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The real women of GLOW: As Netflix launches show on the first female wrestlers, ‘Matilda The Hun’ talks about fights, fame and life as one of the original 1980s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
- Dee Booher, better known as Matilda the Hun, was one of the GLOW wrestlers in the 1980s
- The show featured hopeful actresses and singers trained to wrestle professionally who rose to fame
- A Netflix adaptation of their story will debut on Friday, though one former wrestler feels somewhat scammed
- Booher told DailyMail.com she was hurt that Netflix didn’t try to speak with the real women of GLOW
The first sound of Dee Booher’s laugh – a strong, jolly, punctuated ‘HA HA HA’ – is all that’s needed to understand the heart and soul of the 1980s female wrestling phenomenon GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).
Dee stormed the ring as her evil alter ego Matilda the Hun, front and center in an extravaganza of strength and entertainment, artistry and music, fun and big hair, a whirlwind performance that drove fans wild and combusted with a showmanship that perhaps only the 80s could generate.
Aspiring actresses and singers threw themselves around the ring in character, carefully trained to avoid seriously injuring each other, and showed the world that female sport – albeit kitschy and choreographed – could be an undisputed crowd pleaser.
GLOW was short-lived and peppered with its own problems, but it left a mark on its stars, fans and the entertainment industry as a whole that has persisted – giving rise to a new Netflix show of the same name, from Weeds and Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan and starring Alison Brie.
Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, better known as GLOW, took the 1980s by storm as a television show which featured actresses, singers and dancers who were trained to wrestle in a choreographed, often kitschy style.
The women threw themselves around the ring in character, carefully trained to avoid seriously injuring each other, and showed the world that female sport could be an undisputed crowd pleaser
The Netflix series, to be released Friday, is already winning critical acclaim for its foray into the loud, big-haired world of televised female wrestling, replete with outrageous costumes and the requisite 1980s glitter. The original show could nearly be described as a how-to for the decade’s flashy entertainment, with its stars mixing elements of glam rock, ridiculous and often offensive skits, and rap performances as their names flashed on screen, faces framed by introductory starburst graphics so beloved by the era.
Not that any of the women who made GLOW famous had a part in its new Netflix incarnation.
Dee – who, at 68, now uses a motorized wheelchair due to wrestling-related injuries – only found out a few months ago, after news of the program had spread.
‘People started writing to me and congratulating me about the new GLOW show – and I go, “Whaaat?” she tells DailyMail.com.
She called one of her former co-stars, Roxy – real name Tracee Meltzer – to find out what was going on, because ‘she always knows the lowdown of everything.
Dee says Roxy informed that her that another female wrestler, Ursula Hayden – who performed under the name Babe the Farmer’s Daughter – had sold the rights of the show to Netflix. Hayden had bought the rights herself in 2001 to make money from the GLOW name and merchandise. Attempts to reach Hayden were unsuccessful.
If it had been me or Roxy or many of the other girls, we would’ve taken into consideration, to consult with the other girls, at least to inform them,’ says Dee, who believes that it’s ‘ridiculous’ the 1980s wrestlers were not involved en masse.
‘We just felt hurt that Netflix didn’t even want to talk to us,’ she says.
‘I would think, when you have a brand, you would want to use the ones who helped make that brand – but I don’t know.’
Despite an underlying bitterness, she perks up at the thought of possible cameos for the wrestlers in future seasons.
‘I think they should get our opinion on how to make it better,’ says Dee, who plans to watch the show when it’s released on Friday with other GLOW alumnae. ‘We’re going to have a party this Friday at Roxy’s, and we’re going to have a viewing, and we’re going to all express our opinions of it. We’ll see; I have no idea how it’s going to be.’
Dee, a California native, came to GLOW after falling in love in 1976 with the sport of wrestling, to which she’d progressed from martial arts – though she laughs at the trajectory.
‘I never dreamed about being a wrestler,’ she says. ‘I’m a singer. I thought, I’ll do wrestling so I can become a singer.’
She pauses for a trademark ‘HA HA HA,’ always quick to laugh.
‘I took a wrestling class, and that was fun to me – it was a science of moves and counter moves. It just really, really relaxed me and got my mind and body working as an athlete, and I never did that. I did roller skate quite a bit, and that got my engine going, but wrestling really got my engine going. I just loved it. So I thought I should do it professionally.
