Every time I saw Jordy Martin, the wife of Howard “Pepper” Martin, she would quote a line from the first story I wrote on him, back in 2005:
Sitting down to talk with Pepper Martin is a time commitment.
With his passing on Friday, March 18, 2022, after long battle with cancer, with his wife at his side, I find myself thinking of those times together.
Yes, he was long-winded, though that is selling him short. Pepper was a storyteller of the greatest degree. Confident and determined when telling the stories, he could come across as strident. He’d been there, after all.
That was especially true with his stories about his acting days.
He rubbed shoulders with so many greats that it made me seek out some of the films of John Ford, Woody Strode, and Lee Marvin. Those are accessible, whereas his wrestling work is so much harder to track down, much of it holed up in a WWE vault, or lost to time.
And when I rubbed shoulders with him, often sitting at his table at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunions, he’d essentially be holding court, a skill he’d no doubt learned by rubbing shoulders with those Hollywood legends.
He’d been one of many to come out of The Factory, as the Hamilton, Ontario, scene was known, though he didn’t actually work in the steel factories like so many other big wrestlers from the Hammer; no, Martin worked at Westinghouse. So his upbringing was modest, while his resume eventually grew to be anything but — and much of it is detailed in his autobiography, Shrapnel of the Soul and Redemption, written with Penny Lane.
Martin inspired at least one wrestler to follow him into film.
“Later on, I’m watching TV, ‘Hey, I know that guy!’ And again, ‘Hey, I know that guy!'” recalled Terry Funk, introducing Pepper at a CAC banquet. “That guy was very, very successful in a very, very difficult profession to be successful in.”
In recent years, Pepper knew his time was coming, and at those CAC reunions, he’d lament friends and colleagues that were gone. Like many from his era, he didn’t exactly embrace the current wrestling scene either, concerned for both the safety of the competitors with all the high-flying, hard-hitting moves, and perhaps disgruntled a bit by the bigger money floating around. Yet, when the CAC presenting him with an award in 2016, Martin acknowledged the WWE boss. “I thank Vince McMahon for saying, ‘This is entertainment, guys,’ because it sure saved a lot of people from getting their arms broken in a bar someplace.”
The former Seattle Superstars of Wrestling promoter Dean Silverstone was on the CAC board, and always had a table at the events, and Pepper and Jordy loved to sit with Dean and his wife, Ruth. Now it’s just Jordy left, and I send out my condolences to her and their daughters and grandchildren.
In putting together this piece, I did find at Wrestling World article from October 1966, “A Dash of Pepper,” written by Silverstone, and it summed up Pepper’s take on things — life was a series of meetings, and he treasured those he interacted with during his days.
He’s tough to beat now, and someday, he may be unbeatable. But unlike many grapplers, Pepper doesn’t brag that he will win the world championship. Instead, he says: “Wrestling has been good to me and I’ll be satisfied with whatever it has in store for me. I’m satisfied just making friends.” He does the latter very well. a wrestler with a real future in wrestling.
A frequent phrase that Pepper used was “making a long story short,” and, with his passing, after a long, full life, those stories are done.
TOP PHOTOS: Pepper Martin in his prime. Photo courtesy Chris Swisher; Pepper Martin with his book and display at the 2016 Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas. Photo by Greg Oliver.