ABOUT ROCK RIDDLE
Rock at age12
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Rock Riddle - A Brief Biography
by Lee Hexum
Rock Riddle grew up in the small North Carolina town of Burlington. With a population then of about 20,000, it was nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic seacoast. The area was most notable for Burlington Industries, a collection of textile mills that produced various fabrics and clothing since the early 1920's. The town was a close-knit enclave where people rarely moved away and spent the majority of their lives in and around the city.
His dad, Steve, worked 10 to 12 hour days at the neighborhood pharmacy from the age of 16 until his retirement. His employment was interrupted for four years while he served in the armed forces during World War II. His mother, Margie, was a homemaker and oversaw Rock and his younger brother, Eric. The Riddles owned their home and were an average, lower-middle-class family.
In many ways, however, Rock felt like an outsider in and out of society and would often stay in seclusion. Surprisingly, he had few friends during his adolescence and was a devout loner. He was small as a child and uncoordinated. During his time in elementary and junior high school he never showed an interest in athletics and was usually the last to be chosen for any physical activities. Shy and self-conscious, his biggest fear was to be called on to have to speak in front of his classmates.
"I would sit in the back of the room and just hope the teacher wouldn’t ask me to say anything."
In the seventh grade, a classroom bully’s attempt at sarcasm would unknowingly give Riddle his future name, confidence and identity.
"He’d say to me, ‘Hey, Rock . . . Rock Hudson . . . ha, ha, ha’ and laugh. I was a "junior", and I never wanted to be the small version of someone else . . . so when they started calling me "Rock", I felt as though I finally had my own identity . . . and that was pretty cool." Finally, the boy who had always felt as if he were from another planet now relished his newfound individuality.
The Seeds Are Sown
At the age of 14 and while in the classroom one day, he overheard several boys raving about the previous night’s pro wrestling venue on television. They spoke of two menacing and maniacal wrestlers named Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson. Both were big, blond, and intimidating - while methodical in their assault on their opponents. Their brash, bold style made them one of the most recognizable "Bad Guy" tag teams during the 1960's and 70's. It was a persona they used to perfection during their 16 years as partners.
George Becker and Johnny Weaver were their "Good Guy" counterparts and fans relished the chance to see them prevail over Hawk and Hanson. During one on-air performance, the Becker/Weaver Fan Club presented them with radios and a trophy. In a phony gesture of admiration, Hawk congratulated the two, asked to see the radio, raised it above his head and smashed it to pieces on the ground to the crowd’s astonishment.
"I saw that and thought it was great . . . everyone hated them . . . really hated them, so I decided to start a fan club for them!" Upon its creation, Riddle adeptly coined the club’s motto – Fair, Square, Modest and Honest!
"My sense of humor has always been a little extreme. I still think that was funny."
His later enterprises for the club would include making business cards and fanciful logos on jackets touting the two blond destroyers. During one particular event in Greensboro, North Carolina, the TV and ring announcer was so impressed with Riddle’s dedication and savvy that he brought it to the attention of Hawk.
"Rip walked over and started talking to me like a human being. He asked me if I was serious about the fan club and the wrestling business and told me that if I was, he would help me." Riddle was allowed to mingle and take several photos with Hawk and Hanson.
It was here that the seeds for his future in professional wrestling had been sown.
With newfound confidence he began to wrestle in high school at the 138-pound weight class and gradually went on to the 145-pound division.
"In high school I was a total rebel. I was pretty unique - I dressed differently, I acted differently, and I had an unorthodox wrestling style - I was totally contradictory to everyone else."
Eventually, his intentions of becoming a pro wrestler became known to his coach, who was less than receptive to the idea.
"In his and many others eyes, amateur wrestling was looked upon with admiration and respect while professional wrestling was not something you looked on with pride . . . it wasn’t taken seriously."
As his first year of college began in Florida, Riddle was eating double amounts of breakfast, consuming multiple cans of nutritional drinks in between classes, and continued a rigid weight training routine.
"Every night I would weigh myself, and if I hadn’t reached my projected goal, I would drink lots of milk - sometimes a whole gallon - to make the difference."
After less than a year of preparation and training, he reached his target – a muscular 236 pounds.
Meanwhile, he earned an income performing private detective and surveillance work – and three years later left the university with a degree in Criminology and Law Enforcement.
Realizing a Dream
Now out of college and 20 years of age, he would make his first professional wrestling venue in Tampa, Florida. It was a tag-team event and it was his first encounter in an actual wrestling ring.
