Just like seeing Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster on screen for the first time, Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas’s “Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 Second Edition” (McFarland, 2007) is a breath-taking moment just looking at the cover before the reader even opens to the first page.
This 616 page text looks like a college textbook that one would read in film class at a college university, but the writing and stories in the book is more than filled with basic facts about the cast and directors, and engages the reader to where they can’t put the book down.
The book covers the great history of the Universal Film’s horror history, where the run times were a little over an hour, no CG on the monsters (just great costumes and elaborate makeup), and all the little problems that occurred during the filming of the shoots. This was the Golden Age of the horror films, where production shooting lasted a few months and were double -billed at the theaters, where stars like Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. , and more were the marketable heroes of the day. The book covers the Carl Laemmle early days to the “New Universal” history of the company.
The book starts in chronological order throughout the book (after a brief historical introduction), starting with Lugosi’s “Dracula,” and continues through 1946’s “The Brute Man” with Rondo Hatton. There is a section at the end of the book covering the serials that were made (such as the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon), along with a small section of “Odds and Ends” which covers some of the films that did not constitute (or was wrongly billed as) “Horror Films.”
The book details some of the build ups to how the films were written, produced , and brought to the audiences, with stories of last minute changes in cast or props, management shake-ups at the company, and includes interviews via magazines, and by the authors themselves, with some actors and staff that were there during the filming. There is not just the well known Universal Monster films, such as “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” and “The Creature From The Black Lagoon,” but also rarer films that are not as well known, such as “The Invisible Ray” and ” The Strange Case of Dr. RX.”
The films covered are not just monster films, but covers the company’s journey into the mystery, thriller, and science fiction genres. The authors write detailed information, along with putting their own opinions of the films , to make the book a great movie companion that can be used as a reference for a lover of this topic. At the end of each movie, the authors provide reviews of the films by the Hollywood reviewers that were put out at the time, which shows even more of the astonishing research that the book must have taken to create.
The personal opinions of the authors may not be agreed upon here (Some of the favorites discovered here in the past few years such as Karloff’s “The Climax,” “The Tower of London,” and even Lugosi’s “Dracula” are not shared as positive by the writers), the views still provide background information and proof why they did not like certain films so it does not come off as offensive to the reader.
Each page of the book is double columned to provide an easier read , along with being allowed to combine all the information for each movie. The chapters are based on the years the films were released, and are separated nicely for a quick look up to find information of just a certain film. There are wonderful photographs throughout the page (usually several on each page) filled with cast photos, behind the scene shots, and promotional footage that were released
Being a fan more of the Universal era films when it comes to horror, as opposed to the Hammer Films, this book was a wonderful journey to read every page, from page 1 to 616. Not only was the book informative and entertaining, but this reviewer made a list of films to try and seek out to watch from the book. Every movie lover of this classic era should have this book, as a reference guide, along with studying more about the history of a bygone era of Hollywood. This is one book that will stay in this reviewer’s book collection and will be used over and over again.
Thank You to McFarland for the Review Copy of the book!!
“Universal Horrors :The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 Second Edition” (McFarland, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-4766-7295-3 eISBN: 978-0-7864-9150-6) is available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or can be ordered at (800) 253-2187.
Following Chris Jericho for me has gone back many years. I first started watching him in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and became a fan of his in Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. I met him in 1998 in Boardman, Ohio at a WCW signing event, where he talked about his love for Christian Metal bands. I had the honor of writing a review for his last book in 2014 (“The Best in The World”) for Slam Sports Wrestling in Canada. I am a constant listener to his podcast “Talk Is Jericho,” and I used to read his columns in Metal Edge magazine in college (which I still have in my collection).
Chris Jericho has been an actor, wrestler, writer, podcaster, dancer (he was on the TV Show “Dancing With The Stars”) and a singer of a Hard Rock band, so who better to write a book on achieving a person’s life goals than Jericho? In his latest book, “No Is A Four Letter Word: How I Failed Spelling But Succeeded In Life,” (Da Capo Press) Jericho takes the reader through his successes and failures in life, along with the valuable information he learned throughout his journeys.
Each chapter of the book deals with advice that Jericho offers, called Principles, named after a celebrity, such as The Gene Simmons Principle, The Paul Stanley Principle (who writes the book’s Forward) The Vince McMahon Principle, and even The Yoda Principle. Each chapter has stories explaining the Principles from Jericho’s life, including when he met Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, when his band Fozzy played a concert on the Kiss Cruise (which didn’t go quite as planned), and explaining WWE Owner Vince McMahon’s work ethic. The topics deal with ideas enjoying the moment, eliminating negativity, let failed attempts in the past, and advice that a person never knows who is watching them. The topics deal with everyday issues, from the workplace to achieving a goal in the person’s life.
