Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling

U.S. Premiere

USA | 75 MINUTES | English |


Long after they gouged their last eye, slammed their last body, and pinned their last midget, the first ladies of American professional wrestling are still going strong. It's been more than 50 years since many of this documentary's subjects left the farm fields and logging camps from which they were recruited and entered the "squared circle" of the wrestling ring. There they endured exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous promoters (who took up to 50 percent of their income), the occasional rotten egg pelting, and the constant threat of cauliflower ear (or worse -- one grappler was literally body slammed to death), all for a chance at the elusive title match. In candid, intermittently profane interviews, the lady legends -- Johnny Mae Young, Judy Grable, and Gladys "Kill 'Em" Gillem among them -- tell tales from their scrapping days against a backdrop of archival match footage. Then, as now, wrestling matches were stage-managed staredowns pitting villainous "heels" against angelic "baby faces." Backstage, the enmity was all too genuine. Indeed, half a century on, some of these first ladies still harbor old grudges. A lot of their "piss & vinegar" is sprayed in the direction of Lillian Ellison, "The Fabulous Moolah," a wrestler turned promoter who put a headlock on the women's circuit in the 1960s and hasn't let go since. Rare is the wrestler who didn't cross swords with Moolah at some point, either inside the squared circle or out. Those who question wrestling's authenticity need only watch these ladies dish to understand how real, how raw, it once was.