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The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend Hardcover – August 11, 2009
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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unit, deftly guides the reader through well-documented and researched accounts, which are culled from Burke's unpublished autobiography, interviews and numerous newspaper records.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.
In a class by itself. A serious history of one of this country’s goofiest pastimes...one 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
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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
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.
The women who wrestle today in the WWE or TNA can't hold to candle these stars of the past. Burke, Byers, Stewart, and all the others were wrestlers first and performers second. These girls today spend more time strutting down to the ring and smoozing with the fans at ringside than they do actually wrestling, and then it is just a few basic and obviously correographed moves. Mildred Burke and her contemporaries could put on a great show and make you believe that every second of it was real.
Jeff Leen has written a great book and deserves credit for bringing the true story of Mildred Burke and women's wrestling to life. This book can be enjoyed by anyone, not just wrestling fans.
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