As a kid, I loved WWF wrestling. My favorites were the wrestlers’ managers. Bobby “the Brain” Heenan had the best comic timing. And Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart — with his bullhorn and his mullet— was one of the world’s greatest physical comedians.
And so it made sense that Hart once managed the wrestling career of surrealist fake-out comedian, Andy Kaufman. But in 1999, when the Kaufman bio pic Man on the Moon came out, I noticed in the previews that they’d omitted Jimmy Hart from the story, even though Hart was really that story’s second most consistent character. Kaufman rarely wrestled Jerry “the King” Lawler or anyone else without Jimmy Hart cheering him on at ringside (and more importantly, helping him cheat).
I also knew that Jimmy Hart lived somewhere in Florida, as most wrestlers and AC/DC do. I tracked Hart down, and it turned out he lived near me in Tampa. The Mouth of the South readily agreed to have lunch with me to discuss his omission from the movie, and Andy Kaufman in general.
I met Hart at a downtown Tampa restaurant near the newsroom where I worked. He left the bullhorn at home, and wore a normal, non-airbrushed suit. But his signature mullet remained, and he carried a sharpie marker with him to graciously sign autographs for the constant trickle of fans who interrupted our conversation everywhere we went. Hart spoke in an only slightly less animated, deeply-Southern tone than when he’s yelling at ringside, but he was still lively, and great fun in conversation.
I loved his Kaufman stories so much, that Hart and I actually ended up having lunch together two days in a row. Hart explained to me that he and Jerry Lawler — prominently featured in Man on the Moon — were signed to rival wrestling companies, and so Hart’s bosses wouldn’t let him appear in the film with Lawler. Which is a travesty of justice! That entire Q&A can be found HERE. It’s a really great interview.
After lunch both days, we walked around downtown Tampa talking and talking (he and I both deserved the nickname Mouth of the South). Since I too was a musician, Hart told me about his time in 60s garage band The Gentrys, and their million-selling, top-five hit song, “(Gotta) Keep On Dancing.”
This reminded me that I’d recently heard Husker Du frontman Bob Mould had transitioned to a new job writing storylines for professional wrestling. I asked Hart if he knew Bob Mould. It took Hart a second to recall, but eventually he declared, “Yeah! Yeah, I know Bob! You know, everyone tells me Bob’s this big, influential musician — but then, he’s never even had a hit? How does that work? How is he famous without ever having a hit? I just don’t get that!”
Over the next few minutes, I explained the concept of punk rock to Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart: “It’s like what they say about the Velvet Underground,” I explained, “‘They old sold 300 copies of their record, but every single person who bought it then went out and started a band.’” One of the greatest/most surreal moments of my life…
When the article came out, I brought a copy to Jimmy Hart personally at Tampa’s Morrisound Recording studio, where he was busy writing and recording original instrumental music for both his wrestling organization, and a for a monster truck company. For this more casual visit, Hart had brought a fat envelops stuffed with photos and negatives of himself and Andy Kaufman. I poured over this treasure trove for an hour. And though reporters are not allowed to compromise themselves by taking gifts from their subjects, Hart gave me one of those original photos — the black-and-white pic at the top of this post.
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