The shadow of WWE Hall of Famer Andy Kaufman has loomed large over pro wrestling ever since his infamous Memphis feud with Jerry Lawler. It culminated with a slap heard around the world on The David Letterman Show when Lawler leveled Kaufman after the alternative comedian wouldn’t stop harassing him. The altercation captured headlines nationwide and had many speculating if the heat between the two men was legitimate. Spoiler, it wasn’t.
The road towards Hollywood and pro wrestling intersecting was arguably paved with that feud, and none of it would have happened without legendary pro wrestling journalist, Bill Apter. In his book, Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken!, Apter describes befriending Kaufman during WWWF shows at Madison Square Garden. One night, after Vince McMahon Sr. declined Kaufman’s proposal to work with him, Apter took the star to his “cockroach-infested apartment” and connected him with Lawler by phone. The rest is history.
In an exclusive Haus of Wrestling interview, available now on all podcast platforms, Apter explained why he chose to put Kaufman in touch with Lawler, rather than other promoters at the time.
“I just knew that Memphis had Frankenstein, The Mummy,” he said. “So, they did a lot of schtick way, way before WWE.”
Following the introduction, the comedian, the journalist, and the wrestler stayed in close contact as the feud began to gain national attention. Apter described what it was like trying to stay in touch with Kaufman with so much going on.
“He called me almost every day and the editors at the magazines would say, ‘Get him off the phone, we’ve got magazines to get out! You can’t spend twenty minutes with this guy!’ They didn’t care who he was because we were producing magazines,” Apter recalled. “He’d call me every few days, or Jerry Lawler would call me and let me know what they were doing. But, we talked as if it was a shoot. We didn’t do it in the vein of smart.
“He’d just say, ‘Andy and I are going to wrestle again on Friday,’ or, whatever. I never pulled out of him what they were going to do. I didn’t want to because that’s who I was in the business. If they wanted to tell me, that was great but I never really delved into that.”
Intrigued by the tease of continual talks with Kaufman at the height of his pro wrestling popularity, I asked him to elaborate on what exactly they spoke about.
“Regular guy, very polite,” he described. “He was asking about wrestling news. He was asking about what was going on in the Carolinas, what was going on in Florida. Mostly he wanted to know about people who weren’t wrestling,” Apter revealed. “Buddy Rogers and Freddie Blassie. Those were his heroes.”
“Buddy Rogers was his hero and I got him to meet Buddy, eventually at The Playboy Club in Atlantic City,” he reminisced. “I wasn’t with them but they telephoned me when they were together. He wanted to be Buddy Rogers. See, he was never a comedian, he never wanted to be called a comedian. He was a heel entertainer, that’s really what he was.”
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