Dee, pictured bottom left, says she nonetheless plans to watch the show with other GLOW alumnae.
Dee, a California native, came to GLOW after falling in love in 1976 with the sport of wrestling, to which she’d progressed from martial arts.
She began organizing mud wrestling shows, creating the ape-masked character of Queen Kong, but always dreamed of something bigger – even before she teamed up with the GLOW masterminds, director Matt Cimber (who’d been married to Jayne Mansfield) and producer David McClane.
‘My diary – I can even prove it – I wrote down this idea long before I met Matt Cimber,’ she says. ‘I want a comedy wrestling television show with music, with skits and music. I had a vision of this show for a very long time in my mind. And David McClane envisioning such a show, and Matt Cimber envisioning such a show, synchronicity, they call it.’
She started working with the men as they casted and recruited girls – many of whom turned up to open auditions without the faintest idea that the production involved wrestling.
‘When I got there, there was a bunch of girls there – and, um, this guy comes out and says, “This is going to be about women’s pro wrestling,”’ Jeanne Basone, who performed as Hollywood, says in the 2012 documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
‘And I swear to God, a third of the girls got up immediately and they left.’
Though the women were mostly inexperienced in the field, they garnered a vast amount of attention – Dee as Matilda is pictured here with two young fans
Others, however, seized the chance at fame.
‘We really kind of didn’t know what the hell we were doing as TV,’ Lisa Moretti, who performed as Tina Ferrari, says in the documentary. ‘I think that some girls were there because they wanted to be in TV.’
She later adds: ‘These were not like crème de la crème model girls. We didn’t cast from bikini model agencies or anything; these were girls that got an acting casting call. Imagine having an idea of putting good-looking girls in the ring, and they figure, first, let’s make them good-looking, then let’s see if they can wrestle.’
They learned to wrestle from professional wrestler Mondo Guerrero, who made it clear from the start that he wasn’t playing around.
‘He took the gig as a gig – you know, he’s having a pay day,’ Moretti tells the documentary. ‘This poor guy shows up, and he’s thinking, “What the hell am I gonna do with all these things? How am I gonna make them ready for a wrestling show on television?” So one of the things that Mondo did is that he demanded everyone’s respect and attention.
‘He can’t start throwing us around; you’ve got to take it way baby steps. People can get hurt just getting into a wrestling ring. So I mean, not two minutes later, these blond girls were hanging on the ropes. I think he was teaching us how to sell pain – you know, how to act like we were writhing in pain, which is kind of funny, and it’s kind of hard to do for the first time – but these girls started laughing.’
Mondo tells the documentary: ‘To grab the respect I needed … I grabbed one, I forgot who it was … telling me it was fake, and I grabbed her, and I put her to sleep – knocked her out right there in front of everybody to see it. She went down; she started flip-flopping like a fish. They believed then. They believed then. And from then on, it was nothing but serious work with them.’
Dee, aka Matilda the Hun, tells DailyMail.com: ‘We all pulled together and we trained lots of girls here in Los Angeles, then we went to Los Vegas and started working, building and training more girls, and of we went.’
At 34, she was older and more seasoned in performance than many of her fellow wrestlers and, she says, tried to teach and shepherd the girls a bit.
‘I always tried to emanate a positive image,’ she says, adding: ‘They had no clue; most of them were so young, between 18 and 20-something – but half of them had no show business experience at all. Some did; some were models or cheerleaders or athletes.’
The girls were kept on a strict leash, with rules and curfews as they lived together, initially at the Riviera Hotel in Vegas and then at other accommodation.
‘The girls were cat fighting like young girls do; they gossip and they fight a little bit here and there – but we had a camaraderie,’ says Dee. ‘It was our little private club, like us against the world – and it was very cool.
‘I felt that I helped them, polished them up a little bit and helped them to be safe – how to do it without hurting themselves or others, and basically teaching the psychology of, you know, stage fighting – making it look fantastic without killing anybody.
‘The excitement of the passion of the fans, it’s all about the fans,’ Dee says, her love of the spectacle reverberating in her voice. ‘It’s a magic show for the fans. It’s the evil energy combusting with the good energy, creating this magnificent live interaction that’s just so incredible.’
