Gloria and Jerry

My sister and I went through a lot together early in life:  our mother dying when she was 12 and I was 9, being uprooted to Chicago from our comfortable family existence in Portland.  From the first day we arrived in Chicago Gloria and I started to save  coins so that we had enough money we could move back to Oregon.

Dad tried his best……it was just different after being with our mother and grandmothers most of the time and our cousins (the Weinsteins and the Seltzers) no longer being around.  Eventually Oscar’s family also moved out to Glenview, so our cousins were there.  Then Dad brought our grandfather and grandmother Seltzer to Chicago also, but none of us was quite the same in the new environment.

We had a new stepmom Lois who neither Gloria or I ever got close to.  That 2nd marriage ended in a bitter divorce and Gloria was more intent than ever on leaving when she could.  I was starting to have a good time as cousin Bob and I would go to Chicago every Saturday and peruse the camera stores and other downtown delights and end up at the Coliseum and come home with my dad.  And my grandfather took me to see the Cubs for the first time……it just happened to be the World Series (how many alive can say they saw the Cubs in the World Series?), and my sister started at Niles Twp High School in Skokie, where my cousins and I eventually went and graduated.

Gloria bonded with the best friends of her life at Niles.  Her group was called “The Pearls”…..I don’t remember why.  They did things together for the rest of her life:  trips, cruises, parties, etc, even though she moved to California and then Oregon….and that tells you a lot about my sister.

After Niles she went to Smith College for a year and then started in at UCLA.  By then she and Ken Gurian were going together and they were married in 1948 at the Bel Aire Hotel, one of the greatest Hotels anywhere.  They had their 50th anniversary celebration there in 1998 and the Hotel was so gracious in the way they hosted them.  I of course, was at both gatherings.

Shortly thereafter both Ken and Gloria went to work for the Roller Derby in New York and New Jersey.  Ken managed, announced on TV, and did a multitude of other tasks.  Gloria ran the box office and pretty much managed the in-house stuff.  My father paid them no more than he would the other staff and they had no special privileges.  She took care of the skaters’ problems and other tasks outside of her job, and of course she and Ken had to listen to the complaints by the skaters and others about Roller Derby.  She did have some great stories though and perhaps I can get Ken to tell them when he does his next blog on next years of Roller Derby (until 1955).

Finally when the long run ended in the East, Ken took a job with Riker Laboratories and they moved to Encino  California where they bought a house on Gloria street.  And David, who had been born in the west, was joined by sister Phyllis and younger brother Keith who were born in the east.  And this is when Gloria started demonstrating her becoming the matriarch of all the family.

I am sure because of the loss of our mother at such an early age who was never replaced in our lives, Gloria was impelled to make certain that all near and extended family would not be deprived.  And it was further accentuated when in her early thirties she also acquired breast cancer and eventually had to have two masectomies and as was done at that time treated with heavy radiation.  She was determined it would not slow her down.  She became a travel agent and took trips to everywhere, always wearing the same dress when photos were taken, whether in Moscow, India, Cuba, or in Fiji while scuba diving.  It makes for a great album.  She hosted all birthdays and occasions, and for her friends and families’ childrens’ Hanukkah celebration, she would make clothes for everyone.  And for Passover, she would have two sittings of at least 40 people.

Finally the Los Angeles climate became too much for her irradiated lungs and asthma (she never complained) and she and Ken moved to Seaside, Oregon, to live by the ocean.  She still arranged the Pearls annual gathering, hosted dozens of family and friends for the 4th of July celebration, planted her garden, took care of the family and visited them all.

She started to develop real shortness of breath and was unable to take care of all she wanted.  She had a rare heart condition and an experimental valve had been developed, and it was decided that she would go to Vancouver, BC where the doctor who had created the valve would operate it on her and hopefully she could go back to her normal live.  We were all in Vancouver and the operation was a success.  We all saw her in recovery and I asked her if she was going to be able to dance again and she smiled and squeezed my hand.  We all went to dinner and then got a call to come back to the hospital.  It seemed she had started bleeding internally and somehow it hadn’t been noticed and she was too weak to recover and died.

We were all in shock and couldn’t believe it when the doctor came out and told us…good sense keeps me from saying here what happened and what should have been avoidable.  No matter what, this woman who was my closest relative and someone I never had a real disagreement with (and that goes for my relationship with Ken also) was gone.  The irony that she had lived for well over 40 years as a cancer survivor and  should have never died in a way that was probably avoidable kind of jumps out at you.

