Jerry Seltzer bio “Seltzer is the head of the third wave of American sports promoters this century” Frank Deford


Jerry was born June 3,1932 in Portland, Oregon.  His father Leo operated 3 movie theaters in Portland but had become intrigued with Walkathons, a marathon-type event that he then produced until 1935 when he had the idea of putting the participants on roller skates on a banked track.  Thus Roller Derby was born.

Jerry attended Stanford and Northwestern Universities, then entered the US Army where he served in the Counter Intelligence corps in Austria.  A few years after his return to the US he took over the operation of the International Roller Derby League and ran it from 1959  to 1973 when it ceased operations.  Roller Derby became so popular in the Bay Area, that it outdrew all professional sports teams except for the Giants.  He produced a one hour tape series weekly which was also distributed to over 110 stations  in the US and Canada.  He did color commentary on many of the telecasts and announced on a few.

Live games were scheduled in major arenas and stadia across the country, and some of the attendance records set were 19,500 at Madison Square Garden; 14,727 at Oracle Arena, Oakland; 27,000 at Shea Stadium New York; 34,544 at The Oakland Stadium; and 50,114 at White Sox Park in Chicago.

He was contacted by Lamar Hunt and a group of AFL football owners to head up a consortium to buy the Oakland Seals of the NHL.  Although his group had the endorsement of the Oakland Coliseum Arena and local media, the NHL chose Charlie Finley who had to suspend operations within two years.

His PR firm (Gerald E. Seltzer and Associates) consulted for the Oakland Clippers of the NASL Soccer league, and headed the campaign to keep trucks off of interstate 580 through the center of Oakland (still in effect today!)

Photo by kaeska from stock.xchng.com

Photo by kaeska from stock.xchng.com

While with BASS he produced  concerts for Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard for a client. Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager, presented him with a Platinum record of Willie’s for helping to boost his career.  Also co-produced two Russian River Music Festivals in Guerneville, Ca.

He also presented the Highwaymen (Willie, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson) in two concerts for the BASS Ticket Foundation, which provided tickets for the underserved in the community.  BASS was also the exclusive ticketing agency used by Bill Graham presents, the Oakland Coliseum Complex, Shorenstein Nederlander theatres, The SF Giants, The Oakland Raiders, The 49ers, the Oakland As, Shoreline Arena, HP Pavilion, Arco Arena and dozens more.

He was also selected to handle the ticketing (and tour with) Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue.

In 1970 he produced “Derby”, a documentary about the players in the game, which was judged the best film at the San Francisco Film Festival , and which received excellent reviews from the New York Times, Saturday Review, and most of the critics of the day.  Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars….He also produced “First Position”, a cinema verite film centered on the American Ballet School in New York City, with appearances by many of the leading dancers in the world.

In 1974 he and partner Hal Silen started BASS tickets in the Bay Area, the first wholly owned independent computerized service.  It provided many producer and customer services that Ticketron hadn’t, and became the dominant ticket service in the SF Bay Area.  BASS systems were sold to Vancouver,  Houston, and Melbourne (Australia).  On November 18, 1985, San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan declared it as “Jerry Seltzer Day” in acknowledgment of his involvement with Thunder Road, a teenage drug and rehab center.

Hal and Jerry also created the BASS Tickets Foundation, which provided over $ 1 million in tickets annually to over 200 underserved non profits in the Bay Area so their clients could see various entertainments, and they worked with the San Francisco Ballet to have special presentations with children from urban areas to meet the dancers and understand and appreciate areas they might never know.

In 1983 Seltzer joined Ticketmaster as executive Vice President, Marketing and Sales, and created the same kind of services that BASS provided and within 5 years the company had virtually eliminated Ticketron from the marketplace.  He also provided management help for various local offices including New York, Chicago, Denver, Orlando and Miami.

After leaving Ticketmaster in 1993 he moved from Santa Monica to Sonoma, California, sitting on a number of non-profit boards including the Bay Area American Red Cross.  He was asked by Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Church to help to secure a venue and help with the marketing and fund raising for  the 30th aniversary celebration of the church with Robin Williams, Bobby McFerrin, Maya Angelo and others that raised over $300,000.  He was also an initial consultant for Stub Hub.

