The Self-Made Man: Jerry Jarrett
The last time a pro wrestling promoter appeared in TSB’s Self Made Man column, he was a household name who revolutionized pro wrestling in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s, and became a billionaire in the process.
However, Vince McMahon isn’t the only self-starter in wrestling. Back when the pro wrestling business was largely a regional one, there were quite a few entrepreneurs who were charged with keeping attendance steady on a weekly basis, and without the large population clusters of the Northeast, which was Vince’s stomping ground.
This week’s subject—Jerry Jarrett—turned Memphis, TN into a wrestling hotbed and kept it that way for decades, and did it the same way any successful businessman makes his mark: hard work and ingenuity.
Jarrett was born in Nashville, TN, and raised by his grandparents and his mother, Christine. Christine worked for the local wrestling promotion as a secretary and book-keeper, and Jerry worked alongside her as a teenager. Once he got his driver’s license, his responsibilities increased, and he was put in charge of renting buildings and advertising shows in smaller towns on the promotion’s weekly tour loop (which covered parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Alabama, and Arkansas, as well as Tennessee). He also helped build wrestling rings, sell tickets, and stock refreshments.
Eventually, Jerry started promoting the shows in these small towns, and because he was successful, he was given more of a say in the bigger towns, including Memphis, which had a huge wrestling fanbase because the city didn’t have any other sports teams to follow. Jarrett became the main promoter and talent booker for the Memphis territory in 1969, and revitalized the wrestling scene there.
Jarrett was a typical wrestling promoter in many respects, albeit one with a good eye for a talent and a focus on balancing out established stars (including his mainstay, Jerry “the King” Lawler) with promising young rookies, but one innovation he brought to wrestling was music videos; he would put together a highlight reel of a wrestler or tag team and set it to rock ‘n roll music. This is back in the 1970s, keep in mind, before MTV was a thing, and it worked wonders for him.
The music videos also served a dual purpose that most people don’t recognize today. Take this video of the Fabulous Ones, for instance.
By modern standards, it looks—and I swear I don’t mean this pejoratively—incredibly gay. But one of Jarrett’s overlooked-but-successful promotional ideas was to have some young, good-looking dudes on his roster to draw women out to live events, because where they went, guys would follow. Rings true, doesn’t it? That was the real purpose of all the shirtlessness and bedroom eyes, and it’s an oddly progressive attitude, all things considered.
Jerry Jarrett has been a fixture in professional wrestling for over forty years, and has owned multiple promotions over his long career. Through it all, he managed to tailor his company’s product to a very specific, loyal fanbase and still innovate within those parameters, which is a rare kind of flexibility that every budding entrepreneur could learn from.
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About Rick Mosely Rick is the editor for TSB magazine.