August 5, 1915|
|Died||February 18, 1989
Los Angeles, California
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Mildred Burke|
|Billed height||5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)|
|Billed weight||138 lb (63 kg)|
|Trained by||Billy Wolfe|
Mildred Bliss (August 5, 1915 – February 18, 1989) was an American professional wrestler, who wrestled under the name Mildred Burke. She is a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. Her heyday lasted from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, when she held the World Women's Championship for almost twenty years. Burke started out in 1935, wrestling men at carnivals. She was managed by her second husband, promoter Billy Wolfe.
Mildred Burke, aged 15, began to work as a waitress on the Zuni Indian Reservation in Gallup, New Mexico. She lived there for three years, before leaving for Kansas City after agreeing to marry her boyfriend. He took her to a wrestling event, which sparked her interest in the sport. Burke, who was pregnant at the time, later persevered.
Professional wrestling career
Prior to wrestling, she was an office stenographer by day, had outstanding muscle development, and was hoping to become a wrestler. Locally, Billy Wolfe was training aspiring women wrestlers. At first, Wolfe did not want to train Burke and instructed a male wrestler to body slam her, so she would stop asking Wolfe to train her. Burke, however, body slammed the man instead, which resulted in Wolfe agreeing to train her. Wolfe tutored her and realized that she was the prospect for which he was waiting. The close proximity of their training resulted in a relationship and ultimately marriage. Changing her name to Mildred Burke, she defeated Clara Mortenson for the Women’s championship in January 1937.
In the 1930s, Burke wrestled over 200 men, but only lost to one of them.
Despite the riches that her husband earned as a promoter of women grapplers, there was a dark side to their marriage. On the road, Wolfe stood as a father figure to the women he trained and managed, but he also earned reputation as a womanizer. Their marriage was not monogamous, as Wolfe enjoyed the companionship of women with whom he traveled.
Divorce from Billy Wolfe
Tensions emanated from the extramarital activity and in 1952, Wolfe and Burke went their own ways. Burke found herself frozen out of wrestling among all National Wrestling Alliance channels. Desperate, Burke decided to consult Jack Pfefer for help. The Alliance attempted to reconcile the couple but the only agreed upon solution was that one would sell out to the other. Burke volunteered to sell to Wolfe for $50,000 but was rebuffed. On January 26, 1953, Wolfe sold to Burke, and the firm Attractions, Inc. was born. Burke and her financial backers consummated the deal for $30,000. As a result of the transaction, all alimony was waived and Wolfe was to be barred from participating for five years. Unfortunately for Burke, the pledge lasted only a few months. Wolfe violated the contract as he started promoting wrestling in Columbus, Ohio. Wolfe and Burke began to compete for women grapplers as he tempted many grapplers by offering 50 percent of the proceeds. Burke had to improve the offer by offering 60 percent of the proceeds from her promotion. Wolfe eventually won as he settled on the figure of 75 percent.
She had two children, Violet and Joseph Wolfe. Violet died due to injuries suffered in a wrestling match.
Burke’s Attractions, Inc. went into bankruptcy and into the hands of receiver James Hoff of Columbus. Eight months later, Hoff named Wolfe as administrator and was approved by Franklin County Judge William Bryant. A memorandum dated August 20, 1953, was circulated by Wolfe, in which he boldly announced that he was the booker for Burke and her stable of 27 wrestlers. The claim was disputed by Burke on August 26, 1953, by stating that the issue would be settled in the courts. It was emphasized that her contract prohibited Wolfe from competing in wrestling and was in breach of the binding agreement. She consulted with Leroy McGuirk and hoped that she would be vindicated by the Alliance at their September 1953 meeting in Chicago.
Dealings with the NWA
Burke faced many obstacles, as women were banned from yearly NWA conferences, and this diminished the importance of women in wrestling. An example of the discrimination was evident during the dispute with Wolfe. Burke sat in the lobby of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago as male dignitaries argued behind closed doors about her future. Wolfe’s voice was the only one heard by the membership. In the end, the Alliance declined to recognize women’s wrestling after the meeting, Wolfe regained his stake but many women were loyal to Burke and refused to wrestle for Wolfe.
In a letter to NWA members on November 4, 1953, Burke refuted Wolfe’s claim that she would wrestle only one woman grappler. She claimed that there were 12 grapplers with whom she would work. Wolfe, however, used his influence to get her frozen from NWA members and her promising run in the Southeast with Cowboy Luttrall and Paul Jones in 1954 fizzled.
Emotionally exhausted, Burke wrestled Wolfe’s daughter-in-law June Byers and there was genuine heat between the two. The match took place on August 20, 1954 in Atlanta. It was a grudge match that quickly became a shoot fight, due to genuine enmity between the two women. Wolfe had the local commission in his corner and slid a friendly referee into the match. Burke later admitted that she had given up the legitimate first fall with the intention of competing stronger in the second. The second fall never had a finish. Officials called the match, and Burke left the ring believing that her title was safe because she had not lost two falls. The result was that many in the press stated that Byers had defeated her and the importance of Burke’s championship began to diminish.
In the early 1950s, Burke started the World Women's Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California. She returned to her promotion after her match with Byers, still recognizing herself as the World Women's Champion even after the NWA had recognized rival June Byers as champion since then, and continued to defend it. She vacated the belt in 1956, when she retired from professional wrestling. In 1970 the belt was revived by All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (AJW) as their top prize.
After the tensions with Wolfe and the NWA, Burke traveled with an escort for the rest of her career as a protective measure. She started International Women’s Wrestlers Inc. with Bill Newman and the promotion had offices in New York City, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia. These offices served in the dual capacity of booking offices and training centers.
Her efforts to spread women’s wrestling internationally reached Japan and brought about the World Wide Women's Wrestling Association (WWWA).
In her later years, Burke ran a women's wrestling school in Encino, California. Among her students was Canadian Rhonda Sing, who went on to fame as WWWA Champion, Monster Ripper, and WWF Women's Champion, Bertha Faye.
Championships and accomplishments
- "Mildred Burke Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum Entry". PWHF.org. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
- "MILDRED BURKE... She Never Met Her Match (Wrestling-Titles.com)". Alan Greenberg, Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
- "Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame Inductees". Wrestling Information Archive. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
- "Mildred Burke Online World of Wrestling Profile". onlineworldofwrestling.com. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
- National Wrestling Alliance, The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling, p. 290, Tim Hornbaker, ECW Press, 2007, ISBN 1-55022-741-6
- Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.44–45.
- Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.33.
- National Wrestling Alliance, The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling, p. 291, Tim Hornbaker, ECW Press, 2007, ISBN 1-55022-741-6
- MILDRED BURKE, 73, DIES AFTER STROKE – February 14, 1989
- National Wrestling Alliance, The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling, p. 292, Tim Hornbaker, ECW Press, 2007, ISBN 1-55022-741-6
- Molinaro, John F.: Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time, page 177, Winding Stair Press, 2002.
- National Wrestling Alliance, The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling, p. 293, Tim Hornbaker, ECW Press, 2007, ISBN 1-55022-741-6
- Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. ISBN 978-0-06-001258-8.