle that would change pro wrestling and sports entertainment forever. Coincidentally, Lawler writes the foreword to the book.
”I still look back at the people who idolized Andy Kaufman to this day,” he said. “Here is a guy riding back on the subway with me back to my apartment as my friend. Here is a guy who is starring in the number one hit sitcom back then in ‘Taxi.’ It was just amazing as Jerry Lawler said to me, ‘You have Andy Kaufman in your roach-infested apartment in Queens?’ Had Andy not come over to my house that night, no matter how it happened in the future, it never would have happened this way.”
The impact the Kaufman’s feud with the King made is reason enough to put the late actor into the WWE Hall of Fame. After reading Apter’s book, a case can be made for “Wonderful Willie” to join him.
- The Next ChApter
“Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken!” is available now in outlets such as http://www.amazon.com/Wrestling-Fixed-Didnt-Know-Broken/dp/1770411542.
- Apter Hours
- Nov. 7 and 8 in Brighton, England at its Film & Comic Con.
- Nov. 14 at the Big Event hosted inside the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel in East Elmhurst, N.Y.
- Nov. 28 at the WrestleCade hosted at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
- Social Media
Chat with Apter on Twitter @Apter1Wrestling
Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN
- Pro Wrestling On the Web
- With all the knowledge and experience Apter brings, we thought it would be fun to get predictions from him about WWE Hell in a Cell 8 p.m. EST Sunday, Oct. 25 on pay-per-view and WWE Network.
- Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar in Hell in a Cell: I can’t see Brock Lesnar losing this match. It may be at the cost of The Undertaker, but I think Brock Lesnar has to stay the complete monster that he is.
- Charlotte vs. Nikki Bella for the WWE Divas championship: It’s Charlotte’s time. It’s time for Charlotte to Woo!, absolutely. I think she will retain and keep on making the Divas division a very healthy competitive division because she is bringing that iconic Flair talent to the girls now.
- New Day vs. Dudley Boyz for the WWE tag team championship: I want to see the Dudleyz win and then go on to a match against Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. I think the four of them in a match would be incredible.
- Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns: They are still trying to get Roman Reigns popular with the crowd. I think this past week on Raw they upped him a little bit. The crowd likes the sick attitude that Bray Wyatt goes out there with. I just think there is going to be more interaction and will keep going. I see the whole Wyatt family getting involved.
- Kane vs. Seth Rollins for the WWE World heavyweight title in Hell in a Cell: Rollins will of course retain the title, but it’s amazing how they’ve consistently gone and recycled Kane. It keeps on working. Though I think Rollins will find a way to keep the belt. I can’t see Kane holding the world heavyweight championship at this point. Seth Rollins has turned into an incredible talker and worker in the ring. The other night on Raw he was comparing himself to Shawn Michaels who was telling him to be an original. There will never be another Shawn Michaels, but Seth Rollins is starting to make himself into someone who someone else will want to eventually be like.