Over the Top Rope

Rock Riddle's
Wrestling Revue

by Rock Riddle, the Original "Mr. Wonderful" of Professional Wrestling

Original Date of Publication:   April 12, 2007

Click on any of the smaller photos to enlarge

Professor Toru Tanaka was a major internationally-known wrestling star, a former World Champion.  Standing slightly over six feet in height, the good professor weighed a remarkably muscular 325 pounds.  He was a tenth degree martial arts grand master and one of the toughest people on the planet – very possibly THE toughest!  Tanaka and I had been friends for quite a long while.  Over the years, we had spent hundreds of hours together  in dressing rooms, on the road, in various and assorted restaurants, and, of course, in the wrestling ring.  At times, especially when we were wrestling in the same areas of the country (we called them “territories”), we would run into each other up to five or six times a week.  And, because of the nature of the wrestling business, sometimes a year or more would go by until our individual paths would once again cross.

In the early 1980s, I decided to accept fewer wrestling bookings and concentrate on APS Entertainment, the Hollywood, California based organization I had founded two years earlier.  Although I had stayed in touch with Tanaka, I had not actually seen him for a couple of years.  I was at my desk at our Sunset Boulevard offices when the receptionist walked in.  “There’s a Toru Tanaka for you,” she said.  I was surprised.  “Tanaka’s here?” I asked.  “No, he’s on the phone.”  The last I had heard, he was out of the country, so that did made more sense.  I picked up the phone.  “How are you, my friend?” I asked.  Tanaka told me that he was good, but something in his voice caused me to question his answer.  “Are you tired?” I asked.  “Oh, yes, very tired,” he replied.  “I’ve been wrestling every night and traveling every day.  You know what I mean.  Sometimes you just need a couple of days off to sleep and recover.”  “And, to allow your body to heal,” I added.  “That’s very true.  My knees are pretty good, but my ankle is giving me problems.  I’m afraid that if I don’t slow down this pace, I’ll end up on crutches,” Tanaka admitted.  “Then take a week off,” I suggested.  “I’m in Puerto Rico now,” Tanaka explained.  “I’ve got three more weeks here.  After that I’ll take some time off.”  “Excellent,” I said.  “Where are you heading after Puerto Rico?”  “I’ve been thinking of coming to Los Angeles,” Tanaka said.  “I’d like to work in the movie business.  Would you be willing to help get me in?”

I didn’t respond for several seconds.  I was pondering Tanaka’s question.  Yes, I had contacts in the film and television industry.  And, yes, I was responsible for more than a few actors getting their “breaks,” but Tanaka was certainly not a trained actor.  If it were anyone else, I would not have hesitated to turn them down.  But, this was Tanaka, my friend, and a member of my close wrestling family.  “Have you ever done any acting?” I asked.  “No,” Tanaka admitted.  “Nothing other than what you’ve seen.”  I could feel his smile over the phone.  “Well, Tanaka-san, you have a great unique look, you’re an amazing martial artist and wrestler, and your attitude and personality is very good.  I won’t make you any promises – except one.  I will do everything I can to help you, market you, and introduce you to the people who can hire you.”  “That’s all I could ask,” Tanaka said.  “Thank you.”  We continued our discussion and talked about particulars.  I told him that I had two apartments and that he could stay at one of them for a few months until he got situated.  “I won’t let you down,” he said several times.  I knew he wouldn’t.

Several weeks later, Tanaka knocked at my door.  He was not alone.  “This is my wife Cheri,” he said.  I was a little surprised.  I had heard that he was married, but I expected his wife to be older; I thought that he had some nearly-grown children.  When I mentioned this to him in private a few days later, he smiled and said, “Oh that was my other wife.”  Later on, I heard that he had overlooked the customary divorcing of the first wife when he married this one.  “Interesting,” I thought, “but, then, a lot of the wrestlers don’t quite follow all of the ‘regular people’ rules.”  I showed Tanaka and Cheri to their “new” apartment.  “Here are the controls for the air conditioning,” I explained, “and here’s the remote for the cable TV.”  I showed them how everything worked.  With pride, I handed Tanaka the remote control for the TV.  “Press star-one,” I said.  “I programmed a special station for you.”  He pressed it and the all-Japanese station came to life on the large-screen television.  Tanaka thanked me, and in almost a whisper said, “Rock, I’ll let you in on a secret.  I don’t speak Japanese.”  “You’re kidding!” I said.  “You’re the best-known Japanese wrestler on the planet, and you don’t speak Japanese?”  He smiled and said in that same hushed tone, “Hawaiian.”  I didn’t say anything.  I cocked my head to the side, and with a half smile on my face simply stared at him in disbelief.  “My real name is Charlie Kalani,” he said with a big smile on his face.  He extended his hand and with an even bigger grin said, “Nice to meet you.”

A few days later, Tanaka met me in my office.  It was time to begin promoting him as an actor in the film and television business.  As impressed as I had been with my friend of over a dozen years, I was even more impressed as I continued to pull information from him for his acting resume.  I’ll share some of that information with you in a future column – even highlighting his resume would take a full one-page story!  The man had mastered so many martial arts that I began to become concerned.  “I hope this resume doesn’t intimidate people who read it,” I said to my amazing friend.  “From this resume, it looks like you’re a one-man unstoppable army, a killing machine.”  I hesitated for a moment and then asked, “Is there anything you do that does not involve hurting people or destroying things?”  Tanaka thought for a few seconds, shrugged his shoulders, grinned, and said, “I sing dirty Hawaiian songs.”  “Great!” I said.  “That’s perfect,”  “Oh, no,” Tanaka said, “You’re not going to put that on the resume!”  “Yes!” I responded.  “It’s perfect.  Producers will see that you have a sense of humor and they won’t automatically be afraid to work with you.”  Tanaka wasn’t totally comfortable with it, but he trusted my judgment.  “You’re my manager, Rock.  You’re the boss.  Whatever you say we should do, we do.” 

We made hundreds of 8x10s for Tanaka.  We used one of his famous wrestling photos, and we printed his resume directly on the back.  In many cases, when I submitted his photo and resume to my producer friends, I would get a phone call which would go something like this:  “Gee, Rock, this guy is certainly unique.  But, I don’t know.  The guy looks scary.  I don’t know if we can work with him.  If he doesn’t like something the director says, he could destroy the entire set along with the cast and crew.”  At that point, I would usually respond with, “Take a look at his resume.  Read the ‘Special Skills’ section.”  When they got to the “sings dirty Hawaiian songs” line, they knew everything would be okay.  That one seemingly inappropriate line was responsible for getting Tanaka more film and television work than everything else on the resume combined.  To be continued next week.  Until then, keep those e-mails coming.

This column welcomes your wrestling-related questions.  You may contact the author via email: RockRiddle@hotmail.com or Rock@HollywoodSuccess.com.  Be sure to put "Wrestling Question" in the subject line.

About the author:  Rock Riddle wrestled professionally for over 8½ years and helped sell out major arenas all over the country.  He held numerous titles including the Americas Tag Team Championship (with John Tolos) and the East Coast Tag Team Championship (with Rocky Montana.)  At the height of his career, he was given top billing over the heavyweight championship of the world.  He is extremely well-connected in the world of professional wrestling and knows the business exceptionally well.  His fascinating biography, complete with over 100 photos and lots of additional information, is available at www.HollywoodSuccess.com – just click on "Rock Riddle Bio."    If you have missed any of Rock’s columns, they are all available on the website by clicking "Wrestling Revue."

© 2007 Rock Riddle & Hollywood Success.

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