Red Bastien, King of Men

I know that was one of Blassie’s many taglines,  but it was even truer for Red Bastien.  One of the all-time greats in and out of the ring, and totally beloved influential people in the pro wrestling industry. There are often many takers in wrestling, and few givers.  Red defined what a giving, loving person was in a field where that rarely occurs. Few were nicer and more giving to anyone crossing his path.  And Red was always, always interested in passing the baton to the kids of each generation that followed his.  And Red knew something about the industry, having been on the AT circuit towards it’s decline, along with the likes of his pal Sputnick Monroe.   The AT show phenom was the very essence and original beginning or start of pro wrestling dating back to the 1800’s. Red claimed he’d done AT shows “without really telling anyone, from the age of 16 before I lied about my age and turned pro.”

Thankfully, Red sat in my old Comcast cable tv studio many times dating back in 1992 along with the likes of Buddy Rogers, Johnny Valentine, Pepper Gomez, Kenji Shibuya, Tiger Conway Sr, Ann Calvello and others besides just himself alone.  Talking about his life and career in the biz before Alzheimer’s so cruelly took his great memory. Before the disease hit, we all lament the fact he never wrote his autobio. What a book that would be full of fun, partying and good cheer.  And true to Red, total professionalism as an athlete, promoter, trainer, you name it.  Red was “aces” as he used to describe it,  at anything he accomplished in wrestling.   The great Tim Woods once said in describing Red, “he’s always been the real Mr Wrestling to a T.  I’m just a pretender.”

Everyone just learinng this horrible news right now as I write this is extremely sad because Red was so loved, respected and admired.  And I can’t stress the word “loved” enough.  This man was totally loved by everyone.  And as he often said in describing others, “no one had a bad word to say ever about…”  Red.  Texas Red Bastien.

Red’s reach has been unparalleled.  Again, from the classic old carnival AT shows that are wrestling’s foundation on through his lengthy in-ring career, the Bastien Brothers tag team that worked most everywhere including MSG, Chicago amazin’ Marigold Arena and the historic Amph, The Kiel, Boston Gardens, you name it.  Coming up from the AWA to help out his pals Maurice and Paul Vachon for some of their Grand Prix spectaculars at the Montreal Forum.  His long connection with Texas working for everyone there-Dallas, Houston of course, San Anton, Amarillo, everywhere there.

And nearly in every state and country.

Amongst his many, many fine partnerships; perhaps his most famous was with Lou Klein as the 60’s Bastein Brothers in Greek Toga outfits long before John Belushi made them famous all over again in Animal House.  Fighting the Grahams, Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard, the Kangaroos Al Costello and Roy Heffernan, Tolos Boys, Kowalski and Monsoon and all the best teams of the day.

How about his Houston and Dallas feuds with Prof Tanaka, Stan Stasiak, and later legendary ones of length with Johnny Valentine and John Tolos?  The stuff of legend.  And the not-so-obvious thing is, was that Red was great friends with all of them outside the ring.  Friends also with tag partners there like Jose Lothario, Mil Mascaras, Alberto Madril, TBolt Patterson,

Can’t think of anyone Red didn’t know or affect.  Thesz, Gotch, Billy Robinson who he roomed and teamed with in the AWA and Japan for IWE, Baba, Inoki, Carpentier, Pat O’Connor, Dick Hutton, Gene Kiniski who he talked to by phone nearly every Sunday(after Gene and Killer Walt Kowalski would first do their Saturday morning ritual of gentle crank-calling to Sam Muchnick which I got to hear), Pampero Firpo, The Sheik(the real Sheik in Ed Farhut but Red was pals with Frankie “Great Mephisto” Cain, Tiger Jeet Singh, Abby, Kosrow/Iron Sheik and any other Sheik resemblances), Bruno, Morales, Joe “Jay SBow” Scarpa,  everyone.   And pals with Pat Patterson who Pat would enlist the aide of from time to time to help out Vince projects.  Red also early on recommended to Vince that he use Bill Anderson and Jesse Hernandez to help on the west coast swings of WWF’s earliest ’84-on, tours around the country.  Bill might announce or ref, Jesse might wrestle/job or ref, their amazing trainees like Louie Spicolli, Stephen Deleon, Ricky Ataki Tim Patterson, etc would wrestle on Superstars tv, etc;  and Bill and Jesse’s crews set up, broke-down the ring, and transed it anywhere Vince needed.   All originally because Red

made the call.  I’m sure Bill and Jesse and grieving too for everyone’s friend and compadre in Red Bastien.

