Michael W Rickard II
Much More Than the Four Horsemen's Manager: James J. Dillon's Memoir "Wrestlers Are Lik
For more than 40 years, James J. Dillon has been involved in the world of professional wrestling. Now he speaks candidly on all aspects of both his career and his personal life. This book has something for wrestling fans of all generations and ages: -- Being a wrestling fan in the '50s -- Breaking into the wrestling business as a referee during the '60s -- Wrestling in the territorial system of the '70's -- Taking leadership of the legendary Four Horsemen during the '80s -- Working with Vince McMahon in the WWF during the '90s -- Watching the monumental collapse of WCW in the 2000s J.J. Dillon offers a first-hand account and detailed history of one of the most influential wrestling promotions in wrestling history the World Wrestling Federation. For 7-1/2 years, JJ served in the WWF as Vince McMahon's top lieutenant, right-hand man, and vice president. Never before has someone from McMahon's inner circle written a book with an insider's perspective of the company. JJ also gives an insider's perspective on the ludicrous business decisions made by executives who took World Championship Wrestling down a path that led to the company's destruction and eventual demise. From the highs of making big money, winning championship titles, rubbing elbows with top celebrities, and appearing on television every week to the lows of filing for bankruptcy, extramarital affairs, divorces, and drug use -- no stone is left unturned when J.J. Dillon tells his story. In this book, there are truly "no holds barred." -Promotional blurb
There are many wrestling books out there but if you haven’t read James J. Dillon’s Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon (the story behind the book’s title is almost reason enough to buy it), you need to get a copy right now. With so many wrestling books on the market, it’s easy for a book to get lost in the shuffle and that’s what happened to me. The book was published in 2005 yet I kept putting it off, wondering what J.J. had to say other than about his run with the Four Horsemen. As it turns out, he has a lot to say, not only about his career before the Horsemen, but his run in the WWF and WCW afterwards. James J. Dillon is best remembered by wrestling fans as the executive director (note: not a manager) of the legendary heel faction the Four Horsemen but as I learned, that’s just part of his story. When you’re done reading J.J.’s book (and I think you’ll find it hard to put down), you’ll realize he’s had one hell of a run as a wrestler, manager, booker, and behind the scenes guy.
As longtime fans (and younger fans knowledgeable about the business’ past) know, managers were used to help get wrestlers over who might not be the best talkers and/or who lacked charisma. A lot of times, managers were retired wrestlers who still wanted to be involved in the business but didn’t want to wrestle on a regular basis. Former wrestlers turned managers include legends such as “Captain” Lou Albano, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. James J. Dillon was another such wrestler turned manager.
While I knew about J.J.’s managerial work guiding the Horsemen (I’d read about his activities in Championship Wrestling from Florida thanks to the Apter mags), I didn’t realize he had a very good run as a wrestler. Back when there were dozens of territories, Dillon worked in just about every one, main eventing in more than a few. While the territories’ wrestlers sometimes were just a big fish in a small pond (as many would learn when things went national and headliners sometimes became enhancement talent), Dillon was no flash in the pan. He found work not only in North America but in Japan, Australia, and Europe. He also worked for some of the biggest promoters in the industry including Eddie Graham and Jim Crockett Senior and Junior.
After a good run as a wrestler, J.J. moved into managing and working behind the scenes. While Dillon is best known for his Horsemen run, he managed a lot of wrestlers throughout the territories. Arguably, his biggest run before working in JCP was in Championship Wrestling from Florida where his exceptional mic skills helped him get over angles and his wrestlers. He was so good on the stick that Memphis Wrestling’s co-owners Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler ran angles with Dillon sending video messages to build angles in Memphis, despite Dillon not being present in Memphis. Demand for Dillon grew so big that he eventually came to Memphis and had a short but successful run there, both as a manager and a wrestler.
Of course, many people probably want to read the book to read about Dillon’s run as the Horsemen’s executive director and it’s here he doesn’t disappoint. Dillon talks about the Horsemen’s accidental creation (giving Arn Anderson for coming up with the idea after an off-the-cuff remark about the four wrestlers gathered together, and comparing them to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) and their amazing popularity, despite their working as heels. J.J. lets you in on some of the behind the scenes shenanigans which I won’t spoil here.
Dillon doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing his personal foibles. He mentions the drug use going on at the time and is upfront about his own involvement in mind-altering substances. He also talks about his marital infidelities and the problems it caused him later in life. He doesn’t boast about these negativities; he merely presents them as part of his life along with the good things.
There are a lot of behind the scenes revelations I learned from J.J.’s book. For example, I didn’t know that he was involved behind the scenes at JCP. As a result, he often found himself caught in the middle when it came to booking and the men he was managing. With Dusty Rhodes booking the company (and himself as the promotion’s all-conquering babyface), Dillon heard his fair share of gripes from at least one of the wrestlers he was managing of how Dusty was so dominant. In a display of pollical savvy, J.J. defused many a potentially volatile situation by working behind the scenes to soothe egos and resolve problems.
As good as the Horsemen’s run was, things eventually came to an end when Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard left for the WWF. After JCP was sold to Ted Turner, Dillon realized things weren’t going to be the same so he headed north, no longer working as a talent but in the office. Dillon worked during the tumultuous years when it seemed like Vince McMahon might end up in federal prison. Dillon offers insight into what things were like during this time, an important era in wrestling history.
Like any good wrestling book, this one has a delightful assortment of road stories and behind the scenes information that makes you wonder why Hollywood hasn’t tapped into the rich mine of stories based on wrestlers’ lives outside of the ring. J.J. doesn’t disappoint as he has a good sense of humor and a natural storytelling capability (Which should be no surprise as he booked in territories and worked on WWF storylines during his time there).
Dillon’s book is upfront about the good and bad in his life but he never seems to feel sorry for himself and his story is inspirational. After getting what could only be described as a bad deal in the WWF, Dillon worked for WCW during the Monday Night War. There, WCW management (including Eric Bischoff) failed to utilize his knowledge and experience. This was another example of the mismanagement that led to the company going kaput. As jobs in the wrestling industry vanished, Dillon found himself on hard times but persevered, working as a correctional officer and later, correctional counselor. I couldn’t help but recall Bill Apter’s life and how he found a change of career later in life. Both stories are powerful (check out my review of Bill Apter’s book last week) and show the amazing paths we find ourselves on.
As often happens, things improved and J.J. found himself inducted into the 2012 WWE Hall of Fame class along with the Four Horsemen (in this case, the Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Barry Windham version). Unfortunately, there hasn’t been an updated version of the book so the reader must look elsewhere to see the details of J.J. and Vince reaching an understanding (and as we’ve seen throughout the decades, there’s no such thing as a burnt bridge in the WWE).
If you’re looking for a good memoir that encompasses the territories and the national expansion, J.J. Dillon’s Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon is a must-read. I regret not reading it earlier and if you haven’t read it, pick it up. It’s available as an e-book or paperback. The going price for the paperback on Amazon was pricey but I got my copy at J.J.’s site for the regular price. This is without a doubt, one of the best wrestling books from the last ten years and J.J.’s personal story along with his tales of his life in the wrestling business will entertain you.