UPDATE: After publishing this article, Jeanne Basone (Hollywood) mentioned that season three and four had different wages than season one and two because they got paid well enough for the time. Due to it not being a union show there were no residuals paid out to performers.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Harry S. Truman.
In 2022, women’s wrestling is flourishing. Three top promotions are leading the charge in making women’s wrestling credible: Mickie James spent 2021 creating NWA’s first all-women’s event – EMPOWERRR; Maria Kanellis created an exciting women’s tournament in Ring of Honor to crown the first ever Ring of Honor Women’s World Champion, ultimately won by current NXT superstar Roxanne Perez, followed by creating the all women’s promotion Women’s Wrestling Army, and Gail Kim heads up the IMPACT Knockouts Division bursting with talent. WWE isn’t shy in progress, and had their second ever women’s WrestleMania main event at Wrestlemania 37 Night 1.
Today, it is arguably the best time to be a fan of women’s wrestling in history. Unfortunately, women’s wrestling has spent much of its existence being looked at as an obligatory bathroom break at best, and “eye-candy” at worst. By their own admission, the WWE – who many believe to be the pinnacle of professional wrestling – as well as Triple H himself have stated that they don’t believe an all women’s event is a necessity. Mickie James has gone on record to say that she was personally told that women’s wrestling would never sell. Instead of wrestlers, they were Divas in the WWE, and instead of chasing a championship, their major incentive for competing was a chance to be on the cover of Playboy. There have been accounts of talent being told to alter their bodies, or shamed on national television by the company that employed them in the first place. Something that would never have happened to The Rock or Stone Cold, but certainly happened to a barking Trish or recently retired Lita. Unfortunately for WWE, women’s wrestling marched on, and there’s one promotion that deserves to be acknowledged for the effort they put into making women’s wrestling mean something, in an era where it was presented as very little. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, or GLOW for short.
In 1986, Hulk Hogan was deep into his first reign as the World Wrestling Federation Champion. Alongside the WWF, Jim Crockett Promotions, the American Wrestling Association, and World Class Championship Wrestling were all thriving with massive events and larger than life stars. Wendi Richter stood side-by-side with Hulk Hogan on Saturday morning cartoons, represented the company in the national market and was positioned as one of the most important people at WrestleMania 1 – seconded throughout her match by international megastar Cyndi Lauper. When Richter asked to be paid on the level of her fellow top billed star, Vince McMahon called in notorious backstage politician The Fabulous Moolah, to screw her former student out of the WWF Women’s Championship inside Madison Square Garden, infamously called “The Original Screwjob”.
At the same time, a young Dick “The Bruiser” fan had joined his now retired idol at The World Wrestling Association as an assistant/ring announcer – David McLane. The young man from Indianapolis had a vision to create a hot new women’s wrestling property, despite his mentor describing it as an “unprofitable novelty”. With an education in how to promote wrestling from the WWA, McLane would launch The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling in 1986.
After 6 weeks of training, McLane and head trainer Mando Guerrero had cut the initial pool of 500 women down to 12. With funding from Israeli businessman Meshulam Riklis, and directorial advice from “Butterfly” director Matt Cimber, GLOW was ready to record their pilot episode. GLOW would become the first full-time American women’s wrestling promotion to get a regular television syndication, choosing to forgo typical wrestling convention of regularly spaced shows, opting instead to record seasons in advance of their release on 30 major networks and 6 different countries. Mother of Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Stallone was hired as the on screen promoter, and “House mother”. GLOW relied heavily on the entertainment aspect of wrestling, with over the top gimmicks, comedy skits, and rapping to hype up upcoming matches. But in the eyes of McLane, the in ring action felt short of what he felt the ladies could deliver. Not content with this, he would leave to create another promotion called The Powerful Women of Wrestling, taking a number of performers with him, including Babe the Farmer’s Daughter, Matilda the Hun, and Tina Ferrari, all of whom were integral parts of GLOW’s success. Through his relationship with Dick, David was able to acquire a partnership between POWW (yes, that’s the actual acronym) and the AWA, meaning the likes of Alundra Blayze, Luna Vachon, and Wendi Richter could face off with GLOW alumnae.
