ECW did everything they could to make sure you didn’t change the channel. With Francine, Beulah McGillicutty, and Dawn Marie, there was a lot more than meets the eye!
Amid the chaos and excitement that was the original ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) from mid-‘94 until the original promotion closed down in early 2001, it was impossible not to notice the stunningly beautiful women that marched alongside the men in the promotion. The ECW women were there to further angles, spice up storylines, and engage in sweaty catfights! ECW did everything they could to make sure you didn’t change the channel. From living normal lives with normal jobs to later being front and center in ECW, this is the story of "Queen of Extreme" Francine, Beulah McGillicutty, and Dawn Marie.
The Changing Roles of Women in Professional Wrestling and the Emergence of ECW
As an edgier product was developing in the mid-‘90s, the landscape for women in professional wrestling was changing once more and moving away from the ‘80s flavor of Wendi Richter vs. Fabulous Moolah matches.
"The presentation of women’s wrestling [in the USA not in Japan] changed a great deal,” according to the book Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling written by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy. “Women were presented purely as sex objects, competing in bra and panties matches or other novelty matches designed to show as much skin as possible, an act women’s wrestling still has trouble getting rid of today."
The women featured in this piece are perhaps, undeservingly, mere footnotes in the history of "serious" women’s wrestling. Nonetheless, the fans who saw ECW or were fortunate enough to experience it live will always remember the women of ECW.
In the book, The Rise and Fall of ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling, written by Thom Loverro, Tommy Dreamer gives us the lay of the land when ECW was making headlines. "When ECW was first starting, there were a lot more gimmicks in wrestling," Dreamer recalls. "It was more geared towards children. ECW was mainly that 18-24 male demographic of testosterone-filled, ass-kicking wrestling with hot women. There was also a lot of blood, a no-no in WCW and WWE, and many women were getting their butt kicked by men. Some wrestling fans on the internet were offended, and some people weren’t, but there were a lot of people talking."
Testosterone-filled, ass-kicking wrestling, blood, and hot women — a far cry from what WWE (now a publicly-traded company with shareholders) has become. ECW did not want to be another WWE or WCW. They were trying to stand out and be different, as Paul Heyman explains. "If I had backed off and just presented milquetoast wrestling with flashy production values, I would have been like everyone else," Heyman says. "The reason we survived was because I believed in what we were doing. We had a different product. The moment we made it the same, there was no reason to watch us. I couldn’t violate that."
WATCH: The original ECW intro when it turned into Extreme Championship Wrestling
The above was a formula that made ECW a must-watch product for a specific demographic and a viable alternative to the cartoon-oriented product showcased by the Big Two.
"We did a lot of stuff, and we always incorporated sex into everything, because sex sells," according to "Queen of Extreme" Francine, never denying ECW’s strategy.
The matches, er… catfights most of the ECW women were involved in were of a much more aggressive nature than your usual women’s wrestling match people were accustomed to. It wasn’t out of place to also see them get physical with the male competitors. They seemed to be fighting with each other rather than wrestling.
Women of ECW – "Queen of Extreme" Francine
Growing up middle-class in the Italian section of Western Philadelphia, specifically Overbrook, and not as a wrestling fan, Francine never aspired or dreamed of being in professional wrestling.
In 1993 while Francine was living a pretty normal life but working in a job she hated selling life insurance in Philadelphia, she happened upon a commercial on television while eating dinner. It featured former ECW ring announcer Bob Artese joined by his wife Lex, a ring attendant/backstage worker. The advert encouraged people to call if they wanted to train as a wrestler, manager, valet, or referee.
Francine remembers her reaction being, "This is so pathetic. There’s no one in the audience, and I don’t know any of these wrestlers." She was only familiar with the World Wrestling Federation, a product she had seen for about a year at 18 years old, so her reaction was understandable. Nonetheless, she was still intrigued and watched the show that aired locally out of SportsChannel from Philly for about a month.
