Wrestling INC: You got your pro wrestling break while working at CNN, right? How exactly did that happen?
Terri Runnels: I was a makeup artist for CNN and because I was the lowest person on the totem pole at that time, I had to do makeup on the weekends per my schedule. So back in the day when Jim Crockett owned in NWA territory, they would come to Turner's Studio to film and tape their shows every Saturday and Sunday. I was the makeup artist, so I got to know them that way. As we progressed, Ole Anderson asked me if I would become this on-air character. I came up with a name that I thought was snotty in Alexandra York and that was my humble beginning.
Wrestling INC: Had you followed pro wrestling at all before then?
Runnels: Honestly I would sit and watch it if it happened to be what my dad was watching. My father seemed burdened to be a parent and basically ignored the fact that he had two daughters, so anytime I could be near him I watched what he was watching. The only faces I remember from back then were Gerry Brisco, Jack Brisco, and Wahoo McDaniel. I was not a huge fan, but I had seen it before.
Wrestling INC: Were you pretty nervous to make that transition, that's a pretty big change?
Runnels: I was such a workaholic being at CNN Monday through Friday by 4 a.m. and leaving at noon every day. Then at noon, we would drive or fly to wherever the TV tapings were being done. Sometimes, I would shower then go straight back to CNN. I believe it was Montgomery, Alabama when I was getting ready to walk to the ring and I heard somebody say, 'watch her, I don't think she's going to make it.' The only thing I remember is walking to the ring and holding the ring posts, not in character. When I was walking to go backstage, I lost eyesight in one of my eyes and they brought me to the hospital. They did all these tests and concluded I was exhausted. I was literally spent. At that point, I decided to give-up makeup or wrestling. Dusty [Rhodes] did something at the time I didn't think was cool and I said goodbye in one night. I kept doing makeup for a little bit longer. When I got pregnant with Dakota, I stopped everything.
Wrestling INC: Was this incident with Dusty after you and Dustin had gotten together?
Runnels: Yea, I forget what it was but some conflict over the character. I'm sure the emotion that was tied in with the stuff he was doing were the true catalyst for that decision on my part.
Wrestling INC: How did you and Dustin first meet?
Runnels: All of a sudden this tall, blond kid showed up from Texas named Dustin to work one day. There were no sparks initially, then we were out in Phoenix for a pay-per-view and a bunch of us were sitting on the patio of the Phoenix Hyatt. Dustin got out of a cab at the hotel after playing golf and I don't know what it was, but all of a sudden I looked at him differently. We had a group dinner— Tony Schiavone was there—and Dustin was going to have a night with the boys, but I said you're staying with us. On the flight home, he sent me a note if I would go to lunch with him. I gave a stupid response of "you need to call if you want to ask me out" and I don't know why. I don't know what I was thinking. He called and we went to lunch the next day and dinner that night. The rest is history and we were never apart.
Wrestling INC: Did you get married to Dustin while in WCW or afterwards?
Runnels: After! We married in July of 1993.
Wrestling INC: After leaving WCW, did you think you'd be in the business again?
Runnels: I didn't know because I wasn't concerned [about wrestling] at that time. There were things I wanted to do with the Alexandra York character, but in the big scheme of everything it wasn't a big deal to me.
Wrestling INC: When Dustin got signed by the WWE and the Goldust character was presented, were you always supposed to be a part of the act? You came in a few months after his debut.
Runnels: Not at all. I was happy being a mom. One day I was laying in our tanning bed and my sister, who collected Barbie dolls, had gotten a Bob Mackie Sun Goddess Barbie, and I began to think about what the WWE had and didn't have for females. They had Sherri Martel and Tammy Sytch. Sherri was loud and harsh then there's this sexy cheerleader in Sunny. I thought there hasn't been an elegant, classy lady in a while. I thought the pairing of a character that came out in old Hollywood glamour would pair in well with Dustin's Goldust character. I called Dustin with the idea and he says call Vince [McMahon], and I said, "no, you tell him." I called and spoke with Pat Paterson. He thanked me for the idea and said we won't be using it at this time and to have a good day. I blew it off and focused on the mom stuff that had to be done that day.
It was December, around Christmas, when Dustin called me while I was with my grandparents. He said, " pack your bags, they want to do your idea." I came up with the name Marlena because Dustin's character was kind of sexually ambiguous—he had that character that wasn't necessarily all male and certainly not all female. There was this old school Hollywood actress Marlena Dietrich, who pushed the envelope with the way she dressed and the things she did, and I thought it was a perfect name for my character. I lobbied for her to carry and smoke a cigar—which in my private life I love to do. For the first month, Vince wouldn't let me light the cigars and then it was Pat Patterson who helped me lobby to light the thing and smoke it on air.
Wrestling INC: Was Vince McMahon not allowing you to do it because he hates smoking or was there an arena code?
