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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,085

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This is the grave of Lillian Ellison, better known as The Fabulous Moolah.

Born in 1923 in Kershaw County, South Carolina, Ellison grew up in the fantastic-sounding town of Tookiedoo, south of Columbia. I’m guessing growing up there in the 30s was less exciting than the town sounds. She didn’t have any money. Her mother died in 1931 and she went to live with her grandparents, who didn’t have any money either. To make money, she picked cotton, the ultimate labor for those who had no other options in the South. It took her years to recover from her mother’s death and her father wasn’t really sure what to do. He wanted to distract her. So he took her to the local professional wrestling matches. She was instantly hooked.

Now, Ellison would have a long road to becoming the professional wrestling star that she is known for today. In fact, she got pregnant at the age of 14 and married the 21 year old father of her child. As soon as her daughter was born, she divorced the bum. She dropped her baby off with a friend who agreed to care for her and hit the road to become a wrestler.

By 1949, Ellison was seeing some success in the ring. As fake as professional wrestling obviously is, it is fun entertainment I suppose. It’s not necessarily my thing, but I’ve seen a few lucha matches in Mexico and it is a kick. Women’s wrestling had its own special niche by people who basically liked to watch women grapple at each other in the ring. This was not an easy racket. It was filled by complete scumbags and the fans were often little better. Ellison would live all of this. She was first under the control of Billy Wolfe, who was a big women’s promoter. He would demand sexual favors for bookings, including from Ellison, although she refused to do this. Then she working with a guy named The Elephant Boy. He was Mexican. Part of the routine was that she kissed him on the cheek. But some guy thought he was Black and so tried to stab him for miscegenation. Ah, America.

Ellison started working with Vince McMahon, Sr., in 1955 and rose pretty fast after that as The Fabulous Moolah. She became the World Women’s Champion in 1956 and held that title mostly until 1983. Of course, it’s all just ridiculous entertainment, but she was good at said ridiculous entertainment. She became the first woman to wrestle in Madison Square Garden, because New York had some dumb rule barring women wrestlers until 1972. In fact, Ellison played an active role in getting the athletic commission in that state to act to reverse this sexist law. As part of the act to get the thing overturned, she and the NFL legend Rosie Grier set up a deal where they appeared on the Mike Douglas Show and she flipped him, showing to the world that women like her were real athletes. And for whatever hooey the act really is, these women are nothing if not great athletes.

By 1983, Moolah was obviously getting pretty old. But she owned the Women’s World Championship and was still involved in the entertainment. That year, she sold it to Vince McMahon, Jr.’s World Wrestling Federation. Then, as part of a much broader effort to get women’s wrestling accepted by the fans, the WWF engaged with Cyndi Lauper, who was a huge star at this time and also a big pro wrestling fan. They got her to start a feud with Captain Lou Albano that would lead to Moolah, representing Albano, fighting against Wendi Richter, who was Lauper’s friend. Then Richter won and became the world champion. The whole ruse was pretty successful. Moolah remained around though and kept fighting until 1988, when she retired.

She still remained around the entertainment though and would appear now and again. In fact, she was the first inductee into the WWF Hall of Fame, in 1995. She showed up in the ring as late as 2007, when she was a mere 84 years old.

So we might like to think of Moolah as a pioneer, as I suppose she was. She was also a grifter like the promoters that she came up with. She learned all the bad things from those promoters and used it to get rich off the women who signed up with her. It was pretty bad. She would agree to contracts and then not pay up. She forced women in her training school to rent bad housing that she owned. She also pimped out her wrestlers for sex and a lot of women who resisted this were raped with the knowledge of Ellison. She would also force her women to take drugs and become addicts so she could control them. She also forced lesbian wrestlers to date men and would bar them from the ring if they entered a gay bar or got caught dating women. In other words, she was a horrible human being in an industry of horrible human beings. She’s always had her defenders who said these allegations are untrue, but they come from an awful lot of women. Hard to imagine they are making all this up.

Toward the end of her life, Moolah was living with her friend and fellower old wrestler Mae Young in a South Carolina house. Her health began to slip and her heart started giving out. She died in 2007, at the age of 84.

The Fabulous Moolah is buried in Greenlawn Memorial Park, Columbia, South Carolina.

If you would like this series to visit other professional wrestlers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Eddie Guerrero is in Scottsdale, Arizona and Bull Montana is in East Los Angeles, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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