By now you’ve heard that WWE has taken the Fabulous Moolah’s name off of the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal, after a fan outcry led Snickers, sponsor of WrestleMania, to put its foot down. What I’m here to say is thank god for Snickers. It would be nice if WWE had the decency and sense to make the right decision on their own, but barring that at least money talks.
Maybe you haven’t been on Twitter in the past week and you’re still confused about why everyone hates Moolah. After all, WWE has not been talking about her much recently, but she’s historically been its most honored female wrestling pioneer, with her close friend Mae Young as a close second. She was the first woman to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and kept appearing on WWE TV all the way up until her death in 2007. Unfortunately, as we all know, WWE likes to write their own history. Moolah was friends with Vince McMahon and his father, and worked closely with them to bring her brand of women’s wrestling into WWE, so in WWE history, she’s the most important woman wrestler of all time.
In this era of “making history” and “women’s evolution,” and of a new breed of feminist fans advocating for the importance and validity of women’s wrestling, it certainly looks strange from the outside for these same fans to say that this one pioneering woman should not be honored, and in fact is best disavowed and forgotten. In the case of the Fabulous Moolah, however, it’s the right call.
To respect women’s wrestling and the many past and present female performers within it, you have to let Moolah go. There was nothing Fabulous about the way that she treated women, or what she did for the art of women’s wrestling. WWE may never acknowledge that, but the least they can do is stop talking about how great she was.
Moolah Exploited Women
If you’ve only scratched the surface of the discussion, you’ve probably seen people calling Moolah a pimp. This claim is based on accounts by multiple women who worked for her, including Luna Vachon and Mad Maxine. It seems that when Moolah was booking women’s wrestling beginning in the late 1950s and extensively in the 1960s — which in those days generally meant sending a couple of women to a territory to put on a single women’s match on an otherwise male card — the women she sent would sometimes be expected to have sex with the promoter, or other men in the organization.
According to Mad Maxine in an interview with Slam! Wrestling, she sometimes trafficked women without wrestling even being involved:
Moolah did send girls out to this guy in Arizona and pimped them out. I actually spoke to him on the phone and asked him what he was looking for. He said, ‘If I’m spending all this money, you know what I want.’ That was part of Moolah’s way of making money.
Perhaps the most upsetting story is that of Sweet Georgia Brown, which came out in an article in the Columbia Free Times, which featured interviews with Brown’s children, several of whom were born to unknown fathers while their mother was on the road under Moolah’s management.
Brown’s daughter Barbara relates a story from her childhood of Moolah and her husband and business partner Buddy Lee bringing her mother to the house for a brief visit. When Brown asked for more time with her children, Moolah punched her and forced her back into the car. Barbara’s mother later told her that sometimes on the road she would receive unexpected late-night knocks on her door and know that she should go ahead and take off her dress, or else she’d be beaten.
Georgia Brown’s story also illustrates the way that Moolah financially exploited the women she trained. She managed every girl who came out of her training school, which included demanding 25 percent of their pay, although she reportedly kept a larger percentage much of the time. She would have promoters pay her on behalf of her wrestlers, and then she would give those wrestlers a much smaller amount.
Her school was also designed to squeeze as much money from the girls as possible. According to Mad Maxine, trainees had to pay rent and utilities to live in barracks on Moolah’s compound, as well as paying up to $1,500 in training fees. “The girls went into debt to her and she controlled their lives,” says Maxine. Wendi Richter, who also trained at the school, said in a shoot interview that Moolah didn’t even get in the ring to train anyone herself. She had the more experienced students train the newer ones, and naturally they didn’t get paid for it.
Another Moolah trainee, Sandy Parker, speaks to the control that Moolah exerted over her stable of women. Parker was a lesbian, but Moolah told her she needed to date men, and that she wasn’t allowed to go to gay bars. According to Parker, Moolah was a hypocrite because “she had her own little dalliances that we all knew about.” According to interviews with Luna Vachon and others, some of those dalliances were with her students, which definitely opens up questions of consent, especially considering how tightly she controlled them.