Runnels: Here's what's crazy. Vince has been on the cover of Cigar Aficionado, but at the time he said 'you can light it damn it, but not until right before you walkout from the gorilla position.' He never said he hated cigar smoke, but for whatever reason he didn't want it lit until right before I walked out.
Wrestling INC: What were your thoughts when Dustin was pitched the Goldust idea?
Runnels: I scratched my head because he's this big, tobacco chewing Texan who is now going to be what! I know there's an artistic side to Dustin and I was proud of how he sunk his teeth into the character and ran with it. Not a lot of the guys have the cojones to do that and I was impressed.
Wrestling INC: It was crazy. Nothing like that had been done on such a level.
Runnels: It got heat with the boys and people didn't want to necessarily wrestle him, but they came around. Chyna was great about it and wanted to work with Dustin. All the boys had massive respect for Dustin pulling it off the way he did.
Wrestling INC: During that time you had a memorable feud between Brian Pillman and Goldust. You had dated Brian a little in WCW. Was that storyline at all awkward?
Runnels: It wasn't awkward. It had been awhile since Brian and I dated. We didn't date for long. He called and said his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. I told him it was cool, do what he needs to do, and we will remain friends. It wasn't a big deal when he came to the WWE and did the storyline. I wish we would have been able to play it out. It's sad the way it ended.
Wrestling INC: The storyline was supposed to end with you leaving Goldust for Brian. Is that correct?
Runnels: Right. I can visualize it because I had this gold wedding dress made for that pay-per-view where Dustin and I were supposed to renew our vows. I envisioned Dustin beating the dog snot out of Brian and I throw myself in-between them—covering my dress in blood. I was supposed tell Dustin how I fell in love with Brian during our time together. Of course, it never happened. I did an indie show for Afa [Anoa'i] and there I met Luna [Vachon] for the first time. I thought she would be awesome to do a reverse angle where Dustin falls in love with somebody else while I was stuck with Brian. The angle went crazier than it should have, but it is what it is.
Wrestling INC: Brian Pillman died the day of the In Your House: Badd Blood pay-per-view. What was the reaction like backstage?
Runnels: Brian was supposed to act cold and possessive towards me by yanking and jerking me around. The night before the PPV he was extra rough and he cut me with his fingernails. I could tell something was off and asked him after the match if he was okay. He was pissed off about the boys not letting him ride with them. I asked Dustin if we could give him a ride and he said someone else would. The next day we're supposed to be at the building by 1 p.m. and it's now 4 p.m. You don't show up that late to a pay-per-view, so I thought he missed his flight. I told Dave Hebner that he wasn't here and something was up. He called and found out the terrible news.
Wrestling INC: Did Dustin not want Brian to ride because of where he was in the storyline?
Runnels: I don't know. Maybe because of the angle we were doing in a time where kayfabe was more important. The night of me supposedly going with Brian, I left in the trunk for kayfabe purposes. I never to this day asked why he didn't want him to ride with us. I respected my husband's decision.
Wrestling INC: You were also given the Pretty Mean Sisters (PMS) gimmick. What were your thoughts when they pitched you that idea?
Runnels: I hated that name. I kept coming up with other acronyms for Vince to use and he wouldn't go for them. All I could think about was, 'eww, I don't want to think of a woman's time of the month. Gross!'
Wrestling INC: You were with the business at the height of this insane peak. What was it like being in the company at that time?
Runnels: It was awesome in so many ways. So many envelopes were pushed and I've been emphatic on how in the Attitude Era the WWE used incredible double entendres to get our adult message across, but still circumnavigate the brains of our children. When we went past that with HLA [Hot Lesbian Action] or necrophilia with Kane, I didn't know how to explain that to my daughter. The visual of HLA was so overwhelming that I thought we went overboard. Back then it was 'Terri, you're wrestling in a thong in a paddle on the pole match.' Crazy stuff. I would love to see some of the girls today wrestle in the outfits I had to wear. I would have loved to wrestle as covered up as they are today.
Wrestling INC: Were there angles you would shoot down during that period?
Runnels: I shot down the miscarriage [angle] with Val Venis and D'Lo Brown. But, as you can see, I did not win that battle.
Wrestling INC: At Over the Edge, the pay-per-view where Owen Hart tragically passed away, you had hung out with him earlier in the day. Is that correct?
Runnels: It was the night before. Harley Race is from around there and he takes great pride in his chili, and for good reason, he makes a killer pot of chili. He had made this huge batch of chili and we would go to his house and hang out with he and his wife. That night, Mick Foley went and Owen went. Owen, being the practical joker, went to put hot sauce in Harley's chili. Owen said he intended to put a few drops in, but the lid came off and everything went in—since it was Owen, we can guess the whole thing was intended to go in. The next day, Harley was chasing him with this thing that was like a hand to body taser. He finally got him and Owen pleaded that it was a mistake. It was funny.
Wrestling INC: Are there any other Owen stories you haven't told that often?
