Ma Bass, eyes bulging, hands clasped at her chin, kneels on the canvas pleading for mercy. The Fabulous Moolah, in gold lamé 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."
Shuuu-ga is considerably younger, in his early 30s, with an assiduously cultivated tan and wavy black hair. He is wearing light blue sunglasses to match a Pierre Cardin shirt, a cream-colored suit and brown patent-leather loafers with gold tassels and bands around the heels. He is pleased with his trimness; around him other men his age are going to fat. He is one of those people who are always conscious of themselves, oppressively conscious in a way Miss Ellison, despite her make-up and her desire always "to leave sumthin' to the imagination," could never be. Walking with Miss Ellison, he is embarrassed because he knows how those passersby view him and his companion, chattering beside him.
"Now, my first husband," she is saying, "oh, he was a handsome man. Built just like Joe Palooka, 54-inch shoulders and a 32-inch waist. His name was Johnny Long, and he was sumthin' else, Shuuu-ga, you can take my word. We got along fine at first, but then we had a conflict. He wanted me to stay home and be a housewife, but I had too much energy for that. I wanted to pursue my profession. It's one of the oldest professions, you know, Shuuu-ga. Really, it is. Why, one night I was on an airplane to Las Vegas and this gentleman beside me kept askin' me what I do that I travel around so much. I told him I was self-employed. 'Really,' he said, his eyes gettin' wide. 'And what do you do?" 'I'm just a professional girl," I said, 'I'm in one of the oldest professions in the history of the world." He got so excited I thought he was gonna have a heart attack right there in his seat.
"Well, anyway, gettin' back to me and Johnny Long, one night we was drivin' in his car, havin' this terrific fight. I elbowed him in the face. Knocked out his front plate, I did. He had to stop the car and look for it along the side of the road. Now, my second husband, he wasn't bad, but he was no Johnny Long. He called himself Buddy Lee, but really his name was Pino. He was an Italian like yourself, Shuuu-ga. Well, when I got married I told my little husband—you know how you Italians are, Shuuu-ga—I told him that I wasn't gonna go lookin', but if I ever caught him with another woman he'd have to pack his bags and git. Well, I did and he did. We'd never got along that well anyway. We lived in the Bronx for a while and I hated it. I guess I'm just a country girl at heart. I love the South. I love the clean air and the grass and the trees and the way the wind blows in your hair when you're ridin' a horse. Oh, I just luuuuuv horses. Well, all the time we was livin' in the Bronx I was pleadin' with my second husband to take me back to the South. But he wouldn't leave. He just went out every night and shot crap in the streets until four o'clock in the morning—ain't that jes' like an Italian, Shuuu-ga? I got sick of it, so one night I packed my bags, got in the car and drove all night until I reached Columbia. I been livin' there ever since. I got a 13-room house, 30 acres of land, two lakes, horses and all kinds of animals, and I'm jes' as free as I can be.
"I almost got married one other time. I was engaged to Hank Williams Sr., you know, the Country 'n Western singer who died. I luuuuv Country 'n Western music. I'm good friends with Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley and lots of 'em. I got a big ol' bass fiddle in my livin' room, and whenever they stop by we have a jam session. Man, all night long there's a whole lot a shakin' goin' on. Sometimes, I think if I didn't pursue my present profession I would have been a Country 'n Western singer."
At the beauty parlor, Miss Ellison and her companion are met by the manager, Mr. Ron, a slim man with a large, round, shiny forehead and dark, timid eyes that cause him to closely resemble Tweet) Bird. He is wearing four-inch-high platform shoes, which, like Miss Ellison's, make a clack-clack-clack as he walks with birdlike steps. He introduces Miss Ellison to Mr. Bertrand, a dour-looking man in his 40s. They talk for a moment. Miss Ellison gesturing with her hands and shaping them around her hair while Mr. Ron and Mr. Bertrand nod intently. Then they all disappear into another room. Miss Ellison's companion finds a seat against the wall and prepares for a long wait.
