Jim Barnett
James Edward Barnett

(1924-06-09)June 9, 1924
DiedSeptember 18, 2004(2004-09-18) (aged 80)
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (PhB)[1]
Years active1949-2002
Height5 ft 9 in (175 cm)[1]

James Edward Barnett (June 9, 1924 – September 18, 2004) was an American professional wrestling promoter and executive. During his career, he was at times one of the owners of the Indianapolis National Wrestling Alliance promotion, Australia's World Championship Wrestling, and Georgia Championship Wrestling, as well as serving as an executive with the World Wrestling Federation and Jim Crockett Promotions/World Championship Wrestling. He also served as a member of the National Council on the Arts during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter. Barnett was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, the NWA Hall of Fame in 2005, and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019.

Professional wrestling career

Barnett was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,[1] where he attended Harding Junior High School followed by Classen High School, graduating in 1943.[1] In 1943, he enrolled in the University of Chicago, studying theater and aspiring to become a playwright.[2] During his time at the University of Chicago, he served as business manager for student newspaper The Chicago Maroon, bringing him into contact with the professional wrestling promoter Fred Kohler. Barnett graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree.[1]

In 1949, Barnett went to work for Kohler's Chicago-based professional wrestling promotion Fred Kohler Enterprises, writing press releases and serving as deputy editor for the magazine Wrestling as You Like It. He went on to work for Kohler as a road agent, eventually becoming Kohler's right hand man (in 1954, the New York Daily Mirror jestingly described him as Kohler's "Man Saturday"). Barnett helped Kohler get his Wrestling from Marigold program syndicated across the United States.[3][2][4][5][6]

In the mid-1950s, Barnett became a part-owner (with Kohler) of the National Wrestling Alliance-affiliate Indiana Wrestling, relocating to Indianapolis. While in Indianapolis, Barnett pioneered the practice of recording wrestling matches in a television studio (rather than transporting recording equipment to arenas).[7] Barnett left Fred Kohler Enterprises in 1958.[1]

In the late-1950s, Barnett entered into a partnership with wrestling promoter Johnny Doyle and started to run wrestling shows on a national basis in cities including Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Windsor, Ontario, in some cases competing with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).[8][9]

In 1964, Barnett travelled to Sydney in Australia with Doyle to inspect the Australian wrestling scene. Selling his Indianapolis promotion to Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder and his Detroit promotion to The Sheik, he returned to Australia with Doyle under the banner of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), presenting their first card on October 23, 1964, at the Sydney Stadium.[4][10] WCW's shows were broadcast in Australia on Nine Network on Saturdays and Sundays; the program later also began airing in New Zealand and southeast Asia.[11] After Doyle died in 1969, Barnett became sole owner of WCW.[11] In the same year, Barnett joined the NWA.[3] In 1974, Barnett sold WCW to Tony Kolonie and returned to the United States.[11]

In 1973, Barnett became a part-owner of the Atlanta-based promotion Georgia Championship Wrestling. After joining Georgia Championship Wrestling, he eventually became secretary-treasurer of the NWA.[3][4] Barnett used the growth of local Atlanta station Channel 17 into the national cable network TBS to promote Georgia Championship Wrestling.[4] Tommy Rich's less-than-a-week NWA World Heavyweight Championship reign in 1981 was one of Barnett's attempts to boost Georgia gates and secure his primacy within the promotion. During his time running Georgia Championship Wrestling, at the behest of TBS owner Ted Turner, Barnett renamed Georgia Championship Wrestling's eponymous Saturday evening television show to World Championship Wrestling, reusing the name of the Australian promotion he once owned. In 1984, Barnett sold his share of Georgia Championship Wrestling to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), leading to what was known as Black Saturday, where the WWF took over the former Georgia Championship Wrestling time slot on TBS.

Barnett served as a senior vice president of Titan Sports, Inc., the parent company of the WWF, from 1983 to 1987. While with the WWF, he negotiated the sale of the time slot on TBS to Jim Crockett Promotions, as well as contributing to the first three WrestleMania events.[4][5][12] He left the WWF in 1987 after chairman Vince McMahon demanded his resignation.[4]

In late 1987, Barnett began working for Jim Crockett Promotions. When Jim Crockett sold his promotion to the Turner Broadcasting System in November 1988, after which it was renamed World Championship Wrestling (WCW) after the Saturday show at Barnett's suggest, Barnett stayed on as a senior adviser and a confidant of Turner.[3] He worked for WCW until its acquisition by the WWF in 2001.[7]

In 2002, Barnett became a consultant for the WWF, a role he held until his death two years later. During his tenure he identified John Cena to WWE executive Bruce Prichard as "your next guy".[13]

Political and cultural roles

Barnett served as vice chairman of the State of Georgia Board of Medical Assistance and as a member of the Georgia Council of the Arts and Humanities.[14] He was also a board member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a national trustee of the National Symphony Orchestra.[2]

