Gloria Barattini was into opera before wrestling
GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Gloria Barattini, who died at the end of January, got a lot of publicity during her wrestling career, which ran from 1949-62, for the career she didn't pursue: opera singer.
It wasn't a work, as Barattini, a mezzo-soprano, studied singing at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. But until like promotional spiel, she didn't give up the dream of performing in Carnagie Hall for pro wrestling. It was family duties that kept her home, working on the family farm outside of Baltimore, Maryland.
Gloria Dolores Barattini was born on December 26, 1929, in Laurel, Maryland, to parents Louis and Pearl, who were of Italian heritage, hence the love of opera. She did many chores on the 400-acre farm, from picking fruit to picking up supplies in town.
"I've always been athletically inclined," she said in a January 1951 story that circulated on the newswires. "I have three older sisters and three older brothers and we were always playing baseball, basketball and tennis. And we were riding horses and just raising hob in general."
Some of her cousins were wrestling fans, and that's how Barattini became interested, thinking that she could do that too.
In interviews years later, Barattini said that watching Nell Stewart got her into it; "I never saw anything so exciting," she said in the June 1951 edition of Wrestling and TV Sports. "When Nell took matters into her own hands it was really something. She bit her opponent, pulled her hair, gouged her eyes. I thought that was so unfair and wanted to do something about it. So I took up wrestling."
The Baltimore promoter at the time was Ed Contos. He saw enough in Barattini that he brought her to Billy Wolfe's attention. Wolfe was the man who controlled women's wrestler out of Columbus, Ohio, and he gave Barattini a tryout at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.
At 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, the brunette Barattini impressed (and not just from the measurements from a 1950 story: "measuring 26 inches at the waist and 36 inches at the bust and hips.") "Being a farmgirl, I could move," she said in a 2007 interview with the Frederick News-Post. "And they showed me some moves."
In Boston, she learned the moves and was soon out on the circuit.
"Along with Johnnie Mae Young, Nell Stewart and June Byers, Gloria was in the vanguard of the second wave of female stars that followed Mildred Burke, Gladys Gillem, Elviry Snodgrass and Mille Stafford," said Jeff Leen, who wrote The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend about Burke and women's wrestling. "She had that combination of skill and sex appeal that defined her group, and Billy Wolfe used her background as a Baltimore 'heiress' and opera singer to gain valuable publicity. Had the female wrestling business not collapsed in the mid-'50s, all of them would have gone on to long and fruitful careers as main eventers in their own right."
Mae Young, who died three weeks before Barattini, recalled her colleague in a January 2011 interview. "She was a good worker," said Young. "She used to sing the Indian Love Call. That was beautiful."
Her 13-year career took her around the world, including Canada (she had a scar from a knifing in Calgary), Korea, the border of China, Japan, Philippines, and pre-Castro Cuba. One career highlight she once told this writer was winning the Florida women's title from Mars Bennett.
In 1962, her career abruptly ended when her father had a heart attack and she went home to help run the farm
The Fabulous Moolah, Gloria Barratini, Mae Young, Killem Gillem and Ida Mae Martinez. Photo courtesy Claire McCoy.
Later, Barattini married Frank Souza, who served his country in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War. Together, they ran a corner store in Brunswick, Maryland for a time, and then later The Hitching Post bar/restaurant in Petersville.Their son, Philip, died of leukemia when he was 2 1/2 years old. Frank Souza passed away on February 1, 2000.
"After her husband died Gloria kept the business running, her customers were like family," reads her obituary in the Frederick News-Post.
Barattini died January 27, 2014 at her home in Knoxville, Maryland. She was 84. There will be no viewing and she is to be interred at the Arlington Cemetery.
Previous SLAM! Wrestling obituaries
Greg Oliver is the Producer of SLAM! Wrestling. He can be emailed at email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @gregmep.