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The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend Paperback – Bargain Price, July 13, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Edition edition (July 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802144829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144829
  • ASIN: B006G81AIG
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,030,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this intriguing biography, Leen (Kings of Cocaine) chronicles the life of the queen of the mat, Mildred Burke, women's wrestling champion and pioneer of the sport. Burke (1915–1989), along with her husband and manager, Billy Wolfe, are credited with having invented professional women's wrestling and bringing it to prominence: Her muscles and his mind had made the industry of women's professional wrestling in America. Their rise, fall and resurrection is a story as bizarre and titillating as wrestling's own carnival roots. The king and queen of lady rassling broke barriers despite a ban on women's wrestling in many states. Leen, managing editor for the Washington Post's investigations unit, deftly guides the reader through well-documented and researched accounts, which are culled from Burke's unpublished autobiography, interviews and numerous newspaper records. Leen writes: Her speed and skill made her wrestling a thing of beauty in the ring, full of careful shifts of balance and swift and surprising combinations that turned the straining of muscle and limb into a ballet of grace and power. Flavored with authentic speech and dedicated to accuracy, this biography is the tale of an underdog who triumphed. B&w photos. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“In a class by itself. A serious history of one of this country’s goofiest senses that [Leen has] left no stone unturned in researching Burke’s story.”—The Washington Post

“An all-American story of a woman who rises above her downtrodden circumstances to make something of herself.”—Barry Gewen, The New York Times

“You won’t be disappointed…Leen has [Burke’s] story pinned to the mat.”—USA Today

“Leen can deliver gripping scenes…a rewarding read, an untold tale that completely deserves the telling.” —St. Petersburg Times

“Jeff Leen has made a fabulous contribution to the sports-history canon. The Queen of the Ring is a marvelous evocation of an era, and a riveting portrait of a one-of-a-kind American moll.”— Sally Jenkins, author of The Real All-Americans

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 11 customer reviews
I brought it with me during a flight to London and this book made the flight a total pleasure.
Jeff Leen has written a great book and deserves credit for bringing the true story of Mildred Burke and women's wrestling to life.
J. Williams
What is just as fascinating is the amount of research the writer had to do to come up with these facts.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David M. Goode on August 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is the unvarnished story of a true pioneer in the world of professional wrestling.It's also a Horatio Alger tale of how a single mom and former waitress rose from obscurity to become a world champion.From her early days on the carnival circuit where she wrestled(and defeated)men to the days when she headlined at the biggest arenas in the country Mildred Burke was an American original.Burke was an athletic marvel in an age when women were expected to be nothing but subserviant little home-makers.And she had the physique of a female bodybuilder at a time when no one could even concieve what a female bodybuilder was.All the legendary tales are here.But you are told the true stories behind those legends.And some of those stories aren't very pretty.Real life often isn't.This book is as much about tragedies as it is about triumphs.There are heroes here and villians too.Just like there were in wrestling's golden age.This is a book that you won't be able to put down once you start it.I strongly recommend it to any true fan of pro wrestling.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By fred vallongo on August 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Queen of the Ring," Jeff Leen uses the story of Mildred Burke as a canvas to craft a compelling,and wildly entertaining portrait of professional wrestling,and the struggle of women wrestlers to get credit for their athleticism and ability to put butts in arena seats. As a teenage, single mother Burke saw wrestling as a way to a better life.

At her mother's diner she met the man, Billie Wolfe, who would be her Svengali, and ultimately her nemesis. Leading her to recognition as the Women's Champion (including an incredible draw against her greatest rival in what may have been the last "real" pro wrestling match in the U.S.!). After a tortured marriage marked with domestic violence on Billy's part and infidelity by both. Wolfe would drive his ex-wife to the margins of professional wrestling.

Burke found "life after Wolfe," by wrestling in Japan, and ultimately, in producing films of mixed wrestling, where women successfully defeated male opponents. These films touched on some of the deepest undercurrents of sex, violence, and fetishism that have always been part of wrestling's secret heart.

