The Power of the Internet
I remember a great skater named Gloria who skated for the teams in the 1940's. She had already skated professionally for over two years before I began my training and introduction into the game. Gloria was one of those incredible athletes who helped to create a huge national pastime in the 40's and 50's. One day I caught up with her through the power of the Internet. Her story is truly amazing!
Life In The 1940's
I lived in Brooklyn until the age of 12. As a child, I had some serious health problems. The 40's were a time when medical practices were still developing and I was a preemie baby who had many health problems, ranging from rickets to an enlarged heart. After the doctors told my mother that I was not going to thrive, and my prognosis was negative, my mother became overly protective. Besides, my mother had lost two children before I came along. I was never allowed to do too much of anything, and I suffered from bouts of bronchitis. To make things worse, my family was very poor and Mom could not afford to take me anywhere. Dad worked swing shift, so I never saw much of him. I also did not see much of my neighbors or of the world. Of course, TV had not been invented yet. So I managed to read books, a lot of them. I was an avid reader and lived in my books and in my imagination.
Like so many professional skaters whom I have met over the years, I was very shy and sheltered. I did not experience grade school like normal kids. I did not start school until I was six years old, because of my illnesses. When I was in school, I was in what they called "health class", where all grades of kids with health problems were segregated into one room. They were all sick kids of varying ages and grades. There were children in my health class who were worse off than me. Many of our activities in health class were passive. I remember they had cots set up for a one hour nap session every afternoon. We worked out learning Morse code, so we could send messages back and forth to one another. If you got tired or sick, kids could lay on their cot to try to recuperate. I had a wonderful teacher who kept me from being bored. She advanced me up the grades. I got out of health class and my grade school at the age of twelve.
Woman Turns Her Life Around
Somewhere during the growing up stage, I made up my mind that I was not going to live the life of an invalid, no matter what the consequences. This was when I decided to rebel, and I have been rebelling ever since. I was not allowed to run or ride a bike, so I bought a bike from a friend with my birthday money and hid it at her house. I went over there to ride. I would sneak out, borrow roller skates and play ring levio, a wild game of tag, on skates. I also hitched rides on the back of trucks. This was considered very wild and oh, if my poor Mom had known what I was up to. Seriously, I never lied to Mom. She always knew where I was, just not what I was up to. She never asked, so I never told. As I matured, I realized that she knew, but wanted me to find my own way. Her favorite saying was, "You make your bed; you lie in it."
At that time we moved to New Jersey, to farm country. When I went to high school, I found athletics. I found that much of my shyness would go away when I was involved with a sport. I played basketball, baseball and field hockey. It was 1948 and Roller Derby was real new on TV. And at this time TV was new to our home. It had a little tiny screen and you had to sit on top of it to see anything.
As I grew older, my health had improved, and my rebellion also grew. I wasn't going to take no for an answer for anything. If anyone told me I couldn't do something, that was the next thing I was going to do. I started driving when I was 14. At this age, I also started working at a local factory, and was that dull! I talked an older boy into teaching me how to ride a motorcycle. By the time I was 16, I was sneaking out to the airport in the next town to hitch rides. That was when I learned to fly. Boy, was I crazy for speed and excitement!
Sports Lead Her To Professional Roller Derby
At this point, I was playing softball for an amateur traveling team on weekends. I did a lot of sports in high school. I guess I was a natural athlete. After the games, we would go to a bar for hot dogs and beer. I knew I was too young, but I passed for the right age. They weren't that strict in small towns. Then one night at the bar, the Roller Derby was on TV and we were all watching it. I made the comment, at the table, that it looked like fun and I would like to do it. After the laughter died down, I said that I meant it. Everyone jeered, as they knew I had only been in a roller rink a couple of times in my life. So they bet me $100 that I would not try out. Tryouts were announced as being held in the 69th Street Armory. The next week I borrowed a pair of rink skates from a friend. I took a day off work and went to the tryouts.