She finally called the number and was told by Lex Artese that she had to meet owner Todd Gordon in a pawn shop in Center City, Philadelphia. The 20- year-old Francine was driven there by her father, though she asked him to wait in the car because she didn’t want to "look like a baby."
Once buzzed into the pawnshop, the female employees behind barred windows told Francine to meet Todd in a back room. After going down a hallway, she met the founder and backer of ECW, and he introduced himself with a handshake. After staring at Francine for a brief moment, he told her, "Oh, you’re really pretty. You won’t have to bump." Francine had no idea what he meant, so she decided that she would just listen to try and understand what was happening.
Did you know?: Before joining ECW, Francine won a contest for the Video Jukebox Network (AKA The Box), where she won tickets to attend a Monday Night Raw taping with her friend at the Manhattan Center on September 20th, 1993. She also attended a WrestleMania party at Madison Square Garden. It was there where she met and took a picture with Lex Luger.
Francine was originally going to be trained by Larry Winters, but since their schedule couldn’t coincide, she ultimately got trained by J.T. Smith and occasionally by Stevie Richards. Francine was the only female student at the time and a long way from becoming "Queen of Extreme," or as Sean Oliver once said, "The sex symbol for the depraved carnival that is ECW."
Francine’s parents never really watched wrestling, and her friends doubted very much if she had taken the right decision. "My friends thought I was insane, but they also thought that it was the coolest thing ever because their job was…meh." In her high school reunion, she became the person getting all the attention because she was the only person on TV out of the whole class. Even the nuns from the catholic high school she attended had seen her on television but didn’t like the outfits that she wore.
Francine Makes Her Debut
After less than a year of training, in 1994, she made her debut as Miss Montgomeryville, a supposed beauty pageant winner, and guest timekeeper. In actuality, she was there to be chokeslammed by the monstrous 6’8" 300-pound 911 (Alfred Poling). She did not train to take the bump, wasn’t really given a cue when it was going to happen, and had not spoken to 911 beforehand. She didn’t even know what a chokeslam was! She remembers 911 just suddenly approaching her, lifting her and slamming her inside the ring where Francine recalls a collective shocked GASP as if the air was taken out of the whole venue, followed by a deafening silence by the crowd where "you could hear a pin drop." The crowd was stunned after bearing witness to 911’s actions and seeing Francine lying immobile in the ring, almost lifeless.
In old school fashion, she was taken out on a stretcher bypassing the locker room. She didn’t know if she had done a good job until she was called back later in the week to work another night. She had passed her OTJ tryout and was determined to get a permanent spot. She thought that if she could take the wrestler’s finishers, then she would stand out. That would be her gimmick. "I didn’t want to wear a bikini. I wanted to work."
"I was only about 110 lbs at the time," recalls Francine. "They were even asking me to try and actually gain weight. There was a [dirt] sheet writer who wrote that I was anorexic, and that really hurt my feelings, but Paul Heyman told me that I needed to develop a thick skin in this business."
She claims that the writer was Dave Meltzer and retold the story when encouraging WWE star Peyton Royce (one half of the IIconics tag team with Billie Kay) to not feel bad after Meltzer "body-shamed" Royce when he pointed out that she used to be a lot lighter when in NXT and more attractive. Meltzer has since apologized directly to Royce on many occasions for his shallow comments.
WATCH: Francine takes a dangerous finisher called "Total Elimination."
Although Francine was open-minded with the ideas of Paul Heyman and the boys, she wasn’t willing to do "any lesbian stuff or get naked." But she did get naked by accident during a pile-driver-gone-wrong incident with Tommy Dreamer, where she was briefly topless in the ring due to a wardrobe malfunction. [Did you really think we’d provide a link to the photo? You’re on your own with that one!]
Francine and Her Many Roles
Francine took on various roles in ECW, from being the obsessed girlfriend and fan of Stevie Richards, as part of Raven’s Nest, to the sexy but dangerous leather-clad manager of the Pitbulls. She also managed Tommy Dreamer, Justin Credible, and the second incarnation of Shane Douglas’ Triple Threat stable. Alongside "The Franchise," Shane Douglas from ’96-’99 is where she shone the brightest. The pair worked so well together that many fans, and even fellow workers in the locker room, believed that they were a real couple.
