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Ma Bass, eyes bulging, hands clasped at her chin, kneels on the canvas pleading for mercy. The Fabulous Moolah, in gold lam� tights, stands over her, holding Ma's hair in her grip and cocking a fist. In a shadowy corner of the ring Moolah's partner in this six-wrestler, mixed tag team match, Dynamite Dick Dunn, is strangling one of Ma Bass' 260-pound sons, Ronnie. In another shadowy corner Moolah's second partner, Tony (The Medic) Gonzales, is standing on the ring ropes ready to leap onto the stomach of Ma Bass' other son, Donnie, who lies stunned on the canvas.
Moolah turns her face toward the fans at ringside in Pensacola's Municipal Auditorium and, in elaborate pantomime, seeks approval to deliver the blow to Ma's jaw. The fans rise, fists punching the air, faces contorted by anger and glee, throats straining and hoarse. "Kill her, Moolah! Bash the old buzzard! Please!" Moolah nods, and her cocked fist shoots toward Ma. A split second before contact, Moolah stamps her foot loudly on the canvas and, simultaneously, Ma Bass" head snaps back and she tumbles through the ropes into the lap of a sportswriter. The fans roar and The Fabulous Moolah, wrestling champion of the world, beats her breast with both fists. The Medic leaps from the ropes. Momentarily, he is suspended in a horizontal position before landing. Donnie Bass, his target, has just enough strength to roll to one side, and The Medic lands on his stomach—whoomp—on the canvas.
Donnie Bass struggles to his feet. Ma Bass is climbing back through the ropes. Moolah races toward the opposite end of the ring, hits the ropes, which stretch like a gigantic slingshot and then snap forward, catapulting her toward the dazed and unsuspecting Ma Bass. Before the impact can occur, however, Donnie, still groggy, accidentally staggers in front of his mother, and Moolah hits his bulk with a Thwak and a Whoosh of exhaled breath. Moolah stiffens, hands at her sides. Then slowly she begins falling backward on her heels like an axed tree. She hits the canvas, bounces once, twice, and then her arms and legs spread wide. She is still. Ma Bass falls on top of her. While the referee slaps the canvas once, twice, three times, the 2,500 fans plead for Moolah to get up. But she doesn't, and the match is over.
While Moolah lies, unmoving, on the canvas, Don Griffin, the ring announcer, climbs through the ropes with his handheld microphone and announces the results of the just-completed match. His words are greeted with boos. Ma Bass and her sons climb out of the ring and are escorted by two policemen through rows of fans shaking their fists and shouting obscenities. Someone hurls a box of popcorn at the departing Bass family, then some ice cubes and rolled up programs, and now debris of all sorts is falling on Ma and her sons as they hurry toward the dressing room.
Back in the ring Moolah's partners are rolling her like a log toward the ropes, while Griffin, apparently oblivious, consults a piece of paper and prepares to announce the next match. He is a bland-looking man in a phosphorescent lime-colored tuxedo jacket and brown trousers that are a bit too short and expose white socks and black shoes. He resembles any one of that legion of small-town radio and television personalities—sportscasters, disc jockeys, masters of ceremony—who have never made it to Los Angeles or New York City despite what the local citizens feel is a perfect voice. And Griffin does have a mellifluous, if hollow, voice. It is a voice filled with inflection, words rising and rolling, dipping and fading, so much so that one tends to grow seasick listening to it. Griffin pauses between words and cocks an ear as if hoping to catch the last melodic ring. It is apparent he derives great pleasure from his ability to impart to the most trivial words a tone of import. He speaks looking up through furrowed and sincere eyebrows. "I must qualify my position," he said before the night's matches had begun. "In my long career as a public-address announcer, I have only been privileged to work with The Fabulous Moolah twice. And so I don't feel it is incumbent upon me to comment on her wrestling techniques...techniques. And, suffice it to say, in my capacity as public-address announcer, I am often called upon to do many things, to wear many hats...many hats...and so, seldom do I get the pleasure of watching the wrestlers perform. However, let me say this, on those few and far between occasions when I have observed that well-traveled lady...well-traveled lady, I have seen a truly great, ringwise veteran...ahhh...ringwise veteran...in action. She is more than worthy of possessing that diamond-studded belt emblematic of the world champion. Some people may ask, and I am not one of them, 'Is wrestling a legitimate sport?' And I say to them...to them...'You believe what you want to believe.' These men and women have been down as long and rocky a road as any minor league baseball player, and when that minor-leaguer wakes up one morning in the major leagues he can look in the mirror and say to himself, 'I paid the price.' Well, so too it is with wrestling's main eventers such as The Fabulous Moolah...hhhmmm...Moolahhhh."
On July 22, her birthday, Miss Lillian Ellison, a fortyish matron from Columbia, S.C., steps outside the Hotel Edison on West 47th Street in New York City and, pointing across the street at a pretty girl, says to her gentleman companion, "Looka there, Shuuu-ga! The no-bra look! Ain't that sumthin'. You certainly don't see that in Columbia. I jes' don't know. You gotta leave sumthin' for the imagination, don't ya, Shuuu-ga?"
Miss Ellison hooks her arm into that of her companion and they proceed east on 47th Street toward Fifth Avenue, where Miss Ellison has an appointment at a beauty salon to have her hair set by Mr. Bertrand. As they walk she says, "Did you hear the one about the man and woman who went streakin' in a church, Shuuu-ga?" Whereupon a giggling Miss Ellison tells a series of jokes that, as she puts it, "ain't dirty or nuthin'. They leave sumthin' to the imagination.
"A lady always got to leave sumthin' to the imagination," she continues. "Why some of these lady athletes, they go paradin' around the locker room in front of one another staaark naked. Now, that ain't decent, Shuuu-ga. Why, when I was a young girl my 12 brothers used to let me play all the games with them—baseball, football, everythin'. They used to stuff me inside an old tire and roll me down the hill into the crik. I was always skinned up. The only thing they never let me do was go swimmin' with them."
As Miss Ellison and her companion proceed, arm in arm, up 47th Street, they are the objects of curious, amused and faintly knowing glances. She is a modestly attractive woman in the manner of many small-town housewives, a bit heavy through the middle, but otherwise in fine shape for a woman of her age. She has the small, round face and knobby chin of a Susan Hayward, and like Miss Hayward, Miss Ellison wears her wavy hair pulled back off her forehead and falling to her shoulders. Her small, narrow eyes rest on high and unbelievably prominent cheekbones, a heritage from her Indian forebears, she says. She is three-quarters Cherokee. She is heavily made-up—thick pancake base, arched and penciled eyebrows, heavy red lipstick—as women tended to be during the '40s and '50s and still are in many small towns. The make-up serves a dual purpose, she hopes: beautification obviously, and camouflage for the many white lines in her face. At first glance these appear to be merely laugh lines, but they run against the grain. One runs down her forehead, over her left eyebrow and down her cheek. Another extends from the underside of her nose to her lip.
This day on Fifth Avenue, Miss Ellison is wearing a navy double-knit blazer dotted with white sea gulls, a white turtleneck, white slacks and platform shoes that add almost four inches to her height of 5'5". She takes prim, quick little steps, her clogs making a clack-clack-clack on the concrete as she walks. She weighs 135 pounds. She will not reveal her age other than to say, "Today is my birthday, Shuuu-ga."