As one might expect, sitting down to interview Jim Myers is nothing like sitting down to interview his famous alter-ego George ‘The Animal’ Steele.
For one, his tongue isn’t green. And he speaks in coherent sentences, not just guttural groans and growls.
But just don’t call ‘The Animal’ a gimmick, said Myers. It’s a persona, and it annoys him to hear it called a gimmick.
“First of all, we don’t talk about gimmicks, it’s professional wrestling. That’s my persona,” said Myers backstage at a recent AWF show in Toronto at Cactus Pete’s. “The people named ‘The Animal’. I was George Steele.”
And at this point in his life, after wrestling since 1962, he’s quite comfortable with both parts of his life.
“There’s two people in this body. The persona I use in the ring, I don’t practise it. I’ve never planned it. It just f***ing happens. That’s why I say it isn’t a gimmick. It’s for real with me,” he said. “I also have another personality that’s very much different. I don’t eat all the pillows at a party.”
Ah yes, the eating of pillows, turnbuckles and other munchables has always been a calling card of The Animal. But how does one get started on such unique delicacies?
Well, to no one’s surprise, Myers said that it started “by accident”. The Pittsburgh promotion used to give away presents to fans, and one week it was small couch pillows. And, the heel Steele had one lobbed at him in the ring.
“There’s three things you can do with a pillow,” Myers explained. “Sit on it. Throw it back. Or tear it up. Obviously, I took a bite out of it, tore it up, threw it up in the air and people started going nuts. This was live TV. Eventually, I put the pillow over this fellow’s head. The stuff was floating down like snow.
“The pillow come off of his head and that fellow was blue. The stuff was lighter than air, and he was breathing it, and it was going down his lungs and damn near killed him. Wrestlers being as they are, I went back to the dressing room, everybody was laughing. And one guy said, ‘God, if we could get someone to throw a pillow at you every night. That was pretty neat.'”
Someone suggested that destroying a turnbuckle would result in a similar spectacle, and Myers filed it away.
“Two weeks I was having a match, and it wasn’t very good, kind of flat,” he said. “I looked at the turnbuckle, and went, ‘I wonder.’ So I went over, bit the turnbuckle. I tried to pull it apart first but I couldn’t. So took my teeth and I ripped it apart, rubbed it in my opponent’s eyes. The place went nuts, and that’s how that was born.”
Wrestling was always a part-time job for Myers, working as a teacher and a coach during the school year, and taking to the ring in the summers. A way to “put my family through college, to eat steaks rather than hamburger.”
His students used to bring in magazines and claim the photos of George ‘The Animal’ Steele were actually Jim Myers. Of course, Myers would scoff and brush off the students, joking that he wasn’t anywhere near as funny-looking as Steele. It helped that he never wrestled locally, usually only in the northeast for the WWWF.
Then came cable TV, and the WWF reached the whole nation. Myers recalled returning to the football field after the first-time he was on cable.
“We were doing calisthenics. We had a tremendous football program,” Myers said. “We had about 90 kids on the field, and we’d break down after you do your first calisthenic, and 90 green tongues came out. So, I kind of chuckled at that, but didn’t say anything, didn’t sell it. Just kept going.”
But the secret was out, and from then on, he would arrange for his football and wrestling teams to go to the WWF shows when they came to town — though he wouldn’t be on the shows because it wasn’t the summer.
Myers wasn’t a wrestling fan growing up. By 1962, he was coaching and teaching high school, a blown knee ruining any chance of a football career. A friend convinced him to give wrestling a try. So, real late one night — a little drunk — he gave Detroit promoter Vern Ruby a call. Ruby liked what he saw, and they decided to put him under a mask as The Student because he “was going to be a student of wrestling.”
After eight weeks of training, shortened because of his football conditioning and amateur wrestling experience, Myers made his debut. It was his first time ever at a wrestling show. He beat Klondike Bill with an elbow for his first win. “It was a helluva experience. I didn’t know if I ever wanted to do that again.”
Of course, he did.
He was christened George Steele in Pittsburgh. The Steele part is fairly obvious, given that Pittsburgh is The Steel City. But Jim Steele just didn’t work, so someone suggested George Steele, and it stuck.
In the WWWF, he headlined all the big arenas, often facing the World Champion of the day, like Bob Backlund or Bruno Sammartino. Later, he evolved into a good guy, a love-struck monster captivated with the lovely Elizabeth, manager of the hated Macho Man Randy Savage.
Steele never won any major titles, and is comfortable with his place in wrestling lore.
“In my era, if you named a hundred wrestlers, if you could, I’m not sure that I would be in the Top 100. But the other 85 to 90 of them, they don’t remember,” he said. “I was different. I had a green tongue. I had a wild look. … People seem to remember George ‘The Animal’ Steele more than some of the guys who might have been much better wrestlers.”
Myers retired from teaching in 1985, and has been working for the WWF on and off ever since. He was a road agent for a while, acting as a liaison between management and the wrestlers while on tour.
“I got to where I kind of liked it,” Myers said of being a road agent. “I was never crazy about it because you’re always in the middle. I was always, as a wrestler, a lot of fun in the dressing room and got along with everybody. Now you become a rule maker. I had done that as a teacher and a coach and it wasn’t the role I wanted to play in wrestling.”
Most recently, he was seen in the WWF with The Oddities, and is still under contract to them. Myers said that it was just supposed to be a short stint for him, before moving on to another program.
“They brought me in for a storyline we were going to do beyond that and The Oddities were just a thing for a short period of time,” he said. “They still probably will do it down the road, but who knows. They backed off of it for now for another reason.”
He speaks highly of The Oddities, and thinks that both Giant Silva and Kurrgan have the talent to make it big one day, but not quite yet.
Now retired in Florida, Myers wrestles maybe two or three times a month on independent shows. The name George ‘The Animal’ Steele still has some drawing power.
Next up for The Animal is an autobiography, which he is currently pedaling to different publishers.
“I’ve got a great story to tell,” Myers said of his proposed book. “It’s a lot deeper than just wrestling.”