“I really want to be a role model. I want to do that girl next door thing, and I want little kids to look up to me.” (Nora Greenwald Benshoof, aka Molly Holly)
Why do people become professional wrestlers? Is there a gene that causes an otherwise normal person to don tights and boots (or other far more outrageous costumes), get bounced around on a hard mat in front of strangers yelling at them, maybe get a few bucks from the ordeal, then do it again? And again? And again?
Case in point: Nora Kristina Greenwald, born and raised in quiet, pristine Forest Lake, Minnesota: a small town, a young girl, and big dreams. Early on there were signs that Nora’s life force differed from the other girls on her block.
For instance, the beer and cigarettes party she threw for her friends when she was twelve. Or the way she emulated her muscular female heroes in the American Gladiators TV show by beginning a powerlifting career at age fourteen that led to Nora setting a state lifting record. Or the high school graduation (class of ’96) present she gave herself: taking a 1965 Oldsmobile and $200 and speeding out of Minnesota in a cloud of Midwest dust.
Nora’s first greener pasture was the warmer climes of Tampa, Florida. She supported herself with mundane jobs as a telemarketer, and a sandwich artist at Subway. Here another facet of Nora’s life force appeared: an instinctive empathy for human beings. She watched people enter the restaurant hungry and grouchy, saw them leave happier for her efforts, and felt fulfilled.
An assistant manager at another Subway store was a wrestler on the independent circuit in Tampa. He suggested Nora check it out. “Being a pro wrestler wasn’t a childhood dream, Nora said later. “It wasn’t even an adult dream. When I started wrestling it was for fun, not thinking I was ever going to be on TV.”
The training facility was low budget, and crowded with big egos and varying degrees of talent. Nora enjoyed the characters, the funky training facility, and the general freakiness. “It was like a circus,” she laughed, “so I stayed.”
The training camp and the characters attracted to it were fun, but Nora’s trainer was a serious wrestler named Dean Malenko, a second generation wrestler (father was Boris Malenko) who was well respected in the business: in 1997 Pro Wrestling Illustrated named him Wrestler of the Year. His nickname was “Man of a thousand holds.” His contribution to Nora’s early career was significant.
Even so, not everyone who drives a beat-up car to Florida to work at a Subway restaurant becomes a professional wrestler. Nora had the athleticism, strength, and resilience to adapt to the physical stress and strain that is a wrestler’s daily lot. What Nora liked as much as the physical challenges and camaraderie with her peers was the entertainment aspect of professional wrestling, which gave her a bigger audience to take care of, to help feel good.
After spending two years on the independent wrestling circuit, Nora moved to WCW in 1999. She credits Malia Hosake (her wrestling buddy and storyline rival) for getting Nora to realize this fun, crazy pastime could also be a lucrative career.
Nora became friends with a wrestler named Lanny Poffo. Lanny’s brother Randy – better known as Randy “Macho Man” Savage – was a wrestling star in a major promotion called World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Lanny introduced Nora to Savage, and he hired her to train his valet (and girlfriend) Gorgeous George. Savage noticed Nora’s talent and invited her to be part of his entourage, “Team Madness.” Nora’s character was “Miss Madness.” Her gimmick was to interfere in matches to Savage’s benefit.
Then Savage betrayed Miss Madness and fired her. Nora now became a more sympathetic character named Mona, who wrestled barefoot in a cocktail dress. But WCW was not pushing the women’s division, and Nora got let go in August 2000.
Ted Turner, who bankrolled WCW, gave Nora a plane ticket she used to go to Birmingham, Alabama, where she signed a contract with World Wrestling Federation (WWF, which became WWE). In fall of 2000 came Nora’s most enduring role: Molly Holly, cousin to Crash and Hardcore Holly, two male wrestlers already in the WWF. Molly’s interference in a match with WWF women’s champion, Canadian Trish Stratus, led to an enduring feud between the two.
Nora’s favorite times in WWF were the early years. The character of Molly Holly morphed into “Mighty Molly” and a PG romance with wrestler Spike Dudley, complete with a totally cheesy promo featuring Mighty Molly and Spike flying through the air like Superman and Superwoman, wearing aviator goggles and smiling at each other.
Molly’s title run in 2003-2004 was one of the longest in the fifty year history of the women’s (“Diva”) division. Nora could run a match well, was athletic enough to react spontaneously to enhance the action, and had an instinctive ability to entertain the crowd. Her competence was a marked contrast to other female wrestlers who were beautiful and had athletic bodies but didn’t know how to wrestle or work a match.
It was during her most successful roles in WWE that Nora Greenwald became disillusioned with her profession.
She had difficulty separating her personal feelings and convictions from the storyline role of Molly Holly. Nora saw herself as a role model for fans, especially young female fans. She wanted to be someone who could influence people in the right way, to even help make positive changes in their lives. Here again was Nora’s empathy, her heartfelt aspiration, her life force.
