Just some stories.

Photo by bertvthul from stock.xchng

During the Roller Derby road trips in Fall and Winter we required the skaters who wanted to use their cars to take two other people with them.  Charlie O’Connell was not happy about doing it but in addition to someone he knew, a rookie who he barely knew was assigned to his vehicle.  Somewhere in Ohio there was a stop for gas, etc and Charlie proceeded to the next date (I think it was Pittsburgh).  When he arrived and dressed for the game he realized he only had 7 players instead of the 8 on his team.  We found the rookie stranded in Ohio and we sent him a bus ticket…..luckily Charlie remembered him the rest of the road trip

Probably our best referee was Bill Morrisey.  He was quite serious, not a lot of histrionics, but called penalties equally on all skaters.  One night at a Cow Palace game Charlie was in the infield when an opposing skater came flying into his back and Charlie rolled into Morrisey and knocked him down.  Bill’s glasses came flying off, and when he got up he turned around to O’Connell and threw him out of the game.  The crowd went crazy, their superstar not able to skate the rest of the night.  Charlie came off the track and found me…..”Did you see the crowd reaction, we can pack the house for the next Cow Palace game if I skate a match race with Morrisey”  “Are you nuts, he can’t skate” ” Don’t worry about it.”

Well our referees didn’t skate, there were two (three for playoffs) who walked backwards in the infield in a figure eight with each one designated to watch either the pack or the jammers.  I told Charlie we would start promoting it for the next game at the Cow Palace.

Match races were extra events sometimes held at half time, generally featuring top skaters from opposing teams.  This race was to be 4 laps around the track, legal blocking.

The night came, the Cow Palace was sold out, and fans could barely contain themselves.  I was amazed that Bill stepped up to the starting line.  The other referee blew the whistle to signal the start of the race.  Charlie immediately turned and blocked Morrisey to the infield.  He lay there stunned as Charlie sprinted around the track.  Just before Charlie got back to the starting point Bill got on his feet and back on the track:  “Boom”, Charlie laid him out again…this happened each lap until Charlie won.  Bill had never gotten off the starting line.  Afterwards, I asked Charlie how Bill  had gotten on the skates OK.  “Easy, he locked the wheels so they wouldn’t turn”

One of the first events we handled for the student activities director at UC Berkeley was a film that has never been released.  Mick Jagger authorized and paid for the production which followed the Stones through an US tour in the early 70’s.  I saw it and it had some very great moments in it:  the Stones stopping at a roadhouse in the South that featured all blues and the world-famous band standing in awe of what the locals were doing.  And there were some great Rolling Stones concert footage.  The problem was that the film maker shot a completely honest film:  Mick and Bianca talking appeared just vacuous; the roadies having sex with groupies on the plane; much use of coke, etc and Keith Richards backstage looking out of it with white powder by his nose and shooting heroin.  The film was to celebrate how the group had ended their relationship with one label while going to another.  The label told them they were owed one more album, so the Stones recorded a obscene group of songs and the album was called the c**ks****r blues, which was the name of the film.

The problem at BASS was, what did we put on the tickets.  We were told that we had to put the name of the film on them which really presented a dilemma, since our department store (Mont’y Ward) at that time, refused to sell the two performances, so we used just our record stores and our phone sales.  The film maker had been told by Mick to destroy the film and never show it;  of course it was his work of art and he was determined to have it seen.  Our phone room and staff referred to it as cs blues, and both showings at Zellerbach Auditorium sold out immediately.   Maybe that would not be such a problem in today’s society, but it sure was in the 70’s.  The director Robert Frank was vindicated in later years when the film was shown in 1998 in the San Francisco Film Festival and called “one of the best rock and roll films ever”.  You thought ticket selling was easy.

Shortly after I moved to Sonoma in 1993 the Rolling Stones were performing at the Oakland Coliseum along with Pearl Jam.  Since we still had the BASS box in the Stadium, Judi and I decided that we would take a bus load of friends to the show.  Among those I invited from Sonoma were Richard Cuneo, chairman of Sebastiani who had never been to a concert and brought his two young sons, Tommy Smothers and his wife Marcia, John Lasseter (“Toy Story”) and Nancy, and a prominent orthopedic surgeon and a leading restaurateur, as well as a good friend I will call Dave.  Judi had invited Susie Tompkins, the co-founder of Esprit, Tom Hulce (“Amadeus”) and a group of other people, including one I have to keep nameless.  Judi and Susie had exotic food; Richard Cuneo brought a case of wonderful Sebastiani wine.

