Ballyhoo!: The Roughhousers, Con Artists, and Wildmen Who Invented Professional Wrestling (Sports and American Culture) (Hardcover)

Ballyhoo!: The Roughhousers, Con Artists, and Wildmen Who Invented Professional Wrestling (Sports and American Culture) By Jon Langmead Cover Image


Ballyhoo! The Roughhousers, Con Artists, and Wildmen Who Invented Professional Wrestling is a history of professional wrestling’s formative period in the U.S., from roughly 1874 to 1941, and the contested interplay of wrestlers and promoters who built the “sport” as we know it. During this period, the major conventions that would define wrestling to the present day were perfected and codified, as wrestling morphed from a rough sport practiced on farms and at town gatherings to melodramatic mass entertainment that reliably drew large crowds in cities across the nation.

The narrative uses the life and career of Jack Curley—a boxing promoter whose fortune took a turn for the better when he began promoting wrestling matches—as a compass as it charts the development of wrestling. By the late 1910s, Curley’s shows were selling out Madison Square Garden monthly. Ballyhoo chronicles his competition with the other promoters, as well as the lives of colorful athletes like “Strangler” Ed Lewis, Frank Gotch, the “Masked Marvel,” Jim Londos, “Gorgeous George” Wagner, “Farmer” Martin Burns, and “Dynamite” Gus Sonnenberg.

About the Author

Jon Langmead is a writer covering music and popular culture for a variety of outlets, including PopMatters, Aquarium Drunkard, SLAM! Wrestling, and North Carolina Indy Week.


Praise For…

"Jon Langmead makes a rollicking case for Jack Curley as P. T. Barnum's heir, equal parts showman and businessman and one of the first people to make a sport profitable. Ballyhoo! absolutely relishes the language, the characters, and the stories of professional wrestling and treats us to an astonishing level of detail about this untold history. A page-turning cultural history that conveys the true stakes for American credulity of a sport that has been so closely intertwined with gambling and swindling."—Amy Reading, author of The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con

“In Ballyhoo! Jon Langmead provides a meticulously detailed, gloriously colorful, continuously gripping account of a master showman and his cohorts—those who created the business we know today as pro wrestling. Jack Curley deserves to stand with P. T. Barnum, and Langmead is Curley’s worthy chronicler, and a researcher of wrestling par excellence. This is a grand American tale—shot through with the ballyhoo of the title—and one that reveals that there is nothing more American than the confidence-man streak in the national character.”—Jeff Leen, investigative editor at the Washington Post, author of The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend

“In a business filled with hyperbole, deliberate obfuscation, outright lies, and a total disregard for preservation of historical documents, the ‘truth’ is a seldom-encountered entity. . . .  What Langmead has done in Ballyhoo! is to expertly piece together a lively narrative of American wrestling’s early twentieth-century history to a degree no one else has ever even legitimately attempted.”—Scott Beekman, University of Rio Grande, author of Ringside: A History of Professional Wrestling in America

“Exhaustively researched and as impeccably paced as a championship match, Ballyhoo! will surely thrill wrestling connoisseurs and pugilism aficionados of all stripes. It’s Jon Langmead’s exploration of the impulses, desires and aspirations that drive us all, however, that make this book truly essential reading.”—Tom Beaujour, New York Times bestselling co-author of Nöthin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion

"Growing up my first heroes were professional wrestlers—Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham, Haystacks Calhoun, Gorilla Monsoon, and Andre the Giant. Some were heroes, some were heels, some were both. Now Jon Langmead has done a deep dive into the fascinating early history of wrestling when the grapplers (and most of the sports world) were ruled by gamblers, hoods, and real deal tough guys. I'm not thinking of you Vince McMahon Jr.! Those days may be long gone but thanks to Langmead’s amazing research, their stories feel fresh and alive. By mining its lurid past, Ballyhoo! illuminates today’s almost equally flamboyant pop culture.”—Larry "Ratso" Sloman, Larry "Ratso" Sloman, Co-author of The Undisputed Truth, actor, songwriter and proud wrestling fan.

“Jon Langmead's "Ballyhoo," a look at the world of pro wrestling from its inception and its ups and downs in the early parts of the 20th century, when people like Strangler Lewis, Jim Londos, Frank Gotch and Gus Sonnenberg were national celebrities, is a fascinating story about stars, fans and the history of a business that was, until now, almost completely unknown.  The book shatters a lot of myths regarding how what fans wanted to see nearly 100 years ago wasn't all that different from today, and how, long before television, long before Hulk Hogan and even long before Gorgeous George, wrestling was extraordinarily popular.  It takes you through the stars, the promoters, the business dealings and the court fights, as well as what fans really believed and didn't believe, and what few today still really comprehend.”—Dave Meltzer, sports journalist, publisher and editor of the Wrestling Observer

“Langmead has crafted a history of a sport (or is it entertainment?) that feels definitive and engrossing. The book also fulfills the promise of its subtitle, introducing a large cast of wholly unique characters that rounds out this entirely bombastic read.”—Booklist

“As a long-time wrestling writer, Langmead knows the industry well, and his enthusiasm for professional wrestling is evident in his exuberant prose.”—PopMatters

“More than just another biography . . . an engaging, enjoyable telling of not only the development of wrestling into the sports entertainment we know today but also a detailed account of one of the business’s greatest minds. . . . If you are passionate about history or vintage wrestling or want to know just how long wrestling has been off the level, this book is a must. The story is entertaining, the characters interesting, and the author’s writing style a joy.”—Slam Wrestling
Product Details
ISBN: 9780826222992
ISBN-10: 0826222994
Publisher: University of Missouri
Publication Date: January 19th, 2024
Pages: 316
Language: English
Series: Sports and American Culture