Barnett was active with the Democratic Party.[1] He supported various politicians, including mayor of Atlanta Maynard Jackson, Representative Wyche Fowler, and governor of Georgia George Busbee. He donated $1,000 (equivalent to $5,143 in 2022) to Jimmy Carter's successful 1976 presidential campaign and $1,000 (equivalent to $3,552 in 2022) to Carter's unsuccessful 1980 re-election campaign.[2] Barnett served in Carter's Office of Counsel to the President. In January 1980, he was nominated to be a member of the National Council on the Arts for a term expiring on September 3, 1980.[14][2][15][16][4]

Personal life

Barnett was openly gay.[4][12] In the 1950s he allegedly had a relationship with actor Rock Hudson.[4]

After being dismissed from the World Wrestling Federation in 1987, Barnett reportedly attempted to commit suicide via an overdose of sleeping pills.[4]

The book, Thin Thirty, by Shannon Ragland, chronicles Hudson's involvement in a 1962 sex scandal at the University of Kentucky involving the football team. Ragland writes that Jim Barnett, a wrestling promoter, engaged in prostitution with members of the team, and that Hudson was one of Barnett's customers.[17] In 2003, former football player and wrestler Jim Wilson claimed that Barnett had sabotaged his attempts at a wrestling career after he rejected sexual advances from Barnett in 1973; Barnett denied the allegation, stating that he had sent Wilson home from a tour of Australia due to his having an affair with a stewardess whose airline sponsored World Championship Wrestling.[4]

Death and legacy

Barnett died of pneumonia on September 18, 2004, at the age of 80, in Atlanta, Georgia. He had recently developed cancer and broken his arm in a fall.[4][12]

World Wrestling Federation chairman Vincent J. McMahon described Barnett in 1980 as "an outstanding promoter - probably the best in the country."[2] Barnett was identified by journalist Mike Mooneyham as "an integral part of pro wrestling's national television boom in the '50s" who "oversaw the golden age of wrestling in Australia during the '60s."[4] He was described by the Cauliflower Alley Club (CAC) as "one of the most successful and controversial wrestling promoters in the history of the mat game", with CAC vice president Nick Bockwinkel calling him "the father of television studio wrestling".[12] Journalist Dave Meltzer described Barnett, alongside Eddie Graham, Sam Muchnick, and Vincent J. McMahon, as "the probably most influential men on the promotional end of the industry during the 60s and 70s".[18] Barnett was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, the NWA Hall of Fame in 2005, and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019.[3]

Barnett was known to his contemporaries for his three-piece suits, horn-rimmed glasses, and expression "Oh, my boooooy". Wrestler Jack Brisco described him as resembling "a character out of a Noël Coward play".[4][7]

Awards and accomplishments


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "James Edward Barnett, special inquiry" (PDF). Federal Bureau of Investigation. September 20, 1979. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 12, 2024. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hall, Carla (April 3, 1980). "Keeping a firm hold on the arts". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 8, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Jim Barnett". OklaFan.com. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Mooneyham, Mike (September 26, 2004). "Barnett 'an unforgettable figure'". MikeMooneyham.com. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  5. ^ a b "Jim Barnett". WWE.com. WWE. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
  6. ^ Parker, Dan (February 17, 1954). "Only shooting match at Garden after curfew". New York Daily Mirror. Retrieved January 8, 2023 – via NYProWrestling.com.
  7. ^ a b c Oliver, Greg (September 19, 2004). "Jim Barnett was TV innovator". SlamWrestling.net. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  8. ^ Hornbaker, Tim. "The rise of Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle". LegacyOfWrestling.com. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  9. ^ "Just no end to wrestling's popularity here". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, Michigan. January 16, 1964. p. 43. Retrieved January 7, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Jim Barnett: King of the Australian - American Connection". MediaMan.com.au. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  11. ^ a b c Oliver, Greg (September 20, 2004). "Jim Barnett's Australian legacy". SlamWrestling.net. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d "Jim Barnett". Cauliflower Alley Club. 2004. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  13. ^ Defelice, Robert (May 14, 2023). "Bruce Prichard recalls Jim Barnett telling him John Cena would be 'the guy' in WWE". Fightful.com. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
  14. ^ a b "National Council on the Arts Nomination of Three Members". The American Presidency Project. University of California, Santa Barbara. January 29, 1980. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  15. ^ "Records of the White House Office of Counsel to the President: A Guide to Its Records at the Jimmy Carter Library" (PDF). Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. July 2019. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 24, 2023. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  16. ^ "The National Endowment For The Arts 1965–2000: A Brief Chronology of Federal Support for the Arts" (PDF). National Endowment for the Arts. 2000. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 25, 2022. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  17. ^ Ragland, Shannon P. (2007). The Thin Thirty. Louisville, Kentucky: Set Shot Press. ISBN 978-0-9791222-1-7.
  18. ^ Meltzer, Dave (September 22, 2021). "September 27, 2004 Observer Newsletter: Death of Jim Barnett, issues backstage for WWE". F4WOnline.com. Archived from the original on January 6, 2022. Retrieved January 6, 2024.
  19. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame". Cagematch.net. Archived from the original on September 28, 2014.