Born George Wagner on March 24, 1915, in Butte, Nebraska.. When he was 7 years old, Wagner's family moved to Houston, Texas, where he associated with kids from a tough neighborhood. As a child, he trained at the local YMCA and often staged matches against his friends. In 1929, he dropped out of High School at 14, and worked odd jobs to help support his family. At this time, he competed at carnivals, By age 17, he was getting booked by the region's top promoter, Morris Siegel, and in 1938, he won his first title in 1938 and another the following year.
At 5 ft 9 in and 215 pounds, Wagner was not especially physically imposing by professional wrestling standards, nor was he an exceptional athlete. He soon developed a reputation as a solid in-ring wrestler. In the late 1930s, he met Elizabeth "Betty" Hanson, whom he would later marry in an in-ring ceremony. When the wedding proved a good drawing card, the couple re-enacted it in arenas across the country enlightening Wagner to the potential entertainment value that was left untapped within the industry.
Around this same time, Vanity Fair magazine published a feature article about a professional wrestler named 'Lord' Patrick Lansdowne, who entered the ring accompanied by two valets while wearing a velvet robe and doublet. Wagner was impressed with the bravado of such a character, but he believed that he could take it to a much greater extreme.
Subsequently, Wagner debuted his new "glamour boy" image on a 1941 card in Eugene, Oregon, and he quickly antagonized the fans with his exaggerated effeminate behavior when the ring announcer introduced him as "Gorgeous George". Such showmanship was unheard of at the time; and consequently, arena crowds grew in size as fans turned out to ridicule Wagner (who relished the sudden attention).
Gorgeous George was soon recruited to Los Angeles as the "Human Orchid", his persona was created in part by growing his hair long, dyeing it platinum blonde, and putting gold-plated bobby pins in it (which he called "Georgie Pins" and distributed to the audience). Furthermore, he transformed his ring entrance into an elaborate spectacle that would often take up more time than his actual matches. He strolled nobly to the ring to the sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance", followed by his valet and a purple spotlight. Wearing an elegant robe sporting an array of sequins, Gorgeous George was always escorted down a personal red carpet by his ring valet "Jeffries", who would carry a silver mirror while spreading rose petals at his feet.
Once the match finally began, he would cheat at every opportunity, which infuriated the crowd. His credo was "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!" This flamboyant image and his showman's ability to work a crowd were so successful in the early days of television that he became the most famous wrestler of his time, drawing furious bad guy attention wherever he appeared.
It was with the advent of television, however, that Wagner's in-ring character became the biggest drawing card the industry had ever known. No longer was pro-wrestling simply about the in-ring action, but Wagner had created a new sense of theatrics and character performance that had not previously existed. Moreover, in a very real sense, it was Gorgeous George who single-handedly established television as a viable entertainment medium that could potentially reach millions of homes across the country.
In addition to his grandiose theatrics, Gorgeous George was an accomplished wrestler. While many may have considered him a mere gimmick wrestler, he was actually a very competent freestyle wrestler, having started learning the sport in amateur wrestling as a teenager, and he could handle himself quite well if it came to a legitimate contest. The great Lou Thesz, who would take the AWA title away from Wagner, displayed some disdain for the gimmick wrestlers. Nevertheless, he admitted that Wagner "could wrestle pretty well", but added that, "he [Wagner] could never draw a fan until he became Gorgeous George."
By the 1950s, Gorgeous George's star power was so large that he was able to command 50% of the gate for his performances, which allowed him to earn over $100,000 a year, thus making him one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.
In one of his final matches, Gorgeous George later faced off against (and lost to) an up-and-coming Bruno Sammartino. On November 7, 1962 would lose his precious hair again when he was defeated by the Destroyer in a hair vs. mask match at the Olympic Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles, he was just 47.