VINTAGE ROLLER DERBY BAD GIRLS | SASS ON WHEELS!

Vintage Roller Derby Girls

As a kid I recall catching glimpses  of old Roller Derby matches on t.v. and being absolutely fascinated by what I saw. Tough as nails gals, some pretty and some just pretty rough– speeding around the track pulling hair, throwing elbows, and sending each other flying around, and even off the track. All I know is I wanted more. The sport is still alive and well today, but these vintage skaters possess a magical naivete and quality that just can’t be replicated. Count me as a fan.

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Vintage Roller Derby Girl

Midge Brasuhn of the Brooklynites.

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ca. 1950– Roller derby scene.  –Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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6/24/1947, Chicago, IL– Gerry Murray (left), Captain of the Chicago team, and Midge Brasuhn of the Brooklynites, fight for the lead position during the roller derby finale in Chicago June 22nd. –Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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From the 1948 Life Magazine article–

To the 17 million Americans who occasionally clamp on a pair of skates, the sport means nothing more than a casual evening at the local rink, gliding along to easy organ rhythms and perhaps taking a harmless pratfall when jounced by an exhibitionist.  To the husky young men (and women) pictured here, however, it is a highly professional undertaking.  They belong to a traveling show called the Roller Derby, and for 11 months a year they and 31 other men and women in the troupe make a living by racing each other around a portable Masonite track in tights and football helmets for 30 miles every night.

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Life Magazine article on Roller Derby  --1948.

Life Magazine article on Roller Derby –1948.

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The Roller Derby is a teeth-jarring contest, with enough spills and body contact to gratify even an ice hockey fan.  Men’s and women’s teams (five skaters constitute a team) race for alternate 15-minute periods.  Although its current promoter formerly staged dance marathons and Walkathons, the rules of this spectacle appear to have been cribbed from six-day bike racing (in which points are awarded for laps stolen during sudden sprints or “jams”) and professional wrestling (in which a contestant is allowed to commit almost any violence that will give him an advantage over his opponent).  Audiences have already learned to hiss the sports more clumsy villains, but lady skaters are not ostracized when they kick one another in the face.  The hair-pulling that follows provides entertainment even when it appears to have been well-rehearsed.

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Roller Derby girls in Life Magazine  --1948.

“A skillful shoulder thrown by ‘Fuzzy’ Buchek foils an attempt by Vivian Johnson (center) to slip between two skaters and start a jam.   Roller Derby girls in Life Magazine –1948.

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Last week after a 31-day run in Chicago, where the stroboscopic pictures were taken by Life photographer George Skadding, the Roller Derby moved into a Manhattan armory. New York sports fans were delighted with it: during the first five nights of racing, three of the contestants wound up in the hospital.

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Roller Derby featured Life Magazine  --1948.

Roller Derby featured Life Magazine –1948.

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Roller Derby story in Life Magazine  --1948.

Roller Derby story in Life Magazine –1948.

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Roller Skating Derby, American team vs phony "European" team, also American, Roger Schroeder gets elbowing by Americans for carrying Swedish flag.  Paris, France  --1953.

Roller Skating Derby, American team vs phony “European” team, also American, Roger Schroeder gets elbowing by Americans for carrying Swedish flag. Paris, France –1953.

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The Anti-American Roller Derby  --Paris, 1953.

The Anti-American Roller Derby –Paris, 1953.

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Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago's Coliseum with skater Vivian Johnson (R) blocking and knocking another skater over the railing.  --Chicago, IL. 1948.

Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago’s Coliseum with skater Vivian Johnson (R) blocking and knocking another skater over the railing. –Chicago, IL. 1948.

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Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago's Coliseum with skater "Toughie" Brashun (L) fighting with opposing team member Gerry Murray (R) while another steps into the middle at an attempt to mediate.  Chicago, IL. 1948.

Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago’s Coliseum with skater “Toughie” Brashun (L) fighting with opposing team member Gerry Murray (R) while another steps into the middle at an attempt to mediate. Chicago, IL. 1948.

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Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago's Coliseum with skater Vivian Johnson falling after losing control on a corner.  Chicago, IL. 1948.

Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago’s Coliseum with skater Vivian Johnson falling after losing control on a corner. Chicago, IL. 1948.

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Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago's Coliseum with skater at left holding another so that her team mate can pass on the right.  Chicago, IL. 1948.