TEXAS RED DAYS

CAROL

I’m not sure how many decades Carol had been with the love of his life in Carol McCutchen, living at their Dallas and Ft Worth homes.  When Alzheimers first cruelly began rabbit-punching him around 2007, their daughter Tracy helped Carol take care of him with love and kindness.

Before that, he and Carol were known in the industry as “wrestling’s world champion global travelers” because each weekend they got on jet and flew somewhere.  Whether it was taking care of their vacation homes like the island one in Anacortes near Seattle, WA or to every single reunion around the world(besides CAC, Gulf Coast in Mobile, the Ilio DiPaolo reunions near Buffalo, Dean Silverstone’s North West wrestling annual ones at his beautiful home, WCW’s Slamboree(A Legends Reunion) that began in ’93 after they helped with talent at my earlier similar one in St Louis(where Red and Thesz were my mc’s for the three days honoring their friend Sam Muchnick).  If there was a reunion anywhere, including South Africa, Carol

and Red would be there.   Carol had made her money by working hard, but was as down-to-earth and giving as Red.  They made a great couple and often flew to San Francisco several times a year to visit his son from an earlier marriage in Roland Jr(who was going to school near me, and living off Van Ness Blvd).  They also loved fine dining and wine and Red told me when they hit age 65, they were “finally able to get some kind of gimmicked senior annual flight passes for one low fee to fly anywhere Delta and United flies.  I think it was $900 each and we can fly anywhere each airline goes and as often as we like in a given year,” Red told me.

“Like Happy Humphreys at an all you can eat joint with poor Harley Race babysitting him,  we really got the better end of that deal,” said Red in ’94.  On many of these Northern Calif jaunts, Red would visit me to talk CAC business, etc and stop by my old Comcast cable tv studio to sit down and let me ask him q’s about his life and career in front of our three camera shoot.  From the glorious AT show days “fighting for my life, it wasn’t always the work you’d think it was,” to his days working for Verne in the AWA, his Japan tours for JWA and later All Japan and finally to holding belts in the old IWE Japan promotion in ’72-’74 to his much-loved Texas home base.  “While I always loved working in Dallas, later for Fritzy and San Anton for my old road mate Joe Blanchard, there was nothing like Houston. Fritz didn’t always have me main event but Paul Boesch sure did.  Johnny Valentine and Tolos, before them Tanaka and TBolt and Stasiak–we had major sell out houses everywhere they ran towns.”

Red said on-air, he absolutely loved women.  But there was no other woman in the world for him like Carol.  They were really an amazing couple, “just like teenagers still,” he’d always say.

AWA and BEYOND

Red did front office duties in both Dallas and Houston besides dazzling fans with what was known as wrestling’s best dropkick before Jimmy Brunzell came along.  “I like to think I helped Jim with his dropkick early on in his career before I left Verne for Houston,” Red said in ’96.

Everyone knows Red’s long career in the AWA reteaming with his long, long time red-headed championship partner in Billy Red Lyons from the late 60’s once Red “broke off from Lou Bastien Klein who went back to Detroit to “work and work others.”  It wasn’t a peaceful breakup, let’s just leave it at that Mike,” Red said.  “When Lou began getting difficult and mean with other people, that was enough for me.”

