GLOW's Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling: The Netflix Cast and the Real '80s Stars Who Inspired Them
GLOW'S Netflix Cast
Netflix's leading ladies (and a few men) of wrestling, the cast of GLOW, had us in a headlock of entertainment during season 2. The show hit its stride in 2018, scoring three SAG Award nominations: outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series for Alison Brie, outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series and outstanding action performance by a stunt ensemble in a comedy or drama series (which it won).
All the success got us thinking about the original, beloved G.L.O.W. Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling from the '80s, a wrestling promotion and subsequent documentary the Netflix show is based on. Turns out the similarities go beyond big hair and Spandex.
PEOPLE spoke to Ursula Hayden, the star and owner of G.L.O.W. Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and consultant to GLOW on Netflix, as well as Alison Brie and Britney Young, who plays Carmen "Machu Picchu" Wade, to learn more about their characters and the real-life personas the current show is based on.
G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling Cast (1986-1992)
"When we all were being cast we watched a lot of [original] G.L.O.W. matches, and I know everyone has seen the documentary," Young tells PEOPLE.
"I can honestly say I am a big fan of GLOW and I love every single character! I think it's very rare to work on something in this industry that you would still actually watch if you weren’t acting on it. For me, that’s GLOW. The characters are fantastic and acted so well, the writing is superb and every element and detail of the show is so true to the '80s ... it transports me and makes me feel nostalgic," says Young.
"I love how different all the characters are from each other, and how they bring their own personal histories to their places within GLOW, yet they all can relate to each other."
The same can be said of the show's inspirational '80s-era performers. "The documentary [about the original show] is fantastic! Everyone should go and watch it," gushes Young.
Britney Young ("Carmen Wade/Machu Picchu") & Emily Dole ("Mt. Fiji")
Young's character is the heart and soul of the Netflix series in many ways, as was her '80s counterpart Emily "Mountain Fiji" Dole to the original G.L.O.W. Sadly, after years of poor health and constant care in a nursing home, the Samoan athlete and performer died in January 2018 at age 60.
"Unfortunately, I did not get to meet with Emily before her passing. I have watched many interviews and matches from her G.L.O.W. days, and I can feel her amazing energy and spirit radiating out. I would've loved to have met her, but am very proud of her legacy on GLOW ... I have watched many of her matches and her interviews. She is fabulous," Young says.
"I am very inspired by her. To see a larger woman, go into a physical sport and completely dominate yet do it with a kind heart, is very inspiring for me," says Young. "Especially in this industry, where as a plus-size actress I am having to battle a lot of stereotypes myself about my capabilities and what roles I can play."
"I was mostly inspired by my feelings as a young child not seeing anyone like myself represented on TV. If there was a plus-size character, they were the bully or a lazy person. So, I have tried very hard to go against those portrayals and make sure that Carmen is someone the plus-size community can see themselves in and be proud of, as I see myself in her and am proud to play her."
Betty Gilpin ("Debbie Eagen/Liberty Belle") & Cindy Maranne ("Americana") & Ursula Hayden ("Babe the Farmer's Daughter")
Ursula Hayden, the current owner of G.L.O.W. Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, is now a consultant working with GLOW Netflix's creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch regarding the ins and outs of what it was like to be a G.L.O.W. girl in the '80s. "We were one big family," Hayden tells PEOPLE.
While a comparison of Liberty Belle to the patriotic "Americana" from the original cast is obvious, we also see similarities between Gilpin's character Debbie Eagan as actress-turned-producer and Hayden's ambitious and protective role as a performer-turned-gatekeeper of G.L.O.W.'s legacy.
So, what does Hayden think of her character, Babe the Farmer's Daughter, in comparison to Liberty Belle?
"I would love to compare her to Babe the Farmer's Daughter, however Babe was much more shy. Liberty Belle is ElectraWoman and DinaGirl combined, with maybe a touch of Spider-Woman & Batgirl! She is an extension of our family and one of our strongest wrestlers ever in the history of G.L.O.W. ... nobody messes with Liberty Belle!"
Alison Brie ("Ruth Wilder/Zoya the Destroyer") & Lorilyn Palmer ("Ninotchka")
As the insecure but passionate wannabe actress Ruth Wilder, Brie was initially the most recognizable face of the Netflix series — with or without her Russian villianess makeup. "The industry hasn't totally caught up to where we are, where GLOW is as a show, in terms of having such extensive and diverse female roles," Brie tells PEOPLE.
"I definitely think I feel more confident. Learning how to wrestle sort of changed my life. I think it really took me out of my head when it comes to my body, got me thinking about my body in a different way. In a utility way, in an athletic way rather than an actress commodity way. Looking at my body as a tool ... then learning the stuff we do and just having a secret knowledge of what a badass I am in the ring ... has been very empowering and given me confidence. I'm not picking fights with anyone in the streets, but I think I get to walk around with my head held a little higher," says Brie.
In the G.L.O.W. documentary, the inspiration for Brie/Wilder's wrestling persona "Zoya" can be found in both Lorilyn Palmer's "Ninotchka" and Noelle Rose's "Major Tanya" (seen here).
