How an '80s Female Wrestling Star Makes Thousands in Underground Hotel Fights
Between its launch in the mid-'80s and its unceremonious demise in 1990, GLOW -- Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling -- captured and confounded the popular imagination. Its wrestlers, in an ungainly hybrid of sexist exploitation and zeitgeist-disrupting feminist statement-making, who acted out funny, risqué, and in some cases profoundly offensive routines, were featured in everything from sketch comedy, to daytime talk shows, to public service announcements about the ravages of weed.
During GLOW, "Hollywood" -- real name Jeanne Basone -- was a breakout star. After it, she embarked on a long and lucrative career in the underground market of fetish "session wrestling," involving everything from private ring matches to costumed narratives acted out in the secrecy of hotel rooms across the country.
Now that GLOW, the new series co-created by Orange Is the New Black and Homeland honchos, and starring Alison Brie and Marc Maron, is out on Netflix, we figured it'd be a good time to catch up with Hollywood -- now 47 and living in Nashville -- to look back at her insane early years and try to get some useful advice, should we ever want to get into the strange-dude-hotel-wrestling business ourselves. Here she is, in her own words.
Step 1. Draw blood by day, spill it by night
In 1985, I was 22 years old and working at a facility called Burbank Medical, drawing people's blood. I get a call from an agency casting for a new "sports show." They asked if I could come down to an audition that night at the Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. They didn't tell me what kind of show it was, but I'm thinking, Whatever, I'm athletic. So I head down. It's this huge cattle call. Big girls and little girls; beautiful models to sporty-looking girls. Every race. Just a bunch of colorful, beautiful women.
There were some guys at a table -- who turned out to be GLOW's creator David McLane and his backers and producers and directors. We had to state our names and stats in front of the camera. Height, weight, that kind of thing. Then they revealed it was going to be a wrestling show. I think a quarter of the other girls heard "wrestling" and just got up and walked right out. But it sorta piqued my interest. The next thing you know I'm training Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, every week from 7 to 10 at night. I'm draining blood during the day and moonlighting as a wrestling apprentice. I'd go to work bruised and beat up, but I loved it.
Step 2. Learn the ropes
The early sessions of GLOW were filmed at the Riviera Hotel in Vegas. When I walked in the first time as "Hollywood" -- they assigned me the character -- I saw David McLane in the lobby. He pointed to a 350lb woman and said, "You're going to wrestle her." It was Emily Dole, who played Mt. Fiji. My first day of moving to Vegas, now as a professional wrestler, and that's who I was teamed up with. [Editor's Note: Hollywood lost, which was usually her lot as a "bad girl."]
After that, we hit the road. The rules of GLOW were clear: We were always in character, and forbidden to socialize with our enemies on the show. There were even two buses, one for the bad girls and a separate one for the good girls. Our tour bus -- the bad girls -- had previously been Foghat's.
And the girls -- if you look at WWE women these days, they all look mostly the same. But GLOW wasn't like that. We were just a good group of natural-looking, beautiful women. Even if you're 350lbs, you're beautiful. If you're 4'9" and 95lbs, you're gorgeous. It was really empowering for women. There were no other characters in the culture for girls to look up to I think. Besides Wonder Woman.
Step 3. Offend everyone, everywhere, all the time; then repent
In those first seasons, they let us do whatever we wanted. And since nobody ever told us no, we took it to another level. Certain characters like The Heavy Metal Sisters -- Chainsaw and Spike -- really upset people. In a match, they would pull Spike away from the ring and put her in a straitjacket and we'd get letters telling us to tone it down, that we're mocking the mentally ill. Those two couldn't wrestle very well, and once they came out for a match against a black girl, and I'm telling you: They took a watermelon and cut it in half with a chainsaw, and then smashed it over her head.
There was also an Apartheid match, which was pretty bad, considering what was happening in South Africa at the time. It gives me chills just to say it. Incredibly offensive, and no way that would fly now. In a different match, one of the girls set a hula hoop on fire and made Southern Belle bark like a dog and jump through the flames.
We even did Nazi matches (without the swastikas) where villains like me and Matilda the Hun would walk out and sing Nazi march songs for a match against [the wrestler] Americana. America versus Nazis, basically. Our director took us to a prop warehouse in LA to get chains, files, gas masks -- whatever we thought would say "Nazi Germany" to use on our opponents. One time after one of those at the Riviera in Vegas I was walking back to my room and I looked at the the pool's diving board. Someone had painted Nazi symbols and swastikas all over it after the show. The next day it was gone and painted over, but man, the power of entertainment.
By Seasons 3 and 4 we had to tone it down, do those PSA commercials from the '80s -- "Hi, I'm Hollywood, and smoking pot is bad for you" -- to make a more positive presence. But man, the first and second season we got away with a lot.
I remember in 1987, we did a string of TV show spots: Married... with Children, Sally Jessy Raphael. One time on The Phil Donahue Show, some stuffy woman in the audience asked, "How does this promote something positive for kids when you ladies are beating each other up?" This was the dawn of sports entertainment, before it was known the way it is today. I was like, God, she's right; we're tearing each other's hair out!
Step 4. Go into private practice
After the fourth season, in 1990, I got a phone call from somebody in management. GLOW was over. I'd been doing some modeling, including for Playboy, and I continued to do it here and there, but I needed to figure out what was next.
