May 3, 2012
Dark Journey's big comeback
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Lynda Newton can only laugh at the stories and rumors that have gone on for years about her. As the valet Dark Journey, she had a brief, hot run in the UWF in the 1980s, and a cup of coffee in Jim Crockett Promotions, and then, nothing. "Yes, I disappeared," she joked, "I was murdered, a drug addict, whatever else."
The truth, however, is something a little more tame. After a real up and down life, Newton has settled down and found contentment in the natural health field.
Over the past few months, she has made a couple of public appearances. First, Dark Journey resurfaced at the WrestleReunion fan fest in Los Angeles at the end of January, and then spent a couple of days at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas in April.
With a Facebook page to hear from fans, she has found herself face to face with old friends, even if Newton never really felt a part of the wrestling brotherhood.
Born in Los Angeles, Newton moved to Massachusetts, going to Brockton High School, where Marvin Hagler was learning how to become a "Marvelous" boxer.
"He used to spar with my step-dad," she told SLAM! Wrestling.
A free spirit, Newton hit the road to Florida, and then Atlanta, where she was working as an exotic dancer when she met wrestler Dick Slater. It was a job she was not fond of: "I didn't even want to go to work because I had to drink. That's how I felt."
Not a wrestling fan at all -- the first match she ever saw she was in -- Newton took a leap of faith.
"I guess I was fortunate running into Dick Slater as I did. He had an idea in his head of what he wanted, a scenario," she said. "I really didn't know what I was getting into."
Newton initially turned him down.
"I guess I didn't take him seriously at first. The guy who owned the club, he called me and he said,
"'Look, this is an opportunity for you to possibly be successful, and get in the television world.' I said, 'Okay, let me listen to him.' We had a meeting, I think it was me, my roommate, and my boyfriend at the time, and we all talked or chatted about whatever, about going away. I was ready to move anyway. I had had my share of Atlanta. It was time to move on. I wasn't single at the time, but I was free-spirited, so, in other words, I wasn't going to get grounded to one place."
It was off to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the center of the Mid-South Wrestling promotion, which was about to explode into the Universal Wrestling Federation, with a nationally-syndicated TV program and the goal of competing with the WWF.
The pairing of the Caucasian Slater (who was one of the bookers of the massive territory) with the African-American valet Dark Journey in the territory caused a great stir.
According to Newton, Slater was not upfront about his plans. "He never was honest about that, he honestly didn't say that, I think, because he wanted to be sensitive to me. But he would say it when I wasn't there to other people, and he would actually use words that weren't kind -- from what I knew about it," she said. "In other words, he would try to make himself look good when I wasn't there."
In an interview with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway website, Slater said that he and Dark Journey caused "a lot of chaos" and numerous lawsuits.
"I had more people really mad at me down there, than I ever did in my life," Slater said. "It didn't go over well in some places. It got so bad, that I couldn't go to a few places, you know? I had to stay home. It got that hot, where I had to say, 'I better not go in there tonight.' It got so hot, they were following me in the car out of the buildings. They were stalking me in a few places."
The size of the territory, which ran from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and later into Texas, meant that the pairing was received differently in each town. In New Orleans, with its large African-American population, the mixed-race relationship made the pair pseudo-babyfaces. Not so in Arkansas.
Newton had a lot of learning to do in a hurry, and didn't have much help -- no one smartened her up to the inner workings of the wrestling business.
Reflecting back, she feels she came through it okay. "I was scared to death. I look at myself now, because most of the matches I've never seen -- you're either on the road working and you don't see them, or every now and then you see something. I look at them and I don't remember almost being there, I really don't. Then when I watch myself, I'm shocked or surprised that I was as natural as I thought I was; I knew I was feeling a certain way at that time, but I look at myself and I go, 'That wasn't too bad.' As nervous as I was, I was surprised and I think I did pretty well."
It is one thing to accompany a wrestler to the ring -- besides Slater, she would be a valet for Buzz Sawyer, Iceman King Parsons, and Jack Victory "for a moment" before she was set up with The Missing Link (Dewey Robertson) -- but it was quite another thing to deal with the fans.
