BELIEVING IN MAGIC:
2010 REEL AWARD WINNER SCHWARZ CONTINUES TO INSPIRE
By Jeff Sharkey
(Photos Courtesy of Magic Schwarz)
As the opening credits to the Darren Aronofsky-directed 2008 motion picture THE WRESTLER begin, a seemingly endless stream of professional wrestling magazines roll off the presses.Â Each publication is focused on the film’s star character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, portrayed by Mickey Rourke.Â Winning awards and emerging triumphant from bitter feuds, The Ram typified the rush of mass media that began to give wrestling more notoriety in the 1980s.Â Â And while it was Lex Luger, having had the benefit of this type of promotional push during this time period, who had served as the Rourke body double for this opening sequence, Rourke was drawing inspiration from another source for his characterization.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips during THE WRESTLER’s initial appearance at film festivals, Rourke was quoted as saying, “My younger brother, Joe, back in the day in Venice Beach, we used to go lift weights at Gold’s Gym, which was the Mecca of bodybuilding back then. And there was a guy named Magic. He had long blonde hair. He had two hearing aids and couldn’t hear a (expletive deleted) thing. He was a character, a biker dude who lived in a bus behind the gym. He wrestled on the side, and I based my character on this guy Magic more than on anybody else.”
That “biker dude” happens to be the 2010 Cauliflower Alley Club Reel Award recipient, Greg “Magic” Schwarz.
The hearing aids element is one which made the final cut, as was a variation on the Magic Bus, by having Randy The Ram struggling to make rent payments on his mobile home.Â Â For someone who had reached the zenith of his profession, it was intended to highlight unheroic qualities of the hero; the fall from grace shown as a hard tumble, by necessity, for these indignities have pinned many a grappler in the shadows of obscurity.Â It is a situation Magic Schwarz would find himself at times.Â “Mickey saw me when I was down and out, when I put the enjoyment of life ahead of the things I should have.Â I spent too much time doing that.Â It’s the Gemini in me; always trying to keep myself happy.”
Schwarz was more than a character study to Rourke; he served on numerous film projects Rourke was involved with.Â Bodyguard.Â Stuntman.Â Actor.Â These are titles not easily earned in Hollywood.Â Â The final scene in THE WRESTLER leaves Randy The Ram’s future up for speculation, just prior to his giant leap from the turnbuckles.Â This is one area where the character deviates from its inspiration.Â Magic Schwarz made his own leap — into retirement, residing now in Austin, Texas with his wife.
So by giving away a happy ending to the tale of Magic Schwarz , it seems a prequel is needed to give you the back story.Â Â Â It’s a relatively short trip from Austin over to the San Antonio, Texas area.Â It was there Magic first became interested in the wrestling scene.Â “I was training at the same gym that Bruiser Brody did,” Schwarz recalls.Â “He was already a superstar.Â I always followed what was going on with him, and wondered what I could do to become part of that world.Â But the wrestling business was so tight knit at that time; you really needed a sponsor, or someone who would speak on your behalf.”
Toward the latter half of the 1970s, Schwarz ventured to Southern California.Â Â It was there he began work as a trainer for the world-famous Gold’s Gym in Venice.Â At Gold’s, a bevy of the top names in bodybuilding, professional wrestling and entertainment passed through the doors.Â Two names in particular would later become intertwined with Magic’s wrestling career.Â At the time, though, the passion they shared was training and bodybuilding.Â There was “Wildman” Jack Armstrong, who by the end of the 70s had opened his own gym business and would be staying out of the ring for a few years before returning around 1983.Â Another wrestler, Ric Drasin, a.k.a. The Equalizer, was a Gold’s mainstay at this time as well.Â Â While Drasin had wrestled professionally since the mid 60s and displayed great vascularity, it was his artistic vein which was most prominent.Â Drasin had designed and created the famous Gold’s Gym logo which is emblazoned across the chest of T-shirts and other merchandising today.Â Â Their memories of Magic Schwarz detail his ever-growing interest in the TV and motion picture world.
Armstrong, in listing the many film roles Magic would become known for, mentions a few projects with Schwarz behind-the-lens.Â “Magic had one of the first Beta video cameras.Â At that time, not many people were into photography and videotaping.Â But Magic went around and got all this footage of the old time bodybuilding legends working out at Gold’s.Â Back then we thought he was crazy to film all that stuff,” Armstrong said.Â “But today, you can ask people who they know from bodybuilding…and the two names that come up — the ONLY two– are Arnold and Lou Ferrigno.Â Â You could give Magic the Reel Award for capturing those days on tape, making people aware of the bodybuilding pioneers.”
