Bill Apter Is Still Wrestling With Fame


Pro wrestling’s most prolific chronicler has a de facto museum of memorabilia in Dresher, and a new book on the shelves.

Like the heroine of Donna Summer’s 1983 hit song, Bill Apter “works hard for the money.”
But that’s not why the Dresher native, who’s become arguably the world’s most renowned pro wrestling journalist — when he isn’t doing his day job trying to find quality jobs for disadvantaged people — does it. Besides, truth be told, it’s not like chronicling the likes of World Wrestling Entertainment is making him “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” wealthy.
“No, it’s not making me rich, but it’s making me a legacy,” said the man who once hung out with comedian Andy Kaufman in his New York apartment and toured the country with Muhammad Ali — just two of the more notable moments during a remarkable 50-year career. “What’s more important than anything monetary is the legacy I’m going to leave and have left for my family” — wife Andrea and children Brandon and Hailey.
“When I go to a wrestling convention and one of my kids is with me and they’re thinking, ‘Holy crap, my dad’s a celebrity,’ they glow. When they were old enough to realize what a celebrity was, they were totally bowled over.”
Brandon and Hailey Apter have long since grown up from the days they used to gaze in wonder at the company their father kept while writing for various pro wrestling publications, along with Ring magazine, the “boxing bible.” But the stories he tells never grow old, especially since he’s finally put them down on paper in the recently published Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken.
And if that’s not enough, Apter is also making the rounds in a one-man show, with an upcoming appearance Sunday Jan. 10 at Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington.
“I come out as a masked character called Insane Bil,” explained Apter about his schtick, which he developed over the course of a journalistic career that has immortalized him in six different wrestling halls of fame. “It’s a combination of Mil Mascaras and the Insane Clown Posse. I wear a sideways gangster hat and I rap Barry Manilow’s ‘Can’t Smile Without You.’ The rest of it is Q&A and stories. I bring a lot of memorabilia, which fans can try on.”
Most of that comes from his basement, affectionately known as “Apter’s Alley.” It’s a monument to 50 years in the business, with pictures of Bill and some of the top names in wrestling through the years — among them Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Bill Goldberg — not to mention Ali and Howard Cosell, whom he has on tape discussing Ali’s then upcoming 1976 “fight” with Japanese kickboxer Antonio Inoki. (For the record, that tilt wound up a 15-round draw because Ali pretty much did little but defend himself.)
Apter’s pride and joy down in the “alley,” though, are the videos of various wrestlers wishing Mazel Tov for Brandon’s “Brawl Mitzvah” 15 years ago, where the Bar Mitzvah boy got to actually “wrestle” and beat some of the locals. That, along with four portrait-sized caricatures of her favorites drawn by Jerry “The King” Lawler for “Planet Haileywood” at Hailey’s Bat Mitzvah.
That’s the same little girl who years later tweeted to renowned country music superstar and wrestling enthusiast Darius Rucker — formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish — that her favorite wrestling personality was her father. Not only did Rucker know who Bill was, but he invited them to be his guests to his Atlantic City concert and a stay at Resorts. Plus, he sat down for a one-on-one with Apter, just as so many have through the years.
All of which leaves this Bronx-born son of a mailman, who had singing and acting ambitions until he discovered a different avenue to perform, still in disbelief. “I started my own little wrestling fan bulletin when I was in junior high,” said Apter, who never imagined that would be the start of a fascination that would take to him to Japan eight times, various parts of Europe, throughout the United States and, most recently to Brighton, England on a book promotion tour. “I’d buy some pictures from a thrift mart, make 10 copies of the bulletin and each one had a different picture. That put the key in the ignition about me wanting to write about pro wrestling.”
Getting someone to pay him to do it proved more difficult. After using his own money to buy radio time, Apter received some press tickets for an event. He took his trusty Kodak Instamatic with him, interviewed some of the wrestlers, then sent the tape and the pictures off to a wrestling editor named Stanley Weston.
That started him off, though it hardly paid all of Bill’s bills. In previous summers, he’d been a carnival barker in Far Rockaway and scratched that singing itch by playing the Borscht Belt with the Charlie Lowe Headliners, the lead-in for top acts like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Red Buttons and Corbett Monica. Now an adult, he supplemented his wrestling and boxing writing with such jobs as getting coffee for music impresario Don Kirshner, working the mailroom for Loews Theatres and interviewing stars like Robert Goulet, Tony Bennett and Liberace for his radio show.
Over the years, the Apter name became more familiar in both wrestling and boxing circles. Everyone wanted to get into the act, including offbeat comedian Andy Kaufman, then starring as Latka on the hit TV show, Taxi. “Andy was a big wrestling fan,” said Apter, picking up the story from 1982. “He wanted to get Vince McMahon Sr. to let him wrestle. Senior said no. He was more about wrestling than show biz. So one night, Kaufman’s backstage. He knows me from the wrestling magazines and asks what I’m doing. He winds up going back with me on the F train to my apartment in Queens.
“We’re talking for hours and he tells me he wants to fight someone. I tell him I have a friend in Memphis who’s very creative. So we call Jerry Lawler in the middle of the night, who says to me, ‘You’re telling me you’ve got Andy Kaufman in your little roach-infested apartment?’ ”
Two days later, Kaufman was in Memphis, putting the wheels in motion for a celebrated “feud” between himself and Lawler. The animosity was first displayed during a bout in Memphis that landed Kaufman in the hospital for a couple of days, and again when they got into a slapping
incident on Late Night With David Letterman.
It’s all there in the book, the title of which comes from a time — following a particularly bloody bout in Marietta, Ga. — where a little boy asked him if the match was fixed. Off the top of his head, Apter retorted, “I didn’t know it was broken.”
“That’s right, son,” his father agreed. “You can’t fix what’s not broken.”
What isn’t in the book, however, are the things Bill Apter does away from the mat, not the least of which is his work for AHEDD the past nine years. “It’s something I have a passion for,” said Apter, referring to the nonprofit private specialized human resources organization in Jenkintown. “When I was a teenager in New York, I worked as a volunteer helping kids with disabilities pursue their dreams of acting and singing. Now I’m an employment specialist with AHEDD. What we do is we help find jobs for people with intellectual and physical disabilities — and not jobs like wiping tables. Last year, I placed 16 people in quality jobs.”
This from a man who’s well past the point many his age have either retired or are winding down their careers. Not Wonderful Willie, Apter’s wrestling moniker. “People say to me, ‘When are you gonna stop this and retire?’ ” revealed Apter,  who oversees, which reports on everything WWE. “I say ‘Never.’ Why? I love doing this and I’m just getting started. I’m traveling more now than I did 25 years ago. It’s a big thrill to go to a place like Brighton, England and have a big line of fans waiting to talk to me.”
Because as Bill Apter has learned, that’s something money simply can’t buy.
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