Red held the AWA straps with Hercules Cortez until Herc died in that tragic car accident and was then paired with Crusher for the belts.   He worked well wrestling and teaming with everyone with his high-flying, dropkick and headscissoring ways and not just in the AWA.  While still in the AWA, he often would fly up from the Minneapolis boxing/wrestling Gagne office to help out his pals Maurice and Paul Vachon on some of their Grand Prix spectacular cards as they were involved in a Montreal town war with the Rougeaus La Lutte group pitting the Montreal Forum against the Verdun Auditorium.  Red worked against both Vachons there(the general public didn’t know Grand Prix was basically their baby), teamed with Carp, the Leducs, Jean Ferre; worked against Nick B, Lanza and Mulligan, Tarzan Tyler and others.  No one knows his AWA and Beyond career better than wrestling’s top surviving historian in George Schire at present and we’ll try to get some comments from him.  His fave duo growing up he’s told me at times were Bastien and BIlly Red Lyons of course.  And an amazing feud with yet another longtime Red pal in Dick Beyer, this time not as The Destroyer but as Verne’s Dr X creation.  The folks that Red wrestled with and teamed with while in the AWA are the total who’s who: Verne himself, Kiniski, both Kowalskis, Vachons, BJacks, Rashcke, Don Leo Jonathon(his later scuba diving partner in B.C.), Dale Lewis, Doug Gilbert(the original 60’s star), Johnny “Take a Powder” Powers, Bruiser, Crusher, Billy Robinson, Karl Gotch, Ivan Koloff, you name it.  Stevens and Bockwinkel whether teamed with his title partners, young Muracos and Snukas.  Just about everyone.

Back to Texas office work was where he first recommended Leo Garabaldi come in to assist and later replace Louie Tillet as our booker in my homebase territory when Louie’s booking in ’74 and early ’75 just weren’t cutting it.  Leo was a booking genius and had known Red “forever,” as Leo told me before we lost him.  “Red referred to me when I first got going in L.A. and before Chavo and his dad started undercutting me, a young green kid from I think Nova Scotia or Winnepeg in Rod Piper.  The kid had worked a bit in Kansas and then in Texas and Red said he would make a great babyface.  Red sent him to me for a one-shot because Red said he’d actually planned for Rod to go first to Shire and try out there.  So it was a passing through kind of thing at first and then Piper was supposed to work a longer period for us after doing Shire up in San Francisco.  But after I got a load of Piper in January of ’76(at our battle royal where Bob Orton Sr and Firpo would soon leave the territory soon after L.A. biggest event of the year) as a face against Tony Rocco, trying to play his bagpipes but having a difficult time, I asked him and Shire to allow me to put Piper on the following Tuesday card in San Diego as a face. He got over like gangbusters and we helped him craft his full Roddy Piper persona and gimmick.  All of this and Roddy’s career because of Red and what he saw in this pimply kid who few others saw the potential in.  I thought I had a great mind for the business, but Red Bastien was a total genius,”  said Leo at my Canvas Cavity taping.

Red’s real name as most of you know was Rolland born in 1931 in North Dakota of all places but moving as a kid to Minnesota “and those god-awful cold winters I hated as a kid!”

For his own warm annual reunions, Red had asked me to put together his paper programs and call some of the boys each year for his own reunion, his Dallas-based “Texas Shoot Out” which was a fun and loose party with his old and new wrestling friends.  Red was like his friends in Vic and Ted Christy pulling gentle ribs, and often still pulled them at “The Shootouts.”   Like hiring a 300 lb homely stripper to sing, dance and sit in Tex McKenzie’s lap at the first one in 1992, or the various “Golden Potato” awards given each year to friends like Mike Paidousis, Mr Hattori or Silento Rodriguez.  Red’s major aide for his Texas ShootOuts was Larry Dwyer, who deserves a lot of credit and I know is grieving as we all are about hearing of Red’s passing yesterday.