Drasin and Schwarz both accepted auditions and subsequent casting in a variety of jobs, their unique physiques ideal for the producers who needed a physical presence in their projects.Â Drasin explains, “Gold’s Gym had a casting department right on the premises.Â You could get many roles because at the time, there was not a lot of competition; only a few of us had the look.”Â In addition, there was enough disparity with their individual looks that they were not often up for the same parts.Â “Magic had all the tattoos, so he would get the biker roles, the hard-core guy like in STONE COLD,”Â Drasin said.Â “I was more often the guy they called for the cigarette and beer ads.”
In the mid 1980s, Schwarz auditioned for a film role that jump-started his career in the wrestling ring.Â New World Films was casting for the lead character in a “mockumentary” style picture that seemed to showcase wrestlers at their most extemporaneous; GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE was its title.Â “The character was a wrestler named Mad Dog Joe DeCurso, and out of the people who auditioned, I was chosen by the wrestling coordinator for the film, Mando Guerrero,” Schwarz recalls.Â “It was before I actually started in wrestling.Â I literally had only one week of training in the ring before I started work on the film.”
GRUNT! had a familiar wrestling plot line as the backdrop: a masked man (dubbed as The Mask, portrayed by Steve Strong) had begun wrestling who looked remarkably similar to DeCurso, a wrestler who had disappeared from sight a few years earlier.Â The mystery of The Mask and the other characters’ search to discover his identity cover the majority of the story arc.Â Along the way, flashback scenes of earlier DeCurso matches are shown along with modern bouts of The Mask.Â Familiar faces can be seen in the course of the action.Â CAC stalwarts like Guerrero, Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, Golden Greek John Tolos, Exotic Adrian Street and Miss Linda, and Billy Anderson are a few names to watch for in the closing credits, and while they stay true to the overall plot, it would appear that many of the promos have a decided ad-lib feel to them, a spontaneity that few films can attain in a way that brings out the best in the characters.
Schwarz opens the film engaged in a fierce battle with a masked Skullcrusher Johnson, portrayed by Victor Rivera.Â “It was a real honor to work with him in that scene,”Â Magic said.
Without revealing too much detail, a later scene shows the Mad Dog character riding his motorcycle into the arena.Â CAC Executive Vice-president Karl Lauer, who would later book Magic on his shows once he entered the wrestling business, says that this was a staple of Schwarz’s ring entrance.Â “The Olympic Audtiorium, where we ran shows, had a big garage door that we could open up, and have Magic ride right down to the ring.Â He was billed as ‘Harley Davidson’ at the time,” Lauer said.
“GRUNT! was a film ahead of its time,” Schwarz opines.Â “Back then it went straight to video, but today I think it would be a popular film, and could make money.Â I was trying to find out if I could buy the film rights to re-release it myself.Â But the director, Allan Holzman … he’s a very hard-to-find guy.”
As filming for GRUNT! progressed, Schwarz sought ways to become even more adept in the ring.Â “I started to go to the school where Billy Anderson and Red Bastien were training guys like Sting and the Ultimate Warrior.Â I was a very unofficial student,” Magic said.Â “Mando continued to coach me, and I started wrestling regularly after the film wrapped.”
As the 1980s progressed, Magic Schwarz was active in bookings up and down the west coast.Â Lauer remembers Magic on a whirlwind tour that stretched to Hawaii and back.Â “It was the Hot August Nights, and Lia Maivia was promoting it on the island.Â Magic worked with Rocky Johnson, and there were matches that came back to the mainland; we toured towns like San Luis Obispo, San Diego and L.A.,” Lauer said.
Â A quick check of YouTube leads to the discovery of ‘Harley Davidson’ in action at the Showboat Hotel in Vegas, where Magic faced current CAC President, Nick Bockwinkel.Â “I learned a lot from wrestling Nick; he talked me through most of the match.Â He taught me the benefits of listening and doing what you’re told,” Schwarz said.Â “That same night I also wrestled a good match against Curt Hennig.”Â Other memorable moments in the ring?Â “I got to wrestle all of the Guerrero brothers…even Eddie, when he was just 18 years old.Â My last singles match, I wrestled Doctor D, David Shults,” Schwarz said.Â That match also makes the YouTube viewing circuit.
From there, Magic’s longtime Gold’s Gym associates, Drasin and Armstrong, had the opportunity to share their passions of the wrestling world with him.Â “Magic teamed up with me on a number of shows Karl ran, as well as some shows I promoted myself,” Drasin said.Â “He was old school, like me … and had such a great look.Â The only problems we ever had were when he would take his hearing aids out, and he couldn’t hear anything in the ring!Â But Magic was the type of guy who made it fun.”