In 2012, the history of GLOW was made into an incredible documentary, and 5 years later Netflix would create an original series based on the cultural phenomenon, starring Alison Brie, Marc Maron, Kate Nash, and former multi-time women’s champion, Awesome Kong. After 3 Seasons, multiple awards, a Funko Pop line and comic series, Netflix’s GLOW would suffer the same fate as the original, and was canceled, due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a big fan of the promotion I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves for what it represented and when, and I wanted to keep its legacy alive. That, and I wanted an excuse to interview some of the original talent, to get their perspectives almost 30 years after the original’s cancellation.
What killed GLOW?
A television sensation, and a promotion that earnestly put women’s wrestling front and center, somehow, GLOW came to an end. We have to question why. Allegedly, the majority of GLOW was funded by Meshulam Riklis, a casino mogul, who claimed to have a net worth of a billion dollars in the 90’s. Riklis owned the Riviera hotel in Las Vegas, the filming location for the first 2 seasons of GLOW, and the home for most of the talent. At the time, Riklis was married to Pia Zadora, actress from cinematic hits such as “Santa Claus conquers the Martians”, “Pajama Tops”, & “Butterfly” (on which she worked with GLOW Director Matt Cimber), which won her a Golden Globe award for New Star and a Golden Raspberry award for Worst New Star. According to some reports, Riklis was getting some, ahem glow, on the side, and Zadora didn’t approve. I don’t know why anyone would be surprised that he potentially cheated after telling People magazine “when I see a girl onstage, I want my tongue to hang out and my body to quiver.” Of course this dude isn’t against cheating. Some people believe that the affair between Riklis and an unnamed performer is one of the potential reasons for the cancellation, but it’s more likely that it was a financial issue.
Despite GLOW being a massive critical success, it wasn’t much of a financial success. Unlike the bigger promotions at the time, GLOW didn’t have the luxury of traveling the world or even throughout the States. A large portion of a wrestling company’s revenue comes from merchandise and touring, neither of which were an option for GLOW. Many people claim that thousands of people waited at the doors to purchase tickets for a show, but the episodes showed maybe 100 people in attendance. That’s not to say that GLOW didn’t draw, but that they didn’t have the available space to be able to draw in large enough quantities to make them financially viable. They lost potential profits because the venue wasn’t big enough, though I don’t think GLOW would have been as fun with thousands of fans in attendance. GLOW was a very personal, very intimate show, and packing a stadium with fans would have taken that particular quality away. As flawed as the financial side of GLOW was, it unfortunately didn’t have the legs to carry itself the distance. Not everyone had the bottomless pockets that the McMahons did, and GLOW was one of the many, in a long list of promotions that couldn’t survive the McMahonification of pro-wrestling.
The Darkness of GLOW
It’s important to acknowledge the good with the bad, and there was a lot of bad. The talent suffered from a lot of downfalls, but the most un-shocking of all, was being employed by a male authority in a time when looks mattered. Angelina Altishin, known to GLOW fans as Little Egypt, had the gimmick of a belly dancer, complete with a hip scarf, badlah (proper name for the costume being worn), and a bright gold bra. According to Altishin, Matt Cimber had an issue with how the bra looked, claiming it looked similar to a grandmother’s bra. Cimber told the costume designer to make it smaller and sexier. A week later, Altishin suffered a wardrobe malfunction, resulting in her breasts being exposed to the live audience. She wasn’t the only one diminished or embarrassed by Cimber. Christina Smith (Evangelina) was constantly told by Cimber that she wasn’t good enough, and didn’t know why he kept her around. Smith spent the majority of her life struggling with depression, and attempted to take her life at just 15. After not being able to handle it anymore, Smith would make an attempt on her life outside of the wrestler’s apartment complex. The GLOW girls would rush her to the hospital, and attempt to convince Cimber not to fire her. Cimber agreed, later stating “I could not bear that her death was going to be on me, so I kept her.” While not admitting to any verbal abuse, Cimber has said that he was “very tough on them.” Lori Palmer (Ninotchka) claimed that they made almost no money, or residuals from GLOW. Matilda the Hun and Sharon Wilinsky (Chainsaw) received injuries that would negatively impact their lives years later.