Her daughter Phyllis who lives in Portland has very much taken over the reins of the matriarch.  She is also a cancer survivor who has befriended and been befriended by the Rose City Rollers in raising funds to fight cancer.  And I can’t forget Linda, Keith’s wife, who was at the side of and learned so much from Gloria.

The money we raised to leave Chicago?  One day we just split it up and I don’t remember what I did with my share.

If you can make it there…..

In the late 30’s and early 40’s Roller Derby grew in popularity and would play successfully in cities throughout the US with one major exception:  The Big Apple.

In fact, at one point there were four “units” (eight teams) on the road at the same time.  The track would be set up, and the two teams in each city would play each other 4 times per week for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the size of the city and the popularity of the Derby in that town.  Generally, one team would represent that city (the “white shirts”), the other (the “red shirts”) another city.  It seemed as though nothing could stop the growth.  Then came Pearl Harbor.

The Derby, like so many other activities, was decimated.  The majority of the men volunteered for service or were drafted.  Many of the women took essential war jobs or joined the service also.  Leo managed to keep one unit going during the war.

There had been one attempt to go into New York City previously.  Damon Runyon told my dad that the game was perfect for the city.  Damon contacted Mike Jacobs, the famed fight promoter, who booked the sport into the Hippodrome where he staged many of his fights.  The public didn’t respond, no one showed up, and everyone slunk out of town.

Commercial television showed up in 1947.  I remember that in Glenview, Illinois, where we lived, my father bought one of the early sets, which came in a console as had the Philco and other radio sets.  The screen was small, but he bought a curved liquid-filled cover to go over the screen and magnify the image.  There were one or two stations, and they didn’t even put their test patterns on the air until late afternoon.  (We would actually stare at the test pattern on this wondrous device!).  Then some programs would come on.  The only thing worth watching on WBKB (now WLS-TV) was “Junior Jamboree” which was a live children’s program featuring Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, with Burr Tillstrom as the puppeteer.  It later became a popular program on network TV.

To promote the Derby in Chicago, Leo used discount tickets.  They were sponsored by bakeries, Beers, cigarettes, etc and distributed by the hundreds of thousands through out Chicagoland.  He also worked on getting interviews on newspapers and radio and arranged for trackside radiocasts to promote upcoming games and events.

Television viewership was an unknown.  Television sets were very expensive;  most people, if they watched it at all would go to bars or stand in groups outside of radio stores which would have a TV set on in the front window.  On a hunch, Leo worked out an arrangement to televise a game from the Coliseum to see the reaction.  The cameras, pre-modern electronics, were huge and unwieldy.  They might have used just one camera for that first telecast….maybe someone out there knows.  There was an upsurge in attendance and Leo felt this might be the time to “attack” New York.

Besides Madison Square Garden, there were very few venues to utilize in New York City.  And Ned Irish, who ran the Garden, was very difficult to deal with, as I personally found out in later years.

So Leo noted that there were armories scattered throughout Manhattan and the Boroughs that were used for training very rarely, so he met with the head of the New York National Guard to make an arrangement to rent one in Manahattan; he was the first to do so.  Now it is common to use them when available; as a matter of fact, the first venue I played in San Francisco in 1959 was the armory; in recent years it was sold off to a private owner who uses it to film kinky sex videos, but as always, I digress.

None of the other management liked this decision at all; New York was unconquerable for the Derby.  My father came up with a great campaign.  Sid Cohen called in Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn, the ultimate rough and tough skater who all were afraid of (all 4 foot 10 of her) for a photo session.  When she came in, Sid started screaming at her how bad she had been skating, she was slacking off, and she turned red and started screaming back at him.  They used the most angry photo of her on the side of buses with the caption “Toughie is coming”.  Of course no one knew who Toughie was, and seemingly no one cared.  For the first game at the armory, a “crowd” of about 3-400 hundred showed up.  Apparently in 1948 New York was not ready for banked track skating yet.

