WWE tag team legends The Hart Foundation
[NOTE – The following essay appeared in the Summer 2011 edition of the ‘Fair to Flair Quarterly’. The entire edition is available here: http://www.fairtoflair.com/]
I grew up 30 minutes away from the “candy capital of the world”, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and to this day going to see the WWF at Hershey Park Arena remains my favorite childhood memory. My buddy Jamie and I had a great game plan – rollercoasters and bumper cars during the day, body slams and headlocks at night. It was perfect.
I went to Hershey Park many times growing up, and the amusement park itself was great. I enjoyed walking through Chocolate World, splashing down the water flume, and telling my friends “I survived the Super Duper Looper”. But everything changed on October 31, 1985, the night I attended my first live WWF event at the neighboring Hershey Park Arena. I didn’t know much about the WWF, I’d only seen it on television a few times. But my friend had an extra ticket so I tagged along. From the moment S.D. Jones came out for the opening contest I was hooked. I was mesmerized by everything, the spectacle, the athleticism, the lights, the crowd, the music…everything. The WWF was taping a special “Halloween” episode of ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ headlined by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, so the arena was sold out and full of energy.
As much as the crowd cheered for Hulk Hogan, the Junkyard Dog stole the show when he “pantsed” Jimmy Hart and branded him with Terry Funks’ iron. People absolutely loved the JYD. I remember laughing about Jimmy Hart’s red underwear on the ride home, mostly oblivious to what…or rather who…I really should have noticed that night, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. The “Macho Man” failed to capture Tito Santana’s Intercontinental title (the match ended in a double count out) but looking back…wow, there was something so…different…about him. And about Miss Elizabeth.
I didn’t know enough about pro wrestling yet to fully appreciate Randy Savage but that was certainly about to change.
The WWF soon became a huge part of my life, and as a young wrestling fan growing up near Hershey was a dream come true. Hershey was a regular stop for the WWF and they would run house shows at the arena almost every month. There was just one problem – my friend Jamie and I were too young to drive ourselves to the matches so we had to beg and plead for our parents to 1) buy us tickets, and 2) drop us at the arena. Not an easy task. But every few months or so we would wear them down and someone would agree to drop us off at the park in the morning and pick us up after the matches at night (several years later when we finally got our driver’s licenses it felt like we won the lottery, we could go see the WWF any time we wanted!)
It was never easy, but in the end we were able to see WWF wrestling several times a year. In 1987, with summer coming to a close, Jamie and I asked to go to Hershey one last time before school started. Jamie’s parents said “ok” and drove us there for the day. The exact date was August 14, 1987, and although the show itself was very mediocre (well, unless you were a big Hillbilly Jim or One Man Gang fan), that night kicked off the most exciting chain of events I have ever experienced as a wrestling fan.
It all started when Jamie and I bought a program and made our way to our seats.
Back in the 1980’s the WWF would use their weekend TV programming to advertise upcoming house shows, but other than the main events the exact matches were not known until you arrived at the arena. Each program would then contain a match sheet giving that night’s rundown, of course with the famous disclaimer “card subject to change”. Our favorite tradition was sitting down and slowly pulling out the match listing to see which superstars would be appearing that night. As young kids it was so much fun (side note – these match lists are now great collectibles!)
We found our seats, sat down, and Jamie started pulling out the match list when all of a sudden a small yellow card fell onto the floor. Jamie picked it up, turned it over, and we saw that it was an advertisement for next month’s WWF show on September 23rd. At first I was confused, they didn’t usually promote next month’s card this early, but then I saw a photo of Hulk Hogan next to the NBC TV logo and the words “televised”. My heart started to race. Next month’s show was going to be a taping of ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’!
The yellow card listed two of the matches planned for the show: world champion Hulk Hogan vs. Killer Kahn and Intercontinental champion the Honky Tonk Man vs. the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Sure we were excited Hulk Hogan would be defending his title against Killer Kahn (which eventually got switched to Kamala, and then to Sika…ugh, who was next? Conquistador #2?)…but there it was. The match everyone wanted to see. Intercontinental champion the Honky Tonk Man vs. the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
That summer the Honky Tonk Man was claiming to be the “greatest Intercontinental champion of all time” and the former champion took great offense. Add in Honky’s obsession with Savage’s manager, Miss Elizabeth, and the Macho Man was in a rage. It had been nearly two years since I first saw Savage wrestle and since that time he had become one of my favorite wrestlers. I absolutely loved him and there was no way we were going to miss this match. Jamie and I would do whatever was necessary to get tickets.
