Lynda Newton knew nothing about pro wrestling and never planned to get involved, but she did, and her journey, while short, helped define a new genre of female talent in the industry.
Newton, better known to wrestling fans of the 1980s as Dark Journey, was the beautiful valet for Missing Link, Iceman Parsons, Buzz Sawyer, Dick Slater and Tully Blanchard with The Four Horsemen.
Dark Journey, Baby Doll, Missy Hyatt, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Linda and Sunshine accompanied their men to the ring, providing a sexy means of distraction. Most could also get physical and often did.
Through them, a new breed of manager emerged. Termed valet, they opened doors for women, giving them non-wrestling opportunities. Bi-racial, Dark Journey also did this for women of color.
“I wasn’t looking at it that way. That was [wrestler] Dick Slater’s take on it,” said Newton.
“I’ve always been mixed, whether I was black or white on either side...I never really considered myself black. If I put something down on a form, I would put ‘Other,’ because I am ‘Other.’ That’s how I look at it. Nowadays, there are more bi-racial children. So I’m not as unique as I used to be, being bi-racial.
“When I became Dark Journey, I was just doing a character. I wasn’t trying to open doors for anyone.
“Now I look at it differently. I’m glad I was in the business, a very educational part of my life, and I had fun.”
A chance meeting at a strip club where she danced began Newton’s wrestling journey.
“I was working at a club outside of Atlanta, and Dick Slater came in by himself,” she recalled. “I remember talking to him at least once, and then he bought me a drink. He probably mentioned wrestling and me being involved, but I just basically blew it off. Wrestling wasn’t an interest to me. I didn’t understand wrestling. The first wrestling match I had ever seen was the first match I was actually in. I was never a fan of wrestling.”
“I think he came back again and talked to the owner of the club,” she said. “The owner called me at my house and said [Slater] was really serious about it, and they thought it was a good opportunity for me to get a start in the business. [Slater] came over to my house. I had a roommate, and he talked to me and my boyfriend about his idea, and I said I would give it a try.”
Newton did not realize what she was getting herself into. Wrestling fans in the mid-1980s still believed in the good-bad mantra. Cheer the heroes, boo the villains. Hardcore fans were loyal to the babyfaces and took out their anger and frustrations on the heels, and that meant Dark Journey.
“Working in the business was very educational,” she said. “It opened my eyes to see what gimmicks and angles were, how and what to sell, because before that, I didn’t get that everything was a gimmick. I kind of just took [fans] for what they said.”
Fans spat on her, threw things like bottles and rocks and pliers at her, pulled her hair and smacked her as well as cursed her regularly -- rude and vulgar.
“That was more hurtful than anything,” she said. “My father [Bennie] was a pastor at the time, and I remember asking him, ‘I don’t understand. Why do they hate me?’ I didn’t get that I was portraying this person to get heat, and if you get heat, that’s a good thing. That was just confusing to me at that age.”
Slater introduced his valet, Dark Journey, to fans of Mid-South Wrestling in 1985. Slater presented her as an African American women. The good ole South housed Mid-South, and to have a white man flaunting his black valet in front of conservative Southern fans drew the ire of the community inside and outside the ring. Instant heat.
“Somebody from the White Nights [of the Ku Klux Klan] even sent me a letter,” she said.
It wasn’t nice.
When Dark Journey worked in the UWF, she accompanied The Missing Link. No more hate mail, she was a fan favorite leading the Link against the heels.
“Now fans were groping me,” she laughed. “Terry Taylor was in the back, and I looked at him, and I said, ‘What is this? Everybody’s touching me -- guys and girls -- in the crotch, on the butt, on the breast.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s right. You’ve never been a babyface before.’”
Newton, 56, was born at Los Angeles Hospital. She grew up in Brockton, Mass., going to school with famous boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler. She played basketball, volleyball, track & field. She also danced on a show called “Salsa.”
“I think I’ve always been physically fit, kind of small-framed and kind of wiry,” she said. “I look about the same now as I did then. I weigh about 120. I still run and workout, and I think what keeps me really youthful is my mind.”
Newton has Attention Deficit Disorder.
“I’m real hyper because of it, and that tends to keep me in shape, too,” she said.
Because of ADD, Newton found school difficult.