I was picked up by the Derby that day as an alternate. I was told to report the following Friday to the Armory. I had to get a parent's signature, because I was under 18. I figured I won the bet, so I went back to my friends and told them I wanted my money. They didn't believe me. I decided. "What the heck, I would go do it." I asked my Mom if she would sign for me. She answered, "No way!!" So I came up with a way to slide the paper under my dad's nose in a very unexpecting way and he signed for me. I was now ready to begin my career in the Roller Derby!
The Start Of My Roller Derby Life
I arrived at the Armory in New York with Mom, Dad and my bags on Friday morning. The banked track was already set up for training and games. I was told to put on my skates, as the coaches were there from some of the teams to look over the alternates. Mom and Dad decided to stay and watch. I was up on the track for a while and then I was called over to meet Carl and Monta Jean Payne. This is where they told me I had made a team. I was told that I would be skating for the Jersey Jolters. I was to go to Newark and report to the hotel Monday morning. We went back home for the weekend and on Monday morning, bright and early, I reported to the Newark Armory. I was given a uniform and started training. I bought the skates that I had borrowed from my friend. Monday night, I was scared to death, excited as the devil, and had no idea what I was doing there in the first place.
I was told to go in to skate, just stay in the pack, and try not to get hurt. Now comes the fun part. Someone shoved me from behind, and out on a jam I go. Guess who is with me? Midge Brasuhn looks back and says, "What the hell are you doing out here?" My reply was, "I was shoved." I don't think I will ever forget her. She was a great gal. She grabbed my tights. If you remember, she always skated with her arm on her back. She dropped behind me and rode my back. She was pushing me along, so I could keep up with her. When we got to the back of the pack, she yelled, "Down you go." I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HIT ME, my first night and I am skating on a jam with the great Toughie Brasuhn. How exciting can it get? And to make the situation all the more incredible, we were on TV that night, as well.
I know the rules changed after I skated, but at that time, everybody could go out on jams. Later, I believe, they made designated jammers by the use of wearing helmets.
Now my career as a skater had began. I remember many things. We skated three weeks straight, then we had 4 days off while the track was being moved. The fans were both good and bad. I had some wonderful fans. A lawyer and his family always had the kids bring me flowers, or some little trinket when they came to the Derby. I remember my fan club from Hawthorne. I also remember the little old lady in her 70's, in Philly, who hated me. She always got near the area where we left the track, and she went after me with her umbrella. Philly was bad to skate in those days. The fans were wild; they threw chairs at us.
I also remember the kitchen that traveled with us, and the great Southern ladies who cooked. They had big hearts, as big as they were, from all the sampling as they cooked. The food was abundant. And 'till this day, I remember their pork chops were the best you ever ate, as long as you like them swimming in grease. But they also were so good.
I also remember the first time I sat at a table with Joe Fuoiti. I watched him put away 2 heaping helpings of everything, with a loaf of bread and two quarts of milk. I sat there mesmerized; I did not believe what I was seeing. I also remember him taking a bunch of us home to a wonderful Italian dinner his Mom prepared for us. I had two helpings of everything. Boy, was she a great cook!
Here I am, a Jersey Jolter. I have moved into a hotel with perfect strangers, in Newark, and wondering WHY?? Three of us were new that day, Anne Pernice, Ginger Foley and myself. We kind of stuck together, shy and scared. The hotel was an old dump. We were two to a room. I was lucky. I was put in with Bobbie Burns, a great gal, who looked after me like a big sister. My first few weeks were a blur. Breakfast, then training, to the hotel for a 4 P.M. dinner, to the Armory for the night of skating, then back to the hotel for a midnight snack and finally to bed. After a while, when I did not have to train every day, life became more normal. That is, if trying to find a Laundromat to wash your clothes nearby, and doing your undies in the bathroom sink is normal.
At least you got to go to a movie in the afternoon. And got in on the midnight poker games. It was penny ante poker, as who had much money? I got paid $25.00. I don't remember if it was every week, or less often, but that was the amount. I made more money a week when I was 14, but you got your room, food and traveling expenses. But who cared? You were on TV, and you were a "STAR."
The Roller Derby Glory Road In The Late 40's
Oh, the Glory Road. We were living in hotels, and people were asking for our autograph. Just to let you know, the hotels were not all bad. Some were quite nice, but some were the pits, like our experience in Toledo, Ohio, when our Jersey Jolters rolled into town in 1949.
