- The Netflix series “GLOW” is loosely based on a real-life women’s wrestling and variety show that aired during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
- Many of the characters on “GLOW” are inspired by real wrestlers.
- Russian villain Colonel Ninotchka helped inspire Zoya the Destroyer.
- The patriotic Americana probably inspired Liberty Belle.
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Netflix’s “GLOW” is loosely based on the real-life women’s wrestling and variety show “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” which aired in syndication from 1986 to 1990.
The series about a ragtag group of women trying to create a professional wrestling show in the 1980s is a fictionalized account of the world of women’s wrestling – and it’s now on its third season.
“GLOW” co-creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch were inspired to develop the series after watching Brett Whitcomb’s 2012 documentary, “GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” which featured interviews with the original wrestlers.
“We were so moved by the way that these women were talking about how this crazy experience transformed them and changed their lives, how it took them down these paths they would have never had walked down if not for this totally weird opportunity that they all came together,” Flahive told Variety ahead of the first season’s release on Netflix in 2017.
Take a look at the real-life inspirations behind “GLOW” below.
Russian villain Colonel Ninotchka helped inspire Zoya the Destroyer.
Alison Brie plays struggling actress Ruth Wilder on Netflix’s “GLOW.” Though Ruth is a fictional character, she wrestles as Zoya the Destroyer – a Soviet villain with a cartoonishly heavy accent – inspired by real-life wrestler Colonel Ninotchka, who was played by Lori Palmer on the original show in the late 1980s.
Like Zoya, the character of Ninotchka poked fun at the on-going cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States and was frequently heard talking on the phone to a KGB spy named Vladimir and would promise to dominate over “puny Americans.”
In an interview with Uproxx in 2017, Brie said she intended for Zoya to be her own “monster,” but revealed she watched Ninotchka’s matches and “mostly wanted to steal her moves and voice.”
Super strong Mountain Fiji was the inspiration for Machu Picchu.
Wrestler Mountain Fiji was one of the show’s most memorable and beloved characters. Played by Emily Dole, Fiji somewhat inspired “GLOW’s” Machu Picchu, who is portrayed by Britney Young on the Netflix show.
Weighing in at 350 pounds, Fiji was one of the show’s biggest wrestlers and it was nearly impossible to take her down, even with half a dozen competitors working together. Fiji was the heart of the show and beloved by fans and her fellow cast members. In the 2012 documentary, former wrestler MTV (Eileen O’Hara) said she used to call Fiji “Shirley Temple” because “she was so good and so forthright.”
Dole, who died in January 2018 at the age of 60 after suffering health problems for years, was a nationally ranked shot putter before she became a wrestler.
In an interview with Meaww in June, Young stressed that she tried to make Machu Picchu her own character, but was inspired by Dole’s “athleticism” and “how this larger woman could go into the ring and become this gentle yet strong presence.”
Self-proclaimed terrorist Palestina was likely an inspiration for the equally problematic Beirut the Mad Bomber.
- Erica Parise/Netflix/Netflix
The original “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” prided itself on being as politically incorrect as possible. Since wrestling narratives rely on the clear-cut binary of good vs. evil, most of the wrestlers were caricatures based on cultural stereotypes rather than fully developed characters.
On the Netflix series, the character of Arthie (played by Sunita Mani) struggles with portraying the Middle Eastern terrorist, Beirut the Mad Bomber.
The character is loosely-based on Palestina (played by Janeen Jewett), a self-proclaimed terrorist, who would throw down against the show’s all-American heroes Americana and Babe the Farmer’s Daughter – and would rile up the crowd by rapping, “I’ll get you all, you’re on my list/you can’t escape this terrorist/so when you hear my battle cry/all infidels prepare to die.”
Comedic duo The Housewives were the clear inspiration for The Beatdown Biddies.
Sisters Donna and Sharon Willinsky wrestled as The Housewives – a pair of 65-year-old women from New Jersey – on the original show. The duo would incorporate kitchen items like frying pans into their matches and fought while wearing heavy face cream, bathrobes, and slippers.
Their characters are clearly the inspirations for the Beatdown Biddies, played on the Netflix series by Rebekka Johnson and Kimmy Gatewood. During season two, the Biddies transform into the Toxic Twins, which was was a nod to The Housewives’ alter-egos Spike and Chainsaw, the Heavy Metal Sisters.
