You likely heard about the movie 'Lipstick & Dynamite'... read about it in the media or right here at LadySports... but you were probably unable to see it due to it's limited theatrical release...
National Public Radio has an audio review of the movie... Click here to listen!
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The following story is by:
by Karen 'JerzyGirl' Belcher
“The St. Louis Woman” Penny Banner, The Fabulous Moolah, The Great Mae Young, Gladys “Killem” Gillem, Ida Mae “The Body” Martinez, Ella “The Policeman” Waldek -- you could make a full length movie about each of these legendary pioneers of “Girl Wrestling.” Director Ruth Leitman took on the formidable task of making one documentary film about all of them, and the result is an unforgettable success.
Lipstick & Dynamite is a true must see for all wrestling fans, but it’s also an entertaining story that will appeal to people who never watch wrestling. Leitman tells the powerful story of strong, determined women surviving poverty, adversity, injuries and abuse while fighting for success in a male dominated business. These women never thought of themselves as feminists -- they just wanted a way out of poverty, stifling small town life, abusive home situations and/or a way into the big time, and they fought viciously to attain those dreams. Their stories will inspire and empower anyone who must overcome obstacles to realize their dreams.
Leitman effectively mixes rare old footage of the women wrestling with film of them today, in their homes, driving, and at a legends reunion. Jokes and wisecracks are intermingled with sentimental memories, hurt and anger, and even tears. Touches of kayfabe show up here and there when the women discuss their careers, such as when Moolah talks about her infamous match as “Spider Woman” vs. then WWF Women’s Champion Wendy Richter, but how can you make a movie about old school wrestling without a little kayfabe?
Gladys “Killem” Gillem (wrestled 1942-62), the oldest of the women, left home at 19 and began her wrestling career on the carnival circuit. Her countless injuries include a cauliflower on the back of her head, the result of her trademark of taking frightening bumps on her head. The still spirited octogenarian cheerfully declares that she “f**ked [promoter] Billy Wolfe,” and gives graphic detail about an injury that left an eye “hanging from its socket.” She explains that her mind “goes back and forth” ever since the operation to replace her eye in its socket.
In film clips from her appearance on Bill Cosby’s You Bet Your Life, Gillem talks about wrestling both women and men, as well as bears and alligators, and being a lion tamer. Then, to Cosby’s dismay, she challenges him, declaring, “I’ve never wrestled a millionaire!”
Ella “The Policeman” Waldek (wrestled 1952-71) was training to be a roller derby jammer and switched to wrestling after a friend took her to a show. After leaving wrestling she started her own successful detective and security agency. The most touching moment of the film is when Ella Waldek talks of fighting back the tears during a moment of silence for Janet Boyer Wolfe, an opponent who died in July, 1951 from a stomach injury sustained after a kick by Waldek in a tag match that also included Eva Lee and Mae Young.
Although Janet Boyer Wolfe’s death was due to a freak accident, police held Waldek, Lee and Mae Young while they considered charging all three women with manslaughter. Eventually all charges were dropped, but Waldek had to face fans who screamed “Murderer!” at her. Ironically, Ella Waldek was unable to have children due to a very serious injury she suffered from a kick to the solar plexus.
Ida Mae “The Body” Martinez (wrestled 1952-59), one time Mexican Women’s Champion, went into wrestling to escape a home life where she was raised by a grandmother, aunt and uncle who viewed her as a burden and hid her when visitors came to the house. Openly discussing her abusive marriage, she says that she was always attracted to alcoholic, needy men. Martinez became a nurse and was among the first to work with AIDS patients and their families. She also demonstrates the talent that made her a star in western yodeling, where she is known as “The Yodeling Lady.”
The Fabulous Moolah and The Great [Johnnie] Mae Young (Moolah 1949-present; Young 1948-present) share a home with midget wrestler “Diamond Lil.” They are probably the best known of the ladies in the film, because they still work for WWE and continue to wrestle even though both are in their 80’s. Mae Young declares that she will wrestle a match on her 100th birthday.
Penny Banner tells of the first time she met the crewcut Johnnie Mae Young, in 1954, “She had on men’s shoes, men’s pants, she was smoking a cigar. She looked at me and said, ‘What you looking at, F**kface!’ You didn’t do things like that then!”
All of the ladies started out working for promoter Billy Wolfe, who forced them to hand over 50% of their earnings and pay their own road expenses. Moolah eventually started up her own school for women wrestlers and began promoting, only charging her wrestlers 25% of their earnings, and paying for their expenses on the road. Even so, the other women express resentment over Moolah’s often cutthroat business dealings and her ruthless control over the Women’s Championship during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Moolah looks like anyone’s sweet grandmother when she reveals, at the prompting of Mae Young, that she would hide a spoon handle in her bosom during matches, and used it to gouge her opponents in the eyes and throat. She giggles coyly when she adds, “I was bad.”
Moolah also talks movingly about her ex "husband" Buddy Lee, and catching him having an affair with her friend and protégé, wrestler Rita Cortez. Then we hear from Rita Cortez Lee in another segment, stating that the only title she ever held was Mrs. Buddy Lee, but that was enough for her. Leitman pulls no punches.
“The St. Louis Woman” Penny Banner grew up in the projects and was working as a waitress at a hamburger shop. After a customer tried to rape her, she began to learn judo and do weight training so that she’d be able to defend herself. By chance she was noticed at a waitressing job by a male wrestler who told promoter Sam Muchnick about this tall, strong, beautiful woman. Before she was approached by Muchnick, she never even heard of girls wrestling.
From that beginning, Penny went on to date Elvis Presley and hold numerous titles, including the first AWA Women’s Champion and the Woman’s World and Canadian Tag Team Championships. Banner also talks freely about her abusive marriage to wrestler Johnny Weaver and her pride in their daughter Wendi. Penny went on to have a very successful career in real estate as well as being a Senior Olympic medal winner, competing in swimming, discus throw and shot put.
[Ms Banner is also the long-time Commissioner of the PGWA] As a side note, Penny Banner recently had knee replacement surgery and is working through some very difficult therapy to regain full use of her knees. Please take a moment to say a prayer for Penny, or just send some good thoughts her way. You can visit Penny's website at BannerDays.com and send her a message.
reprinted by kind permisssion of “JerzyGirl” Karen Belcher