Roller Derby History
Bay City Bombers star Joanie Weston was to '60s Roller Derby what Hulk Hogan was to professional wrestling in the '80s.
Leo Seltzer dreamed up the Roller Derby in 1935. With the help of sportswriter Damon Runyan, Seltzer created rules for the derby (which changed according to the audience's reaction to them) and gave birth to a new form of entertainment for Depression-era America.
Originally Roller Derbies were endurance races. Teams would race for hours over thousands of miles on an oval track, and players would sleep on cots in the arena after races, relishing their $25-a-week paycheck. Hitting wasn't allowed yet, but players with "signature moves," and gimmicks like mother-son and husband-wife teammates, helped the sport gain momentum.
Roller Derby's big break came on November 29, 1948 when the Derby was televised nationally by CBS. Soon entire families were watching, and the sport's major players were becoming household names.
Bay City Bombers star Joanie Weston (known as The Blonde Amazon) was to '60s Roller Derby what Hulk Hogan was to professional wrestling in the '80s. Her celebrity helped take the sport to a new level of popularity, and it was her death in 1997 that helped get the in-line wheels turning for today's World Skating League.
RollerJam producer Stephen Land and business partner Ross Bagwell began the pitching the idea after reading a New York Times article about Weston's death. The league has since signed a television deal with TNN to show the games once on Friday night and a replay of them on Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m., and has inked advertising deals with Gillette and AT&T. The result is RollerJam, television's first look at Roller Derby in 25 years.
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