Francine was known to be fearless and take on women and men. Against men, she would usually end up on the losing side, but she always held her own. "I wanted respect. I wanted to be ‘one of the boys.’ I wanted the boys to look at me and say, ‘She wants to work, she’s here to work. She’s not here to… you know, just a pretty face or she’s dating so and so.’"
Francine loved working for ECW and was even offered to leave a couple of times but says, "It was the best experience of my life. I would have died working for that company."
Simon Diamond offers, "I think a lot of the male performers don’t understand how hard it is to be a female in the business. It’s very, very hard because no matter what you do, [there’s the assumption] that you’re sleeping with this guy, or sleeping with that guy."
"When Shane Douglas and I were at our peak, during our heel run, the fans would attack us- literally," Francine recalls. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been punched, or my dress was torn. It was bad." She continues, "There would be times going up the aisle where a hand would sneak through. People would grab my breasts. I got punched in the head one time. I was called names. We were heels. You are supposed to hate us. But when you touch us, that is going over the line. Sometimes we would just sprint to our cars and hope that no one would come after us."
"There were a lot of girls that came through that door who quickly walked out. I was there for seven years," proclaims Francine proudly. "You had to love the business and appreciate wrestling. The girls that stuck it out proved themselves."
Francine remained with ECW until it closed in 2001. She later worked the indies, briefly for TNA, and joined ECW once more when it was re-launched by WWE in 2006, or as many fans call it: "The fake ECDub." In the WWE reboot, she feels that she was underutilized and claims that Vince McMahon told her that he had no idea what she could do and that "beautiful girls are a dime a dozen," even after WWE had purchased the whole ECW library.
Now retired from wresting, she is the proud mother of two children. She does remain in touch with the fans through her Twitter account here and is the host of The Eyes Up Here podcast featuring the Queen of Extreme.
Women of ECW – Beulah McGillicutty
Beulah McGillicutty, born in Muskegon, Michigan, had her first exposure to professional wrestling at a young age when she and her sister used to watch Georgia Championship Wrestling with their father. She and her sister became big fans of "Wildfire" Tommy Rich. Later as an 18-year-old, she would travel a lot with her closest sister and had the opportunity to meet Brian Pillman after a show in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they eventually started dating. Beulah’s first experience in the industry came in Calgary with Stampede Wrestling, where she worked as Brian Pillman’s sister.
After breaking up with Pillman, she worked as a dancer specializing in rhythmic gymnastic ribbons that glowed in the dark under black lights at a night club called Glam Slam owned by Prince. While working at Glam Slam in Miami, during Super Bowl week, she met Raven, who then introduced her to a baseball player named Ron Gant.
Raven suggested that she give wrestling a try and sent photos to Paul Heyman, and as Beulah says, "The rest is history." Tommy Dreamer, while interviewing his now-wife Beulah McGillicutty on his House of Hardcore podcast, admits that when he and Paul Heyman first saw pictures of her, they thought she was very attractive, but doubted that she was a girl because as he says, "you were covering your private area in the photo and no girls wanted to be part of ECW!"
Onto ECW and Into The Spotlight
In 1995, Beulah was immediately thrust into the ECW spotlight between the ongoing rivalry of Raven and Tommy Dreamer.
When Dreamer first arrived in ECW, he admits that he struggled to get over with the fans. As a lifelong wrestling fanatic, Dreamer remembered when Jerry Lawler piledrived Rick Rude’s valet Angel and the tremendous crowd reaction that it got. He wanted to replicate the incident, but with Beulah. This spot had been built for months and became a huge crowd pleaser.
Did you know?: Beulah tried not to do the piledriver at a show her then-boyfriend was attending. He felt uncomfortable that Beulah’s panties were on display for all to see while getting the hold applied to her. Dreamer, who had only a professional relationship with her at the time, said that she would be let go if she didn’t do the spot as she was brought in specifically for that. They eventually went ahead with the spot, and later, Beulah’s boyfriend "gave her grief."
