April 27, 2004
Documentary honors women of '50sLipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling hits the screen
By GREG OLIVER -- Co-Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
The new documentary, Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling is about giving back to the women who blazed the trail, a cinematic tribute to the pioneers of women's wrestling.
Directed by Chicago's Ruth Leitman, the flick has its world premiere this Thursday in Toronto as a part of the HOT DOCS Film Festival, and is unveiled in the U.S. on May 5 at the Tribeca Film Festival. It uses archival footage of classic matches and 1950's B movie clips, combined with firsthand accounts of the "Golden Girls", the spirited referees, the rabid fans, and the enterprising promoter, to shine a spotlight on the spectacular world of the first ladies of the ring.
Some of the names featured in the Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar are familiar to fans of today, namely The Fabulous Moolah and 'Johnny' Mae Young. But the other women interviewed in the film have had equally enthralling lives, travelling the globe, wrestling before moving on to other jobs.
Ida May Martinez is one of those wrestlers featured in the film. She broke into wrestling at 18 in Billy Wolfe's troupe of women wrestlers, and worked until 1960. With an exciting, fiery style, she drew comparisons to Antonio Rocca. After finishing her career in the ring, she went to school to become a registered nurse, and was very active in her community. Today, Ida May is a yodeller.
Martinez is very excited about the documentary. "It's great because I don't think that anyone has done one before prior to this," she told SLAM! Wrestling. "They really need to see the real us, meaning us, the women. We've been stereotyped for a long time, as masculine, they think we're butches, this and that. That's not true. I think many of us have a lot of class, and we show it."
At 84 years young, Gladys 'Killem' Gillem has seen wrestling change tremendously through the years. Inspired after seeing Mildred Burke wrestle, Gillem got into wrestling under Burke and Wolfe. She worked about a decade, often as an opponent of the legendary Burke, then she switched gears. "After ten years in the wrestling business, I decided to try something easier, so I switched to lion taming," she told Whatever Happened To... years back. Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar explores her career post-wrestling as well, including a stint wrestling alligators.
Coming out of Washington State, Ella Waldek worked under numerous names during her wrestling career, including Jackie Lee and Charming Carmon. After ending her wrestling career, she became a private investigator and later moved part-time in gardening.
Penny Banner is another of the women featured into the film, and was a big help in getting the film put together. Through her association with the Ladies International Wrestling Association (LIWA) and the Cauliflower Alley Club, Banner was able to help Leitman find many of the stars of yesteryear.
"I guess what Ruth wanted to do, she just had a passion for this. I don't know why, but to let the world know how women's wrestling got started," Banner said.
Like Martinez, Banner hopes that the documentary sets the record straight. It was taboo for girls to get into wrestling when she started, and there was resistance on every level. "Men, I think they felt that we were taking away money from them, when actually we were drawing crowds to the different cities that we went to. Believe me, whenever there was rating time on television, guess who was on there. Girls, always. You see, we never, ever got credit for that," Banner said.
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in
1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the
author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame:
The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from the SLAM!
Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at email@example.com.