Growing up as the son of professional wrestler Baron von Raschke, Karl Raschke laughingly recalls a childhood that was wonderfully unique. “Weird things happen when Mad Dog [Vachon] is in your living room when you come home, and your parents are nowhere to be found.”
By now, every wrestling fan, particularly if they grew up watching the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association, is acquainted with the story of wrestling’s most beloved superheel, Baron Von Raschke.
As Nebraska’s native son, amateur wrestler Jim Raschke was an Olympic hopeful, winning championships and medals. He later broke into the pro ranks under Verne Gagne, and parlayed his athleticism and gentility into beginnings as a solid, if bland, wrestler. But, once corrupted by Mad Dog Vachon, young Jim disappeared and from the smoke and wreckage emerged Baron Von Raschke, a snarling German terror and master of “The Claw,” a deadly hold that even casual fans knew how to apply to their younger siblings.
For Karl, who was more into punk rock than wrestling, there was no thought of training to step through the ropes as Baron Von Raschke, Jr. “Joe Pesek told my dad, ‘My advice to you is work for a little while, make some money, and quit.’ It was a rough business. My dad never offered and I never asked.”
Instead, Karl devoted himself to photography, and after being awarded a McKnight Foundation Artist Fellowship in 2010, the seed was planted to create a film about his father’s life as a pro wrestler.
“We did the play [“The Baron,” produced in 2007 by Minnesota’s History Theater], and I started thinking that my dad’s story is interesting and would make a good movie.”
Enter Phil Harder (formerly of Harder/Fuller Films), a veteran producer of music videos and commercials.
“Phil was at a talent agency casting for a video, when he saw my dad’s headshot hanging on the wall,” recalled Karl. “He remembered the Baron from watching wrestling with his grandpa. Phil said, ‘He was the scary one! That guy was crazy!”
As Harder used the Baron in his videos, he became friends with the Raschke family, and he and Karl began to discuss collaborating on a film. With Harder’s strong visual sense and production skills, the creation of a formidable team became all but inevitable. According to Karl, “Phil has a good way of conveying the sense of chaos and intensity of this era of pro wrestling. We wanted to capture that moment, that older point of view of wrestling with the old-school roots.”
Karl expresses a sense of pride in his father’s work, saying, “When I was a kid and I went to the matches to see my dad, it was obvious from the crowd reaction that he’s good at what he does, that he’s a master storyteller. I really knew that this is a craft, and he’s very refined. His job is to tell a story in the ring, a whole story rooted in logic. It has to make sense and spring from the ‘Truth,’ with a capital T.”
“I basically do a version of what my dad does, because what he does is an art. His career is an inspiration for the root of where I’m at. ‘Do your own thing; make your own culture happen.’ [The wrestlers] are making it happen and blowing the roof off the place. I credit my dad for my own artistic and creative impulse,” Karl revealed.
And how do Mr. and Mrs. Claw feel about the film?
“My dad’s not into self-promotion, they’re just having fun. I like watching my dad be The Baron, and he likes being The Baron, so it was just an excuse,” Karl laughed.
The making of this film is also a son’s tribute to his father, both as a performer, and as a person. “My dad is remembered and beloved by even the non-hardcore wrestling crowd. I have memories of going to shows with him when I was a kid, if they weren’t too far, and it wouldn’t be too late. I would stand next to him, outside some high school arena, after the show, and my dad would sign every autograph. He didn’t leave until everyone had their moment with the Baron. A lot of people’s memories of those moments pour forth on Facebook. This film is a labor of love. I want people to know about my dad’s sensitivity and intelligence.”
The Claw: a documentary on Baron von Raschke, is projected to be completed at the end of this year. Some scenes are still slated to be shot, and the filmmakers are seeking licensing rights for historic footage to include in the film. A Kickstarter page has been created for fans to express their support and check out some supremely cool T-shirts and movie posters that have been created for the film.
As Karl Raschke explains, all of the funds raised via Kickstarter will be “going into making the best movie possible.”
And dat, as the Baron himself would say, is all you need to know.