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The True Story Behind GLOW, The Groundbreaking Women's Wrestling Show From The '80s

Updated August 15, 2019 15.0k views13 items

In the 1980s, many considered female wrestlers little more than sideshow attractions - until producer David McLane created a groundbreaking TV show called the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. Better known as GLOW, the series evolved women's wrestling by packing matches, comedy skits, and scandalous political commentary into every hour-long episode. 

GLOW's initial wrestlers lacked training, as many were actors or dancers merely looking for their big Hollywood break. But the group of young women prepped for weeks to become professional, and put together a show that dazzled audiences for more than 100 episodes.

So where are they now? The original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling may lead quieter lives these days, but Netflix continues to tell their story. The network's fictionalized spin on the GLOW tale released in 2017, and serves as a surprisingly authentic tribute to the women who changed the face of wrestling forever.

  • Most Of The Performers Had Never Wrestled Before

    Most of the women featured on the original show lacked any wrestling experience. Actors, singers, or dancers, the new wrestlers trained extensively to sell the show and prevent injuries. The only woman with experience under her belt, Dee Booher, played Matilda the Hun. Though she competed previously, women's matches at that time were uncommon. In fact, she wasn't even allowed to wrestle men - so she once fought a full-grown bear.

    For the Netflix series, the creators looked for women without wrestling experience, as well. Weeks before shooting began, the actors trained to become wrestlers - mirroring the first scenes of the new series. Most of the women on the Netflix show perform their own stunts, including lead Alison Brie. The show even replicates the actors' training environment: an old, run-down gym with a "dirty, stinky" wrestling platform.

  • The 'Heels' And 'Faces' Played Out Cold War Era Stereotypes

    In wrestling, "heels" refers to the villains and "faces" the heroes. For GLOW, the producers applied the good versus bad dynamic to cultural stereotypes - particularly those associated with the Cold War.

    Characters like the Russian Communist Ninotchka and the terrorist Palestina played upon the fears and unspoken worries of the general public. The faces, meanwhile, consisted of characters like the ultra-American Babe the Farmer's Daughter.

  • The Show Combined Wrestling With Politics, Skits, And Adult Humor

    GLOW director Matt Cimber reveled in being politically incorrect, and the show pushed boundaries in every episode. The series featured much more than wrestling, including raps and musical numbers, skits, and scenes filmed at the apartment building where the women lived - all in vaudeville style. Beyond mere entertainment, the sketches gave the inexperienced performers a break from the ring and the risk of accidental injury.

    The comedic and cartoonish sketches often involved a layer of commentary and lacked political correctness. Intentionally offensive, the characters of Ninotchka, Matilda the Hun, and Palestina used their monologues before matches to promote Communism, discuss weapons and war, or generally trash-talk America. 

  • Many Of The Characters Would Be Considered Culturally Offensive Today

    GLOW openly and enthusiastically pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the 1980s, but few of the characters would fly today. The cast of GLOW featured dozens of women over the years, and some of the most offensive included Big Bad Mama the Voodoo Queen, Palestina the Middle Eastern terrorist, and Little Egypt the belly dancer. Not to mention Jailbait, Jungle Woman, Spanish Red, and Cheyenne Cher.