I remember going into Toledo, Ohio after a 17 hour train ride, arriving at 6 A.M. and riding in taxis to the hotel. They had a riot the entire night before and there were broken windows everywhere. There were buildings with fire damage all along the route.
We got to the hotel and we were assigned our rooms. We had to drag our bags up a flight of stairs, as the elevator was not working. We got to the rooms and went in. We found that the locks on the doors did not work. We were there for only about 5 minutes, when some old drunk came banging on the door and wanted to come in. Guess what! We are in a hooker's hotel. We all met in the hall and went lock, stock and barrel to grab the coach. "We refuse to stay here". We told him. "And we are not skating tonight if he did not move us from this hotel". Now the scramble starts to find another hotel for the gals only. The fellows had to stay there. They finally got enough rooms at the Waldorf Astoria. That was quite an upgrade. What fun we had there. There was a Wrestler's Convention. People like Gorgeous George were there. You just had to be careful not to get in an elevator alone with them, because they were cut-ups.
My Home Team In New Jersey
We went back to New Jersey. I was really one of the lucky ones. I stayed with the Jolters the whole time, and I was able to have my car with me. It was also a great place to keep extra clothes to trade off. The kids from other states had only what they could pack.
We skated in the Newark Armory, the Jersey City Armory and in Teaneck most of the time. In Jersey City, 7 of us lived in a 3 bedroom apartment, two to a room. The unlucky 7th, Peggy Smalley, had an open alcove off the hall. Talk about togetherness, we all had only one bathroom. I guess that's why I have 2 1/2 baths now. I remember what a riot it was, trying to get to use it.
The thing I remember most about the pay, was that it was next to nothing. I heard that the Captains got $10 more a week then we did. The coaches got more than that, but it sure wasn't anything to brag about. But, you didn't have much time to spend it anyway.
I also remember a trip to Buffalo by charter plane. We went through a wicked storm and everybody, except for two, were sick as dogs. We were supposed to skate the next night, but some of the group were still too sick. We skated with no subs. Boy, did I thank my lucky stars that I had been flying for some time, and was used to rough weather.
How Can A Girl Get A Date In The Derby?
I also remember how few of us had any social life outside of the Derby. I do remember a few dates, but they were few and far between. How can you have any kind of relationship, when you skate 7 nights a week? Once in a while, you could go out to dinner on a date, or you could go out with some of the TV personnel after skating.
I went out with Charles Ruschon, the TV Director. When my sister came to visit me in Asbury Park, he took both of us out to dinner. She went home and told my Mom that I was dating an older man. He was 39, and I was 19 at the time. But, he sure was an interesting guy. He had flown with the Flying Tigers. I don't know why he put up with me. He took me to Romanoffs in New York one night after skating. He wanted me to have a fancy dinner. Being the rebel that I was, I wanted what I wanted. I wanted eggs and sausage and I made him special order them for me. It is funny what things stick in your mind.
Asbury Park was one of the most fun places we skated in, at the Convention Center. It had some of the better dressing rooms and showers. It also had the beach for the days. I met some wonderful people there. The R.J. Reynolds family was one that I remember. The mother was a fan, and they were staying at the Berkely Carteret Hotel. It was plush and only for the rich. They had a cabana poolside, and she insisted that I spend any afternoon I wanted using it. I learned a lesson from this women, in that people with money were no different from the rest of us. She was gracious, caring and so honest and direct. There was no pretense with her. It was a lesson that helped me later in life. There are all types of people, no matter what or wear they come from.
The Madison Square Garden, You Never Knew
I think the worst place I skated was Madison Square Garden. It was wonderful in that it had a history, but it had the worst dressing room ever. It was down in the bowels of hell, so up and down the stairs we went. It was dark and dingy, no mirrors. It was made for men, but not for women. There was one big shower room, but only three shower heads were working, as I remember, and it was as cold as being outdoors in the winter.
I have talked about everything but the actual skating. It's funny, but I never remember it being difficult. It seemed to me to just be as natural as living. Sure, I remember the bruises, the sprains, and the aches and pains. I also remember going down to the trainer in the morning after a tough night, for a whirlpool treatment, ice pack or heating pad, but I guess the thrill of each night made that seem inconsequential. That is, until the night in Boston which ended my skating career.
