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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling


We're the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
We're all champions in the ring
We come from the streets, we come from the city
We come from a world where there is no pity

Chances are excellent, if you were watching television from 1986-1990, you remember that jaunty rap. The engaging documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling turns the clock back to the rollicking, go-go '80s, when the dream of a babyfaced, tuxedoed impressario and lifelong wrestling fan named David McLane vividly came to life. McLane's vision: that there be an all-women wrestling television program. (Sadly, McLane declined participating in this documentary, which is akin to doing Hamlet without Hamlet.) No one had any idea then what an indelible imprint GLOW would make on pop culture, still fondly remembered two decades later.

We meet many of GLOW's biggest stars as they were then and as they are today. Among the GLOW alumni interviewed for the documentary are Mountain Fiji (Emily Dole), Ninotchka (Lorilyn Palmer), Big Bad Mama (Lynn Braxton), Tina Ferrari (Lisa Moretti), Hollywood (Jeanne Basone), Mathilda the Hun (Dee Booher), Americana (Cindy Ferda), Little Egypt (Angelina Altishin), and Godiva (Dawn Rice). The GLOW girls personallly tell their story; about how as fledgling actresses in their late teens and early 20's, they answered a casting call to appear on a television program in LA in 1986 (which said nothing about professional wrestling). They endured "GLOW boot camp" run by wrestling legend Mando Guerrero, who had the unenviable task of turning this gaggle of amateurs into semi-competent performers who wouldn't kill each other or themselves in the ring. The GLOW girls dish on the rigors and joys of performing and living in the famed Rivera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, how GLOW's meteoric rise turned them into a television phenomenon, its abrupt cancellation in 1990, and what life was like in the after-GLOW.

Revelations in the documentary include director Matt Cimber as the mastermind behind the various characters the GLOW girls portrayed (which pushed the envelope to be as stereotypical as possible to "offend as many groups as possible" for the sake of comedy). Steve Blance, the referee and later "GLOW Commissioner" was actually the head writer of the program and its campy skits and famous rap songs. The infamous Housewives tag team were actually portrayed by the same women who played Chainsaw and Spike. Also, Godiva wasn't actually British! Nor was Ninotchka actually Russian! So many childhood memories shattered. The documentary also reminds us of one of the most famous and excruciating moments of GLOW's history: the moment when Susie Spirit gruesomely broke her arm during a match. Other GLOW girls also suffered accidents in the ring. Outside of the ring, the girls bristled under strict curfews not unlike in the Playboy Mansion: being forced to be in their rooms by 10pm and being penalized with fines for misbehavior. 

The centerpiece of the documentary is the reunion of the GLOW girls, assembled for the first time together over two decades later. (GLOW was cancelled so abruptly, there was never a farewell show or a chance for the girls to say goodbye to each other.) Most of them now in their mid-40s, the GLOW girls gathered at a hotel with members of the old production crew (Cimber attended but not McLane) to reminisce and rap the old GLOW rap once more for old time's sake. Many of the GLOW girls moved on to success in various aspects of film and television. Lisa "Tina Ferrari" Moretti notably continued wrestling and met the greatest success as WWE Diva and Women's Champion Ivory. (Moretti still has the GLOW crown, their version of a World Championship, which she asserts is like the GLOW girls themselves: "a little dented, but it still sparkles.") Sadly but unsurprisingly, the larger GLOW girls like Big Bad Mama and Mathilda the Hun suffer from health related issues, with Mountain Fiji hospitalized from diabetes. The GLOW reunion is unexpectedly sweet and heartwarming, which surprised even some of the GLOW girls who were nervous about participating.

The absence of David McLane leaves a few questions about GLOW unanswered. The documentary asserts GLOW was the first and only all-female wrestling promotion but the latter is incorrect. There have been a number of female promotions since GLOW's demise and McLane himself has launched Powerful Women of Wrestling (POWW) and Women of Wrestling (WOW) in the years since. Though GLOW "was never meant to be successful as it was" and was originally "intended as a tax write-off", the mystery of why GLOW was suddenly cancelled after 100 episodes at the height of its popularity is addressed: it seems the owner of the Rivera hotel and GLOW's main financier was having an affair with one or more of the GLOW girls (the documentary is purposely fuzzy on the details) while he was married to Pia Zadora. Zadora allegedly threatened divorce, thus GLOW was instantly kaput. Who knew Pia Zadora was the greatest heel ("Bad Girl", in the show's vernacular) in the history of GLOW?