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August 31, 2004: Ring legend Penny Banner talks to Joe Rules about her amazing wrestling career, her dates with Elvis Presley, her participation in the Senior Olympics, the PGWA, her recently published autobiography and much more!
JOE RULES: Penny Banner, it is indeed a pleasure to interview someone of your stature.
PENNY BANNER: Thank you Joe and G.L.O.R.Y. Wrestling for allowing me this interview. I will try and answer all of your questions.
JOE RULES: Not many people can say they held the AWA Women's Championship, and only ONE person can say they were the first, and that person is you. Tell us the circumstances which lead to the battle royal in which you won the title.
PENNY BANNER: Back in 1959, I had a championship match with the NWA Champion June Byers, and it ended up with a DRAW. After three years of her defeating me constantly in the middle of the ring, I finally went to a draw with her. Time went by. I got married and had a baby but was still wrestling. Anyway, we were in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I was told that I was booked for another championship match with Byers in Angola, Indiana. I said, "Great!" She never showed up and never bothered to call or let anyone know. So the promotion, called AWA which was developed just in 1960, had ONLY a man's champion which was Nick Bockwinkel. When Byers was a no-show, they decided to change the two four-girl tags that were booked that night also into a nine-girl battle royal, and
JOE RULES: How long did you hold the title, and how did you lose it?
PENNY BANNER: I held it from August of 1961 till 1964 when I returned it. I never did lose it, nor was I defeated. My ex- and I moved here to Charlotte, North Carolina in '62, and he decided we were going to stay here. I knew I couldn't hold a woman's world championship and only defend it here in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia, so I just returned it saying they needed to give someone else a chance at it, and thanked them. My last 20 years in the ring I was NOT defeated with a middle-of-the-ring pin. Only lost two times, when Moolah held the ropes, and the other when Belle Starr did the same. I got back at Starr, but Moolah never gave me a return match.
JOE RULES: That's an amazing winning streak. And you were also an accomplished tag team wrestler, winning championships with three different partners: Betty Jo Hawkins, Bonnie Watson, and Lorraine Johnson. Who was your favorite partner to tag with?
PENNY BANNER: All three were fantastic, but because of my newness, Bonnie carried the load. Then with Betty Jo, I was better and did my fair share. But with Johnson
JOE RULES: Penny, I have to ask. You went on several dates with none other than Elvis Presley. What was it like to date The King?
PENNY BANNER: He was the awesome one...KISSER, that is!
JOE RULES: Did he ever come to the shows to see you wrestle in person?
PENNY BANNER: Of course! ALL OF THEM IN MEMPHIS. And then it was off to his mansion. We had five dates in three years. Do you know that my book tells all the "juicy" tidbits all the girls would like to know?? teehee
JOE RULES: I've heard a lot of great things about your new book, Banner Days, and I'm looking forward to reading it myself. I have to say, you've had an incredible 23-year wrestling career. What made you finally decide to hang up the tights in 1977?
PENNY BANNER: Thank you, Joe. Yes, it was a great career. There just were no girls to wrestle, and Moolah's school by that time was blooming, and finally her girls were being sent off to different territories, and I simply had no one to wrestle. I was only wrestling one time a month for several months, and that was not enough. Actually, that is how you can get really hurt, only wrestling once in a while. So I made the decision to retire, and I did. They say you should retire while you are on top, and I did. Billy Wolfe had passed away in '63, and there was no other school of wrestling, and Moolah didn't want to book her school of girls against me, because she got no commission from me, only from her girls.
JOE RULES: You certainly did go out on top. How would you compare the wrestling of your day to the modern product?
PENNY BANNER: Today's exhibition is NOT wrestling. They are comic book scripts, and I do not watch them and their predetermined matches and moves. Granted, they have learned to take bumps, and I did too. They learned the wrestling holds, and I did too. But then we went out and wrestled, and today, the business goes out and "acts". I really feel for the girls who want to break in the business and have to do what is going on today, instead of really showing their skills at wrestling.
JOE RULES: I understand you are the commissioner for the PGWA. Are there any girls in that organization who impress you?
PENNY BANNER: YES! I saw ODB and thought she was very good. I also saw Christie Ricci and thought the same about her. I went backstage in Tennessee just to tell ODB she was very good. Of course, I don't think she knew who I was! haha
JOE RULES: Either way, I'm sure she was very pleased by the compliment.
PENNY BANNER: Couldn't tell if she was pleased or not. She just looked at me like, "Who are you?"
JOE RULES: Since your retirement, you've also been involved in the Senior Olympic Games. Tell us about that.
PENNY BANNER: Yes, I found out I had a touch of emphysema in 1990 and threw away my cigarettes and took up competitive swimming, as just swimming around in a pool wouldn't have reinforced what I had to do: QUIT! At the same time, I decided to learn to throw the discus and shot put. I did those and love that the best along with throwing the hammer. This is qualifying year for the Nationals in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next June, and I hope I qualify at State this October in Raleigh, North Carolina. If I place First or Second, I will!
JOE RULES: That's great, good luck with that! Now your autobiography, Banner Days, was recently released. What made you decide to tell your story?
PENNY BANNER: I never in a million years dreamt of writing a book. First mention of it came from Kay Fleihr, Ric Flair's mom, when she wanted to do it. I just didn't have the time for the looking up of things. But then 16 years later, I did and was coaxed into it. I am happy I did now and happy that it is a book that most readers are comparing to Lou Thesz' book called The Hooker. That makes me very happy. And I love the reviews that it has gotten from everyone so far. I think the history of women's wrestling should be told. Enough of the stuff these men did! OUR wrestling was NOT like theirs, and there is a huge difference. And it needs to be told
JOE RULES: Obviously, you've spent a lot of time on it. How long did it take you to write your book?
PENNY BANNER: It took three years. I can't believe it, but it did. I wish a publisher would have picked it up, but it seems they are not interested in history.
JOE RULES: That's too bad, wrestling history is very important. There's so much younger wrestlers and fans alike can learn from it. More people need to pay attention to it. Can you give us a brief synopsis of Banner Days. What should your readers look forward to?
PENNY BANNER: They should look forward to reading the true history of titles, of how a girl in sports, still in a chauvinistic world, can make it...and that a person should never give in, and they should follow their dreams always, and just do it. People ask me if I would get back in the ring today if WWE asked. I sometimes wonder, would I or wouldn't I? I surely can go in there and do a script and stand still like the two matriarchs are doing. Just not sure I want to be remembered that way, when that is not what I was about. But then, if the fans don't care, WHY SHOULD I? I wonder what my fans would want. Do you have any idea? I think I'd take a poll.
JOE RULES: Hey, I for one, would love to see you back in action! But tell us, how does one go about ordering a copy of Banner Days?
PENNY BANNER: Thank you, Joe. To order my book, a fan must go to www.BannerDays.com and they can order through PayPal or with their credit card, or simply send
JOE RULES: I'll definitely be ordering my copy! Penny, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. It was an honor to chat with a true wrestling legend.
PENNY BANNER: I enjoyed chatting with you, Joe, and again I thank you and G.L.O.R.Y. for giving me this opportunity to let people know my book is finally available for sale. I also will be planning on making any indy shows that may come near Charlotte or other towns I may be traveling to. Thanks again my friend, and hello to all of my FANS, who are so important to me!