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“My Breakfast with Blassie”: Andy Kaufman meets outrageous wrestling legend Freddie Blassie in a downtown L.A. diner
One morning, in the summer of 1982, meta-stand up comedian, actor and longtime wrestling enthusiast Andy Kaufman met outrageous wrestling legend “Classy” Freddie Blassie at a Sambo’s diner in Los Angeles, where they had a strange, spirited conversation about wrestling, stardom, hygiene and whether it’s better to eat bacon or sausage for breakfast. Luckily for us, their chat was lensed for a straight-to-video film, My Breakfast with Blassie, released in 1983, just a year before Kaufman’s death from cancer. Watch it now at Night Flight Plus.
The hour-long film begins with Kaufman narrating over filmed footage of his bus trip across L.A., and we see that Kaufman’s still wearing a neck brace, which he’d been wearing after since being injured in April of that year by his nemesis, Memphis-based WWE southern heavyweight champion wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, who had slammed Kaufman’s head into the mat with “the piledriver.”
A true wrestling fan, Kaufman had been mostly wrestling women before then. He was, for a time, the self-proclaimed “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World,” offering a $1,000 prize to any woman who could pin him in the ring, and additionally offering her the honor of marrying him if she were to win their wrestling match (he also said he’d shave his head). Kaufman even employed performance artist Laurie Anderson, a friend of his, as a stooge in this act for a while.
During their match in Memphis’s Mid-South Coliseum, Kaufman slapped Lawler a few times but mostly ran around the ring, taunting and mocking the crowd — “I’m from Hollywood, I have brains!” he was fond of saying at the time — and he’d made videos showing the river town’s residents how to use soap. He’d also proclaimed Memphis to be the nation’s redneck capital.
The crowd were clearly on Lawler’s side after that, and cheered when he was carried away on a stretcher.
A few months later, Kaufman and Lawler appeared together — on July 29, 1982 — on “Late Night with David Letterman,” which at the time was still airing on NBC, following Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” — to trash talk each other and answer Letterman’s questions about whether or not their feud was real.
Kaufman ended up screaming in Lawler’s face: “I could’ve sued you for everything you’re worth only I didn’t. Because I’m not that kind of guy.”
“What kind of guy are you?” Lawler snorted.
Lawler endured more of Kaufman’s bantering and insults until he couldn’t take anymore, and ended up slapping Kaufman out of his chair, and Andy Kaufman retaliated by throwing coffee on Lawler.
It was always suspected but wasn’t actually revealed that their feud was actually a hoax, cooked up as a big put-on (as depicted in the Kaufman bio-pic Man On The Moon) until the Emmy-nominated documentary A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman, which aired on NBC in 1995.
A few years later, in a 1997 interview with the Memphis Flyer, Lawler claimed that he and Kaufman had planned the whole thing out, even fooling Letterman, who didn’t know they’d been friends for years.
The idea for Kaufman and Blassie’s mostly-improvised meeting over bacon and eggs came about when Johnny Legend — a singer, actor, wrestling promoter, horror movie archivist and porn film producer — came up with the idea of them having an unscripted conversation.
Legend had met Kaufman a few times at wrestling events, and he’d known Blassie a long time too. He’d written Blassie’s wonderful 1975 cult classic “Pencil Neck Geek,” which featured Blassie’s voiceover on a track backed by a band featuring Billy Zoom (of X) on guitar. That track received constant airplay on the “Dr. Demento Radio Show.”
Blassie — who was known by various nicknames, including “The Vampire” and “The Hollywood Fashion Plate” — was not known for having an “indoor voice,” often bellowing out loudly in normal conversation; In his autobiography, he claimed to have a “leather lung voice.” He had been retired from active competition since 1974 and become one of the top managers based in the L.A. area, along with Captain Lou Albano (who had previously been Blassie’s manager).
In 1983, the same year that My Breakfast with Blassie was released direct-to-video tape, its title inspired by the 1981 art film My Breakfast with Andre — Rhino Records released Blassie’s album I Bite the Songs.
Legend’s partner, Linda Lautrec, had developed the idea for the film with Kaufman during late night phone calls for a few months. On the day of their breakfast meeting in Sambo’s, she would also play the part of irritating fan who requests Andy’s autograph after he washes his hands.
(It’s curious that they’d meet at Sambo’s — Kaufman tells us it was Blassie’s choice because it was “located conveniently between the wrestling arena and his hotel” — because the diner was notoriously named for a racist children’s story, “The Story of Little Black Sambo,” which dates back to 1899 (a “sambo” was a slur for a loyal black servant, and at one time Sambo’s were decorated inside with pictures showing racist illustrations of a little African-American boy).
That day, Legend’s sister, Lynne Margulies (who appears briefly as a customer, sitting at a table in the background) had never heard of Kaufman, and hadn’t seen him on his popular TV show “Taxi” (she didn’t own a television set), so when you see Kaufman hitting on her in the movie, it was actually happening. They later became a couple, living together until Kaufman’s death. Margulies — a film editor and producer who lives in Los Angeles — was portrayed by Courtney Love in Man on the Moon.
Incidentally, if you’d like to see more of Blassie, seek out Jeff Krulik‘s documentary Mr. Blassie Goes To Washington, filmed in the early 1990s (Krulik is best known for his 1986 documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot — be sure to check out our post here).
Blassie retired from managing in 1986, and died in 2003.