Saturday, June 25, 2011

HART ATTACK – a review of Bruce Hart’s new autobiography

I DON’T want to say that Bruce Hart’s new book, Straight From The Hart, is the worst wrestling autobiography I’ve ever read. But I’ll be damned if I can think of a more badly written, shoddily researched, outrageously subjective memoir put out by a grunt’n’groaner.

Normally, I’m full of praise for ECW Press’s releases, but not this poor effort, and I’m not even talking about the numerous factual errors and timeline snafus. I guess you could put that down to Bruce’s poor memory and the publisher’s unwillingness to call him on his mistakes.

Sure, the author’s constant big-noting of himself – as a wrestler and a booker – is obnoxious. However, I can understand a worker’s need to make his career seem greater than it really was.

Truthfully, Bruce was a minor player in the world of pro wrestling. His only claim to fame is that he was a member of the infamous Hart clan and part of the small-but-influential Stampede territory for so many years.

But not according to Bruce, who – in his own eyes – was one of the most influential men in wrestling history. After all, he introduced entrance music to North America; the vicious babyface personas that Bruce developed for his Stampede tag team Bad Company (with Brian Pillman) inspired Steve Austin’s “Stone Cold” gimmick; Bad Company’s outfits inspired the Hart Foundation’s ring outfits; Bruce invented the sharpshooter finishing hold, then gave it to Bret to use. And so on. Yep, the bullshit claims are laughably absurd at times.

The author’s self-pity is also understandable – clearly, Bruce feels he was robbed of his deserved place in wrestling history – and a ton of money. According to this book, time after time, a cruel twist of fate cost him the chance to make it in the big-time (read “WWF”). And if it wasn’t fate denying him his spot in the limelight, it was his younger brother, Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

Ahhhh, Bret. Settling old scores is another given in a wrestling memoir and Bruce certainly doesn’t hold back, especially on the Hitman. In his foreword, Bruce writes, “While I won’t be pulling any punches…I won’t be taking cheap shots either.” Ha! He immediately thanks everyone under the sun…except brother Bret. And it only gets worse from there.

Bruce’s desire to pour shit on the Hitman on nearly every page overwhelms everything else in the book. Whatever screwed up Bruce’s life is somehow connected to Bret, either through indifference, selfishness or downright vindictiveness on the Hitman’s part. Any event that can be manipulated into making the Hitman look his absolute worse is grabbed by Bruce with both hands.

You can feel the hatred oozing from every page. While the brothers clearly had issues for many years, it worsened when Bret and Bruce wound up on opposite sides in Martha Hart’s lawsuit against the WWE over husband Owen’s tragic death in 1999. The lawsuit tore the family apart and, clearly, the wounds are still raw.

This autobiography appears to be Bruce’s chance to “get even” with his younger, more famous, more successful brother.

So how has Bret mistreated Bruce over the decades? Let him count the ways:

* When Bret helped book Stampede, he derailed both the promotion and Bruce’s wrestling career

* Bret employed Bruce to ghost-write the Hitman’s syndicated weekly wrestling column in the early 90s, then unceremoniously sacked him years later, AND

* Bret vetoed several opportunities for Bruce to get work in WWE including an alleged resurrection of the Bad Company tag team with Pillman in 1997 (even though Bruce was, by this stage, a 46-year-old undersized part-time wrestler).

It all leads up to Bret’s stroke in 2002. This is Bruce’s take on what happened next: “It was pretty sobering to see him lying in the bed in that state, half-paralyzed, unable to even mumble, unable to feed himself and looking helpless. As I saw him lying there in that condition, I thought to myself, I’ll take health over money, anytime.”

You can almost feel Bruce gloating as he wrote this paragraph.

However, Bret can take comfort that he isn’t alone in copping a verbal bashing from Bruce. Others to feel the author’s wrath include another brother Keith, Owen’s wife Martha, Abdullah The Butcher, Billy Robinson, Bad News Brown, Superstar Billy Graham, Dynamite Kid (at one point he has the audacity to describe Pure Dynamite – one of the most highly regarded wrestling autobiographies ever released – as “not particularly well-written”) and Davey Boy Smith (who he nicknames “Einstein” – still, you can’t blame Bruce on this one...Davey Boy did steal his wife).

Bizarrely, even Hart family patriarch Stu comes out of it looking bad. By the end of the book, a picture has been built up of a dithering old fool who put wife Helen through hell as a struggling wrestling promoter, seemingly not caring (or unaware) while the incompetent people (not Bruce, of course) he put in charge of day-to-day operations kept the territory on a rollercoaster of success to ruin and back again over 40-odd years.

Yet as nasty as the author gets with these personal attacks in Straight From The Hart, equally as perplexing are the people he praises.

Ed Whalen was regarded by many as one of the worst wrestling commentators of all time and a man who spent decades sabotaging Stampede angles and ruining the heels’ heat in interviews. Yet Bruce describes him thus: “For my money, he was the best wrestling commentator ever – better, even, than Jim Ross, Gordon Solie and Lance Russell, which is saying a lot.” Yes, Bruce, it is.

As for double-murderer Chris Benoit, Bruce acknowledges the “atrocity” of his crime, but then goes on to say, “I think it’s a shame that he’s remembered primarily for having committed that crime, rather than for having been one of the greatest workers of his generation or for having been one of the nicest guys in the business.” Er...okay.

If there’s one passage that sums up the vengeful stupidity that fills every page of this autobiography, it’s Bruce’s description of Bret’s WrestleMania match with Vince McMahon in 2010.

Being a booking wizard – throughout the book Bruce claims that whenever he was booker in Stampede, crowd numbers soared and all the angles rocked, while every other booker (especially Bret) caused the territory to decline – Bruce wrote he came up with a better scenario than the one that eventually played out in the ring and ran it past McMahon and son-in-law Triple H.

It involved Vince beating up Bret, who would stage a comeback before Triple H interfered in the match and attacked Bret. The Hitman would then be saved by Shawn Michaels.

“All the pieces would be in place for an awesome tag match nobody would have ever expected,” Bruce wrote. “Bret and Shawn taking on Vince and Triple H, perhaps at SummerSlam.”

Sadly, Bruce forgot there were two big holes in his scenario: 1. Triple H was a face at the time and booked to face heel Sheamus on the same show; and 2. The main event at WrestleMania was Shawn Michaels vs The it was highly unlikely Shawn would be involved in an undercard match as well.

But that’s not how Bruce saw it. The REAL reason his brilliant booking idea got shitcanned? “I think Vince and Hunter were actually intrigued by the idea. To my surprise, the guy who did give it the thumbs down brother Bret.”

Even to the end, the greatness of Bruce had been foiled by his bastard brother Bret.

Thank God he wrote this book to set the record straight..

* Straight From The Hart by Bruce Hart (ECW Press, RRP$32.95) is out now.