I’ve been writing about wrestling for 17 years now, been to the Hart House in Calgary, talked with almost all the family members on different occasions in various locations. I thought I knew the family a little bit.
Boy was I wrong.
Diana Hart’s autobiography, Under The Mat: Inside Wrestling’s Greatest Family, is an eye-opener, to say the least. For your average fan, who maybe hasn’t heard some of the family politics and been told gossip off the record, it is going to be downright shocking.
Some examples: Davey Boy Smith raping his wife Diana after doping her drinks, a 30-year-old Bruce Hart marrying a 15-year-old student of his, Bret Hart’s paranoia and threatening his sister, Helen Hart’s battles with alcohol, Dynamite Kid and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart’s evil streaks, it just goes on and on.
You will find yourself shaking your head again and again in disbelief. It’s quite dizzying.
The only ones really spared a skewering are Owen Hart, who as the youngest Hart was closest in age to Diana, and the family patriarch Stu.
Even Owen’s widow Martha isn’t let off the hook. Diana explains her take on why Owen and Martha got married, and talks candidly about the problems Martha brought into the family and why she has no part of the Harts today.
When writing about her own life and experiences, Diana can go from loving and emotional to downright catty and bitchy. At times, her tone is almost bitter, at other times it’s resigned. The changes don’t hurt the book, however. Instead, they add a greater understanding of the ups and downs of her life.
There were obviously some tough decisions to make on what to keep in and what to keep out. Her children Harry and Georgia are not a big part of the book. She doesn’t talk at all about Harry’s wrestling career with the re-established Stampede Wrestling or the MatRats promotion.
Of course, Diana’s life with Davey Boy Smith, AKA The British Bulldog, makes up a big part of the book. We hear of the good and the bad, the romance and the pain. Reading about the money involved in Davey Boy Smith’s initial jump from Japan to the WWF was fascinating, especially the tax implications that the family hadn’t considered. Davey Boy’s descent into drugs and brushes with death are chronicled and should be a lesson for anyone considering a similar lifestyle.
There are some problems I had with the book, some of which lie with the fact checker, some with the publisher. There are some terrible spelling mistakes (ever heard of famed Canadian author “Pierre Burton?”), and sloppy punctuation.
Wrestling-wise, “Bearman” Dave McKigney did not die in 1978, “Quick Draw” Rick McGraw was never a star on par with Hulk Hogan, Jeff Jarrett was never married to Debra McMichael. But I can live with these factual errors because they are in no way the crux of the story.
I also really wanted current photos of all the people talked about — siblings, wives, children. The 16 pages of pictures offered do have some real gems, but I wanted more.
The Hart Family are by no means the only dysfunctional family involved in pro wrestling. One only has to look at Kevin, the lone surviving member of the Von Erich family, to know that wrestling can be a tortured business.
With Under The Mat: Inside Wrestling’s Greatest Family, Diana Hart gives a heart-felt description of her life in wrestling. It was all around her during her entire life.
You will never see the Hart Family the same way again, and that is by no means a bad thing. Instead of keeping them on the pedestal, the youngest daughter has made them vulnerable and altogether human.