Book Marks

Pain and Passion: Heath McCoy's Thoughts

Well, I think the first order of business here is thanking everybody for not only reading my book but for taking the time to write such thoughtful responses to it. Feedback means an awful lot to a writer and for me this is very much appreciated.

Now to address some of the main points that came out of the letters.

While a couple of you really enjoyed my in-depth focus on the early life of Stu Hart, many of you also felt that the book seemed to drag a bit in these chapters. That makes me wish I could go back and write that section in a tighter, punchier style so that it flows better and reads in a more captivating fashion. But I still maintain that Stu’s life had to be included every bit as prominently as it was (if not more so, in the later chapters).

Perhaps giving the book the sub-title “The History of Stampede Wrestling” was not the right decision because I wrote this book to be more than just an encyclopedic look at the promotion. In fact, I intended for it to be much more than just another wrestling book.

Of course Pain and Passion is about wrestling on the surface level, much as, for example, the movie The Godfather was about gangsters. But The Godfather also went a whole lot deeper than what was on the surface, and that’s the same effect I was trying to achieve with Pain and Passion.

As I envisioned it, Pain and Passion is about the hardships and the wild, road warrior, rock and roll lifestyle of the wrestling business, but it’s also about family and community. It’s a comedy too, in places, and, ultimately, a very moving tragedy. That’s what fascinated me about the Stampede Wrestling story and that’s what made me want to write the book. As a journalist I live to tell powerful stories and this, in my estimation, was definitely one worth telling.

I compare Pain and Passion to the Godfather because the story was so rich that I often felt like it was meant to be a sort of Godfather tale of the wrestling world. In fact, I tried to write the book as if it were the storyboard for a great movie that would be appealing to everyone – not just wrestling fans.

And, if I was even a little bit successful in that undertaking, if Pain and Passion is in some way The Godfather of the wrestling world, than Stu is the Don Corleone of the story. He’s the Marlon Brando. It’s through him that the promotion grows. It’s his children – as well as their crazy colleagues and spouses – that go on to shape this bizarre territory (and to eventually make an impact on the wrestling world as a whole). Stu is central to the story, as I envisioned it.

Also, to me, Stu’s life truly was amazing. I feel it had to be given the emphasis I gave it. (As a note to both Lance and Melissa, I whole heartedly agree that Clint Eastwood would make for a fantastic Stu!)

As to one more point regarding Stu, on his sadistic side when it came to stretching people: yes, I agree this did reflect a dark, disturbing facet of Stu’s personality. That was more than counter balanced, however, by the many warm and noble aspects of his personality. This complexity is yet another factor that made him a key character – if not the character, in my book.

I see Stu as a hero in many ways – as I describe him in chapter two, a Superman of the Prairies. But, his extraordinary toughness aside, he was, in the end, a man, and therefore he had his flaws. Coming from his extreme, hard knocks background, it makes sense to me that this helped turn Stu into the character he was, with his many quirks and his sadistic streak all part of the man.

Karen Brickhaus mentioned that, to her, the book seemed more like the story of the Hart family, than the story of the Stampede Wrestling promotion. I can certainly see her point, but I would argue that Stampede Wrestling was, essentially, a family business. Granted, it was a business with many a colourful character as the employees, and I tried to give their amazing stories as much of a spotlight here as I could. But over the decades hundreds of wrestlers, strange and wild characters in their own right, passed through the promotion, and my book would have been a chaotic mess if I tried to tell all of their stories.

With the cinematic and literary approach I was trying to take with Pain and Passion, I needed a focus, I needed central characters, and the Harts were quite rightfully the central figures of my story – them and the select group that were closest to the family and most integral to the history of the promotion, such as Ed Whalen, the Dynamite Kid, and even Bad News Allen.

Further, the idea that Stampede Wrestling was essentially a family business became a key factor in Pain and Passion’s inherent tragedy. As a regionally run business, Stampede Wrestling was sort of the ma and pop wrestling shop of Western Canada, if you will. You can compare them to the ma and pop coffee shops that were mowed down when corporate giants like Starbucks came along and ran them out of business. That’s essentially what happened to Stampede Wrestling when the WWF took over the wrestling world in the ‘80s. That’s progress, and I understand that its part of modern life, but what happens to the family, in this case the Hart family, when the family business they live for is run into the ground? How is the region affected when a long time pillar of the community, like Stampede was to Alberta, is toppled? I tried to incorporate these elements into my book as well, which is not the sort of depth you’ll find in most wrestling books. Again, I was trying to write more than a wrestling book.