"It was my first time in a professional wrestling ring. I didn’t know how to hit or bounce off the ropes. So, the first time I got thrown into them, my body went through the ropes, backwards, out of the ring and onto the concrete floor." Riddle landed on the back of his head and neck.
To the amazement of the officials and onlookers he was unharmed. He would gradually incorporate some of the abrasive styles that several top wrestling ‘heels’ had used before him.
"I would come into the ring with the blond hair, the sunglasses, the fancy velvet robes, and the ‘attitude’ . . . I would look down my nose at the fans and act like I was God’s gift to women . . . it was a wonderful character I created."
In his mind, like everything, it was simple marketing.
"I was never a great technically skilled wrestler, but I was a good wrestler and I was good on the microphone . . . and I had showmanship. I had the complete package . . . and that’s what made the difference."
One marketing ploy he devised was to have a friend pose as a fan, purchase Riddle’s picture, and have Rock autograph it at ringside. Afterwards, the "disgruntled fan" would tear the picture to pieces to Riddle’s obvious dismay. Seeing his negative reaction, other fans would rush to the back of the building to buy his picture and do the same.
"It’s all crowd psychology. If I could make them dislike me, they would continue to return and pay their money over and over hoping they would eventually see someone defeat me."
Riddle made the wrestling circuit traveling around the country, and for short periods of time was based out of Tampa, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Dallas, Nashville, Memphis, Pensacola, Charlotte, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles.
"You were based in one area for a period of time, and when you became too familiar to the crowds you went elsewhere. It always had to be exciting and fresh . . . and there was only so much you could show everyone."
It was not uncommon for Riddle to drive hundreds of miles to a venue to wrestle, only to turn around and drive back after it had ended.
"On one occasion, I drove from Minneapolis to Winnipeg, Canada, wrestled, and returned home. I was scheduled to work the next evening at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre, which was 444 miles one way, where again I wrestled and returned home as soon as the match was over."
He would often perform 7 to 10 times a week, as many as three times a day, and all at different locations. Many of the venues alternated between live television shows and house matches. A typical day may have consisted of performing a live one-hour television show in Pensacola, Florida, then on to Alabama for another and finally on to a third location that evening for a regular, non-televised show at an arena.
"Normally you would have a wrestling ring set up in a television studio for the live TV matches. You could normally seat 100 or 200 people for the televised matches. The wrestling shows always got great ratings and helped to build sold-out arena matches."
And he never missed a venue.
On one occasion, while touring the southern part of the country, the car he was riding in broke down and time was critical. He and his partner flagged down a passing police car and they were hustled to the county line on a code three emergency. Once there, another waiting police escort sped them into town for their performance.
He would eventually wrestle most of the big names of the era including Lou Thesz, Andre the Giant, Pat Patterson, Jerry Lawler, Haystacks Calhoun, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Vern Gagne, Red Bastien, Jack Brisco, Dory and Terry Funk, Ted DiBiase, John Tolos, The Iron Sheik, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, "Judo" Gene Lebell, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Gorgeous George Jr., Greg Valentine, Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Ray Stevens, Pedro Morales, Superstar Billy Graham, Mondo and Chavo Guerrero, and many more.
At the height of his career he was billed as the main event at the Mobile, Alabama Coliseum. The semi-final event was the Heavyweight Championship of the World, which pitted Jack Brisco against Ken Mantel. Brisco, an Oklahoma native, had held numerous heavyweight titles and was widely regarded as one of the most talented and respected wrestlers in the industry.
While traveling the country in 1976, Riddle unexpectedly found himself in the film capital of the world.
With no developed acting talent, however, he decided to first analyze everything from a business perspective.
He collected volumes of information on many of the major producers, directors and casting directors in town. Additionally, he made himself aware of many upcoming pictures or television shows that were casting.
Finally, after 8 ½ months of intense and exhaustive research, he set out to find employment.
His first audition was for a co-starring role in an upcoming motion picture. Riddle was asked to read several lines from a script to an audience of producers and casting directors.
"So, of course, I began to read this script to myself . . . silently!"
The executives burst into laughter, unaware that he was unfamiliar with the audition process.
Rock's first movie credit was "also starring" with Robin Williams. Click the icon above and look at the photo in the upper left corner. Rock's photo was on the box for both the VHS and DVD versions.
They were impressed by his charm and innocence, though, and he was later given a role where he worked alongside a little-known comic actor - Robin Williams.
As his confidence and knowledge of the business increased, so did his workload. Over the next 2 ½ years he would appear in eight feature films and more than 30 television shows with principal, co-starring or starring roles.
