From the Gordon Solie Collection
Promotional photo of Ethel Johnson
Gordon Solie the History Buff
As I was reflecting on the life of the late Gordon Solie, my thoughts led me to an interview that I
conducted for “The Solie Chronicles” with Jody Hamilton, a former professional wrestler and member of
a legendary tag team called “The Assassins.”
“Gordon was inquisitive,” stated Jody. “He was a perfectionist who wanted to know everything about
the wrestling business.” Jody went on. “I’ve been asked a thousand times about the best announcer I’ve
worked with in professional wrestling. I’d have to say it was Gordon because he knew more about his
product than anyone else.”
Part of the perfection that Jody spoke about was Gordon Solie’s knowledge about the history of
professional wrestling. Gordon could rattle off the details about the history of Japanese wrestling, the
history of English wrestling, the history of German wrestling and so on.
When it came to the history of American wrestling, including the various performers, Gordon Solie
was just as well versed. One of the wrestler’s who caught Gordon’s attention was a competitor that
overcame astronomical odds to maintain a position in the industry. Her name was Ethel Johnson, a lady
grappler originally from Ohio.
One of the first obstacles for Ethel was simply the fact that she was a woman. Back in the 1950s and
1960s, many Americans believed that the ladies belonged at home and not in the ring. Some American
states went so far as to ban women’s wrestling matches all together.
The second hurdle for Ethel Johnson was the color of her skin. She was black and soon found out that
racial tensions were high at many of the venues where she was booked for matches. Chris Bournea
of “The Columbus Dispatch” wrote about an incident that took place in Springfield, Missouri. Ethel
Johnson noticed that black patrons were being turned away and not allowed to enter the arena so she
forfeited her match as a protest.
She also told Bournea that the black wrestlers often had to stay in the homes of other blacks when they
travelled for matches because many of the hotels at the time only rented rooms to white customers.
The third challenge for Ethel Johnson was her size; she only weighed 115 pounds and usually faced
opponents who were larger than she was. Ethel overcame her size weight deficiency by rigorous training
and a lightning quick drop kick that could knock opponents off their feet before they had time to react.
Despite the adversity, Ethel Johnson became one of America’s first black female grapplers and remained
a worthy competitor until her retirement in the 1970s. Along the way, Ethel Johnson earned the respect
of many folks in the industry, including the late Gordon Solie.
More information about Gordon Solie is available at www.soliesports.com