In 1997 he co-founded the Sonoma Film Festival which today is considered one of the leading independent festivals. Proceeds from the Festival were used to restore the classic Sebastiani theatre. The following year funds were raised for lights for events at the Sebastiani.  He helped present “Derby Baby” at the festival in 2012.

He and his sister Gloria Gurian donated land in Seaside Oregon to create Seltzer Park near Leo’s home, and presented concerts with Willie Nelson and the Smothers Brothers to raise funds. He had served on the Bay Area Board of the American Red Cross and in the past three years was involved with the Red Cross and Brown Paper Tickets in co-ordinating blood drives in Northern California, New England, Chicago, Florida, Pennsylvania, and  New York….over the last several years over 3300 lives were saved from the blood donated.

He also serves as “The Commissioner” of modern day Roller Derby.  there are now 1967 amateur  leagues in 65 countries encompassing over 100,000 participants (www.derbylisting.com).  He has no official capacity other than advisor to the various leagues on a non-compensated basis.  The Seltzer Cup, named for his father, is presented by at the annual USARS national championship.  And Texas Roller Derby, the first modern Roller Derby banked track league, features the Ann Calvello Cup, which is presented annually to its championship team.

He joined Brown Paper Tickets in sales outreach in 2013 and recently resigned to concentrate on consulting.

He has a blog:  www.rollerderbyjesus.com.  Featured in “Five Strides on the Banked Track”, Frank Deford, Little Brown;  “A very simple game” Herb Michelson; “From Roller Derby to Rollerjam” Keith Coppage;  “Ticket Masters” by Dean Burdick; “Bay Area Roller Derby” by Keith Coppage and Jerry Seltzer.  and of course a wikipedia page. he twitters @jeryseltzer, and has over 8000 friends and followers on facebook…, and his blog has had almost 400,000 viewings.  He was featured in a recent BBC presentation on Roller Derby, in a segment of “Strange Inheritances” on Fox Business Channel and in the Mark Greczmiel documentary on the late, lamented, Oakland Seals Hockey team of the NHL.  And he was featured in the CBS television program “Decades” on 8/13/2018.

Recently he was the subject of the April 2017 issue of Valley of the Moon Magazine and a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle relating to the 20th anniversary of the Sonoma Film Festival.  He also co-presented on behalf of Brown Paper Tickets the World Roller Derby Week in Chicago August 13 to 19 2017..the event on August 13 took place on the original site of the Chicago Coliseum, where his father and he presented Roller Derby.

The American Red Cross Northwest selected him as a 2018 Red Cross Hero for the blood drives, and he was honored at a function in Santa Rosa, Ca.

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Derby’s Golden Age……for me


When most people think of the “Golden Age” they are referring to the 60’s and 70’s when Roller Derby was on 110 TV stations in the US and Canada, and we filled huge arenas and stadia and everyone knew Joan Weston, Charlie O”Connell, Ann Calvello, Ken Monte, Carol Meyer, Tony Roman, Mike Gammon, Judi Mcguire and many more as the superstars of Derby. These people were in 10 million living rooms every week because of the games we videotaped and shipped around to all locations.

Collage with elements by lilie from stock.xchng.com.

And most of these great skaters had become interested in the game because of the early television from New York and Chicago in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  My fond memories are from the late 30’s until my Dad took it into New York for the first big explosion.

As I stated in an earlier post (Roller Derby in Hollywood), I first saw the game in the glamorous movie capital of the world, and these skaters were bigger than life.

Wes Aronson was the golden boy, built like Charlie O’Connell but movie star handsome and an effortless skating style.  He was publicized as dating Eleanor Powell, a movie dancing partner of Fred Astaire.  I think however, that even at that time he was married to his beautiful skating partner, Kitty Nehls.  There were the fabulous Atkinson boys, Tommy and Buddy.  Tommy again movie star handsome and skated the track better than anyone ever; he never used a shoulder or body block but was able to control the pack with his hip block.  Buddy was a choppy skater who made it on effort rather than talent.

And the amazing women:  Ivy King was the first woman superstar.  She skated in the first “race” in 1935 and looked so unlike a skater:  diminutive, wearing glasses while skating and yet with amazing ability.  It wasn’t until she was 90 at the 70th anniversary dinner in Chicago (where I first met Val Capone and the Windy City Rollers) that I realized what a potty mouth she had.  A great sense of humor with one really raunchy joke after another.

