Now for the wayback machine

I just watched the last program of the Prohibition series on PBS.  No I don’t remember Prohibition, but I was born around that era.

And when prohibition ended in December 5, 1932, I had just turned 6 months old and was fighting for my life.  I had come down with what appeared to be a severe case of dysentery, but ordinary treatment was not working.  And then the doctor (Dr. Bilderback) analyzed my system and determined that I had cholera, the only case reported in Portland, Oregon, in over 20 years, according to the report in the Oregonian (newspaper).

The only effective remedy was blood transfusion, and it had to be directly from a donor at that time.  My father’s partner in Portland had a son named Buster who gave me transfusions, and apparently I bounced back from death’s door.  I don’t ever recall meeting Buster, but I certainly owe him a lot.

So I grew up in Portland during the depression.  We lived a comfortable middle-class life and honestly I was never aware of the terrible effect it had on America.  Leo Seltzer was on the road with first walkathons and then the Roller Derby, both kind of traveling road shows, with very low prices and high appeal at this time when there just wasn’t much money.

Almost from my very first memories, I was aware of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our president, who was pretty much revered and reviled at the same time.

You have to remember that Roosevelt declared a bank holiday – closing them all and then re-opening them with guarantees for the depositors –  and started a whole series of programs to help create jobs, including the conservation corps which put thousands to work rebuilding our infrastructure.  The bankers, big business and extremely wealthy hated him.

Yet, he was our only four-term president, although he died shortly after winning his fourth term, throwing an entirely unprepared Harry Truman into that high office.

Roosevelt had suffered severe polio as an adult, but he managed to keep the fact that he could not use his legs from the public.  There were never any pictures of him in a wheel chair or him struggling to walk.  The press fully cooperated; could you imagine that today.

But what I remember of Roosevelt was his marvelous speaking voice, his sense of humor, and his ability to reach all Americans without television, jet airplanes and certainly without social media.

I remember my third grade teacher asking our class who was the finest orator (I am not certain she used that word) in the country and we all knew it was our President.

Fireside Chat. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York.

He held “fireside chats” in which he talked to all Americans by radio to let us know what the state of the country was, and what he was doing to make it and our lives better, as well as why it was necessary for us to go to war and why we all must sacrifice (which we did).

When I hear his voice today I know it doesn’t have the majesty or resonance I heard; certainly recordings weren’t capable of capturing the full essence.

Obviously, he was a man for the times, and his wife Eleanor, who I did get to hear speak in person, was the woman; the first first Lady who really expressed herself to America.  Quite a duo.

You should have been there.

Please like my fan page on facebook:  “Gerald Seltzer”.

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.