G.L.O.R.Y. Legend Of The Ring
|Ask a group of wrestling fans to write down their choices of the top professional women wrestlers of all time, and you'll get many lists with a variety of names. But one name will be on EVERYONE'S list: Penny Banner. Ms. Banner helped usher in what has come to be known as the "Golden Age Of Women's Pro Wrestling"...the decades of the 50s, 60s and 70s. This great athlete held many titles during her long and successful career, including the first AWA Women's Championship in the early-sixties. Penny also teamed with partners such as Bonnie Watson, Betty Jo Hawkins and Lorraine Johnson to demolish all other ladies teams that dared to step into the ring with them. Penny and her partners combined wrestling skill, raw athletic ability and glamourous looks to make them the most popular tag teams of their day. Ms. Banner still competes in the Senior Olympic Games, specializing in field events and swimming...and she continues adding gold to her collection. Penny Banner is a true legend and pioneer of women's wrestling!|| ||
Penny Banner's Profile...
- Height: 5' 8"
- Weight: 160
- Hair: Natural "mousy blonde" (with a little help!)
- Eyes: Hazel/Green
- Hometown: Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri (USA)
- Currently Residing: Charlotte, North Carolina (USA)
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- Career In Ring: 1954-1977 (23 Years)
- How It Started: I began wrestling in July 1954, but actually...I was NEVER a wrestling fan! In fact, I had NEVER heard of women wrestlers, much less seen them competing. I was a governess who took care of three small children and when their father went to work, I worked out in the basement with his weights for fun. I would catch the bus to take Judo lessons also. I never knew why I had this drive...but it was there. In the evening, I was a waitress in a restaurant/bar. One evening a friend of Mr. Sam Muchnick (then president of the NWA) came in asking who was the new girl. The owner said "watch that one, she can do 200 sit-ups and is a tough one!" He came to me and bet me $20 if I would do them. Well, I did! And he ended up telling his friend Mr. Muchnick. They got my phone number and had wrestlers call me to try and get me to try-out for wrestling. Even Killer Kowalski called one time asking if he could take me to Hannibal, Mo. since that was where the girls were wrestling then. I never believed him and always declined. A few months later, Sam had Cyclone Aniai call and say the same thing. Again I turned them down! I never believed them. I didn't even like wrestling and never even watched it! A couple of weeks later, Sam Muchnick himself called and invited me to his wrestling office downtown to see photos of women wrestlers so that I would believe they were serious. Then he told me they would pay me $50 a week and pay for my transportation via train to Columbus, Ohio to workout and give it a try. That's when I realized they really did want me to wrestle! Sam said if I didn't like it, I could come back home to St. Louis in two weeks and he wouldn't bother me about wrestling again. Well, because of my Judo training and working-out with the weights, I defeated the six girls who had been in training for six months! I was booked professionally right away and worked with one of the girls in training. It was Kathy Branch, and I was introduced as Mary Ann Kostecki. With the trouble the announcer had pronouncing that, I decided to change my name to Penny Banner. PENNY...because I felt so insignificant, and BANNER...because Charleton Heston was my favorite actor and he played a role where his name was Banner. And that was my beginning in wrestling. I never, ever thought of going back to St. Louis after my first time in the ring. It turned-out that I was in a wrestling match before I ever saw one!
- Gimmick: I never really had a gimmick. But I was nicknamed "The St. Louie Woman" and "The Amazon". I began as a face, but three months later turned heel. And I stayed heel for six years AND LOVE IT! Then I married a face wrestler and was asked by the promoter to change back...so I did.
- Wrestling Style: Catch-as-catch-can.
- Gear/Outfit/Costume: Nothing in particular. But I did go to a two-piece in 1958, which really shocked everyone! Of course, we still reinforced the straps and legs of our outfits for "safety" reasons.
- Titles Held: Both the Canadian and USA Ladies Tag Team Championships on three different occassions: 1956 with Betty Jo Hawkins...1957 with Bonnie Watson...1958-59 with Lorraine Johnson. Ladies Texas Championship: March 1963 (defeating Nell Stewart). First Ladies American Wrestling Alliance (AWA) Champion in August 1961.