Beulah had very little training before stepping inside the ring. The basic training she received had been from Les Thornton, but the first bump she actually took was from the first piledriver Tommy Dreamer administered to her, a move that she didn’t even know she was going to take.
WATCH: Beulah makes the biggest mistake of her life and pays for it!
Another controversial element in this Raven vs. Dreamer rivalry was a moment where Raven was choking a supposedly pregnant Beulah McGillicutty. In storyline, she said the child was Dreamer’s, even though she was with Raven at the time.
ECW soon later had the infamous "lesbian kiss" between Beulah and Kimona Wanalaya (her originally proposed name was much more offensive!), and later the three-way kiss between Dreamer and these two ladies. Beaulah’s pregnancy turned out to be a hoax, but she revealed that she had been cheating on Dreamer not with a man but with a sexy woman in Kimona Wanalaya!
According to Tommy Dreamer, the kiss between Beulah and Kimona was actually set up as a cliffhanger for the following week’s show and never aired. Only the audience saw the kiss and the later rolling on the mat between the two as it happened after Kimona announced, "It’s me!" who Beulah was cheating with. When the stations received the following week’s episode and saw everything, including Dreamer happily proclaiming, "I’ll take them both on, hardcore!" MSG television network threw them off, and 90% of the stations that ECW was shown on also followed suit. It nearly crippled ECW financially to the point of almost ceasing operations.
WATCH: The angle with that almost ended ECW!
One of ECW’s most shocking (albeit short) matches was Beulah pitted against heel manager Bill Alfonso, which Tommy Dreamer put together because neither Beulah nor Alfonso had a lot of wrestling experience. "Alfonso was the stiffest! He’d punch me for real," Beulah recalls. "He hit me in the vagina!" Once Beulah answered Alfonso’s stiff shots with a hard kick of her own to his nether regions, "He started working lighter!"
Bill Alfonso, in their match, was hit with a tin sheet above his eyebrow. He recalls, "Somehow it hit an artery, and I almost bled to death. It was pretty cool!" he admits. "If it weren’t for her hitting me with that sheet and me bleeding [hardway not blading], there wouldn’t be anyone talking about it today."
They had several confrontations, but Beulah remained strong despite breaking her arm in one of these matches. "I didn’t want to show any weakness, especially in ECW’s locker room," Beulah admits. "I even refused to cry when punching Bill Alfonso in the head. The following week I was in Japan with a cast [from my wrist] up to my shoulder, but I never let anyone see me cry." She also remembers, "the stench of Alfonso’s caked up blood from our first match was awful!"
WATCH: Beulah McGillicutty vs. Bill Alfonso [Warning: bloody Fonzie!]
The Dangers and Injuries of Wrestling
Beulah remembers several occasions when she feared for her safety in ECW. One time, for instance, she was standing too close to the guardrail, and a fan pulled her over by the hair and started kicking her.
Most remember her catfights with Francine, but she remembers almost getting seriously hurt as well. Rob Van Dam had a spot where he would military press her and throw her outside the ring onto the team of FBI (Full Blooded Italians). On one occasion, she was thrown too far and landed on the concrete floor, where Tracey Smothers thought that they had actually "killed Beulah."
An injury that still affects her today is a concussion she suffered when receiving a clothesline by Lance Storm at a House of Hardcore show years after ECW’s closure. Beulah doesn’t blame Storm, though, and instead blames herself. "It wasn’t his fault; it was my fault," she says. "I wanted it to look good, but I hadn’t been in the ring for years, and I threw everything I had into it and kinda over-rotated and landed on the back of my head and neck." She was knocked out, and "everything was black for a few seconds." She temporarily lost her hearing and remembered very few details from the next couple of days after going to the hospital. To this day, she is still sensitive to light.