Addressing a few more points: Val Brewer thought that in my new chapter, in Pain and Passion’s revised edition, that I gave more space than was necessary to the Benoit tragedy. I have to disagree. Although I just argued that Pain and Passion is more of a cinematic/literary journey than a straight text book history, there is still definitely a strong historic element to the book. I am journalistically documenting the history of this promotion and in doing so I have shined a spotlight on the impact Stampede made on the wrestling world as a whole. That is true when it comes to the great achievements of Stampede alumni over the years. But it’s also true when you consider that two of the hugest scandals in wrestling history involved Stampede graduates. One is of course the death of Owen Hart, and the other is the Benoit tragedy. (You might say three of the greatest wrestling scandals were Stampede-centric actually, if you consider Bret and the Montreal Screwjob). I think any book on Stampede Wrestling would be totally flawed if I ignored the Benoit story, or, if I only mentioned it in passing.

I will acknowledge that given Benoit’s ominous presence as a central character in the new chapter I wish I could go back and give him more space in the chapters that were written for the first edition. He did have a higher profile in my earliest drafts of Pain and Passion, and he is prominent enough in those early chapters that he appeared on the cover of the book’s first printing. But, in the editing process for that first edition, some of the Benoit stories wound up on the cutting room floor. Looking back, I would’ve definitely fought harder to keep them intact.

Lynn Hodge writes that she thought Bruce Hart “sounded like the ultimate loser” in Pain and Passion, and I can understand why she felt that way. Too be honest though, I don’t see Bruce as a loser. I see him as a creative guy who had a lot of inspired ideas, but, unfortunately, he also had a lot of tragic flaws – ego, pride and envy among them, and a lack of professional discipline too – and I think he often wound up sinking his own ship. Bruce really did love the Stampede brand more than anybody, save perhaps Stu himself, and he clung to that dream for years, refusing to believe that Stampede’s glory days were a thing of the past. There’s something really tragic about that, but it’s commendable too, in a way, even if Bruce’s methods were quite often questionable.

And Stanley Lau had a couple of very specific questions. He wondered how much direction I got from my editors and publishers when I was writing the book and how much of it wrote itself based on the interviews and research I conducted. There was the odd suggestion made by editors, Stanley, some which I agreed on and some which I fought bitterly, but for the most part, the story you read was shaped by the 60 or so interviews I conducted and a whole lot of intensive research.

Stanley also wondered if anybody challenged the accuracy of Pain and Passion. There were two people in particular who raged at me after they read my book, Stanley. I probably shouldn’t say who. One was a Hart and another was a wrestler who I wrote about briefly in one chapter. I suspect there were a few more characters in the book who weren’t thrilled with it, who might well dismiss the book as inaccurate if you were to question them about it.

However, by and large, people who were insiders in that world praised the book for its balance and accuracy. These folks included a good number of the Hart kids, including Bret, Keith and Ross, as well as people like Bob Leonard, Bad News Allen, Dan Kroffat and Michelle Billington, the ex-wife of the Dynamite Kid. Wrestling authority David Meltzer also found the book to be well-researched and accurate.

Finally, Lance, you brought up the Von Erich name a few times in both your comments and in your responses to the readers, comparing that wrestling family to the Harts in terms of the tragic paths each family went down, destroyed by their involvement in the wrestling business. I agree that the parallels are uncanny and I had actually included a few paragraphs about that very topic in early drafts of Pain and Passion, but they were ultimately edited out.

I actually brought up the similarities between the Von Erichs and the Harts once when I was interviewing Bob Leonard, the Stampede Wrestling photographer whose excellent work is featured prominently in my book. He is a respected family friend to the Harts, having worked for Stu for decades. He also got to know Fritz, the late Von Erich patriarch, back in the day. Bob agreed that there is some rather striking similarities between Alberta’s Harts and the Texas based Von Erich clan, but he was hesitant to put too fine a point on that. As Bob saw it, despite the dysfunctionality in the Hart family, Stu and Helen had raised their children to be a lot more grounded than the Von Erichs, who were, from what I understand, always raised with the belief that they were destined to be super stars. I also think that Fritz might have pressured his kids to get into the business in a more heavy handed, dictatorial fashion than Stu ever did.

Oh, I definitely think Stu thrust the wrestling business on his boys in many instances, but he didn’t seem to have the same hammer lock on their lives that Fritz had on his kids. Certain members of the Hart family, in fact, ran amok in ways that Stu completely disapproved of, but he was unable to control them, ultimately.

In both instances though, the families lived for the wrestling business and that business gradually tore them apart.

Anyhow, I’d better wrap this up before this Book Marks chapter turns into another book in itself!

Once again, I want to thank everyone who read Pain and Passion and who took the time to participate in Lance’s very cool Bookmarks initiative. I really cherish your letters and feedback. It’s all going in my scrapbook.

And I want to give a special thanks to Lance himself for giving me this spotlight on his website. You’re a classy guy Lance and your support means an awful lot to me. Lastly, as the great J.R. Foley (still my favourite corrupt manager of all time) used to say…

Let the good times roll!

Sincerely,

Heath McCoy
Oct. 30, 2008.