• U.S.

Sport: Roller Derby

4 minute read

In 1928 it was tree-sitting. In 1930 it was dance marathons. In 1932 it was Walkathons. Last week it appeared possible that in 1936 the U. S. appetite for preposterous endurance might take an even more eccentric form: the Roller Derby. In Chicago 25 young men & women were roller-skating in circles around the Coliseum. They had been doing so since Christmas Day. It was the fourth Roller Derby held in the U. S. since last August. Crowds averaged 10,000 a day.

Like Bank Night, Roller Derby is a copyrighted name, the product of an inventive cinema salesman from the West Coast. Leo (“Bromo”) Seltzer, 32, worked for Universal Pictures Corp., until five years ago when he staged the first commercial Walkathon in Denver. He promoted 22 more, grossed $2,000,000, retired because he felt that Walkathons were becoming vulgar. He inaugurated the Roller Derby in Chicago last August, held two more in Louisville and Kansas City. Roller Derby teams are selected from the Transcontinental Roller Derby Association, formed by Promoter Seltzer last year to help popularize his new pastime. On 1,600 rinks, the 3.000 members of T. R. D. A. pay $2 each, compete for invitations. Seventy mixed teams of two went to Chicago to try out. The 24 fastest received invitations to enter. Prizes range from $1,000 for first to $250 for third. Since Roller Derby enthusiasts, other than Promoter Seltzer, cannot expect to make a living from their vocation, most are intermittently engaged in other work. When the current Chicago Derby started, the field included a butcher, a candy wrapper, a steel mill worker who holds eight roller-skating records, a commercial artist, a tattooed French sailor who had a lady’s portrait scraped off his hip in a fall last fortnight, a golf-club maker and a pretty 21-year-old girl who claims to be a cousin of Herbert Hoover. She, Elizabeth Hoover of Kansas City, with her tall, blond Swedish partner, Wes Aronson of Chicago, was last week leading the Chicago Roller Derby by one lap. Roller Derbies are patterned roughly after six-day bicycle races. Contestants, male & female, sleep in full view of the spectators and each other on cots in the centre of the rink. They eat six meals and take three urine tests a day to satisfy health officials that they are not too exhausted. Their skates, provided free, have maple wheels— By last week, the Roller Derby’s repair shop had rounded 1,400 flat wheels. During the race, “jams” & sprints for small prizes are encouraged. When a contestant is injured a siren stops the jam, the contestant’s teammate takes the track. Most serious fall in Chicago’s current Roller Derby occurred last week when a Mrs. Albie Whitney crashed into a railing, broke her shoulder. She and her husband, last married couple in the race, withdrew. Only family team left was 39-year-old Mrs. Josephine Bogash, wife of a Wabash R. R. fireman, teamed with her 19-year-old son Bill.

The idea of calling his Derby Association ”Transcontinental” was a shrewd device on the part of Promoter Seltzer to prevent his event from seeming too sordid, add a touch of the outdoors. A Roller Derby course is 4,000 mi. long. In the Coliseum last week, a map at one end of the arena showed that contestants, skating 85 to 110 mi. per day, from 1:30 p. m. until 12:30 a. m., had last week covered a distance equivalent to a journey from San Diego to Chicago. As they set off around the Coliseum for New York, favorites to win were Cousin “Libby” Hoover, an Italian team of Gene Vizena and John Rosasco, a deaf-mute named Jay Levy who has taught his waitress-partner to talk with her hands, the Bogashes, bearded John Devitt. Exhibiting one minor but inflexible characteristic of certain tree-sitting, dancing, walking and roller-skating marathoners, Devitt vowed not to shave until he was leading the event. Next spring Promoter Seltzer plans a Roller Derby in New York.

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