Netflix‘s GLOW is now available to stream, so you might be wondering if any of the show is based on reality. While all the characters are fictional and creations from writers Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the idea of a “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” show is not. During the second half of the 1980s, there was a real “G.L.O.W.” and it still exists!
The original syndicated GLOW program launched in 1986 and ran until 1990. Many of the women in the show were just like Ruth Wilding, the character Alison Brie (Community) plays in the Netflix series. They had dreams of becoming TV or movie stars and this was their starting point.
Here’s what you need to know about the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
1. ‘GLOW’ Was Directed by the Real-Life Disgraced Director of ‘Butterfly’
The original GLOW was created by David B. McLane, an announcer and promoter for Duck The Bruiser’s World Wrestling Association (WWA). Bruiser thought it was a silly idea and McLane was asked to drop it, which is usually a key part of all great Hollywood stories. There’s always someone to tell you that your idea is terrible.
As The Las Vegas Review Journal notes, McLane, who was only 24 at the time, took his idea to Los Angeles. He put notices in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Over 500 women responded to the ad and showed up at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach. That group was whittled down to just 12 women.
The co-creator of what audiences eventually saw on TV was Matt Climber, who co-wrote and directed several episodes. Climber is famous for one thing: directing Pia Zadora in the notoriously terrible 1982 movie Butterfly. Zadora infamously won a Golden Globe for that film and is the wife of Meshulam Riklis, a businessman who owned GLOW until 2001.
Rilkis enters the picture after McLane and Irv Holdender founded distributor Independent Network Incorporated. They made a deal with Rilkis, who owned the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where G.L.O.W. would be filmed. Once the project moved to Vegas, showgirls joined the group of 12 to expand the roster.
“Well, there was a climate back then when anything could go and the boundaries were completely stretched to see what line could be crossed and then pulled back,” McLane told the Review-Journal in 2017.
Climber might be the inspiration behind Marc Maron’s character Sam Sylvia.
2. Sylvester Stallone’s Mom Played the ‘Owner’ of GLOW & the Manager of the Good Girls Team
The “owner” of G.L.O.W. in the show was Jacqueline “Jackie” Stallone, better known as Sylvester Stallone’s mother. She was also the manager of the “Good Girls” in the show.
“They asked me if I’d be interested in handling the girls,” Stallone told People Magazine in 1988. “I liked the concept. We’re trying to accomplish female physical fitness in the United States. But my real goal is to get female wrestling into the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.”
Stallone was a wrestler herself and her parents, John and Madeleine, were both fitness freaks. John, Sylvester Stallone’s grandfather, trained with the real Charles Atlas. Madeleine swam the English Channel.
In her People Magazine interview, Stallone said she really wanted to get in the ring herself, but the producers wouldn’t let her.
“I suddenly wanted to get into the ring,” Stallone told People Magazine in 1988. “The girls tried to get me offstage. I wasn’t supposed to be violent, but I got carried away. I slugged, I kicked, I punched, I screamed, I was a raving maniac. If my kids ever see the tape they’ll be horrified. But I thought it was my chance to shine again, and they were taking it away from me.”
3. Retired WWE Wrestler Ivory Was ‘Tina Ferrari’ in GLOW
Lisa Moretti, who is best known to WWE fans as Ivory, got her start as a wrestler in GLOW. She performed under the name Tina Ferrari and appeared in the first two seasons. Moretti is now retired and opened Downtown Dog in Friday Harbor, Washington. She moved to San Juan Island in 2005.
During the second season, there was an effort to make GLOW more comedic, and McLane stepped aside from his job as ring announcer. By the end of the fourth season, the company was in financial trouble and a fifth season was filmed, but never aired. There was an ill-fated attempt to revive the show in 1991, which only resulted in a Pay Per View special directed by Andrew Hecker.
James Maybury, the owner of the latest GLOW memorabilia in the world, told the Hollywood Reporter that the league “had an energy none of the other wrestling [leagues] had. It was a moment in time. You were there and understood it, or you missed it. And I feel sorry for you if you missed it.”
Climber was not happy with Netflix, telling THR that they never contacted him about GLOW. “Netflix has totally ignored me… And they might be in for a rude awakening,” he said.
4. GLOW Is Now Owned by Former Wrestler Ursula Hayden
Today, Ursula Hayden is owns GLOW. She bought the brand in 2001 and was a wrestler on the show herself. She performed as “Babe, The Farmer’s Daughter.”
There’s not much left of GLOW though. The league’s website sells DVDs of specific episodes and there is an Instagram page that celebrates a revival in interest.
Hayden has been supportive of the Netflix show. She told Geek Exchange that she was “very excited” to team up with Netflix. She also shared a photo of her meeting with the show’s creators.
“Female wrestlers today are just fantastic, however, I do miss the humor GLOW Wrestling gave to us,” Hayden told Geek Exchange. “This new GLOW show will fill this need in a big way with a laugh, a kick, and a smile – thank you Netflix!”
5. Carly Mensch & Liz Flahive Didn’t Even Know About GLOW Until They Saw the Documentary
In 2012, director Brett Whitcomb’s GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling debuted to critical acclaim, picking up several awards on the film festival circuit. In an interview with Paste Magazine, co-creator Liz Flahive said she and co-creator Carly Mensch didn’t even know the league existed until they saw the documentary.
Flahive explained to Paste:
We had never heard of GLOW, but once we saw the documentary and the emotion of the women talking about that time, we watched old episodes of GLOW. We thought “this is bananas, how have we never heard of this and how has no one touched this yet!” We wanted to make it our own thing so we talked about the kind of characters we wanted to create for the show, then we emailed Jenji Kohan to ask her if she wanted to work on a wrestling show about women in the ‘80s and she immediately said yes. When we pitched the show to Netflix, they understood it right away. Everything has felt very fortunate, the right people coming together to make the thing that we intended.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, the writers noted that what really attracted them to the story of GLOW was the camaraderie between the women wrestlers. After all, most of them didn’t even know how to wrestle when they joined up.
“They became incredibly close during training,” Flahive told Vanity Fair. “It was this great equalizer because they were all vulnerable, taking physical risks, and putting their safety in each other’s hands. That was before they even got a script.”