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   Fri, July 29, 2005



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Wrestling doc pure 'Dynamite'
By LIZ BRAUN -- Toronto Sun

Lipstick & Dynamite hits the Toronto rep cinema circuit this weekend, and the Toronto Sun ran a review today (a mere 15 months after SLAM! Wrestling).

Wasn't it 'Chyna' who claimed she could crush a man's head like a melon between her powerful thighs?

That memorable statement constitutes the extent of our knowledge about women wrestlers -- but thanks to Lipstick & Dynamite, at least now we know a bit about the history of this bizarre sport.

And about its first champions: The Fabulous Moolah, Gladys "Killem" Gillem, the Great Mae Young, Ella Waldek, Ida May Martinez, Penny Banner and many more.

Lillian Ellison -- the Fabulous Moolah to you -- may be coming up to her 82nd birthday, but she can still kick your butt, and chances are she'd try. Lipstick & Dynamite is put together with interviews, old film footage and archival photos, and try as she might to put a nice veneer on things, Moolah is obviously just as dangerous now as she was during her heyday in the ring.

Lipstick & Dynamite begins with a brief history of women in the ring, a chapter in sports that started off as part of the circus freak show. Even when women wrestlers became more-or-less accepted in the auditoriums, there was still a sideshow flavour to it all. They were usually part of a novelty bill that included midgets, giants or someone wrestling a bear.

Each of these admirable women tosses off a few biographical details; the common thread in their earliest years appears to be fear, abandonment and bad physical treatment. They took their knowledge of domestic fighting and their desire to have another sort of life and turned it toward women's wrestling.

Talk about being ahead of your time. Most of these women were living independently by the age of about 15, and took their place in a man's world through herculean effort. Men managed the fights and took most of the money; the girl grapplers were fit and beautiful and they mostly led terrifying lives in the ring.

The Great Mae Young made a name for herself as a dirty fighter, so the ring had to be netted when she fought to protect her against the eggs and rotten vegetables people would throw at her.

Ella Waldek, a stunning blonde fighter who seems to have borrowed Elaine Stritch's speaking voice, was accused of manslaughter after a young girl fighter died during a bout. These fighters were fleeced financially, propositioned, banned in several states and smacked around on (and sometimes off) the job.

What a life. Lipstick & Dynamite is about some powerful, awe-inspiring women, many of whom took their knocks and turned it into a paycheque. Ida May Martinez, soft-spoken and kind, won't even talk about her childhood much but elaborates on her second career as a nurse. Waldek started a detective agency. Killem Gillem became a lion tamer.

And then they married and had children.

Lipstick & Dynamite is a glimpse of the wild and woolly pre-feminist world these capable women inhabited. Have a look.

Lipstick & Dynamite Related Links

  • STORY: Documentary honors women of '50s
  • REVIEW: Guts & endurance calling card of Lipstick & Dynamite
  • CHAT: With Penny Banner, Ida May Martinez and Ella Waldek


    Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!


  • Lipsitck & Dynamite: The First Ladies of Wrestling DVD
  • Order The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle
  • Order Penny Banner's Banner Days