Leo had worked out a short-term deal with a New York station (It was either CBS or the Dumont network) to televise the game.  All of the fans were herded to one side of the arena, so the TV camera would not show empty seats, and Ken Nydell narrated the first game to be televised in New York.  My father had obtained a phone number (JUdson 6-4646) and had a total of five lines.  The fifth line went to his apartment so he could easily talk to the office.  Ken told the TV audience that starting the next morning viewers could call to make reservations for the upcoming games.  Afterwards Ken, Sid, my dad all looked at each other and the question was, is anybody watching.

Eventually Leo and Belle went back to the apartment where they heard the phone ringing.  When Belle picked up the line, a woman asked if this was where she could make a reservation.  Obviously the other 4 lines were ringing also; otherwise the fifth line would not be active.  As Belle told it, she took reservations until two in the morning.  When the ladies opened the office the next morning, they could do nothing except take reservations all day.

Some of the skaters told me that when they showed up at the building for the game that night they thought there had been a disaster, as there were lines of people around the block, and the skaters were amazed that people recognized them by name.  And thus started the great love affair between the tri-state area and their New York Chiefs, New Jersey Jolters and Brooklyn Red Devils that lasted for seven straight years.

The entire history is chronicled  in “Roller Derby to Rollerjam”, with unopened first editions available at  great photos too..

Leo loved it when I took Roller Derby back to New York City (we were on WOR-TV on Sunday morning and had a million viewers weekly) in the 60’s to a sold-out Madison Square Garden.  Unfortunately, he never got to see the revival of modern Roller Derby.

Please enter your email address on the upper right side  of this page so my future blogs will come to you automatically.

Leo the promoter

My father hated to be called a promoter…he felt that was someone who used other people’s money, and he always used his own.

But although sports history credits him with being the inventor of Roller Derby, he did a lot more projects, some successful, many not (but that is a promoter for you).

The first one he always talked about was his plans for making money off the end of prohibition.  In 1932 when it became apparent that FDR (best known initials before J-Lo) was going to repeal the act, he bought a large amount of Philippine rum and was having it shipped to a port in Mexico so that when it was legal it could be sold in the US.  He had put aside $25,000 from the Walkathons (a fortune in those days) which he had given to my mother, as they planned to buy a farm outside of Portland.  He told her not to give it to him under any circumstance;  then later he pleaded with her to let him use it as this was a no-fail deal.

Well, the liquor wasn’t registered properly, required a US license, and the boat ended up sitting in the port until the officials confiscated the cargo.  My mother was furious, just having borne her second child, a wonderful precocious beautiful and loving boy  So Dad went back on the road.

In 1935 having acquired the Chicago Coliseum and first using it for the walkathons and then his new game Roller Derby, Leo had to figure  a way to keep the building occupied.  It had a main arena of approximately 5000 seats including the balcony, and a smaller north hall which was ideal for weekly boxing and wrestling matches, and could seat about 1500 for these events.  Both halls could be cleared and connected for trade shows.  He also had an ownership in the Arcadia Skating rink on North Broadway in Chicago, where often new skaters trained.  And he leased the Chicago Armory, around the corner from the Coliseum at 16th and State (the Coliseum was at 15th and Wabash) which he used for walkathons later, as well as fights and wrestling when there were trade shows in the main building.

When my sister was 12 and I was 9 after our mother died of breast cancer, we moved  to Chicago, and of course we regularly attended events at the Coliseum.  The horse shows featured beautiful riding; trade shows as a whole were uninteresting, but they gave away great stuff in the booths, most of which I had no use for.  I loved the outdoor shows where they featured stuff for camping and other activities, and put a pool in the arena where you could fish.

All of these shows had featured entertainers:  I saw Bob Hope perform, also Eddie Cantor, a very popular performer of the 30’s who was a comedian and singer and dancer (“Making Whoopee”).  He introduced his new young singer, Eddie Fisher.  And a popular local duo that performed often, the Clooney sisters, Rosemary and Betty.  They were George’s aunts.  Betty must have given up her career.

The league that was the precursor to the NBA played in the Coliseum.  The American Gears featured the great George Mikan before the Lakers started.  I enjoyed their games, often played before just a few hundred fans.

My father became a successful boxing promoter.  Working with Jack Kearns, who had been Jack Dempsey’s manager, he brought many name fighters into the Coliseum.  I saw the great Willie Pep, small but dynamic, defend his world title.  Also he promoted the Jake Lamotta-Bob Satterfield fight which I mentioned previously in the blog on Leo.  After Jake knocked his opponent out of the ring, I immediately jumped out of my seat to see Satterfield;  I had on my Niles Twp high school sweat shirt.  A photographer snapped the photo and it was on the front page of the Examiner the next day.  I received a lot of comments from everyone at school, including one teacher who wanted to know why I was there on a school night.

