Before it was the buzzy Netflix series starring Alison Brie, “GLOW,” or Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, was an bonafide ’80s phenomenon ― a hit television show that combined athletics, music, humor and over-the-top costumes and camp into one professional wrestling extravaganza. Flamboyant characters like Big Bad Mama, Matilda the Hun and Mountain Fiji trash-talked, bodyslammed and occasionally rapped their way to huge ratings. And over 30 years later, the sisterhood is still strong.
We spoke to six of the original ladies of “GLOW” to find out what it was really like to be part of the first all-female wrestling show, and what they think of the new show they inspired.
“Melody Trouble Vixen MTV,” Eileen O’Hara, 55
Eileen was just starting out as an actress and was auditioning for a seafood broiler commercial when she stumbled upon an open “GLOW” audition happening nearby. Director Matt Cimber told her she was welcome to join the training but he thought she was going to get her “ass kicked.” Instead, she went on to play Melody Trouble Vixen MTV, the wrestling rock star who used her guitar (named Elvis) to play the hits on her opponents.
Now she’s a screenwriter, producer, actress and sci-fi/fantasy author in Tarzana, California.
How did you get involved with “GLOW”?
I was pretty skinny. I was 5’2 and probably 95 pounds, but I’m scrappy. I grew up as a tomboy on a ranch when I was a kid in northern Nevada. I handled horses and everything, so I knew I could handle myself. But I went through all the training. First cut was at two weeks, the second cut was at 4 weeks, the third cut was at 6 weeks, and at 8 weeks the one who they thought they could make characters out of, we got contracts.
Once I got in the ring, I loved it. Five minutes in the ring and you know whether you belong or not.
What do you think of the show on Netflix?
Jenji Kohan and her team, their writing is very edgy, very graphic, very in your face. I had a very adverse reaction. I was stunned, because I lived “GLOW.” I’m so proud of the accomplishment. We are not just the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, we are the award-winning Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. We were honored at the Cauliflower Alley Club this year. We got the CAC 2017 Women’s Wrestling Award, and that was a big deal, because back in the day we were not acknowledged as wrestlers. We were not acknowledged for what we did. And they awarded us for breaking the glass ceiling and being in the first all women’s league, and that did pave the way for women in sports. And that’s not really what the show is about.
What were your relationships like with the other girls?
Some of them are friends for life, and even those who aren’t my close friends, still when we’re together, there’s a bond. Because it’s almost like going into battle with someone. You’ve got each other’s backs, and you’ve gone through all this physical training. It’s grueling; it’s physically hard. And when you’re in the ring, even though you’re wrestling each other and you’re overpowering each other, you’re still not trying to take each other out. We have to take care of each other, too. It’s a very strong bond.
“Matilda The Hun,” Deanna Booher, 68
Already 34 when she joined up with “GLOW,” Deanna Booher was an experienced wrestler who fell in love with the sport when she took a college wrestling class. Under the name Queen Kong, Deanna once wrestled a bear when she couldn’t find any women to compete against. In addition to wrestling and competing in roller derby, Deanna was working as an actress and a dominatrix when she got involved with “GLOW.” As Matilda The Hun, she delighted in scaring kids in the audience by chomping on raw meat in the ring.
Deanna has written a memoir entitled “Glamazon Queen Kong: My Life Of Glitter, Guts and Glory.”
What drew you to wresting?
I had no idea that I wanted to be a professional wrestler. I just liked beating up men. I’m a big lady. And Gloria Steinem was saying, “Don’t take no stuff from men,” And I said “OK.” So I took a self-defense class and I did so well at it that I took the wrestling class next.
I was doing professional wrestling and dominating men in private and beating them up physically so I thought I was bad, and I was pretty bad. It was a lot of fun.
What was it like playing a “bad guy?”
I was the one they loved to hate. I loved to be hated as long as there was love. I did everything with a wink. I loved it when the children got scared and they’d actually cry. And then when I came out and signed autographs, they’d go, “Matilda, are you OK now?” The children just made it for me. And the women. I was so surprised we had women fans, cause I thought our show was too naughty. I thought our costumes were too racy. Not hardly.
What was the impact of “GLOW”?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “You changed my life.” They say that to all the girls, because we were a phenom. We were the first time they’d seen powerful women in all the shapes and sizes and races that they saw them in that were beautiful, feminine, strong, smart and funny. They never saw that before.
Women were not considered athletic sports heroes before that time. It wasn’t recognized like it is now. We opened the door.
“Sunny The California Girl,” Patricia Summerland, 52
At 5′10, Patricia Summerland had been teased for her height as a young track athlete who often competed against the boys. By the time she auditioned for “GLOW” in 1987 at 20 years old, she was a self-described “beach girl,” actress and Catalina Swimwear model whose wrestling-loving father convinced her to send in her headshot to a television casting request.
