Greg Klein, a contributing writer for The Cooperstown Crier and The Daily Star, has authored a recently published book titled “The King of New Orleans” about a black football player who became a pro wrestling star known as “The Junkyard Dog.”
In 1979, Mid South Wrestling promoter Bill Watts was looking for a black superhero and picked a North Carolina native named Sylvester Ritter who had been a football standout at Fayetteville State University, for the job. Ritter was soon to become a legend known as “The Junkyard Dog.”
Klein said he got the idea for the book while he was driving past the Superdome in New Orleans. “My wife is a NOLA native, and we lived there for a couple of years,” Klein said. “Every time we would pass by the Superdome, I would nudge her and say ‘look, honey, that’s the Superdome.’ Of course, she grew up there, she would tell me that she was well aware of the Superdome. But I would say to her, ‘No, you don’t understand. That’s where the Junkyard Dog and the Freebirds had their famous match.’”
Klein grew up in Montgomery County, Md., but he spent summers and holidays visiting his father in Houston, another Mid South Wrestling stronghold. He said he looked forward to the trips in part because he had become such a big fan of the promotion. He even spent four years as a professional wrestler on the independent circuit, largely because of the excitement he felt going to Mid South matches in Houston with his father.
“I actually met Ritter a couple of times on the indie circuit. He was a nice guy, but I didn’t really think much of it. By then he was a star from the past,” Klein said. According to Klein, Ritter and the character he portrayed have largely been forgotten.
“It’s wrestling, I get that,” he said. “It’s a form of entertainment.
A lot of people would argue that it’s a low form of entertainment, but I grew up loving it. A lot of people love it. I don’t know why other people feel like they have to belittle that.
“On top of that, Sylvester Ritter broke a huge glass ceiling in wrestling. He was the first black wrestler to be the top star of a promotion. The fact that he did it in the Deep South, at that point in time, is an amazing part of the story,” Klein said. “The fact that his story has been largely forgotten, that appealed to me.”
Klein said he likes honoring forgotten heroes. His next book, which he is researching, is about a group of New York writers known as the Knickerbockers — Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and William Bryant — who he said have been passed over in literary classes and forgotten by many American readers.
He has written and staged several plays, written 10 screenplays, and is writing a play about voting rights in America called “Jeb Crow.” He is also raising money to produce a baseball film while balancing family, auditions, and his day job in journalism.
“I love what I do,” said the 40-something Klein, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in journalism and lives in Fly Creek. “I love telling stories, being creative, and then, in the afternoon, being able to pick up my son from school. “Now I am being given the opportunity to have a larger audience. It is really an exciting experience.”
Klein’s book, “The King of New Orleans,” from Canadian publisher ECW Press, is available at the Fly Creek General Store, Barnes and Noble and from Amazon.com.
- Local Sports
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- Wainright sets the tone as Panthers capture T-V crown