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“In a jealous world full of angry wrestling midgets, crooked promoters and bitter love triangles, who would want Panther Girl dead?”
That’s the question at the heart of Jeff Maysh’s Victory Journal profile of Ann Casey, the wrestler known as Panther Girl. Casey was a contender for the U.S. women’s title in 1973, when she was shot at an intersection in Mississippi.
She took one look at her figure, this farm girl figure, and told her, 'I can make you a star.'Jeff Maysh, author of The Legend of Panther Girl
JM: I mean we have female wrestlers today, but back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was like the Wild West. Anything could happen, anything did happen and the ring was a quite dangerous place.
BL: Ann Casey grew up on a farm in Alabama, but her life took a strange turn when she met the woman known as The Fabulous Moolah, then the women’s U.S. wrestling champion. What role did The Fabulous Moolah play in Casey’s development as a wrestler?
JM: Well, Moolah wasn't just a wrestler. She managed every female wrestler in the states and when Moolah disovered Ann Casey, who was working in the box office in Mobile, Ala., she took one look at her figure, this farm girl figure, and told her, "I can make you a star."
BL: Is it fair to say, though, that Moolah began treating her rising star unfairly, almost from the start?
JM: Well Moolah had a reputation as a money grabber — hence the nickname. She was famous for taking a very heavy cut out of her wrestlers' money, and she did that with Ann Casey, who was on the road wrestling, really earning pennies on the dollar. At the time she was a single mother trying to feed her kid.
BL: Casey eventually left The Fabulous Moolah. How was it that she began working undercover for the police?
JM: Well, according to Ann Casey's autobiography, she discovered that her son might have been involved with drugs and drug trafficking. She decided to turn her family member into the police, who offered her a deal: use your wrestling travels as a cover to work for us.
Well, the drug dealers she was working to crack down on were quite kind of serious guys. They discovered her undercover motives and in 1973 she was shot six times while waiting at a stoplight.
BL: That part of the story verges on impossible to believe because her injuries were such that it's very hard to see how she could drive herself to the hospital, let alone finally survive. Tell me a little bit about that.
JM: Well, a lot of the stories that come out of the wrestling world are largely fictionalized. To prove it was true, I tracked down the surgeon that fixed her up, and he confirmed to me the extent of her injuries. He also told me that if she hadn't of been in such peak physical condition, she would have died almost on the spot.
BL: And yet Ann Casey not only survived, she wrestled again. How did she do once she had come back to the ring.
JM: Well, she once again found herself in poverty because wrestling was all she knew. And although the doctors told her that she should never step inside the ring again, she felt that she had unfinished business as well, so she returned to the ring and found that her injury somehow made her body stronger.
And there was one thing she really wanted and that was to win the U.S. women's title, so when she was given a chance to fight for that belt she took it. She did take the title and did get to drive away with the belt, which for her was an extremely happy ending.
BL: But you didn't leave the story with the ending of Ann Casey becoming the champ. You found out what she's up to these days. Tell me a little bit about that.
JM: Well, you wouldn't believe me if I told you, but her life after wrestling is almost as unbelievable as her life in the ring. She married a death-row prisoner, and he got involved in an accident during a prison rodeo, and he was paralyzed, so the state of Mississippi decided to release him. He made a miraculous recovery, and Ann Casey says he ran off with her sister.
This segment aired on December 20, 2014.
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