The true story behind Netflix’s superb “GLOW” is just as wild as the show

Based on a true story.
Based on a true story.
Image: Netflix
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Netflix has produced yet another unexpected summertime hit, this time in the form of a delightfully bingeable series about female professional wrestlers in the 1980s. GLOW, released last week, is equal parts hilarious and pensive, matched only in wildness by the real-life all-female wrestling league on which it’s based.

In the show, Alison Brie plays a struggling actress who finds herself auditioning for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.), the brainchild of a sleazy Hollywood director and the young hotshot producer who’s financing him. Many of the other women auditioning are also aspiring actresses, either hoping to use the gig as a stepping stone to bigger and better things or forced there because no one else would have them.

Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the creators of Netflix’s GLOW, said they were first inspired to make the series after watching a 2012 documentary about the real G.L.O.W. Never expected to be a success, the league quickly became a hit in the United States, airing on millions of TVs across the country from 1986 to 1990.

Unlike most male wrestling at the time, G.L.O.W. was celebrated for being extremely politically incorrect (many of the villainous characters were meant to be of foreign origin) and unabashedly campy. Each wrestler had her own signature rap she’d dish out before entering the ring. The show’s budget was so small that creator David McClane’s on-air office was literally a phone booth. One wrestler described it as “vaudeville mixed with Saturday Night Live mixed with wrestling.”

The women were separated into “good” and “bad” girls (wrestling fans know these categories as “faces,” or heroes, and “heels,” or villains) and lived together in a house not far from the Las Vegas casino where the show was filmed. They often acted in their personas even when the cameras were off. Many, like Emily Dole (better known as “Mountain Fiji”), became household names.

But almost as quickly as it came, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was gone. Meshulam Riklis, the magnate who financed the show, inexplicably decided to pull his funding, and in 1990 G.L.O.W. went off the air after four seasons. Continuations and revivals were attempted, but many of the performers had moved onto other things.

The documentary that inspired Flahive and Mensch is currently available on Netflix (and smartly advertised right next to the Netflix series). It’s only about 75 minutes long and well worth watching for fans of Glow—or anyone who’s interested in a wild, stranger-than-fiction story of how an all-female wrestling league became a bona fide American phenomenon, if only for the briefest of moments.