The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend

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The Queen of the Ring is the little-known story of Mildred Burke, the longest reigning champion of female wrestling, In his researched account, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeff Leen pulls back the curtain on a forgotten era of American history - a time when a petite Midwesterner used her beauty and brawn to captivate audiences across the globe and dominate America's most masculine sport.

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The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend

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Overview

The Queen of the Ring is the little-known story of Mildred Burke, the longest reigning champion of female wrestling, In his researched account, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeff Leen pulls back the curtain on a forgotten era of American history - a time when a petite Midwesterner used her beauty and brawn to captivate audiences across the globe and dominate America's most masculine sport.

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Editorial Reviews

Mark Adams
…the literature of the grappling arts can be split into two weight divisions: heavy treatises analyzing the methodology of the half Nelson versus cotton-candy reminiscences of Spandexed superstars. Jeff Leen's fine new biography of the pioneering lady wrestler Mildred Burke, The Queen of the Ring, might be in a class by itself. It's a serious history of one of this country's goofiest pastimes…Queen is less Burke's tale than it is the rich story of the golden age of women's ring rivalries, and Leen unearths truckloads of wonderful details along the way
—The Washington Post
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.)
Kirkus Reviews
The gripping history of a largely forgotten legend of wrestling. Washington Post managing editor Leen (co-author: Kings of Cocaine: Inside the Medellin Cartel, 1989) illuminates the murky history of women's professional wrestling with this sympathetic biography of Mildred Burke, the sport's greatest champion. Burke (nee Bliss) grew up in poverty and seemed resigned to a life in the margins, waitressing in a dingy cafe during the depths of the Depression-until her husband took her to a wrestling match. Something about the primal nature of the contest touched a chord in the unhappy young woman, and Burke wholly dedicated herself to a professional grappling. Her career began in earnest when she tried out for Billy Wolfe, a former wrestler who had begun to gather and train young women in the sport. Wolfe quickly realized her potential-she was lithe, strong, gifted with an innate sense of balance and fiercely determined-and she began to win matches, defeating some 200 men before establishing herself as the nation's premier woman wrestler, holding the world championship for nearly 20 years. Wolfe is both the book's villain and most compelling character, a cigar-chomping, diamond-flashing huckster whose genius for promotion and utter ruthlessness paid off in spectacular success. He was also an abusive womanizer, blithely cheating on Burke-whom he had married, presumably to better control her fortunes-with the young women in his charge, who understood that sex with him was the only route to success in their field. Burke remains a bit of a cipher, a mulish survivor abused by Wolfe for years before he effectively destroyed her career, abetted by the sexist mentality of the wrestling establishment.Equally tragic, and not a bit tawdry, was Burke's long-term affair with Wolfe's son, who would ultimately take part in her fall. Burke enjoyed a twilight resurgence when touring lady wrestlers proved popular in Japan, but the impression Leen provides is of a broken, badly used woman who ironically stands as a symbol of feminine strength and a groundbreaking figure in the history of women's athletics. Lean, harsh and lowdown, this bruising history leaves a mark. Agent: Gail Ross/Gail Ross Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802118820
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/5/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Leen is the assistant managing editor for the Washington Post’s investigations unit, where his work has helped win six Pulitzer Prizes. Also the author of KINGS OF COCAINE, the first book-length investigation of Columbia’s Medellin cartel, he lives in Maryland.

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Table of Contents

1 The Match of the Century 1

2 Millie Bliss 9

3 Billy Wolfe 22

4 Wrestling Men 32

5 Becoming Champion 50

6 Building the Business 68

7 "Pulchritude on Parade" 86

8 Mat Mamas Maul for Millions 97

9 Billy Wolfe's Harem 114

10 "The Public Likes the Puss" 127

11 The Golden Age 140

12 Tragedy 162

13 A Bout with Nell 174

14 A Bout with Billy 191

15 A Bout with June 215

16 Millie without Billy 241

17 Billy without Millie 253

18 Mildred Burke Productions 265

Afterword Millie's Girls 281

List of Billy's Girls 289

List of Millie's Girls 290

Notes 299

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 14, 2011

    Girl Power

    A well written book about one of our country's little known female athletes. Mildred Burke was a pioneer of ot only women's wrestling but also women's sports as well. Hers was a hard scrabble life in a patriarchal world but she never waivered in her belief that she was the best female wrestler around.

    This is a must read for all those girls who want to play with the boys.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2013

    Cutting through decades of hoaxes and hype to declare a winner

    Quite readable,yet fact-filled, account of the circuitous route to national popularity of women in pro wrestling. The author is an established newspaper reporter and thus knows to let the players themselves move his story forward by quoting them or their writings.

    My only complaint has to do with the NOOK version: It has none of the photos that put faces -- and muscles -- on the characters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    A fantastic and romanic view of early Women's Wrestling

    If you've seen Lipstick and Dynamite and want to know more about the personal lives of early Women's wrestlers, this is a fantastic read and a personal look at Mildred Burke. Deeply personal, there's a bias involved that probably keeps it from being a more clinical look at the genre but it remains a fascinating look what early 'sports entertainment' looked like in the early years.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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