Her character of Sunny, the “fun and sun girl from Newport Beach, California” came about because she was blonde, tan and reminded the director of his ex-wife ― Jayne Mansfield. She still lives in California, where she works in real estate.
What does the show get right and wrong?
The way they depicted the Marc Maron character, which should be our director Matt Cimber, is definitely not him and definitely not the way it was at all. He was a great director.
They’ve enmeshed some of the characters. They’ve taken several characters and put them in one on the show. I had a child and she was 4 years old and she would come to the wrestling ring and sit and watch the bad girls. She actually loved Ninotchka instead of me. She would sit on the other side of the ring and watch Ninotchka come out and I was like “OK.”
Did you form friendships with the other women?
The bad girls couldn’t hang out with the good girls, even in real life. Matt wanted us to keep our personas that way, because for instance there could be a fan around the corner and if they saw us hanging out being chummy, that would ruin the characterization of the television show. So we always had to be separated and we would get in trouble. Matt would fine us if we were caught with a bad girl or vice versa. So the good girls formed friendships with the good girls the bad girls formed friendships with the bad girls. Now behind closed doors, you’d catch friendships happening but it was never out in public.
What was your favorite part of being a “GLOW” girl?
Seeing the children in the audience. My happiness was to enter the ring and see these cute little girls say, “Sunny we love you!” And to show women that women can be anything they want and do anything they want. They can wrestle like men. They can be tough, but not be mean or be bullies.
“Ashley Cartier,” Nadine Kadmiri, 54
Nadine was a former Raiderette cheerleader who got the interview for “GLOW” through her sports agent. Although she sometimes doubled as “Mabel,” the “hooded character from parts unknown,” her main character was Ashley Cartier, a glamorous Marilyn Monroe type who was known to file her nails in the ring. Producers even forbid her from using the gym so she’d have a curvaceous Marilyn-esque figure.
She’s now a cosmetologist in Libertyville, Illinois.
What was it like being a woman involved in such a traditionally male-dominated activity?
I was told it was a children’s show, and once we filmed there were a lot of crotch shots and things like that so I wasn’t very happy. And they also wanted my chest out, so I wasn’t very happy. My costume for the pilot was a Danskin unitard so I was always pulling it out of my rear.
There was a producer who was kind of chauvinistic. I remember being hurt ― I pulled a muscle in my leg, and not to be vulgar, but I said, “I’m hurt” and he said “Ashley, you’re nothing but a pussy. Get back in the ring” That’s the kind of stuff that we dealt with.
We lived through a lot of crap and we didn’t know any better. Then I got a job as a flight attendant and I didn’t know where the show was going and to be honest, I just thought, “This is not my life. I’m not a wrestler.” So I went on to be a flight attendant.
What was it like physically?
You know the bouncy rings? When you see WWF or whatever, you see the ring bounces. It gives. We were so low budget we had plywood with a cover over it. So imagine the potential damage that would happen. I hyperextended my back once and sprained my ankle really badly. I was afraid to wrestle, but I wanted to be in this show that could be a hit, so I just kind of overcame my fear.
“Roxy Astor,” Tracee Meltzer, 54
Tracee Meltzer was a hairdresser with no acting experience when she saw a banner on her TV screen advertising for “GLOW” girls. She sent in a picture and had an audition the following week. She was cast as Roxy Astor, one of the “Park Avenue knockouts,” despite having never been to New York.
What did you think of the new show?
I’m a little too close to home for this because I was actually living it.
It’s not really a wresting show. There was really no wrestling in it. It was a wrestling show about the characters. It wasn’t so much like “GLOW” where that’s what we did. Why did they call it the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling? They should have just called it “80s, Wrestling, Sex and Cocaine.” You’ve got my attention, I’m watching the show!
Now we have fans going, “Who had the miscarriage? Who had the abortion? Did you guys do drugs back then?” Maybe we did, but we didn’t do it out of a robot.
What was doing the show like physically?
Oh my god it was horrible. If you’re picturing it ― I’m a hairdresser from Seattle. I didn’t work out! I used to go dancing until 6 in the morning, but I didn’t work out. A lot of the girls were out of shape and smoking.
To work out was tough, to get up at 7 in the morning was tough. Some of these girls you thought you asked them to give them your firstborn to get up at 7 in the morning. We worked out a little bit and then we went right into the ring without the characters. We did not dress like that. We had rolled up sweats and our own little style going on and we just went right into the back bumps and the front bumps. I remember like the third day we couldn’t even move.
“Hollywood,” Jeanne Basone, 54
A Southern California girl born and raised, Jeanne quit her job as a phlebotomist at Burbank Medical Center and moved to Vegas when her audition for “GLOW” paid off in 1986. She played “Hollywood,” a “heel” who wrestled with another “bad guy” wrestler named “Vine.”
Today she lives part-time in Nashville, Tennessee and has her own wrestling company, Hollywouldproductions.com.
How did you get involved with “GLOW”?