One of girls who came onto GLOW in the later seasons told me she knew a lady who needed wrestlers for some videos being shot in the Valley -- where some of the ladies and other models-slash-wrestlers would perform a GLOW-ish match in a studio. I started getting work with her. Another woman created a company that hosted private "sessions" with customers. Wrestlers would go to her house, which had a professional-style ring in her backyard, and get paid $350 to wrestle fans that had booked an hour session. The fans would get charged an extra hundred to use the ring. I did that too. It was easy, fast money.
But then I started to get smart, in the mid-'90s. I launched my own production company and website -- WebKitten.com [now Hollywould Productions]. I got a photographer/video guy from one of the other girls and was working with other girls I had worked with before. I'd take custom photos for fans, or videos. Fans would script out the holds they wanted to see, the girls they wanted to wrestle each other, and how they wanted the match to end. I'd charge them to make the video, and once they got their copy, I'd sell it on my site to make more money. I bought my house with that money.
Step 5. Start booking hotel rooms, ideally with good soundproofing and quality health care nearby
I have asked clients why they like hiring women to wrestle in hotel rooms. They'll say all kinds of things: "There was a teacher I had once in high school," or "A girl in my class who was stronger than me, and one time she took me down to the ground and we started wrestling, and from then on I loved it." I think it all stems from something that turned them on during childhood.
For me, it's mostly just fans from GLOW. I did have one guy sit in a session for an hour and just talk to me, but mostly I try to make fans get up, show them some holds, mix it up. They pay good money for the hour so I always want to make it fun.
I tell clients if you're going to have a private wrestling session with me, I require a deposit upfront. Referrals are a must if I've never wrestled with you before. I pay upfront costs -- travel to the location, pay for the hotel for one-on-one sessions or the facility if more is involved -- and I just need you to show up and not get weird. People often say, "There's a guy coming to a hotel room and you're wrestling him? You can't tell me you're just wrestling." But yes, we are just wrestling. And I make it clear from the start: no sex, no nudity. I have a whole thing on my website that clients can read about what I accept and don't.
There are women bodybuilders that will do "other" stuff with their clients. Some of that has led to sex with clients. Many don't even wrestle; they're just posing in private for clients, saying, "Feel my biceps; now feel my calves." I have this one client that likes lift-and-carry sessions, where a bodybuilder puts him on her back for piggyback rides. I don't get it, but a lot of the bodybuilders are strong enough to do it, or pick a guy up and cradle him like a baby, or put him over their shoulders and walk around.
Still, people like to push, to see how far they can go. During a phone call with a new client, he asked me if I do "release" sessions -- basically just a happy ending after wrestling. I told him no. Another request is face-sitting. Some guys hire a girl to sit on their guy's face for an hour and she watches TV or something. Not for me.
By now I can tell right away in emails what's what. That's why it's important for me to ask questions in advance, so I can get a pretty good sense about the clients. My instincts, to this point, have typically been right on. Early on, I started out wrestling strangers -- I would pay this big friend of mine, 6'7", looked like a Viking, to come with me for protection -- but now I've been seeing the same clients for the last 12 years. I've weeded people out so I only see the ones I know.
Still, you get to the point where you think, "How well do I know this person?" Everyone has his thing, and it can get weird. I've had guys say, "Sorry, I may get hard while wrestling but nothing will happen." And there was one guy who went into the bathroom to change in the hotel room, and when he walked out he was fully naked. He said, "I like to be free this way" and I'm like, No, that's not going to work. It's no surprises with me.
Step 6. Expect surprises
OK, it's almost no surprises. Even today, every time I go out for work, my boyfriend of 14 years just says, "Please be careful." Because you can get hurt. I was hit in the head by accident while shooting a girl-girl hotel superheroine video session, and got six stitches in my forehead. A doctor and specialist for the stitches came up to the room, and while I was worried about it leaving a scar, the first thing he asked me was, "Is this domestic violence?" How do I explain that I'm in a hotel room and bleeding from the head wearing a Wonder Woman outfit to wrestle? I told them the truth, but who knows what he was thinking. He did a good job sewing me up. Me and the other girl split the bill for $800.
And then, back in 1998 I took on someone's wife. Fifteen minutes into our first match, we were tangled up and she had a lock on my right leg. Now for me, sessions are an extension of what we did in GLOW. It isn't competitive in the sense that there is a winner or loser based on skill. The skill in pro-style is more about a match being choreographed and mapped out in a way so nobody gets hurt. But this woman was doing locks and chokes -- which I didn't know. And I didn't know that if you don't actually stop or tap out, real locks can lead to real injuries. In one move she broke my leg in three places. I had to have seven screws and two plates put in. It was bad. There's that competitiveness you get with females. "I'll show my husband I'm stronger and better than this chick." After that, I decided never to wrestle girlfriends or wives of clients ever again.
The sessions I really like are the ones with no stress, where I'm comfortable and having fun. It takes time to be able to get to that level, and it's taken me 30 years in this business for the kind of sessions I want. I want to make money, feel safe, and not stress. It's different today, and gotten worse now in that clients (and people) expect more, want more. Luckily I don't get those people anymore, after being in the industry so long.
I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. My fans want me to keep on going, I've got a thriving business, and I'm still making money. Who needs to stop?
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.