You can say what you will about the “sport” of professional wrestling. In the past there were allegations of sexual favors and demands placed upon the wrestlers in return for title shots and championship belts. Recently, allegations of rampant steroid and human growth hormone abuse have graced the front pages of the news. Wrestlers like Chris Benoit and his part in the murder of his family under some very strange circumstances have further undermined an already tarnished reputation and the premature death of Eddie Guerrero and a slew of other have forced the sport to re-examine just how far it will go to capture the publics imagination and the dollars they are willing to pay.
But through the good years and the bad stood one shining beacon that rose above the chaos It was the one person you could count on as a fixture in the sport that has more plot twists and revolving cast of characters than an entire season of Twin Peaks.
Her name was The Fabulous Moolah.
And now she is gone.
A Queen is Born…
Moolah wasn’t always fabulous. As a matter of fact she was raised in some rather humble surroundings. She was born Mary Lillian Ellison in someplace called Tookiedoo, South Carolina way back in July of 1923. She was the youngest of thirteen other kids that called the Ellison household home. Amazingly, she was the only girl.
When she was just eight years old, her mother succumbed to cancer and by the age of ten she was out in the fields picking cotton. I guess back in 1932 there wasn’t a whole lot to do around Tookiedoo and her father started dragging her to the local Tuesday night wrestling matches. Some have theorized that it was his way of compensating her over the loss of her mother; others might say that it was the only game in town that could help cure the boredom. Either way, a life long love affair was born.
But first, there was business to attend to When Moolah was a mere fourteen years of age, she married a local character who was all of twenty one. They soon had a child but the marriage failed. Moolah’s father begged her stay out home but she took to the road to make her name in the squared circle of the wrestling world.
The Passing of the Crown…
Wrestling in the 1940’s and 50’s was just beginning to take on a theater aspect.
Many of the men had started developing characters of their own and one who went by the dubious name of “Elephant Boy” was in desperate need of a valet to accompany him back and forth to the ring. In 1949, “Slave Girl Moolah” was born to serve that purpose and to provide the audience with some much needed eye candy as the matches were in progress. She’d later offer her services to the original “Nature Boy”, a wrestler known as Buddy Rogers.
In the mid fifties, women’s wrestling began to grow in prominence and long time women’s champion Mildred Burke was nearing the end of her career. In 1956 a thirteen woman battle royale was staged to decide the passing of the torch and Moolah, who was no longer the “slave girl” but was now “Fabulous” emerged the victor. Women’s wrestling would never be the same.
Long Live the Queen!...
Over the next decade, Moolah would take on and defeat all manner of rivals. Along the way she managed to make some friendships outside of the wrestling world that included the likes of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. The title finally changed hands when Moolah dropped a match to somebody named Betty Boucher (who just happened to be Moolah’s sister in law) in September of 1966. Ms. Boucher’s reign as queen of the wrestling world was short lived. A few weeks later, Moolah would regain the belt and hold onto it for another ten years.
But then, on one fateful night in 1976 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the unthinkable happened. Moolah lost a match to a fellow wrestler with the uninspiring name of Sue Green, By this time, Moolah was well into her fifties and many thought her best days were behind. Determined to prove the skeptics in the audience wrong, she whipped Ms. Green in a rematch a few weeks later. She would lose and regain the belt for a few days in 1978 but then went on another six year run as the undisputed champion.
I say undisputed because legally she was just that. During that time she had purchased the legal rights to the championship and nobody could take it away from her.
As the 1980’s started wrestling grew in popularity. This was probably due to the fact that the story lines were becoming increasingly adult in nature and the more far fetched the better. Wrestling and MTV formed a marriage of sorts and Moolah was right there by their side to try and cash in. In what was then the biggest match in women’s wrestling history, “The Brawl To End It All”, Moolah lost her belt to Wendi Richter in a match televised and viewed by millions around the country on MTV.
Moolah, now getting on in years, took up the role as trainer and advisor to a flock of upcoming female wrestlers. Perhaps she did it to learn their ways because in 1985 a new female wrestler burst upon the scene. She wore a mask and called herself “The Spider Lady”. Now, how any body in their right mind couldn’t recognize Moolah’s unique physique (she was over 60 at the time) is beyond me but the wrestling world being what it is was shocked when The Spider Lady turned out to be Moolah herself!
She would hold onto the belt for another couple of years before finally relinquishing it in 1987. It was at this point she when she decided to retire from full time competition.
Soon after Moolah’s retirement, women’s wrestling here in the States also seemed to hit the skids. In 1995 she was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. As of this writing, she remains the only woman to hold this honor
In 1999 there was a rebirth of sorts and Moolah was dragged out of retirement. At the tender age of 76, she was invited into the ring to receive her just desserts for her life long contribution to the sport. Her reward was getting bashed over the head with a guitar by a male wrestler by the name of Jeff Jarrett.
In her final days Moolah kept giving back to the sport that had given her so much. On the occasion of her 80th, birthday she climbed between the ropes once again and defeated someone named “Ivory” for the title.
In August of this year, she was scheduled to appear once again in one of those Smackdown> events but had to cancel at the last moment due to the death of one of her brothers.
On November 2, 2007 The Fabulous Moolah passed away at her home in Columbia, South Carolina at the age of 84.
I’m sure the bell that signals the beginning and end of each match will be rung and that the lights that surround the squared circle of competition will be dimmed in her honor.