“Are you kidding me? I put on my face today, and you’re going to transcribe this?”
That is Terri Runnels – better known to wrestling fans as Marlena from her time in WWE – expressing her disappointment with this reporter when he confirmed that was indeed the case. Though, fortunately, he won her back when he promised to include a screenshot of her from the Zoom call, so that her efforts would not be wasted.
And even more fans will get to see the real deal if they attend the Niagara Falls Comic Con Fan Fest this weekend (Oct 29-30 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario), where Runnels will be appearing as a celebrity guest. In addition to photo ops and autograph sessions, Runnels will also be doing a Fan Q&A session on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the fans – especially after COVID and not being able to see anyone,” she told SlamWrestling.net during the Zoom call. “It has been amazing (doing these types of shows) to be able to shake someone’s hand – or, you know, first bump or elbow bump them. I’ve really missed that.”
At these events, Runnels also finds amusing some of the reactions she elicits from attendees – especially those that aren’t familiar with her.
“People are, like, ‘Where is the wrestler? You mean that five-foot tall lady over there? Really?’” she laughed.
But for those fans who do follow wrestling, Runnels loves to share stories about her time in the business, starting from her first foray in the business, as manager Alexandra York, the manager of the York Foundation stable in WCW.
From there, Runnels went to WWE where she took on the Marlena persona, manager for Goldust (her then-husband Dustin Runnels).
“I created that character,” she said proudly. “I heard Bruce Prichard say on one of his podcasts that it was Vince’s idea, but that’s bulls—. I created that entire character.”
“I was laying in our basement tanning bed – where I do some of my best thinking… and best sleeping! I was laying there and was thinking about Dustin’s Goldust character. I had just been at my sister’s house, and she had a collection of Barbie dolls, and one of them was called the Sun Goddess. That got me thinking about who would be a good (complement) for his androgynous character. And my brain turned to old-school Hollywood – Marlene Dietrich. I already loved to smoke cigars and drink wine. So I thought, she can be really glamourous, and wear old Hollywood gowns with long trains, and she can take a cigar or a glass of wine to the ring, and be both old world Hollywood and still a bit androgynous.”
“I called Dustin and told him all about it, and he loved it. He said, ‘Call Vince (and pitch it).’ And I wasn’t working for Vince, I had never met him, so I told Dustin to do it. But he didn’t really like (dealing with authority figures) back then, he was just uncomfortable with them. So he said, ‘If you want to do it, you have to call Vince.’”
“So I called the office, and later got a call back from Pat Patterson. I told him the idea, and he kind of gave me the brush-off – you know, kind of like, ‘Thanks for the idea, but we’re not interested.’ So I thought nothing else about it. It wasn’t like I was dying to get back in the business – I loved being a mom and being home with my daughter. I just thought it would work well with Goldust. About a month or two later, I got a call from Dustin, ‘Where are you? Pack your bags, because they want to do your idea.’ So, apparently, what I thought was dead in the water and that nobody even remembered, they thought it was a great idea. And I’m glad they did, because that was my favorite character to play ever.”
“I did have to sign (the idea) away, though, in order for me to do the character. I had to sign it away and say it was not my idea. But, yeah, we all know that’s not the case.”
After a successful run managing Goldust, the Marlena character was phased out and Runnels, under her real name, started managing other superstars, including Val Venis, Shawn “Meat” Stasiak, the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, and Perry Saturn.
During this time, the company also had her wrestle in matches, a development that Runnels was not thrilled about.
“I loved getting involved in matches – taking a bump or something from one of the guys. But I hated having to have a match with another female. Vince was telling me, ‘You’re going to be great,’ and I was telling him, ‘I’m begging you, do not make me wrestle.’”
Her reluctance to lace up the boots was more out of a fear of looking bad due to her lack of training, as opposed to anything else.
“I love when people trash my wrestling,” she said, “and they say things like Terri is a s— wrestler. I’m like, ‘Indeed I am.’ Because I hadn’t been trained for it. You can’t learn it two hours before going on live television. Everybody else was a trained wrestler, but I wasn’t.”
Practically, not having that training left her with a disadvantage in that she wasn’t able to adapt to things as well as the others.