Runnels: One of my favorites was when he told one of the boys that Vince wanted him—I can't remember who it was with my old brain. We knew Vince was in the middle of a production meeting and you don't interrupt those meetings. Finally Owen said to this person, 'fine, but he's sitting there waiting for you. If you don't want to go in that's fine, but I told you.' The person goes running in and of course they're not expected and Vince gets pissed off. Just stuff like that was classic Owen. It was one of his fun and endearing qualities.
Wrestling INC: You had an eight year run with the WWE. What are some of your favorite moments and angles during that time?
Runnels: I loved WrestleMania  when Roddy Piper and Dustin had their infamous Hollywood Backlot Brawl match. I loved that, that was fun to be a part of. Just to be in a WrestleMania is great. Even though I wasn't thrilled to be at WrestleMania  in a catfight, still it was a huge honor with that. I loved the angle with Joanie [Laurer] when she first came in after me. I loved working with The Hardy Boyz. I didn't think [Saturn's] Moppy angle was a smart one, but people seemed to love it.
Wrestling INC: Do you still keep in contact with Perry Saturn?
Runnels: Yes, after a long absence of trying to contact him, I finally tracked him down. We did a fan show about two years ago.
Wrestling INC: How would you describe Vince McMahon as a boss?
Runnels: I loved working for Vince. That man's attention to detail blows me away. The number of things he has on his plate and still finds time to inspect the minute details is why he is where he is today. I loved working for him.
Wrestling INC: How has your relationship been with the WWE since leaving? Do you still keep in contact?
Runnels: Yes, it's been great. They are and always will be family. I still talk to a lot of the people that work there. It's great to see the number of people that are still there behind the scenes. It's always good to go to the autograph signings and see people you've not seen in years. I went nine months ago to a taping in Tampa [Florida], and got to see a ton of people backstage. It's shocking because unless Dustin is on TV or unless Dakota says, "Dustin is doing a cool angle," I don't watch every Monday night. I found myself looking at the on-air talent and not having a clue who some of these amazing athletes and Divas were. It was nice to see some new and old blood at the same time.
Wrestling INC: What are Dakota's thoughts on Dustin's resurgence the past year or two?
Runnels: She loves it. He's in better shape than ever before. Once he kicked his bad habits, his new habit became the gym and he's a workout fanatic. We're both so proud of him and it's incredible how he turned things around. It's not an easy thing for anyone to do and he did it.
Wrestling INC: Absolutely and he's looked better in the ring now than in a long time. As for yourself, what have you been up to since leaving the business?
Runnels: I've been a mommy, even though my daughter is now 20-years-old. I will always be mommy and it's my favorite thing in the world. When Dakota went off to college, she told me I needed a new hobby. Currently, I'm doing marketing for a Florida company and my territory is the west coast of Florida. I love it because I'm marketing to three different tiers of people. One day I'm in jeans and cowboy boots and the next day in a suit in corporate America, so no day is the same.
Wrestling INC: I wanted to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Is there anything you would like to plug?
Runnels: I have only one Fan Facebook account and I recently deactivated my personal Facebook account because there were some nasty comments and I didn't want my Mom to have to read that. I should have kept my account for friends and family and a separate one for fans, but I didn't. After 5,000 friends, the lines get blurred. After I deactivated it, I was going to create one for fans and one for friends and family. Dakota said every comment I made on her pictures is now gone, so it hit me how important that was compared to the negative stuff that's in there. I think I'll reactivate my personal Facebook account but then create a REALLY personal one for Super close Family and Friends!
I do use Twitter (@theterrirunnels) more than Facebook because it's so fast. I can do 140 characters and there's no clog of messages waiting for me. I had over 3,000 direct messages on Facebook that I couldn't read, let alone answer. I like having contact with the fans and they know I read their stuff. Twitter allows me to keep the direct messages at a minimum, but I can still jump on and talk to them.
Recently, I decided to change things up and go into the back of closets I haven't been into for years. I found a ton of archived costumes. Many of them I won't part with because I am saving them for Dakota and posterity. I kept so many of them and I wanted to share some with my loyal fans and avid collectors. Recently I posted some of the items that are available in some photo collages. There are more items that aren't pictured on Twitter! People can contact Mark Bodek at MarkBodek@TheTerriRunnels.com and on Twitter at @MarkBdk. He has all the details on pricing. I'm excited when fans get excited about an item they want. They get to keep a piece for their collection. I love that, it makes me smile! I think I have something for most collector's budgets!
Also, I'm scheduling a new photo shoot with a photographer probably in mid to late July. I'm going to wear some old things that you can look back and see me wearing in prior TV shows and photo shoots. I'm also doing some black-and-white artistic shots, so look for those in late July or early August. Also, visit my official website at TheTerriRunnels.com.
Wrestling INC: I definitely urge everyone to check that out. Thank you again for speaking with us and I really appreciate all your time.