Salute to Roller Derby

(Pictured above: YouTube screenshot from ‘Whip It’ trailer)

With Netflix’s women’s wrestling dramedy GLOW just renewed for a second season, maybe it’s time to put a similar spotlight on what was perhaps the first women’s professional sports entertainment — roller derby!

A press release out of Chicago, the sport’s birthplace, informed us that World Roller Derby Week starts Sunday! So let’s celebrate, Savvy Screener-style!

Less than 15 years after its invention in 1935, roller derby matches became a mainstay of early primetime network TV. Here’s an ABC telecast from 1949 — the world champion New York Chiefs at the Philadelphia Panthers, sponsored by Blatz, “Milwaukee’s finest beer”:

Departing network TV after 1951, roller derby experienced its next big popularity through syndication on local stations during the 1960s and early 1970s. The original league, naturally called Roller Derby, now had a competitor, Roller Games. Here, from 1973, is Roller Derby action, again featuring the New York Chiefs, this time visiting the San Francisco Bay Bombers (men’s action too!):

Roller Games scored really big via an MGM feature film dramatization with Raquel Welch as the Kansas City Bomber in 1972. You can stream Kansas City Bomber for $2.99 from Amazon, ITunes, Google Play, Vudu or Microsoft. Watch for a young Jodie Foster in a small role.

That same year saw the release of a Roger Corman-produced exploitation flick Unholy Rollers, the first film edited by Martin Scorsese. You can watch the whole film right here (proof of age required):

Within two years of Kansas City Bomber and Unholly Rollers, however, both pro leagues stopped operating.

So let’s skip ahead to the 21st Century, which has seen a revival of the sport, starting in Austin, Texas, which is where Drew Barrymore’s 2009 directorial debut Whip It, takes place. Whip It is a coming-of-age film starring Ellen Page, with Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis as roller derby stars. Like Kansas City Bomber, Whip It can be streamed for $2.99 at a number of transactional sites.

Finally, let’s take a look at present-day roller derby, specifically the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. This year’s championships, to be held November 3-5 in Philadelphia, can be streamed  live at – a weekend pass will cost you $16.99. If you also want to watch the playoffs leading up to the championships, higher-priced packages are also available.

Here’s last year’s championship game, New York City’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby at Portland’s Rose City Rollers:






About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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