ByMatt Kranis, writer at
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis
Matt Kranis

The world of wrestling has traditionally been dominated by men, but thankfully we'll get a taste of female wrestlers in the upcoming Netflix original series GLOW. The show, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, takes inspiration from '80s syndicated wrestling series GLOW, also known as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and has just found its lead character in the form of Community and Mad Men star Alison Brie.

According to Deadline, Brie will star as Ruth, a struggling actress in Los Angeles looking for a way to live out her dreams of glamor and stardom. And she finds exactly what she wants when she lands a gig on . Flahive and Mensch will serve as showrunners, though they'll have some help thanks to Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Cohen, who serves as an executive producer on the project.

Thankfully, the creators and cast will have plenty of reference material thanks to the real-life wrestling league. G.L.O.W. was a syndicated wrestling show that aired for four seasons from 1986 to 1990, filled with over-the-top storylines, crazy characters and plenty of action — and that's just what happened in front of the camera. If you're not familiar with the show you're in luck, because we're getting ready for the new series with a look at the true story behind Netflix's GLOW.

Starting The Female WWF

G.L.O.W. was created in 1985 by series director Matt Cimber and wrestling promoter David McLane based on an earlier promotion created by McLane and Jackie Stallone — the mother of action icon Sylvester Stallone. Stallone stayed on to help promote the show and its stars, and the duo got even more help thanks to Meshulam Riklis, the owner of the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Riklis gave G.L.O.W. a home turf at the hotel, where nearly every episode of the syndicated series was shot.

The group essentially created G.L.O.W. as a female version of the WWF (now the WWE), but with one major exception — the wrestlers weren't pros. Some had no interest in the sport. Instead, organizers held an open casting call in Los Angeles that resulted in a roster of actresses, models and other amateurs looking to break into the world of TV alongside a few more seasoned wrestlers. And while there was plenty of wrestling on G.L.O.W., the show also included musical numbers and comedy sketches that often overshadowed the body slams. It was a wrestling show with more kitsch than normal, with the "glitz and glamor" of a Las Vegas hotel (which doesn't even exist today) combined with a style that bordered between campy fun and stupid shenanigans.

A Colorful Cast Of Wrestlers

Aunt Kitty and Jackie Stallone alongside some wrestlers. [Credit: David McLane Enterprises]
Aunt Kitty and Jackie Stallone alongside some wrestlers. [Credit: David McLane Enterprises]

Of course, every wrestling league needs its superstars, and luckily G.L.O.W. had more than enough to go around. Cimber came up with wild characters for each one of the wrestlers while watching them during training, and then threw them in the ring to duke it out for supremacy.

Mt. Fiji shows off her incredible strength. [Credit: David McLane Enterprises]
Mt. Fiji shows off her incredible strength. [Credit: David McLane Enterprises]

Like many leagues, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling were divided into two camps, each led by its own promoter. Jackie Stallone led one crew with Kitty Burke, a.k.a. Aunt Kitty, leading another. Naturally, the rivalry drove much of the drama and resulted in its signature match-ups. And the characters were certainly outlandish. You had the hardcore duo Heavy Metal, country themed fighter Babe the Farmer's Daughter, straight-laced cheerleader Vicky Victory and G.L.O.W.'s resident beach girl the California Doll among more. And of course there was Mt. Fiji, a 5'11" Samoan-American and former shot putter who was arguably the show's biggest star.

As would be expected, the series played up the sex appeal of its wrestlers, but it wasn't really about sex. As Cimber put it:

"Everybody thought G.L.O.W. was about sex. But it wasn't at all. The sex was in your mind."

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The Series Was Pretty Popular

Average folks today probably have no idea what G.L.O.W. was, but at the peak of its run the show was actually pretty well know for what was essentially an indie wrestling league.

G.L.O.W.'s Big Bad Mama faces off with Al Bundy on "Married With Children." [Credit: Fox]
G.L.O.W.'s Big Bad Mama faces off with Al Bundy on "Married With Children." [Credit: Fox]

G.L.O.W. racked up millions of viewers over its four seasons, which included 500 matches between its female fighters. And the notoriety led to appearances by the league's superstars on Fox's Married With Children as well as long-running syndicated talk show Donahue and host Bob Eubanks's gameshow Card Sharks.

Those extra appearances might not seem impressive today, but remember, this was an era before social media or reality TV, two elements that would have definitely helped the wild cast of G.L.O.W. gain fame. The fact that the show was as popular as it was, especially when the WWF was so dominant over the wrestling world, is an impressive feat.

The Ugly Side Of G.L.O.W.

G.L.O.W. may have shined a spotlight on women in wrestling, but it wasn't the female-focused sports utopia you might expect. Outside the ring, wrestlers were forced to endure rigorous training schedules to learn routines and stay in top condition for matches. Even worse, McLane and Cimber demanded that their stars leave their homes and move to a communal house in Vegas to be near production at all times.

Cimber was also known to belittle the women as a means of motivating them, repeatedly calling them fat and criticizing their looks. It's also rumored that famous trainer Mondo Guerrero choke-held a performer into submission during rehearsal, pushing his training of the amateur wrestlers too far.

Palestina was a racist Middle Eastern caricature. [Credit: David McLane Enterprises]
Palestina was a racist Middle Eastern caricature. [Credit: David McLane Enterprises]

Unfortunately, the promotion also dealt with its fair share of stereotypical, racist characters. Look no further than Palestina, a wrestler styled as a Middle Eastern terrorist, to see what I mean. Other examples include stereotypical Latina Spanish Red and the voodoo practicing Big Bad Momma. While they weren't the worst we've ever seen, the stereotypes show that G.L.O.W. organizers were more than willing to capitalize on cheap gimmicks and backwards worldviews to gain fans.

GLOW showrunners have a lot of great elements to work with when creating their new series. The comedic opportunities provided by the ridiculous wrestling show and its even more outlandish stars combined with more dramatic elements of rigorous training and questionable behind the scenes practices should be a great combination for the Netflix show. The streaming service has already positioned itself as a strong proponent of female-driven entertainment with Orange Is The New Black, and GLOW is poised to take that style to a whole new level.

GLOW is set for a 10-episode Season 1 on Netflix, though there's no word yet on when the show will premiere. Are you excited for a look inside the world of women's wrestling? Let us know in the comments below.

(Sources: Deadline, Fusion, LA Weekly, Willamette Week)


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