The Fabulous Moolah Book Review Page 2
That inconsistency is really my biggest problem with this book-- other than occasional glimpses, we never are allowed to get too close to Lillian Ellision the person, as opposed to Moolah the character. We know she doesn't like people who smoke cigarettes, we know she doesn't like to go to the doctor unless she absolutely must. But I would have expected more depth because the book is allegedly co-written by Larry Pratt, who, if it's the same guy I think it is, has written for some very respected magazines. But Larry is like the Invisible Man: he isn't thanked in the introduction nor mentioned in the credits nor can he be found as co-author on the dust jacket. I am not sure how much involvement he had, and it is never clarified for us. Other than his name appearing on the cover in *tiny* print, the impression we are given is that the story was written entirely by Lillian Ellison. Trouble is, where Lillian begins and Moolah ends and where Larry is in any of this cannot be determined.
In some ways, this book is a story with a happy ending-- Moolah is able to continue her wrestling career even though she is in her 70s-- yet although we are promised in the dust jacket blurb that Moolah will "tell all", there is no insight into why a woman of her age wants to continue getting battered and bruised in the ring or how she manages to stay in good enough shape to do her job or why in an era when the WWE has turned to more suggestive and sexualized roles for women, Vince McMahon decided to bring her character back for a new generation. She also doesn't dwell on her role as a villain-- she is the woman the crowd loves to hate, she tells a New York Times reporter in 1969 (New York Times, 17 March 1969, p. 52); she also tells him how much she loves wrestling and how she plans to do it for as many years as her body will allow. Over the years, some of the details of her up-bringing or how she got the Moolah name may have changed as a result of endless re-tellings for endless interviewers, but the basic story remains the same: Moolah loves to wrestle, she loves to train wrestlers, and she has no regrets about anything.
Also, sometimes this book reads like a tribute to Vince McMahon, who is repeatedly described as a genius and a wonderful person. Now, I have never met Vince (disclaimer: I have been in media for a number of years and have met, and even interviewed, a few wrestlers, but I have never met Moolah nor talked with any of the McMahons), and he may indeed be both brilliant and wonderful, but somehow the uncritical devotion is contradicted by magazine and newspaper articles which offer an entirely different perspective on the McMahon empire and Vince's control of it. The cynic in me says that his critics are right: if you want his co-operation, you agree to say nice things about him. But that is not necessarily a flaw in the book-- Vince (and his father before him) may very well have treated Moolah kindly. The problem is that Moolah is quite willing to criticize certain other promoters, and a reader might wonder if those others are being defined as evil so that her current boss can be defined as good: autobiography as wrestling metaphor, with heels and babyfaces in a battle to entertain the public. In Moolah's version of the WWE, there are no steroids, people are treated fairly, and it's a great place to make a living. In fact, she so much likes the WWE that she constantly refers to it, even when talking about her career in the 60s and 70s in the WWF-- this may be revisionist history, something wrestlers are famous for, or it may be careless editing, since there was no WWE in the 70s.
In the end, I am not sorry I read "The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle," and I commend her for outlasting many other wrestlers, both male and female. If you go into this book with the proper attitude-- don't expect it to answer all your questions and don't expect it to tell you things you don't already know -- it has some enjoyable anecdotes and accurately portrays the Moolah character. I just wish I could meet Lillian Ellison: there is so much I would like to ask her.
Donna L. Halper is a former announcer, music director, and script-writer. She is one of the editors of the Boston Radio Archives, and teaches at Emerson College in Boston. A researcher, free-lance writer and radio consultant, she is also the author of "Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting."
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