These ‘Gorgeous’ ladies were the true pioneers of women’s wrestling – New York Post

 In Entertainment
During a 1985 audition inside a sweaty Los Angeles gym, a 21-year-old phlebotomist named Jeanne Basone volunteered to charge head first into the turnbuckle of a wrestling ring and land upside down. Despite having no wrestling experience, she nailed the difficult maneuver, impressing everyone in the room.

“I just went for it,” recalls Basone, who was eager to break into show business. For her moxie, she was rewarded with a role on a new syndicated television show called “GLOW.”

Bashing your head into a turnbuckle might sound like a bizarre way to get noticed by the entertainment industry, but nothing about “GLOW” — short for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — was conventional.

Premiering in 1986, “GLOW” was an all-female wrestling program at a time when women were mere sideshows in the sport. The women were assigned flamboyant alter egos that embraced the more-is-more ethos of the 1980s.

Basone became a wild-child rocker chick named Hollywood, while Lori Palmer morphed into Colonel Ninotchka, a tall Soviet broad who adopted a Russian accent and sneered at “weak Americans.” The star of the show wasn’t a sexy bombshell but a 350-pound Samoan-American elite shot putter, Emily Dole, whose nom de suplex was Mount Fiji. Each was less politically correct than the next.

Naturally, it was a hit.

“It was holding up a warped mirror to reality,” says Steve Blance, a writer for the show who also played the referee. “It talked about pop culture, political stuff.”

Between bouts, the group of women — most of whom were actress wannabes, athletes and stunt women plucked from obscurity — performed campy comedic skits skewering pop culture and American mores. If “WWF” and “Laugh In” had a love child and dressed it in spandex, you’d get “GLOW.”

This week, Netflix is dusting off “GLOW” and traveling back to the 1980s with a dramedy of the same name, starring Alison Brie as a Russian “heel” (wrestling parlance for a villain). The show premieres Friday. Certainly, this fictionalized version has more than enough salacious real-life fodder to draw upon.

Alison Brie attends the premiere of “GLOW”Getty Images

“The show was bigger than life. There were a lot of colorful characters, and it was very empowering for girls and women,” says Basone, who became arguably the show’s most popular performer.

The original “GLOW’’ was conceived by wrestling promoter David B. McLane. Israeli businessman Meshulam Riklis, who owned the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas and was married to Pia Zadora at the time, provided financial backing. Riklis tapped his old pal Matt Cimber to direct.

Cimber wasn’t a wrestling-world carnival barker. The New York native had real Hollywood chops. He was once married to Jayne Mansfield (whom he directed in a 1964 Broadway revival of “Bus Stop”) and directed Orson Welles in 1982’s “Butterfly.” Quentin Tarantino has said Cimber’s cult films — he made blaxploitation and psycho thrillers in the ’70s — are among his favorites.

“Isn’t it funny, though? I will be remembered for ‘GLOW,’ ” the now 81-year-old Cimber tells The Post with a chuckle.

Cimber was the show’s undisputed creative force, the one who bestowed upon each girl a unique wrestling persona.

“GLOW,” which started airing on just a few stations, expanded to more than 100 domestically and was televised in Germany, Australia and Latin America.

The “GLOW” girls made appearances on “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show” and “Married with Children,” and even landed on David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists. Phil Donohue hosted the ladies on his talk show and he even went into the ring with Mount Fiji.

Former Mets manager Davey Johnson once admitted that the show was a staple in the Amazins’ clubhouse, according to both Cimber and Blance.

Meshulam Riklis with Pia ZadoraGetty Images

Its fan base also included young women.

“The neat thing was young girls wearing your outfits and crimping their hair like you,” recalls Basone, who does stunt work and wrestles for private clients through her company,, Hollywould Productions. “They were screaming like we were the Beatles.”

Cimber ran a tight ship, complete with midnight curfews at the Riviera, where the show was filmed and the ladies lived like they were in a sorority.

According to Deanna Booher, who wrestled as the raw-meat-munching Matilda the Hun, he was also “a real prick.”

“Matt got off on us fighting [behind the scenes],” she says.

According to the Brett Whitcomb’s 2012 documentary, “GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” Cimber would hurl insults such as, “Your butt looks like mashed potatoes!”

The 6-foot-3 Booher — who once wrestled a bear — also thought that Cimber and McLane withheld financial opportunities.

“I missed a million-dollar beer commercial. They felt the show was the star,” she says.

Still, she has some warm feelings toward Cimber.

“I will always be grateful to him for giving me the part of Matilda,” Booher says. “I will never understand him because he is truly a creative genius. God bless him, he’s a mad Italian director.”

Cimber doesn’t bristle at her frank assessment.

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