“Bruno was the last guy to hold on to protecting the business, and I was one of the last.” Those are the words of Sal Corrente, who teamed with Bruno Sammartino for the just-released book, Bruno Sammartino: The Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend.
If you are keeping track, this is the third version of Bruno’s autobiography, but most importantly, it’s the first one to truly break kayfabe, and admit that professional wrestling is a work. The legendary WWWF World champion didn’t do that in his previous books.
Corrente, who once worked as a referee in the northeast, and has more recently promoted WrestleReunion fan fests, has been a close confidant of Sammartino’s for years, and arranged most of the champ’s signings up until his death in April 2018.
The 1990 version of Bruno Sammartino: The Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend, written with Bob Michelucci and Paul McCollough, was a thorn in the side of the champ for a few reasons, said Corrente.
“Whenever he did a signing, he would be very, very irritated because people would come to him and complain that they had to pay $80 for the book, $90 for the book, whatever it was,” said Corrente. The book was just unavailable, and the price was high as speculators posted the book for sale knowing that Sammartino had a signing approaching.
Corrente told Sammartino that “this is the most embarrassing thing about you ever put out.” He and Bruno agreed to do something about it, and reprinted the 1990 book, updating it a bit in 2004. “I added a few little bits and pieces to it, not a whole lot or anything, maybe threw in some more pictures,” Corrente recalled.
That wasn’t long after Mick Foley broke through in the fall of 1999 with Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. Soon, all the books were breaking kayfabe, and Sammartino’s sat there alone in its conviction that it was all legit.
“Finally, he just said, ‘Look, this is getting to the point where I’m starting to look like an idiot,'” recalled Corrente. “That’s really what it boiled down to, he was ready to just come out and talk about things as they really are, is the way everybody else is talking about them today.”
So they kept the initial chunk of the book, where his mother hides the family in a mountain outside a small Italian during the Second World War, before emigrating to the USA, and re-wrote the rest, dropping entire sections in some cases.
“Anybody who looked at the two books would see there were a few portions that are just pulled out,” revealed Corrente. “The rest of what it is, is it takes his life from 1990 ’til now, to basically when he died. He takes out the thing that presented wrestling as a real sport … that there basically is a predetermined winner and stuff like that. That’s the difference. Of course, it’s almost double in size.”
And there’s a ton more photos. There’s a black and white edition, and a higher-priced colour version.
The last thing Corrente expected was to finish it on his own, as they hadn’t really set a timetable at all. “We were in no rush. It never occurred to me Bruno was going to be gone,” he admitted.
Corrente traveled to the wake with fellow wrestlers JJ Dillon and Davey O’Hannon, and Corrente knew he had a job to do when he met up with Bruno’s widow.
“When I got up to the casket, one of the first things Carol said was, ‘Sal, what about the book?'” Corrente told her he’d stopped out of respect for Bruno. She replied, “Well, I think Bruno would want you to finish it.”
Along with Colin Bowman, who used to publish WCW’s magazine, Corrente got the book finished, for a third time. It’s a beast of a book, self-published for better control of content and speed of getting to market.
“Not every story that I wanted to tell is in there,” Corrente said. “The truth is this, it’s 568 pages … Colin, at one point, said, ‘Sal, look this book could be a 1,000 pages without the blink of an eye. When are we going to stop?'”
They did finish, and the end result is Bruno Sammartino: The Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend, a worthy book for a storied champion.