51st Annual Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion
by Former Torch Japan Columnist, Dr. Mike Lano
Wrestling’s brotherhood, fraternal organization Cauliflower Alley Club was founded 51 years ago as a non-profit by name wrestler and film/tv actor Mike Mazurki and his boxing publicist friend Art Abrams as an informal, several times/year downtown Los Angeles meet and greet, break-bread group. Awards weren’t even given out until some time later, and they were divided into thirds for his pro wrestling friends, boxing and boxers and his movie/tv/stuntman friends. Amongst those many genres have seen names from Sly Stallone to Oscar De La Hoya, Elliott Gould, Terry Moore, Buddy Rogers, Baba and Inoki attend.
Our top Iron Mike award (named for Mazurki) has always honored someone from athletics who also did a lot of charity and community good work plus also had a presence in film and/or tv like past honorees Gene Lebell, Sgt Slaughter and this year’s very first CAC female in Trish Stratus, who was given the award by her longtime friend and trainer, Ron Hutchison. I was hired by Trish to be her CAC event photographer (as I was by my longtime All Japan Women boss in the 80′s/90′s in Rossy Ogawa who now runs the Stardom women’s wrestling group there for the three female wrestling stars he brought to Vegas for their first time). Rossy put on a Los Angeles show last year and hopes to bring more to the U.S. this year.
Other plaque recipient honorees over two nights of awards included the AWA High-Flyers of Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell (who has a great new book out), deserving Arn Anderson, Ken Patera, Dallas. Our new Charlie Smith (famous southern ref) Referee’s award went to SWS/WAR-Japan referee James (Mr NWA) Beard. James got a great speech from his presenter in JBL, who said James took care of him when he was first starting out in the last vestiges of Dallas wrestling and helped get JBL booked in Japan even before the WWF contract. Our new Announcers award went to Memphis legend, Lance Russell and was presented by the friend he’s known since he was just 14 in Jerry Lawler. Paul Orndorf’s award was presented by his comedian son and the moment of the night came when Paul walked to the podium from the back, saw Bobby Heenan in his wheelchair and came from behind a planted a kiss on the top of his former WWF manager’s head, which had many in tears. Bobby smiled and applauded while Orndorf then zoomed up to the elevated podium area. Just great and showed Paul’s love for his former WWF on-camera manager. The Red Bastien friendship award went to two people for the first time in longtime fans and convention aides Emily Miller and Patsy Hughes, who many of the boys like JJ Dillon regard as family. The latter has been battling aggressive cancer and this was one of many emotional moments like Arn and Orndorf breaking down before their speeches. Paul said there were more of his friends and peers here than when he was put into WWE’s HOF in Los Angeles in 2005. JJ Dillon presented Arn with a great speech and both in fact were crying on-stage before Arn could compose himself to get up to the mike to speak.
Funniest was Tuesday night (Dave wasn’t there for this one sadly) when one of the Bockwinkel Baloney Blowout guys holding a mike went up to a seated Gene Okerlund, asking him what he’d most like to do with this being his first CAC. “I want to get shitfaced.” Gene replied, as the young kid holding the mike made a quick exit to another table. At both this and the next night’s more formal awards banquet, everyone is sitting, eating at one of the many tables. Okerlund was short, sweet and on point. Now this was hysterical, unlike the below and the crowd popped as most everyone had imbibed a bit anyway by then. At my own Greatest Voices of Wrestling panel q/a seminar the next afternoon where I had Okerlund, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Lance Russell, Pepper Martin (did color in SF) plus Pat Patterson, Ken Patera, Jerry Brisco, Gagne, Brunzell, Ata Johnson, Diana Hart, Barb Goodish, Akio Sato, JJ Dillon, etc; around the 2/3 mark Mean Gene looked at me and was pointing to his watch. I quickly brought the mike to him asking him his thoughts on Gordon Solie and Bobby Heenan for greatest play by play & greatest color commentator respectively, and he said “I’ll answer that but first I’ve gotta go pee, I’ll be right back.” This audience roared again.
Worst as Dave saw was Patera’s rambling, drunk acceptance speech for his honor. Many complained that if someone’s plastered and not prepared, if they’re funny; they can overlook a lot. Ken just wasn’t up to form and wasn’t funny. Dud city.
