By Mike Mooneyham
Sept. 26, 2003
Celebrating 50 years of marital bliss is quite an achievement. Accomplishing the milestone within the confines of the professional wrestling business is an even bigger feat.
Veteran performer Rene Goulet and his wife, Pierrette, recently did just that, proving indeed that anything is possible in the world of professional wrestling.
Rene, 71, and Pierrette, 70, look considerably younger than their birth certificates would indicate. But they have a 49-year-old daughter and a golden wedding anniversary to prove it. Both work out regularly, are avid golfers and appear to have taken a dip in the fountain of youth.
“We play golf and exercise a lot,” says Pierrette. “I do an hour on the treadmill every day, and then I do exercises with the weights. I spend about two hours a day in the gym. You have to stay in shape.”“I enjoy what I’m doing,” Goulet adds in his thick French accent. “I’m very content. I don’t need a crowd around me to be happy.”
This husband-and-wife team is a true success story in the world of professional wrestling.
The two tied the knot in 1953, several years before Goulet threw his hat into the wrestling ring, and their union ever since has been the proverbial match made in heaven. Not only have the two weathered nearly three dozen moves during Goulet’s mat career, they say their marriage has been made stronger by the sacrifices they had to make. And while the wrestling profession historically has produced a climate detrimental to healthy and long-lasting relationships, this French-Canadian couple took steps to avoid the pitfalls that claimed so many others in the business.
Goulet, better known to longtime fans in the Mid-Atlantic area as Sgt. Jacques Goulet and more recently a road agent for WWE, considers himself one of the lucky ones. During his 40 years in the business, he saw many of his colleagues succumb to the temptations of the road, forsaking family for one-night stands in every wrestling town on the circuit.
“We knew some guys who went through three or four wives,” says Pierrette. “They changed wives often. It was also difficult to get along with the second wife if you were really good friends with the first one. Most of the second ones didn’t want to hear anything about you. But that was understandable.”
Goulet made it a point to work in territories where the miles weren’t so long that he couldn’t return home after a show. He stayed away from areas that involved great driving distances between towns and thus made it difficult to spend much-needed time at home.
“Most of the guys would go out to the bars on the road,” he says. “I’d go home. I used to try to pick my territories. I spent 10 years in and out of Minneapolis. That was the best territory at the time,” says Goulet, who handed a young Ric Flair his first loss as a pro in 1973. “We didn’t work more than three or four times a week, and I was home a lot. In the 70s I worked for Dick The Bruiser (in Indianapolis) a good bit, and that was even better, only a couple of times a week.”
The couple moved to Charlotte in 1977 and has lived there ever since.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Rene and Pierrette met more than a half-century ago on a beach in Quebec City, a provincial French-Canadian town with Old World charm located near the confluence of the St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers.
“We couldn’t have found a better place to meet,” recalls Rene.
“He was athletic and nice looking, and I was only 17 or 18 years old,” adds Pierrette. “What’s not to like?”
Although it was love at first sight, the two dated for a year before tying the knot. “We never thought at that time that we’d be married 50 years,” says Pierrette. That’s a long time. But here we are, and it’s been wonderful.”
Back then Goulet was a bodybuilder who loved hockey and was an aspiring boxer until told by a pro that he’d be punch-drunk by the time he was 25. So he found a trainer and gave wrestling a whirl, working out with fellow Quebecer and future mat star Louie Tillet. It was nearly three years after getting married that Goulet had his first “real” pro wrestling match with Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon.
Although Goulet didn’t speak English and didn’t know anyone in America, the legendary Vachon, a native of Montreal and a legitimate amateur wrestler who represented Canada in the 1948 Olympics, encouraged him to broaden his horizons and helped get him a gig in Verne Gagne’s Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association.
Goulet told his wife that he’d give it six months; if things didn’t work out, he assured her they would return to Canada and he would pursue another line of work.
“She didn’t mind at first. She didn’t think I would make a career out of it, but everything went well. I gave it a try, and we’ve been on the road ever since,” he chuckles.
