Tracing the Evolution of the McMahon Family's Portrayal on WWE Programming

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterAugust 23, 2013

(Photo: WWE)
(Photo: WWE)

The McMahon family has seized power once again, this time wrapping their hands around Daniel Bryan's neck.

Each of the McMahons has shifted from backstage roles to prominent players in WWE's theater. As wrestlers, tyrants, on-screen authority figures and hated rivals, Stephanie, Shane and Vince McMahon became integral parts of the WWE narrative.

After backing off from the center of the spotlight, the family (minus Shane and Linda) has returned as the company's top villains. They represent authority in Bryan's battle with "the man."

Triple H may be the patriarch now, but for many years it was Vince.

His journey is an intriguing one that took him from being the owner's son to WWE champ, from obscurity to center stage.

WWE's Dictator

Vincent James McMahon founded the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1963. His son, Vince K. McMahon was just 18 years old at the time.

Vince Jr. not only took over the strings from his father in 1982, but eventually became one of his own puppets.

Fans first saw him onscreen as a presenter and a commentator for the company. There was little acknowledgment of his power on WWE programming. Instead, McMahon called matches alongside men like Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan.

"What a maneuver!" became one of his most famous lines.

An oft-discussed incident with Bret Hart yanked McMahon from behind the announce table and in front of the camera.

Hart's anger over what became known as the Montreal Screwjob shifted attention onto McMahon, whose response showed glimpses of the Mr. McMahon character soon to come. His "Bret screwed Bret" speech was cold and unwavering and showed off a glimmer of the villainy McMahon would later exude.

McMahon began a transformation into a high-profile character.

He was WWE's dictator—cruel and unpitying. His reign remained mostly unchallenged until "Stone Cold" Steve Austin rose up, a rebel raging against the machine.

For much of The Attitude Era, McMahon was his own company's top heel, as his feud with Austin both propelled a rising star into unparalleled popularity and helped WWE battle its chief rival, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), in terms of ratings.

McMahon as a dastardly villain was such a successful formula that he went to it several times over. He joined forces with a turned Austin after WrestleMania XVII and revealed himself to be a mysterious, hooded figure aligned with The Undertaker.

He was the man fans longed to see suffer and that he did.

McMahon stepped into the ring on several occasions to receive beatings from Austin, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan and others. These bouts often left him bloodied and the audience satiated.

With help from his allies, McMahon won the WWE Championship in 1999 and won the Royal Rumble the same year.

Even though he later stepped back from the spotlight, McMahon's presence was never far. He continued to be the on-screen boss off and on.

McMahon had rivalries with Donald Trump and D-Generation X, forced employees to join his "Kiss My Ass" club and fired a long list of wrestlers and authority figures.

Through it all, McMahon remained a target for fan favorites and the boss of everyone's nightmares.

After an angle involving him "dying” in an explosion coincided with the real-life death of Chris Benoit, McMahon seemed to pull back on his character's evilness. He was involved in lighter fare, like the story involving his illegitimate son Hornswoggle.

McMahon also began to become a part-time presence.

It felt as if art was imitating life, Triple H's real-life increased power showed up on TV as well. Triple H, Stephanie and Vince recently squabbled over control of the company and it seemed as if a showdown for who ran WWE was imminent.

Fast forward to the Raw after SummerSlam 2013 and Triple H and McMahon were gleeful about their plan to keep Bryan from being champion. While he may not play the lead in this unfolding drama, it looks as if Mr. McMahon and his unscrupulous ways won't ever go away for good.


Hard-nosed And Corrupt

Stephanie's evolution has seen her go from innocent young lady to despot to executive.

WWE fans first saw her onscreen when The Undertaker kidnapped her. She was simply a victim then, almost being forced into marriage with The Deadman.

Like a screaming woman in a horror movie, her role was the hero's motivation and the way a villain showed off their lack of morals.

She was still a powerless pawn when Triple H interrupted her wedding with Test to announce that Stephanie had already married him in an intoxicated state. That damsel in distress role soon shifted in a major way.

She turned on her own family to own WWE alongside Triple H. Their reign became known as the McMahon-Helmsley Era.

It was here that we watched Stephanie's confidence grow and her innocence fade as we saw a preview of the strong businesswoman she would become in real life.

Like her father, she was both an undeserving champion and a hated authority figure. She won the women's title with tons of assistance from her friends.

She moved on from this character, often the verbal punching bag for The Rock and Chris Jericho, to become SmackDown's General Manager. This character was closer to who she really was, the powerful woman we see at WWE press conferences today.

In the decade following, battling her father in an I Quit match at No Mercy 2003, she made only infrequent appearances until returning this summer. She looked to be caught in the middle of a war for power between her father and her husband, but has since slipped into a new character.

When explaining to Bryan why he wasn't worthy of the WWE title, Stephanie revealed herself to be less of an over-the-top character of the McMahon-Helmsley days, instead blending being hard-nosed and corrupt.

So far, she's come off as a realistic character who is looking out for her business and willing to skirt around morality to achieve her goals.

Carrying On The Family Tradition

Shane McMahon, like his father, grew up around the business.

A young Shane served as WWE referee. He could be seen shouting at Rick Martel at the 1991 Royal Rumble. His evolution took him inside the ring and then away from the company completely.

Fans first began to notice Shane as his father's lackey when the Mr. McMahon character began to take off. Vince was constantly surrounded by men like Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson. Shane started to more consistently join them.

In 1998, Shane Joined The Corporation, carrying on the family tradition of tyranny.

He was a central part of storylines during this period, feuding with his father and The Union and forming The Corporate Ministry. His ownership of the company was constantly at stake, either as a face or a heel.

Fans will remember him more for his fearlessness when the narrative turned violent.

His father is certainly willing to take a beating for the good of the story, but Shane went beyond anyone's expectations and developed a reputation for being a daredevil. In battles against Kane, Steve Blackman and Kurt Angle, he took insane bumps.

His most consistent rival was his own father. Shane's storyline acquisition of WCW sparked a war between WWE and WCW, father and son.

After that story faded, so did Shane's onscreen role.

While Stephanie and Vince have never gone away from TV for long, Shane has left that world for a new life. He resigned in 2010 and became an executive elsewhere.


Trademark McMahon Wickedness

Today, the McMahon clan is often WWE's corporate face, or at least Vince and Stephanie are. They address the press, make announcements and know how to bridge the outside world with the crazy one the WWE creates.

Linda McMahon's political aspirations have her out of the picture completely, as does Shane's new career.

Authority figures ranging from Mike Adamle to John Laurinaitis seemed to be taking the McMahon's onscreen role from them, but Vince and Stephanie are back in a big way. Expect Bryan's pursuit of the WWE title and of justice to include those two as much as Triple H and Randy Orton.

Blending their real lives into their characters, Vince and Stephanie don't feel so much like cartoon villains but the kind of power-hungry executives that exist in excess in the real world.

They are apparently willing to make up rules as they go and to stand for the kind of frustrating overseers that anger us to no end.

We're never going to see Stephanie return to the wide-eyed victim she started out as or Vince sit behind the announce table with no intentions of interfering with the action.

The McMahons have transformed into oppressors in suits, and even when they begin to show signs of a heart, we should remember that the trademark McMahon wickedness never truly goes away.


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