Tommy Dreamer admits that Beulah helped him stay over with the fans. Even though Beulah had some tough times in the ring, she is very grateful to the fans for remembering her. Happily, she says, "Good things can come from wrestling," referring to her marrying Tommy Dreamer and now being the mother of two identical twin daughters. She adds, "Plus, you never want to go through life thinking ‘What if?'”
Beulah McGillicutty is not on social media, but you can follow her husband "The Innovator of Violence" Tommy Dreamer on Twitter here.
You can purchase Beulah’s children’s book "Gertrude The Great" here.
Women of ECW – Dawn Marie
Before entering wrestling in 1995 on the Northeast independent scene, Dawn had been the director of an international real estate firm located in New York, overlooking St. Patrick’s cathedral. She recalls that a chance meeting with a friend she hadn’t seen for years, who had pursued his dream of playing professional football, gave Dawn Marie the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an entertainer.
"Here he was, years later, doing exactly what he wanted. He was doing what he loved to do. The only difference was that he followed his dreams, and I didn’t. It totally changed the rest of my life."
A week later, she quit her cushy job and got involved in acting and modeling in the New York area. This led to a poster deal with a company in Florida. Later as a model and aspiring actress, she joked around telling Jonathan Gold that she’d be interested in working in wrestling, saying that she could be the next Miss Elizabeth. Gold, who was a talent agent and wrestling promoter, took her offhand comment at face value and got her booked for her first show in the Northeast where Devon Storm (later known as Crowbar in WCW), veteran Buddy Landel, and Steve Corino helped get her started at age 25.
"It may sound corny, but the moment I went through that curtain, it was the most unbelievable feeling,” recalls Dawn Marie after her first wrestling show. “I just knew this was what I have to do."
The vivacious Dawn Marie made her presence felt immediately in ECW in late 1998, even though she says that the original plan was for her to manage Lance Storm for only one night. She was brought in to go against Tammy Lynn Sytch, but Paul Heyman was so impressed with how she connected with the fans, and her chemistry with Storm, that he made a spot for her on the roster. She and Storm entered a feud against Tammy Lynn Sytch and Steve Corino. Dawn was renamed Dawn Marie Bytch, which was later shortened to Dawn Marie. After this feud ended, Dawn eventually helped lead The Impact Players (Lance Storm and Justin Credible) to the ECW Tag Team titles twice. Tommy Dreamer, with Francine, was heavily involved in several angles with them. Dawn’s fiance at the time was fellow wrestler Simon Diamond (Pat Kenney). She briefly managed Steve Corino until betraying him, and later was part of the team of Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger (Johnny Parisi in WWE) until ECW folded in 2001.
“What this has to do with wrestling, I have no idea, but I can see the ratings soaring!” – Commentator Joey Styles during a Francine vs. Dawn Marie catfight.
WATCH: Dawn Marie and Lance Storm make their entrance
Did you know?: Dawn Marie was cast in the 1999 independent vampire movie Carmilla (aka Vampire Carmilla), a movie that “Uncle Scoopy” Greg Wroblewski describes as "so bad, that ‘B’ is a tremendous compliment for this film, which is really at the level of ‘home movie.’" The whole film gets "a resounding ‘F’" in his opinion. On a positive note, if you want to see Dawn Marie, you don’t actually have to watch the whole trainwreck of a movie because she dies within the first few minutes. The movie is currently out of print, and her only line was, "Damn it, Tommy, can’t you take a piss somewhere else? This is just a slasher picture waiting to happen."
Although Dawn Marie has admitted that the actual wrestling part is what she enjoyed least while in wrestling, she nevertheless was hardened by the experience.
"Being a woman in ECW was probably the one experience that made me tough," she admits. "It made me learn how to protect myself and have confidence in myself. There were no prima donnas in ECW. They groomed us to be tough."
In 2000 during the last years of ECW and before landing in WWE, Dawn Marie, in an interview with Mike Mooneyham, shared, "As long as you follow your heart, you’ll always go in the right direction. Success isn’t the amount of money you make. If you wake up in the morning and do what you love, that’s success."
