INTERVIEW: Brian Harrison

The director and co-producer of Heroes of World Class -- an avid fan of the promotion during his childhood years in Chicago -- discusses the production of the documentary, and what compelled him to make it.  (NOTE: This interview was conducted in 2006, prior to the original mail order-only release of the film.  It has since been reissued twice by Big Vision Entertainment.)

What was it about the Von Erichs and World Class that drove you to create a documentary that is, for a lot of people, probably one of the most anticipated professional wrestling DVD’s ever to come out?

Having the same experience as a lot of  the fans is what inspired me to make Heroes of World Class.  Watching what appeared to be a fun, entertaining show as a kid that, in the end, became sad and not at all entertaining. I was also left with a lot of questions brought about, I'm sure, by the feeling of loss that I didn't really think anyone could relate to. As a 10-year-old you're not really smart to anything, especially life and death.

I mean, to put things in proper perspective for those who didn't see World Class in its prime, the Von Erichs could have rivaled the birth of Hulkamania in popularity.  Anyone who saw them would agree and it was all because of the syndicated World Class show.

Did you find the WCCW alumni you interviewed for the documentary more than eager to share their stories or, due to the tragedy one usually associates with World Class, a bit more apprehensive?

I couldn't have been more excited, not only that they agreed to give me their time, but in how candid they were. It was a real privilege.  There's so much I had to cut that I agonized over, because it was great stuff, but just didn't fit the story. The movie was originally about four hours long.

What aspects of the Von Erichs/World Class and its wrestlers will the movie touch upon? What can a diehard Von Erich/World Class fan look forward to when they obtain their copy of the movie?

Hopefully closure. That's what it has given me.

As far as content, people can expect to hear about how World Class came into existence. The film really gives kudos to the production side and what Mickey Grant and Bill Mercer brought to the table in a way I feel is appropriate to their contributions. I feel that way about everyone, but the element that rarely gets the credit it deserves are those envisioning and bringing to fruition the production side of the card.

Fans will really enjoy how much show footage was used to tell the story. I wanted to tell the story of WCCW in four parts: how it originated, the most famous stars and angles during its glory days, when and how it shot to stardom, and how and when it began its descent. What we’re talking about through all of this is a television show. So I wanted to show as many of its highlights as I possibly could.

There are certain things I couldn’t get my hands on like the classic Gordy-Khan match from Star Wars ’84. So I had to tell that time period without it. But some of the things I DID find were extraordinary to me, like the pilot episode and the promo they used to sell syndication to different stations around the country.

I tried to tell that part of the story as a fan -- what I would want to see.  It spends a lot of time on David’s death, which I thought was appropriate being that it was really the turning point in the promotion (and family).  We tried to stay away from the dramatics in terms of who liked working with who, etc.  We tried to refrain from judgment and just tell the facts as we know them.

There were a few things that were shocking revelations. The film actually begins with one, Kevin discussing Fritz's upbringing around the Depression. His dad, a town sheriff in Jewett [Texas], taking Fritz to the town square and having all the townspeople gather around as he proceeds to make a teenaged Fritz fight other kids for money.  Fast forward forty years to the Dallas Sportatorium.  Fritz is booking “fights” for five thousand townspeople every Friday night, and who is in the main event? His sons. I found that parallel pretty amazing.

Being a World Class fan from the Chicago-land area (as I am), what was like to visit with the former superstars of the World Class era, and to visit a place like the historic Dallas Sportatorium? What kind of emotions (if any) did they bring out in you? 

It was surreal at times. Walking into the Sportatorium with Kevin on 2/10/03 -- the day demolition began -- will always be one of those moments I’ll be most proud of.  He was the first image of the World Class show I ever had back in November of ’83.  Walking in that building for the first time with him during his last time in the building is something I’ll never forget.

The stadium interview was shot on the floor of Texas Stadium with Kevin on the twentieth anniversary of the first David Memorial Parade of Champions. That was another. One of Gary Hart’s interviews was shot at the Will Rogers Coliseum. All highlights.  Returning to Chicago from a Dallas shoot with the pilot episode and other master tapes was pretty cool too.

While you were working on this project, the possibility of the World Class footage being sold to the WWE loomed over every fan’s head, and at numerous times, nearly became a reality. Did you worry about the sale of the World Class video library to the WWE in that it might affect the release of Heroes?

I was a little nervous -- which made me finish the film without making some final changes I had hoped to make. But in the end Kevin and I have a pre-existing agreement, so one is really not affected by the other. 

Most World Class fans have had to suffer through low-quality shoot interviews done by less-than-knowledgeable interviewers (often done in a few hours), and a documentary like Heroes of World Class is, for this fan, LONG overdue. Why do you think it has taken so long for a proper documentary about World Class to occur?

I have no idea! I’ve been waiting too -- LOL. Actually I think the reason no one has made this film until now is because of the complexities. Not only did I have to track everyone down (and thankfully people like Vince Fahey at Kayfabe Memories were gracious enough to help), but I had to pitch every single person on being involved, including Kevin, AND get permission to license the library.  Beyond that, choosing the direction in which to tell the story is a process in itself. It literally took years to find the way I thought was best to tell it. There are through lines and a spine to the story that might not be seen until watched a few times. Some things might not even make sense at first in terms of why something was put where it was put, etc. But there is a chronology to the story I wanted to adhere to, both from the standpoint of the family and the promotion.  It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is why others have been hesitant to make it before now.

As for the shoot interviews, I actually used some shoot interview footage in HOWC because I thought it would help fill out certain moments of the story structurally -- which I think it did. But I really tried to balance them within the overall context of the film with archival footage and our own interviews.

How will this documentary stack up against the likes of Beyond the Mat, Forever Hardcore and the other wrestling-related documentaries that have been released in the last few years?

This is more of an “indie” project than any of those films. It’s gritty and non-polished in certain ways.  But there are so many projects out there with endless funding that have all the gloss in the world that are just crap.

It was made on a shoestring budget -- a half a shoestring actually with no shoe.  It’s bound to leave people wanting to have seen more of this pre-WCCW or more of that stuff from post-1986, '87 or, “Man, I would have loved to hear this person talk more”… about this or that.  But hopefully it will also leave fans with some answers and understanding they’ve been wanting, and for others an understanding for history's sake of what World Class was, how it came to be, who the main participants in the prime of World Class were, the impact it had and the footprint it left on the business.