There’s a good chance that you didn’t know that it’s WrestleMania week, but your kids and grandkids probably do.
So does Providence resident Abraham Josephine Riesman, whose new book, “Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America,” offers the most authoritative look yet at the life and times of World Wrestling Entertainment’s 77-year-old executive chairman.
The WWE tends to cooperate only with media projects the company produces (at least controls), so Riesman didn’t have access to McMahon or his family. Instead, she practiced old-fashioned shoe leather journalism, spending time in the North Carolina backwoods where McMahon grew up and talking to dozens of former stars for the company.
Riesman, who also wrote “True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee,” told me about her McMahon book over coffee at L’Artisan nearly two years ago, and I devoured an advance copy over the course of two days in February.
Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong fan of professional wrestling, and have dragged my poor partner along to two WrestleMania events (Orlando and New Orleans) as adults. I’m fascinated with the business side of the product more than the storylines, which I recognize sounds like the person who subscribes to Playboy for the articles, but it’s really true.
That’s what makes Riesman’s book fascinating.
She grew up hooked on wrestling, and it’s clear she still reveres its former superstars (Bret “The Hitman” Hart, especially). But she doesn’t hold back on McMahon’s ruthless aggression toward everyone (performers, competitors, women, media) who dared to get in his way as he built an empire.
Riesman also breaks ground on a long-buried rape allegation brought against McMahon by a former referee named Rita Chatterton. He settled a lawsuit with her earlier this year, and stepped down from the company last year after reports that he had settled lawsuits with other women who accused him of sexual misconduct. He has since returned as executive chairman of the WWE, and is believed to be exploring a sale of the billion-dollar company.
“Ringmaster” offers some of that “all the feels” nostalgia that fans will enjoy, but it will have much broader appeal to readers based on the damning portrait it paints of McMahon.
The scariest part: Riesman’s tale ends in 1999 (think Hart, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Rock,” not John Cena and Roman Reigns) and McMahon is still the most important person in the business more than 20 years later.
Just wait for the sequel.
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