“What’s a victory roll?”
“A victory roll is when you run up to your opponent, step on his knee, and wind up sitting on his shoulders. You both roll over and then you’ve got him pinned. A flying head scissors, same thing: you run up, step on his knee, and put a head scissors on him. In both cases the opponent does the work — he acts like you dragged him down, he does the roll. And then he’s flat on the mat, looking like he was taken down with your flying head scissors. The trick is to be athletic, acrobatic, and able to do handstands.
“The girls got it down in less than an hour. That’s when I called Mildred. I said, ‘I got these girls who know a few things already.’ So I drove them up to Encino and we built the group.”
Big jump over big puddle. “Girls and Tijuana. Mildred and Encino. What’s the connection?”
“I used to go to the Coliseum [15th and E Street], that cigar/popcorn–smelling place where they had boxing once a week and wrestling once or twice a week. I went, occasionally, from my early 20s on. Wrestling, for me, was never on the level of football or boxing. Still, I’ve watched a lot of old-time wrestlers. Technically, they weren’t great, athletic wrestlers, but they had their shtick. They had a way of getting people in the door.
“Anyway, I’d go to the Coliseum occasionally, and one night in ’83, I saw this woman, Mildred Burke. She was in her 70s. She was an old-time women’s pro wrestling champion [1936–1956]. She wrestled, a lot of times, in carnivals and for real. Sometimes if a woman opponent didn’t show up, she challenged men.
“Mildred was introduced to the crowd. It was like introducing Willie Mays to baseball fans, that’s what she meant to women’s pro wrestling. Later I went up to her and we talked. She had a ring in Encino and was filming women wrestlers. There weren’t vcrs or camcorders then. She made 8-millimeter and Super 8 millimeter films. She said she made more money in one year filming than she did during her entire career as a wrestler.”
“How?” Step right up. One peek for a dollar.
“She advertised in wrestling magazines. She told me she sold $200,000 worth of those stupid little 12-minute films. She filmed overweight Mexican women wrestlers,” Elkin chuckles, “not even beauties. Later she got some bikini girls, but in the beginning, she filmed whoever was available.”
“And you said to yourself, ‘Eureka, I’ve found a calling.’ ”
“I said, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ You never know, when you have a store [Elkin once owned a clothing store], what the hell is going to happen. You got to pay rent, you got to fill your store with merchandise, then hope people come in and buy. Mildred puts a little ad in a magazine, people send her money, she sends them film.” Elkin takes a moment to enjoy the transaction’s elegant simplicity.
“Okay. So after the Tijuana trip, you drove the high school girls to Mildred’s in Encino?”
“Yeah. Me and five girls.”
“To Mildred’s house? Five girls?”
“Mildred had a warehouse, but better than a warehouse — it was in a nice area of Encino, had a big parking lot and a high ceiling.”
“Do you remember what Mildred said when you arrived?” I’m ten steps behind his story.
“She was excited because these were good-looking girls and she saw they were athletic. But they weren’t trained. You know, like a head lock leads to a head scissors which leads to a toe hold. Veteran wrestlers know one hold automatically leads to the next. They can do it in their sleep.”
“Were the girls paid?” Still ten paces back.
“From me. Mildred didn’t pay much, even for seasoned pros. Mildred’s attitude is very common in wrestling. It’s ‘I trained you, you owe me something.’ ”
“And you figured there was money in it for you.”
“Sure. The point was for these girls to be trained and then be ‘my girls,’ because, by then, I knew about vcrs. I knew once they had some training, I could make 12-minute tapes of them. It would be easy because there was no sound. I could tell them what to do while I was shooting.”
“Sounds too good to last.”
“Lasted a year, maybe two. This is what happens, with women anyway: they get boyfriends, they get married, they go away to college, and pretty soon from this group of five girls…”
“Disloyalty is an ugly thing. How did it end?”
“Mildred had a girl working for her who was kind of sleazy. Her name was Beverley Cortez. Maybe, if a high roller had enough money she’d do it, maybe if she was jazzed on the guy and he had enough muscles, she’d do it. You know what I mean? Okay, Beverley began working for Mildred and brought in some of her friends.
“Beverley wasn’t a great wrestler, but she had a beach look, blond and tanned. Pretty soon guys were buying Beverley’s tapes rather than tapes of talented pro women wrestlers.
“Beverley had a me-first attitude, 100 percent me-first. Apparently, she found out she was pretty popular. So she got a sugar daddy to give her $50,000 or something like that. Then she went into Mildred’s film room and helped herself to whatever she wanted and started her own company. That pretty much ended that.”
Professional wrestling left San Diego on the same train that carried the hula hoop. However, due to a fortuitous roll of political/historical dice, we are left with alternatives.
I’d asked to be shown wrestling in Tijuana. Since our schedules failed to mesh, Elkin kindly arranged for John Roberts, his friend/associate/sidekick, to stand in. Roberts, Elkin said, knew Tijuana wrestlers and Tijuana wrestling schools.
Which brings us to 6:00 o’clock on a Sunday night. Roberts and I are riding in his swamp-brown-and-cream-colored 1979 Chevy conversion van, traveling south on I-5, at present passing Palm Avenue, the Imperial Beach exit. I shout over engine roar, “Are there wrestling shows in Tijuana every week?”