"Queen" is , ultimately, a vivid portrait of a changing society, a changing sport (and yes, even "worked" pro wrestling is a sport), and a changing paradigm of relations between the sexes, both sexually, and in power dynamics.
I think it would make a heck of a movie, and a film version could be developed from a variety of perspectives. the story of Mildred (Bliss)Burke that wrestling fans, and non-fans alike can both enjoy and learn from
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By KR on September 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a big fan of "old school" women's wrestling and I just loved this book. I brought it with me during a flight to London and this book made the flight a total pleasure. I loosely knew the Mildred Burke story from the "Lipstick and Dynamite" film and from several mentions in the Wrestling Observer newsletter but this book taught me a lot about her amazing career.
Mildred was a huge star back in the day but she is pretty obscure among today's fans so this book will hopefully help to get her accomplishments known. Beyond the fact that the wrestling stories are interesting, there is plenty to admire in general just based on how Mildred was able to break so many barriers especially in an era where being a wrestler was far from a typical occupation for a woman. Burke reminds me of Broadway legend Ethel Merman. However, in terms of fame Merman is legendary in Broadway circles while Burke's story has been largely forgotten which is unfortunate.
If you are familiar with Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young from their WWE appearances, it's interesting to note that it was Mildred who inspired these two legends to break into the business!
The one error I found in the book is that it says Moolah won the women's belt from Wendi Richter at the first Wrestlemania when it was Richter who beat Moolah protege Leilani Kai at this show. Interestingly, Moolah won the belt back from Richter in a double cross in late 1985. Double crosses are mentioned fairly often in this book but the Moolah/Richter double cross is not brought up.
You won't be sorry...purchase this book now!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
Last weekend I was restless and couldn't sleep. I found this in my girlfriend's stash of books and figured I'd read a few chapters to put me to sleep. I ended up staying up until the sun came out because I could not put this book down. There's nothing I can say that the other reviewers didn't mention already. This was just a great book and I will definitely keep my eye out for any other books written by Jeff Leen and do a little research on Mildred Burke. Quite a life she led!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Williams on February 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jeff Leen has done an outstanding job of bringing the legend of Mildred Burke to life. This book is not only a biography of the great woman wrestler, but is also a compact history of women's wrestling in the 1930s-1960s.

Leen details how Burke combined with husband/manager Billy Wolfe to build women's wrestling from a carnival sideshow attraction to a major sport before sellout crowds. He describes the difference between a worked match and a shooting match and the climax of the story is the account of the shooting match between Mildred Burke and June Byers for the women's championship in Atlanta in 1954. This match, which was for real, was the highpoint of women's wrestling and the ending remains controversial to this day.

Leen had access to Mildred Burke's unpublished autobiography, eccentric promoter Jack Pfefer's voluminous file of letters and magazine and newspaper articles, and he also interviewed all the surviving friends and relatives who were involved with Mildred Burke and Billy Wolfe.

In many ways, the book reads like a soap opera, with all the sex, violence, doublecrosses, lying, and cheating exposed. Billy Wolfe was hated by many of the women who worked for him, with good reason, for he used the women he managed as long as they could satisfy his financial and sexual needs, and then he disposed of them and moved on to others.

There are photos of the main characters, and Leen includes brief biographies of June Byers and Nell Stewart, who was a glamorous Betty Grable lookalike and one of the top female wrestlers of the day. I truly hope that Leen or some other similarly skilled writer will supply us with full-length biographies of June Byers and Nell Stewart very soon.
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More About the Author

Jeff Leen is the author of two books, The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds and the Making of an American Legend (Atlantic Monthly Press, August 2009) and, with Guy Gugliotta, Kings of Cocaine: A True Story of Murder, Money and International Corruption (Simon & Schuster, 1989).

He received his A.B. in English Literature and Drama in 1979 from Washington University in St. Louis, where he worked as a senior editor on the school magazine, Subject to Change.

In 1982, he received his M.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. After graduation, he joined the Miami Herald as a reporter in the Gulf Coast Bureau. In 1985, he began covering the cocaine trade in Miami.

Beginning in 1987, he worked on the paper's investigative team in Miami. That year, he co-authored a 10-part series on the Medellin Cartel that became Kings of Cocaine. The series resulted in the seizure of Pablo Escobar's vacation home on Miami Beach and the druglord's $10 million apartment building in Broward County.

At the Herald, Leen also contributed to the coverage of Hurricane Andrew that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service in 1993.

Since 1997, he has been a reporter and an editor in the Washington Post's investigative unit, where he was part of a four-reporter team whose investigation of D.C. police shootings won the 1999 Pulitzer Gold Medal, the paper's first since Watergate. As the Post's investigations editor and later assistant managing editor in charge of investigations, he has directed reporters investigating deaths among the mentally retarded and at-risk children, plutonium poisoning in Kentucky, overseas drug testing, the 9/11 terror attacks, the business activities of the Nature Conservancy, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, federal farm subsidy abuse, the Dick Cheney vice presidency and the Chandra Levy homicide case. The work has been honored with five Pulitzer Prizes, including another Gold Medal and two for investigative reporting.

He is married to Lynn Medford, senior Style Editor at The Washington Post.