The Fabulous Moolah: Legend or Pimp?
Mary Lillian Ellison was born was born July 22 1923 in Kershaw County, South Carolina, the youngest of five children. She became interested in wrestling at the age of 10, when she was taken to wrestling events by her father to overcome the grief stemming from her mothers death. She began her wrestling career in the late 1940s in the National Wrestling Alliance. She would be initially known as “Slave Girl Moolah”, and worked along the likes of Buddy Rogers and Elephant Boy. Following an incident with Elephant Boy, she left the NWA and headed for the Capital Wrestling Federation. Upon arriving here, on September 18 1956, she won a 13-woman Battle Royal to capture the World Women’s Championship. It was at this point she became The Fabulous Moolah, thanks to Vince McMahon Sr.
Although she was not initially recognised by everyone as the champion, in particular Billy Wolfe, her initial championship reign would last nearly 10 years. During this time, she would successfully defend her championship against the top females of the time including Judy Grable, Donna Christanello and June Byers. The later of which came out of retirement to challenge her. Following June Byers retirement in 1964, Moolah became know as the official NWA Women’s Champion. Whilst the WWE recognises her as a 28-year champion, she did in actual fact loose the championship several times during this time. However, in 1972 she became the first woman allowed to compete inside Madison Square Garden. In the late 1970s, she bought the legal rights to the women’s championship.
It was in the 1980s as Moolah was now in her sixties but showed no signs of slowing down. She sold the rights to the championship to Vince McMahon as he began expanding the then-WWF. She would continue to appear regularly for the WWF until the beginning of 1988 when she quietly left the promotion. Albeit her 1995 Hall of Fame Induction, she was little seen or mentioned on the wider scale. She continued to wrestle regularly on the independent circuit well into her seventies, before making a return to the WWE in 1999. She soon made history on October 17 1999 when she captured the Women’s Championship from Ivory at No Mercy. At the time, she was 76-years-old.
She continued to appear on WWE television up until SummerSlam 2007, well into her eighties. She continued to compete sporadically on WWE television. Following her final appearance at SummerSlam 2007, she passed away less than three months later following complications from shoulder replacement surgery. Following her death, there was a tribute aired to her on Monday Night RAW where she received a standing ovation. Now over 10-years later, the WWE decided to create “The Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal” at WrestleMania 34. And by god was there worldwide outcry from this.
There has being many of allegations against her throughout the years which have called upon her honesty, professionalism and used her position to exploit people. She was a well known trainer of the female competitors back in the early 1970s/80s. But many of her pupils have called upon how they were treated by Moolah during their time with her. Some have claimed she didn’t train them. Some have claimed that she took a percentage of their booking for any appearances they made. There has also being allegations of her pimping out her students. Then there is allegations of her manipulating promoters and using her influence across the wrestling scene.
One of the students of Moolah, Judy Grable has recently spoken out on this subject and went into very much depth on the topic when discussing this with PopCulture. Here is what she had to say:
“I never experienced that, and all of the one’s you named are dead, so how could they be saying anything? Maybe their families are just making it up. But as far as I was concerned, she didn’t send me nobody. If she was going to pimp somebody out, I was going to be number one on the list,”
Another former protegee of Moolah, Peggy Lee Leather has also spoken out on the subject. Here is what she had to say on the matter:
“Moolah was nothing but a businesswoman, a shrewd one … a very shrewd one at that … but as far as this pimping, that’s a big bunch of bullshit. I’m upset about the fact that Snickers can come in and put down an icon like The Fabulous Moolah that they don’t even know anything about. And the fact that they’re saying all the girls that wrestled and trained and worked under her were prostitutes, that just gets my blood boiling.”
Now back in the real world. If Moolah did allow prospective women wrestlers to be trained by her own trainees, then there is a sly indication of doing something under false pretences. But this hasn’t hampered the women in the long run. Ultimately, they were able to forge their own paths into the wrestling industry, successful or not. If they allowed Moolah to take a percentage, ultimately this is effectively having Moolah as their agent and still continues in the real world today. Agents are going to take a percentage, otherwise they are effectively working for nothing. In terms of manipulating promoters, this again continues within the world today and is likely not to stop. Did she possible manipulate promoters to her way of thinking maybe. In terms of sexual exploitation, this is something which cannot be commented on here.
At the end of the day, many of these allegations happened many years ago and there will never be a full truth to these. The reason: the cause of the allegations has being dead 10-years and isn’t here to defend themselves. If Moolah was still alive, maybe these allegations would have taken a different path. But she isn’t and cannot defend herself. There will never be any truth to any of this, and they need to stay were they belong – in the past!
Image Credit: PostWrestling.com