She was only a tiny bundle of raw energy with a burning desire to succeed but the fact that she came from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, may have been a significant reason why lady wrestler Cuddles Anderson stole the hearts of wrestling fans wherever she appeared in North America rings.
The golden age of wrestling was at an end and the game was moving into the 1960s when promoters and fans were looking for fresh gimmicks and new faces. The diminutive Anderson, all four feet, six inches, one hundred pounds of her, was in the right place at the right time to begin her career as one of the new lady midget wrestlers.
“I did it on a dare,” recalls Cuddles. “I was 19 years of age and living in Minneapolis. My girlfriend was going with a pro wrestler and he wanted her to move to Detroit with him. She didn’t want to go alone so he suggested she bring a girlfriend with her. I didn’t know what I’d do in Detroit but her boyfriend said there may be a chance to get into midget wrestling. So he challenged me to do it… it was a dare.”
Prior to that turning point, Anderson had lived a normal life as Marilu Walker through her teens. She was born and raised in Thief River and went to elementary and secondary school in the community of over 8,000. She had no interest in wrestling and never attended shows. In fact, lady wrestlers were banned in Minnesota. In her late teens, she attended business school in Minneapolis and it was while she was there that she attended a few matches with her friend and got the opportunity to get into pro wrestling.
“When I arrived in Detroit in ’64 or ’65, I was introduced to Jack Britton who was looking for girl midgets. He represented all the top male midgets but had almost no girls. I was trained by Sky Low Low, Little Brutus, Cowboy Lang and Little Beaver. At about the same time, they found Celine Fontaine and also trained her.”
Fontaine was a Canadian girl from Winnipeg. Also on the scene at the time were Darling Dagmar and Diamond Lil, two more experienced girl midgets who were managed by The Fabulous Moolah.
“When Darling Dagmar was in town, she worked with us in the gym and showed us a few things,” Cuddles said.
It’s been well documented that Britton controlled the midgets out of Detroit, and now with several new girls in his stable, there was more variety to offer promoters in the various territories. Cuddles first match was against Celine Fontaine in Flint, Michigan in 1966. The pair would work together throughout the country because of the scarcity of women midgets in the game. On one occasion they formed a tag team against Dagmar and Diamond Lil. Cuddles also teamed with normal sized men and women wrestlers in mixed matches.
When Britton moved back to Montreal, Cuddles started working for The Sheik and Lou Klein out of Detroit. It was The Sheik’s wife who had given her the name Cuddles Anderson. The next ten years were a whirlwind for the Minnesota native as she traveled throughout Canada, the States, Mexico and the Bahamas.
And travel she did!
The very fact there were so few girl midgets kept them in demand. They were spread thin trying to accommodate the requests of promoters to appear in the many territories from the Eastern seaboard to California combined with commitments in Canada. Like their male counterparts, they were entertaining and provided many laughs and thrills but they were also talented with good wrestling ability.
“Usually we were booked for a two week period in a territory. We had one night off a week. This went on every week of the year,” Cuddles said.
It was because of the constant travel that relationships and friendships were difficult to forge although she did make friends and had an eye for the opposite sex.
“Celine Fontaine and I had a good friendship from working all that time together. We hung out on the road whether working or not. Some of my best friends were Linda Klein (Lou’s daughter) and Mary Jane Mull. When we were in a territory we traveled with other wrestlers and got to know everyone at the arenas,” Cuddles explained.
She had good friends among the male wrestlers and admired Jack Brisco, Mike Loren, Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes. She also had a close relationship with midget wrestler Little Brutus. Recently she confided that she had a giant-sized crush on the pint sized mauler.
“I was really crazy about Brutus in those days, this was way before he married,” she said. “Every time he came to town we would be together. He was one of the nicest guys in the business. I thought of him a lot through the years, wondering if he ever married, how he would look, now that we are all older. I’m happy that he is married and doing well.”
No one talked about serious relationships because of all the constant travel. Nonetheless when it was time to waltz down the aisle, Cuddles chose another man in her life who was also in the business. She and talented midget star Frenchy Lamont were married in 1970.
“We moved to Montreal and started working for Jack Britton,” she explains. “But the marriage only lasted three years. Our schedules just required us to always be on the road in different directions. It didn’t work out.”
Lamont, retired and living in Northern Ontario, chuckled when asked about his ex-wife. “It’s been many years,” he said, praising her work in the ring. The former World Midget Wrestling champion — he still has the title belt — agreed that the travel was the culprit. “That’s what split us apart, really, that’s what broke us up. She was at one end of the world, and I was at the other. We never really saw each other.”
On only one occasion did she tangle with Frenchy in a mixed match in the ring. She has little hesitation in claiming bragging rights over who was victorious.