In addition to paying the bills, wrestling provided the couple an opportunity to see the world. They moved 32 times during Goulet’s career – from one end of the country to the other, as well as tours of Australia, Japan, England, France, Italy and Germany.
“You’re moving around, but you’re traveling and you’re learning all kinds of new things that you wouldn’t if you were living in Quebec,” says Pierrette. “You know you’re not going to live there all your life … We’d always stay in the best place we could possibly find. The apartments would be beautiful. That was our priority – to have a nice place and to enjoy it. You take the good parts and you forget about the rest. Wherever you live is different.”
It was still difficult pulling a U-Haul trailer from territory to territory, and enrolling their daughter, Johanne, in a different school every time Goulet would leave an area.
What made it all work so smoothly, both say, was a deep understanding and mutual respect.
“The traveling, along with the packing and unpacking, wasn’t always easy, but it was fun,” says Pierrette. “All I ever asked Rene was to tell me a month in advance when we might be moving.”
“First of all, of course, there has to be love,” says Rene. “Then there’s respect between each other. It won’t work without respect. At our house nobody’s the boss. Whatever she says is OK, whatever I say is OK. We always talk with each other before we make a decision. Thank God she was very good with that, because it’s hard to last that long in the wrestling business. It’s almost a miracle. But you have to work at it.”
“My wife never worked outside the home,” he adds. “She was a housewife who took care of me. That’s the way we were raised. My mother never worked. She took care of the family.”
“They are really, really nice people. I can’t say enough good about them,” says fellow Charlottean Flair, who celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary with wife Beth last Wednesday. “Rene Goulet really took care of me when I was a young guy breaking into the business. Not only did I work with Rene and he took time to teach me, we became very close friends. He was also a damn good worker.”
SUCCESS ON THE MAT
In the beginning the language barrier proved to be a major obstacle for both Rene and Pierrette.
The only two English words Goulet knew were “yes” and “no.” But he was athletic, handsome and a sharp dresser, and matchmakers saw him as a top babyface (fan favorite).
“I understood much more than Rene did when we came over to this country,” says Pierrette. “I was the one who’d make him practice and tell him what the words meant. The first six months in Minneapolis were very difficult. I had a dictionary and I would listen to TV and try to figure out how to write the words I was listening to. I would look in the dictionary to see what those words meant and I would try to use them in conversation after that. After six months I was able to speak to people.”
With his limited English, Goulet faced an uphill battle in the ring, where communication between the participants was vital.
“I remember working with Larry Hennig when I first got to Minnesota,” he recalls. “Even worse than me not understanding English, he would be talking carney’ (a type of code language in wrestling spoken in a pig-Latin dialect) in the ring, and I was completely lost. That was a tough time. I didn’t know much because of the language barrier, but I was getting over as a young guy.”
His interviews were limited to “Merci beaucoup” (“Thank you very much”), but he caught on like wildfire. Promoters also asked him to drop his real name, Robert Bedard, and take on a new persona as Frenchman Rene Goulet (he bore a striking resemblance to popular singer Robert Goulet).
“It was fine with me,” he says.
Goulet, a solid technical wrestler and later an effective heel as Sgt. Jacques Goulet (allegedly of the French Foreign Legion), would make his mark in a number of territories over the next couple of decades. He teamed with Karl Gotch to win the old WWWF tag-team belts in 1971. He was a three-time NWA Southern heavyweight champion in Florida. He held the WWA world tag-team belts with Don Fargo as The Legionnaires in Indianapolis in 1974. He and Ole Anderson held the NWA tag-team title in Georgia in 1977. He and Chris Markoff were billed as the European tag-team champs in Georgia in 1979. He won the 1981 New Japan Madison Square Garden tag-team tournament with partner Andre The Giant after defeating the Japanese team of Antonio Inoki and Tatsumi Fujinami in the final. He wrestled regularly until 1984, and later served as a road agent and official with WWE (then the WWF) until 1997.