One television program that Riddle made numerous appearances on was "The Gong Show."
Created in 1976 by its host, Chuck Barris, it was a zany variety show where the most bizarre acts were critiqued by a panel of celebrity judges. Contestants were given points on a scale of one to ten. If their act was deemed horrific, any one of the judges would bang a giant gong signaling the unfortunate end of their performance.
In one of his skits, Riddle wore a Mexican sombrero and, with maracas in hand, was situated on a platform, singing and dancing around while trying to undo himself from a straight jacket and leg irons.
"My female assistant was holding a black drapery in front of me. The audience could see me struggling against the fabric before I finally fell to the floor and down a couple of stairs. Now, that’s comedy."
In yet another, he played a conceited wrestler who, while singing "Hold Me", would break boards in half with his bare hands and body-slam and elbow-drop a dummy in between pauses in the song.
He revived his "Gong Show" wrestling character for the TV series "Fernwood 2-Night", which was later renamed "America 2-Night." Produced by Alan Thicke and starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard, the program was a parody of many of the popular talk and variety shows of the 1970s. Riddle guest-starred in the recurring role of "Rock Mondo" and was asked to return for a second season, but other commitments prevented him from doing so.
His major films included the Paris Film Festival Best-Picture Winner, "Blue Collar" with comedian Richard Pryor and actor Harvey Keitel. A dark and gritty film, it centered on several Detroit, Michigan autoworkers who, along with their colleagues, were continually exploited by upper management and a corrupt union. Their existences were meager and they were all part of a larger situation that was beyond their control. Riddle played a blond, muscular thug working for the union.
In yet another, he worked with Danny De Vito in a movie entitled "The Van."
In 1976 Riddle began bodybuilding at what was then Holiday Health Spa in Hollywood. There he would often encounter Sylvester Stallone, who, at the time, was filming the movie "Rocky."
"We would do this kind of rough and tumble routine where we would pretend that we were about to come to blows over who was going to use certain weights for their next set. People would start to cautiously back away from us. It was very funny."
In "Paradise Alley", a later picture that would also star Stallone, Riddle was asked to choreograph the wrestling scenes and landed a small role in it as well.
In late 1976 he began working out at World Gym in Santa Monica, before it later moved to Venice. He worked out alongside many of the top bodybuilding stars of the time. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Tom Platz, Frank Zane, and even the first Ms. Olympia, Rachel McLish, were all regular members.
"On a typical day I would work out with at least seven or eight former or current Mr. Universes or Mr. Olympias."
The Ultimate Product
While Riddle was acting in the late 1970's, many of his actor colleagues were unable to find steady work. They came to realize, as he had years before, that promoting oneself was a vital component to being successful in any occupation.
Riddle knew that as humans, none of us necessarily bought the BEST products or services, but rather, we bought what was MARKETED the best.
"We no longer have the choice of renting VHS or Beta cassette tapes at our video stores. Clearly, the Beta machine had more lines of resolution and was an infinitely better machine. But it was never promoted well and as a result, they no longer exist."
He knew that in show business, like anything else, having the talent alone wasn’t nearly enough.
People had to know that you existed.
"And, in acting, you are selling the ultimate product. Yourself. And, once you sell that product, you still maintain ownership of it, and every time it’s sold, generally speaking, it becomes more and more valuable."
With the encouragement of several associates, in 1976 he formed APS – or Actors’ Promotional Services. Located in Hollywood, it was initially a marketing service for a limited number of actors and actresses who needed more exposure to the industry.
As Riddle’s list of clients grew, in 1979 he left acting and devoted his full attention to the business of marketing others.
In later years, as his clients increased, so did his services. Eventually, he would incorporate more aspects of APS to the industry – from marketing, public relations and promotion to networking and support for people on both sides of the entertainment business – in front of and behind the cameras.
This list would include executive producers, producers, directors, casting directors, agents, some writers and managers and others in the entertainment field.
Collectively, he found that everyone had the same underlying need. They HAD to network with others in the entertainment field to stay successful.
After 29 years in operation, Riddle’s efforts have led to producers acquiring financing for film and television projects. Also, directors and casting directors have been hired, co-productions have been started, and hundreds of actors and actresses from APS have been hired for principal, co-starring and starring roles in film and television.
As a producer, he has produced 17 half-hour cable television shows and one pilot episode. Currently, he is working on producing several major motion pictures.
As the president of APS, Riddle has spent more than 140,000 hours of his time involved in research and marketing for his company and continues to do so today.