- Biggest Win: All of them!
- Worst Loss: All of those, too!
- Favorite Type of Match: It really didn't matter...as long as there was a large, enthusiastic crowd. I liked matches with a lot of good maneuvers (on my part, of course!). Battle royals and mixed tags were fun to do. I didn't particularly like marathon matches in TV studios...or mat matches without a ring. I wasn't really fond of carnival matches, either.
- Favorite Moves/Holds: Nothing very special. I tried to be original in everything I did, so the other girl wouldn't be expecting what might come next. As I said, catch-as-catch-can was my style.
- Finisher: Preferred the sunset flip or small package. Also dropkicks into the ropes and a quick cover. Pretty much just anything I could use to finish them off!
- Biggest Allies: My biggest allies were my tag partners. And I must say that I could always rely on the male wrestlers for help when I needed it.
- Toughest Opponents: There were so many! One of the toughest was NWA Champion June Byers, who had defeated Mildred Burke. Then a lot of the girls that I was featured in the wrestling magazine with: Kay Noble; Belle Starr; Judy Glover; Judy Grable; Dottie Dotson; Toni Rose; Tami Jones; Verne Bottoms; Ethel Johnson; Lily Thomas; Kathlene Wimbley; Babs Wingo; Peggy Allen. There were more...most all of the ladies were tough back then!
- Career Highlight: Winning all my titles were real highlights. Also meeting and dating Elvis Presley five times over three years.
- Favorite Wrestlers: There were so many! But John Tolos and Johnny Valentine were real favorites. I also like Ric Flair.
- What I Liked Most: Traveling around and getting to see all of the United States, most of Canada and Mexico. Also, making real good money for back then. Having a new car every two years. Going to a lot of movies. Sleeping late. And the fans, of course!
- What I Liked Least: All of the hours on the road. When people would ask: "Is wrestling fake?" (grrrr!). And the inevitable injuries, of which I had my share: broken nose (3 times); teeth knocked loose; teeth chipped; jaw dislocated; little finger and toe broken; ribs separated; back torn out too many times to count; injuring my sciatic nerve; left knee dislocated (5 times); right knee dislocated (3 times); neck injuries from the ropes; hundreds of scratches to my face and arms; and my elbows dislocated (3 times). "Is it fake?!!!"
Penny Banner's Personal Notes...
Career Info: While on the road, I liked working crossword puzzles in the dressing room to relax before a match.....If I got back to the hotel early enough, I loved to dance. We called it Jitterbugging back then!.....If I had any spare time, I LOVED waterskiing.....I was on the road a lot and doing a lot of driving. But I always liked to stop and take photos of places I'd been. I spent a lot of time singing songs on the radio, too! And once I got to the motel I was booked at, it wouldn't take long before I was out by the pool sunbathing. :-)
Since marrying and retiring from the road: I raised a daughter, Wendi, who joined me in riding, training and showing quarter horses.....I also got involved in rodeo: tying goats and running the barrels!.....I do a lot of volunteer work with the Four-H Clubs Of North Carolina.....I taught physical education to the boys at my daughter's grade school..I also taught myself to play the guitar and banjo!.....I love singing and one of my favorite things to do now is karaoke. My all-time favorite is Elvis. And I also like Creedence Clearwater Revival.....A huge part of my life right now is still athletic competition. I always compete in the National Senior Olympic Games when time permits, and I'm now entered in the Masters Programs in swimming and field events. I do the shot put, hammer throw, discus and javelin. This was all pretty new to me when I started in 1990. I had never seen discus throwing and shot putting before. Like wrestling, I competed in these events before I ever actually saw them! It's a real challenge and when I qualify for the nationals, I really compete. (I guess it's my old wrestling juices that start flowing again!) It is so great to see so many women athletes competing. I must have at least 45-60 ladies just in my age group from all over the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, etc. So far, I have not won any gold medals. But I have won several silver and bronze medals, along with a bunch of 4th and 5th place awards. The Nationals are in Hampton Roads, VA in 2003, and I'm planning to be there!.....And finally, thank you all for being fans of women's wrestling.
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"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows." -- Helen Keller