Iowa Icons: Dan Gable

Mark Palmer

6/25/2013
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

Over the years, Dan Gable has been the subject of seemingly countless articles, books and documentaries ... to the point where fans may think they know all there is to know about the iconic wrestler, coach and international ambassador for the sport.

However, even the most knowledgeable, fanatic fan of Dan the Man will likely discover new facts and insights about their hero from a brand-new documentary titled "Iowa Icons: Dan Gable" now available on DVD from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. All proceeds from the sale of the DVD go to support the Waterloo, Iowa-based museum that bears Gable's name.

The man who went one-on-one with Gable

The DVD is the product of a one-on-one interview with Gable, conducted by Eric Braley, owner of Around the Corner Productions, who describes himself as "a diehard sports fan from Nevada, Iowa." Although Braley never wrestled, he is a long-time wrestling fan who is well-suited for the assignment as interviewer for "Iowa Icons: Dan Gable." Braley earned video production degrees -- and teaches courses on the subject -- at University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, just a few miles from Gable's hometown of Waterloo. For the past seven years, he has hosted the weekly TV show "Panther Sports Talk" that features segments on various UNI athletes and coaches, including those from the school's wrestling program. And, he is a sports announcer, who, among his accomplishments, has provided play-by-play for the Iowa Public TV "College Wrestling" series, working alongside ... yep, Dan Gable.

For all those reasons, Eric Braley is uniquely qualified to take on the job of producing a Dan Gable documentary.

"I built up a relationship with Gable, along with Kyle Klingman at the museum," Braley told InterMat. "I thought he deserved a one-hour sit-down interview. He is a true Iowa Icon."

Straightforward presentation = surprising revelations

These days, some documentaries can have all the showbiz elements of a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with staged reenactments, special effects, tricky editing techniques, over-the-top orchestration, and other gimmickry. These affectations seem to be particularly popular with many who produce sports documentaries.

Not "Iowa Icons: Dan Gable." This documentary is as straightforward and direct as Gable himself.

The film consists of two men -- Gable and Braley -- facing each other in director's chairs inside the Gable Museum. As one would hope from a documentary about Dan Gable, Dan Gable is the one that is on-screen the vast majority of the time. Occasionally there are other images of Gable the wrestler and Gable the coach interspersed throughout, usually to illustrate a specific point.

Braley serves up open-ended questions that invite Gable to tell his story in his own words, at his own pace, for as long as he feels necessary. The two talked for nearly three hours.

This approach makes for a more disclosing, more revealing, more compelling documentary on Dan Gable. One prime example for this lifelong Gable fan: his discussion of the murder of his older sister Diane -- his only sibling -- in the Gable home in 1964, while Dan and his parents were out-of-town on a fishing trip. Gable reveals new details about her killer (a classmate of his), how he persuaded his parents to stay in the home rather than move out, how he took over her bedroom to support of her memory, and how her murder propelled him to even greater focus and intensity in his wrestling career at Waterloo West High School, within sight of his home.

Another element of surprise for this writer was to hear Gable talk about homesickness when he went off to Iowa State, admitting that he wrote a letter every day to his parents (who wrote back just as often), and, in his first year in Ames, he would come home nearly every weekend.

Formatted for openness

When asked about the revealing nature of this documentary, Eric Braley referred to Gable by saying, "You're talking about your legacy. You want to be open."

Eric Braley
Braley then addressed how the documentary's format aided in this openness.

"There's a comfort level for Dan, by having the interview set at his museum, with someone he knows doing the questioning."

"The finished product is much different than, say, if he had gone to New York and been interviewed in an unfamiliar location, by someone he had just met."

"We could have done things differently," Braley continued. "We could have made a documentary consisting of video interviews with wrestlers, coaches and others who know Dan Gable. But we thought it made more sense to have the focus be on him. We wanted you to see his facial expressions and gestures as he talked."

When asked which aspects of Gable's answers were most surprising to him, Eric Braley had a couple examples beyond the murder of his sister Diane, or adjusting to life at college, away from home.

"Talking about his upbringing, his father's influence, growing into wrestling," Braley responded. "Gable was a talented athlete. He was a great swimmer as a kid. However, the Y where he went swimming also had a wrestling room right in front. Waterloo has a great wrestling heritage. His dad wrestled. Those elements early in his life helped make him such a significant figure in the sport."

Braley brought up another major transition for Gable: going from being a Cyclone wrestler to joining the coaching staff for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.

"Leaving Iowa State to go to Iowa. He wanted to stay at Iowa State, but he realized the opportunity offered to him by Iowa was too good to reject. He made a commitment."

Now available outside eastern Iowa

The "Iowa Icons: Dan Gable" documentary was originally broadcast by KCRG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, as a one-hour program with commercials. According to Braley, there was considerable interest in the documentary after the broadcast, with individuals asking about getting copies of the program.

"We talked to Kyle Klingman (director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum) to make copies of the documentary available on DVD, and have all profits from the sales going directly to the Museum," said Braley.

The DVD now available to the public shows the documentary as it was originally broadcast (minus commercials), with bonus interview segments not originally shown on TV.

Wrestling fans may purchase a copy of the "Iowa Icons: Dan Gable" DVD for $20 each directly from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum by calling (319) 233-0745, by email to dgmstaff@nwhof.org, or online: http://nwhof.org/products-page/video-dvd-vhs/motivationaldocumentary/iowa-icons-dan-gable/

With the "Iowa Icons" identity, this wrestling writer had to ask: Is this a series? Can we expect more documentaries about other wrestlers and coaches with roots in the state of Iowa?

"I don't know. We might do more," Braley responded. "We thought we'd start with Gable because of his significance in the sport, and because of our relationship."

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