When Mr. Ron, Mr. Bertrand and Miss Ellison finally reappear, Miss Ellison is wearing a gauzy white robe dotted with red and yellow flowers and her hair is wrapped in dozens of pink and blue curlers. She glances at her companion, and then quickly lowers her head and blushes, as if embarrassed to be caught in an unprepared and unladylike state in which she is leaving nothing to the imagination. She sits in front of a mirror, and Mr. Bertrand begins unwrapping her hair and combing it out. "She certainly is an interesting lady," says Mr. Ron to Miss Ellison's companion. They both glance over at Miss Ellison who studiously avoids them.
"She really loves to chew gum, doesn't she?" says Mr. Ron. For the first time Miss Ellison's companion notices her jaws working steadily and rhythmically.
"You know, you really have to study people in this business," says Mr. Ron. "You have to find out where their head's at, psychologically, that is, sort of get inside their head before you can redo the outside of it, know what I mean?"
"Yes, I think I do. It's very artistic work, isn't it?"
"Very," says Mr. Ron.
When Miss Ellison's hair is finished—teased and sprayed by Mr. Bertrand—she smiles broadly into the mirror. She gives Mr. Bertrand a $10 tip and thanks him profusely, and then she takes her companion's arm and they leave the salon and proceed back along 47th Street toward the hotel. She walks more confidently now, makes little tossing gestures with her hair and says, "Oh, I feel like a lady again."
While her companion waits in the lobby. Miss Ellison goes upstairs to change. When she returns, she is wearing spike-heel pumps, a black-and-white checkered miniskirt that shows off her long legs and a silky white blouse buttoned low and exposing ample cleavage. She is carrying a small tan suitcase.
"Here, let me take that," her companion says. He lifts the bag and momentarily is pulled forward by its contents. "Kinda heavy," he says.
"Oh, is it, Shuuu-ga? I didn't notice. I been carrying it for so long that I'm used to it."
Outside, he hails a cab while Miss Ellison stands on the curb. She stands with one foot slightly forward and her hands on her hips. Her back is arched, her chin up. When her companion finds a cab he directs it to 33rd Street, and he and Miss Ellison get into the back seat. Beside him, she smells of lilacs.
"I like the perfume," he says. "What is it?"
"White Shoulders," she says. "It's the only kind I ever use, Shuuu-ga." When the taxi arrives at 33rd Street, an area occupied by Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden, Miss Ellison directs the driver to the side entrance of the Garden. As the taxi circles the block it passes a vast throng of people ringing the arena. Old women in faded dresses, middle-aged men in khaki work clothes, not-so-young girls in velveteen hot pants, teen-agers in Levis; blacks, whites, Puerto Ricans, Orientals—a bouillabaisse of lower-class America, all of them holding something: a camera, an autograph book with a metal lock, a scrap of paper, a magazine, a photograph, something, as they lounge on the concrete steps, stand in expectant clusters or prowl up and down the block, looking in the windows of the cabs that pass.
"Oh, goodness," says Miss Ellison as the cab stops in front of the entrance. Her companion pays the fare, and as he does a black youth sticks his face against the glass. His eyes grow wide with excitement. Miss Ellison's companion opens the door and helps her out, her short skirt hiking past her thighs. "Hurry!" she says. "Run!" But it is too late. The black youth shouts to the crowd, "Over here! She's over here!" Faces turn, people come running from every direction. "Here! Here she is! The Champ! Champ! Moolah! Moolah! Moooooolah!" Hands of every shade and texture, smooth and wrinkled, slap her on the back, reach to touch her, grab her hand and shake it, thrust pens and paper at her until her vision is filled with nothing but hands. Finally, a wedge of policemen opens a path, and The Fabulous Moolah hurries in her quick little steps toward the doorway. Around her, fans still shout, "Atta girl, Moolah! Go get her, Champ! We love ya!" And then she is inside, relieved, and the noise outside is muffled. Faces press against the glass door to catch a last glimpse before she boards an elevator that will take her to her dressing room where she will change into her wrestling tights in preparation for her title bout with Miss Vicki Williams, a 26-year-old platinum blonde from Savannah.