Jericho provides great stories such as his encounter with Yoko Ono at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremonies, meeting Gene Simmons at the Kiss founder’s house, and meeting Alice Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon. There are also wrestling stories with backstage tales of his recent WWE programs with Dean Ambrose and A.J. Styles. Some funny tales include being on a Fozzy tour with the band Saxon that involves a chicken, when he sang at Lemmy Kilmister’s (of the band Motorhead) 70th Birthday Concert, and a story dealing with management of the band The Scorpions for his podcast that is not only humorous but also makes the reader just as frustrated as Jericho was during the event. These stories all are combined throughout the book with one liner references to Star Wars, The Blues Brothers, Kiss, Kool and The Gang, and The Nelson Brothers (and it wouldn’t be a Chris Jericho book without some Canadian Band references like Kick Axe).
Some self help books by celebrities are laughable when someone who was born into money tries to tell someone how to achieve goals, but Jericho’s advice is from someone who really paid dues and failed in order to achieve his goals of being a pro wrestler and a singer in a rock band. This book is filled with interesting tips (some are even common sense) with a touch of humor. With this being Jericho’s fourth book, one would think there is not much left for him to write about, but that is not the case. One does not need to be a wrestling fan in order to enjoy the stories and advice that this book entails.
“Anyone who knows me knows the best way to ensure I do something is to tell me I can’t.”
Those words definitely describes AJ Mendez Brooks, who takes the reader through her life in her book “Crazy Is My Superpower” (Crown Archetype Books, 2017). Her book covers not only her time in the wrestling ring, but also how she overcame adversities through a rough family life and her struggles with bipolar disorders.
Brooks writes about her early life as a child moving from several apartments after being evicted due to her parents failures to pay rent and the normal bills, to living with friends and family members houses or apartments (with her whole family living in one room). She describes her parents marrying and having children at a young age as one reason for her growing up fast without a normal childhood, moving to motels and dealing with her father’s drug and alcohol abuse, along with getting toys that were brought home from the dumpsters.
Brooks , however, does not make the reader feel sorry for her upbringing, but ads some great humor in the book, such as the time she was in grade school and writes about her early story-time experience at school. She writes that “The only story-time experience I have ever enjoyed was last year, when I swiped Stephen King’s Cujo off my 1st grade teacher’s desk and began reading it out loud during recess.”
Brooks writes in most of the book how she found out her mother was bipolar, but they refused to discuss it, nor get treatment for it. It was only later that Brooks found out that she herself was bipolar as well.
Brooks writes about how she overcame her pre-wrestling days by having good grades that landed her into a prestigious college, only to find out her mother spent the money that Brooks was saving for the admissions fee. She talks about how her brother and sister ended up leaving the family after they graduated high school in order to get away from the lifestyle, leaving her to try and care for her family while chasing her dreams of school.
If the reader is looking for a normal wrestling biography, this is not the book. The majority of the book talks about her struggles with the disease, while at times, using humor or references to Pop Culture, such as comic book characters like The X Men, Harry Potter, and other 1990s TV Shows like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” However, there is several chapters on her stay at the WWE’s Developmental League in Florida (FCW), where she gets several offers to move up to the main roster, only to have it yanked away from her. She ends up staying in FCW so long that she becomes the girl for all the other female wrestlers to have their matches with before they moved up to the main roster. She writes that she was so in love with her dream of being a wrestler that “Day in and day out, every second not sleeping or eating” was focused on wrestling or watching wrestling tapes in Florida.
Once Brooks made it to the WWE, she was put in storylines with Kane, Daniel Bryan, and future husband CM Punk, and discussed how management thought she was not only too small, but not marketable, where she ended up being so popular she became one of the top selling wrestlers in the company for merchandise. She writes briefly about when she and Punk started dating after being thrown together in a storyline, along with their friendship before they started dating, and finally their wedding where she writes, “And the rest of the story is just for us.”
Brooks discusses her friendship with former wrestler Kaitlyn (real name Celeste) and Brooks’ decision to retire after several injuries. She also tells stories of her love for animals, along with advice for women on various subjects via journal entries.
