A curiously compelling blend of pro wrestling and roller derby, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) debuted in 1986 with the expectation that wrestling fans would flock to an all-female roster of grapplers with names like Matilda the Hun, Jail Bait, and Babe the Farmer’s Daughter.
Although it lasted four seasons, it never quite took off the way its organizers planned. GLOW, Netflix's fictionalized account of the promotion’s struggles, is set to debut its second season on June 29. To celebrate the return of the streaming hit, let's take a look at some facts about the all-women’s squared circle.
1. THEY CAST RANK AMATEURS.
GLOW was the brainchild of wrestling fan-turned-promoter David McLane and Jackie Stallone (Sylvester’s mom) who saw an opportunity to recreate the heyday of women’s wrestling in the 1950s by casting actresses as broad “types” like bullies, housewives, and Cold War-era spies. To fill out his roster for the 1986-1987 season, McLane auditioned women in Los Angeles by having them train three nights a week in a wrestling ring. Their trainer, former wrestler Mando Guerrero, was partial to grueling, highly physical sessions that included choking at least one trainee unconscious. One former GLOW star, Dawn Maetas, told the Toronto Star that the prep work “felt like my organs hurt.”
2. “BAD” WOMEN TRAVELED SEPARATELY FROM THE “GOOD” GIRLS.
To help perpetuate the rivalries featured on GLOW, the production insisted that the women favored by the audience traveled on a separate bus and were forbidden to fraternize with their onscreen enemies. But while they were filming in Las Vegas, the cast lived dorm-style—two to a room at the Riviera Hotel. In a bit of method wrestling, the women were also instructed to call themselves only by their character names regardless of whether they were performing or not.
3. THE WOMEN HAD CURFEWS.
Living at the Riviera in Vegas, the GLOW women were given a curfew in an attempt to keep them from indulging in the Sin City nightlife. According to women interviewed for the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, producers would fine the women $250 if they were caught coming back to the hotel past their allotted time.
4. IT WAS NOT VERY POLITICALLY CORRECT.
According to Jeanne Basone, who went by “Hollywood” in the GLOW ring, some of the match gimmicks were not exactly what anyone would consider tasteful. Basone and other wrestlers would invoke Nazi iconography by singing German marching songs and tossing gas masks at opponents; in another bit, a woman was forced into a straitjacket, which prompted angry viewer letters complaining that GLOW was mocking the mentally ill. Basone says the series toned down in later seasons, but during the first two years, “We got away with a lot.”
5. IT WAS ALSO PRETTY JUVENILE.
Scantily clad women putting one another in choke holds may never be considered legitimate athletics, but GLOW had no pretenses about its mission: Offer a campy, kitschy show that maximized the sex appeal of its stars. The wrestling bouts were interspersed with comedic skits, including ones in which the sore grapplers would visit team physicians Dr. Fiel and Dr. Grope.
6. THE SHOW WASN’T RESPECTED BY “REAL” FEMALE WRESTLERS.
While pro wrestling was already a sort of parody of itself, GLOW seemed to take it a step further, minimizing any serious choreography in favor of more bombastic comedy. That didn’t sit well with female wrestlers outside of the promotion, who perceived GLOW as denigrating their profession. Wrestler Malia Hosaka once commented that she “had no respect for [GLOW]. I actually had one GLOW girl tell me they were out there to make fun of women’s wrestling … Basically, you’re telling me that you’re out there to degrade those that have paved the way for you to have this.”
7. EVERY SHOW FEATURED A RAP.
As a result of the Chicago Bears releasing a successful single, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” a few years earlier, the women of GLOW would typically begin each episode with a rap. There’s really no substitution for seeing it for yourself.
8. IT MAY HAVE BEEN ART.
Matt Cimber (actress Jayne Mansfield's ex-husband) was GLOW’s recurring director, and was aiming to create a kind of wrestling expressionist art piece. "If you look at GLOW carefully, especially the first two years, GLOW is existentialist," Cimber told Canoe Sports earlier this year. "The paintings on their faces, the symbolism of their characters, they're off the wall. And yet, the one thing is I always stayed in a guideline, make sure the audiences understands them. Don't make it so heady and so arty that people think it's a bunch of crap." Cimber also asserted that McLane wanted a more serious show and left during the second season to pursue other opportunities.
9. PIA ZADORA MAY HAVE KILLED IT.
While GLOW was a modest ratings success, none of the cast was asked back following the fourth season. The abrupt ending was reportedly the result of financier and Riviera hotel owner Meshulam Riklis withdrawing his participation in the project at the behest of his then-wife, entertainer Pia Zadora. (The GLOW property is currently owned by former performer Ursula Hayden, who portrayed Babe the Farmer’s Daughter on the original series and is a consultant on the Netflix series.)
10. FANS CAN WRESTLE “HOLLYWOOD” FOR A REASONABLE FEE.
Since GLOW went off the air in 1992, some cast members have continued to pursue business opportunities as a result of their notoriety. Earlier this year, Jeanne Basone, a.k.a. “Hollywood,” told Thrillist that she accepts engagements to wrestle fans in private, often in hotel rooms. “It’s mostly just fans from GLOW,” Basone said. “We are just wrestling. I make that clear from the start.”
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling