When Tracee Meltzer packed up her Porsche 924 and left Seattle for Los Angeles in the mid-'80s, it wasn't with the intent of becoming a pro wrestler. She didn't even necessarily want to be an actress. She was chasing a more specific Hollywood fantasy.
"I swear, I watched Flashdance, and that was it," says the former hairstylist originally from Auburn, Wash. "I'm like, 'I'm leaving. I'm going to live in a warehouse, have a dog and wear my shirt lopsided.'"
She ended up settling for a cramped apartment, a bedazzled singlet and gallons of Aqua Net.
In 1987, Meltzer joined the cast of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the show that took the already absurd world of pro wrestling and cranked up the camp to John Waters levels. As sassy socialite Roxy Astor, Meltzer battled voodoo priestesses and post-apocalyptic punks while also occasionally rapping threats into the camera. Wrestling purists scoffed, but the organization developed a fervent cult following. For Meltzer, it was the best time of her life.
"It was a sorority," she says. "And it was so empowering to get in there and kick ass in the ring."
GLOW's initial run ended after five seasons, and Meltzer never wrestled again. But in the intervening years, she became something of an ambassador for the show, hosting an annual fan cruise. And with GLOW's recent re-emergence in popular culture—thanks to the hit Netflix series of the same name and a well-received documentary—it's afforded her a chance to make a return, of sorts, to the ring.
This week, Meltzer is coming to Portland for a series of workshops, Q&As and meet-and-greets. WW spoke to her about the grueling audition process, her mixed feelings about the Netflix show and her daughter's own ambitions in the squared circle.
WW: What drew you to audition for GLOW?
Roxy Astor: I really had no idea what GLOW was, but it popped up on television one day. I know WWF came on before that, and I kind of got into it, going, "A lot of grunting, little tight pants—I can hang with this." Then I watched GLOW, and it was like, "Whoa, I've never seen anything like this before," glitter and girls kicking butt. I used to watch it every Saturday morning. And across the TV, there was a banner that said, "Do you want to be a GLOW Girl?" Me, never fearing anything, I went on the audition. I had someone take a picture of me next to a motorcycle, like, "Yeah, I'm a bad girl, that's who I'll be."
I guess there were 3,500 girls who auditioned. If I would've known that number, I probably wouldn't have done that. I think that would've overwhelmed me. But I thought, "I have to do this." So I was automatically just, "Here's a picture, I'm on Sunset Boulevard." I go slam my fists on the table: "Yeah, this is me, I'm a bad girl." Three days later, I got the phone call: "Get your butt to Las Vegas, and if you do that then you'll have the tryout." So I was like, "OK, I have nothing to lose." Once again, I got into my Porsche 924—I'm still not sure how I made it through the desert—and there were about 100 girls of all shapes and sizes on the lawn of this very normal-looking apartment, from a green Mohawk to big boobs to blond—short, tall, big, everything. And I'm like, "OK, I might have a chance."
How did they go about whittling that number down?
Matt Cimber was our director, and he was like, "Get in the ring!" A lot of the girls would hurt their pinky or stub their toe, and they'd be out of there. And I'm thinking, "Keep going, my odds are getting better!" Not that I wish that on anybody, but if you can't be tough there with what they were doing, then it's definitely not for you. You can tell me to do anything—"Jump off that building!" and I'll do it. I could barely walk going into the ring, but when Matt is yelling, "Three-quarter roll! Hit the ropes!" I was like a robot: "I am not going home." Thank God, I never got hurt, or I didn't show it.
Were you surprised by how grueling the training was?
The thing was, there was no social media, there were no computers, there was no way to read about what wrestlers went through. So we really had no idea what to expect.
And back then, the wrestling industry was a lot more secretive.
The good girls couldn't hang out with the bad girls. If we were at the airport and were seen talking to a bad girl, we'd get fined. I get the whole vision, I think that was a really good idea, because fans took it so serious. I think social media killed a lot of things later on in wrestling.
Did people think the matches were real?
Back then they did. But I'll say, there was some serious heat between some of the GLOW Girls that you could actually see from the taping. Matt knew that, and put those girls on TV against each other, which I think was brilliant. Even Godiva and I, before the match, we'd go, "Let's just beat the crap out of each other. Just hit me, I don't care. I want to hear a slap, I want to feel it." And if you look at the matches, you can see us huffing and puffing and looking like we want to just kill each other. And that was true in that moment—we got caught up in our own game. We'd walk back and could barely breathe and go, "Oh my God, that was amazing!"
How much room did you have to develop the Roxy Astor character?
Keep in mind, I was going in being a bad girl. I remember we were sitting around during auditions, most of the girls had left, then drum roll, it's character time. Matt was sitting back, watching everybody and making little mental notes. All of a sudden, when it was my time, it was, "You're Roxy Astor, one of the Park Avenue Knockouts—a good girl." I'm thinking, "Oh, crap." I didn't know how well people liked me. Fans on Facebook say, "I loved the Roxy character and your kicks, and you were such a smartass." I'd go, "Really?" Then I go back and go, "Oh, I was sort of a good-bad girl."
What was your reaction when you heard about the development of the Netflix show?
I have certain views I can't really share about how it came together. There was a trademark holder, Ursula [Hayden], one of the GLOW Girls, and from what I know, she licensed it out to Netflix. I think it's great that it's out there, because we can piggyback off that. But if I were her, I would've said, "Hey, why don't we put a few of the original girls in there? Like Easter eggs."
How close to reality does the show get?
We lived in apartments, they lived in apartments. No one had a "miscarriage" in the ring and put ketchup everywhere. Matt Cimber never did coke—if we did any drugs, we were out. But there are similarities. Was there a secret daughter? No. Was there a robot at the parties? I wish.
Your daughter is a pro wrestler. Did you push her to join the industry?
She got the wrestling bug when she was younger. When she was 2 or 3 years old, she saw my old outfits and goes, "What are these, Mom?" She was 2 years old walking around in it. Then we finally got the show on VHS, and she thought it was really cool. The funny thing is, when she was 15, Kayla and I would put on mock fights. Her friends would come into the room, I'd grab her by the hair and slam her into the door, and she'd slump down. And the kids would go running out and we'd be like, "Wait, we're just kidding!"
SEE IT: Roxy Astor appears at Afterglow Aerial Arts, Crush Bar and the Lovecraft this week, Aug. 19-21. See facebook.com/eyestarlingproductions for her complete schedule and ticket information.