Normally the lack of wrestling stories would distract me from the book, but Brooks is such a great writer and combines humor into a serious topic that the book is wonderful. The book deals with someone embracing the disease and conquering it as best she could, along with overcoming her background without making the reader feel sorry for her (although it’s a wonder how she made it through some of her childhood). This book is a great tale of overcoming obstacles and ending up on top of the world, no matter how big the dream may be. Even if you are not a wrestling fan and have no idea who AJ Mendez Brooks is, this is a book that keeps the reader turning each page without slow spots in the book. Maybe Brooks will write more books in the future (maybe with more wrestling stories), because she has the talent to be just as successful a writer as she was a wrestler.
“Crazy Is My Superpower” is available now at any bookstore and online sites.
Every day when I was in junior high and high school, , I would run home and turn on ESPN to watch the daily wrestling shows that they aired, either World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) from Texas or one of my favorites, the American Wrestling Association (AWA) out of Minneapolis area. Every day the AWA was on, I’d see announcer Larry Nelson welcome me to an hour of wrestling that was different from Vince McMahon’s WWF at time. The AWA focused more on wrestling and less on comedic characters, which was exciting for me (I loved all wrestling, but I still love watching the AWA).
This is the second time I have read Larry Nelson’s book, titled “Stranglehold: An Intriguing Behind The Scenes Glimpse Into The Private World of Professional Wrestling.” The book’s copyright is from 1999 by Chump Change Publishing. I decided to re-read the book after several mentions of Nelson have appeared on one of my favorite wrestling podcasts. The book has some good and bad in it, which I am going to review.
Nelson (real name Larry Shipley) got his start in the radio business where he started interviewing wrestlers from the AWA as a way to boost ratings. His first interview was Bobby Heenan who came into the studio thinking that Nelson wanted to fight Heenan. After the shows started to get popular, the station got pressured by the WWF to start having their talent on the air, not just the AWA Stars, which Nelson was not a major fan of because it was the AWA that helped them get started. Through his work with the wrestlers on the show, he was hired to do some voice work for the AWA and some interviews, which led to his hiring full time with the AWA after the radio station dropped the wrestling show, which was on AM Radio, due to the popularity of FM Radio.
Nelson writes throughout the book about his partying habits (scotch and cocaine), which escalated by hanging out with professional wrestlers. When he was working on the interviews, which took place in Winnipeg Canada, the wrestlers would try to keep themselves occupied when on the road as well. Nelson writes about Rick Martel and Curt Hennig amateur wrestling each other in the hotel rooms, Larry Zbyszko would hide in his room and play the game Battleship, Nick Bockwinkel stayed in his room, and the wild activities of Wally Karbo, Stan Lane, and Road Warrior Hawk.
Nelson talks about his relationship with another AWA Announcer Ken Resnick, who was not liked by the other AWA Wrestlers or staff , and how Resnick walked out of the company the day of their big event WrestleRock, after finding out that he was going to share the announcing duties with Nelson. Since the card was to have a concert to help promote the event, Nelson was asked to help suggest some acts due to his radio background. He suggested the rock band The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who were starting to break after the song “Tuff Enuff” hit radio. Owner Verne Gagne decided on Waylon Jennings due to his affordable salary and the music executives at the meeting also thought that Jennings could bring several fans of different genres to come to the event.
A few other great stories in the book talks about how wrestler John Nord and Greg Gagne (Verne’s Son) almost got into a fight at a interview taping over payment, Curt Hennig and Playboy Buddy Rose’s luck at the casinos when the AWA moved the tapings to Vegas, and how Bruiser Brody threw a mop bucket filled with vomit onto the owner of The Showboat Casino, where the tapings were held. He also describes the time The Midnight Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) danced by themselves at a club, when NWA Champion Ric Flair tried to pick up and out drink Kathy Gagne (Verne’s son), and when Stan Hansen and Brody decided to go overhead bowling.
In re-reading the book, I was curious to see what Nelson’s take on the decline of the AWA. He blames the major sign that the league was falling apart in competing with the WWF was the loss of the ESPN TV deal. He also states that when a toy company made the AWA action figures, the fans didn’t buy them and were a flop. He claims that he was never paid when the AWA made home videos trying to keep up with the NWA and WWF. Not being paid for his services, turning all his work into one day instead of three and four days, and bad business deals with Verne Gagne and other businesses all played a role in the league failing. Because of some of these events, Nelson decided to move to Florida with no notice to the AWA, and was then replaced by Eric Bischoff.
