Billed at 6’4" with a lean muscular frame, Jeannine Mjoseth, as Mad Maxine, was a woman with a commanding presence poised for great things. But, after two years, she abruptly left the professional wrestling business. Now, three and a half decades since surviving Camp Moolah and wrestling, she has resurfaced to tell her surprising story.
"Working as a wrestler gave me a touchstone so that no matter how bad things were in my life, I can always say, ‘Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as when I worked with the Fabulous Moolah!’
It gave me strength. A lot of aggression I encounter in the world as a tall woman and some of the reactions some people have with women, in general, made me realize that I’m not a victim. I’m not a little lamb. I can push back and stand up for myself, and I can actually if need be (not that I’ve ever had to) punch somebody back and make it hurt."
– Jeannine Mjoseth, a.k.a. Mad Maxine and Lady Maxine
Jeannine Mjoseth – The Woman Behind Mad Maxine and Lady Maxine
For decades, The Fabulous Moolah was a prominent and influential figure in wrestling, affecting many lives, leaving a controversial legacy that sprung her many allies and enemies alike.
In her down-to-earth manner, Jeannine Mjoseth is forthright when saying her novel, The Chronicles of Mad Maxine, is a work of fiction based on her wrestling experiences and not an autobiography. She explained her decision when speaking about her career in a recent interview with BBG Wrestling.
"It’s a novel because I could not make myself write an autobiography or memoir. What I found was, when I was writing it, I was kind of…"
Jeannine continues after a brief pause to arrange her thoughts.
"In the mid-’80s, kayfabe was still a thing. People were still paying a lot of attention to making sure people protected the business and didn’t let on all the secrets and how things worked. That just got under my skin, and I took that seriously. The other reason was that I became friends with people I was training with, and I didn’t feel comfortable outing or writing anything that would cast them in a bad light. So it was easier for me to try and capture the feeling of living in Camp Moolah but not the absolute details."
Public outcry in 2018 over the WWE naming a women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania after The Fabulous Moolah did not change the direction she wanted to go with the book because she was already more comfortable writing it as a fictional novel instead of a tell-all book.
"I was surprised at how strong the response was. I was very shocked that people knew about Moolah. Sure she has a lot of defenders, but many know the score. Things I’m saying in the book are fiction, but the truth is out there already."
Thanks to publications like The WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment, younger fans have discovered Mad Maxine. They are intrigued about who the towering woman sporting a mohawk was that left wrestling so soon and afterward seemingly disappeared for three and a half decades.
"I wrestled for a total of two years, so I was pleased that I had not been forgotten.”
Although Jeannine has reportedly had scathing remarks towards Moolah in the past, she says that there are no hard feelings towards The Fabulous One.
"I don’t have any animosity towards Moolah or anybody. It was a part of my life, probably the most colorful part, so I don’t have any regrets. I don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I wish I’d stayed another five or ten years.’"
Jeannine adds, "I do have a tremendous amount of admiration for the women that did stay there and wrestled for decades. It’s not easy work. You’re putting your well-being on the line every time you jump in the ring. You don’t know what will happen; you have a general idea, but things can go awry very easily. I will say that I’ve written this book, and I’ve trained and wrestled, but it’s the women that stuck with it for years that my hat is off to."
As an "army brat," Jeannine was never in one place for too long and didn’t grow up watching wrestling. The decision to train at Camp Moolah had an underlying purpose, and it was never to make a career out of wrestling.
"I got a journalism degree from the University of South Florida. Then I worked in a retirement community newspaper where I interviewed the people there, who were super accomplished, and I thought, ‘I haven’t done anything! I need to go out there and figure something out.’
"One of my heroes was George Plimpton, who had played professional baseball, football, pro golf, and then he’d write about it, so that’s what I originally wanted to do. But when I went into it, I realized that I hadn’t thought it through, and I hadn’t been upfront because I couldn’t. I’m pretty sure that I would’ve been kicked out if I had been. Then, I became friends with the trainees, and I just couldn’t do it.
Jeannine had also thought about joining the Renaissance Festival circuit and had a friend who had gone to Chad in Africa as a water engineer when Libya was invading them. She thought that would’ve been an exciting project, but her French wasn’t so strong, and she didn’t want to get killed. So wrestling seemed like the perfect gamble like playing the Online Casino NZ, because it was challenging, and it wasn’t in her realm of possibility that it could be deadly.
Jeannine realizes that most of the other trainees were committed to making wrestling work for them and didn’t see it as a temporary job. "This was a career, something that they always wanted to do and felt really passionate about it, and there was nothing better than getting in a ring.
To some degree, finding a job that paid as much as that would’ve been difficult for them. They were committed to this life and lifestyle." She continues, "It’s not just the risk of being injured in the ring. You’re traveling, mostly by car, I mean this is when there were still territories. Road life, bad food, shitty cheap hotels, and you’re away from friends and family. So it was not an easy life."
