Celebrate the history of Roller Derby


This is the historic Chicago Coliseum.

It was built in the late 1800s, constructed largely of the bricks from the terrible civil war Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, and was located at 1513 S. Wabash St.

For a long time it was the main exposition and gathering place for Chicagoans:  The 1896 Democratic convention was held here, and events from sporting goods shows to basketball and horse shows utilized the building.

And on August 13, 1935, Leo Seltzer put about 20 men and women on roller skates in order to skate a marathon the distance of the US from coast to coast for a prize money of $500

A team was one man and a woman, and they would alternate, and rest on view in the infield in between skating times.  The event started each day in the morning and lasted until about midnight.  The admission was 10 cents, and the skaters augmented their winnings by performing skits, or singing during the breaks, called open houses, when fans would throw coins to show their approval.  The players were fed and housed separately within the North Hall of the building.

Seltzer received much condemnation for allowing women to compete but knew that was a major attraction for the audience.

The last Derby was skated in the 60’s.  The building was then used as the main gathering place for Elijah Muhammad, and the speakers included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.

The building was demolished in 1982; there are now housing units there.

Many of the almost 1500 modern Roller Derby leagues around the world are celebrating the 78th anniversary of their sport this week.  Santa Cruz Derby Girls are having a Red Cross-Brown Paper Ticket blood drive on that day.  And the Undead Betties will be having a 78th anniversary drive in Livermore on August 16.

From Roller Derby to Rollercon


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Above is the image of the very first Roller Derby, August 13, 1935.

And last week was the fifth Rollercon I attended.

Photo: Rollercon Black & Blue Ball

It seems light years since the first event; but what both have in common is the intensity to compete.

I hate to disappoint many of you, but if you think Rollercon is a 5 day party you have no concept of why people are there.

It is amazing that athletes who are doing what they love take time from their work or lives – often at great hardship – to attend the most intensive boot camp, training school, games (some skate 3 or 4 a day!), to better play the game that brings all 5000 of them together.

Photo: Admin Silence of the Jams and Demanda Riot at Rollercon!

Those who attend sure enjoy themselves in the other activities (including the great parties and hugging of the Commissioner), but they are there to skate, learn to skate better, and enhance their skills.

The games are amazing; almost all full-bore; fully engaged as the game was intended, and getting off the track exhausted and exhilarated.  Old rivalries fought at the highest level (RMRG vs Denver Dolls, for example).  And often where you least expected:  The over 40 game was a barn burner; coed, full speed (damn Pitchit is fast), blocking and engaging over and over (Hot Wheels is not just a glamour puss, but one hell of an athlete), and really played with the skill that age game bring.  And the USARS game was an eye opener to many; closer to the original rules…..and fast, fast, fast.

At the USARS championship last year I asked Sassy of Oly if everyone could play USARS….she said they could, but many wouldn’t because it is too hard and requires great conditioning.  And MADE and OSDA skate virtually the original rules (all 4 pages….for those who haven’t seen them, take three minutes to watch a demo on you tube, Roller Derby Rules 1970)

And yet I saw WFTDA matches where the skaters were there to play, and there was no purposeful disengagement, even on (ugh) powerjams, and the fans loved it.

Just shorten the jams by at least 30 seconds, allow the pivot to do what I created the position to do (jam after a jammer breaks from the other team) and penalize the player and not the helmet, and see what a difference it would make.

I really didn’t believe there were at least 1000 of you I hadn’t met, but I did break my own hugging record in just the first two days; I got to become Donna “thehotflash” first Derby wife and she my third – although she became quite jealous after the ceremony and stood between me and all others.

Photo: Soooo cute...!!! The happy couple about to take their vows at the 2013 RollerCon Derby Wedding, Donna with Jerry Seltzer

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And I did dance off, pants off, and wore my 26-year-old safari jacket to the fabulous Riedell party (one of the many great sponsors who really support Rollercon) and not only did I get great photos at the Black and Blue soiree, but some great lady gave me a standing lap dance that I will remember for quite a while.

I attended as many things as I could, and Bob Noxious and I hosted a packed house seminar on marketing and building attendance…..there is so much more you can do that is free with Brown Paper Tickets and I think we demonstrated that to our group, many of whom used BPT.  I think Bob got a video of the two hours, but will know later.

And I want to welcome Tony Muse and the Roller Derby Skate Company to Rollercon.  These skates were originally the only ones designed for Roller Derby years back, and he figured it was time to re-emerge with a wonderful new product.  Check them out.  They have been producing Roller, In-Line, Ice, skateboards and other products for years and have a great reputation.  And guess who was the first salesman Sales Manager George Sloniger hired way back when?   You betcha.