During warmups the men and women squads would skate together; first the visiting team, then the home team, in their beautiful uniforms, the women wearing capes during warmup.  At the end of the session, the team would form into a pace, flying along in the  five stride all together, high on the straightaway, low into the turn, moving so fast they seemed a blur, and the sound of the wooden wheels on the masonite surface caused the audience to pause from whatever they were doing to become aware of the power of the athletes on the track.

The game would begin, with the men skating first, a fifteen minute period, followed by the women, then the men again and finally the women ending the half.  The trackside announcer would bring the audience to a fever pitch, calling attention to what the athletes were doing and focusing on the stars.  Oftentimes there was music during the jam, with stimulating classics like the William Tell Overture, Flight of the bumble-bee, 1812 overture, etc.

At halftime there would be an “Open House” where skaters would perform various talents such as singing, dancing, etc, and the audience would show their approval by throwing coins…these skaters were making only $25 to $100 a month, plus food and lodging, so everything helped.  Billy Bogash and Buddy Atkinson would perform a jitterbug dance which would bring the house down.  Then the second half would begin, with the women’s period first, and three succeeding periods with the men skating last.  The final score was a total of the each men’s and womens’ teams.

Generally married couples or skaters who were going together would have the same number;  Buddy Atkinson and Bobbie Johnstone would each have number 2, Gene Gammon and Gerry Murray number 10, Wes and Kitty number 12, and so on.   No number 1 after 1937 to honor the skaters killed in the terrible bus crash.   Bert Wall and Bobbie Mateer were married, as was Ken Monte and Toughie Brasuhn.  Ken was a good ten years younger than Toughie, and it seemed at that time that the women skaters would latch on to the younger men:  Loretta Behrens (and later Ann Calvello) with Charlie O’Connell, Mary Youpelle and Russ Massro, and so on.

And skaters were given names and backgrounds to make them more individual in the eyes of the fans:  Elmer “Elbows” Anderson was reputed to have been born in London and a concert pianist,  Mary “Pochahantas” Youpelle was a full-blooded native American (?).  Mary can be asked that today, if you like.  And then there was “Ma” Bogash, whose doctor had ordered her to exercise (true) so she took up skating at the very old age of 42.  My father thought she would be a great addition to the Derby, so he convinced her to join, but she only agreed if her undersized 16-year old son Billy could come at the same time.   Of course he became one of the greatest of all athletes in the game and was one of the first inducted into the Hall of Fame.

These were my childhood heroes, my Dimaggios, Red Granges, Hank Luisettis.  And many were the great women athletes.  Of course they mothered me and I will never forget their affection towards me

And the names that have been lost:  Gertie Scholls, all the Gardners, Bob Satterfield, Paul Milane (who skated for Mickey Rooney in “Fireball”) and on and on.   And how I remember the great Mary Lou Palermo…..please forgive me for those I don’t list.

Today’s game and its empowerment factor are wonderful and I so appreciate it, but realize every time I see anyone on skates, I go back to 70 years of affection for the players of the wonderful game.

If you want to read more about this era in what modern-day fans and skaters are calling “the best coffee table book ever” get your copy of Roller Derby to Rollerjam, covering the game with great writing and photos from 1935 to 1999 at http://www.rollerderbycommish.com.  And now the brand new “Bay Area Roller Derby” by Keith Coppage and me takes you from the 30’s up to modern Day Derby.  Available at all book stores and amazon.com.

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Resurrection?


Around the turn of the century (sounds weird, huh?) I received a call from Stephen Land of Jupiter Entertainment.  He had read the story Frank Deford had written for the New York Times on the sad death of Joan Weston, and he wanted to talk to me about the revival of Roller Derby.

Photo by mordoc from Stock.xchng

Stephen was not the first one I had heard from since the REAL Roller Derby had disappeared in the 70’s, but he seemed the most sincere and credible.  I had had a call in the 80’s from a promoter in New Jersey who said he had a ton of money behind him, could get TV and believed that together we could bring it back.  I told him I has working between Los Angeles and San Francisco with Ticketmaster and BASS and he was welcome to come and see me with a proposal.  When he asked me to send him a ticket, I knew that guy was really for real (outta here!).

But Stephen was different, so I went to Knoxville to meet with him and his partner in this venture Ross Bagwell, a well-known name in the TV production and television industry.  I said that I was really not interested in starting Roller Derby again as it had been and they both said they wanted to make a game that would make Leo proud.  I don’t think I listened carefully enough because one of them said that if it didn’t work well they could always bring in “The Iron Sheik”.  I guess I thought they were kidding.