"The crowd was hurtful. I didn't understand why I was hated so much. I was naive, so to me, it was personal. I didn't like being in that position. It was uncomfortable," she admitted, recalling being spat on, pelted with debris and having her hair pulled. "Then when I went babyface, I got a whole other awakening again. All of a sudden, these same people that were hitting you are now touching you in private places -- women and men -- and then they're looking at you, staring. I'm trying to protect myself back to the dressing room. I remember, it was Terry Taylor, I said to him, 'These people are touching me!' He went, 'Oh yeah, you didn't know that when you turned babyface that's what happens?' I'm like, 'Noooo...' So that was different, interesting."
Working with The Missing Link was a whole different experience than being with Slater, she said.
Newton wants it to be clear that she liked Slater. "He would just basically take over the whole show and I wouldn't be able to say anything, he'd knock me out of the shot," she said. "And I'm not trying to put Slater down. Slater was a sweetheart, but I'm just calling it how I see it."
Behind the scenes, promoter "Cowboy" Bill Watts and booker Ken Mantell were big supporters, she said. "I think it was a good mix, it was Link, it was Bill Watts, it was Ken Mantell. There was some kindness there, very, very kind, and it was easier to work with that group -- more nurturing for me, is what I mean."
In his memoirs, compiled by author Meredith Renwick, Robertson addressed his recollections of Newton. "Dark Journey was kind of a loner. She did things, she was a loner, kind of a ... she knew how to make her way among the other people if she needed a ride. And she was good in the ring too."
As a babyface valet, Dark Journey often got to battle Missy Hyatt, who was with Eddie Gilbert, among others.
Hyatt has been vocal in her dislike of the matches and catfights the valets had. "I didn't like working with Dark Journey because she used to beat my ass every night," Hyatt said in 2007, accusing Newton of being high on drugs before going to the ring.
Without going into specifics, Newton will admit that it was a pretty wild time. "People were partying, they were. I'm not going to say I never partied. I absolutely have. But that wasn't my first choice to do that. My first choice was to figure out who I was and where I was going," she said.
In the ring, their fights got the crowds fired up.
"It was just called [in the ring] and we just learned it. Then something that would work good, we would just incorporate that in; if it worked good, it looked good, it felt comfortable," Newton explained. "We tried some new things. I got complaints. 'Oh, you're pulling my hair!' or 'You kicked me in the wrong place!' I got hit over the head with the wrong end of a shoe, and I could feel myself passing out, thinking, 'How am I going to finish this?' as I'm going down to the mat. Luckily I didn't pass out all the way and I was able to finish."
When the oil-based economy of Oklahoma suffered in the late 1980s, Watts was forced to sell his company to Jim Crockett Promotions.
Newton's contract was one of those assumed by Crockett, and she was a valet for Tully Blanchard of the Four Horsemen.
"It wasn't that long. Again, it was a situation where the guys, it could have been a gimmick that could have been worked better. Again, if somebody doesn't want to work with you, I can't get in there and physically do the wrestling. If somebody doesn't want to work with you, you're not going to make the gimmick work," she said diplomatically. "Basically I was just on the side. I'd get a few shots that they would call, get to actually partake, but for the most part, it wasn't working, it just wasn't working, so they decided to let me go. I was actually glad. I actually wrote JJ Dillon a letter after that, thanking him for letting me go. I also said, 'You know what? Somebody wants this job more than me.' I think it's just time for me to shift where I was going and what I needed in life. Then I just kind of disappeared."
After leaving Crockett, Newton went back to Los Angeles, and took various jobs, including waitressing, until settling in as a manager at a clothing store that took the damages and returns from the Macy's chain and liquidated the stock. Eleven years later, she opened her own stores close to Hermosa Beach, Calif.
"That all came to an end because it was like a hobby. Even though I was having fun, hobbies don't pay the bills," she said.
She shifted her direction and slowly started getting into natural health.
"I can assess a person nutritionally and also do emotional work," she said. "It's helping people, and I can't tell you what a blessing it has been to help somebody."
With a 23-year-old son, Zane, Newton is content. Having a supportive husband has been especially helpful.
"No one tied my hands. I just was free spirited and curious about a lot of things. That's how I learned, in other words, to get to where I am today. I needed those lifetime experiences, and my husband didn't," she explained. "Even though my road went all over the map, when my husband and I met, we're on the same path. We have a lot in common, but he didn't have to make the same choices. I wouldn't give up anything I've ever done. It made me who I am."
Greg Oliver's wife, Meredith Renwick, wrote Bang Your Head! The Real Story of the Missing Link. Together they hunted high and low for Dark Journey. Almost five years after Dewey's death, we are happy to know she is doing well. We know Dewey would be pleased. Greg can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.