On Friday, Netflix will retread a small slice of '80s history with GLOW, a retro dramedy about the nascent days of televised women's wrestling. The cast is stacked with a wide range of actors playing bold but scrappy characters: Alison Brie as self-important protagonist Ruth Wilder, Betty Gilpin as scorned ex-soap star Debbie Eagen. But while the series itself is fictional, it has a real-life touchstone: the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a low-budget show that ran from 1986 to 1992. We know that Brie and co. come from Hollywood roots, but were the original GLOW wrestlers actors, too?
According to G.L.O.W.: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of the league, the women were a mix of aspiring actors, models, and fitness enthusiasts, though there were also a handful of bona fide athletes; Emily "Mt. Fiji" Doyle was a national shot putter, while Dee "Matilda the Hun" Booher was a semi-pro wrestler who once went head-to-head with a bear in the ring.
Unlike the actors of GLOW, however, they didn't have much weight in the industry when they signed on to the team, as they were largely newcomers just starting to get their footing. Instead, they were recruited by hotel owner Meshulam Riklis and producer David McLane, who put out a call for up-and-comers looking to break into TV. It was only after they joined G.L.O.W. that they were professionally trained under wrestling legend Mando Guerrero.
The women of G.L.O.W. eventually catapulted into global phenomenons. In-ring, they crafted colorful, costumed personas, put on raps and skits, and body-slammed their way to stardom. Outside of the ring, they appeared in Married with Children and Family Feud and frequented the talk show circuit.
But as quickly as it had started, it was over: G.L.O.W. was suddenly and unexpectedly canceled in 1990. For some of the women, the doc explains, G.L.O.W. was a bizarre sidestep on the way to normalcy, and they went on to have jobs ranging from minister to auto mechanic. For others, it was the genesis of a career. Lisa Moretti, who went by Tina Ferrari, became a WWE champion, while Matilda the Hun wrestled until she was 50.
Netflix's GLOW is a loose interpretation of this neon tale of grit and glam. As Ruth, Brie is a wannabe actor grasping for a breakthrough when she finds one last shot at fame in the unlikely world of women's wrestling, leading to a vibrant, fun, and fiery sojourn that lives up to G.L.O.W.'s legacy.