These are all pretty bad/terrible things, but I think the worst of all was the treatment of Mt. Fiji. When looking back at GLOW, it was pretty clear to see that Mt. Fiji was the face of the company, and a lot of GLOW’s success can be attributed to her passion for the promotion. Unfortunately, Mt. Fiji, real name Emily Dole, was suffering from Bipolar Disorder, which 2.3 million Americans are currently diagnosed with. On the same day as Evangelina’s downward spiral, Mt. Fiji also had a depressive episode. Paramedics were called, and it ended with Fiji strapped to a table, pumped full of lithium, and thrown into a padded room. The absolute carelessness in how Cimber and medical professionals handled Fiji’s breakdown is kind of horrifying, and while the uptick in support for mental health is increasing in 2021, the same can’t be said for how it was handled in 1986. While the people running GLOW cared about producing an entertaining show, they certainly didn’t care about the entertainers themselves. These women put their absolute souls into their characters and GLOW itself, so it’s a shame that many of them went through so much tragedy for a promotion that they say they have zero regrets working for. Today, Beckie Mullen (Sally the Farmer’s Daughter) and Emily Dole (Mt. Fiji) are no longer with us and many talents have gone on to live relatively normal lives, but almost universally, they are absolutely thrilled to have helped create the legacy of GLOW.
An Unlikely Future
GLOW doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Since the very beginning of professional wrestling, performers have used “gimmicks” -the character that the wrestler plays. Chief Jay Strongbow played an indigenous person as his gimmick, even though he was specifically of Italian descent. Kamala played a Ugandan Warrior. For a long time, the majority of gimmicks were extremely racist, and even problematic. That’s not to say that all gimmicks are racist – the most famous gimmick of all is that of a walking zombie magician.
The mainstream pinnacle of wrestling for the longest time has been the WWE, and they have spent the majority of their history creating and cultivating gimmicks, some better than others. GLOW took the idea of gimmicks, injected it with steroids, and flew that monstrosity down a mountain in a flaming tank. Everyone had a gimmick, and even their gimmicks were questionable. Big Bad Momma was presented as a large, black voodoo woman from Louisiana, and Little Egypt was of Turkish descent and portrayed an Egyptian with a belly dancer gimmick. To play up on America’s fears of anything from the Middle East, Palestina was a sword wielding militant. The original Netflix show would make this a pivotal talking point throughout the series. Even their top prize was a gimmick: instead of competing for a World Title belt, they competed for The GLOW Championship Crown.
GLOW knew that they weren’t putting on a WRESTLING show, but were instead putting on a wrestling SHOW. That’s made more obvious with their gimmick matches. In their entirety, they had 21 gimmick matches. For a company that lasted nearly 8 years, that’s pretty impressive in how little they relied on them. We’ve seen major promotions use gimmick matches to further a feud, or when they’ve run out of ideas, on a semi-regular basis since the dawn of the attitude era to now. Dog Poo match, anyone? Now, GLOW isn’t free from criticism. They once booked a “2 out of 3 falls Apartheid match”. They also had a “Gestapo match” and the questionably sexist “Laundry match”.
Since its massive success, other promotions tried emulating what GLOW had, but none of them really came close. David McLane tried creating the Powerful Women of Wrestling, and while that featured appearances from some top notch talent, it didn’t garner the same legacy as GLOW. In 1999 the Gorgeous Women of Outrageous Wrestling was born, and featured performances by Nicole Bass, Ryan Shamrock, and *checks notes* that’s about it. After running 3 shows in 1999, it quietly died, but was reborn in 2006 as the Dangerous Women of Wrestling, which featured performances from Angel Orsini, Sumie Sakai, and iconic female trailblazer, Blue Meanie. Another promoter took the idea of a strong, female wrestling promotion, built on gimmicks, and decided to strip that idea of all its dignity, creating the Naked Women’s Wrestling League. The NWWL had a roster consisting of Carmen Electra, Melissa Coats, and April Hunter, as well as some pretty forgettable adult models. A few years after starting, hostess of the company, Carmen Electra, sued the promotion for breach of contract, and failure to pay. The promotion died out soon after. Not content with one promotion being able to wrestle topless, Dave Milan launched Women’s Erotic Wrestling, though the Erotic was often swapped with Extreme, probably for obvious reasons. The two promotions did run concurrently, and you can bet that you saw Coates and Hunter show up, as well as Mercedes Martinez, a young Mickie James, and Shelly Martinez as a character called Cle-Ho-Patra. The promotion would run events called “In Ring Sex Play”, “Kickin Ass Ghetto Booty Style”, and “Nude Sex War”.
