Bill Apter recounts legendary career in new book

In 1982, the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment, made frequent stops at Madison Square Garden in New York. New York -- Madison Square Garden in particular -- was home base for the family-run promotion.

With New York being the media capital of the world, celebrities from all walks of sports and entertainment dotted the stands at WWF events.

One of those celebrities, Andy Kaufman, didn’t want merely to be a spectator, however. He wanted to be an active participant.

Kaufman was a comedian who had reached national fame on the hit television sitcom Taxi. What people watching the show every week didn’t know was that Kaufman was an avid fan of professional wrestling and wanted nothing more than to be a wrestling villain, or heel, like his hero “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.

To accomplish this feat, he went straight to the top of the promotion and asked Vincent J. McMahon if he could somehow get involved. Although wrestling was always a show, that notion still wasn’t widely known to the general public and McMahon was not prepared to bring in someone from show business into his promotion, as he saw his brand of wrestling as more sport than entertainment.

His son, Vincent K. McMahon, eventually turned that notion on its ear a couple of years later, but in 1982, the elder McMahon still called the shots and wanted no part of a television star getting into his ring. In his mind, that would hurt his business.

With his dreams temporarily dashed, Kaufman asked his friend and connected wrestling journalist/photographer Bill Apter if he could go to his apartment in Queens. Apter, shocked that a celebrity of Kaufman’s stature would want to go to his home, obliged, and the unlikely pair took the F train from Penn Station to Apter’s residence.

At this point, Apter was living with a female wrestler from Australia named Susan Sexton. Once at the apartment, Kaufman told Apter and Sexton stories about how much he loved wrestling and how much he wanted to be like Rogers.

Sexton eventually reached her breaking point with Kaufman and went to her room, but Apter was taken aback by Kaufman’s undying love for professional wrestling. Apter then told Kaufman of someone who would be more willing than McMahon to incorporate the entertainment aspect into wrestling: Jerry “The King” Lawler.

As Apter described it, Lawler and his Mid-Southern Wrestling promotion, based out of Memphis, would “do anything for shock value.”

Although it was 1 a.m., Apter called Lawler. Although Lawler found it hard to believe that someone such as Apter would have a television star such as Kaufman in his apartment at such an odd hour of the day, he eventually talked to Kaufman and pieced together their legendary storyline.

“As the cliché says, the rest is history,” Apter said during an interview.

Thirty-three years later, that legendary story is the beginning of Apter’s book, titled Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken, which chronicles Apter’s legendary career as the pioneer of wrestling journalism.

(You can purchase the book on Amazon HERE.)

Introducing Kaufman to Lawler to set up their rivalry that went from Memphis to Late Night with David Letterman is only one of the many stories Apter tells in the book, in which Lawler wrote the foreword.

“That was the start of what we know as sports entertainment today,” said Apter, who lives in Dresher, Montgomery County.

With a career that spans almost 50 years, Apter, 70, has truly seen it all. He witnessed the prime of Antonino Rocca, the height of wrestling territories in the 1970s, Hulk Hogan becoming a mega-star and the fall of the territories in the 1980s, the Monday Night wars in the 1990s, and what the wrestling business has become today.

It would seem that Apter would have written a book long ago, but the idea didn’t come to him until 2004.

In 2004, Apter was working for Total Wrestling Magazine, based out of the United Kingdom. However, when the magazine ceased operations, Apter was left looking for work elsewhere. The very next day, Michael Holmes of ECW Press called Apter to make him an offer on a book, which he accepted, but for whatever reason, he didn’t sign the contract until 2012.

After years of procrastinating, Apter was given a hard deadline on the book of Sept. 15, 2015. If he failed to meet the deadline, the deal would be revoked. Apter finally got around to putting it together, and on Oct. 1, it was finally released.

"I had never written a book,” Apter said. “I was a magazine guy and I never realized that a book is a whole different baby. It’s a full-time job writing it, helping edit it and making sure the content is exactly where you want it.

