There is plenty of historical footage in male sports to choose from if the channel we intend to watch is ESPN Classics or in the movie theater where the retelling of great figures is idealized by such characters as Will Smith in ‘Ali.’
But what are the chances of finding old sports reels of female wrestlers?
Apparently, very high.
And guess what: You can catch this classic group of female wrestlers who were the pioneers in their sport in the 1940s and 1950s in a new movie called ‘Lipstick and Dynamite: The First Ladies of Wrestling.’
This movie captures the raw truth lived by six female wrestlers when on the road, at shows, and just trying to make a living.
Though they enter the ring wearing full-piece bathing suits and their hair in ringlets with rouge lipstick, it is a grim lifestyle like many sports, which Leitman is able to bring to life in the film.
Ruth Leitman, the director of this documentary, took four years to compile cross-country interviews with the now-older female wrestlers at their houses and at reunions.
‘It is a film about being on the road,’ Leitman said. ‘[There was] a lot of hard work they had to get through.’
Leitman, who is a famed documentarian, was able to find the reels of such ladies as Gladys ‘Killem’ Gillem and Ida Selenkow.
Even Leitman believes there is ‘a missing piece of sports history entertainment’ and that’s perhaps one of reasons she took on the film.
‘I make a lot of films that look at the underbelly of some difficult things and that’s one reason I picked [this topic],’ Leitman said.
Indeed, the women of the film led harsh lives even before they entered the wrestling scene.
Gillem, now an 85-year-old woman who loves to cook and fish, rightfully calls herself ‘the first girl wrestler.’
Gillem decided that there was more to life at the age of 19, so she left home and joined carnivals in order to gain exposure. Gillem fought the likes of men, women, alligators and bears.
‘Real hard, different town every night, not like home life,’ Gillem said when describing the lifestyle she lived as a wrestler from 1942 to 1962. ‘I traveled and [went] to picture shows to kill time.’
Another female wrestler, 73-year-old Selenkow, was told early in life that she would never amount to anything.
Selenkow, though abandoned at birth, was glad she was told this in the long run.
‘It was ingrained in my brain,’ Selenkow said.
Wrestling was not a hard skill to acquire for her.
‘God gave me a gift, a gift of anger,’ Selenkow said.
At the age of 17 Selenkow married and ‘fought all the way through’ the one-and-a-half-year union until she and her husband parted ways and she began wrestling.
Selenkow spent nine years of her life in the ring during the 1950s and was named the Mexican Women’s Champion in 1952.
‘The crowd would roar when we wrestled a lot of the blond ladies,’ Selenkow said. ‘I’m of Spanish descent, [so the crowds] would roar when I would attack my opponent.’
Selenkow is ‘thrilled to death’ about ‘Lipstick and Dynamite.’
Leitman describes the women as ‘rough and tumble and raw,’ which will come across in the film.
What you’ll also see is healthy competition between the ladies, even to this day. Some still hold grudges against each other, which will ‘make for some interesting tension’ according to Leitman.
The film held its Los Angeles premiere on April 8 and will open nationally for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
Leitman hopes ‘a lot of people will come and see [how] the early, terrific athletes were like in the 1940s and 1950s.’
‘I’m hoping a lot of young women can be inspired [by these women] who used agility and athleticism to parlay a career,’ Leitman said.
Just as these female wrestlers found glamour when they stepped onto the ring, so too will they and audiences across the country find excitement when ‘Lipstick & Dynamite’ begins to roll its reel for them.
Filed Under: A & E