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“He Was The Elvis of The Wrestling Thing” – Patrea Patrick on Bruno Sammartino [Exclusive Interview]

7 min read

is one of the most iconic champion's in the history of professional wrestling, holding the WWE Championship for an incredible seven and a half years after winning the title on May 17, 1963, and selling out Madison Square Garden time and time again. However, what made this WWE Hall of Famer truly special, in addition to his incredible accomplishments in the ring, was what he did outside of the ring. Born in Italy, Sammartino survived a Nazi invasion, a life-threatening illness, and bullying to make it big in America – inspiring millions of fans (including ), having a private audience with the Pope, all the while keeping his morals and values intact.

Throughout his life and career, many documentaries were made about Bruno Sammartino, but this past May, director and producer finally released their , simply titled: Bruno Sammartino. Described by many as the definitive Bruno Sammartino story, the documentary is guided by interviews and rare footage of the man himself before his passing in 2018, as well as powerful recreations. It explores and showcases Bruno's life the way he wanted the world to see it.

SteelChair Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with director Patrea Patrick to discuss all things Bruno Sammartino. In this exclusive interview, Patrick breaks down working with the wrestling legend, the qualities that made him a star, Bruno's emotional reaction to watching the film, and much more. Enjoy.

Bruno - training

Bruno Sammartino – beyond the ring:

“As far as a role model, he was Arnold Schwarzenegger's first role model, and he was like a real man's man kind of guy. It was a little bit before our time, and I wasn't even into wrestling at all, but I do enjoy looking at a good-looking guy, especially when they're posing in their little skivvies. And there were some great shots of Arnold doing his posing, Bruno doing his posing, and interestingly, Sean Connery, who did all of the great James Bond films, he started out as this body-beautiful guy. So those three, there's three iconic guys – Bruno, Sean Connery, and Arnold Schwarzenegger – who were all just these real man's man type of guys, both on and off stage. I think they all held up well as these iconic hero figures, and Bruno really stood out just because of some of the incredible things he went through.”

Bruno's qualities:

“Bruno's story gets really captivating because of what he went through in his childhood, and that really helped shape what he would present, as I'll call it, on stage, but it was on the ring. Again, a little bit before our time, but he has that thing, if you look at the early pictures of him – he was like the Elvis of his day, and we have these heroes in each generation. But there are certain ones that are iconic and passed on from generation to generation because of the dignity and the heroic actions that they presented throughout their lifetime. I mean, those things hold water, they really shape a man, and there's something to be proud of from generations, to be able to pass that narrative on.

Bruno - World Champion

“I was so thrilled in making the film that our young star of the film, who's a young guy that didn't know much about the wrestling side, started to see how the movie was unfolding and then got to see the whole film – he just came away saying: “Wow, I'm so thrilled I got to play young Bruno.” He was so thrilled to play the part, but he was more thrilled about the character of the guy he was getting to portray. He said it changed his life. I mean, even as a young little guy, he saw why and how to respect your parents. He saw, there's this kernel like, hey, I can do this because this was a man doing it. And it was a young man doing it, at my young age. It wasn't some superhero with a cape. It wasn't some digital effects. What they can do now is exciting and fabulous, but we can't walk out of the theatre and do that. This man's [Bruno] life was incredible because maybe we could achieve these things with some dedication, hard work, some love and some persistence.”

The magnitude of Bruno Sammartino's Stardom:

“At that time [at his peak], he had the president, he had all of Hollywood, from Frank Sinatra, I mean, you name it, they wanted to be near him. It was incredible. To have that, “Hey, can you come sit at my table so I can say you were there” level of fame. I mean, just the notoriety, the invitations that he had, the open doors for him from all these different avenues, which is a real rarity. So it delves into how well respected he was. So many people have this fame, and how is that portrayed, what do you do with it? To see how Bruno did that was a very tricky trail, and that's where I think it really separates Bruno from the rest.

“He really held his dignity, and I wouldn't say it was a goal, but there was this thing that led him to be the man that he was. It's just something you wanna do – it's your being. It's like, your being is a little different than a goal. It's an intricate thing. Like, I love music, I love storytelling, and the narrative and that whole thing because it gets intricate, and that's what makes it really captivating. You're drawn into these things, and you have these really definitive places to depict these things. It's like the notes in music that are played and the notes that aren't played, or in writing, what's said but what isn't said. It's what you feel from the whole thing, and that's what he had, and he was able to do that to his audience. When he came out on stage, before he even stepped out, you heard chanting and chanting. It's hard to realise what it was like, but it was like when you went to watch The Rolling Stones in the ‘60s, and they first came out, and these women are screaming. He [Bruno] was that kind of thing. He was the Elvis of the wrestling thing.”

Bruno-Arnold

Not watching past Bruno documentaries and going back to Italy:

“I made a point to not watch any of them because I wanted to be fresh in my approach. I did know some of the storylines that they were going to hit on, and I knew that our storyline had to be very, very different. So I concentrated on what our storyline was, and I did such deep research, and I tried to find things that weren't used in those other approaches. And now, after our film came out, I did watch them, and I'm so glad they're out there because they are great films. But they are totally not what we're doing, which is great. I often do that when I'm making a film – not to do anything other than my own research on it, so I keep this really fresh approach, which really worked out great because from the reviews we're getting, it's really astronomical the love people are throwing at this film.

“The points that they're making [in the film] too – the way that the drama came out in the film, through the parts where we go to Italy, when he was a young boy living in Italy, and then Bruno as an old man having to go back there. He did not want to go back there. “Why would I go back there? I can't put myself through that,” was his thought. Not only did he not want to, but he didn't think he could because it's such a hardship getting up this mountain. It wasn't really up until the last minute, where he finally thought he'd go closer and go to Italy, go to the town and look at his house. So it was kind of a piece by piece process.”

Telling the definitive Bruno Sammatino story:

“It was so critically important that he got what he wanted. Many times after somebody has passed, the story comes out, and then they don't have any say. So we were really lucky to be able to screen the film for Bruno and his wife, and they said it was everything that they wanted. Bruno, it brought tears to his eyes. It really was able to intertwine everything that he really wanted to say, and I really spent a lot of time with him – in phone conversations, in person, at dinners and interviews – just doing everything I could to be able to tell this story. So I have to say, for him to have seen it was important. But for him to have loved it and have cried, and saying that this was all he wanted to do, was get this story out the way that it really happened.”

Bruno and his mother

Bruno's lasting legacy:

“Walk away, or take away from the film, his legacy  ….. Bruno's legacy is the narrative of a man, who beyond all odds, became a legend, a hero, and a strong role model. Through his humbleness, we see Bruno living ‘it' himself for others to follow. The legacy he wanted us to know was the love of a mother, defying all odds to keep her family alive in WW ll, giving Bruno a first-hand look at a real-life heroine.”

To find out more about Bruno Sammartino and to purchase the film, visit brunosammartino.org.

All images are courtesy of Bruno Sammartino Documentary Facebook.

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