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Book Review: Straight From The Hart by Bruce Hart

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Ever since the mafia like code of silence governing the secrets of professional wrestling known as “kayfabe” was broken once and for all back in the nineties, pro-wrestling insiders have been tripping all over themselves to publish their own “tell-all” books about the sports entertainment business.

Some of these books, such as Mick Foley’s Have A Nice Day have proven to be both entertaining, and quite revealing. Many others however, written by such names as Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and Ric Flair, have more often than not yielded little in the way of previously unknown details, and in a few cases have even proven to be more than a little self serving.

Bruce Hart’s Straight From The Hart falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. On the one hand, this memoir of Hart’s life as both a wrestling performer and “booker” (for his father Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion) offers a fascinating inside look at the pro-wrestling business, with all of its colorful cast of characters and equally cutthroat behind the scenes politics.

At the same time, Hart’s book also serves as a forum for the author to air some of his own dirty laundry in public. Reading between the lines, it’s hard not to see through Hart’s often harsh criticisms of his more famous siblings (this is especially true in the case of his brother Bret “Hitman” Hart), as not being at least a little colored by his own professional jealousy. There also seems to be some genuine hurt there over the way that Bret Hart handled the matter of Bruce’s ghost writing Bret’s syndicated wrestling column for the Calgary Sun.

Mostly though, this book is a real eye-opener that makes for some very fascinating reading, even if you don’t necessarily call yourself a wrestling fan. As the lesser known son of the Hart family — a professional wrestling dynasty that includes such famous names as Bret and Owen Hart, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart — Hart’s qualifications as an insider with unique insight into the inner workings of the squared circle are virtually without rival.

Some of his stories will of course be familiar to wrestling fans. The story of the infamous “Montreal screwjob” at 1997’s WWE Survivor Series pay-per-view for example certainly represents familiar territory. As such, Hart’s own retelling of what went down on the night that Bret Hart was “screwed” out of the WWE title in a real life conspiracy involving Vince McMahon, arch-rival Shawn Michaels and referee (and close friend) Earl Hebner offers few new details.

The death of his brother Owen Hart however, is a revealing look into how this tragedy (Owen Hart fell to his death while attempting to perform a stunt from the ceiling of an arena at a WWE pay per view show) shook his family and friends to their emotional core.

In Bruce Hart’s account, Owen’s death reads like the latest chapter in a long series of events that came to define the unique love-hate relationship which continues to exist between the Hart family and Vince McMahon to this day. Even as the family was grieving and pointing fingers of blame over the tragedy, there was also a strange business as usual aspect about it, that seemed to suggest the show must nonetheless go on. It makes for some of the most eye-opening reading in this book.

Elsewhere, Straight From The Hart reveals many of the insider details you’d expect from such a book. There are the humorous road stories about the “ribs” wrestlers often pull on one another as a way to amuse themselves during the otherwise mundane grind of traveling from city to city during their decidedly unglamorous “house show” tours.

There are also the darker stories about steroid use, and the accompanying rate of premature death amongst wrestling performers. This is most tragically illustrated here by the case of family friend and promising wrestling talent Brian Pillman, found dead in a hotel room at the age of 35.

Mostly though, Straight From The Hart is Bruce Hart’s own story about growing up in one of the most powerful families in wrestling, complete with all the personal memories and anecdotes one would expect. To his credit as a writer, Hart also holds little back here — whether it’s dealing with the backstage politicking or with more deeply personal matters like the deaths of Pillman and his brother Owen.

There is plenty of dirty laundry here to be sure, and more often than not Bruce Hart seems to have some personal axes to grind. But the story is also told with the candid feel of reading from someone’s diary. In that respect, Bruce Hart’s Straight From The Hart puts you right in the middle of the ring.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.