But wrestling is a business first. Bookers create angles for wrestlers that parallel their real lives because this makes the on screen character more believable. Nora was a good wrestler, a born again Christian, and a virgin. Bookers used these real life attributes and slanted them into a heel character: a wrestler’s wrestler who was also a self-righteous critic of women wrestlers who degraded themselves by emphasizing their sex appeal instead improving their wrestling skills – unlike Molly Holly, the self-described “pure and wholesome” lady.
Initially Nora went along with the storyline. Her intention was to portray a tough wrestler who wanted the matches to be about wrestling, not T & A. She died her blonde hair dark brunette and cut it short because she thought it represented her character better.
Molly’s heel turn led to another feud with Trish Stratus (Nora’s favorite wrestler to work with). The feud was a hot one that lasted several months. Part of the storyline had wrestlers and announcers making fun of Greenwald’s body. The most famous rib was that Molly’s backside was “big enough to show a movie on.” The angle was successful, and male wrestlers congratulated Nora on all the heat she was generating from the fans. To be hated by the audience is golden (and job security) to professional wrestlers, but not for Nora.
She grew to hate her heel character, and dread going to the ring. Nora loved being backstage and traveling and hanging out with her fellow wrestlers. But she wasn’t cut out to be a heel. In real life, she said in her shoot DVD (see sources), she was not judgmental or a prude. It bothered her that fans saw her that way and shouted insults to her about being fat, looking pregnant, and being disgusting. It also bothered Nora that her virginity, which she viewed as a gift, was twisted into a negative and condemning force.
But business came first to her employer. Molly Holly was the only wrestler skilled enough to have great matches with the top female wrestlers, and to put them over in a realistic way. All wrestling is a work, but not all wrestlers can adapt to this reality. They begin to identify with their characters, and the emotional involvement affects their performance. Molly’s heel character “was totally eating away at me,“ Nora admitted.
Molly Holly’s last title bid was against Victoria at WrestleMania XX in March 2004 in a “Hair versus Title” match. Molly lost and had her head shaved in the ring, an idea she took credit for. After this high point (appearances at WrestleMania are coveted by all wrestlers) Molly’s career slid off the spotlight. By 2005 she was mostly a jobber, putting over the latest female stars and helping to push newcomers into the spotlight.
Nora became like a lot of employees who feel they are in the wrong career. It is tempting to mail in their work efforts, and have a negative attitude backstage. She couldn’t work anywhere else and get paid the same amount of money she got wrestling. Even so, Nora Greenwald left the WWE in April 2005. The next year she went to Guatemala to do missionary work.
Wrestling is a hard business to survive in. Many of Greenwald’s friends got addicted to pain killers or other drugs to get them through matches. Some of them died. This influenced Nora to start working with drug addicts trying to live a clean and sober life. Nora began counseling at a faith based drug rehab program called Teen Challenge. Part of her job was visiting schools and talking to teenagers. This fit her life force perfectly, and before long she met the man she would marry.
His name was Geno Benshoof, and he had grown up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, not very far away from ForestLake, where Nora grew up. Benshoof was a hardened criminal and drug user who chose rehab over several years in jail for various crimes and misdeeds.
They met in 2009. After Geno had enough sobriety, and Nora had moved out of the counseling field to avoid ethical issues, the two were married in Benshoof’s back yard in White Bear Lake. And yes, Nora Greenwald remained a virgin until her wedding night. She said so.
So the ballad of Molly Holly has a happy ending, although if a ballad is a life’s song, Nora Greenwald has many years and decades ahead of her to follow her life force and add verses to her ballad. The “Molly-Go-Round” has been a great ride so far. Peace of heart to you both, Nora and Geno.
Lowdown-The Forest Lake Area, Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be… pro-wrestlers, by December 12, 2007, by Debra Neutkens
From Hair to Eternity, The Molly Holly Interview, Girlswithguns.org.
‘Molly Holly’ wins match of a lifetime: White Bear man defeats drug addiction; marries wrestling star, by Mark Nicklawske, White Bear Press, July 20, 2010
Shooting the Crap with Nora Greenwald (aka Molly Holly), DVD, 2005.
Teen Challenge was founded by Protestant minister David Wilkerson in 1958. It has grown into a national organization that uses a faith based approach to drug and alcohol recovery. It’s mission statement is:
“To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling problems, such a substance abuse, in order to become productive members of society. By applying biblical principles, Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally-sound, emotionally-balanced, socially-adjusted, physically-well, and spiritually-alive.”
Anyone who looks up Molly Holly or Geno Benshoof on the Internet will immediately notice that there is a serious hate campaign going on against both of them. It can make it hard to know what to believe. It appears it is only one side slinging mud,.Molly and Geno have not responded to any of the provocations. Readers will make up their own minds about things.