When Headlocks Met Hollywood: Tinseltown's Longtime Affair With Wrestling

ByABC News
March 21, 2005, 10:21 AM

March 26, 2005 — -- World Wrestling Entertainment is going Hollywood for its 21st annual "Wrestlemania" this year. But Hollywood came calling for wrestlers a long time ago.

The setting could not be more appropriate as WWE -- formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation -- will present "Wrestlemania 21" on April 3 in the shadow of Hollywood at Los Angeles' Staples Center. "Wrestlemania 21" comes as pro wrestlers are bodyslamming the Big Screen.

"The Rock" Dwayne Johnson -- who first rose to fame as a third-generation WWE wrestler -- drew some critical acclaim and laughs as a gay bodyguard/aspiring actor in "Be Cool," the sequel to "Get Shorty." Octogenarian legendary wrestlers The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young are featured in "Lipstick & Dynamite," a documentary about lady pro wrestlers that opened in limited release on Friday. And wrestlers such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bill Goldberg, and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's Kevin Nash will star opposite Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Burt Reynolds in a remake of "The Longest Yard" when it opens Memorial Day weekend.

Still, the gladiators of the squared circle are not new to Tinseltown. Hollywood has long recognized their star potential. Wrestling -- or what some have referred to as "sports entertainment" in recent years -- calls on its performers to adopt an in-ring persona when they entertain the audience.

Some say wrestlers, who blend athleticism with charisma and theatrics, are cinematic naturals.

"It is a form of theater. Most of the wrestlers' characters -- in-ring personas -- are exaggerated, blown-up version of themselves," said Gerald W. Morton, a language and literature professor at Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama and author of "Wrestling to Rasslin': Ancient Sport to American Spectacle." "This is the best stage for suspending our belief that we can experience in a drama."

The Mexican film industry recognized the star appeal of wrestlers back in the 1950s. Late legendary masked wrestler El Santo starred in 59 Mexican films during an in-ring career that lasted 48 years. Hollywood was a little slow to take wrestlers outside their traditional environment, but it has had a long-standing relationship with them.