So he helped with the creation of modern Roller Derby but didn’t know it: Frank Deford


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Frank has been a friend for longer than either of us want to think about. And he laughingly said “You will always be the Commissioner.”

I related elsewhere how we met in Oakland and he ended up writing the longest piece ever for a single issue of Sports Illustrated to date about the Roller Derby The March 1969 article was read by 10 million people, a different 10 million than the 15 million that watched our games every week on television across America and Canada. He created a whole new base of understanding about our strange game.

Had he been a fan of Roller Derby when he wrote it? No, he was fascinated with the concept of “barnstorming”, the one nighters we did across America for 4 months of the year; the people who were in it, behind it, who came to watch and why. And Roller Derby was a working class sport, without the high salaries and ticket prices that folks even then were complaining about. And service charges were not outrageous then, but still higher than the 99 cents that Brown Paper tickets charges on all tickets.

And after I had spent time cautioning the skaters about what they said to Frank (as he put it) “they opened their guts” and he got everything he wanted to write for the article and the book….and one prominent male skater made a pass at him, which he was kind enough not to mention to me until years later…..not a great tolerance by society for gay athletes at that time. And he seemed to have captured a pretty accurate image of me in that era.

Frank wasn’t a skater outside of occasional sojourns to a skating rink. He played basketball in high school and in college until his coach told him he wrote better about the game than playing it. And he developed as a writer and today writes about a lot more than sports, delivers an occasional piece for Sports Illustrated, has a weekly commentary on Wednesdays for NPR radio, and does occasional features on HBO Real Sports…..this time of year he and Carol are in Key West where he is working on his 19th book.

Out of the article came “Five Strides on the Banked Track”, the seminal book on Derby that is in such demand that it disappears from libraries and sells on Amazon for as much as $650. Little Brown did an initial small printing, and the book disappeared (including my copy).

So after all these years after the demise of the original Roller Derby, after Rollerjam came and went, modern Roller Derby is here. And Frank is thrilled. He has watched games on the internet and is amazed that a successful game can be played on a flat track and that, different from the original enterprise, it has become a movement, a therapy, for those engaged.

Shortly after Joan Weston’s tragic death from a debilitating disease, Frank was asked to write her obituary for the New York Times magazine, and he wrote such a beautiful tribute that the genesis for Rollerjam developed for the two producers in Tennessee. That the game ultimately failed was really a fault of the attraction they ultimately presented: a writer-created banked track story of good and evil with cages, helicopters, you name it. But the skaters were wonderful; a number are in Roller Derby, and three of the men were important parts of the World Cup Champion USA team.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/2010/writers/frank_deford/05/19/roller.derby.revival/Joan_Weston.jpg (Please click link to see Frank’s article on Joan Weston and the return of Modern Roller Derby)

It was just a few years after Rollerjam ended, with the memory of a skating game in people’s minds, that April and her crew brought in modern Roller Derby. I mentioned this connection to Frank and he was very pleased.

“If anything I wrote helped to results in the reincarnation of Roller Derby in the 21st century, then I am happy. I loved meeting and traveling with the Derby skaters of the earlier generation, and there seems to be such a bonding and almost a therapeutic connection in today’s game that most don’t realize.

And for even more of a connection, Timothy Travaglini, an MRDA skater and member, has been instrumental in having this classic book available to today’s Derbyites, followers, and all. He is with Open road media who has just issued on line a kindle (through amazon.com) and e-book version. Please click on the link at the top of the page.

And they asked the Commissioner to write a foreward.

Thunder Road, Etta James, Judi and me


Jerry Seltzer:

The good news: Frank Deford’s classic 5 Strides on the Banked Track is coming out as an ebook on March 25, and this was the night he and Willie, and Roger Ebert, The Smothers Brothers, and my “friends” roasted me……too damn many memories to keep track of.

Originally posted on RollerDerbyJesus.com:

Thunder Road is a teenage drug and alcohol center in Oakland that is so much more.  It includes family counseling activities and training for life.

My friend, Joel Selvin, rock critic for the San Francisco Chronicle went to the center to help establish a music department and ended up being a huge supporter.  He put together an annual “Roast and Jam” at San Francisco’s oldest nightclub and invited local celebrities to be “roasted” and local musicians, who probably had similar problems as the kids, to perform.  He was able to have Van Morrison, Sammy Hagar, Huey Lewis, the Doobies, and on and on show up.  And Herbie Herbert, manager of Journey, became a mainstay of the roasters.

Bill Graham, Joel, Sammy Hagar and others were roasted, and I think Joel ran out of victims and asked me to be skewered.  I was an easy target because my computerized ticketing company…

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▶ DERBY (1971) Trailer – ok, I made a film I loved….but what about the skaters and fans?


▶ DERBY (1971) Trailer – YouTube.

Click on link above to see short trailer for the film Derby.

I backed and produced this film in 1971, hoping to make a film all the Derby fans and skaters would like…..well it turned out to be an art film about America at that time that played 6 film festivals (from San Francisco to Dallas to Atlanta to Toronto to London, and was judged best films at most) and was loved by all major film critics, but the skaters and fans didn’t care much for it at all.

I am very proud of it….it was a groundbreaking cinema verite 40 years ago, and Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars, and it was considered one of the ten best films of the year by most critics, but didn’t do well at the box office, which was not unusual for documentaries at this time. Because one of the Today show personalities loved it so much, in the late 90s I was on Today talking about it and the revival of Rollerjam.

40 years later we have “Derby Baby”…..two very different approaches to the game.

Some times you can’t put a monetary value on what you do that you like. I think one of my favorite reviews was by Sports Illustrated: (to paraphrase) “It is amazing that this is the first sports film about a suspect sport that is so honest. If you loved “The Knute Rockne Story” (a fabricated film about the legendary Notre Dame coach), then you will hate “Derby”.

It is available at Amazon; I have fresh VHS copies…..great Roller Derby action, but not really a Derby film. Remember if you watch it, it wasn’t scripted and the lighting and dialog is not always the best.

I will post the New York Times review in my next post.

Who is Professor Michella Marino and why is she ruining my Derby and ticketing reputation?


About 3 years ago I heard from Michella (now Phd Dr Marino) that she was doing her dissertation on Roller Derby, the sport she was taking up. And in July of 2011 she with her sister Erin made the trek to Sonoma to listen and learn at the feet of the Commissioner. And in the past three years she met with many of the old and Modern Roller Derby.

Well now Michella is teaching at Hastings college in Nebraska and in just a few weeks will offer the first college credit course anywhere on the game From January 6 through January 24 the subject will be History 266,”Hell on Wheels: skating through modern Amercan History.” And on January 9 the subject will be the sport from 1959 to 1973 “The Jerry Seltzer Reign and Fandom” and the class will get to see and hear me via skype. I bet if I had asked Steve Butcher (my boss at Brown Paper Tickets) he would have sent me a bus ticket, but what the hell.

All of these years I have built this reputation as a maverick in Roller Derby,NHL, Ticketing, Film Festivals and Hookers Balls (see elsewhere on this blog), associating with Hells Angels and Frank Deford, and this woman is trying to legitimize me. Well, I won’t let it happen. No matter what the result of this class, I will still be the same carefree bon vivant trying to convince all of you that what I learned about gorilla marketing from Roller Derby and Ticketmaster is available to all leagues FREE with Brown Paper Tickets (along with their amazing free services: jerry@brownpapertickets.com)

If you are near Hastings (and there is not a helluva lot to do in January in Nebraska) see if you can get in or audit Michella’s course…..It goes all the way through modern Derby……maybe Steve will still send me the bus ticket.

Legitimate? NEVER!