Charlotte-based filmmaker Michael Elliott has produced a couple of well-received wrestling documentaries in the past.
But nothing had come close to approaching his most recent venture.
“Jim Crockett Promotions: The Good Old Days,” chronicling the longtime Charlotte-based promotion and its rich legacy, provides a nostalgic glimpse at one of old school wrestling’s most revered territories.
Elliott spent the past year interviewing wrestlers, promoters, journalists, historians and photographers about the Crockett years.
“This documentary was by far the biggest thing I have ever worked on because it’s such a key piece in wrestling history,” says Elliott. “This is a promotion that draws the fans’ attention 25 years after it was sold and went out of business.”
But to do the project justice, Elliott knew that he somehow had to find a way to convince the key remaining figure, Jim Crockett Jr., to cooperate.
Crockett Jr., now 69, ran the company from 1973-88. He was the eldest son of promoter Jim Crockett Sr. who, at the age of 35, founded his own pro wrestling company in Charlotte where he would sustain a flourishing organization for five decades. Known at one time as “the premier promoter in the Southeast,” Crockett Sr. passed away in 1973.
“Getting the involvement of the Crockett family was my biggest concern going into this because they have stayed away from wrestling for so long,” says Elliott. “I knew they were a long shot to get, but if you watch the product, you can tell they came around — (brothers) Jimmy, David and even Jackie.”
Securing David and Jackie Crockett, who both still live in the area, wasn’t the difficult part.
Corralling Jim Crockett Jr., who lives in Dallas and has remained somewhat elusive since leaving the wrestling business two decades ago, would prove to be a masterful feat.
“Without them this documentary would have been just OK, but now it has gone to another level, and I can say that because of the feedback I have received from fans,” says Elliott, who scored the interview just a week before his project deadline.
“It all happened at the last second. It was an 11th-hour decision on their part. I spoke to him (Jim Crockett) the Tuesday before my deadline. I had seven days left. I had three days to edit all of them into the documentary.”
Elliott, who had produced two previous films on mat legend Jimmy Valiant and the history of the NWA world title, got the ball rolling by first getting in touch with Jackie Crockett, who served as a camerman for his family’s wrestling company.
“I interviewed him seven or eight months earlier, and then I called David back and explained to him what was going on.”
Elliott says David avoided him at first, “but being myself, I never quit.”
“I wanted a yes or no and kept hounding him until he broke down and gave me Jimmy’s number.”
It didn’t take long, says Elliott, for David Crockett to sign on with the project.
“I showed him the first chapter about his daddy and got him interested. The first 10 minutes he was just grinning and smiling. I know that he called Jimmy. I don’t know if he was warning him or just giving him a heads-up,” laughs Elliott.
But Elliott’s initial call to Jim Crockett put him at ease.
“I called Jimmy, and after months of getting the run-around, I got to the big boss. He said he was expecting the call. He was just so nice. I had heard he was always in the background and not very personable with people. But he was just the opposite.”
The two hit it off over the phone, and Elliott immediately flew to Dallas to conduct the interview.
Elliott, 29, says he was surprised at just how accommodating Crockett was during the interview. His graciousness exceeded Elliott’s expectations.
“Jim opened up and just took it way above anybody’s expectations ... especially mine. I knew going in that it would be tough to get him, because he’s avoided everyone for so long. I’m just glad they chose me at the right time.”
Elliott says Crockett appeared comfortable and relaxed during the interview.
“I thought he might be a little standoffish, but he was just the friendliest guy. We didn’t talk wrestling the whole time. We talked about families, kids. We had lunch together and did the interview. He was very open and honest.”
Crockett, notes Elliott, even called him a few days later to make sure he got home OK.
Elliott says that he was amazed at the resemblance between the 69-year-old Crockett and photos he had seen of Jim Crockett Sr., who passed away 40 years ago at the age of 64.
“I think it was the glasses that made him look more like his dad. When I saw him walking through the hotel, he looked just like the picture of his father.”
With the Jim Crockett interview in the books, there was one more piece of business for Elliott to take care of.
David Crockett had told Elliott that if brother Jim agreed to the interview, he also would grant a sit-down session.
Immediately upon returning to his York, S.C., home following the trip to Dallas, Elliott made plans to talk to Jim’s younger brother.
“I went home, showered, saw my wife and came back to Charlotte and interviewed David. It was down to the wire.”
Elliott says he pulled 32 straight hours of work to make sure the documentary was completed and meeting the deadline.