Another moment of the night came on night 1 of our awards (night 2 being our dress-up awards banquet) which new President B. Brian Blair renamed from the Baloney Blowout to the Bockwinkel Blowout last year when Nick attended his very last CAC and got an emotional and lengthy standing ovation. I was 2 feet from Nick and he was crying, not sure why everyone was standing, looking at him. He was in the latter stages, most of us believe, of Alzheimer’s and a bit frightened, not understanding unfortunately what was going on. So many we lost recently like Lord James Blears (a CAC regular in the 60′s and 70′s), Count Billy Varga and others suffered from Alzheimers which is devastating as well to family and friends. So many in the biz have suffered from that and/or Dementia, one would wonder if chairshots, etc. might be a precipitating factor.
CAC lead founder Iron Mike Mazurki passed just before our 1991 reunion at the old Sportsman’s Lodge in Los Angeles. His CAC co-founding partner in Art Abrams passed in 1999. What had become just a one event, Saturday night Awards Banquet became a 3 day full-on convention when Karl Lauer took over the club in 1999, and we moved our function to Las Vegas where it’s been every since. We had secondary, ancillary CAC’s in 1993 in Springfield, MA; 1995 in Tampa; and three in the NY/NJ area where at the last one in 1998, Vince and his entire family attended as we gave an award to his mom Juanita McMahon. That year was special because first timers Jimmy Cornette and Abdullah the Butcher attended, making it really a great sendoff for our last time outside of our main reunion.
The highlight of this year’s show was Rossy Ogawa’s Stardom group. Rossy brought three of his Japanese women wrestlers who along with Stardom Gaijin (means foreigner) regular Melissa Anderson (already super busy with Shimmer, Lucha Underground and her continued wrestling globally) had an incredible tag match. The other top match was captained by Santana Garrett, who besides her wrestling around the world and for many groups like the renewed NWA, is also a touring regular for Rossy’s Stardom.
A more recent occurrence the past decade has also been daytime seminars and forums, mostly for the new, young workers out there. This year Bill Apter did his one-man show, George Schire had an excellent AWA panel forum he moderated with AWA legends Larry “The Ax” Hennig and Gagne/Brunzell. A highlight was WWE’s Curt Axel continually disrupting Larry on Larry’s loud cell where the panel came to a screeching halt each time, but in a funny way where the Highflyers began teasing Larry. They talked about life on the AWA road, ribs, the infamous Mad Dog Vachon d-induced plane flight that nearly got everyone killed or arrested once the pilot was able to land, and much more. My PWI boss Dan Murphy gave a talk with longtime classic women’s star Malia Hosaka and more current top wrestlers Melissa and Santana. Malia is not a fan of workers male or female “getting all their shit in,” or matches that are highspot or superkick fests.
I’ve been CAC’s photographer since apprenticing CAC co-founder Art Abrams beginning in 1986. When he passed in 1999, CAC Prez Lou Thesz and Red Bastien appointed me as CAC lead photographer, which I’ve done since without ever missing a CAC since 1984.
I was asked by some of our CAC board just days before I flew to Vegas to “can you put on a seminar, right before our lead awards banquet Wednesday? Make it spectacular Mike.” Besides being the Stardom Japanese Women’s group hired photographer for Vegas (the founder/owner is my old All Japan Women boss and longtime friend in Rossy Ogawa) I was the only Gaijin to date who worked for BOTH weekly Japanese newstand magazines at the same time in Weekly Gong and Weekly/Shukan Pro/Baseball. Gong went bankrupt sadly about 12 yrs ago due to a reported Yakuza scandal but I still contribute to the other magazine plus to both Japanese daily newspapers that still cover the biz besides buying my boxing and MMA/UFC shots and some of the top Japanese web sites.
Trish and her manager also hired me to be her event photographer. She’s super busy with her famous yoga studio, Canadian magazine articles and columns and a ton of charity work. She quietly put on a free, last-minute Twitter online contest that day with primarily some disabled fans right before finally going into our banquet room Wednesday with me photographing her every move. That gets tough when I’m also trying to get Terry Funk and Jerry Lawler to pose with Lance Russell for example, or Jim and Jan Ross with the entire WWE staff table.