In the camp, there were no promises made. There was no guarantee to anybody that they would work in wrestling, especially if they crossed Moolah. "It wasn’t a done deal that if you trained with Moolah, you wind up working with the WWF. One girl in the camp had been there for a year. She was on Moolah’s bad side for some reason."
According to Jeannine, most of her training came from Donna Christanello, and she’d bring in veterans to show them the more elaborate holds. "Moolah would weigh in later in training when you were preparing for a match."
Mad Maxine in the WWF
“When you’re in your twenties, you can have these big shocking experiences that touch you and change the course of your life,” says Jeannine Mjoseth when referring to training and working in wrestling.
Jeannine, as Mad Maxine in the WWF during the mid-‘80s, might have looked intimidating, but little did we know that the steely-eyed Maxine was unnerved when wrestling in front of a live audience.
"I was terrified the first time I stepped into a ring. People kept telling me, ‘Don’t worry. Moolah will be there, and she’ll be looking out for you.’ I think she was there for me in the ring, but it was kind of the before and after. Her whole thing was making money, and she found many different ways to do that, and most of them didn’t benefit the women wrestlers who worked for her."
At first, Moolah was upset because Jeannine styled her hair into a mohawk, got an outfit, a name, and developed her character without consulting her, which was frowned upon as a trainee. "Her ‘girls,’ as Moolah called them, were all pretty and thin with long hair that was good for grabbing and pulling, something that is hard to do to someone with a mohawk and shaven on the sides.”
Jeannine hoped that after six months of training, with two hours in the day and two hours in the evening, Moolah would "get off her dime and book her." It is unknown if Moolah learned to accept Jeannine’s unique look or simply saw dollar signs. Soon she was presenting her to Gorilla Monsoon in Stamford, Connecticut.
"I met with Moolah and Gorilla Monsoon, and he wanted me to sign this contract. My sister is a lawyer, and I knew you didn’t sign a contract without getting someone to review it, but Moolah was pushing me hard. I said, ‘I’ll get it back to you as soon as I can, I just need somebody to look at it,’ and trying not to make a big deal out of it, but they weren’t too happy about that."
It was evident to Jeannine she was just there to sign a piece of paper, and Moolah was in charge. Gorilla Monsoon would speak to Moolah, not to her. It was unusual for someone as new as Jeannine and as a woman to sign a formal contract with the WWF.
"And then we drove up to Poughkeepsie, New York, where they did all their television, so everybody was there: Hulk Hogan, Wendi Richter, and you’re kinda behind the curtains waiting for your match. They were all reasonably friendly with me and gave me these soft handshakes."
Trivia: What did it mean when an old school wrestler gave you a light handshake? According to Cesaro, "Back in the day, you didn’t know if a guy was good or not," he said. "I have this theory that they set out a rumor that the really good wrestlers shook hands lightly. That’s how they would recognize all the crappy wrestlers by their dead fish handshake."
There is much speculation as to where the idea for Jeannine’s character and outfits came from, but she claims that a comic book was the inspiration. "The way I found the character I wanted to do is that I was dating a guy who was really into comic books, and he had an X-Men comic," she remarks.
"Back then, the character Storm was African American, with a white flowing mohawk, she wore kind of biker gear, and I thought that was just so cool. That was what I modeled it on." She used modified Harley Davidson boots that she says, “Were surprisingly comfortable, and you had to get the hard sole replaced with a soft one so that you didn’t kick the shit out of the wrestlers!"
Mad Maxine – Fabulous Moolah’s Secret Weapon Against Wendi Richter?
In early 1985, Mad Maxine made her debut for the WWF and had two TV matches. One with Susan Starr, and then versus Desiree Peterson. In both, she disposed of her opponents in relatively quick order, and it was like watching two young ladies thrown into a meat grinder.
This scenario was not common in women’s wrestling, except for maybe Moolah’s trainee’s jobbing for her. Despite her lack of experience, the company considered pushing Mad Maxine for the main event.
Being Moolah’s protégé almost guaranteed white heat from the fans, but she seemed relatively comfortable in the heel’s role. Unfortunately, soon thereafter, she left the WWF.
Later on down the road, she heard about there being talks about her character in a cartoon with her name tweaked to Mad Maxine Ryder, but she was instead replaced by Moolah for the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling animated series.
When asked if the WWF tried to claim ownership of her character, she answered, "No. They didn’t then and never have. I never signed anything with them. I developed the persona, and I came up with the name. I was worried that Moolah would give me some terrible name, saddle me with something horrible that I’d have to live with."
The WWF was her first exposure to the business, and she had assumed that women’s wrestling had always been prominent and didn’t know better. "I was aware of what was happening, but I didn’t know anything different. I just assumed that women’s wrestling had always been this popular. I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
"Moolah spoke to me about possibly being her secret weapon against Wendi, but that didn’t happen because I left." In an interview with Wrestling Bookmarks Live, she admits that she would’ve loved to have gotten in the ring with Wendi Richter stating, “I think she was just phenomenal and had such fire. She could really wrestle, was a good talker, and had charisma. It would’ve been really cool.”
She says that no official photos of her alone exist in WWF; Moolah had to be in all of them.