There was a great wrestler named Chief Don Eagle who would appear regularly in the Coliseum.  When he wrestled it would be necessary to move the event in the main arena.  Don Eagle was ahead of his time; unlike the other wrestlers of that era, he was well built, and extremely athletic.  He was quite young and his father managed him.  Leo convinced them both that Don Eagle would be a great heavyweight.  Kearns brought in a trainer and the young native American won his first 7 or 8 bouts easily.  Were these fights patsies?  I don’t know.  Then he fought a serious contender before a full house and took a beating.  He went back to become a top-flight wrestler.

But there was a great prospect that my dad and Kearns managed.  His name was Harold Guss.  He was a powerful heavyweight, won all his matches with ease, and with his first large paycheck bought a new car.  The following weekend he was in a crash and was killed.  My father was heartsick as he and Harold were very close.  He never had anything to do with fights again.

I had previously told of Oscar Seltzer and he taking over the management of the Louisville Armory and the hockey team, but there was an event that he created and I remembered was the best ever (outside of Roller Derby, of course).  In the 40’s he had this concept for a Broadway-type musical that could play arenas.  It was called “Alaskan Stampede” and had as leads some prominent performers, as well as a musical score by a well-known songwriter.  The main arena was converted into an Alaskan landscape (no, you couldn’t see Russia) and had an ice rink at one end (my dad also promoted Holiday on Ice in Chicago, Louisville and Columbus, Ohio).  The show also had animals including reindeer, caribou, and others, which were kept in the north hall, and of course a dog sled.  The theme had something to do with new Alaskans, taking medicine to someone by dog sled, the animals grazing, great songs and choruses, and ice skaters, all obviously not  at the same time. (“Mushing along the trail, hurry along, you huskies…”)

They mounted the show in 6 weeks when they should have taken 6 months and technically it was a disaster, but highly enjoyable.  The Tribune gave it a bad review, but the Examiner said “Almost a bell ringer”.  It shut down after two weeks.

Leo went on to many other projects including helping me to get TV stations for our network (the man at WTBS in Atlanta told him: “we are just a small station; we can pay $25 and give you 4 spots in the telecast and 4 ROS.”  His name, Ted Turner)

He had a great sense of humor, often not appreciated.  He always wanted to be a landscape architect, but obviously found another career.  Every day after work at the Coliseum he would come home to Glenview, change to his old clothers, and prune and trim the 2 and 1/2 acres of bushes.  He never knew his neighbors in the Glen Oak Acres subdivision, and one day a couple came driving up and said to him, “I don’t care what Seltzer is paying you, you do such a great job, we will pay you more to work on our property.”

He replied: “I just couldn’t, Mrs. Seltzer lets me sleep with her.”  Belle made him go over to their house afterwards and explain.

Roller Derby in Hollywood

When school would get out in Portland, we knew our annual summer trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco was coming.  I am talking about from when I can remember, circa 1938 to 1940 (when the War came, we didn’t drive down).

My father and Uncle Oscar would come from Chicago or wherever Roller Derby was operating, and the families composed of my dad, mother, sister Gloria, my uncle, aunt Agatha, and cousins Lloyd and Bob, and my grandfather David and grandmother Celia would caravan to Los Angeles first and then eventually to San Francisco.

We would go casually down Highway 101 through the redwoods and all the beautiful coastline, stopping at every tourist attraction from driving through a redwood and Trees of Mystery (oooo, scary) to the big Orange, etc.  As I recall, we usually rented a place in Santa Monica so we would be by the beach.   Gloria, who was three years older than me (I was 5 or 6) and I got in a fight on the beach;  I hit her with a bell (?), she hit me with a little rake;  I still have the scar.  And we got to see Uncle Harry, Leo’s oldest brother, Aunt Shirley, and cousins Sherman and Rosalie.  Starting with Sherman, the cousins were all one year apart (i.e. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5) so we got along well.  Another blog will be about my cousins.

