Did Penny Banner really call The Fabulous Moolah a pimp?

An archaeology of one of pro wrestling's most oft-cited forum posts.

Photo: WWE.com

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In the last 21 months, since WWE announced and then quickly un-announced the Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal for WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, one particular text has cropped up a lot in articles and fan arguments, including the ongoing New York 64 Twitter “tournament” of awful people in WWE history. Containing a lot of the arguments that fans were using for why WWE shouldn’t be honoring Moolah, the essay, usually attributed to a post from deceased women’s wrestling legend Penny Banner, made for a useful mission statement:

It's wrong to speak bad of the dead, but the comments in the mainstream press and even AP wires come dangerously close to making Moolah seem like some kind of saint, and from a pro-wrestling [sic] point of view as some kind of legendary tough shooter.  That's utter bullshit.  I want to clear up a couple of points, while taking nothing away from Moolah's ability to have a strangehold [sic] on women's wrestling from mid '60s to mid '80s in North America.

Lets get this out of way first, so I don't have to dance around the subject - Moolah was a pimp.  From her sprawling 42 acre estate in Colombia, South Carolia [sic], Moolah would send out her half-trained underage female-wrestlers to "photo shoots" that would by the standards of today be considered pedophilia and pornography.  She sent trainees to wrestling promoters in set numbers.  Renting them out to promoters in bulk, with the understanding that the girls would have sex with the promoter and all the wrestlers on the roster who wanted them.  Promoters liked free sex, but what they also liked is for boys not to go outside looking for it and possibly running into trouble.  Sex on a road with a steady and pliant group of semi-attractive women in return for money, that is what Moolah offered.  The women that were sent out on this tours were not told of this "arrangement" ahead of time.  They found out about it on the road.  Those that refused to have sex with promoters and wrestlers, were raped.  (see:  Luna Vachon's, Sherri Martel's, and Susie McCoy's shoot interviews).

The reason women's pro-wrestling in North America was and still in large part today considered a joke and just an opportunity to oggle [sic] at tits and asses is largely in part thanks to the way Moolah trained her girls and how Moolah wrestled.  Moolah was not a good worker.  Her wrestling style considered [sic] of hair pulling snapmare, headlocks, clotheslines and nothing else.  Those that argue that women's wrestling was always like that and Moolah did nothing to change it are ignorant.  In the '30s and '40s, female wrestling employed shooters and they wrestled in the traditional sense of the term.  Tits and asses were used to advertise and get them in the building, but the girls worked longer and more technically sound matches than today.  The champion was always a shooter, and the matches for the championship and leading up to the main event had to be high caliber.  The reason Japanese women's wrestling was light years ahead of North American's is because of one person and one person only - Moolah.  Mildred Burke, the original women's champion, popularized female wrestling in the world in the '30s.  Japan, Canada, Mexico and America can trace women's wrestling directly to her.  She used a hard hitting style and outside of being an attractive woman, her matches were no different from the men's matches of her day.  Moolah was inspired by Burke, but could not work as well as her. Moolah was not a good worker and so the style she passed onto her trainees once she took over women's pro-wrestling in North America was Moolah-based. Moolah was never a shooter.

Last year, when I was preparing the first of the two Deadspin articles linked at the start of this here Substack entry, I tried to pin down the origins of the “Moolah was a pimp” post. Banner, being a contemporary of Moolah’s, would make a her account a strong one to link and cite, after all. The whole time, though, something was nagging at me, one of the reasons I felt the need to research the origins of the post even though some decently reliable websites and, more importantly, Sisterhood of the Squared Circle, Dan Murphy and Pat Laprade’s women’s wrestling history book for ECW Press, vouched for it. I’ve seen plenty of Penny Banner’s internet posts, and they read nothing like that. Her posts on the forums at WrestlingClassics.com and her own BannerDays.com were, understandably for a 70 year-old learning the internet, riddled with typos, odd spacing and punctuation, and random words in ALL CAPS. She was also a strong adherent to kayfabe in public, even in the mid-2000s, and never would have referenced anyone’s “shoot interviews.”

If a dying, cancer-stricken Penny Banner wrote this—and she wasn’t active on forums at that point, it should be said—then someone did an edit and added useful sources to consult when repurposing it.

