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Mary Ann Kostecki (August 11, 1934 – May 12, 2008), better know by her stage name Penny Banner, was an American professional wrestler. She was best known for her time spent in the American Wrestling Association. She was also the Commissioner of the Professional Girl Wrestling Association (PGWA) from 1992 until her death.
Growing up, Mary Ann Kostecki's family did not have television. She idolized Hank Williams Sr., a musician, when she was young.
Later, Kostecki began working at a cocktail waitress in St. Louis, while also acting as a nanny to three children. During this time, Sam Muchnick, owner of the National Wrestling Alliance, came into the lounge where she worked, and her boss told him that Banner was capable of doing 200 sit-ups. Muchnick bet her she could not complete the task, and after she did, she began getting calls to be a female professional wrestler.
Professional wrestling career
Kostecki began her career in wrestling as a way to learn how to defend herself outside of the ring. She came up with the name "Penny Banner" because she admired Charlton Heston, who used the surname Banner in a movie, and the first name Penny was also significant to her.
She held many titles in her career, including the NWA Women's World Tag Team Championship three times between 1956 and 1960 and the AWA World Women's Champion in 1961. In 1959, a match with NWA Champion June Byers, which ended in a draw, although Byers had consistently beat her in matches for three years prior. She was then booked into a match with Byers in Indiana for the newly formed American Wrestling Alliance (AWA) in August 1961, but Byers no-showed. Instead of their scheduled match, the AWA booked a battle royal, which Banner won to become the first AWA Women's Champion. She vacated the title when she moved to North Carolina with her husband and child.
During her career, Banner had her nosed ripped up and her elbow dislocated. Banner claimed that she retired in 1977 after June Byers, who owned the NWA Women's Championship, retired because of a car accident, and that Moolah had corned much of the national women's wrestling scene with her trainees and herself, which left Banner with nobody to wrestle in the Carolinas. In her last twenty years of wrestling, Banner was only defeated twice: once by Moolah and once by Belle Start, both of whom used the ropes for leverage while pinning Banner.
After retiring from the ring, Banner worked as a real-estate agent, worked in a rodeo, was the president of a local 4H, and began showing horses. In 1990, she was diagnosed with emphysema and began swimming competitively to quit her smoking. She competed in the Senior Olympics doing swimming plus the shot put and discus throws. She also served as the Commissioner of the Professional Girl Wrestling Association from 1992 until her death. She appeared at Slamboree 1994 with other wrestling Legends.
Banner's autobiography, Banner Days was completed 2005. The book took her three years to write. Also in 2005, she was featured in the documentary film Lipstick & Dynamite. Her tag team partner Betty Jo Hawkins was Banner's best friend for 33 years until Hawkins died.
Banner went on five dates with Elvis Presley between 1956 and late 1958. He also frequently saw her wrestle in Memphis. Their last date was one week before he left to join the army, and they never saw each other again. She was married to Johnny Weaver for 35 years before divorcing him in 1994. She had one child, a daughter named Wendi, whom she was pregnant with in 1959.
In late 2005, Banner was diagnosed with cancer. In February 2006, the cancer had shrunk considerably after a doctor's check-up. In late 2007, Banner suffered several health crises, including pneumonia, resulting in severe weight loss. She died in her sleep at the home of her daughter, Wendi, in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 12, 2008.
Championships and accomplishments
- Art Abrams Lifetime Achievement Award (1997)
- George Tragos / Lou Thesz International Wrestling Institute
- Frank Gotch Award (2008)
- NWA Texas Women's Championship (2 times)
- Class of 2007