Just What We Don’t Need: A Roller Derby Revival

For those of a certain vintage who came home from school in the 1950s and turned on the black-and-white Crosley or Dumont, this following development may cause twinges of nostalgia – or maybe embarrassment: Roller derby is making a comeback of sorts.

This is not just us saying it but the sober-minded trend watchers of The Wall Street Journal who say that all-female roller-derby teams seem to be filling the void for violence and mayhem caused by the hockey strike.

The Journal dates the rebirth of roller derby to 2003 in Austin, Texas. Web sites list about 20 all-female teams scattered across the country. The teams play limited schedules and the modest gate receipts go to pay for insurance and rink rentals. The women play under such noms de guerre as Anne Phetamean and Emma Badapple.

The captain of the Manhattan Mayhem, a snarling Rippin Kittin, is in real life, according to her bio, named Elizabeth Waytkus, house manager of the Purchase College Performing Arts Center.

Roller derby began in 1935 as a Depression-era diversion and flourished in the entertainment-starved times that followed. It boomed in the early days of television because, as did boxing and pro wrestling, it took place in a confined space that could be brightly lit for the cameras of the day.

A 1950 roller-derby film called “The Fireball,” starring Mickey Rooney and Marilyn Monroe, showed the sport at its zenith. In 1972, Raquel Welch starred in “Kansas City Bomber” just as the sport’s popularity was on a fatal wane. By the time James Caan starred in the sci fi “Rollerball” in 1975, the sport was moribund.

The original league folded in 1974. Various attempts to revive the sport came to little. The new all-female version follows much the same rules: Two teams of players try to score points by passing each other with much blocking, bumping and bodies flying.

Perhaps it is only fitting that a sport played on a tight oval seems to be proving the truth of the old adage: What goes around, comes around.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)