Gary Hart

Name: "Playboy" Gary Hart
Year Inducted: 2014

"Playboy" Gary Hart

In front of the camera, Gary Hart was one of the most reviled and hated managers of all time; behind the scenes, he had one of the greatest minds for professional wrestling.

“He was a slinky bad guy, ruthless,” said World Class Championship Wrestling announcer Bill Mercer. “I think he was the best of all the managers. With all respect to the others, God, he could slink around and look like he was always involved in doing something dirty behind the scenes—which he did.”

Born Gary Williams on January 24, 1942, Hart broke into the business in Chicago, his hometown, in 1960. Through his competitive swimming, Hart met Billy Goelz, who was the booking agent for promoter Fred Kohler in the Chicago area and a wrestler. Goelz helped Hart get a job at the Marigold Arena and he used the opportunities in the building to start early. “So I started when I was only 18 years old, but I had been trained since I was 15,” he said.

His actual start was as a manager. One night, Angelo Poffo was looking for someone to be a second to him, as Bronco Lubich had gone to the Carolinas. “I started as his second. As time went by, he liked me, I became his tag team partner, then I became his manager.”

A list of wrestlers that Hart managed reads like a who’s who of professional wrestling: George “The Animal” Steele, The Internationals (Al Costello, and Karl von Brauner), Missouri Mauler and Brute Bernard, The Spoiler (Don Jardine), Mark Lewin, Curtis Iaukea, the Great Kabuki, the Great Muta, Pak Song, Bob Orton Jr., Dicky Slater, Buzz Sawyer, Bruiser Brody, Gino Hernandez, Al Perez. In all, there were probably 25-30 wrestlers. “I usually had a crew of five guys that I kept with me, that way you could control the town. I learned from Buddy Rogers that ‘he who surrounded himself with the best talent controlled the town.’ It worked like a miracle until corporate wrestling.”

Hart had numerous stints as a booker, primarily in Texas, but also in Florida and Australia. By his own account, he was a booker for 14 years. The legendary Von Erichs versus Freebirds feud from World Class had Hart’s fingerprints all over it and “Playboy” Gary Hart was the man behind the transformation of Dusty Rhodes into “The American Dream.”

Another famed incident in Hart’s life came in 1974, when he was on the plane that Buddy Colt crashed in the Tampa Bay Gulf, killing Bobby Shane. Hart broke a leg, a wrist, his back, and lost the sight in his right eye.

But he stayed in the big leagues until age 48, when he left WCW. After leaving the spotlight, Hart retired to Texas and promoted independent wrestling shows.

Hart died of a heart attack on March 16, 2008 in Texas, just a day after a fan fest appearance in Pennsylvania.

He left behind no regrets. “I was in wrestling some 30 years. I had a great life. I have no complaints. I’m not a bitter guy. I enjoyed every moment that I was involved.”

- Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson



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