Dawn Marie’s Transition to WWE
In her almost four years with WWE SmackDown, she is mostly known for her bizarre angle with Torrie Wilson, where she married Torrie’s real-life father, thus becoming Torrie’s step-mom. This led to a step-mother vs. step-daughter match at the 2003 Royal Rumble. During his honeymoon with Dawn Marie (in storyline), Al Wilson died, and a steamy lesbian angle developed between Torrie and Dawn Marie. The WWE, always searching for an angle, did not miss many opportunities to present both attractive women in skimpy bikinis or lingerie in various lusty segments and matches that became a staple during the WWE Attitude Era. This was developed largely due to ECW’s influence on the industry and what they had done years before.
Although Dawn Marie is well-known for her feminine attributes, she considers that she had a lot more to offer, as explained in an August 4th, 2018 tweet.
"I truly loved the business w/ every fiber of my soul at one time. I was a student of the business and not just T&A as most thought."
In 2002, Dawn Marie used the word "evolution" while in WWE to describe the WWE women. This was sixteen years before WWE had their EVOLUTION pay-per-view in 2018 consisting of only women’s matches.
Dawn Marie and Her Life After Wrestling
After Dawn Marie became pregnant with her first child, WWE released her in 2005, leading her to file a lawsuit alleging WWE wrongfully terminated her contract. The matter was subsequently settled out of court.
After an appearance at the ECW reunion event Hardcore Homecoming: November Reign in late 2005, and later a brief stint for WSU (Women Superstars Uncensored) in 2008, she retired for good from wrestling. Soon afterward, she founded "Wrestlers Rescue," an organization similar to the Cauliflower Alley Club, where they tried to raise funds for retired wrestlers who needed medical assistance. She says that it broke her heart to see The Iron Sheik (or Sheiky as she calls him) in a wheelchair at a convention, needing help to go to the bathroom. At the time, he needed surgery for a knee replacement, and there were many other stories she heard of wrestlers in similar or worse circumstances.
Even though she was mainly a valet, she says that she still experiences pain every day and couldn’t imagine or want to feel what wrestlers go through after many years of punishment.
Unfortunately, Wrestlers Rescue, a seemingly well-intentioned organization, ceased operating around 2013 amidst reports of embezzlement and rumors claiming she used funds raised to travel to conventions and profit off her signing of autographs. All this continued amongst a storm of accusations by various wrestlers not getting the money raised by "Wrestlers Rescue." Dawn Marie defended her organization ’til the end, and you can learn more about her point of view on that situation here.
Years after wrestling ended for Dawn, the fear of not being successful after entertainment and wrestling fueled her to pursue other careers. She needed to transform and re-engineer herself from the entertainment world to do other jobs in the real world and "learn to embrace change, not be afraid of it" and instead "become excited about it."
To this day, Dawn Marie uses skills she learned while in wrestling and puts them to use in this other life she’s found herself in now as a mother of two children and working as a nurse in the healthcare industry. "I learned through my travels, and especially working in a locker room, how to accept people for who and what they are and not what I expect them to be. And when you do that, you become more open with your ears and your mind, becoming a better listener because you’re not judging."
She is a contributor to the book The Roots of Leadership by Anthony C. Gruppo and Karen Mayo, where one of her memorable quotes from it is, "Closed doors are the universes’ way of getting you back on the right track. Listen with your eyes wide open."
You can follow Dawn Marie on Twitter here.
While nobody with an ounce of wrestling knowledge will ever confuse these three women as the second coming of a Mildred Burke, Trish Stratus, or a Manami Toyota, there is much to appreciate in the entertainment these women provided and the guts and determination they demonstrated while in ECW. These women carved their own niche and were always involved in main events and storylines. You have to admit, though, what they did do, they did oh so well! Can you hear Joey Styles yelling, "catfight!" or is it just me?
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles on our site:
- The ECW Mass Transit Incident
- Mike Awesome and The Time A WWF Worker Beat a WCW Worker in ECW
- Rob Van Dam – The Drug Charge That Changed His Career
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