In the ring, before 16,000 wrestling fans, The Fabulous Moolah is no longer loved. She is booed and hissed when her name is announced. Wearing a black cape, she taunts the crowd. She opens the cape to reveal sequined wrestling tights striped in the colors of the rainbow. Then, hands on hips, she prances around the ring, shaking her rear end at the shouting fans. Vicki Williams' name is greeted with a roar of approval, since she is younger and prettier in her royal-blue tights and since she is the decided underdog against The Fabulous Moolah, who has been the wrestling champion of the world for the past 17 years.
Vicki Williams has wrestled Moolah a number of times and never beaten her. It seems that despite her youth and a devastating dropkick, Vicki Williams is no match for Moolah's unorthodox and less-than-legal tactics. Early in the match, for instance, Moolah manages to break out of a headlock by grabbing a fistful of her opponent's hair and using it to throw Vicki over her shoulder. Miss Vicki lands on her back and Moolah kicks her in the head. Then Moolah leaps into the air and plummets, with both feet, on Miss Vicki's stomach. She steps off, grabs the dazed Vicki by the hair, pulls her to her feet and smacks her in the jaw. Vicki wanders around the ring on wobbly legs. Moolah puts an armlock around Vicki's neck and begins to strangle her while trying to gouge out her left eye.
But Miss Vicki, like most professional wrestlers, has marvelous recuperative powers. Suddenly, she breaks free of Moolah's hold and dropkicks her in the jaw, once, twice, three times. To escape further punishment, Moolah climbs through the ropes. Standing in the aisle, she pleads for mercy, her hands in front of her face, palms out, as if to ward off an evil spirit. The fans applaud Miss Vicki while a photographer at ringside aims his camera at Moolah, who brushes her hair from her eyes, poses, chin up, for a second, and after the flash climbs back into the ring. Moolah offers Miss Vicki her hand, vowing in pantomime not to play dirty; she turns to the audience and pleads for understanding. The fans hiss. Moolah gets down on one knee, crosses her heart and raises her right hand. But Miss Vicki is no fool; she disregards Moolah's protestations and dropkicks her so many times that Moolah's head begins to wobble as if it is coming unhinged from her neck. Miss Vicki grabs Moolah by the hair and entangles her arms in the ring ropes until she is immobile and helpless. Then Miss Vicki charges from the opposite end of the ring, driving her shoulder hard into Moolah's stomach.
The referee intervenes. Not even The Fabulous Moolah deserves to suffer so, he seems to be implying as he tries to disentangle her from the ropes. Behind him. Miss Vicki charges again, only this time she bashes the referee, who ricochets into Moolah, and both go crashing to the canvas. They roll, a tangle of thrashing arms and legs, while the fans cheer. Moolah flails at the referee and is soon sitting on his stomach punching him with her fists. Finally she leaps up, brushes herself off and tosses her head back with disdain, as if her dignity as a lady had been violated by something the referee had done while they were intertwined. The fans hoot.
Near the end of the match Miss Vicki manages to get Moolah's shoulders pinned to the canvas by virtue of a leg hold around her neck. The referee slaps the canvas once, the fans roar, he slaps it twice, the fans rise, screaming in anticipation at this upset in the making. But suddenly, with devastating speed, The Fabulous Moolah reverses the hold and it is Miss Vicki Williams now whose shoulders are pinned for a count of one, two, three, and the match is over. Moolah still reigns. The fans, their hopes dashed with such blinding rapidity, are stunned, silent, as the champion leaves the ring.
At midnight, in the back seat of a taxi that is heading toward Jimmy Weston's supper club on East 54th Street, Miss Lillian Ellison says to her companion, "I was always a good athlete, Shuuu-ga. When I was a girl back in Columbia I used to go to those county fair days and win all the medals in track, high jumpin', everythin'. Most of the time I beat the boys. Like I told you, I had 12 brothers and I followed them everwhere, did everthin' they did, except, of course, go swimmin'. When I was about eight my mother died and, to help me forget, my father used to take me to all kinds of events. One night he took me to a wrestlin' match, and the minute I saw those girls I said to him, 'That's what I wanna be, a lady wrestler.' Well, I wanted to wrestle so bad that when I got to high school I started houndin' the boys' wrestlin' coach. He said they never had girls on the team. I said that didn't make any difference to me. Finally, he had to let me on. Why? Because he jes' couldn't stop me, that's all. I wrestled my last two years in high school, mostly against boys, and I beat 'em, too. When I graduated, one of my brothers, who was a Golden Gloves fighter, won a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa. For my graduation present, my father asked if I'd like to go with him. I said, 'I certainly would.'
