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George "the Animal" Steele

Classic Superstars
by yo go re

Wrestling was a big sport in the mid-80s. Back then, you didn't have to shell out the money for the pay-per-view events in order to enjoy the spectacle - even the "big name" guys wrestled on the weekly shows. That meant that the characters' feuds and storylines had time to grow in front of an audience instead of just on the mic. One of the biggest feuds was the one between Macho Man Randy Savage and the lumbering manbeast known as George "the Animal" Steele.

George "The Animal" Steele was born in 1937 and did not begin wrestling until the 1960s. He was a teacher before he was a wrestler and ironically, he was named "The Student" when he made his debut. Originally a heel, the Animal was an uncontrollable wildman in the ring. But he's best known for being the loveable turnbuckle-chewing beast with the green tongue.

Jim Myers was a high school teacher and coach when a friend convinced him to give wrestling a try. A knee injury had sidelined any potential career in pro football, and Myers was looking for a summer job to supplement his teacher's salary. When kids would bring wrestling magazines to school and tell him he looked like this guy called George Steele, he'd just laugh it off.

But when cable TV took the fledgling WWF nationwide, the Animal went with it. Despite having one of the worst win/loss records in the sport, George won fans' hearts and was really put over the top when he fell in love with Randy Savage's lovely manager, Miss Elizabeth.

That story was originally intended to last only three months, but it proved so popular with fans that it kept going for almost two years. Unfortunately, Steele had retired from wrestling before any advancements were made in the realm of action figures, so it wasn't until Jakks began its Classic Superstars line that the Animal had a chance to return to glory.

Classic Superstars offers "high-end sculpts of Superstars of yesterday and today." In other words, the same generic bodies as all their other wrestling figures, with new heads or paint to create wrestlers (or personas) that aren't around any more.

This really looks a lot like the George "the Animal" Steele I remember from back in the day, if a bit less droopy. Yeah, it's easy to get the bald head right, but the expression on his face and that green tongue - actually a result of chowing down on green Clorettes candy before his matches - are unmistakeable. This is the Animal in his classic costume: a bare chest, black trunks with red stripes down the legs and red boots.

Jakks has chosen a perfect body here: kinda pudgy, but still with some decent muscles. George was named "the Animal" partly for his savagery, but also because he was so hirsute. There are two versions of the figure, each with a different way of capturing the copious body hair: the early shipments of the figures had George with painted-on hair, much like most of ToyBiz's Wolverine figures. The second version, the result of a running production change, was flocked.

Flocking is a process that covers a figure (or any object) in a fine coat of hair, fur or other similar materials. Think of the old Moss Man figure from the He-Man line, and you'll know what we mean.

Flock can be made from natural or synthetic materials - cotton, rayon, nylon, polyester, whatever - and comes in two types: milled or cut. Milled flock offers varied lengths, while cut flock is uniform. The flock is cleaned of any oils it may have picked up in the manufacturing process, then dyed to the desired color and chemically treated to allow the fibers to accept an electrical charge. They're then dried and stored in special moisture-proof bags to maintain their delicate moisture content.

The flock is then applied either through an electrostatic process or by simple gravity.

A coat of special adhesive is applied to the surface of the object to be flocked. An electrostatic charge is generated that propels the loose fibers at the object, embedding them in the adhesive at right angles to the surface. By adjusting the distance between the electrodes and the object or simply the applied voltage, the manufacturer can control how thick a coat of flock the object receives.

The gravity method passes the object beneath a hopper filled with fibers, which are shaken onto the adhesive. This produces a dense coat of randomly placed flock, but since the fibers are only attached to the surface instead of embedded in it, more shedding is likely to occur.

So after all that, I prefer the painted version. Yeah, the flocking looks cool (and more realistic), but I wouldn't want it wearing off over time - if this was an immobile statue, it might work, but George is as articulated as any other Jakks figure: balljointed head and shoulders, points at the biceps, elbows, wrists, hands, waist, hips, knees and ankles. That's plenty to have him grapple with the rest of your collection, and I'd be afraid that every movement meant premature hair loss.

The figure comes with two accessories: a wooden club and a turnbuckle. Though promotional images showed George with "Mine," the weird little gray monkey doll that he carried with him for several years, that sadly did not make it into the final production run. The log thing is pretty ridiculous, but I guess they figured that George was some kind of caveman or something. Or maybe the flocking cost too much.

The turnbuckle's a nice choice, since he was so known for chewing them apart in the ring. That actually started early in his career, when he was still a villain: one night the arena gave out free commemorative pillows, and someone in the audience threw their pillow at him. With nothing else to do, he bit into it, threw the stuffing around the ring and pulled the case over his opponent's head. The crowd went wild, and a few of the other wrestlers suggested he could do it with a turnbuckle. Two weeks later during a particularly boring match, he did just that, and it was his trademark ever since.

In 1989, George retired after suffering from Crohn's disease. He maintained a behind-the-scenes role for a time, and has made few in-ring appearances since then. Though George "the Animal" Steele may have never won a title belt, he's still one of the most popular guys ever to step into the ring.

-- 07/24/04

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