“When you’re a trained wrestler,” she elaborated, “you can react to things on the fly – people can call spots in the ring, and they don’t mess up the entire match. On the other hand, I grew up from the age of three to 17 as a ballerina and a dancer. So my education was in the memorization of moves. So, whatever match I was going to have, before TV, I had to try to memorize every single thing, move by move, A to B to C to D to E, all the way through to Z. Let’s say I’m wrestling Trish and we have seven minutes for our match. Now let’s say that a match before us ran long, so they come to us and they need us to shave down some time. Well, they knew if it involved me there was no way to cut it short, because I had memorized the whole thing from start to finish. And if we had to cut something out of that, I would get completely lost, and the match would be f—-d. So I loved taking big bumps and having spots in matches. But I hated wrestling in matches.”
And, learning the craft while on the road wasn’t really an option for Runnels, because, unlike most of the roster, her contract limited her appearances to TV and pay-per-views.
“When I signed my contract, I told Vince that I would not do house shows – I had that as a stipulation in my contract. Because I wanted to be at home for (my daughter) Dakota. Back in the day, Dakota was the only (wrestler’s child) who had both of her parents wrestling. Every other male wrestler had a wife at home that was taking care of the kids, or whatever. So before she was school age, she would fly with me to TVs and pay-per-views. And once she got old enough to go to school, I got a live-in nanny. I was comfortable with her being home for three days with the nanny, but then I would be home for four days and I would take over as full-time mom.”
Dakota is now working in a backstage role for All Elite Wrestling where her father wrestles, and her uncle Cody is a company executive. But don’t look for Terri to join them and make it a full family reunion, as she doesn’t believe that’s something fans would want to see.
“This is my own opinion,” she prefaced, “and feminists can kiss my ass if they want. But while I love and appreciate women, I don’t think there’s anything sexy about an older woman with wrinkles and gray hair. Visually, from my perspective, that’s not something I want to see. It’s all about how you look.”
But if she can’t contribute as a performer, would she be interested in a WWE Hall of Fame appearance to honor her career and legacy in the company? Even if she was, Runnels doesn’t think it’s likely that she’ll ever be asked.
“First, I think I screwed any chance of that when I did Dark Side of the Ring,” she speculated, referring to the infamous recent episode about the “Plane Ride From Hell” that resulted in Ric Flair and Tommy Dreamer being “cancelled” and during which Runnels talked about an incident where Brock Lesnar exposed himself to her in a locker room.
“Second, I always felt like, um, that Stephanie (McMahon) never liked me.”
She thinks that might have been the result of another backstage incident where she may have inadvertently ruffled Stephanie’s feathers.
“We were at the Staples Center,” she remembered, referring to the arena in Los Angeles. “Normally, you know anyone who is back in the dressing room area, right? There aren’t a lot of strangers back there. So anyone who is backstage, they have a lapel pin or (badge) that says who they are, like they’re part of catering or whatever, and they’re not just loitering around.”
“Stephanie came up to me and she says, ‘What were you saying about my boyfriend?’ And I had no idea what she was talking about. She says, ‘You just asked my boyfriend who he was.’ And I hadn’t even made the connection – I remember asking someone the question as to who they were and why they were backstage. I wasn’t rude, but I was just (curious) about who he was and why he was back there, because I didn’t know who the guy hanging around our dressing room was. But she got pissed off about that. And, you know, she and Hunter will take over (WWE) eventually, so I don’t think it matters what my history has been. You know, there are a lot of people that have done fewer things in the industry (and they’re in the Hall of Fame). But if I get asked, it will blow my mind if that ever happens.”
In the meantime, though, Runnels finds that meeting and interacting with her fans at events like the NFCC Fan Fest are rewarding enough. This one in particular will be even more special for her, since she will get to spend some time in Niagara Falls.
“The first and last time I was in Niagara Falls, Dustin made me cry,” she shared. “We were there, and I was in awe – it was so majestic, so amazing. I just wanted to witness the grandness of it. And then Dustin said, ‘Are you ready to go?’ And I wasn’t, I just wanted to take it all in. And maybe do the Maid of the Mist. And he said, ‘No, let’s go, get in the car, we’re leaving.’ And I was so sad, I remember just crying. This time, I’m getting a Falls-view room, so at least I can repair that memory.”
“Between that, and getting to see all my fans in Canada, I’m really looking forward to the weekend. And you can tell everyone,” she laughed, “that I’ll have my face on.”
Niagara Falls Comic-Con Fan Fest takes place on October 29th and 30th. For tickets and details, visit the official website at https://nfcomiccon.com/fanfest/
MORE TERRI RUNNELS STORIES
- June 23, 2020: Runnels accuses Lesnar of sexual harassment
- Nov. 16, 2008: Terri Runnels reveals brain, not body, in shoot DVD
- Nov. 7, 2001: Terri still having a blast