We left from Sonoma in a blinding rainstorm and picked up Judi and some of her friends in Marin County and then headed towards Berkeley, where we picked up the others.  Judi was passing out the food. and the wine was being poured when one person, who had just separated from her spouse, grabbed a bottle and was drinking from it.  I said to Richard, ‘what a great promotion for your wine, take a picture of her drinking from the bottle and you can use it as an ad, as everybody knows who she is”.  He looked at me as though I was crazy…..he didn’t know me that well yet.

When we got to the Stadium the rain had pretty well stopped, and we missed Pearl Jam, but nobody was feeling any pain.  When we got to the box, Dave pulled out a very welcome bag of marijuana which he happily donated to the party.The young Cuneos headed down to the infield to get close to the stage and the projected runway.  Tommy, who was definitely feeling no pain confessed although he and his brother Dick had had many of the famous rock and roller on their TV program, this was the first concert he had actually attended.  Suddenly he disappeared and seemed to be gone for a long time.  Marcia was getting concerned.  When he finally showed up, he said that he couldn’t remember the box number (all were private sky boxes with doors to enter) so he kept going from box to box stating that this was Jerry Seltzer’s box and he was supposed to be there…..apparently he was thrown out a number of times, but finally ended up with us.

I can’t tell you too much about the concert…..I have seen the Stones at least a dozen times and really enjoy them.  However, our magic bus was the story that night, and it got even crazier on the way home.  Most people wanted to sleep (I put a Vivaldi album on the sound system), but Tommy and the surgeon kept walking up and down the aisle demanding that everyone stay awake until their respective wives pulled them into the seats.

I considered it an A plus evening.

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It has to be fun or don’t do it, confessions of a Roller Derby promoter

When my older son was just seven or eight we took  him and a friend to the opening of the Bay Bombers outdoor season at the San Jose Ball Park.   We always had a picnic with the skaters and fans on the outfield grass before the first game.  It is a beautiful little park holding about 3000 and the fans loved to come there.  It was almost always sold out in advance.

After we picnicked on the grass I walked with the children to their seats.  Steven’s friend turned to him and said I thought you said we were going to your father’s work — this is just a good time.

I always thoroughly enjoyed Roller Derby;  not only the game and the skaters and the fans, but the fact it was something I really loved doing.  And because we were outside of the usual sports spectrum we could do things that other “real” sports couldn’t.

Our publicist was a great guy named Herb Michelson.  Herb was moonlighting with us, as he was a columnist for the Oakland Tribune and covered the Giants for AP.  Both he and I would try to figure how we could present things in a different light, and I think the sportswriters appreciated it because the other sports took themselves so seriously.

Example, Charlie Finley moved the Athletics baseball team from Kansas City to Oakland and assumed that he was still in the midwest and not the more sophisticated Bay Area.   He brought Charlie O the mule as mascot.  He had a mechanical rabbit that popped up from behind the plate to give umpires the ball and he did all the promotions that he had done in Kansas City.

The first one was (ugh) Hot Pants night; all the girls who showed up in hot pants would get in free.  We immediately sent out a press release that at our next game at the Coliseum Arena, next door from the baseball stadium, would be no pants night, and all women who showed up without pants would be admitted free, and we would take their word for it.  Charlie was furious.

Then he had farmer’s night (in Oakland?), so of course we had farmers’ daughters night, and so on.

Two of our best attention getters involved two of the other sports teams.  First, the Warriors basketball team ended their season tied for a playoff position with another team.  Because the playoffs started immediately, the league made the decision that the place would be determined by a coin flip…..you can imagine the uproar.  So of course we called a press conference and had the coaches and captains of the six teams in our league on hand.  Herb said that because the NBA had shown the way, the International Roller Derby League was not going through the bother of playing the next season, but we were just going to flip a coin with each team  to decide how they would finish in our league standings.  The press loved it.

We also knew that a minor league hockey team was going to be playing at the Cow Palace in San Francisco the following season, and they had a contest to determine the name of the team; it was to be revealed on Wednesday of the following week.  A box office manager who was a friend of mine (and later married Gloria “Miffy Mifsud”) said the name was going to be the San Francisco Seals, which was the name of the old Pacific Coast League Baseball team.