Why Roller Derby?
I think the fondest memories I have are the memories of the skaters themselves. The friendships, the tricks that were played on each other, and the sharing. You never had to be alone. There was always someone who wanted to go shopping or to the movies, play poker or just hang around.
For young gals interested in a career as a professional skater, it is not an easy way of life. But it can teach you some valuable lessons for your future life. It teaches you independence, sharing, getting along with others, learning about people and knowing how to deal with them. It teaches determination and gives you the self confidence that you can achieve whatever it is you want in life, if you want it bad enough.
It helped me go from a shy, introverted young girl into a young woman who had the basic skills to go forward into a wonderful career in sales. I then went into a profession, that in my era, was previously open to men only. I learned that I could do anything I wanted to do with my life, if I was willing to work hard. Never quit and never, never, never let anyone tell me that YOU CAN'T DO THAT!!
Last Part To Close The Story
Here we go again, ha ha
The night in Boston was Elaine Benoit all 6 feet of her she hit me from the rear and sent me thru the unpadded upright I weighed all of 115 at the time so it was clear sailing. It was an accident, but the roar of the crowd was so loud I did not hear her and I was not expecting it. She was a mean skater and was picking on me all night and the crowd loved it so the noise was horrendous. I ended up in Mass. General with a broken collarbone and torn nerves in my right arm. The Doctors told me after 6 mos. in a body caste that if I broke it again I would more than likely lose the use of my arm. That was to big a price to pay to skate.
I skated about 2 years and always on the Jolters.
This one about the biggest prankster is tough, we had quite a few but following in the steps of Monta Jean the Jolter gals were more ladylike, Ha Ha except for Anne Calvello who was a character but she was not with us very long as I remember. I don't remember the fellows playing tricks on the girls but I am sure they did on each other.. most of the pranks I must say came from the older gals Midge B, Gerry Murrey I remember a few Annabelle Kiley, Viv Johnson and I guess the one I can think of on the Jolters was Edith B. and for some reason I remember Mary Lou getting into the act once in a while with Julie P. when she was with us.
Would I do it over again, the answer is yes except when the weather changes and the old bones start aching and the knees give out.
Now the hard question, the Derby gave me confidence about dealing with all types of people, as to the actual skating I had by the time I joined the Derby confidence in myself as an athlete every sport I tried I was good at except swimming, that one beat me. Until I was in the Derby I was not good with people and did not feel confident around them. Skating, living with others from all places and walks of life taught me that people were really basically the same we all have our strengths, our weakness our fears and our likes and dislikes and also watching the fans taught me about the passions of people and how it can bring out the good in them but also the evil. From this experience as I moved on into my career I was able to use this understanding of people to work well with them and to get along as the saying goes no matter who they were, what they did for a living what their economic status was and also in sales to understand their fears of the unknown in buying big ticket items As to how did it help me in a man's world the answer is that I realized that I could do whatever I wanted to if I was willing to work hard enough and treat all people as equals both men and women and it gave me the determination to try. Most women of my era accepted being told that all they could be was a good wife and mother and hold down a menial job. I was not prepared to accept that way of life. I had an insatiable desire for knowledge and a curiosity to find out how and what made everything work. It was not easy as this was before any anti-discrimination laws. In conclusion I would say that the Derby was but the first step in giving me the courage to try to be what I wanted to be. No matter how difficult it was going to be to get to where I wanted to be, doing an important job and getting the acceptance and recognition equally with others doing the same thing. Also I liked the equal pay bit.
As to the question of getting along better with men I never had trouble getting along with them with the exception of a few and I never felt that in my profession I was competing with them. I did find that I had to do a better job then they had to do in order to get accepted by the powers that be, but that was all right it made me a better person at what I was doing. Women of my era were held back by society and what was expected of them, the young women of today have many more doors open to them and should take every opportunity to achieve whatever they want from life. Oh to have been born thirty years later than I was could I have had an even grander time.
Well Loretta now that you have drained my mind completely will sign off.