And I have to thank the amazing Doug Martin, who hosted me in the Roll Models booth.  He is a great guy, and his sublimated uniforms bring a professionalism to the sport that I think it needs for those who really want it to become what it should be.

And Lara (Hot Wheels) is such a great representative of Crazy skates, and you will see an interview she did with me on my facebook page…..I had to learn to speak Australian to do it.

http://youtu.be/GRAOzBWbsqA

I could go on and on, but can only give credit to Ivanna and Trish and Salsa Picante and the dozens of others who keep this thing going.  It really is the best thing in Derby today!  And the amazing crew including Sten and Michelle from Brown Paper tickets who sorted out the logistic nightmare of ticketing this event.  and what great tee shirts they gave away!

And I want to thank all of you who gave me even more shirts to add to my collection…..I will try to wear them all.

I will be at the BPT, Roller Derby, American Red Cross Blood Drives over the next few weeks….what a wonderful project!

But by God I will be back in Vegas next week, with Derby wife #4, and those who didn’t come and take advantage of at least some of the plus 400 events there were part of it, please do next year…I really want to meet you all!

The death of Barry Arnold and “Roller Derby the Musical”


Over 30 years ago before I left the Bay Area to go to Los Angeles to take on the Vice Presidency of Ticketmaster I received a phone call from Barry Arnold.

I had been out of Roller Derby for at least 15 years, but I was who he was looking for.

Barry was a well-known Broadway lighting director and had worked on many successful shows, but he wanted to be a playwright and had written a treatise on Roller Derby, based on his boyhood memories of watching the game on television in New York.

He and composer John Braden were preparing to mount a two-week production for the Theatre of the New City at a 50-seat theater in New York.  He wondered if I would look at the script, which was about a Roller Derby team, its manager and star with the sport nearing its final days.  Of course he could send it to me.

I read it and found it entertaining, but not close to understanding the nature of the game and its people, and made a few suggestions.  Then I heard the songs that John had written and was blown away.  I became involved (so what else is new) and went to New York to see the production……with all of its faults and the fact there could be no skating, the staging was great and the audiences loved it, as did the critic from the Village Voice and other publications (“The last time I saw a production this good in a trial run it became Grease”).  The music really worked, and although the story was corny, it was very appealing.

so what to do next?  In 1982 I headed for LA and met with Lee Sankowitz ( a great director, friend of Judi) who mounted it at a small non-equity theater in Los Angeles….although the Times reviewer did not like it, all others did.  Lee wanted to take it and make a major show (he discovered and produced “One Flew over the cuckoo’s nest) but the boys, especially Barry, didn’t want to lose control so they didn’t want to do it.  Also (kicking myself years later) one of the most successful Broadway husband and wife producers wanted to take an option, mount it at Yale, and if ready, take it to Broadway.  Again, a strong no, as Barry did not want his words to be changed (as they really needed).

My partner Hal loved the show, so with some friends we raised money and took it to the Theatre on the Square in San Francisco.  Barry didn’t want to go because the book would be changed, but we did anyway with famed Broadway director Ron Fields…..And Buddy Atkinson, Jr, did a wondrous job of  teaching the cast to skate.  The continuing problem, the book, and too much use of cocaine by the people around the theater and those associated with the show.  semi-good reviews, show not together…..closed with loss for all (Huey Lewis liked it!).

John Braden died shortly afterwards of Aids.  Barry went to Hong Kong where he did some major musical productions for casinos and I would hear from him occasionally.  Judi ran into him in Hong Kong and they went to dinner, and she remarked how manic he was.

I would get phone calls from him from LA, and occasionally he would have someone get in touch with him, but Barry was so demanding, nothing could happen.  I would hear from him always on my birthday, and he would tell me how was becoming a successful promoter.

Then in 2006 he managed to get the show booked for two weeks at the prestigious festival for new musicals in New York.  Composer Harold Wheeler (Music director for Dancing with the Stars and tons of Broadway shows) worked on the music with him, and one of the most renowned musical directors agreed to direct the show, which was scheduled for 2007.

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Well, the worst of Barry showed up…..the rehearsals were a mess because he tried to control everything:  when the reps from the Schubert organization came to see the show at a run through, it was such a shambles that they walked out; he tore the director up and down, caused such dissension in the cast that the show manager black balled him from the theater….The show ran, got a decent response. but it was just sickening when you realize what it could have been.

On the final night Judi and I had dinner with our friends Frank and Carol Deford, and Barry showed up sheepishly at the restaurant and we all had dinner.  He was drawn and pale, and walked outside every few minutes to smoke.  That was actually the last time I saw him.

when he was back in LA he saw that I was getting on facebook, he decided to do it also.  He created SNN (the silly news network) and started to put humorous stuff out, and picked up several thousand followers of Roller Derby people.  i think he thought that way someone would want to produce the show.  The play was an obsession, and he wasn’t seeking any other work.  During one of our conversations I suggested he contact Keith Coppage (“Roller Derby to Rollerjam”, “Bay Area Roller Derby”) who ran one of the most acclaimed arts program at Mt Diablo High School, and his productions were amazing.  Of course Keith would like to mount a production, but after a few back and forths with Barry, realized it would be impossible.