Over the next few weeks we did our homework on time, never broke curfew, and did more than our share of the household chores. In the end our perfect behavior paid off because Jamie’s father agreed to take us, along with our friend Harry, to Hershey for the show.
The actual match was taped on Wednesday night September 23, 1987 in Hershey, PA (remember SNME was not a live show). Everybody was excited to see Macho Man tear apart that “dime story Elvis impersonator”, and since it was going to be shown on ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’, the match felt extra important. Back in the 1980’s ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ was a big deal and served as a key storytelling device. With a limited schedule of PPVs and a generous helping of squash matches, SNME was one of the only opportunities to see the main stars wrestle each other. At the time Honky Tonk Man was white hot as a heel, and Randy Savage had begun a face turn that would change the WWF for the next several years. Honky Tonk’s “cool, cocky, bad” attitude was the perfect complement to Randy Savage’s incredible intensity.
Plus, once this match was announced, Honky Tonk Man and the Macho Man did a great job building the rivalry. If you can name two guys who gave better interviews than Randy Savage I’d like to hear who they are. And back then the Honky Tonk Man held his own, helped to a degree by his manager the “Colonel” Jimmy Hart, who was always a great copilot. For this match these two delivered some of their best work, and I can still recite all of the prematch interviews from memory. Do yourself a favor and rewatch this broadcast to see why everybody is “super serious in the Danger Zone”!
There was a buzz in the crowd all night as the anticipation continued to grow. When the Honky Tonk Man’s music started we all rose to our feet. He was escorted by Jimmy Hart and looked resplendent in his white Elvis jumpsuit. Savage and Liz finally made their way down the aisle and you could feel incredible tension in the air (Gorilla Monsoon would have said “you could cut it with a knife.”) The building was loud. We were ready.
The actually match didn’t disappoint on any level. At the time I really thought the Macho Man was going to recapture the title. In fact I was sure of it. Scratch that. I REALLY wanted Savage to regain the title, but secretly I had no clue what was going to happen. That’s actually kind of rare in professional wrestling.
History will show that the Honky Tonk Man was sub-standard in the ring, but on this night he was the perfect foil for Savage and more than held his own. I was really pissed off when the Hart Foundation (my all-time favorite tag team) interfered, but the resulting few minutes were just beautiful. Savage gets blasted with the guitar. The Harts and Honky continue to beat him down until Miss Elizabeth finds Hulk Hogan, who then makes the save. At one point all four champions were even in the ring at the same time, and that used to never happen. Hogan and Savage stare each other down and then shake hands, leading to my favorite Vince McMahon line of all time, “We could be seeing the meeting of the Madness and the Mania…YES! There it is!”
The Hershey Park Arena came unglued. Hogan, Savage, and Miss Elizabeth paraded around the ring, basking in the cheers. Macho Man didn’t win the title, but this moment was the beginning of the Mega-Powers, one of the strongest storylines in WWF history and the WWF’s focus for the next two years.
Oh, I left out the most dramatic part – before he hit Savage with the guitar, the Honky Tonk Man pushed Miss Elizabeth, knocking her completely to the canvas. To say that the Hershey Park Arena was ready to riot is a huge understatement. There was blood in the crowd. It was insane. It was primal. How dare the Honky Tonk Man touch Miss Elizabeth, much less THROW her to the ground!? My friend Harry threatened to go down there and kick Honky’s ass. He was 14.
How could a valet create this pathos, this unbelievable sense of collective emotion, from the entire crowd? Hulk Hogan, that’s understandable; he was the world champion and the face of the company. But make no mistake – Miss Elizabeth was beloved in a way I’m not sure we’ve seen since.
As Randy’s valet she always looked spectacular and occasionally she became the focus of Randy’s storylines (like George Steele’s obsession). But she almost never got physically involved in matches and she never actually wrestled. Most of the legendary Divas are treasured for their work in the ring (Trish, Lita, Mickie, Sherri, Moolah, etc,), but not Liz. Even though she was shy and quiet, somehow she became a beaming light to all WWF fans that followed wrestling during that time. I certainly feel she was every bit as important to Randy’s success as his flying elbow drop and shiny robes. After this match in Hershey she became more popular than ever and the heart of the Mega-Powers. Remarkable.
