Being a booker for any promotion is basically a thankless job. There’s always somebody upset with the way they are being used, their payoff or their gimmick.
So George Scott was very pleased to be thanked repeatedly at a WWF house show in Tampa recently by WWF owner Vince McMahon for all his work in helping to establish the company into the powerhouse it is today.
Though he got out of the business in 1986, Scott was the booker for the WWF during all of its initial big hits — WrestleMania I and II, the first few Saturday Night’s Main Events on NBC. His last big show with the WWF was the appropriately titled Big Event at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium.
The irony of it, though, is that while Vince McMahon Jr. was plotting to take over territories across the continent, burning bridges with people his father had worked with for years, George Scott only came to work for the WWF because of his respect and friendship with Vince McMahon Sr.
Having left the Crocketts’ Mid-Atlantic territory in 1982, Scott helped Jim Barnett a little with his promotion and considered buying the rights to the Oklahoma territory.
One day in 1983, he got a call from Vince McMahon Sr., with whom he used to trade talent with when he ran the Carolinas. McMahon Sr. was sick in Florida, and told Scott that his son Vince Jr. needed help. “I said I’d be glad to help him,” recalled Scott.
His first stop was in Atlanta, where he was to oversee the deal to replace Georgia Championship Wrestling on TBS. That deal fell apart, in part because of viewer complaints. “I don’t know what the true story was,” Scott said. “But I was sitting there doing nothing.”
One thing led to another, and Scott starting doing the booking out of Miami for a few towns, which quickly grew into booking for the whole company.
From today’s perspective of massive gates (and ticket prices), huge TV production and inflated wrestler salaries, it’s hard to understand what the WWF went through. The growth was phenomenal, as was the workload.
Besides deciding who won and who lost (with a noted exception in Hulk Hogan), Scott also had to figure out what talent to bring in, negotiate salaries and plan what went into the magazines too. Everything was booked six weeks ahead. “I was in charge of everything up there.”
In his typical, matter-of-fact style, Scott described how the WWF was suddenly grossing $3-4 million on weekends in 1984-1985. “Things just started popping.”
The money started changing the wrestlers and drugs ran rampant. “The only trouble was when I was in New York. That’s when the drugs started,” Scott explained. “I guess what happened was these drug dealers are coming and found out where they’re staying, and said, ‘Hey, try this.’ They’d give it to them, and for a couple of weeks they’d be giving it all to them, then all of a sudden these guys had $500-a-day habits.
“So finally we had to go on a drug program up there, where we started drug testing.”
The drug problems made planning programs difficult. “It was terrible. Doing the booking, and there’d be four to five guys that wouldn’t show up for matches. It was all through drugs. We finally got it under control but it was a son-of-a-gun doing it.
“It got to the point where we did the drug testing, and if they failed they got suspended for six weeks. When they came back, the deal was if they got caught again, they were finished. Most of them cleaned up, but a few of them didn’t.”
Scott’s relationship with then-WWF champ Hulk Hogan deteriorated after they had a big argument backstage in Madison Square Garden about some unsavoury characters hanging around. That led to Hogan going above Scott. “Hogan wasn’t mine … I had no control over him.”
George ‘The Animal’ Steele was around the WWF in those early days, and recalled the problems between Scott and Hogan. “George Scott was a good man for the times. We were in uncharted waters and the business was changing fast. As all bookers, George had some favourites and tried to push them a little too fast. In the WWF it takes time to become a major player. That plus The Hulk had some different people in mind. Eventually those two forces came head to head. The Hulk had the power and there was not room for both.”
Ego ran rampant at the first WrestleMania too, but not with everyone. Scott said that Cyndi Lauper was “a jewel” and remembers a drunk Billy Martin at a post-WrestleMania party claiming that he could beat up Hogan.
He did some of the initial negotiations with Mr. T, and went to Atlanta to talk to him about appearing. Things didn’t go well. “What a big shot. I told him where to get off!” Eventually, it was all smoothed over.
There are two things that stand out about Mr. T’s participation for Scott. For one, Mr. T ran up $22,000 in expenses during the WrestleMania I week. The other happened during the main event of Hogan and Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. At one point, Scott ran to ringside and pulled guest official Muhammad Ali out of the ring because Ali was to be the outside-the-ring ref, but it’s off camera.
Scott has nothing but praise for Vince McMahon Jr. “The guy’s a genius,” Scott said, adding that he’s also a workaholic.
That workload eventually got to Scott, but not before some other triumphs.
For the initial Saturday Night’s Main Event, he recalled working three days straight with Dick Ebersol from NBC. “Ebsersol wanted to do all this goofy stuff,” Scott said. “He wanted to make it like Saturday Night Live.” Coming from a more traditional wrestling background, Scott was opposed to the cartoony stuff. “They did a lot of stuff they didn’t tell me they were doing!”
Of course, the WWF had already been doing some cartoony things on the Tuesday Night Titans program.
“Early on George Scott pulled me aside and told me that Vince had a tendency to go to far on the Tuesday Night Titans show,” George Steele explained. “George Scott told me that Vince had high respect for me and that if things started to get too far out to just call Vince aside and tell him.
“Butcher Vachon’s wedding was the first total cartoon. I called Vince aside and ask him if he was going to use that tape on the USA show. I told him if he did that he might kill wrestling. Vince said that he would find out.”
The wedding was shown on TV three weeks in a row. “That is when wrestling went to the top of the charts. I knew right then that wrestling had changed so I changed,” Steele said. “Vince has always been the boss but George Scott was respected as the front man. Wrestling as it was went stage left after George Scott left.”
“George Scott was not the right personality, in my opinion, for that job because he was too nice of a guy. He found it very hard playing people against each other,” said wrestling journalist Bill Apter. “He couldn’t deal with people who said ‘No’.”
Like all bookers, Apter said there were wrestlers that hated him. “A lot of guys hate a booker when they’re not getting the push they think they should get. They consider it personal, but it’s not.”
Eventually, it wasn’t the silliness that made Scott quit the WWF, it was the workload. “If I keep this up, I’m going to die,” Scott recalled thinking.
After leaving the WWF in the summer of 1986, Scott went to World Class and Fritz von Erich but decided he couldn’t work there. A trip to North Carolina followed, but things didn’t pan out. He settled in Florida, golfs and swims quite a bit, and rents condos out.
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