"In Johannesburg I met a wrestlin' promoter named Tiger Simpson and I began houndin' him for a match. 'You don't know enough,' he said. 'I'm willin' to learn,' I said. Then he said, 'Why you wanna wrestle, girl?' And I said, 'Mr. Simpson, we had 13 children in my family and we had to fight for every biscuit, man, so I just gotta make some money.' Then he looked at me real close—I only weighed about 110 pounds—and he said, 'You're awful small to do that.' I said, 'I'm small, Mr. Simpson, but I'm mighty.' Finally, he jes' had to give me a chance. But before my first match he said, 'We're gonna have to do somethin' about that name of yours. Lillian Ellison doesn't sound like a wrestler.' 'I don't care what you call me, Mr. Simpson,' I said, "so long as I can wrestle and make some money.' He thought a minute, and then said, 'You wanna make some moolah, huh? Do you mind if we call you Slave Girl Moolah?' 'Certainly not,' I said.
"I wrestled there for a while, and then I returned to the States for my first real big match. I weighed 118 pounds by then, but in those days most lady wrestlers were big girls, and when I went to fight in Boston I couldn't pass the weight test. The promoter there told me to go home and forget about wrestlin'. He said I'd never get a match unless I was at least 138 pounds. I told him I'd be back. I went home and started eatin' steak and mashed potatoes with butter. Every mornin' and night I drank pure cream in a glass with two tablespoons of Hershey syrup and three raw eggs. How'd it taste? Guuuuuhd, Shuuu-ga, 'cause it was gonna help me be a wrestler. Well, one day I called back that promoter and said, 'Mr. Wolfe, you don't remember me, but my name is Lillian Ellison, I'm that little girl you said should forget about wrestlin' and become a secretary sittin' on somebody's knee. Well, I weigh 149 pounds now, and I wanna wrestle.' He said, 'O.K.,' and I been wrestlin' ever since.
"At first I wasn't successful. I was too gentle 'cause I wanted everyone to love me. But after I lost a couple I said, 'Heh, this ain't me, I gotta be like I was with my brothers." Well, when I finally started to let go, I started winnin' mosta the time. I learned that in wrestlin' you could act the way you feel, which you can't do in regular life. I mean, you wake up one mornin' and feel wild or sumthin', but you can't let yourself go. When I'm wrestlin' I always let myself go. Of course, there are rules, but mosta the time I lose my head and I don't follow rules if I can help it.
"Anyway, I finally won the championship one night in Baltimore. It was the most fabulous thing you could imagine. They just put 13 girls in the ring and let 'em all wrestle at one time. I beat 'em all, and then after that I had to wrestle the champion, June Byers. I beat her in two straight falls and I've been the champion ever since. After I won that night, the Maryland State Athletic Commission told me that my name, 'Slave Girl Moolah,' was a little misleadin' and would I please change it. I was so happy I woulda changed it to anythin'. They said, "Well, you beat 13 girls in one night, and that's pretty fabulous, so maybe we'll call you The Fabulous Moolah.'
