Memory Lane: Roller Derby

I am aware that roller derby still exists; that indeed it has staged a sort of comeback worldwide, albeit mostly at an amateur level.

Roller Derby and TV grew up together. The first roller derby broadcast was in 1948. It blossomed into a huge hit and a cultural phenomenon. This is hard to explain. The clip will give you some idea of the sublime awfulness of 1950s roller derby. I think the hook was the display of “un-ladylike behavior” at a time when women were expected to be “ladies.” Please don’t ask me to define those terms. I’m just sayin’ I think the contrast was a big selling point for roller derby.

At a friend’s house, his mother and aunt watched roller derby every chance they got, well into the Sixties (even though it had already faded severely and was going quickly out of style). No matter how many times I was exposed to it, the rules of roller derby remained a mystery to me; nor was I ever able to perceive the object of the game. It just looked like a lot of bodies flying around, plus some fisticuffs.

TV survived, but roller derby shrank almost into oblivion–I think because oafish, churlish behavior has become practically an expectation for both men and women. Roller derby can’t compete with an Antifa riot.

For ugliness to have any value, there has to be beauty present, too.

4 comments on “Memory Lane: Roller Derby

  1. Likewise, I never could quite figure out the point of Roller Derby. Was it a race? Was it wrestling? Was it boxing? I think it was all three, yet none of the above.

  2. We didn’t have a television In the 1950s, but I used to go to a cousin’s house to watch their TV for programs we both liked. The roller derby got boring after a while, but we always enjoyed the rassling — which I spell that way to distinguish it from wrestling, which is a genuine sport. Rassling became one of our favorite programs. It was great fun, mainly because we knew it was all acting, mostly overacting. And yet, the actors (I mean rasslers) had to be pretty good athletes to pull off some of the acrobatics that they did.

    1. Patty and I used to go to the wrestling matches in Highland Park, and we saw all the stars in person–just like on TV? It was so funny to see Moose Monroe, after his match, come out in street clothes with a pipe in his mouth and a book in his hand.

  3. Phoebe & Lee pro-wrestling fans, who knew? 🙂 Roller Derby was big at our house. The goal was for one on your team to circle all the players on the other team, hence all the rough stuff trying to stop this from happening. What I liked best was when a team member was swung ahead at great speed by a teammate. I skated all the time so found this entertaining, though it was my parents who controlled what was on the tube.

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