Future Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox once lamented in a classic Nike TV spot that “chicks dig the long ball.” According to Mark Spencer, the charms of an overweight, balding pro wrestler with “big bags under his eyes . . . like miniature pot bellies” are considerable—not to mention complicated. The Masked Demon chronicles in entertaining mock-epic fashion the tribulations of Daryl Lee, aka Samson, Bible Bob, and Masked Demon. He is literally at the crossroads of his career and triple-secret life.
Set in Oklahoma and Texas during the watershed pop culture year of 1962 (the first Beatles single and James Bond film are released, Johnny Carson begins hosting The Tonight Show, Kmart opens), Daryl is a former champion dreaming of a movie career, something not improbable then or now for circuit stars or their bodybuilding brethren. Instead, he is offered the chance to go to Mexico where wrestling is becoming as big as it was on American television during the 1950s. Such a move would further upset the precarious, simultaneous house-playing Daryl does with legal wife Rachel Marie in Houston, “second” wife Darlene in Oklahoma City, and steady girlfriend Candy in Dallas. It is not an unwelcome coincidence that Candy is obsessed with Marilyn Monroe (whose suicide takes place during the course of the novella) and lives in the city where Monroe’s lover President Kennedy would be assassinated a year later.
Daryl’s career and the ladies have taken their toll. He lost half an ear in a match that is described in gory, very well-written detail. But that is not all:
It’s not just losing his hair that bothers him; it is also what’s happening to his face. It’s gotten puffy looking. And his skin is slack and splotchy. For twenty-five years, it’s been scarred from teenage acne. When he locks the bathroom door and removes his dentures to clean them, he becomes an old, old man.
His motivation? Love. Theirs? They love him back.
Like all sports today, pro wrestling has its share of performance-enhancing drug scandals and accusations. For The Masked Demon’s less medicinal era Daryl’s stimulants are booze and sex—the great stuff of fiction. (And also nonfiction, like Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. Bouton’s baseball career began in . . . 1962.) “I am the monster,” he tells Candy after another nightmare. He also asks himself during one of his numerous interior monologues if “being a son of a bitch, a bastard, and a monster has anything to do with being a bad guy wrestler most of the time these days.” Daryl is neither good nor bad, making reading about him enjoyable.
There is another literary device Daryl must face. He is haunted by Bobby Shine, the handsome, popular ex-World Wrestling Association Champion who “had the advantage of being dead.” The urban legends surrounding the murdered wrestler are the funniest parts of the book.
Despite the chaos of Daryl’s life, Spencer gives it symmetry: three wrestling personas; three women with three distinct personalities; personal and public histories merging into one; the power of The Three Stooges. The Masked Demon is a lyrical look at a messy life.