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Sunday, May 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pro wrestler Kay Noble

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Kay Noble, a gutsy grappler whose fresh-faced femininity and no-holds-barred ferocity in the ring won her an enthusiastic following among professional-wrestling fans, died of stomach cancer April 27 in Amarillo, Texas. She was 65.

Ms. Noble, who went by Kay Noble-Bell during her retirement years, held the Texas Women's Championship and the Central States' Women's Championship and was the 1971 Girl Wrestler of the Year.

Fans who flocked to grimy, small-town arenas and big-city coliseums across North America knew they would get their money's worth when she was on the bill, whether tangling with Gladys "Kill 'Em" Gillem, Lillian "Fabulous Moolah" Ellison, blonde bombshell Penny Banner or a host of other well-known female grapplers during her prime in the 1960s and '70s.

"The auburn-haired Noble took her wrestling seriously and competed just as hard — if not harder — than the men," said Greg Oliver, producer of a Web site called SLAM! Wrestling.

At 5 feet 7 inches tall and 132 pounds at the peak of her career, Ms. Noble was tough and extremely agile, friends and former ring foes agreed.

"Kay was just a flier in the ring. ... She was always in the air," former grappler Betty Nicoli told SLAM! Wrestling. "The only way to get her was to snatch her hair and get her out of the air, grab her by the hair and pull her down. ... You either got her at the beginning, or you had no chance with her."

Despite being an attractive woman who loved to wear beautiful clothes out of the ring, in the ring she always played "the heel," not "the baby face," fellow wrestler and longtime friend Marie Laverne said. "She had a way she'd look at you and almost snarl," Laverne said. "That was Kay."

Before a packed-to-the-rafters house in Amarillo on an October night in 1958, Ms. Noble, Banner and their tag-team partners took their frenzied fight outside the ropes. Trouble ensued when Banner's partner leaped into the crowd and grabbed a folding chair to throw at Ms. Noble and her partner. Police allowed the match to end and then hauled the four women to jail for "inciting a riot." A promoter paid their fines.

Ms. Noble also played the piano, and if she happened to find one in an arena where she was wrestling, she invariably would sit down and pound out the old hymn "How Great Thou Art."

Mary Charlene Noble was born in St. Joseph, Mo., and was known as Kay from childhood. After seeing a wrestling match as a youngster, she decided that was what she wanted to do with her life. She started wrestling as an 18-year-old in 1957.

"It was totally different from what we've got now," said Laverne, whose mother was a professional wrestler. "There's always been showmanship, but we had to learn to wrestle. Now they don't."

Ms. Noble wrestled throughout the 1970s and on a part-time basis into the 1980s while rearing five children.

Her last match was a charity event in Amarillo against Laverne in 1987, when Ms. Noble was 47. Even though she broke a bone in her foot when Laverne threw her out of the ring, Ms. Noble climbed back in, jerked Laverne off her feet and won the match.

After Ms. Noble retired from the ring, she owned and operated Kay's Upholstery in Amarillo and in recent years worked with children who had cancer at Amarillo's Baptist St. Anthony's Hospital. "Them kids are the ones she loved," her husband, Dick Bell, said. "They're the ones who kept her going."

Her marriage to Doug Lindzy, a wrestler known as Doug Gilbert, ended in divorce, as did her marriage to Dean Fortune.

Besides Bell, her third husband, to whom she had been married 21 years, survivors include four daughters; five sons; a sister; 20 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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