"Why do I do it? I luuuuhv it, Shuuu-ga! I love to travel, I love the money, and I love meetin' people. Of course, there's always the risk of gettin' hurt. I had my neck broke in Denver once. A girl jammed my head into the mat. I still have to go to a chiropractor for it. I've had just about all my fingers and toes broke. See this scar above my lip? I got that when a girl rammed my face into a turnbuckle, the metal catch that holds the ropes. Another time, a girl ground my head into a turnbuckle and cut a gash from my forehead over my eye down my cheek. See here. The worst thing that ever happened was the night a girl jumped on my stomach. They thought I had ruptured my spleen and rushed me to a hospital. But that's about the worst thing I can remember, except for that time in Oklahoma City when I was knifed by an Indian. I was wrestling a full-blooded Indian girl named Celia Blevins, and after I beat her and I was walkin' toward the dressing room this big Indian guy—he was the biggest man I'd ever seen—come at me with a knife. I started backin' up, and then he took a swipe at me, cut me right here on the shoulder before the crowd closed around him and I got away. Sumthin' like that kinda scares you. You wonder. But still, I luuuhv wrestlin'. It's been guuuhd to me, Shuuu-ga. I hope I don't ever lose my title. Never. My God, this is the best I got."
Parked outside of Jimmy Weston's is a long line of black limousines—Cadillacs, Continentals, Mercedes and Jaguars. Uniformed chauffeurs mill about on the sidewalk, leaning against the cars smoking cigarettes, talking while their employers are enjoying a midnight supper and half listening to the singing of a soft black woman in a frilly white plantation dress. She was once the wife of Adam Clayton Powell. Miss Ellison and her companion are escorted to a long table occupied by Vince McMahon, a millionaire wrestling promoter, and his party of 20. McMahon, tall, gray-haired, ruddy-faced, half-rises to greet Miss Ellison and introduce her and her companion around the table. Miss Ellison smiles warmly at the guests, who look up and nod perfunctorily before returning to their conversations. Miss Ellison sits down beside McMahon, who says, "Good show tonight, Lit." She blushes and thanks him. A waiter appears, asks for her order. Momentarily flustered, she mumbles, "Jes' bring me what everyone else is havin', please." To Miss Ellison's right, McMahon returns to his conversation with Willie Gilzenberg, the president of the World Wide Wrestling Federation. They are discussing the night's attendance at the Garden and the prospect for a future promotion. To Miss Ellison's left, McMahon's son, a massive 6'3" 250-pounder who is referred to by everyone as Junior, is discussing the relative merits and deficiencies of his $27,000 Ferrari Daytona GTB-4 with Billy Mack, a little man with a heavy tan and six inches of French cuffs. Mack, speaking out of the left side of his mouth in a Bronx accent, informs Junior that he has no interest in his car and would prefer to talk about Evel Knievel's Snake River Canyon jump, for which Junior has the exclusive closed-circuit television rights.
Momentarily ignored, Miss Ellison turns to her companion, who, not having eaten all day, is busily stuffing shrimp and clams oreganato into his mouth. She leans over and whispers, "This talk is sure too deep for me, Shuuuu-ga." He just nods and continues eating.
Throughout dinner Miss Ellison is strangely subdued, deferential almost, in marked contrast to the braggadocio and confidence she exudes in the ring. It is an honor to be invited out to dinner with these wealthy people, she tells her companion. Wrestlers don't usually socialize with their promoters. "But these people are so down-to-earth," she adds. "Mr. McMahon is just the most natural person. He's a personal friend of mine, really. And besides, he knew today was my birthday."
When Miss Ellison is finished eating she puts down her knife and fork and, for want of anything better to do with her hands, she begins to tug and twist her napkin on the table. Catching herself, she stops. She folds the napkin with great care until it is a very tiny square. Laying it on her lap, she places her hands over it and, arching her back slightly, she sits there silently. A waiter clears away the dishes. Moments later he reappears, bearing a white cake with a single candle burning in its center. He stands in front of the table waiting for directions. No one notices him. He clears his throat. McMahon, deep in conversation, looks up and motions toward Miss Ellison. The waiter deposits the cake in front of her and leaves. Her eyes are wide with disbelief. She flattens her hands over her lips. "Oh. Vince!" she says. "Happy Birthday. Lil," he says. From around the table, heads look up, smile briefly There is a smattering of "Happy Birthdays," and then a return to conversation. Miss Ellison sits there, staring at the burning candle, its flame reflected in her eyes, illuminating the thin white line running over her left eyebrow and down her cheek. Her face is deeply tanned and the white line stands out clearly like the line of a river drawn on a map. Caught in the crevice of the line is a tear.