The Queen of the Ring

Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend

Jeff Leen

Booklist review of
The Queen of the Ring

Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Issue: July 1, 2009

The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend.

Leen, Jeff (Author)

Aug 2009. 304 p. Atlantic Monthly, hardcover,  $25.00. (9780802118820). 796.81. 
It’s difficult to comprehend—given the current testosterone-heavy state of professional wrestling—but at one time women’s professional wrestling was a popular and relatively honest competitive sport. Millie Burke was surviving the Depression as a Kansas City waitress when she saw her first professional wrestling match and recognized an opportunity. Though just five-foot-two, she thought she’d be good at what sportswriters of the day called ‘rasslin’. A chance encounter with “Diamond” Billie Wolfe, a trainer, earned her a tryout, and in no time a career was launched that would last over two decades. Leen, the managing editor of the Washington Post’s investigative team, admiringly reveals a life that was equal parts P. T. Barnum and James M. Cain. Despite a 20-year age difference, Millie and Wolfe eventually married, and the star and her promoter became even more of an attraction. The marriage ended in divorce, but years later, an aging and injured Burke would defeat Wolfe’s much younger, new wife in a world championship match. Burke is an obscure subject but a fascinating one. Her story has some Seabiscuit potential.

— Wes Lukowsky

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