The bad parts of this book deals with its editing. I know Nelson’s book is printed by a minor company or even self published company; however the editing could have been better. Most of the photographs “unless noted” are from Nelson’s personal collection, including the cover. The photographs, though, look like they were copied on a Zerox machine. Many of them are blurry, including the cover which features Nelson and Brody.
Another problem I have with the book is some of the inaccuracies in the book and typos. Nelson talks about wrestlers John Nord as “John Ord” and Michael Hayes as “Hays.” He also says that Nick Bockwinkel vs Stan Hansen at WrestleRock was to be the rematch between the two, that Hansen “won the title from Bockwinkel in Chicago before a huge crowd” (Hansen beat Rick Martel in 1985 in East Rutherford, New Jersey and WrestleRock wasn’t until 1986). Another error stated in the book is Nelson telling the reader that the famous Bockwinkel vs Curt Hennig match that went an 1 hour draw on ESPN was “live from The Cow Palace in San Francisco” (It was at The Showboat Casino in Vegas in 1986, which is now found on the Curt Hennig WWE DVD).
Another match error in the book is when Nelson states that during the AWA merger with the USWA and World Class Wrestling, AWA Champion Jerry Lawler and Kerry Von Erich each won a match and wrestled two times. “Lawler won the championship in his home territory of Tennessee, then wrestled Von Erich later in Texas, where Von Erich won.”
Just my research alone, Jerry Lawler beat Hennig for the title. He then fought Von Erich in a series of unification matches before the bloody SuperClash match. Lawler fought him in 1988 in Tennessee (which I assume this is the match he’s talking about) in 1988. Kerry and Jerry both punched the first referee for a DQ finish. The match was restarted by a second referee and Kerry pinned Lawler with a piledriver, which was banned in Tennessee. So Lawler was declared the winner by DQ, which in World Class Wrestling, the champion could lose the belt during a DQ. Both wrestlers left with their respected belts regardless. Then there was a “Texas Death Match” at the Cotton Bowl in Texas, which the AWA refused to recognize Kerry as the winner due to a bias referee. Kerry then fought Lawler in Texas again for a TV Taping, where announcer Terry Garvin got involved when he threw a chair into the ring. The big match was at SuperClash, which Lawler won due to the referee stopping the bout due to Kerry’s bleeding. The way the writer writes Nelson’s take, Von Erich won the AWA Title, which he did not. And this was more than wrestling only two times.
Yet another error in the book details the ending of the AWA. Nelson says:
“A few key people stayed until the bitter end. Greg Gagne remained because he and his father, Verne, were the owners. Larry Zbyszko, who had married Kathy Gagne, hung on out of family loyalty. Nick Bockwinkel, with twenty years invested in the AWA, was also loyal to the end.”
Yes, Gagne and Zbyszko stayed (Zbyszko was the last AWA Champion), but Nick Bockwinkel was working as a road agent for the WWF in the last years he was in the business- the AWA folded in 1991, and Bockwinkel was in the WWF from 1987-1989. He was out of wrestling in 1991 from my research. Bockwinkel even wrestled in 1987 at a WWF Show-a legends battle royal in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. This may sound like a small detail, but it shows that even Bockwinkel was gone from the AWA before it closed.
One interesting quote in the book is when Nelson talks about WCW, where Eric Bischoff was running the league at the time of the writing. Nelson writes, “If Bischoff’s ego trip continues, it is likely Vince McMahon’s WWF will win the current wrestling war.” WCW ended up being sold to McMahon in 2001.
Overall the book is a good read besides some of the errors in it. Nelson very briefly states a sentence or two throughout the book about his partying, but it does not distract from the book, say like Sunny’s book did, which I reviewed for Slam Sports Wrestling (you can find that link in the March 2016 Archives at the side of this site). At 152 pages, one could read it in one sitting if one wanted. I do wish there were more stories about Bockwinkel, Zbyszko, Sgt. Slaughter, and others, but it is still filled with good tales. I think the AWA gets a bad rap in the wrestling world and whatever few books I can get on it, I’m going to enjoy it, and I enjoyed most of Nelson’s book.
A Special Thanks to The Great Brian Last for providing me with some last second information.
(Larry Nelson’s book is available at Amazon.com)
(Nelson, Larry and Jones, James. Stranglehold: An Intriguing Behind The Scenes Glimpse IntoThe Private World Of Professional Wrestling. Denver: Chump Change Publishing, 1999. )