The show was wildly successful, both in the US and abroad – and the women were recognized constantly. They were enamored with the fame and the atmosphere.
‘It was such a special time, and many people think that we were a phenomenon,’ Dee tells DailyMail.com. ‘Some people say, “Thank you for changing my life, Matilda – I love you so much, because … all of you girls, but you especially came along and maybe go, “OK, it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be wild and different and embrace yourself the way you are and just have a delightful wicked time.”
‘But anyway, for women there had never been any theatrical … sports entertainers that made any money before this time. Tennis was not big money, basketball was not big money; they didn’t do much with women in any sport. And our show showed me and Hollywood folks that women could make money, that women could be heroes and villains.’
She did, however, believe the people behind the scenes were the ones profiting, since the women were not paid well for a show that essentially consumed their lives.
‘I didn’t know for sure; I supposed they were making good money from selling our show,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t privy to their books. I had people bowing down to me wherever I went in the whole world – you know in Japan I had people bowing down, “Oh, Matilda, oh, I love you.” It was so funny. That had to add up to more dollars than what they were paying us, but we loved the job.’
+24 Dee, at 34, was older and more seasoned in performance than many of her fellow wrestlers and, she says, tried to teach and shepherd the girls a bit
The show was wildly successful, both in the US and abroad – and the women were recognized constantly. They were enamored with the fame and the atmosphere
After two years, however, she was fed up ‘being paid what an 18-year-old might make at a drug store.’ She says she, producer David McClane and several female wrestlers left to form a competing show, POW – but ‘it’s very hard to compete with an already existing all-female wrestling show, and they were after us legally, so they haunted us everywhere we went.’
She returned to Los Angeles, where she’d left her supportive husband and son, and found other ways to make a living, doing everything from stunt work to ‘slam-o-grams,’ in which she’d return to character for private party entertainment. She’s also written a book titled Glamazon Queen Kong: My Life of Glitter, Guts & Glory. She has a Screen Actors Guild pension, which she says is a rare and coveted thing amongst the GLOW alumnae, though she also has a fundraising page for her spiraling health costs.
Very few went into professional wrestling, and many faced a tough road following their glory days, she concedes.
‘There’s no doubt about it; unfortunately, we’ve had our casualties,’ she says. ‘That happens with all wrestling, with women and men. It’s a brutal business, and when you’re at the top of the heap one day and you’re nothing the next, it’s hard. And you’re dealing with chronic pain and you don’t know how to deal with it.
‘Now there’s physical therapy and there’s awareness of chronic pain; there was no real awareness of chronic pain in those day or what to do about it. I was always a swimmer, which saved what I had left; it’s the only thing that really saved me. I went to a lot of physical therapists and I learned to stretch; I’m still not perfect, by any means, but at least I learned that much to get out of pain.
‘Many of us have abused painkillers and whatnot, me included, because I was in a lot of pain – so you’ve got to learn to deal with it. But yes, unfortunately, there’ve been some casualties.’
Though Dee is proud of her days with GLOW and the legacy that remains, she is somewhat disappointed with the way the women were treated before the show was cancelled in 1990
She’s clearly proud of her GLOW days and her legacy, though there is a disappointment and slight resentment about the way she and the other women were treated before the show’s abrupt cancellation in 1990.
‘I was so hurt and angry that my dream, my dream show and everything, just collapsed because they couldn’t do it right and they didn’t treat any of the girls right, and they just failed miserably when they could’ve been so successful and so fantastic,’ she says. ‘It was just … I don’t know what you want to call it. A calamity of calamities.
‘A lot of girls will say they were hurt and angry and just didn’t even want to talk about it, and that’s kind of the way I was.’
Now, however, she’s happy to talk about it and has reunited with many of her former co-stars, including GLOW girls who succeeded her. And despite her dismay that Netflix didn’t involve them in its upcoming production, there’s a hint of pride that they’ve chosen to revive GLOW in some form – even if she’s worried they might have ‘copied every one of us but they don’t want to’ consult them.
She’s intrigued, undoubtedly, to watch the show when it premieres, saying simply: ‘We’ll see.’