Roller Derby at that time consisted of two teams of men and women who changed their city names as they went to different locations.   Depending on the popularity in any area, the run would be from two to four weeks, with a non-portable track (took days to set up) with a high bank well over 5 feet (afterwards in the 60’s it was just three feet as the track could be set up in 2 to 4 hours and disassembled in 2 and we wanted everyone to be able to see the action).  The skaters and others set up the track for extra pay.

The skaters would skate 5 days a week and live in the building;  in this case the beautiful art deco Pan Pacific auditorium.  At the end of the run, the receipts would be totaled and divided among the participants, some getting as little as $25 for the run (plus room and board;  it was the depression), the “top” skaters getting more.  Also at halftime of each game there would be a “jamboree” where in the tradition of the walkathons, each skater would do his or her particular talent, and the fans would throw coins if they liked it.  Two great skaters, Bill Bogash and Buddy Atkinson, worked out a jitterbug dance routine.

The food would be prepared for four meals a day by the derby “dietician” (cook)….I think Ma Parenti,  which included a light dinner and supper after the game.   The skaters would be separated by sex, rather than by team.  Even married couples could not sleep together.  They must have worked it out because they all had families.  They always complained about the food (they told me that Ma Parenti could take the best meat and make it taste like leather, but I was in the Army later and we all had the same complaint).  Obviously the skaters’ quarters were out of sight.  The San Francisco Civic Auditorium (now Bill Graham auditorium) was the most fun for the entrance of the teams:  the quarters were in the lower level of the building and the players would come up stairs and emerge from the center of the track infield.

I loved Los Angeles:  no Disneyland, but we got to go to the movie sets. see all over favorite radio shows (Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope, etc) and there were places that trained lions for the movies, all kinds of animal farms and more.

But the best was at the Pan Pacific Auditorium.  When the Roller Derby was in town (of course it was Los Angeles versus San Francisco) all of the stars came out.  General admission was 65 cents (including 10% tax), and the box seats were $1.10.  My dad always saved the center boxes for whichever stars were coming that night.  I saw and met Clark Gable, W. C. Fields, Betty Grable, Robert Young, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Joe E. Brown and more and more.  My favorite was Eleanor Powell, a wonderful dancer who was featured in many films including some with Fred Astaire.  She kissed me on the cheek and I said I would never wash it off (and of course I haven’t).

I learned to skate on the banked track and one night the Singer midgets (they played the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz) skated at halftime in a mock game, and one of my father’s associates put me in skates and on the track, but one of the little people looked at me and said “Who is this guy” and scared me to death so I left the track.

Another night I was sitting in my father’s box when I saw the most exciting thing ever:  America’s number 1 movie star at the box office Mickey Rooney and his entourage (yes, even then) sat in the box next to me.  All of a sudden he looked at me and said “Jerry old friend, how have you been”.  I turned red and crawled under the seat. Of course my father put him up to it.

It was so exciting when the teams came on the track, the women with their flowing satin capes.   The games were played under basically the same rules as now except no helmets. Any skater could be a jammer (scorer) and the track was huge, up to 125 feet long and 65 feet wide.  In my era, we cut it down to 50 feet wide and from 90 feet to 108 feet long, depending upon the dimensions available to us in various arenas.   We scheduled only one nighters when on the road in the 60’s and 70’s.

Obviously for a series of at least 4 weeks between the same two teams, there had to be special events on certain nights to bring the people back:  match races, mock weddings, time trials, etc.   The series was decided in the final game by the cumulative score:  for instance if the “red shirts” (visitors) were ahead of the “white shirts” (home) by a total of 8 points for the run, the final game would start with the 8 points on the board.  Points were very difficult to get in these games – they were often in the low teens for a final score – so obviously it would always be close.

After the series ended, we would pack up and head for San Francisco.  I thought the City was cold, but we got to go to the Pacific Exposition on Treasure Island between 1939 and 1940 and had a great time, and then we headed back to Portland, and Dad and Uncle Oscar would leave for their next destination.  They had two other units operating at that time also, a total of 6 teams.  This was such a wonderful era that I remember, and Keith Coppage captured it so well and with great photos in “Roller Derby to Rollerjam”  (,

Of course the War years followed so we didn’t make this annual trip again.  The Pan Pacific fell into disrepair and there was a move afoot to restore it and when they were about to begin, the building caught on fire and burned to the ground.  Kind of a fitting end to an era.