That magical night in Hershey was the first of several big moments Jamie and I witnessed over the next several years. We basically saw the creation and dissolution of The Mega-Powers first-hand, and as much as it featured the WWF’s top two stars at the time, the emotional center essentially revolved around Miss Elizabeth. She brought Hogan and Savage together, and then became the catalyst for their breakup, due mostly to Hogan’s overfriendly, overprotective attitude (remember Macho Man calling him “Lust Hogan”!)
Jamie and I were fortunate to attend both Wrestlemanias 4 and 5, which were held at the Trump Plaza in nearby Atlantic City, NJ (we were also fortunate our parents liked to gamble). We even saw another taping of ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ in Hershey, this one in February 1989, where Miss Elizabeth made the “Decision of a Lifetime” telling Mean Gene Okerlund she would be in a neutral corner at Wrestlemania 5. Really, the only major milestone we didn’t see live was the first SummerSlam, where the Mega-Powers defeated the Mega-Bucks – with a little help from Miss Elizabeth’s miniskirt. (This is probably a good thing; I’m not sure 15-year old David could’ve handled that. I also don’t know if I could have handled knowing Randy and Liz were married in real life. Looking back I was blissfully ignorant about some things.)
As much as we enjoyed Wrestlemania 4, the finale of Wrestlemania 5 was breathtaking. As Jesse Ventura said on commentary, “This is truly the main event.” Hogan – Savage may not hold up historically to Hulk’s legendary match with Andre the Giant in the Pontiac Silverdome, but the story was extremely compelling. It was allowed to build over several years, spotlighting two magnetic personalities focused on both the WWF world heavyweight championship and Miss Elizabeth, in somewhat equal parts.
Miss Elizabeth stood in a neutral corner that night but the crowd was anything but neutral. When Hogan pinned Savage to recapture the title it felt like the roof might literally blow off the Atlantic City Convention Center. That was the loudest cheer I have ever heard. We were both rooting for Randy so we were a bit disappointed. But by this point we had come to realize how special the previous 2 years had been.
Today’s wrestling fan might not fully appreciate what Miss Elizabeth meant to the WWF in the 1980’s. Her eventual divorce from Randy, her ill-fated run in WCW, and her untimely death have hurt her legacy to some degree. But if you lived through it you will never forget how excited you were when Macho Man’s music started to play and she accompanied Randy to the ring.
It is incredible to me that both Hogan and Savage ended up working together again in WCW, even teaming on occasion, but they could never recapture the magic of the Mega-Powers. This is due in part to the differences between the WWF and WCW (although WCW had a few years of better ratings, it is hard to argue that the WWF doesn’t have better overall production value and storytelling). But I think a large part of this is due to the absence of Miss Elizabeth.
In the late 90’s I met Miss Elizabeth after a Nitro taping in Baltimore and she was very gracious, signing an autograph that to this day I have framed with one of her WWF workout posters. At first I was nervous and intimidated to chat with her, in part because she was sitting with Lex Luger, but she was friendly and pleasant. Almost shy. It was just strange seeing her there with someone other than the Macho Man. A reminder that this wasn’t the wrestling I had grown up watching. Times had changed.
It made me think back to that night in Hershey, way back in 1987, when Vince McMahon said “We just witnessed a magic moment in the annuals of sports history!” We sure did, and more than anything it was because of Miss Elizabeth. RIP Elizabeth Hulette. And now you too Macho Man. I will never forget seeing you both walk down that aisle.
Jamie and I are both married with kids now. We still live near Hershey so we’ll go to WWE events on occasion, but the shows there just aren’t the same. The grand Hershey Park Arena has now been replaced by the state-of-the-art Giant Center, a modern facility that resembles every other new arena. Long on technology but short on history. Fortunately our children have become wrestling fans, part of the next generation I guess, so even though I don’t enjoy the product as much as I used to, I always offer to drive them to the arena if they want to go. It’s time for them to make their own memories.
– David is one of the editors at Online World of Wrestling. He has been a wrestling fan since 1985 and is a self-professed Beth Phoenix mark.