This week George “The Animal” Steele passed away.
For a kid growing up in the eighties, it was just about impossible to be a fan of professional wrestling. Some kind of wresting show seemed to be on TV at all times of the day or night. Wrestlers appeared in Cyndi Lauper music videos. There was a Saturday morning cartoon. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were bona fide superstars.
But “The Animal” was my favorite. His bizarre wrestling style, bald head, hairy back, green tongue, and monosyllabic interviews, belied a simple sweetness counter to the bravado of most professional wrestlers. That sweetness permeates his only major film acting role. In 1994, George appeared as Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s biopic, Ed Wood. A role that he was born to play.
Filmed entirely in black & white, Ed Wood is the true story of one man’s dogged, determination to make it in Hollywood. A visionary of sorts, with no formal training, a fetish for wearing women’s clothing, and almost no chance of success, Wood tenaciously follows his wayward dream. By banding together a bizarre cast of characters, including down-and-out screen legend Bela Lugosi, television horror queen Vampira, hulking Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, and psychic showman Criswell, Wood creates low budget movies that somehow turn out to become b-movie classics. More importantly, he creates a family.
In memory of George, let’s watch Ed Wood.