Screenshot: Google Groups

But the earliest example that can be found on Google is a post on the rec.sport.pro-wrestling Usenet newsgroup (basically a decentralized message board) from nine days after Moolah’s death. Posted by “Greg Grant of 333,” it’s framed as an original writing, and none of the replies call him out to say otherwise; the writing style is also similar to that of his other posts. The most likely suspect for someone who would have cleaned up a theoretical Banner post, Dave Meltzer, published the first part of his Moolah bio in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (cover date November 12, 2007) that started hitting subscribers’ mailboxes that weekend, but there’s nothing of the sort in that issue. (“Moolah was a pimp” does not appear to have been quoted at all in the Observer until the April 2, 2018 issue that covered the battle royal naming fallout.) Meanwhile, the day after the RSPW post went up, it was shared on the Kayfabe Memories forum (explicitly as a reprinted RSPW post and I even posted in the replies at the time) and whatever the StephenMalkmus.com forum is (where there was no attribution other than “Another Perspective on Moolah”).

There is no indication that the post was associated with Penny Banner in 2007, and if nothing else, the “Old-School Hodge Podge” sub-forum at Kayfabe Memories is a place where someone would have pointed out that Banner was actually the author of the essay. This is a huge red flag.

So how and when did it become linked to Banner?

Screenshot: ECW Press/Google Books

Last year, in preparation for the first Moolah article at Deadspin, I reached out to Dan Murphy, who wrote the Moolah chapter of Sisterhood of the Squared Circle and has been part of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated team since 1997. He pointed to the Kayfabe Memories forum, but said that he couldn’t find the original post and was under the impression that the RSPW post was actually recycling a KM post of Banner’s without attribution. There are no hits for an account identifying as Banner, though there are posts from a nameless “guest” account—KM lost a a lot of post author data when it was imported from ezboard.com to its current software/host—that read like she wrote them under a pseudonym. None of it is relevant to this topic, though.

Besides, my own recollection is that Banner never posted as herself there, anyway, having primarily been active at at her own forum (archived on The Wayback Machine) and Wrestling Classics (where just four of her posts remain). and never after her 2006 cancer diagnosis. Of the two results that pop up when using the KM forum search engine to look for “Moolah” and “pimp” in the same post, only one is about the “Moolah was a pimp” essay: The aforementioned one from November 12, 2007 that cited the previous day’s RSPW post.

I knew I couldn’t use the essay at all on Deadspin, but I didn’t continue searching out its origins. However, my interest was piqued again this week when I had to point out, after a tweet from the NY64 account cited “Moolah was a pimp,” that there were no remotely convincing sources saying that Banner wrote it.

Using time-limited Google searches to narrow things down, it looks like the earliest reference to the post being written by Penny Banner—at least on the indexed public internet—is a Reddit comment from “RicsFlair” responding to a July 6, 2015 post by “Awe101” about the Moolah/Wendi Richter double-cross from 1985. “RicsFlair” comes of as sincere, otherwise citing legitimate sources used elsewhere in conversations about Moolah’s behind-the scenes-issues. This lone attribution from a single Reddit commenter inexplicably spread pretty quickly, as searches limited to 2015 show that the post was next attributed to Banner just three weeks later in a post on The Powder Room, a blog run by Jezebel.com commenters. Seven weeks after that, a Cageside Seats reader penned a FanPost (user-authored post that could theoretically be promoted to the front page) that also attributed the “pimp” post to Banner.

The citation on The Powder Room does urge caution—“The following quote circulates anonymously, but some attribute it to former wrestler Penny Banner”—but it looks like that was never heeded outside of the Newsweek article from March 2018 (“…Banner is claimed to have written…”) about the battle royal controversy. The April 2017 release of Sisterhood of the Squared Circle, of course, helped canonize the claim, which appeared not just in the Newsweek piece, but also a Last Word on Pro Wrestling blog entry and assorted social media posts. Even as recently as October 2nd of this year, ProWrestlingStories.com ran a Moolah article that attributed “Moolah was a pimp” to Banner.

OK, so…again, where did this come from?

“RicsFlair” on Reddit has since been banned from the site, so I can’t message them. But there was still a lead in their comment. “There is an older thread posted to r/squaredcircle, where I learned a lot about this crap,” they wrote. “If just half of the allegations are correct, then Moolah was an awful rotten person.” There, they linked a 2014 post by “jigglysquishy,” “The WWE has separated itself from Benoit, but why do they continue to promote Moolah?” The post didn’t quote “Moolah was a pimp” or mention Banner, but did link to a source as “details of her prostitution ring.” The link went to a March 18, 2010 post on the forum at Online World of Wrestling, which doesn’t exist anymore, but, thankfully, is archived on The Wayback Machine; I’ve mirrored it with an archive.today link, as well. (The latter should load faster and more cleanly.)