Leaving the WWF for Championship Wrestling from Florida
After her short but memorable stint with the WWF, Mad Maxine, working as Lady Maxine, went to CWF (Championship Wrestling from Florida). Wahoo McDaniel was the booker, with Mike Graham in charge of the territory. She became roommates with Luna Vachon and Peggy Lee Leather. Then she became Wahoo McDaniel’s valet in his feud against Rip Rogers and his wife.
"There was one particular promo where I was going to wrestle a man, either Rip Rogers or Percy Pringle. I unpeeled a banana on TV and then squished it in my hand. They thought that was a little over the top!"
Watch: Lady Maxine Slaps and Challenges Percy Pringle to a Match
When comparing WWF to CWF, Maxine says that she felt more comfortable in Florida because she’s originally from Tampa, and the promotion had a much more laid-back atmosphere.
"Everyone took things seriously, but I was a huge fan of Gordon Solie, who was the announcer down there, so that was a big treat,” admits Jeannine. "I felt things were more fluid and organic, like when they worked out the storylines."
Adding to the familiarity, she worked with people she knew and former classmates. In Florida, she had more of an opportunity to hone her promo skills, something she wasn’t taught at Camp Moolah or in the WWF. For her money, the best talker in wrestling at the time was Percy Pringle.
"Phenomenal mouth! The Windhams (Blackjack Mulligan and his sons Barry and Kendall) were big, and their promos were great. It takes years doing promos to develop that grrrooowl, ‘learning to talk like THIS!’ — it’s hard! I did the best I could, but I don’t think I was ever particularly brilliant at it.”
With the WWF, she only had two matches in front of a relatively small audience, but in Florida, she got to experience what it was like to perform in front of thousands. "My knees were shaking, and I hyperventilated. When you’re that scared and go into the ring, you’re terrified, with thousands of people yelling. Your brain can just go offline!"
Jeannine adds, "It’s amazing, and it’s a credit to the women I was wrestling that I was able to kind of get through a match. It took me quite a long time to feel comfortable and enjoy it. That’s the thing. The women veterans dig being in the ring; they love all that crowd noise. The heels love drawing heat; the babyfaces enjoy the love they get from the crowd. It took a while from feeling that I was going to be consumed to enjoying myself."
Inequality in pay issues was not brought up often by men and even less by women competitors because there was a feeling that nobody was irreplaceable. On a good week, she remembers making $1,000. "With the match against Percy, the house was ginormous, and my pay was like $200. In that card, I know they were there to see me against Percy- and to get $200 from that many people it was like, ‘God!’"
Mad Maxine Hangs Up Her Boots
Jeannine remembers an unpleasant experience at the end of her career while working a Houston show for Bill Watts’ UWF. All her personal belongings got stolen out of the locker room, even the journal of her wrestling experiences. Luckily, she had remembered Moolah’s advice about keeping her money and payoffs inside her boot!
The following day, she had a match in New Orleans, Louisiana. Since her outfits had gotten stolen as well, she remembers going to a thrift shop, and with the money she had stashed in her boot, she bought a sequined majorette outfit, which she then duct-taped all over her body.
Her last match was with Dark Journey, recalls Jeannine, who potatoed her pretty hard. To top it all off, she also had a wardrobe malfunction, which she says was “The most humiliating thing in my life!"
"The women who trained with Donna/Moolah were like real wrestlers. There’s certainly sex appeal that is part of the whole production, but you were not up there just to flash your tits and ass. You didn’t wear skimpy outfits; you were a serious wrestler. You wanted to command respect as the men did, and you had to work hard to do that."
"I think things became homogenized once WWF became WWE. The diversity you had with the many different territories and people competing against each other went by the wayside. Certainly, WWE has great production values, and they sink a lot of money into it, but I’m glad I was able to witness and be part of the territories and take advantage of that."
The Chronicles of Mad Maxine
Jeannine Mjoseth has great respect for her former fellow trainees and the wrestling business, so there was no chance she would write a tell-all book to bury anybody. Her fictional novel feels all too real, though.
You get the sense that the events could have happened, and the character of Moolah- whose name remains unchanged in the novel- seems portrayed very accurately based on all the varying accounts about her.
Although sold as fiction, as far as I’m concerned, and maybe you too after you read it, no book reveals all the inner workings of Camp Moolah. But this one sure seems darn close.
Jeannine Mjoseth retired in 2019 and lives happily with her husband in Florida, close to the beach. Her dirty little secret is that her mohawk added two inches to her height, so she is 6’2″ and not the billed 6’4." Jeannine was also surprised by how much she enjoyed a local fan convention she went to and plans to attend more in the future.
These stories may also interest you:
- Luna Vachon | A Caterpillar in a World Full of Butterflies
- Mae Young – The Rugged Pioneer of Women’s Wrestling
- The Fabulous Moolah – Her Career and Controversial Legacy
- The “Original” Screwjob – How Vince and Moolah Screwed Wendi Richter
Listen to Jeannine Mjoseth’s interview on the BBG Wrestling podcast in full below:
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