Ironically, says Goulet, one of his least favorite territories to work was the Carolinas, where he would lay down stakes in 1977. As for wrestling there, it wasn’t uncommon to work seven or eight times a week.
“Twice on Saturday, twice on Sunday,” says Goulet. “We liked it here in North Carolina, but I didn’t spend a lot of time working in the Carolinas. I was pretty good friends with (booker) George Scott at the time. A lot of wrestlers lived in Charlotte, and we decided to buy a house. And right after we bought the house, I went to work in Atlanta.”
Goulet also didn’t like the promotion’s mandate of having its mid-card performers serve as security for the main-eventers. He expressed his dissatisfaction at a meeting before packing his bags.
“There was too much BS at the time in the Carolinas. We were forced to stay until the end of the matches before we could go home. In those days they wanted us around to protect the guys in the main event. If you worked in Richmond, Va., you were 300 miles from home. You wanted to come home, but you had to wait until the end of the show. We weren’t making that much money here anyway, so I left.”
Goulet returned to Minneapolis in 1979 after working a few months in Atlanta for Ole Anderson. The burly booker told Goulet to do a job (lay down for an opponent) for an unheralded newcomer, and Goulet told Anderson to “go to hell.” Goulet, who had showed up backstage at the Atlanta City Auditorium that night, took partner Chris Markoff with him and left the territory.
One of Goulet’s favorite periods, he says, was working for Vince McMahon Sr. in New York in 1979. “I went there along with Hulk Hogan, Ken Patera and The Wild Samoans. It was great. I did jobs for Hogan and put him over like a million dollars. It was a hell of a run.”
Goulet doesn’t miss the days of working hurt and getting small payoffs for his efforts.
“I tore my right biceps in Atlanta, and the next night I was working in Athens, Ga. I couldn’t take the time off because I wanted my little $40 or $45 payoff. Jim Barnett was the promoter who wouldn’t give (an extra) five cents. You couldn’t do that today, because the guys would turn around and sue them (the promoters). The wrestlers back then were afraid to do anything.”
One of Goulet’s most memorable moments in the business occurred in the summer of 1971 in Florida when he took part in one of that territory’s biggest angles ever turning legendary heel Boris “The Great” Malenko babyface. Malenko, who was probably the most hated wrestler to ever appear in the Sunshine State, became an instantaneous fan favorite after partners Goulet and Dick Murdoch turned on him. The angle led to sold-out arenas throughout the state.
“The people went out of their minds. They loved him. That got over like crazy.”
Still, Goulet says, money-hungry promoters profited from the business much more than most of the wrestlers.
“We were selling out everywhere we went, but we weren’t making any money,” claims Goulet, who says he later learned that promoter Eddie Graham was splitting a big portion of the profits with his partners.
“I remember working with Jack Brisco at a new building in West Palm Beach. We had a $10,000 house, which was big at the time, and my payoff was a hundred dollars. That was unbelievable.”
Goulet still keeps up with the business, but doesn’t see many similarities between today’s version of sports entertainment and his generation of rasslin.
“They don’t call it the wrestling business anymore they refer to it as the industry, like it’s a movie,” he says. “It’s now sports entertainment. It’s the brand, not the talent. It’s ridiculous. A guy who does a job today is called an extra. Imagine that. But to me, he’s still a jobber, a jabroni. It’s the same thing. Whoever is the champion is the champion because the promoter put him there. I really don’t understand how this business can survive.”
Quebec City may be a world away from Charlotte, but the Goulets have become true North Carolinians. Making it even better is the fact that their daughter, Johanne, and her husband recently moved to Charlotte to be closer to her parents.
“Charlotte was a relatively small town when we first moved here, but it’s really grown,” says Pierrette. “We like it very much now. We have nice theaters, you can see the opera. Living on the East Coast you’re not far from anything. You can go to Florida, you can go to New York. You have the mountains, you have the ocean. And we love golf, so it’s perfect for us.”