Palmer confessed that she never felt as strong or confident as her character, and said that her fiancé dumped her when he eventually realized they weren't exactly "one and the same" person.
Jackie Tohn ("Melanie Rosen/Melrose") & Jeanne Basone ("Hollywood")
Tohn's sassy yet sardonic glam girl "Melrose" may be the most '80s of all the Netflix GLOW gals. With her big, moussed-up hairdo, sparkly leotards, penchant for lingerie and Madonna-esque accessories — not to mention her name! — we can't help but compare Tohn to original G.L.O.W. babe "Hollywood."
Jeanne Basone's character came with a very L.A.- centric counterpart called "Vine" (Janet Bowers), whereas "Melrose" wrestles on her own. Basone went on to appear, act, model and do stunts in numerous TV productions.
Kate Nash ("Rhonda Richardson/Britannica") & Dawn Rice ("Godiva")
From the auburn hair to the British/Anglo-Saxon English heritage namesake — not to mention both performers have entered the arena riding a horse — it's pretty obvious that "Britannica" was based on "Godiva."
Ursula Hayden counts Britannica as one of her favorites of the new GLOW girls. "Britannica is very smart and did her homework," Hayden tells PEOPLE. "If I were a new kid on the block, I would definitely study the old-time wrestlers. I see [Britannica] in the characters Zelda, The Brain and Godiva ... she even wore a very sad Farmer’s Daughter outfit. I think she is a little confused in the direction she wants to go in. Hopefully, someday she will work it all out with her 'Manny Quin' and get a better Farmer's Daughter outfit! I just love her!"
Marc Maron ("Sam Sylvia") & Matt Cimber
Maron's grumpy-with-a-heart-of-gold GLOW director "Sam Sylvia" appears to be loosely based on real-life G.L.O.W. director Matt Cimber. They're both Italian-American, with B-movie backgrounds and seem to have a sometimes tense, love/hate-esque relationship with the female performers.
In the Netflix documentary, some of the wrestlers sounded uneasy about seeing Cimber again at the reunion, but others — like Emily "Mt. Fiji" Dole — were ecstatic. Dole confessed she once had a giant crush on Cimber (perhaps similar to "Rhonda/Britannica" or "Ruth/Zoya"), and it's heartwarming to see Cimber reunite with Dole. However, he declined to be formally interviewed for the documentary.
Sunita Mani ("Arthie Premkumar/Beirut the Mad Bomber") & Janeen Jewett ("Palestina")
On the current GLOW, Mani plays an offensively stereotypical character called "Beirut" or "Beirut the Mad Bomber." While there was also a Middle Eastern-inspired performer in the '80s named "Little Egypt" (Angelina Altishin), Mani's character is more akin to the derogatory terrorist-leaning "Palestina" from the '80s series who was known for stomping on the American flag.
In response to these insulting and old-fashioned characterizations, Britney Young says, "Unfortunately, I feel it's intrinsic to the '80s era, and on some levels to current day as well. But what I like about GLOW is that we aren’t just playing into stereotypes and leaving it be. We are exposing these stereotypes and saying that this isn't right, nor is it correct for all people of that gender, race, class, etc."
Sydelle Nowl ("Cherry Bang/Junk Chain/Black Magic") & Kia Stevens ("Tammé Dawson/Welfare Queen") & Lynn Braxton ("Big Bad Mama")
Speaking of offensive, the stereotypical characterization of Kia Stevens' wrestling persona "Welfare Queen" is horrible, but unfortunately it's right on par with what the original G.L.O.W. offered audiences in the '80s.
In real life, Lynn Braxton, who died of cancer in 2013 at the age of 61, was a wrestler called "Big Bad Mama." Like Stevens' Queen, Braxton was a bit older than the other wrestlers and acted as a mother hen, enlisted by the show's execs to room with and keep the younger girls out of trouble in Las Vegas. "Big Bad Mama"'s voodoo persona is quite stereotypical, and we see a contemporary reflection in Nowl's new "Black Magic" wrestling persona.
Gayle Rankin ("Sheila the She-Wolf") & Dee Booher ("Matilda the Hun")
Dee Booher's "Matilda the Hun" was one of the "evil" '80s wrestlers and, at least in terms of costume and onstage antics, Rankin's "Sheila the She-Wolf" appears to have borrowed a page from her playbook. From her fur-trimmed costume and wild woman demeanor to both character's (professed) love of raw meat, the similarity is uncanny.
Although Rankin's character hides her shyness underneath her woman-of-the-wolves appearance, Booher was anything but shy. The large-and-in-charge wrestler continued to wrestle (including men and a live bear!), act and do stunt work after G.L.O.W. More recently she is wheelchair bound due to spinal deterioration, a result of her many years of wrestling, but she still appeared happy and motivated by her fans in the documentary.
Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson ("The Grandmas") & Sharon and Donna Willinsky ("The Housewives")
As Ethel and Edna Rosenblatt, Gatewood and Johnson's old bitties are comic relief, but they also likely have the most in common with their '80s predecessors. Like the Willinisky sisters in the original series, the duo eventually transform into hard-rocking babes. The original G.L.O.W. gals turned into "Chainsaw and Spike," while the Netfix version reintroduces the duo as "Ozone and Nuke." Bam!