I called my seminar The Mt. Rushmore Monument Tribute to Greatest Voices (play by play, color, locker room interviewing, ring announcing), although we had way more than just 4 people honored. I’d printed up days before on those My Name Is stick-on badges used for parties; but instead of the audience members names, on each fan we stuck on was the name of a classic announcer we were honoring like Gordon Solie, Howard Finkel, Jimmy Lennon Sr, Lance Russell, Dick Lane, Lord Layton, Roger Kent, Marty O’Neil, Joe McQue, etc.
On my panel from all those wrestling voice genres I had Pat Patterson (early 80′s color on WWWF/WWF), Gene Okerlund, Pepper Martin (who did ring announcing and color in both L.A., SF), Lance Russell (my alltime fave next to Solie), Jim Ross and Lawler!
In the audience were Brody’s widow Barbara Goodish, Diana Hart Smith, Akio Sato (Baba’s #2 besides his territory and later WWF work for Vince), JJ Dillon, Terry Funk (I’d booked him to disrupt the panel coming out of the audience when I began interviewing Lance and Lawler re: the classic empty arena angle, but Terry tried to take a one hour nap in his room and overslept.) Destroyer Dick Beyer, Ata Maivia, my WCW magazine editor boss Dennis Brent and his wife Lynn who worked in both WCW and WWF, Jerry Brisco, Gagne and Brunzell, etc. There was a big Heenan tribute too, for all his years doing incredible and relevant, funny color.
It set the biggest CAC seminar attendance record to date, and we were lucky to have packed the room with SRO overflow out in the hallway, where even our CAC Prez Brian Blair and Dennis and Lynn Brent were stuck standing. Had Dallas veteran Johnny Mantell talk about the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame which moved from Upstate New York to down in Dallas where Johnny and his group now run it. He’ll be honoring all aspects of the wrestling industry down there each year, including our greatest wrestling voices and announcers just as upstate always did. And they run at a different time of year than Iowa’s Lou Thesz/George Tragos great Wrestling Museum. Both should be must-visits on your list as is a mere $25/year to join CAC and be part of wrestling’s oldest brotherhood fraternity. WWE bought a record number of award banquet tables this year including CAC first-timer Howard Finkel who was yet another incredible ring announcer we tried to honor at my seminar. Howard got a standing O as did the returning Bobby and Cindi Heenan.
And another very emotional portion of the evening was one of Vince McMahon’s longest-tenured WWE employees (next to The Fink) in Sue Aitchison. Over thirty years ago, she moved WWF’s Community Relations Department into an entity partnering with Wish-Granting outfits like Make-A-Wish, and she’s overseen record-setting visits from Dwayne Johnson, HHH and the overall record-holder in John Cena.
There were the usual rumors that Dwayne Johnson might attend since he allegedly was in Vegas filming one of the segments for his new Baywatch reboot movie which has had primary filming near his home in Miami along with parts of Atlanta. He was also supposed to be at a HWood industry convention making an appearance the day after CAC was over which pushed the rumors further, but Rock didn’t show. Nor did the other rumors that Cena and Nicki might attend. But we were packed with workers, legends and fans from all over the world and again a record number of first-time CACers including WWE’s JBL, Jerry Lawler, Howard Finkel, Sue and Mark Carrano and many new WWE staffers, Arn Anderson, Paul Orndorf, Rossy Ogawa and the Stardom workers, Johnny Mantell, Jim Brunzell and many others.
It was not only our best attended with a record number of attendees all 3+ days, but also for benevolent, non-profit CAC, one of our best reunions. I know some get upset that there’s so much attention paid to WWE, but with Japan’s Stardom, various women wrestlers recognized for their Lucha Underground work, many indies and long-time TNA recognition; it’s hard to please everyone. Next year’s CAC 52 is reportedly in May 2017, so go to caulifloweralleyclub.org for all things CAC. Only $25/year gets you into CAC and our annual dues hasn’t changed in all those years.
– Article & photos by Dr. Mike Lano