Confessions of Dallas COWBOYS Cheerleaders
AUSTIN, Texas — Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders is really the untold story of Suzanne Mitchell, the now-deceased former director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders who led the squad through over a decade of TV appearances, USO tours, scantily-clad photoshoots and—of course—Dallas Cowboys football games. While the film goes deep on the cheerleaders’ origin story— how a squad of high schoolers was upgraded to a roster of beautiful women in hot pants and go-go boots—it becomes quickly apparent Mitchell is the true star of the film.
Director Dana Adam Shapiro told The Daily Beast about the genesis of the film, explaining, “You have a concept, which is the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and then you have a character. If you don’t have a character then you don’t have a movie. ‘Where did the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders come from?’ might have been a really good magazine article. But when we found Suzanne, it became a movie.”
The only female executive in the Cowboys’ organization at the time, Mitchell was appointed to usher in a new age of NFL cheerleading in 1976. Up until her resignation in 1989, she acted as the chief authority and visionary for her historic squad.
Mitchell was the one who decided who made up the team, adhering to archetypes (the redhead, the girl in pigtails) while simultaneously putting an emphasis on diversity and representation. She acted as judge and jury, dictating strict rules (no gum, no blue jeans in public, no talking to the players) and brutally enforcing them. While Mitchell was, according to many of the people interviewed for the documentary, a formidable or downright terrifying figure, she also showed fierce love for and dedication to the cheerleaders. At one point in the film, Mitchell recalls the measures she took to reprimand a husband who was physically abusing a Cowboys cheerleader, joking, “It’s nice when you have contacts.”
She was tasked with overseeing both the individual cheerleaders and their collective image, which was designed to flirt with sex appeal while retaining an aura of All-American charm and class. In one stunning anecdote, Mitchell describes a mobster holding a knife up to her throat in the midst of a legal battle over Debbie Does Dallas, a porno that Mitchell perceived as sullying both the reputation and, more specifically, the iconic uniform of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
Shapiro told The Daily Beast that, “This is a woman who took on the mafia because she felt that they disrespected her uniform. You look up Carmine Galante, he’s a motherfucker. He’s a boss. A lot of people would have just let that go, but she was like, they disrespected my girls! Finding a person who lives with that type of integrity is hard to find.”
It’s also documentary gold. Dana Presley Killmer and Toni Washington, who were both Cowboys Cheerleaders in the ‘80s, told The Daily Beast that Shapiro wasn’t the first person who tried to get Mitchell to share her story.
According to Washington, “Lots of people have approached Suzanne, even some within our organization, about writing her story.” Killmer recalled, “Some would send scripts and Suzanne would send the scripts to Toni and me and ask, what do you think of this? And we would send them back and say, you’d hate it. And then one day she called us and said, ‘I want you to talk to someone, his name is Dana and he wants to do a story about me and the cheerleaders.’ And I said, ‘Do you trust him?’ And she said, ‘I trust him. So when he calls, take his phone call.’ And I knew she was serious, so I said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ Because 35 years later, that’s still what you said: ‘Yes ma’am’”.
Killmer, meanwhile, says Mitchell “was the strongest woman I’ve ever known, even when she was dying.”
“She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June of 2013—she survived for three years and four months with pancreatic cancer, which is unheard of. I think what kept her going were her women, her girls, and Dana and Carra making this movie.”
Recalling the film’s premiere at SXSW on Sunday, Shapiro said, “I know she was watching, and all of her lieutenants were watching—this was someone who they held so dear to them, and they trusted me and our team, so it was very scary to sit there and wait, wondering, ‘What if we got her wrong?’”
He continued, “People were chasing this story for years. She told us she just didn’t give it up. And then at the end of her life she gave it to us. So it was a tremendous responsibility...It was very nerve-wracking for me to sit there in that theater.”
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