Armstrong fondly recalls Magic as a frequent ring foe, as well as a friend who helped him outside the ropes.Â “Magic and I wrestled all over the place in these army bases, where I was a heel named ‘Sailor Jack’.Â It was a natural way to get heat in these places. Every bout we had together got better; we progressed each time from the previous match,” Armstrong said.Â “Plus, Magic and his video camera were a big help in getting me some good footage of my feud with The Chief (Jay Strongbow, Jr.).Â Without him taping my dark match bouts at the college campuses and other house shows, I would have no footage to look back on that time.”
Schwarz’s calendar of wrestling dates were augmented by his continuing exposure to the motion picture world.Â As mentioned earlier, there was the connection to Mickey Rourke, who used Magic in various roles on the set of his pictures.Â Television roles in series such as CRAZY LIKE A FOX and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE followed. “There was a TV pilot we filmed called THE ARENA,” Armstrong remembers. “We played a tag team called the White Knights and we were facing off against H.B. Haggerty and Jay York… a young Mario Lopez was eleven years old and worked on that show.”
Perhaps Magic’s two most notable film roles came late in the 1980s.Â The was the part of Smasher in the Sylvester Stallone flick about arm-wrestling, OVER THE TOP.Â Smasher challenges Sly in a diner and becomes an early victim of the hero’s secret strategy.
Pro football linebacker Brian Bosworth was branching out into the film industry at this time, and Schwarz got a prime spot opposite Boz in STONE COLD, again getting the chance to appear on a motorcycle, one of his true passions in life.Â “I was involved with the most expensive motorcycle stunt ever in Hollywood,” Magic laughs. “It took a million and a half dollars to kill me!”Â Schwarz also wore several other hats here, including bodyguard and a consultant to the director.
For the remainder of the time, Magic occupied his days doing more cycle-related activities.Â “I have owned three shops of my own, including one that was called Harley-wood,” Schwarz said.Â “Celebrities who liked to ride would come in and we’d do custom cycles, built as they requested.Â It was a good way to stay connected in Hollywood.”
Later in his career, Schwarz worked a gimmick known as “The Shark” which he used on Eric Shaw’s Muscle Rock events as the 1990s dawned.Â But after a total of eleven years in the ring, Schwarz decided the time was right to explore other interests, and he decided to leave the bright lights of Hollywood behind him.Â “Magic was a guy who was really ahead of the curve,” Armstrong said.Â Karl Lauer adds, “Just a very good person; a gem of a guy.Â He’d always call me to let me know when he was available to work, and we’d get a spot for him on our shows.Â A really easy-going guy who never caused problems; was always a team player.”Â Schwarz’s travels took him from California to Montana, and back home to Texas, which brings us back to that happy ending mentioned near the start.Â “I have to say, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wonderful wife behind me,” Magic said.
The litany of names mentioned throughout Magic’s tale have a common thread, woven by The Cauliflower Alley Club.Â “Jack Armstrong took me to my first CAC luncheon in L.A. back when it was at the Spaghetti Factory, and Iron Mike Mazurki was still around,” Schwarz said.Â “I found myself sitting at the table next to legends like Count Billy Varga… I considered it a super honor just to be able to be in the same room with them.”Â Â Magic’s affiliation with CAC has grown over the years. “He’s become very involved with our Benevolent Fund,” Lauer said.Â Indeed, a recent posting in THE EAR, CAC’s quarterly newsletter, alerts the readership that for the second straight year, the Texas-based Melcher Charitable Fund, which is run by Trey Melcher, Magic’s stepson and also Schwarz’s wife Yvonne, has made a ten thousand dollar donation to the CAC Benevolent Fund, which benefits former pro wrestlers in their time of need.Â Â Â
As reunion time draws closer, the well-wishers continue to emerge, almost a THIS IS YOUR LIFE appearance for Magic Schwarz, who need not audition for this part.Â As the CAC Reel Award recipient for 2010, Magic’s best qualities are being touted, and it becomes clear they were not put forth merely for appearances.Â “I’m very happy for him; he deserves it,” Drasin said.Â “Magic is a very creative person.”
Mickey Rourke may have channeled much of his interpretation of Magic Schwarz directly into his role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson for THE WRESTLER.Â But if it were a true-to-life, all-encompassing look at Magic’s life, a two-word film title would not suffice.Â The term ‘wrestler’ would only scratch the surface, only be just one facet of a life truly lived with enjoyment in mind.Â Soon it will be time for that garage door to roll back open, and Magic will take one more ride into the spotlight as our 2010 Reel Award honoree.