“I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 44,” she said. “I usually use a pencil when I fill out any applications or forms, because I would have to go back two or three times to fix it.”
Newton has trouble writing, but she is very good communicating verbally and exhibits a creative flair.
In the summer before her senior year of high school, Newton moved away from home, renting an apartment with a roommate, working some part-time jobs and attending school. She made it through the middle of her senior year, before dropping out.
“I was just so exhausted in class, and I couldn’t stay awake,” she said. “My mind wasn’t stimulated with a learning difficulty. So I remember one day when the bell rang after lunch, I just left school and went home. Walking home, I was crying while stumbling over the railroad tracks, because I knew I wanted to go back.”
Later, Newton did attain a GED.
Raised by her grandparents until she was 9, they were strict and provided a solid religious base for her. She then moved into a place with her mom, Lois, who helped her be “emotionally unstable.”
“Between the two of those relationships growing up, I think it really helped me balance out, to be who I am now,” she said. “Somebody else might not like having different aspects in their life, but for me, the different experiences with different family members growing up really helped me.
“I was always a loner, going out, searching, doing new things, traveling, all by myself. So all of this has been a life experience for me to be who I am today. There’s nothing that I’ve done that I wished I hadn’t.”
Professing natural health since 2001, Newton is a bodyworker -- body wraps, detox foot baths, ear coning, massages, mud packing. She lives near Los Angeles, working with clients and doing well.
“One day a week I go to Venice, and the clientele that comes in there has made me realize I should live in that area,” she said. “It’s more health geared -- yoga, fitness. Sometimes I have clients who are in front of the camera and others behind the camera.”
Prior, she owned a few clothing stores in Southern California. Speaking of clothes, she saw a photo online from her wrestling journey and liked a “cute” purple dress she wore.
Newton’s journey came full circle. Born in California, she moved to Massachusetts, then returned to California, before a second stint in Massachusetts and then to Maine, Florida and Georgia.
“Where are we now?” she chuckled.
Newton is now happily living in California where it all started.
During her short time in professional wrestling (1985-87), she made an impact, even though it was extremely difficult, political, male-dominated and eye opening.
“I worked for Crockett for a little bit,” she said.
Jim Crockett Promotions, before it became WCW under Ted Turner’s ownership, was a staple of the NWA in the Southeast. Dark Journey became Tully Blanchard’s valet, when he was a member of the Four Horsemen.
“I think the problem there for me was they weren’t working the gimmick,” she said. “In other words, the guys wanted to shine so much on their own; they weren’t willing to use me.
“I would be where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be there, but they would only use me, if it was to their benefit. They weren’t working the angle or the gimmick, and I’m not in there wrestling. So you got to get rid of me because the boys are still there to wrestle. That’s my take on it.”
Newton’s wrestling journey ended in 1987 after the Great American Bash War Games Tour.
Prior, Newton worked for the UWF.
“I did have an interview with the WWF [now WWE],” she said. “After the UWF was sold to Crockett, there was about a 30-day period when nobody contacted me. So I decided to look for work. I think I called New York or New York called me. I’m not sure which, but then I planned to fly out there to see them.
“Then Crockett called me personally on the phone and said to show up Monday for TV. I already had planned to fly to New York. I said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not able to come to TV on Monday. I have an appointment.’ He said, ‘Huh, with the WWF?’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter who it is. I have an appointment already. So I can’t do it this Monday.’ Then, he said, ‘I’ll make sure you never work in this business again,’ and he hung up on me.”
Newton honored her commitment and interviewed with WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon.
“They decided not to take me, for some reason,” she said. “They walked out, and they talked, and then they told me to keep them in mind.”
Newton was unemployed.
“I went back home and got in my car and drove to Florida, because I knew that Crockett had a show in Florida, and Dusty Rhodes was the booker,” she said. “When I got there, I asked to speak to Dusty. He came to the door. We talked, and he said for me to show up to TV next Tuesday. He also said, ‘Don’t mind anything Crockett says.’
“Crockett would never ever talk to me. He would never speak to me. If we went on the airplane and Crockett would bring a big plate of food, he would purposely walk by me and hand the plate to the person after me. It was unbelievable the way he treated me. I saw him one day, and I said, ‘Hi,’ and he just turned his head back.”