In the 2012 documentary, the sisters explained that they relied on their comedic talents and props like blowtorches and chainsaws to get them through matches because they were terrible at wrestling.
“We sucked … I got injured while we were training and I thought, ‘Oh I am not going to hurt myself again.’ So when we did Spike and Chainsaw everything was about special effects,” said Donna Willinsky.
Susie Spirit’s gruesome injury mid-match could have partially inspired the horrific break Zoya suffers in the ring.
Though the cheerleader character of Susie Spirit (Lauri Thompson) doesn’t appear on Netflix’s “GLOW,” her brutal injury in the middle of the match may have served as inspiration for a major plot point on the show’s second season.
Thompson dislocated her arm after her opponent fell on top of her in a move gone wrong. In an interview with KNPR, she described being able to hear the ligaments in her arm tearing and said it sounded like “celery breaking.”
The patriotic Americana probably inspired Liberty Belle.
Betty Gilpin plays the all-American Liberty Belle on Netflix’s “GLOW” and her character seems to be at least partially inspired by real-life wrestler Americana, who was played by Cindy Ferda.
Americana was one of the show’s “good girls” and was supposed to represent “beauty, courage, strength, and pride.” She frequently battled with the show’s villains, including Spanish Red, Ninotchka, and Palestina.
Big Bad Mama cast voodoo spells on her opponents and likely inspired Black Magic.
On the second season of the Netflix series, the character of Junkchain (played by Sydelle Noel) is recast and Noel becomes Black Magic. In an interview with Nylon, Noel said she initially lobbied for her character to be a “voodoo priestess” and was excited for the new role.
Black Magic has roots in Big Bad Mama, one of the villains on the original show who would use voodoo to cast spells to subdue her opponents in the ring. Big Bad Mama was played by Lynn Braxton, who died in 2013 from cancer at the age of 61.
Boyish producer David McLane created the original show and was the inspiration behind Bash.
Chris Lowell plays Sebastian “Bash” Howard, the producer and announcer on “GLOW” – a character that’s inspired by producer and show creator David McLane. Like Lowell’s character, McLane was an avid wrestling fan, who recognized that there was a market for women’s wrestling that wasn’t being met. In an interview with Vulture in 2017, McLane said the Netflix show was pretty accurate in representing his relationship with director Matt Cimber.
“He brought the comedy element to the show that I wasn’t going to bring to the show. I brought the wrestling knowledge to the show that he didn’t know.”
McLane left the original show after two seasons, but is still involved with women’s wrestling today as a producer of “WOW – Women of Wrestling.”
Director Matt Cimber used demanding and hostile tactics on set and he somewhat inspired the character of Sam Sylvia.
Marc Maron’s character Sam Sylvia is somewhat based on real-life director Matt Cimber. Cimber was also a B-movie director and is probably best known for directing the 1982 movie “Butterfly.” His relationship with the wrestlers on the ’80s show was fraught and complicated. While many of the women regarded him and his vision as vital components for the show’s success, they recall that he was extremely demanding and often verbally abusive.
In the 2012 documentary about the original show, Patrisha King, who wrestled as Jailbait, recalled that Cimber would publicly humiliate her.
“He goes, ‘Your ass looks like a bunch of mashed potatoes.’ And I was just so hurt,” she said. “But he was just so mean. He just did that in front of everybody.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Moretti who played Tina Ferrari, compared Cimber’s motivational strategies to that of an “abusive husband.”
Cimber defended his tactics in an interview with Vice this past June.
“The key was discipline,” he said. “If anybody got badly hurt, I would feel guilty, [so] I came down hard.”
Vice also spoke to several women who said they faced sexual harassment or “uncomfortable” physical incidents on set, including Cheryl Rusa, who played Lightning. Rusa told Vice that when Cimber invited her to a meeting to discuss her character, he came on to her and touched her butt.
“I couldn’t remember pinching her ass, and I wouldn’t know why, but she says I did,” Cimber told Vice when asked to comment on Rusa’s allegations. “Am I going to sit here and contradict her?”
He also denied having knowledge that any of the women were harassed by any male crew on the show.