Class of 2023
Inducted by LWO4Life
It’s an overdone template for a heel manager. Have a hated manager with a big mouth create a stable of wrestlers who would be fed to the ever-popular face world champion. Bobby Heenan had already done this by creating the Heenan Family to challenge Dick the Bruiser in Indiana. But Jimmy Hart brought a special quality, one which no other could replicate. I’ll explain.
It is fitting that in a year Andy Kaufman joins the WWE Hall of Fame; Jimmy Hart joins our Wrestling Headlines Hall of Fame. Though more commonly known to fans as a manager in WWF and WCW, Hart’s journey as a top manager started before that in the territories. Hart’s story starts in the Memphis territory, where before getting into the business, Hart was a recording artist with his band, the Gentreys. Though mainly a cover band, the Gentreys have a top 100 hit, “Why Should I Cry,” which peaks at #4 on the Hot 100 in 1970. From there the Gentrey’s hits consisted of covers, which limited how successful the band could be.
The Gentreys’ “Why Should I Cry”
By 1978, Hart had a working relationship with Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) in Memphis. First Hart connected with Jerry Lawler to help him record a song. The two hit it off almost immediately. Hart would start to help hang posters and do what he can to help CWA. Eventually, Lawler would write Hart onto his show with a big angle. Hart and the Gentreys would perform a song with Lawler there. In mid-song, Jimmy Valiant would attack Lawler, which started a string of events that eventually led to Lawler turning heel. Once he solidified his heel turn, Lawler would hire Jimmy Hart as his manager. And man, if you want this pairing early on, it was strange. Hart would stand there and Lawler would talk for both of them. Hart was mainly there to give Lawler illegal objects during a match.
Hart would fully evolve into his full manager self in 1980. It was there that Lawler broke his leg playing football. Hart would be given a chance to move out of the King’s shadow, and he did. Once Hart disrespected the King, the audience turned Lawler’s face against him, and now started a five-year feud that would define Memphis television. It was here that he started the First Family of Wrestling, which included dozens of wrestling, including Jim Neinhart, Lanny Poffo, Kevin Sullivan, Koko B Ware, Randy Savage, Kamala, and Andy Kaufman to name a few. Hart had the task of now managing heels who were going to be fed to Jerry Lawler. The feud between the two would last five years and produce memorable TV for the people of Memphis.
As I mentioned, the role of heel manager of a stable was not new. WWWF, AWA, NWA Hollywood, and WWA in Indiana, all had done this for years and years. What made Hart different was his willingness to do anything, almost go as far as greats like Bobby Heenan would go. Hart was very skinny, so he didn’t look physically threatening at all. This made the fans believe they could beat him up. They didn’t just want Lawler to win, they wanted to see Hart get his comeuppance. They usually didn’t have to wait long, as many angles were set up to have a face get their hands on Hart. Even Andy Kaufman would wrestle Hart in a match, which Kaufman threatened to sue Hart. Being involved in such a high-profile feud would grab the attention of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon. In 1985, Jimmy Hart’s life would change forever.
New York Territory
The marriage was perfect. In the middle of WWF’s Rock and Wrestling Connection, Vince McMahon would bring in Jimmy Hart to be the Mouth of the South. Historically, WWWF had heel managers to feed Bruno Sammartino, then later Bob Backlund. By 1985, a new champion had emerged, Hulk Hogan, and he would need many heels to fest on. Hogan was in the middle of a feud with Roddy Piper when Hart came in, so Hart would need to build his stable first before leading anyone to Hogan. This would lead to one of the best pairings of manager and tag teams, the Hart Foundation.
Hart already had managed Neinhart in Memphis, and now he was able to manage Neinhart’s brother-in-law as well, Bret Hart. Bret at the time was very awkward on the mic, so having a manager like Hart allowed Bret to grow, and show off his in-ring work. Also joining Hart’s stable, the Honky Tonk Man. Hart’s music background fit like a glove with the Honky Tonk Man, as the Elvis impersonator pretended to be the greatest entertainer of all time. With Hart next to him, Honky Tonk Man felt more authentic to the gimmick. They drew a lot of heat together, and it was this heat that allowed Honky to set the record for longest reigning Intercontinental Champion in WWE history.
In WWF, Hart might have been usually his full self. On top of managing, Hart also wrote and recorded songs for WWF. With Rock and Wrestling, Vince saw the vision of recording unique wrestler entrance music and selling the albums. David Wolff, Cyndi Lauper’s boyfriend, and manager, help put together The Wrestling Album which Hart had a song.
In the next album, Piledriver, Hart is listed as one of the writers in Demolition’s song, along with Crank It Up, which sparked a storyline where the Young Stallions “took” the song from the Hart Foundation. Hart would write all of Honky Tonk Man’s music and eventually write Shawn Michael’s theme. Honestly, the list of music Hart wrote in the wrestling world is pretty long (Hart says over 100), so I’ll just leave it to those notable songs. Hart would turn face in 1993 which, according to Dave Meltzer, was done to have him help with PR outside the ring. It is easier for a person to be a babyface and work PR since there were still unwritten rules of heels needing to stay in character during public events.
At the end of his WWF run, Hart began to manage Hulk Hogan. In 1994, Hart would be part of a group that jumped to WCW with Hulk Hogan. Immediately Jimmy Hart recorded a new song for Hulk Hogan called American Made and went to work on many songs in WCW, like American Males and Dungeon of Doom. (Hart claims to have written over 200 songs in WCW.) Hart would manage Hogan, but this pairing always felt off. In real life, they are friends and hang out all the time. It seems natural that a wrestler who was a former bass player would want to hang out with a former musician who turned wrestling manager. But onscreen the pairing was off, and it didn’t take long for WCW to realize.
Hart’s time in WCW might have been his most protective, though it almost might be his least memorable. From turning on Hogan and joining the Dungeon of Doom, to then managing random people, Hart would be a huge presence backstage, but he wasn’t involved in a featured angle like in CWA or WWF. Hart would begin to book WCW Saturday Night, where he focused on developing talent and pushing younger stars. He worked in WCW until their closing.
I often point to managers who have more than one job when talking about the old days of wrestling. Jimmy Hart is one of those managers. Hart was one of the hardest-working men in wrestling. Once he joined WWF, the Rock and Wrestling Connection was perfect for him. He was able to be part of major stories, and his work with Andy Kaufman will live in wrestling history. Hart’s place is cemented in wrestling lore, which is why it is my honor to induct Jimmy “the Mouth of the South” Hart to the LOP/WH Hall of Fame class of 2023!
Lords of Pain.net/Wrestling Headlines.com welcomes Jimmy Hart
into the Hall of Fame class of 2023.
Related Links: Jimmy Hart Shares Story Of Meeting Andy Kaufman: “He Was Very Unique”