Texas, he says, was just one of the many trips he made to conduct interviews with the various players in the documentary.
“We went all over North Carolina, we went to Virginia to get Jimmy Valiant, we drove all the way to Georgia to get Ole (Anderson) and Paul Jones. I got Jackie (Crockett) in South Carolina. We drove to Delaware to get J.J. (Dillon). We covered a lot of ground.”
Jim Crockett had rather reluctantly taken over ownership of Crockett Promotions shortly after the death of his father in 1973.
“Big Jim” Crockett, a dominating but unpretentious personality who tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds, initially had turned over control of the company to his then-son-in-law, John Ringley, but a family situation resulted in Crockett Jr. being called in to take the reins.
Crockett immediately enlisted the services of veteran wrestling star George Scott to book the Carolina-based territory, and the promotion became one of the hottest in the country.
Nearly 15 years later, though, with Crockett near bankruptcy and the company unable to compete with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, Crockett sold the promotion to media mogul Ted Turner.
The package included guaranteed jobs for the brothers and some cash. Jim Crockett would remain as NWA president until 1991.
While Crockett Promotions no longer exists, the legendary family-run company remains a sentimental favorite among wrestling fans, as evidenced by the thousands of followers who come from all parts of the globe each summer to attend Fanfest in Charlotte.
It’s that allure that prompted Elliott to tackle the documentary.
And securing Jim Crockett’s blessing proved to be a major coup.
“He had only done one interview in the past 25 years, and that was a small one for something WWE did. I just didn’t think he’d be so open with us. He was very, very cool.”
Elliott says only when he asked about booker Dusty Rhodes’ part in the fall of Crockett Promotions did his subject appear uneasy.
“I was pushing him (Crockett Jr.) on this, and maybe I shouldn’t have, because he quickly put me in my place,” says Elliott. “He said that Dusty, even with all his faults, was still the right choice. When I asked him about those faults, he said it’s been too long, that he was a lot older now, and politely said he wasn’t going to get into all of that. That’s really the only thing he wouldn’t go into.”
Elliott says Crockett pointed out that everybody, himself included, had faults.
Overall, says Elliott, he feels the interview was balanced.
“I think people recognized the fact that Dusty helped them get to where they were. But then when you finish the documentary, you’ll see that a lot of people did blame him. At the end I let everybody vent their frustration and put the blame on whoever they wanted. Some people say it was the airplane, some people say it was the accountant, some people say it was Dusty, some people say it was Jimmy. But at the very end, Jim Crockett took full responsibility for it.”
Elliott says Crockett’s relationship with his siblings — David, Jackie and sister Frances — is “good.”
“They all talk. I know he visits the Carolinas because one of his daughters lives here. I’m sure they all still get together. David said at one point they didn’t talk for a while, but they’re all on good terms now. I think they’re all comfortable with what happened.”
The documentary is a three-disc set with more than six hours of material culled from many of the key players in the Mid-Atlantic territory during that era.
The third disc contains the entire unedited interview with Crockett.
“I wanted to include that not only because it would sell DVDs, but because fans should hear everything he had to get off his chest,” says Elliott, who debuted the documentary at Fanfest.
“You also get extra stories from all of the talent involved and bonus chapters that were cut from the documentary due to time constraints. I don’t think anyone who buys this will walk away from it not being satisfied. You even get a tour of J.J. Dillon’s personal collection ... what else can you ask for?
“We interviewed every wrestler that is still breathing for this documentary. This is the first time ever anyone has taken this in-depth a look at Jim Crockett Promotions/Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. I am pleased to have done this as I feel this is my best work out of the three documentaries I have done.”
Elliott, a news photographer at WBTV in Charlotte, got the idea of making wrestling-themed documentaries while attending a fan convention several years ago in Charlotte.
“I got involved in making wrestling documentaries by chance at the 2009 NWA Legends Fanfest where I was working for the news, but met Jimmy Valiant and we became friends and we did our first documentary,” says Elliott.
Elliott and Highspots, a leading pro wrestling merchandiser, launched a KickStarter campaign to help raise funds for the latest project.
While he accomplished more than he says he could have realistically hoped for, Elliott says he would have loved to have been able to include “new” interviews with Dusty Rhodes, Arn Anderson and Ricky Steamboat, but their WWE affiliation prevented that from happening.
“But I think we hit pretty much every major star that they had.”
Jim Crockett, of course, was his favorite.
“Outside of him, my favorites were Ole Anderson and Paul Jones,” says Elliott.
For more information or to purchase the video, visit highspots.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.