“That’s why it took me so long because my wife calls me ‘Mr. P’ sometimes because I procrastinated,” he added. “I wasn’t sure I could do it, and I didn’t really know how much people would want it. I’m just finding out that the book came out recently that there are so many people contacting me by Twitter (@apter1wrestling), Facebook, e-mail and all of that saying things that I meant to their lives during the days when I worked for the magazine companies. It’s really very flattering to me.”

Although Apter receives the adulation of fans on social media daily today, at one point he was merely a wrestling fan.

Apter was born in the Bronx, N.Y., but grew up in Maspeth, Queens. His father worked for the local post office while his mother was a statistical typist for MetLife Insurance.

At first, Apter had aspirations of becoming a wrestler one day, but his parents vetoed that idea because being a wrestler, he said, was not a “good job for a nice, skinny Jewish kid.”

Since he was a habitual reader of wrestling magazines, Apter eventually decided that he wanted to be a wrestling broadcaster/journalist.

After attending broadcasting school, Apter held various jobs, including working in the mailroom at Columbia Pictures. Eventually, he bought time on local television and radio stations and his career took off.

By 1970, he was the preeminent wrestling aficionado in New York and was frequently seen at ringside taking photos at Madison Square Garden and backstage mingling with the wrestlers. Being a fixture backstage at wrestling events was no easy task during the 1970s, as the wrestling business was greatly protected by those within it. But somehow, Apter gained the trust of wrestlers and promoters from around the country.

According to Apter, he accomplished that by simply not “ticking anybody off.”

“The most important thing about the near 50 years I’ve been doing this is no matter how many photos I took, how many interviews I did, that wasn’t important,” he said. “What was more important was that the boys, the wrestlers in the business, embraced me, they felt they could trust me, and they brought me into the business and I became the liaison between the magazine and the people in the business.”

Apter eventually became synonymous with the magazines he’d represent at the shows, so much so that the magazines were dubbed “Apter Mags.”

“We covered pro wrestling like Sports Illustrated would cover any sport,” he said. “That became respected in the business. I always knew when to talk, when not to talk, when to listen and when not to hear.”

However, it was impossible not to hear the success Apter and other magazines were having throughout the 1970s and '80s, but as the '90s rolled around, the Internet became more accessible to the general public, making information that people used to pay for available for free.

The wrestling magazines fell victiml. Eventually, there came a day when most wrestling fans consumed their news via the Internet, rendering wrestling magazines obsolete.

“I saw it happen little by little,” Apter said. “If you don’t move with the times, you get left back.

“I used to collect magazines and, to me, there’s nothing like holding a magazine that you could collect and keep, read in the bathroom, all of that stuff,” he added. “That’s something I think younger people are missing out on today.”

With the magazine industry in shambles, Apter had  to look for a way to make ends meet. Apter visited CareerLink in Norristown and was eventually hired by AHEDD in Jenkintown, where he helps people with disabilities find employment.

As much as wrestling and everything it has to offer is still a part of his ultimate legacy -- and he writes regularly for 1wrestling.com -- Apter takes just as much pride in the work he does for AHEDD.

“I get up every morning and do two things: I look at what’s going on in the wrestling world and can’t wait to find out what’s going on and call all of my wrestling people, and then I can’t wait to look at my caseload of maybe 25 people to see what I can do to change a person’s life who has an intellectual or a physical disability and find them the right job to change their life.”

Whether it was connecting Kaufman with Lawler or connecting someone with a disability with a chance to earn a living, Apter has always been making connections.

He lives a modest life with his wife and his dog. But the wrestling business made Apter rich with memories and friendships. No cover photo on a magazine could replace that.

Wrestling, he said, has provided him with "a wonderful career that has given me the opportunity to meet some of the most fabulous, incredible, unusual persons on the planet and to travel around the world applying my craft, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do."