Moolah Held Women’s Wrestling Back
Even if you question any of these stories, one thing that’s absolutely inarguable is that Moolah held women’s wrestling under her thumb for as long as she possibly could, and was far more interested in promoting herself than in promoting women as a whole. To begin with, she popularized what later came to be called the Diva style of wrestling.
Early female wrestlers like Mildred Burke might have been sexualized by promoters, but their wrestling was as physical and athletic as the men’s. Moolah championed a style that was less about athleticism and more about hair-pulling and other “catfight” maneuvers. That’s what she taught her trainees (or perhaps had them teach each other), and it unfortunately became the most dominant form of women’s wrestling until the last five years or so, despite some blips along the way.
A big part of why Moolah’s preferred style became so dominant is that she joined up with WWF, and did her best to control a women’s division consisting mostly of her trainees for as long as she possibly could. The aforementioned Mad Maxine, for example, was being set up to be the top women’s heel in the 1980s, but Moolah wanted that role for herself, despite being in her 60s at the time.
Maxine was even going to be the female member of the heel faction on the WWF’s Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, as illustrated by character designs on WWE.com, but when the show actually aired she’d been replaced by a cartoon Moolah.
Then of course, there’s Wendi Richter, victim of the Original Screwjob. She’d been handpicked to be the face of women’s wrestling in the 1980s, but after she had a contract dispute with Vince, Moolah was called in to fix the problem. Wendi was supposed to fight the masked Spider Woman at Madison Square Garden, but immediately recognized Moolah, not the usual Spider Woman, beneath the costume. Moolah went off-script and forcibly pinned Wendi to the mat, the complicit ref did a quick three-count, and Wendi’s title run and WWF career were over for good. Furious, Wendi kept fighting after the bell and ripped the Spider mask off to reveal Moolah’s face, but there was nothing she could do.
In the late 1980s, WWF introduced Women’s Tag Team Titles, and the Glamour Girls, both Moolah trainees, were feuding over them with the Jumping Bomb Angels, a Japanese team. According to interviews with both Glamour Girls, Leilani Kai and Judy Martin, the two teams were in Japan for a show when Moolah called them and said that Pat Patterson, the booker at the time, wanted the titles to change hands in the Japanese show. They couldn’t reach anyone else from home, so they did what Moolah said. Afterward, Pat Patterson was furious that they’d messed with WWF’s plans, which were to not switch the titles until WrestleMania. Nobody at WWF believed that Moolah had told them to do it. The Mania match was canceled, the Women’s Tag Titles were phased out, and the Jumping Bomb Angels never returned to WWF.
Whether Moolah sabotaged those tag teams because she was threatened by the athletic feats of the Jumping Bomb Angels — which far outpaced what she and her trainees could do — or whether she was just mad that WWF had lost interest in her as an in-ring performer, it was a supremely shady move.
In 2018, as so many fans talk about how badly WWE needs a women’s tag division, it’s hard not to imagine a world in which they’ve already had one for 30 years. That would have to be a world where women’s wrestling was able to expand and grow at its own speed, welcoming in performers from other countries and with different styles. In short, a world in which Fabulous Moolah wasn’t doing everything she could to hold women’s wrestling back, and being given the power to do so by WWE.
There are more Moolah stories out there, but this is at least a sense of their scope. Was she a pioneer in women’s wrestling? Technically, yes. She was also a grifter, a vindictive glory hound, and an alleged sex trafficker and abuser.
It’s not just that she was a wrestler who was also a bad person, although god knows there are plenty of those. She was a malevolent force that actively impeded the advancement of many specific women wrestlers, and of women’s wrestling as a whole. If we’re going to build a future in which women’s wrestling is as respected as men’s, there’s no place in that future for treating Fabulous Moolah like an honored figure to be memorialized.
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