“I've read reports and heard from Moolah herself in a shoot interview that she didn't get along with Penny Banner,” wrote “Shockage,” an OWW forum administrator. “I also came across this post from Kayfabe Memories forum a couple of years back (quoted and taken from RSPW)[,] an article/commentary examining the ugly side of Moolah's career in the wrestling profession and how it shaped women's wrestling in America up to the 1990s. Don't be too sure that what's written below is accurate, Moolah dismissed treating her girls like whores and that she never took in a girl who was in it for a good time, however this is still an interesting read.” The “Moolah was a pimp” post was then included in bold, italicized text below what “Shockage” had written.

…wait a second...

Are you kidding me?

..

Great. Just great…

Yes, if I’m parsing all of this correctly, then I’ve found the answer: That “Moolah was a pimp” has been erroneously attributed to Penny Banner since July 2015 because an anonymous Reddit commenter had such poor reading comprehension that they read what “Shockage” wrote as “Penny Banner wrote ‘Moolah was a pimp.’” Even though “Shockage” clearly delineated Moolah and Banner’s mutual dislike as a separate entity from the “article/commentary” posted to RSPW, this random person somehow interpreted an attribution to Banner. And going by when The Wayback Machine’s archive of the OWW forum post stops showing new hits—about one month before “RicsFlair” linked the original thread in a Reddit comment—it looks like the forum was junked not long after said fateful comment.

As a result of mistake made by “RicsFlair” and then the subsequent mistakes made by others, what’s actually some dude’s RSPW post has been falsely attributed to a decease wrestling legend for several years, including by respected historians. While one side of the mistake is somewhat understandable, in that the post obliquely referenced stories from several more reliable sources, there were so many red flags that this should have never made it into the ECW Press book. I don’t really blame someone for trusting the book, either, as the post does allude to stories told in more credible source material and both authors bring solid reputations. (Laprade, in particular, is known for being an excellent historian, even if he didn’t write that chapter.) Hell, based on what Dave Meltzer said last year, while he incorrectly classified it as an “interview,” the post’s content was reminiscent of things that Banner had told him.

“I knew and corresponded with Banner, who was a regular reader of this publication, and she was very strong in her opinions,” he wrote. “That said, she was so strong in them that I didn't consider her to be that credible.” I’m not sure what that second sentence means, but the larger inference is, in the context of everything you’ve just read, pretty clear: He sincerely thought that Banner said those things publicly because she had told him similar things privately. So when you throw in a book by respected authors from a respected publisher of wrestling books saying Banner said all that, I can certainly see why Meltzer believed it, too.

Look, there are other sources for most of this that you can still peruse and just aren’t Penny Banner, like Lady Maxine’s comments to Slam! Wrestling and later Pro Wrestling Sheet, the Free Times feature about Susie Mae “Sweet Georgia Brown” McCoy, and the Dark Side of the Ring episode about Moolah. There are no longer any clips of the Luna Vachon and Gangrel shoot interview on YouTube, but you can get the gist from the most prominent review/summary of it and the whole thing is available on the Highspots Wrestling Network,. The Sherri Martel shoot interview, meanwhile, is available on Title Match Wrestling Network, but the most prominent review/summary of that suggests that, in spite of what the “pimp” post said, it’s not anti-Moolah at all.

And that’s before we even get into other allegations not mentioned in the “pimp” post, like Moolah forcing her then-underage daughter to wrestle without pay while recovering from an appendectomy. These days, that same daughter, Mary Caroll, claims that the story was blown out of proportion by the news media. The original articles from 1956, however—the Boston American coverage cited by everyone who aggregated the story—are not just clear in their details, but explicitly show Mary cooperating with the story by posing for photos where she put the police lieutenant on her case in wrestling holds.

All of that said: No, Penny Banner clearly did not write the “Moolah was a pimp” post, even if it seems like it may have happened to reflect her actual private comments about Moolah. How anyone ever thought that someone claiming on message boards in 2004 that her early TV era pro wrestling matches were real competition would have referenced “shoot interviews” three years later, I have no idea. But the evidence clearly suggests that Penny Banner did not write that post, or otherwise make those comments. Please stop saying she did, and start doing a better job tracking down sources so this never happens again.

Enjoy? Want to support this work and get other exclusive content? Then please subscribe for just $5/month or $50/year. Even if you’re not able to pay right now, please at least consider signing up for the free version, which will deliver all of the free posts directly to your email inbox, as well free preview excerpts of the paid subscriber-exclusive articles.

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