Crockett wasn’t the only one to turn away.
“Right before I went to work for Crockett, Baby Doll said to me, ‘Get ready to be by yourself.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘No matter where I went with them [Four Horsemen], when I was traveling with them, the guys would never speak to me. It was like I wasn’t there.’”
Before Dark Journey did, The Perfect 10 Baby Doll valeted for Blanchard in the Four Horsemen.
“She was exactly right,” Newton said. “I was a loner. I could be on the plane with them, small plane, there were six of us. It was like I didn’t exist. So I was in a world where I don’t exist, and Crockett wouldn’t talk to me. Every time I was at a show, and I saw Crockett walking toward where I was, I wanted to say, ‘Hi,’ but he would always turn his head away from me.”
Fans didn’t like her either, but that’s good because it meant she did her job well as a heel. Though, at times, a few fans went too far.
“I was in a match, and somebody from the audience hit me,” she said. “I got so mad. I turned around, and I used the ‘n’ word. Dusty Rhodes was leaning over my shoulder trying to grab me as he was listening to everything that was going on. After the match, I’m walking down the hallway and I see Crockett, so I’m getting ready to turn my head, and Crockett has the biggest smile, and he starts talking to me, saying, ‘Yea, I heard you were out there calling people...,’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Unbelievable.’”
At the end of the tour, J.J. Dillon, the adviser to the Four Horsemen, told Dark Journey that Crockett was releasing her.
“I didn’t think badly at all,” she said. “I actually went back to my room and wrote J.J. Dillon a very nice letter, and I thanked him and Jim for letting me go, because somebody else wants this job more than me.”
Newton returned to Los Angeles and started a new journey.
“Looking back at it, I don’t feel any hatred or any dislike or anything unsettling,” she said. “I think it’s a crack-up. I look at some of these videos on YouTube, and I just laugh. I think they’re hilarious, a hoot.”
Newton and her husband, Brent, reside in California, and her son, Zane, 25, a college student, wants to become a firefighter.
Newton got to know her father, Bennie, when she was 18. He died about four years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“Prior to being a pastor, my father was very worldly,” she said. “During the riots, he was one of the Florence Angels who pulled a man away who was being spray painted on, after having a speaker cracked over his head. He saved that man. He took him to the hospital, and [while there] he also prayed over Reginald Denny. My father won many awards.”
The attack on Reginald Denny and others was during the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Denny, a white construction truck driver, was beaten nearly to death off Florence Avenue by a group of black assailants who came to be known as the L.A. Four. The attack was captured by a Los Angeles News Service helicopter, and the video was broadcast live on U.S. national television.
In 1991, video tape captured Rodney King, a black man, being repeatedly beaten by a group of LAPD officers. The riots occurred after the four police officers were acquitted when a jury could not reach a verdict.
Newton does not have a relationship with her mother, Lois, who lives in New Mexico.
“I finally decided that even though she’s evolved, I can’t be in a relationship that does offend me,” she said. “I’m not trying to be one-sided, but the verbal abuse, the brow-beating. I can’t ask her to change. That’s just who she is, and I get that.
“I’ve really built a friendship, a relationship with my clients, my husband, my family, but we don’t have that type of mentality, and I just won’t allow it. I made the decision personally to not have her in my life. It hurts because that’s not how I want it, but it’s more peaceful without it.”
The Mid-South Legends Fanfest is Friday, April 4 at the Sigur Center, 8245 W. Judge Perez Dr. in Chalmette, near New Orleans.
Meet legends Cowboy Bill Watts, The Midnight Express (Beautiful Bobby Eaton and Loverboy Dennis Condrey) with Jim Cornette, Mr. Wrestling II, The Rock-n-Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), Dark Journey, Mr. Olympia, Bill Dundee, Kamala and more for autographs, Q&A sessions, photo ops and a VIP Cajun dinner.
The Battle Lines live wrestling event starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature the JYD Memorial Cup Battle Royal, Mickie James vs. Angelina Love, Tommy Dreamer, The Pope Elijah Burke, Chris Adonis, the Rock-n-Roll Express and Bill Dundee.
Log on to www.midsouthlegends.com for a VIP package and more.