Not sure if this makes me a feminist or not, but I’ve never been a fan of modern women’s wrestling. These days, a “lady wrestler” is known as a WWE Diva: a model with some athletic prowess who gets trained on how to take bumps and do a few move sets that, for me, always look bad. They are “showing light” a lot (not connecting, not making the moves look real), and none of the “characters” that they create are much more than “hot model in spandex with an attitude.” Gorgeous? Yep! Athletic. Sorta! Wrestlers? Nah.
But the lady wrestlers of yesteryear? They were flippin awesome! Tough as nails, and pretty as a date to the ice cream social, these gal could WRESTLE, kids! Really wrestle! They were awesome in the ring, not just eye candy. Check out these tough gals in action for the documentery LIPSTICK AND DYNAMITE (the quality stinks, sadly, but you can get the DVD on Netflix):
The stories these women tell of life on the road, of carving a name for themselves in a man’s world but also of finding freedom, too, is pretty damn wild. These gals would cripple a Diva in ten seconds and look fabulous doing it! I especially love Johnnie Mae Young, the cigar-chomping heel who was probably the toughest lady wrestler of all time, not scared to put a man in his place in the lockeroom because she was “one of the boys.” (she even wrestles today, though she’s made to be something of a joke for modern WWE fans. I’m glad she gets a pay check, but it is kinda sad). An “Kill’em Gillem”, the zero-BS gal who took harder bumps than any critter on earth!
But the road was rotten for lady wrestlers, too. And the business was anything but fair. Jeff Leen’s awesome biography of lady wrestling champion Mildred Burke, QUEEN OF THE RING, is a terrific compliment to LIPSTICKS AND DYNAMITE. Burke was probably the most famous lady wrestler of the 1940-1960s, until the Fabulous Moolah came along. Her story, and that of her successful but abusive and rotten manager Billy Wolfe, is largely the story of lady wrestling. It’s an eye-popping read, from Burke’s days on the carnival circuit, to the height of her championship fame, to the slow demise and somewhat sad recovery of making “lady wrestling” videos you could order from the back of “gentleman’s” magazines.
When you see these old gals in action, you don’t doubt for a minute they’re as tough and talented as they say they are. Diva’s may be easy on the eye, but if I was ever stuck in a dark alley with a bunch of toughs carrying irons and blackjacks in their hands, I’d want Mae Young watching my back more than the Bella Twins.