Hillbilly Jim lumbers into the studio wearing sunglasses.
I am on time this time. Early, even. Because I’ve been briefed I say, “Hi Mr. Morris. I’m Josh.”
His hand engulfs mine, pumps up and down. He is massive. Six-foot-seven, broad shouldered, and suspiciously orange.
“Howdy,” he says. “Good to meetcha.”
I am meeting Hillbilly Jim. This is real. I have note cards to tell me which questions I’m supposed to ask. They are stacked up in my hand, which is sweating profusely.
Hillbilly Jim has lost his shirt and is now clothed simply in denim overalls. He sits in a folding chair in front of me. There are lights all around, heat slapping us from a hundred directions, illuminating our faces, Hillbilly’s unnaturally tan, mine ghost white beneath all the makeup.
“What made you want to be a wrestler?” I ask with as much authority as I can muster.
“Well, I used to wrestle the critters out on the Kentucky farm, and knew I was good at it. I figured I’d get in the ring and see how it went.”
His beard is magnificent. It bobs up and down as he talks. He’s got this deep, twangy drawl which is partly real, partly made up. Jim Morris really did come from a Kentucky farm, but his Hillbilly Jim act is a personality on steroids. His intonation is ratcheted up, his shucks-howdy is something out of a Hee Haw rerun.
“And what was it like to wrestle alongside Hulk Hogan?” I ask.
“The Hulk is the best,” he says with sincerity. “He got me trained, taught me everything I know.”
There is a pause. I realize Hillbilly Jim has stopped speaking. I look frantically down at my cards, shuffle them, ask, “Is there anything you’d like to say to the kids watching you today on the Fox Kids Club?”
“Good question, partner. I’d say take your vitamins, train hard, and you can do anything in this life.”
Our audience trusts Hillbilly Jim. They will do what he says. He saved Hulk Hogan once and, along with two midgets, defeated King Kong Bundy in Wrestlemania III. He’s got clout.
There are more questions, more fast-talkin’ country-boy answers. I look at the last line on my last note card, then straight at the camera.
“Well, you heard it here, kids. Stay tuned for more. We’ll be right back.”
Hillbilly Jim sticks around for some publicity shots. He thanks me for the interview. He seems like a nice guy. A genuine nice guy. I tell him about my brother and me and the coffee table, that match with the Earthquake.
“Yeah, that was a tough one,” he says, as if the match were really real. “Wasn’t sure if I was going to get up that day. Did you get in trouble for the coffee table?”
“Nah, we just got a new one. That kind of stuff happened all the time.”
I want to tell him more. I don’t know how to say it, but I want to tell Hillbilly that he is television for me. Television is Hillbilly Jim.
He smiles, shakes my hand, slips into a dressing room and back into his shirt. He walks tall, bronzed and strong, out of the studio into the bright Nashville sun.
Tomorrow: “Things Change.” Josh MacIvor-Andersen lives in an old house in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his wife, a cat named Baby Kitty, and a second-trimester child named, for now, Baby Human, forthcoming in May.