Tag Archives: George Romanoff

Romanoff, Conductor Are Re-Matched Here

The Palm Beach Post – July 14, 1934

Pair Top Wrestling Card At Dixie Arena On Monday Night

George Romanoff, the heavily bewhiskered middleweight champion, probably will have his hands full Monday evening when he collides with “Mysterious Conductor.” Continue reading

Wrestler’s Rep Packed A Wallop

The Florida Times-Union – December 5, 1999

Diamonds were a girl’s best friend.

Mildred also was partial to the alligator clutch.

That’s how she got her diamonds.

Mildred Burke was the greatest woman’s wrestler of her time.

She wore 50 grand worth of diamonds to work, until they got too heavy.

Also, she married a guy called Diamond, who brought her to Jacksonville, where the wrestling promoter was George Romanoff.

Romanoff had wrestled Billy “Diamond” Wolfe enough times to persuade him to bring his wife to Jacksonville early and often to fill the seats in the Main and Beaver streets arena.

Thus it was that Millie Burke brought the family jewels to town 54 years ago this week, a week that coincidentally marked the start of something big.

While sports fans were all atwitter about the return of Mildred Burke, they were quite underwhelmed by the announcement that South Carolina and Wake Forest had been signed to play in the first, and perhaps only, Gator Bowl football classic.

“Admittedly not as good an attraction as they would have liked,” began Jacksonville Journal sports editor Charlie Baker.

The local Lions Club had finally matched two Southern conference rivals for a New Year’s game in Municipal Stadium.

The Jacksonville Naval Air Station Fliers were the local gridiron power in December 1945. They had just ended a 9-2 season 48-0 over the Pensacola Navy Goslings.

And the high school Andrew Jackson Tigers’ upcoming Kiwanis Bowl tilt against the Middletown, Conn., Tigers, figured to draw more than the Lions affair.

But all paled before Mildred Burke.

Mildred Burke had taken women’s wrestling out of the burlesque theater and put it where it belonged, like the Main and Beaver arena.

Mildred’s rags-to-rocks story began when she saw her first wrestling match in Kansas City.

“I had the same dream over and over,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1981.

“I’d be at the head of the steps, and there’d be a crowd of people applauding at the bottom, and I’d take off . . . like an angel.”

Her dreams detoured when she became a waitress on the Zuni reservation near Gallup, N.M. She ran off with an initial husband and took up wrestling after meeting Wolfe, director of the Kansas City YMCA and Missouri wrestling champion.

Soon, she was regularly beating up men in carnivals and fairs and, in 1936, won a woman’s “championship” tournament Wolfe organized in Betheny, Mo.

That’s where she got her first diamonds.

The championship belt was said to be worth $2,500.

It would be chump change to the dough in Millie’s future.

Mildred, Diamond and the belt came to Jacksonville in 1937. In time she was bringing in 300 grand a year.

The new champ packed the arena to beat the famous Stella Steker, the Arizonian Amazon who had perfected the airplane spin, thus demonstrating that a good alligator clutch could beat a good airplane spin.

(The alligator clutch involved twisting one’s opponent into a knot and sitting on her. Burke figured she ended 2,400 matches that way.)

In 1938, Burke was in what Life magazine said was the first women’s mud-wrestling match. In the 1940s, she wrestled in a Jacksonville ring covered with swamp mud and melted lard.

By the end of World War II, Mildred Burke was a household name. Mud wrestling days were far behind.

She wrestled six times a week, 50 weeks a year. She became the first wrestler to wear a fancy robe and become a pin-up girl.

The diamond collection kept getting bigger and bigger. She became America’s best-muscled sex symbol. Once she was named one of America’s best dressed women.

You can imagine how Mildred Burke could overshadow the mere birth of the Gator Bowl.

“Comely Kansas City cyclone,” the Jacksonville Journal called her.

“Bulging muscles like a man, but a cute chick in street clothes.”

“Miss Burke will have her costly diamond-studded championship belt ready to turn over in the event she loses,” the Florida Times-Union said. “Which is not very likely.”

She had gone undefeated — fighting six nights a week, 50 weeks a year — for seven years.

Going up against Burke was Mae Young, a bigger blonde Chicago tusslerette who had beaten up June Byers for the privilege of appearing in the Main and Beaver street arena. (Byers would one day make off with Mildred Burke’s Diamond Wolfe and her title, but that is another story.)

On this night, before a crowd that “all but overflowed” the Main and Beaver arena, Millie took Mae in two straight falls that took a total of 31 minutes, probably longer than it took to clear Municipal Stadium, which did not overflow, after the Wake Forests beat the South Carolinas.