So here it was late summer, they had a TV commitment on TNN (which has gone through two transitions and name changes, now Spike), but their show had to be on the air in January.  I admit I was alarmed…..how to get skaters, get a track built, all the logistics, etc.  I contacted Buddy Atkinson Jr and he was willing to take it on.  The decision was made to make the game more contemporary by having all the skaters in in-line skates (bad idea) and that a special High-velocity banked track would be designed.  Now Buddy has built a number of tracks, the standard upright steel and masonite, and he had a new design which he felt could be built for about $25,000.  Instead, the head of the TV construction took over, and they ended up with a quarter-million dollar track that was not only hard to skate on (I can’t believe how the skaters did the fabulous skating they did), but had no resiliency when they fell as a masonite suspended track has.

The word went out for speed skaters and others, and I have never seen talent like that which showed up.  World class sprinters and distance skaters in fabulous shape (Debbie, Stacey, Gallagher, Sean, Janet, Denise and others, I can’t name you all).  Unfortunately, with the time necessary to get a building to build the track, the skaters on hand, the training didn’t start until after Halloween (correct me if I am wrong).  The skaters were all guaranteed $1000 per week, and the games were to be taped at Universal Studios.  I think I fooled myself into thinking that because these were such skilled skaters they would be ready.  The problem was the game;  none of these people had ever seen Roller Derby and there were no instincts available to know where the jammers were (two on each team), how the blockers were positioned, etc.  So there was a compromise:  some plays would be planned in order to make the game better (I weaseled here), situations would be set up so there would be good guys vs bad guys and away we went.  Buddy did a great job training them, but we just hoped we could get lucky.

The first telecast garnered the highest rating the network had ever had, but the game was dreadful.  It looked like they were skating in mud, even the planned jams fell apart, so much confusion, etc.  About the fifth game it got considerably better, but the TV audience had vacated.  The decision was made to bring in some quad skaters who would bring “color” into the game because of their experience in previous skating (only Richard Brown had skated some Roller Derby), and Mark D’amato became the dominant villain.  I admit, I was made the commissioner and had a few scenes in the “office” (oh, the lure of acting).  I kept trying to convince Stephen and Ross that since the games were being seen in many cities, and a number of them had decent ratings, that scheduling games might be the answer.  They were so concerned about getting a good TV show, they felt it wasn’t the time.

The decision was made to schedule a week at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas to add a little elan to the games.  The crowds were decent, but I knew that Stephen and Ross were not happy with the “production” so writers were given free rein to WWE it, and boy they did…….races where the women tore each others dresses off; instead of a penalty box, skaters were forced to go into a cage off the track……bad guys came in helicopters and took off with a woman captain, etc.

When we returned to Orlando I told the two men that I could not stay with it anymore.  They are really good people and treated me and everyone connected with the project fairly.  As I recall, Ross kind of left also and went to his home in Jupiter, Florida.  It was their money that was in the production and I know they were trying to recover it.

A referee replaced me as the commissioner (most people didn’t recognize him with a suit on….he was a professional actor and did a good job).  But I have to tell you of the nicest thing that came out of the whole thing:  I asked Stephen if he would do Ann Calvello the favor of having her skate in her 7th decade and having it on TV.  Ann came in, had a match race with the commissioner, and creamed him.  Happy birthday, Ann!.

Well, I thought, this was even worse than roller games and now there would never be any Roller Derby, let alone a legitimate game.

Well, once again, as Butch Cassidy said “Who are these guys and where did they come from?”  Thank you Derby Girls and Boys.

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Annie, Charlie, Joanie and me


It’s time to regress.

I haven’t spoken much about the skaters in my time.  They are probably still very well known today because of you tube and the wonderful book “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” by Keith Coppage with photos by Rock and Roll legend photographer Baron Wolman (www.rollerderbycommish.com)

I am constantly asked why the 1973 season is the only one available and on you tube.  In the late sixties and early seventies there was virtually no home use of video tape and no cable to speak of.  So we made an arrangement with our videotape distributor (we were serving 120 stations by shipping videotapes to them every week) Technicolor TAV  that they owned the videotapes and we owned the program.  So at the end of each year, the tapes were erased (Ugh) and used for the next season.