Travelling roller derby show of professional skaters shown in Chicago’s Coliseum with skater at left holding another so that her team mate can pass on the right. Chicago, IL. 1948.

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Vintage Roller Derby girls.

Vintage Roller Derby girls.

19 thoughts on “VINTAGE ROLLER DERBY BAD GIRLS | SASS ON WHEELS!

  1. there is actually a rival Roller Derby League in Toronto here which is a blast…..you should come check it out..

    btw I look forward to you reading my blog one day!!!

    best
    David.

  2. Hey if you’re interested we’d love to have you out to one of the Toronto Roller Derby League’s games this Saturday August 08, 2009. Doors are at 6:30, game is at 7:30 at our new home at Downsview Park! 75 Carl Hall Rd unit 2! It’s not exactly the same as what’s above, but we certainly play with the same intensity!! :)

    Tix are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. It’s gonna be a great game – the Gore-Gore Rollergirls are taking on the Death Track Dolls! OWW OWW :)

    GO GORES!

    -Mia Culprit

  3. Nice.

    That last picture gets put up in a LOT of places (especially MySpace). It’d be interesting to know who the skaters were.

    • the one on the right is Annis Jensen, the main skater on the Bombers before Joan Weston. this is a posed shot as they do not have on tights as they would have in a game.

  4. Now your looking at some of the greats of the orginal roller derby of the past ofthe late 40’s early 50’s
    Please my Motto is always
    LOOK LISTEN & LEARN FROM THE ORGINAL ROLLER DERBY OF THE PAST,THE ERA OF THE 40’50’S SOLD AND MADE THIS SPORT, AGAIN THE 60’S & LATE 70’S KEPT IT ALIVE
    WITH SOME CHANGES WITH A LITTLE MORE ACTION.
    LATER YEARS IT WAS MORE ACTION & LESS SKATING.
    AUG 13 ROLLER DERBY WILL HAVE ITS 74 TH BIRTHDAY,LETS KEEP IT FOR ANOTHER 50 YEARS WITH CLASS,KEEP IT AS A SPORT NOT ANOTHER CIRCUS AS IN THE PAST AS
    WRESTLING ON WHEELS .

  5. LOL these pics are great!!! The rules have changed a little bit, but the action is still awesome! As a ref for a derby team I cant imagine reffing without my skates!!

  6. the roller derby is as exciting as a nascar race. the audience just wants to see a cat fight as nascar audiences wait for the crash. it’s pathetic and sad that these girls think that they are empowered when they are really just a freak show.

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  8. These are amazing! Especially the one with the girl flying through the air about the land on her butt. OUCH!!! Been there many times before and trust me, it’s painful. But love to see where our beloved sport came from in the past and how it’s progressed into the future. These men & women paved the road for us ladies and I’m thankful to each and every one of them.

    xo
    St.Val Massacre #1929
    San Diego Roller Derby

  9. awesome pics. there was an episode of roller derby in happy days.
    i allso have a pair of skates that where made by j&p.ftr. jp’s
    can anyone shed some lite on who that manufacturer is
    and where they are or where.
    the plates have sure grip century pat.2.727.749
    and the wheels are flex.o.matic
    any help would be appreciated
    regards malby

    • Sure-Grip is still in the quad skate business, they make plates, wheels, and low-to-mid-range skates. It’s not uncommon to find Sure-Grip plates on other companies’ skates though, so the boots likely aren’t theirs (but could be).

      Can’t draw a bead on your wheels. Post a link to a picture of them, perhaps? Possibly those are a name for those particular wheels, and not a brand name?

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  11. As an old man,I remember the roller derby from the late 50’s and early 60’s.
    Can any one tell me if any Gery Murry’s family might still be in the sport? including Bill and Mike Gannon?
    Thank you, Rich

    • I’m not sure which Bill you’re referring to. Gene Gammon is long since retired and I believe he passed away about a year ago.

      Mike Gammon suffered a debilitating injury during his days with IRSL in the 1980s, and hasn’t skated roller derby since. He has a very informative web site. http://www.mikegammon.com

  12. we used to go to the sac. memorial auditorium to watch the bay area bombers kick everybody`s ass god, how i miss joan weston & big charlie O every weekend. god bless and keep joan, but charlie, how could your irish heart send you to the t-birds ?

    • The Sacred City Derby Girls in Sacramento will be hosting the Women’s Flat Track Western Regional Tournament at the Memorial Auditorium – October 1-3, 2010. The top 10 teams in the West will duke it out there during those three days!

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