While these companies tried to emulate what GLOW had, they couldn’t have been further from the mark. While GLOW did have sexualized themes, and the performers weren’t the most talented, they did put women’s wrestling at the forefront, and showed that women were a draw, even getting better ratings than the WWE at the time, and there aren’t many things that have that honor. Today, GLOW’s spiritual successor is the Women of Wrestling (WOW) promotion founded in 2000 by David McLane, and owned by Jeanie Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. The promotion doesn’t rely on outward sexualization, is rich with character gimmicks and bolsters a roster of exceptional talent, like Holidead, Diamante, Keta Rush, and Alisha Edwards. When you look at the roster for WOW, it’s easy to spot a number of performers who would have fit perfectly in GLOW. A few standouts to me are Spike (Hudson Envy), Mezmeriah, Siren (Nina Monet), Fury (Harlow O’Hara), and especially Razor (Sarah the Rebel). Still in the infancy of her career, Razor has competed against some of the fastest rising stars in the sport, including Marti Belle, Billie Starkz, Anna Jayy, Keta Rush, and Viva Van. Outside of WOW, Max the Impaler is another talent deep into their gimmick, and rightfully so. If you take two looks at Max, the first look will leave you stunned, and the second will probably be begging them to not eviscerate you. Keep an eye on these performers, because the legacy of GLOW is resting peacefully with them.
Will GLOW shine again?
Like “Deathrace 2000” or “Eraserhead”, GLOW has a strong cult-like following. It doesn’t have millions of fans, but the ones it does have will tell you why GLOW is so important to the wrestling world. I’ll climb Mt. Everest to die stating that GLOW did more for women’s wrestling than a lot of promotions do, even today. I contacted a number of performers from GLOW, in hopes of rounding out some beliefs that people have about it’s legacy.
The first contact was a no brainer; Jeanne Basone, better known as Hollywood. Hollywood holds the distinction that no one else in GLOW can possess, and that’s being the first GLOW girl. When asked how she was chosen, Hollywood said “In the beginning of the first training sessions with Mondo he had asked all of the girls which one of you can ram your head into the turnbuckle and land on your back? I immediately raised my hand first. David Mclane saw that and said this girl is hired! He said I was number one followed by Americana then Tina Ferrari.” Though she wasn’t a fan of wrestling before GLOW, and her only experience with it was on the TV when she visited her grandfather, her lack of knowledge wasn’t an impediment to her playing the role to near perfection. In fact, a lot of the girls had an athletic background. This is why the idea that “they were actresses and not real wrestlers” doesn’t sit right with me, and Hollywood agrees. “Ignorance is bliss. Professional Wrestler Mondo Guerrero comes from a family of wrestlers, and he began wrestling in 1971 . He was hired by David McLane to train the first 12 pilot girls. I was one of the 12. Most of us had a sports background, some were cheerleaders, gymnasts and some were actresses. All of the girls took those bumps night after night and in front of a live audience. The Haters don’t know the facts…the truth… how hard we worked and what an amazing job we did!”
Today, we constantly see people from other sports joining wrestling, and no one bats an eye. Alexa Bliss and Naomi were both cheerleaders before the WWE, tons of wrestlers had football careers prior to WWE, and the biggest story in WWE throughout 2018-2019 was the signing of Olympic Bronze medalist, former UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion, and one of the most dominant fighters in history, Ronda Rousey.
Sandy Manley (Gremlina) also let me know the intense amount of training that went into becoming a GLOW girl. “We trained as wrestlers from 9 am to after 5, 5 to 6 days a week. We had curfews and rules, and no drugs, [no] smoking was strictly enforced.” Being a part of GLOW wasn’t a hobby and the girls trained more than an average forty hour work week. The thing that really infuriates me is how adamant people are that GLOW wasn’t a real wrestling promotion, because it hired actresses. Harrison Ford doesn’t actually hunt for treasure, and certainly didn’t shoot Greedo first. Like it or not, wrestlers are actors and actresses. Not only is that true, but we live in a time where wrestling is crossing over into the mainstream in a big way. The Starz original show “Heels”, starring Stephen Amell has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, Netflix is working on a movie about Vince McMahon, and Chris Hemsworth is starring in a Hulk Hogan biopic – all examples of a wrestling world that isn’t confined to the wrestling promotions. Sure, a lot of the GLOW girls didn’t go off and have prosperous careers in this business, but that doesn’t make them any less responsible for the massive changes they made with GLOW, for women’s wrestling.
