Relegated to the circus acts, freak shows and conversation category not to be discussed at the dinner table, from its allowance into the mainstream arenas across America from the 1940’s through the 1970s, women’s wrestling needed credibility and an ambassador to help it gain respect and momentum.

Allowance is the operative word since it was not remotely accepted.

fciwomenswrestling.com article, .npr.org NBC Universal Telelvision photo

fciwomenswrestling.com article, .npr.org NBC Universal Telelvision photo

The documentary styled 1973 film, Wrestling Queen about the life of female pro wrestler Vivian Vachon was a start in the right direction. It included stories on Vivian’s brothers and some classic and very erotic matches of Vivian against the barefoot, shapely beauty Marie Laverne and the gritty spit in your hands and a slap in the face wrestling style of the late great Kay Noble.

fciwomenswrestling.com article, photo found at www.impawards.com

fciwomenswrestling.com article, photo found at www.impawards.com

The opening song which included highlights of a very curvy brunette getting dominated and pinned by Vivian was to die for.

It was a good thing that the VCR’s came with rewind buttons back in those days.

Another gritty and fairly believable classic during that era is Below The Belt.

An intriguing bit of trivia is found at campmoviecamp.blogspot.com, “The little info available on Below the Belt reveals it was filmed in 1974, but unreleased until 1980 (and reviewed in 1983 by The New York Times), probably to cash in on the rags-to-scabs Rocky bandwagon.”

Translation? It almost never made it to the big screen.

We’re glad that it did.

Apparently Turner Classic Movies was impressed enough to review our industry classic. “A film ahead of its time in one of the more obscure pop culture corners of the 1980s, Below the Belt (1980) charts the gritty story of Rosa Rubinsky (Regina Baff), a server at a sports arena whose unassuming size conceals a fierce fighter’s streak. Her ability to subdue a rowdy customer attracts the attention of wrestling manager Bobby Fox (John C. Becher), who gets her trained and ready for the ring. However, as she soon discovers, the ladies’ wrestling circuit isn’t exactly a life of glamour and respect.”

fciwomenswrestling.com article, IMDB photo

fciwomenswrestling.com article, IMDB photo

Here are more tasty morsels that are fascinating. They continue. “Below the Belt marked a rare starring role for Baff (in her final theatrical appearance to date), a stage actress with numerous Broadway appearances to her credit including a 1974 Tony-nominated role in Veronica’s Room. Her feature roles were mainly highlighted by small supporting turns in The Paper Chase (1973),Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things about Me? (1971), Escape from Alcatraz (1979) and the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby.”

Wow, who would have thought?

Below the Belt preceded a more famous women’s wrestling film.

Let’s discuss that now because women’s wrestling finally found its most credible ambassador in a super A-List Actor named Peter Falk.

fciwomenswrestling.com article, Universal Television

fciwomenswrestling.com article, Universal Television

This in my opinion was the major breakthrough for women’s wrestling on celluloid that brought it to a much broader audience. The title is All The Marbles and it made it to the theaters because it starred the late, magnificent actor Peter Falk.

As most of us know and appreciate, Peter Falk was an American actor, best known for his role as Lieutenant Columbo in the long-running television series Columbo, which ran from 1968-2003.

All the Marbles is a 1981 comedy-drama film about the trials and travails of a female wrestling tag team and their manager. It was directed by Robert Aldrich (his final film) and also stars Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon. The Pittsburgh Steeler hall of famer “Mean” Joe Greene plays himself.

fciwomenswrestling.com article, MGM photo credit

fciwomenswrestling.com article, MGM photo credit

According to Laurene Landon (who portrayed California Doll Molly), while the film did not perform well at the box office in the United States, it made a healthy profit in foreign markets, and producers were planning a sequel, to be set primarily in Japan, when Robert Aldrich’s death put a halt to the project.

This writer loved the film and easily watched it twenty times.

fciwomenswrestling.com article, MGM photo credit

fciwomenswrestling.com article, MGM photo credit

Besides the eroticism there was something spiritual to it.

In my mind, it marked both the beginning and ending of a time period. Soon would come the Wendy Richter, Cindy Lauper electric big hair 80’s which took women’s wrestling in another theatrical and, in all due respect, less interesting direction.

I loved the classic, Golden Age feel of All The Marbles because it did reflect a changing era, not only of the 1950s-1960s bathing suit women’s old school pounding wrestling style but also the depiction of crumbling Ohio and it’s factories and lifestyles that would soon be forever in the past.

Truthfully there was a deep sadness and melancholy feel to it.

It wasn’t just me.

Listen in on this review at barrybradford.com.

“Robert Aldrich was a great film director.  While probably best remembered for psychosexual drama/thrillers such as “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,”  “Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” and “The Killing of Sister George,” his work showed remarkable range. At his best, in films such as: “Kiss Me Deadly,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Longest Yard,” and “Vera Cruz,” he created indelible portraits of male action heroes in dramatic action.  His very last film,

“All The Marbles” has been unfortunately overlooked as a trifling effort by a director whose best work was behind him. However, I believe that “All The Marbles” should be revisited and respected for switching the traditional role of male action hero into a story of women athletes. By making his action protagonists two women, Robert Aldrich was anticipating a current era of empowered female action heroes and super heroines.  It is also a rare example of a starring lead role by Peter Falk.”

How did he feel about the acting?

“The performance of these two women is truly remarkable. Each of them had to go through long and very intense training to learn how to do all of the amazing moves without relying on a stunt woman. Very few actors are good enough athletes to do all of their own stunt work in a sports movie, let alone in a film that involves such precision choreography.”

And that really did come through on film. I loved Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon’s passion, humor, believability and athletic stunts.

The power of these classics is that it is so similar to our own personal life experiences that are uniquely ours, that no one else will ever know or remember.

I remember so much.

I remember the squared structure video store that I used to drive to and see if the two women’s wrestling films were in stock. I recall the time of day and more importantly how excited I felt in that time period that I could watch some sexy women’s wrestling without having to wait for Haley’s Comet to reappear before female matches were on TV.

Like so much of my own life, those memories are forever in the past.

Strange, at the time, it was like that era would last forever.

Each generation probably feels the same way.

It speaks to the deep sadness. So many of that era like Kay Noble, Vivian Vachon, Peter Falk and others are gone.

That’s why in terms of our industry, we should appreciate today’s women’s wrestling while it’s right in front of us.

Today’s matches are the classics of the future.

This is our era.

It won’t last forever.

It never does.

~ ~ ~

OPENING PHOTO CREDIT MGM

Sources: brainyquote.com, Wikipedia, fciwomenswrestling2.com, FCI Elite Competitor, photos thank you Wikimedia Commons.

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article.html?id=382629%7C518319

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080427/

http://campmoviecamp.blogspot.com/2009/03/below-belt-1980.html

http://barrybradford.com/all-the-marbles/