Teams consisted of a male skater and a female skater and they would alternate at times, so that one of them was always skating. The teams would skate 64,000 laps or about 4,000 miles, covering about 100 miles a day over a period of six weeks. During breaks, skaters would perform skits or acts and the audience would show its appreciation by throwing coins at them. Skaters could gain an advantage by breaking out of a group and trying to pick up a lap on other skaters (a “jam”). Before long, skaters were banding together to try and block back skaters who were leaving the pack. At first, this was not allowed, but the audience liked that aspect so much that Seltzer incorporated it into the rules.
Teaming up with sportswriter Damon Runyon, who helped Leo rewrite the rules, they added some violence; skaters would elbow each other and whip each other around like slingshots, slamming opponents into an unforgiving rail. Seltzer hated it, but the fans went wild. Violence pleased the fans; they loved this often dirty, cheap-shot action. The more the skaters pummeled each other, the more the audience cheered.
“In 1928 it was tree-sitting. In 1930 it was dance marathons. In 1932 it was Walkathons. Last week it appeared possible that in 1936 the U. S. appetite for preposterous endurance might take an even more eccentric form: the Roller Derby. In Chicago 25 young men and women were roller-skating in circles around the Coliseum. They had been doing so since Christmas Day. It was the fourth Roller Derby held in the U. S. since last August. Crowds averaged 10,000 a day.” (Time Magazine Monday, Feb. 03, 1936)
When Roller Derby appeared in Los Angeles at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1937, Hollywood celebrities such as W.C. Fields, Mickey Rooney, Eddie Cantor, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Cary Grant and Eleanor Powell flocked to seats in the reserved boxes. The stars of both screen and track continued to appear at the Pan Pacific through the early 1950s.
Roller Derby made its national TV debut in 1947, becoming one of the first television hits for ABC. Seltzer despised what the game had become and called it quits in 1958 when his son Jerry moved the team to the San Francisco Bay area. Jerry would eventually syndicate Roller Derby to 120 TV stations. The original Roller Derby was popular for nearly four decades. Jerry closed the family business on Dec. 8, 1973. In 1971, Leo Seltzer, the “father of Roller Derby,” was interviewed for an article in the Oregon Journal and he shared his memories of selling newspapers for the Oregon Journal and the Telegram from his “choice spot” at the Portland Hotel steam bath entrance on 6th and Yamhill streets during his youth.
He considered Oregon his home base all of his life and he maintained a summer home at Gearhart where he was often mistaken for a professional clam digger. Leo passed away on January 30, 1978. In the 1980s, Roller Derby became “Roller Games” for a while. As of November 2013, there were 1,513 Roller Derby amateur leagues in 41 countries.