Frank Deford could have destroyed us…the crazy times


Roller Derby was different from other sports…..we were outliers; so our rules toward press, etc were not deferential, because we got so little outside press.

So when Frank Deford from Sports Illustrated got permission to go on the road when we did our annual winter tour, I called the skaters together.  I said don’t get chummy, be careful what you say or do; this is America’s most prestigious sports magazine and we won’t get chances like this again…they all acknowledged, and shook their heads.

Now Frank who just passed away -America’s greatest sportswriter –  and I became lifelong friends but we weren’t at that time in 1968.  He didn’t tell what happened for years, but now here in his own words:

“Unlike other professional athletes, Roller Derby skaters were unaware that you should play up to a writer from a national magazine; rather, they felt no compunction about embarrassing me.  One of the most prominent skaters – let’s call him Tom – was obviously gay, and late one night in Minneapolis, when I was seated with several skaters in a dark hotel bar after a game, he made a move on me.  It was duly noted by those in attendance. As the plot would have it, I had already arranged to ride alone with Tom to Duluth the next day. Also duly noted.”

“When the game began in the packed Duluth arena, I was seated by myself at the press table. After only a jam or two, the Bay Bombers called time out and skated over to a position just above me. There, a cappella, led by their fabled captain, Charlie O’Connell, they looked down upon me and sweetly sang, “Here comes the bride.”

“I was mortified, but then it dawned on me that none of the baffled Duluth patrons understood what was going on, so I blew kisses to the Bombers, and the game resumed.”

Frank didn’t reveal the story until 40 years later, thankfully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oakland tragedy: a wake up call for us all.


In the 60s and 70s Oakland was the World Headquarters for Roller Derby.  Our original office and training center were not far from the site of the terrible warehouse fire that killed at least 33.

The fire never should have happened: an illegal art collective was in the warehouse with many people living there with no attempt to get permits; no fire sprinklers or legal entrance or exits marked.  So there was a music event on the 2nd floor, one staircase made of wood pallets the only exit and entrance, and material that was just waiting to burn.

The city is at fault for not inspecting the building; the owner for allowing it to happen….and there are probably a number of other warehouses being used for the same purpose.

But what I want to focus on is your safety at any event you either attend or produce.  I produced Roller Derby, concerts, sports events, and then ticketed them through my company at a later time….I have been in this business (currently with Brown Paper Tickets) for 60 years.

There are no shortcuts to safety for those who attend events, whether it is Roller Derby, clubs, concerts, festivals or whatever.  First, as a spectator, once you have entered the facility look for the exits, are they clearly marked?  I am always concerned about halls where tickets are sold as general admission….are there clear aisles, does it seem oversold to you?  Greedy promoters (not an oxymoron) will often keep selling beyond permitted capacity….happens more often than you think…what we did at BASS would check the capacity (set by the fire marshal) and never sell beyond the figure, no matter what the promoter wanted.  And if you think the facility is over capacity, leave and request a refund.  I also suggest contacting the fire marshal for future reference.

The major arenas and buildings usually are operated by the cities or management, and you are more safe attending events there (maybe not as much fun).  less likely to be a counter- culture event.

The lesson learned from the Oakland fire is that you do not think that when you are going to hear music you are putting your life at risk.  Just do a few simple checks whenever you go.

Joe McCarthy to Donald Trump….my personal travel. Already saw this rodeo.


In 1952 I was a junior at Northwestern University.  I would be in the army in two years, but at that time I was too young to vote (not yet 21).

It was an election year.  Truman had decided he had enough, so he was going to pack up Bess and Margaret and go back to Independence, Missouri.  The wartime hero/general Dwight Eisenhower was running against Adlai Stevenson from Illinois.  And in the fall of 1952 we were holding a mock political convention.

Every fraternity, sorority and independent house on campus represented some state.  My fraternity (an all Jewish house since none of the others would take our kind) was South Carolina.  Our chairman for the convention had written to governor Strom Thurmond and he had kindly sent us a large confederate flag which had flown over the state house, so we were all ready.

The convention represented both parties, and some well-known legislators had been booked to talk to us, including Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.  He who was causing so much controversy, claiming the Democrats were the party of Communism who had sold out in Korea, and harbored so many hated communists (substitute immigrants for today) who were out to destroy America.  He claimed to have the names of subversives in government and other establishments, and his hearings would lead to the destruction of many innocent lives.

I sat close to the stage in the gymnasium; he started speaking at a very low calm level, and we pretty much got his standard speech:  America was on the verge of insurrection; the Democrats were either communists or shielding them;  then he waved a stack of papers shouting here are all the names, and they all will be brought out into the open.  I was very shaken by this man.

In the next several years his power and following increased; his hearings got more and more terrifying, until finally at one with the Secretary of the Army he accused an innocent lieutenant and the Secretary, almost in a fury, stood and froze the monster with his famous “Have you no shame, Senator McCarthy” tirade……Edward R. Murrow devoted one of his “See it Now” programs to expose McCarthy.  In 1954 Joe was finally censured by the Senate.  He died a broken alcoholic in 1957.

Have you no shame, Donald Trump?

What do Walkathons, Red Skelton, Lord Buckley, and the evil Pendergast machine have in common?


After operating movie theaters in Portland, Oregon, Leo Seltzer organized a Walkathon in the depression era and took it on the road; a walkathon was similar to a dance marathon, except it involved walking (are you clear).  He took it first to Denver, was very successful, and then to Kansas City.

Now Kansas City was the home of the Pendergast political machine, which was closer to Al Capone’s operation than a political party.  Police were bribed, so despite prohibition, alcohol, and all the other evils were pretty wide open, and they had control of whatever went on in the city.  My father was approached about working with them, and turned them down cold…..he started receiving threats, and one night with a packed house, stink bombs were set off throughout the building, forcing evacuation.  Mr. McElroy, who managed the building, came in the next night and told Leo he had to close as the building was a fire hazard.  When a nearby reporter (my father contacted the press….where do you think I learned that stuff) heard it he asked on what grounds….”Coffee Grounds” yelled McElroy…..the papers printed that, Leo got a restraining order and then completed the run.

Three of the MCs for his Walkathons were Red Skelton, Frankie Lane, and Lord Buckley.  Red honed all his later material here, met a “walker” girl he liked, and married her….they never separated.  Frankie went on to become a famous singer in the fifties; his most famous song was “Mule Train”.  Lord Buckley was before his time.  In the realm of Lenny Bruce and later George Carlin, he was the ultimate hipster…..His routines were “the Naz” about Jesus, and this one (from youtube) about the Gettysburg address given in hipster…..too few remain today.

Leo toured with his walkathons for three more years, until one day at the Chicago Coliseum, and you know the rest…..here is his Lord, Buckley.