By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor
Welcome back, Bruthas and Sistas, and I thank you for joining me today. My wrestling travels have taken me all over the country, and I’ve met many people along the way. Working with the alumni of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling has been a great experience for me and every time I get the chance to sit down and catch up with one of my GLOW family, it’s always a good time.
This week I made a call to California to talk with one of the nicest ladies I’ve met in the business. She is a former GLOW girl, a model, actress, Playboy centerfold, and mother of two. Her journey in the wrestling business started as a young child and has been interwoven throughout her career. Her name is Patricia Summerland, and this is her Life Through the Lens.
Born and raised in the City of Angels, Patricia grew up on the superstars of the World Wrestling Associates brand, with her father and brother leading the way for her childhood wrestling experiences. Her father worked part time as security at the L.A. Coliseum, and built a friendship with many of the boys. Some of them would come to dinner at their house and Patricia shared a great memory with me of some of the legends that would regularly be at her house:
“Mr. Moto, The Destroyer, Freddie Blassie…they all used to come to our house and my mom would cook them big meals. I was honored to wear the Destroyer’s mask when I was in diapers, not knowing that I would end up being a pro wrestler later in my life.”
Patricia enjoyed the times at the Olympic Auditorium as well not only watching wrestling but enjoying roller derby with her mom. Sports of all kinds were a big part of her youth, as well as modeling and getting her first introductions to the acting business.
“My childhood was very competitive. I was a tough little girl; sweet and sassy at the same time. I had my first appearance in a film when in elementary school when I was six, and then started working on my modeling career around the age of thirteen, and worked with Catalina Swimwear also. So I started right of school and had some really cool experiences.”
Though she was teased for being tall by some of the other kids, it was those long legs that would bless her later on when she took on these careers. She also took advantage of that stride when she was running on the track team. She found discipline in sports, but was also raised in a strict environment at home, which led to some requisite rebellion as she entered her later teenage years. When she wasn’t at her studies, she would be working with her parents, doing odd jobs at the L.A. Times newspaper where they were employed. This tension led to detentions, as well as school yards fighting over teasing of her brother. It seemed to her parents that she was headed the wrong direction, and starting to get out of control. It wasn’t long after that, when Patricia ran away for a short period of time and tried to work through this stress in her own way. She was always living up to her Scorpio identity, and taking life on by her own terms, even then.
After getting past this time, she returned and tried to put her life back to some semblance of normal. This was short lived when she attempted to get her driver’s license only to find out that the courthouse nor hospital could produce a birth certificate for her. It was at this time that she was told by her parents that she had been adopted, and another hammer blow to her psyche was dropped onto the already fragile teenager. This pushed her to run away yet again and this time she stayed gone for some time, finding a boyfriend and leaving to try her career luck in Las Vegas.
“I was Patricia Ann Chambers for eighteen years, and that’s all I knew. It was pretty crazy, and I was mind blown over the whole thing. I decided to start fresh and changed my last name to Summerland. I left the area and met my boyfriend David, then got pregnant with my first daughter, Jennifer. Things didn’t work out the way I wanted, and eventually I returned home from Ridgecrest. David followed me and got a job at the newspaper working for my parents. He didn’t wanna let us go.”
During the time after she returned, she worked for a short time as a dance hostess to make ends meet for her and her young daughter. It was one of life’s little twists of fate that happen to any of us that saw her and fellow, future GLOW girl, and close friend Roxy Astor working at the same establishment. This moment in time would be recalled in their deja-vu laced introduction during their reconvening at the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling years later.
She also kept her modeling and entertainment career alive with tryouts for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, as well as the Rockettes dance troupe, but her ticket to the stars wasn’t in the cards just yet. She was traveling and doing her best to get that one shot that could lead to something better for her and little Jennifer.
“My daughter was with my parents, and they were in Lakewood, California but I was traveling at that time to Hawaii, New York, Florida, and Los Angeles. I was one of top swimwear models, and did a bunch of the Hawaiian Tropics photo and video shoots.”
So, like many wrestlers that are building their resume without even realizing it, she had modeling, acting, and the physicality of a sports background, along with having some of the street grit and savvy it takes to hold your own in the business, implanted in her during the tribulations of her youth. It would be the spark of her wrestling past, that would illuminate her to the GLOW-ing possibilities of her future.
One Sunday afternoon, while she was visiting her parents, and daughter, she heard a racket coming from the living room, where her father was watching television. It wasn’t long before he was calling her into the room to see what he was on, and neither of them could believe their eyes:
“My dad is an old school wrestling fan, and it shocked me when I walked into the room and he was watching female wrestling on the television. He told me I had see this, so I sat down there to watch what had him so excited. I saw all these girls, all sizes, shapes and colors, wrestling, and kicking ass in the ring It was GLOW, and it was cool! My mom called in from the other room, ‘Henry don’t get her started on that!’ (we both laughed at that point in the interview)
“At the end of the show they ran an advertisement looking for girls to tryout and my dad gave me his endorsement, under his breath, so my mom couldn’t hear him.”