It’s now 2022 and GLOW has been gone for thirty years, but that’s not all bad. At any point, we could see the illustrious return of the franchise that started the growth of women’s wrestling (at least in the United States), but that’s not going to happen. That’s certainly not for lack of interest. In 2001, Ursula Hayden, better known to GLOW fans as Babe the Farmer’s Daughter, purchased the company, and all of its rights. Hayden, claiming that “the girls still wanted to wrestle”, asked Riklis to borrow the company to put on some shows. At that point, Riklis “was just so done with GLOW” and sold the company to Hayden, sight unseen. Since the purchase, I have not been able to track down a single GLOW event, and I think there is a reason for that. Ursula Hayden purchased the company, not to boost GLOW’s legacy, but her own.
Twitter appears to have two official GLOW accounts; the first being @GLOWwrestling, and the second being @glowrestling. @GLOWwrestling links to a facebook group run by Hollywood and the Royal Hawaiian. @glowrestling linked to the official GLOW website, which is no longer in use. While the link was live, it didn’t promote the GLOW girls, and instead it appeared to only promote Ursula herself. The GLOW instagram account @glowwrestling has nearly 8,000 followers. Can you guess who the profile picture is of?…
Gorgeousladiesofwrestling.com was, without a doubt, the absolute official GLOW website. There, you could buy official merchandise, send fan mail, see photos, and learn about GLOW’s history. Two things stuck out to me about the site prior to closing down; the social media links, and the tab that says “Owner of GLOW”. Every social media site that was linked on the site linked to a personal profile of Ursula Hayden. When clicking the links for the “official” Twitter and Instagram for GLOW, it stated in the bio “Mother of @AlaskaRenee” before stating anything about GLOW.
Nowhere on the website does it talk directly about individual performers, or their contributions to GLOW. In talking with Hollywood and Gremlina, they had some thoughts about it. Hollywood said “I think it would’ve been lovely to somehow incorporate/promote more work for the ladies.” In reference to Ursula working with Netflix for the GLOW series, Hollywood said “I was surprised that they didn’t hire any of the GLOW girls for cameos. Perhaps Ursula could’ve been more vocal when she made the deal to lease the trademark to Netflix. I know that if I was is in charge I would’ve made sure the girls had a role in it.” Gremlina gave a very diplomatic answer, saying “I am fine with [Ursula owning GLOW], and happy the name is still out there. I own my character Gremlina, and never signed a waiver to give that up.” I have reached out to Ursula multiple times to get some sort of comment, but have yet to hear back.
GLOW isn’t for everyone, and I understand that. It’s corny, campy, and a far cry from what modern fans define as wrestling. It wasn’t the best wrestling, and you probably would be hard pressed to find a GLOW match in a list of “best matches”. There weren’t many iconic moments, or events that were noteworthy. At best, GLOW just existed, and that’s not such a bad thing, especially during the time that it did – sometimes it’s more than enough to simply exist, especially in the world of wrestling As the adage goes, you cannot be what you cannot see, so having representation, no matter how small is still inspirational.
In 2022, women are still fighting to be looked at as equals, both in-ring, and the real world. I’m extremely happy that women’s wrestling has multiple avenues for success. It took 35 years to have a women’s main event at WrestleMania, and it doesn’t feel good to know that. At some point, I hope that wrestling’s misogynistic history ceases to continue, and it won’t be much of a shock to see a woman win a major company’s main championship. In 2006, LuFisto became the first woman to win the CZW Iron Man Championship, making her also the first woman to win a championship in CZW history. In 2015, Kimber Lee won the Chikara Grand Championship, which, to my knowledge, makes her the first woman in wrestling history to win a company’s main championship.
Finally, in 2020, Tessa Blanchard won the Impact World Championship, making her the first female to do so in a non-independent promotion. I don’t want to be shocked at these three monumental moments in wrestling, and me being able to only come up with three examples in a sport that has lasted since the early 1900’s isn’t an inclusive look. GLOW, LuFisto, Kimber Lee, Tessa Blanchard, and a slew of exceptional talent have made women’s wrestling credible, and ensured that women’s wrestling is on the path to equality. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 35 years, and we can continue seeing women’s world champions from here on out.
Leave a Reply