Anyone on the “butt-end” of one of his gentle ribs, pranks and stories will recall the time Red finally got pranked.  He was presenting Bull Nakano and Akira Hokuto an award at LIWA in Vegas(which Moolah had overtaken from the original founders in Terese Thies, Mae Weston, Penny Banner, Ida Mae, Betty Clarke) in ’94 and while up on-stage in front of no podium and just a skinny mike stand…Red’s usual partner in crime, Pat Patterson pulled down Red’s multicolor, famous Zubaz pants to reveal Red’s sunburned “member”–Red’s word for it besides “my Rocky Johnson.”   Red was horrified because the mothers and sisters of the Japanese young legends were just a few feet away from “the member.”  “Red really turned red that day.  I mean beet red. This was the first time he said he was ever really embarrassed and I know the girls mothers weren’t happy. But we had a lot of fun,” Pat told me.

Red had more best friends than anyone we can recall in graps but amongst his absolute best ones were roomies like Ray and Nick, Crusher Reggie, of course Pepper Gomez, Bob Ellis, Tex, Pepper Martin, and even promoters like Verne, Don Leo J, Kiniski, Bruiser and yes, even Mike Lebell and Roy Shire.  “A lot of the boys didn’t care for them that worked for them.  But I was in their league and Roy in particular respected me.  The Lebell family I had a lifelong affair with so Mike never gave me any troubles,” Red said.  “He did ok by me at least.”   Add Prince/King Curtis Iaukea and Johnny Barend in there.  Dick Beyer of course.  Frankie Cane, Donny Fargo, Lanza, the Orton family, Briscos, Funks, Judo/Lord Al Hayes, Billy Robinson, Peter Maivia, Rocky Johnson.  The list goes on and on.  “I think I got along with more promoters that maybe others didn’t care for because if they respected me, I gave it back.  Vince Sr, Paul Boesch, Atlanta promoter Paul Jones(not the worker), Eddie Graham of course, Billy Watts who I loved, the Tunney family, Sam Muchnick of course, Verne, Shire, Cal Eaton before Lebell in L.A., Kiniski and Sandor(Kovacs) of course.  I’d say I’m friends with all of them. Except the bad ones and there really haven’t been any bad ones I’ve met.  Annie Gunkle was one of my heros when she had the balls to take on the NWA in the early 70’s after Ray died.  I didn’t work for her like my friend Dickie Steinborn did, but I gave some suggestions when people weren’t looking and had a lot of respect for her.

She was an inspiration because we’re still such a male-dominated industry.

We needed more women like Ann.”

Red loved to have a beer and even more so to have fun and “comradeship”

as he called it with his friends.  “And they all come from wrestling!

These guys are the brothers I never had,” he said.  “What point is living if you don’t try to have fun every minute of every hour of every day!”

Roy Shire had such respect for Red(ask Pat and anyone else still around) that he helped him promote some smaller towns for him like Modesto(a popular farm town in Northern CA,  90 minutes east of San Fran and Oakland).  Red a decade later would form the WIN promotion in Southern California which he syndicated on American TV and spotlighting Tijuana talent for the first time in Rey Mysterio Sr, Konnan, and even Eddy Guerrero.  Red was of course aided here by Bill Anderson and Jesse Hernandez.   Several years before that along with Rick Bassman, he helped train Sting and Ult Warrior Helwig and sent them to both Jarrett and Watts.  Red also helped train Dave Sheldon(Angel of Death) who he sent up to Stu and many others.

Red was our boss and president at Cauliflower Alley starting in 2000 and going strong for over 7 years before his memory began fading.  He’d call me like usual starting in 2006(as he did Roland Alexander and Pepper Gomez and Bobby Heenan) and say “shit.  Now I forgot what I was calling you about”   and then he’d laugh.  When that happened to him calling Nick

Bockwinkel, Nick became concerned at the time for his friend.   Here’s hoping Red never suffered a day since that monstrous heel first hit him.

“I’ve always loved breaking bread with everyone in wrestling.  I still learn something new about the game all the time, so I don’t know everything.  No one does or ever will.”

Anyone who worked with or for Red, was trained by him or just touched by his kindness, will never forget this total gentle giant.

Red Bastien was one of a kind and the world is a lonelier, less fun place without him.

You will forever be in everyone’s red hearts, Red.

— Dr. Mike, guest columnist for OWW

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