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March 26, 2013

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

GLOW 1.jpg

Brett Whitcomb - 2012
New Video / Docurama Films Region 1 DVD

Way, way back in the 1950s, when my age was still in the single digits, I watched professional wrestling a few times when in was a staple on broadcast television. I only have the vaguest memory of what I actually watched, but the name of "Haystacks" Calhoun is permanently seared in my brain. There was a time, almost twenty years later, when the buzzword was "semiotics", and I discovered Roland Barthes' delightful essay on wrestling in Mythologies. Later, professional wrestling seemed to be on cultural upswing in the Eighties, with fans to be found among puck rockers and new wave musicians, most notably with the collaborations of Cindi Lauper and "Captain Lou" Albano. Yet I was not prepared for what I saw while channel surfing on a Saturday night in 1986.

It wasn't just a matter of seeing a show devoted solely to wrestling women. It was those rap musical interludes that made me wonder what I had stumbled on. And yes, the novelty did eventually wear off, but for a while there I was hooked. Whatever it was that I was watching, there was nothing else like it, and no way to adequately describe what seemed like a show broadcast from another planet.

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Lorilyn Palmer

What this documentary does best is to reveal the women behind the often outlandish make-up and costumes, as well as some of the men behind the scenes. G.L.O.W. as a television show only last four years. While the plug was pulled unexpectedly, after learning about the physical toll it took on some of the performers, I'm glad not more women were injured. Seeing Susie Spirit's broken arm is a reminder of the reality of professional wrestling.

Part of the story of GLOW is that it was originally conceived by producer David McLane at a time when women's wrestling was a side attraction to the regular bouts between men. It was director Matt Cimber who came up with many of the pseudonyms for the performers, as well as the story lines. The same sensibility that made that Pia Zadora spectacle, Butterfly the subject of extreme critical derision paid off in a show where a lack of taste or subtlety were the main selling points. It was Butterfly producer Meshulam Riklis who financed the show, as well as providing the stage of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Wrestler Mando Guerrero discusses training in fine art of body flips and writhing in agony. David Blance tells about starting as a staff comedy writer before becoming a part of the cast.

The main story is about the women. Emily Dole, known as Mountain Fiji, was an Olympian shot putter before stepping into the ring. Lisa Moreti, began as Tina Ferrari with GLOW, later becoming Ivory with World Wrestling Entertainment. Before and after she became Matilda the Hun, Dee Booher established herself as one of the top professional female wrestlers. One of the funnier stories, is that due to established rules for women wrestlers, Booher was not allowed to wrestle a man, but did get in the ring with a 750 pound bear. Others, such as Jeanne Basone, appropriately named Hollywood, were among the aspiring actresses who auditioned for what they thought was simply another television show. Almost as hair raising as some the physical abuse from being in the ring, are the stories of the women being required to live in character, with enforced rules of behavior, during their time with GLOW.

Excerpts from the original broadcast, and appearances on daytime talk shows of the day, are cut between the interviews of cast and crew. There are poignant moments, such as the reunion of many of the cast and crew members almost twenty years after that final GLOW broadcast. Best of all are the genuine laughs provoked by some of the memories of being part of a show where what passed for humor would elicit a groan as much as a chuckle.

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David Blance as the referee

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 26, 2013 07:49 AM