City Got A Full Dose Of Female Wrestlers

Florida Times-Union – December 3, 1997
By Bill Foley, Columnist

Steker was the name, pilgrim.

Airplane spin was her game.

Out of the West Stella Steker came the fall of 1937 to the Main and Beaver arena, to settle questions long nettling the mind of man.

Could a good brunette whip a good blonde?

Could a grapplerette whomp a grunt and groaner?

Lived there a woman in this whole great land who could best Mildred Burke, women’s wrestling champeen of the entire meaningful world?

Stella Steker was a bit of a mystery. George Romanoff wanted it that way.  Romanoff was commencing a legend when he brought Stella Steker to town.

He announced wrestling henceforth would be held at the arena each Tuesday and Friday, ”with good performers gracing both programs.”

Romanoff, himself, was somewhat a man of mystery. He, too, was an erstwhile grappler but, more, was said to be of the Russian royal family.

Either that or the original Tarzan, depending on what saloon you heard it in.  Women had wrestled in Jacksonville before, but it had been more than a year since the mat-gals clashed at the local sport emporium.

And Stella would not be dumped on the undercard, where female wrestlers usually were billed, down there with the midgets and the battle royal.

This November it would be the Texas Dobie Osbornes and Red Devil Guthries in the prelims. The mysterious Stella Steker would head the card.

”Miss Steker, mythical holder of the women’s championship of Arizona, is a shapely miss,” said The Florida Times-Union.

”Her specialty, the spectacular airplane spin, went over big in Mexico, where she proved too much for the Senoritas of that territory.”

Nor would the airplane-spinning Arizonan be going against chopped liver.

Popular Dora Dean was coming to town.

Dora Dean, the favorite blonde of the wrestling world, was said in polite terms to be the protege of Man Mountain Dean, Georgia’s contribution to wrestling legend. Man Mountain taught Dora the flying scissors, which she used to great advantage.

Between Stella Steker’s airplane spin and Dora Dean’s flying scissors a tremendous aerial clash. The flower of local Sporting Life packed the arena.  Stella pinned the Dixie darling in 13 minutes.

She fought lean, mean, down and dirty and got booed and hissed.

”The dark-haired Arizonan, who protrayed the role of villain that would have done credit to other ‘rough’ artists like Machine Gun Jack Evko, clamped on an airplane spin to end the festivities,” the Times-Union said.

”Miss Dean displayed by far a larger number of holds, including Irish whips, back-body drops and an assortment of arm locks but could not cope with the hair-pulling tactics of her opponent.”

Next stop for the dark-haired, hair-pulling, crowd-taunting, blonde-whipping, Man Mountain-tweaking shapely grapplerette: A man.

Romanoff announced Stella Steker’s next assault on Southern wrestledom would be the next week against local wrestler George Cowart.

”Miss Steker promises to give her male opponent plenty of trouble,” said the Jacksonville Journal.

”Bob holds an edge in the weights but is not expecting to have an easy time of it in the one-hour time limit,” said the Times-Union.

Eleven minutes.

In two minutes less than it took her to launch Dora Dean Stella Steker whapped an airplane spin on wrestler George and dusted him off amid the boos and catcalls of the multitude, with nary a vicious hair-pull.

What next for the Arizona stranger?

Deep, deep water. Mildred Burke had had enough with the Western upstart.  Romanoff stilled the local sporting crowd into hushed apprehension: Mildred Burke would fight Stella Steker, right here in the Main and Beaver street arena.

Burke came into the ring with a gold championship belt the papers said was worth $2,500, back when that was real money. She had recently won it from Clara Mortenson in New York City.

Tension was thick as the smoke over the ring as Steker and Burke climbed through the ropes. The jam-packed crowd already had seen Cowboy Dobie, Machine-Gun Jack and Florida state champ Allen Eustace win their matches.

Fourteen minutes.

”The champ did not have an easy time of it,” the Times-Union said. ”Miss Steker unleashed all her holds, but to no avail. Both of the tusslerettes landed in the aisle on one occasion and delighted the audience further by ripping off referee Gus Pappas’s undershirt.”

Mildred ended it with a ”neatly executed body slam.”

Three weeks, three bouts, 38 minutes; three matches that each drew more people to see wrestling in Jacksonville than any bout that did not involve Jack Dempsey, and the undisputed winner by a unanimous decision, with a nice assist from shaply brunette Arizona grapplerette Stella Steker, was promoter George Romanoff, a member of the Russian royal family or the original Tarzan, depending on which saloon you heard it in.