Over the Top Rope

Rock Riddle's
Wrestling Revue

by Rock Riddle, the Original "Mr. Wonderful" of Professional Wrestling

Scheduled Publication Date:   April 5, 2007

Click on any of the smaller photos to enlarge

I was a keynote speaker for the highly acclaimed “Accelerated Success Seminars for Actors” in Studio City, California.  I donate my time to speak at these events, as do a few dozen additional award-winning producers, directors, and casting directors.  I utilize my 100,000+ hours of professional experience in the entertainment industry (as a former Screen Actors Guild-franchised talent agent and agency co-owner, personal manager, producer, casting director, stunt person, talk show host, film and television actor, and marketing expert) to assist serious film and television actors in their quest for success in the industry.  The final thirty minutes of these three-hour events consists of a question-and-answer session.  There are usually people in the audience who know my wrestling background; therefore I am often asked a wrestling question or two.  Such was the case at a recent seminar event.

The question concerned my old friend Professor Toru Tanaka.  “Did Tanaka ever defeat Bruno Sammartino?”  “Yes,” I answered, “and he did so on more than one occasion.”  “He worked a lot in film and television, didn’t he?” another audience member asked.  “Yes,” I responded. “He did dozens of feature films and television shows.  He made a very nice living as an actor.”  Another person, with a puzzled look on his face, asked, “Who is Toru Tanaka?”  It was obvious that about half of the audience was clueless as to the identity of the man we were discussing.  “How in the world do I describe Toru Tanaka to people who don’t know who he is?” I asked myself.  I thought for a moment before I spoke.  “Picture someone just a hair over six feet tall, weighing about 325 pounds …” I paused for dramatic effect.  “And, this man is almost pure muscle.  He has a ‘V’ shape about him, a very short crew cut and a goatee, and his face looks somewhat like a bulldog -- a tenth-degree black belt martial arts master who was one of the toughest people on the planet – possibly THE toughest when he was at his peak.”  Several of the audience members knew to whom I was referring and several were still in the dark.  “Think of Harold Sakata,” I suggested, “the actor who played ‘Odd Job’ in the old James Bond movie, ‘Goldfinger.’  Now, make him a little uglier, a little nastier and about thirty percent larger.  That’s Professor Toru Tanaka.”

“Tanaka was a great wrestler, but he was never really an actor,” an audience member offered.  “So, how is it that he was so successful in the film business?  How did he get started?”  I couldn’t help but smile.  Attendee Bill Pappas, an actor and wrestling fan, answered the question before I could respond.  “Rock got him in.”  “Is that true?” The audience member asked.  “Yes,” I responded.  “I brought Tanaka into the film and television business.”  I used the opportunity to continue teaching the "actor" audience.  “We all know that the film and television business is not based on talent.  There are dozens of actors starring on television series and doing major roles in feature films whose talent could best be described as mediocre.”  I looked at each individual member or the audience.  I was finally beginning to get through to some of the more stubborn attendees.  “And, dozens of the most brilliantly talented actors alive are giving up every single day,” I continued.  “Most of you in this room are considerably more talented than many of the actors who are doing starring roles now.  So, if this industry were based on talent, how could that be true?  Wouldn’t most of you be working if talent were the deciding factor?  So, what do those not-terribly-talented actors who are doing co-starring and starring roles have in common?”  I could see the crowd thinking.  “They all approach the business as a business?” one of the actors submitted.  “Yes!” I said.  “Very good, and what else?”  “They all network with industry professionals, and they promote and market themselves,” was the next answer from a fairly well-known co-star-status actress.  I smiled and said, “You’ve been here before … and, of course, you’re absolutely right.” 

I went on to discuss Toru Tanaka and his rise to “steadily working, financially secure actor” status.  I ended my Tanaka example with these words:  “If you want to know more about Professor Toru Tanaka, read my wrestling column.  I’ll do a couple of stories on him.  I knew the man very well.  We were in the ring together many times, we traveled together, we spent countless hours together in dressing rooms in arenas all over the country, and he was even my house guest for a couple of months.  In my column, I’ll share information about him that only a very few people know.  I’ll include inside information on Tanaka-san that has never been printed before.  It will be blatantly and even brutally honest, just like these acting seminars.  Now, who has the next question?”

Flash back to late 1980:  I received a phone call from my longtime friend, Toru Tanaka.  “I’m calling you from Puerto Rico.  I’ve been wrestling here,” Tanaka said.  We talked for a minute or two, and then Tanaka let me know the reason for his call.  “Can you get me into the movies?” he asked.  “I’m tired of wrestling and traveling all the time, and I know you have connections.  I’m thinking of coming to Los Angeles and getting into the film business.  Will you help me?”  I thought for a few moments.  I was used to getting these types of calls from actors, but this was from a member of my close-knit wrestling family.  Normally I would attempt to talk anyone out of moving to Hollywood with the hope of making a living in the entertainment industry.  With Tanaka, however, it was different.  I knew that he was not a trained actor, but I also knew he had a unique look, a great personality, and the tenacity necessary to achieve any goal.  “Tanaka-san,” I answered, “You know it could take months or years to achieve success in this business.  How are you fixed financially?”  He let me know that he was okay but would need additional income within a relatively short period of months.  We talked for quite a while.  I knew that he had received many injuries in his wrestling career.  I could tell that he was tired and hurting.  The relentless wrestling grind had obviously taken its toll over the past dozen-plus years, and I knew the good professor was serious.

“Sure, Tanaka-san.  I have two apartments in addition to my office suite.  I’m not using one of the apartments.  You can stay there for a few months to begin with.  That should save you some money.”  He was grateful.  “It will be me and my wife,” Tanaka added.  “That’s fine,” I said.  “It’s only a one-bedroom apartment, but it’s pretty big.  It has a large television and cable TV.  There’s even a 24-hour Japanese channel.”  Tanaka was very humble and respectful.  “You don’t worry, Rock,” the big man said, “I will make you proud, and I will repay you many times over for everything.”  I smiled.  I knew he would.

Next week, I’ll share with you Tanaka’s arrival with his younger-than-expected “wife” (What happened to the other one; was he actually married to two at the same time?)  I’ll take you with us into Tanaka’s first film interview; then into the conference room with Richard Roundtree, Christopher Lee, Chuck Norris, producer Frank Capra, Jr., director Steve Carver, Tanaka, and me.  We’ll go onto the set of his first feature film, “An Eye for An Eye.”  I’ll share with you the private “Accelerated Self Defense School” Tanaka and I started – a large dojo with no windows -- and introduce you to our celebrity clients/students.  And, LOTS more.  Until next week, keep those e-mails coming.

This column welcomes your wrestling-related questions.  You may contact the author via email: RockRiddle@hotmail.com or Rock@HollywoodSuccess.com.  Be sure to put "Wrestling Question" in the subject line.

About the author:  Rock Riddle wrestled professionally for over 8½ years and helped sell out major arenas all over the country.  He held numerous titles including the Americas Tag Team Championship (with John Tolos) and the East Coast Tag Team Championship (with Rocky Montana.)  At the height of his career, he was given top billing over the heavyweight championship of the world.  He is extremely well-connected in the world of professional wrestling and knows the business exceptionally well.  His fascinating biography, complete with over 100 photos and lots of additional information, is available at www.HollywoodSuccess.com – just click on "Rock Riddle Bio."    If you have missed any of Rock’s columns, they are all available on the website by clicking "Wrestling Revue."

© 2007 Rock Riddle & Hollywood Success.

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