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 - Donna L. Halper

According to Ancestry.com, Lillian Ellison, better known by her nom de wrestling, "the Fabulous Moolah", really does live on Moolah Drive in Columbia South Carolina.  That much is true, as is the fact that she is close to eighty and still wrestles.  But if you read this book with the hope of finding some insights into what makes her tick or why she has lasted so long, you will come away disappointed, as I did.

First, this book is not all bad-- I have seen some reviews that trash it, which I think is undeserved.  The illustrations alone are worth the price I paid to buy my copy-- especially the photos from the late 40s and early 50s, when she was "Slave Girl Moolah."  We are not told who took these pictures, but still, it was interesting to watch the development of her character as the years passed.  If Moolah has a scrap book, I'd love to see what other memorabilia she has saved from her long career: her amazing longevity is a testament to her ability to adapt to each new generation.  Another thing to keep in mind when reading this book:  it was written for a particular purpose, and in support of a particular point of view.  In other words, if you are expecting an exposť or hoping to gain entrance into the mysterious world of pro wrestlers, this is not the book for you.  As an "official", authorized publication, it received the full co-operation of the WWE and Vince McMahon; as those who have not been able to get that co-operation will tell you (for example, Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham's "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"), in exchange for permission to talk to Vince and all of his wrestlers, you are expected to tell the story the way Vince wants the story told.  So, it should not be surprising that Moolah's book holds faithfully to the WWF/WWE version of wrestling history, with nothing in it to criticise or even question the man who signs her paycheck.  It is thus more of a publicity piece for the "Moolah" character and a tribute to the WWE than it is an in-depth look at Moolah's life.   Still, some of her recollections about the old days are amusing, and whether Moolah really did know Jerry Lee Lewis or date Hank Williams Sr., she can tell a fascinating story.

The problem is that this book sheds very little light on who Moolah really is.  I don't mean deep hidden details of her broken marriages (which she alludes to, but seldom offers much that is specific) or scandal about which wrestlers did what (she is coy in saying that 'a certain wrestler' drank too much or was a womanizer, but she doesn't name names, obviously not wanting to cause a problem for people she might still have to work with).  I mean that when I read this book, I knew from page 1 that there was a character named Moolah speaking, and that she would tell her story as if every match was real and nothing in the story-lines was scripted.  I wanted to know how she managed to survive so many years and still remain champion-- as a "girl wrestler" in the late 40s, she had struggled to get credibility and ultimately was able to work her way up, despite being neither cute nor sexy. I don't say that unkindly:  lady wrestlers were the subject of much cultural ambivalence for years.  While in some cities, they were popular, there were states which barred them, and certain TV stations of the early 50s even refused to show their matches.  (I have an old New England TV Guide from 1951 lamenting why the lady wrestlers were taken off the air.)  

A strong, tough, athletic woman in those days was assumed to be a lesbian; although such things were not discussed, clearly Moolah was aware of that "butch" stereotype, which she dealt with by being "lady-like" outside the ring and advising the female wrestlers she trained to do likewise.  But none of this is discussed in her book-- she never addresses the changing stereotypes about women, nor how her character managed to adapt.  She repeatedly tells the reader that she refused to let men boss her around and that she was always ready to kick some butt, yet surely she was affected by society's changing attitude about a woman's proper role.  It would have been interesting to hear her opinion on the 50s archetype of the lady wrestler as Amazon versus the more recent stereotype of the lady wrestler as partially undressed sex symbol.  Instead, we get occasional comments about her likes and dislikes, usually with no analysis or reason-- for example, out of the blue, we are told she dislikes Bill Clinton because she feels he is immoral, a comment I found puzzling given that none of this book is about her particular political philosophy, and also given that this book is full of stories of un-named wrestlers who did not always behave in an exemplary way, yet she is quite forgiving of their antics.  More...

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