She put together a bio packet that was appropriate and sent it in the mail, with little expectation on hearing a response, but also having hopes in the reply. Though she was a world class model, there was still that tom-boy, who got into scraps in the schoolyard and ran track against the boys that wanted to show itself in her again. That competitive nature of an athlete never completely goes away, even after the passage of time. She did get that call, and a tryout was set in North Hollywood.
“I got there and there were like three hundred and fifty girls already waiting. There were so many people there. I showed up blonde, tanned…the surfer girl. It wasn’t an act, it was just me and I think that’s what they were looking for, because when i was called up to the table to read and talk with Matt Cimber and a couple others, it went really well. The next thing I knew I was headed to Vegas to start my GLOW girl career.”
Cimber’s regimen consisted of a boot camp type session, acting classes, a trampoline course as part of their gymnastics training, as well as all the physical things that were required of them to learn before they were accepted, let alone given their characters. While Sunny came to the game with her persona pretty well intact, other girls went through drastic changes for the chance to become members of the GLOW roster. The story stood out to me as an example of the lengths that those women, and all professional wrestlers, will go to to get their foot in the door and break into the business:
“Little by little, girls started leaving, until there were only thirty six of us left. And then, they started looking at the ones they were going to keep, and how they were going to mold them into GLOW girl characters. I say mold because some of the girls really had to sacrifice for their spots. Beastie, for example, had beautiful, long blond hair but she had to shave her head into a mohawk for the Road Warrior type character they wanted her to portray. The characterization was intense for some.”
She flourished in GLOW and made not only a name for herself, but made her parents, especially her father so proud that she had did it and made it in the wrestling business he loved. A short time later she was informed that her father was in poor health and one evening after the matches, producer/director Matt Cimber pulled her aside to tell her that she was needed at home in California, to be with her family. She was there with him, and her mother, at the time of his passing.
After returning from the loss of her father, and carrying that heaviness in her heart, she discovered another tragic surprise waiting on her in Las Vegas. Almost overnight, in every sense of the phrase, the GLOW company had folded and was no longer in production.
“I left to return back to work, and there was no GLOW anymore. It was gone, and I was like..’Where did everybody go?, Where did everybody go?’. Just like that, it was all over.”
Opting to stay in Las Vegas and carry on she helped to develop the Battling Beauties at the Royal Kona Hotel with Benny Espinosa who also worked for GLOW as a referee. The main investor ending up being a criminal that was wanted by the FBI and appeared as one of the sought after on America’s Most Wanted. This was a time of upheaval in her life that will be more closely covered in her upcoming biography.
Other options began opening up to her and she was given the opportunity to run with the Olympic Torch during the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles in 1988. She dropped out of the scene for personal reasons for several years, but re-emerged on the scene with her appearance in the Girls of Kiss, March 1999 Playboy special issue. She had been introduced to Gene and the band by a mutual friend in 1995, and the chance to do the photo shoot materialized out of that.
“I had stayed friends with Gene, and I took spin classes with his wife, Shannon, who I also knew from working with Playboy. I helped to cast the girls for the shoot and we ended up filming the Playboy video for the issue at a KISS concert in Boston. That’s one of the best rock’n’roll issues ever. I got to be made up in both Paul Stanley’s and Ace Frehley’s face paints for that. It was so much fun.”
In the last several years, the resurgence of the GLOW brand has given new life to many of it’s alumni, Sunny the California Girl included. They can be seen at wrestling and comic conventions nationwide, as well as in movies, and most prominently in the recent Netflix series based on the 80‘s promotion. They also come together for the AfterGlow activities, like the cruise and musical events that have garnered attention the last two years. I look forward to seeing them every year at the CAC gathering in Las Vegas as well, the city that holds so much of their history from the days of the Riveria Hotel and Casino.
I also want to talk about the comic book/animated novel that has been made about her life from Squared Circle Comics. Artist Rich Perotta, writer John Crowther, and the team there have put forth a great piece of artwork with the book, and tell her story in a more comprehensive form than we had the space for here. She will also have a full blown biography out in 2020 as well. Be sure to click onto the links provided to get your copies of all this great merchandise and memorabilia.
On a personal note, I want to thank Patricia for her openness and availability during this interview process. We have become friends over the last few years, as I have with many of the GLOW staff. They are always so great to me, and welcoming when we see each other out there on the roads. It makes me happy to call them part of my extended wrestling family, but we two have a particular special connection as we share a birthday, which makes her my Scorpio Sista.
Well, Bruthas and Sistas, we’re going to say farewell for this week. In closing, always remember that the only thing that can diminish your horizons, is when you put limits on your achievable expectations. What will you see when you look back at you Life Through the Lens? Peace.
“Im so blessed to be here, you know. To live my dreams and have my children. I look back on my life and it was crazy, but it was all for showbiz. I loved it all.”
—Patricia “Sunny” Summerland