Therefore Hal Silen and I were able to keep only the final 1973 season but unfortunately we were scammed out of them and couldn’t use them ourselves (that is another story).

But because of this programming America and Canada followed the Bay Bombers and the other teams in our league.  And the stars shown.  There was “Bomber Great” Charlie O’connell, Joan “Golden Girl” Weston, Ann Calvello (too many nicknames, none flattering) and “Peanuts” Meyer, Tony Roman, Ken Monte, Margie Lazslo,Bert Wall and Bobbie Mateer, Mike and Judy Gammon, Frankie Macedo, Lydia Clay, Ronnie Robinson, Sandy Dunn, Bob Woodberry,  Carolyn Moreland, Lou Donovan, Cathy Read, Bob Hein, Delores Tucker, Nick Scopas, Cliff Butler Avery, Bill Groll and on and on and I don’t want to offend anyone, but there is just not enough room to mention all who made Roller Derby great.  Road Manager Hal Janowitz; announcers Don Drewry and Ken Kunzelman,   Referees:  Bill Morrissey, Gene Moyer (also our advance man), Jimmy Pierce (also our truck driver) and our great management staff.

Charlie had been the bad boy of Roller Derby.  He came in very young and cocky, was immediately grabbed by Calvello (bet you didn’t know that!  I think Derby invented cougars) and bounced around and was finally put on the Bombers, which was kind of a catch-all team as there wasn’t that much skating on a consistent basis in the Bay area.  That certainly changed in the late fifties when I took over.

I can’t remember why Joanie had been on the Bombers as she certainly was a star.  The Bombers were coached and captained by Russ Baker and Annis “Big Red” Jensen, two talented skaters whose daughter Barbara skated on the team in later years.  After Russ left to start a business in Santa Rosa, Bill Laurino became coach.  Bill had two fingers he had lost in a construction accident but was quite a skater.  When he disputed a call on a jam and thought there should have been 4 points instead of two, he held up his hand and Charlie yelled “Bill, we should have gotten more than two points”.Figure it out.

Charlie and Joan were athletes.  Charlie had played football, Joan was a softball star at her women’s college in Southern California.  Eventually Charlie became coach and the team and eventually the whole league took on his style of skating which was wide open, full-blast effort.  It really made for exciting games.  Not much finesse, but when you saw skaters flying around the banked track at breakneck speed doing amazing athletic moves it more than satisfied the audience, both on hand and on television.  And Joan, to see this beautiful tall blonde (although in today’s Roller Derby her 5 foot 9 inch height would be dwarfed by a number of skaters) was not only a great blocker, but also could jam.  Remember in that game a player could switch positions between jams.

We built a tremendous audience around the country who could watch a game every week and then once or twice a year could see the stars in person.  If you can imagine going into an arena, setting up the track, skating the game, tearing it down and then moving on to the next city. Hopefully it was not too far, but it still was a very tiring life, skating 4 games a week in different cities.  Also, sometimes it seemed to make no sense:  skate one night in Milwaukee (which is 90 miles from Chicago), the next game in St. Louis, and then come back to Chicago.  The reason? available dates in the arenas.

Joanie was a mother hen, worried about her girls, making sure all problems were taken care of, in addition to her responsibilities as woman captain.  Plus she was always requested for television interviews and this took more of her personal time.  If she complained, you know she would come through as she was definitely a trooper.  One night after we had a game in Richmond, Virginia, Ken Campbell, our southern promoter from Richmond, VA (he also was the Nascar promoter), had arranged an interview in Greenville, North Carolina, and since he was a pilot he flew us in his plane to Greenville.  Joanie hated the flight, but both she and Ronnie Robinson (Sugar Ray’s son) did the newspaper and TV interviews.  As we passed through the airport I said loudly to Joan and Ronnie “I think this will be a great place for you lovebirds to get married.”  (Greenville, North Carolina 1969 not the best place for mixed marriage).  They both would have killed me if I didn’t sign their paychecks.

Charlie was surly and wanted to be left alone.  He rarely would do interviews (unless on our telecasts, you can watch one or two on youtube) and that only added to his persona.  Autographs? almost never.  Scowling constantly, but what a great skater.  There is no doubt he and Joanie and Ann (more on her later) were the reason for our great rise in popularity and why we were able to sell out arenas and stadiums across America.

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…..