So of course, that Sunday on our live telecast, I announced because there were so many Roller Derby fans in the Bay Area the Bay Bombers were going to be split into two teams, and the one based in San Francisco would be named the San Francisco Seals.  Of course, all hell broke loose; the hockey owners cried foul (and the Bay Bomber fans were not happy) and we got great press all week, and then of course the following Sunday I said on the telecast that in the interest of great sportsmanship, we were withdrawing our efforts to put a new team in San Francisco, but we still were going ahead with our game scheduled the following weekend at the Cow Palace with the big match race between Joan Weston and Ann Calvello.

We didn’t do anything mean spirited, but it was fun to tweak a few noses.

The real fun for me was creating special events;  when the Oakland City Council announced they didn’t have enough money to have the annual fireworks display on July 4th, we immediately rented the Oakland Stadium (luckily Mr. Finley’s team was out of town) and scheduled a game at 7 PM to be followed by a massive fireworks show.  Ron Gibson, our promotional genius, booked every available drill team, drum and bugle corps, band and other talent (free, of course, but they got to watch the game and the fireworks).  We had tricycle races with such sport stars as Rick Barry and Oakland Raiders players and almost 35,000 fans showed up, the largest crowd in our history to that point.  And we raised over $15,000 for the Providence Hospital Fund, and when handed the check to the Mother Superior she almost fainted…….a lot of money in 1971.

We tried to make our visits to the cities elsewhere in the country major events;  you have to realize that many of these towns had never had live stars from television show up, in addition to their being great athletes on  skates.  Often times Ann Calvello or Joan Weston would be sent out in advance to the major cities along with Gene Moyer, our advance man and referee (everyone had at least two jobs in Roller Derby).  When we played New York and sold out Madison Square Garden, it really opened up major press coverage across the country. (“If you make it there, you can make it everywhere”).

The biggest event ever was in Chicago in 1972.  We had come to a cooperative agreement with the National Skating Derby, and the first time that LA Thunderbirds and the Midwest Pioneers would meet would be at Chicago on September 15, 1972.  I immediately set out to book an arena.  We usually played at the International Amphitheater which was an 8000 seat building at the Stockyard (yes,  the air was fragrant).  However, it was not available because of a livestock show.  The only other arena in town was the Chicago Stadium owned by James Norris and Arthur Wirtz. Mr. Wirtz did not think kindly of the Seltzers as my father had operated the competing Coliseum….and he turned me down cold (although the date was available).

I knew we had the makings of a huge event, but where to go?  I don’t know why but I thought why not White Sox Park (Comiskey Park).  The White Sox were out of town and I checked it out and felt that if we put the track across home plate, approximately 20,000 people would be able to see the game well.  I booked it and we and the National Skating Derby started the promotion on our two different telecasts with Chet Coppock promoting it on the Pioneers telecasts.  We arranged for ticket sales through Ticketron and frankly I was scared to death.  Expenses would be overwhelming if we did not do well.

The day tickets went on sale it was raining, and I did not take that as a good sign.  I also knew that because of the schedules of the two leagues, we could not hold the day following the game as a rain date (stupid, huh).  At any rate our Ticketron rep called me and told me that tickets were flying out and sold almost 20,000 on the first day.  I knew then we were headed for a huge crowd and told our track setup people that we were now going to have to put the track across second base which meant that everyone would be far away, but what the hell.

A week before the event it started raining and it rained every day.  We had sold over 40,000 tickets in advance.  I and the skaters went on various interviews.   I told the columnist from the Chicago Tribune that we had sold 15,000 tickets and that we expected a crowd of 20.000.  He laughed and in his article he said there would never be that many to attend a game in Chicago.

It rained the morning of the 15th, but miraculously at noon it stopped and it cleared up.  The fans started to the Park at 5 PM and completely tied up commuter traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway from downtown Chicago (great picture in the Sun Times the next day).  We opened the box offices at the Park and had to stop selling and turned people away as our attendance hit 50,112.  You can see photos of this and other great Roller Derby history in Keith Coppage’s great book with Baron Wolman’s unbelievable Roller derby photos.(Rolling Stone first chief Photographer).  Go to www.rollerderbycommish.com   See, I am still promoting.  By the way, it started raining that night as they were tearing down the track and rained every day for the next week.  Thank you, Great Godess.

The Pioneers won, the fans went home happy, I picked up a great girlfriend who was in the stands that night, and how could anything be more fun for me than promoting Roller Derby.