On one of our conversations earlier this year I mentioned that he had put on his facebook page that Roller Derby the musical was dead.   No comment.  We never talked again.  It was brought to my attention the other day that Barry had died…..I went to his facebook page and saw his last comment was on June 3rd.  “Goodbye”.   that is my birthday.

Barry was really a good guy, unbelievably talented, bright, and had so much to offer…..I guess I am just angry at him for the route he chose; of course he was entitled.

I have talked to Keith…..if we can round-up the music and book (slightly re-written by Keith), we would love to see a memorial production at Mt Diablo, maybe for a Barry Arnold room or chair or something.  And just leave that for Barry.

I don’t know if I will every get over it.

Photo: To all FaceBook friends: Help celebrate Barry Arnold's life, and all the joy he has brought to us through his SNN posts. This Saturday, June 15, 2013, we are having a cyber memorial service for Barry Arnold. It will be held at noon, Pacific, 1 p.m. Mountain, 2 p.m. Central, and 3 p.m. Eastern. Apologies to those who are not in our time zones. We know Barry had international friends and we hope you join us regardless of your time zone. At that time, all of Barry's friends and Silly News Network fans, are invited to raise a glass, set off a sparkler, release a balloon, skip a rock, or anything else you feel would be appropriate, in his honor. We also ask that all you sillies post a joke on the SNN wall in tribute. Please, pass this information to any other friends, you may know, who enjoyed Barry's and the SNN pages. I hope you join us.http://www.derbyspotlight.com/blog_QnA_RollerDerbyMusical-03-16-11.html

A week of memories, and please talk to that person


I always used to be happy about the third week of May.  School was going to be out soon, and the birthday season was starting.

My sister’s birthday was May 23; I looked forward to the  chocolate angel food cake from Helen Bernhard, the best bakery in Portland.

It really is different because Gloria is gone, and how I miss that wonderfully responsible woman who had that crazy Seltzer sense of humor.  We had a great evening at the Cinema in Seaside when we decided (and Ken did not want to go along) to see two different movies.  It happened to be the night of the first showing of Jurassic Park at midnight, and the manager invited us to stay before he opened the doors to the crowd waiting to see the midnight premiere.  We had dinner of hot dogs, ice cream, and Hershey bars and just had a great time.  Of course we were both over 60 at the time.

I wrote a post about Gloria on this blog.  If you haven’t read it, I hope you will.  For those interested she was a big part of Derby history.

I am the survivor of the Leo, Rose, Gloria, Jerry family.  I don’t dwell on it except when I think about each and what they have meant to me.

I was walking at the Plaza in Sonoma with Cooper (a small dog) yesterday.  All the tourists were there and one lovely older woman who stopped to pet Cooper and we started talking.  She had moved to Sonoma 5 years ago from Ft. Lauderdale and remarked how much she loved the town, and no great heat and humidity.  I of course asked if she missed the wet tee shirt contests that town is so famous for during Spring Break and she just laughed.  I thought, I bet she has a bunch of great stories.

I know I am cross generational.  I have a huge ready-made family out there because of my Roller Derby affiliation that goes back so far, and my thirty years of ticketing Rock and Roll and Sports and Theater have kept me from losing touch with the present; so I know I seem relevant to many of you out there who are no where near my age.  And my closest friends are more of my generation:  my brother-in-law Ken Gurian; my partner of 50 years Hal Silen who had as much keeping Roller Derby going as I did, as well as his great stewardship of BASS Tickets; Bob Nicholas, my former neighbor and great raconteur in Sonoma; and Richard Cuneo, one of the pillars of the community with a great sense of humor.

I read on facebook (or twitter) yesterday a comment from someone who was grieving because she couldn’t get over the fact that she had hit thirty.

Do you see, all of this about years is relative…..there are now over 2000 Derby players over 40 who are still in the game.  My best years started when I was forty.  and I am sure one of the reasons so many of you follow me is I have a lot to talk about, that only comes with age and experience.  I feel I have been lucky because I have done so many different things and can relate them.

Then I thought:  I know that lady I met on the street has some great stories.  and many of you don’t just automatically start talking to an older person you don’t know.  Hey, you want to connect with the hot ones, the fun ones.

Do me a personal favor.  The next time you have an opportunity please cross connect to another generation.  Especially if they are alone (and you let them know you are not trying to scam them).  It might add a lot to your next conversation or post, and please remember none of us want to feel we are removed from the world.