“I won,” she chuckles. “I was the babyface.”
She also saw her share of tragedies among her contemporaries outside the ring.
“When Frenchy and I were in Montreal we were living on the first floor of an apartment building,” she reflects. “The Jamaica Kid and his girlfriend were living on the third floor above us. One day the Kid came home and found his girlfriend had left him. He was so distressed he tried to commit suicide by jumping off his third floor balcony. He broke his back and was paralyzed. They shipped him back to Detroit. He got over the relationship but he never wrestled again.”
For the most part she recalls that she was treated well in the territories she worked. She was usually paid a percentage of the gate though sometimes she worked for a guarantee for two weeks. In Roy Shire’s promotion on the west coast she recalls receiving $1,000 for the first night, $500 for the second and $700 for the third, on one occasion.
But she remembers well working for a promoter in New Brunswick who wasn’t as charitable. The promoter wanted her and Fontaine to stay an extra week but wasn’t too generous in the proposed payout which prompted the girls to head for the train station. But the contrite promoter followed the girls to the station to plead for their services. After some tough bargaining, he turned to Celine Fontaine and acknowledged that she was a “nice girl.”
But to Cuddles, he simply said: “You’re hard.”
Any wrestler in the business learned to develop a tough veneer and be wary of unscrupulous promoters. But working on the road, Cuddles also learned to survive under less than ideal working conditions. It was bad enough that she would encounter the odd rodent roaming the dressing rooms of old arenas. But her experience in the Bahamas left much to be desired.
“We were working one night outside under lights in the fairgrounds,” she explains. “The big light over the ring was attracting small beetle bugs and they were falling into the ring. You could hear the crunch under your boots as we moved around the ring. After the show we took showers but you just stood in a hole in the ground under a spray. There were crabs everywhere at your feet.”
She survived that ordeal but like all wrestlers she was susceptible to injury.
“In a match in New Brunswick I misjudged the height of the ropes while doing a flip backwards. I landed on the cement floor head first and suffered a severe burn on my head. You could see the blood coming through my scalp. They had to drain the blood out of my head. I checked myself out of the hospital after a few days but I didn’t wrestle. I appeared at ringside to show the fans I was really hurt.”
The girl midgets were not excluded from the many pranks and ribs the wrestlers played on each other.
“I was usually alert around the other wrestlers in the dressing room but not so Celine,” Cuddles laughs. “One time they said they wanted to check her muscle tone. They put her back to the wall and pulled her head forward. When she pulled it back, her head bounced back on the wall. Another time in Texas, Celine fell asleep by the pool during the day and got a severe burn on her back. When we wrestled that night, I tried to flip or body slam her on her sunburn. The skin had tightened and she was in much discomfort.”
In 1974, almost a decade after she had turned pro, Cuddles and Frenchy moved to St. Joseph, Missouri where Lord Roger Littlebrook was promoting. At that time Cuddles quit the game but Lamont continued to wrestle. She considered Littlebrook a friend and in the mid-’80s her son, from another relationship, went to work for Littlebrook under the name of Pepper. Her son has since passed away.She also met her second husband-to-be in Missouri. His name was Little Atlas, another promising midget wrestler, but at the time she wouldn’t marry him. She moved back to Minnesota. After Atlas retired, he found her and the couple were married in 1981. But when Cuddles developed a bone disease, she ended the marriage in 1998 because she did not want to be a burden on her husband or anyone else.
Today, Walker lives in Thief River, long removed from her days as Cuddles Anderson. Very few know that she was a pro wrestler nor does she go out of her way to inform them. She is confined to an electric wheelchair but is able to come and go as she pleases. She has the support of family and friends and is quite active and able to look after her affairs. Social networking is one of her interests.
She has no regrets from her wrestling days. She admits she was always a shy person but wrestling brought her out of her shyness. She loved to travel and see new things and she liked the partying afterwards, she noted wryly. In fact, one of her few disappointments was the cancellation of a tour to Japan she was scheduled to make. She had her passport and everything was set before the deal fell through.
Cuddles Anderson was only a very small piece of the great puzzle that is professional wrestling. But nonetheless a very important part of the grand scheme because through her talents she afforded wrestling fans the opportunity of seeing a new dimension of the game. In retrospect, the lady midgets filled a void in the profession and will be forever remembered for their role in wrestling’s grand history.
While father time has robbed her of part of her health, she in turn has stolen a small piece of fame in a competitive profession and enjoyed living every minute of her dreams.
She has left a legacy quite fitting for a little lady from Thief River.– with files from Greg Oliver
ADDENDUM: Marilu Walker died Thursday, September 12, 2014 at Karlstad Senior Living, in Karlstad, Minnesota. She was 69.