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The three remaining couples at Al Painter’s Walkathon at Lotus Isle in Portland in 1931.

The first major Dance Marathon in the Northwest was held at Lotus Isle Amusement Park in 1931 in Portland. Two other walkathons were held in Portland that year and all three were involved in legal controversies regarding the hiring of contestants who were expected to endure long hours and there were allegations that women or children were subjected to discriminatory practices. The crowds flocked to Lotus Isle to see fifty-six couples who competed in an endurance contest that continued for several months.


By 1931, the country had endured two years of the Great Depression and people lost interest in the movies. Leo Seltzer’s connection to Lotus Isle was his appointment to a citizen commission to investigate the practies of Al Painter’s Walkathon Organization. Their demands helped to keep Painter from prosecution for exploiting women.

Seeing and seizing an opportunity, Leo Seltzer set out to elevate the entertainment racket to a ‘legitimate’ business enterprise. With financial backing from Portland Mayor George Baker, Portland theater owner Walter Tebbetts and others, Seltzer started his first walkathon in Hoquiam, Washington. When he staged his first dance walkathon, hundreds of unemployed people showed up, hoping to win a $1,000 cash prize.

Building on the success of that first walkathon, Seltzer founded and became president of the American Walkathon Company. Seltzer created a road show unit, the only one of its kind in the United States. They scored in Denver and Kansas City, so Seltzer opened in Chicago. According to Billboard Magazine, “Mr. Seltzer’s Walkathon venture has proven one of the most profitable in the decade, attracting capacity crowds in every city.”


Leo A. Seltzer


Leo A. Seltzer started the American Walkathon Company which was billed as the “Best Walkathon Organization” in the United States.


The four remaining couples at Leo Seltzer’s Race of Nations at the Ice Coliseum in Portland in June 1934.

By the mid-1930s, the walkathon’s popularity began to wane, and Seltzer began to look for more opportunities. A national roller-skating craze began to take hold and Seltzer seized a chance to exploit this new frenzy. Seltzer had read in the Literary Digest that 93% of Americans had roller skated at some point in their lives. He advertised for skaters to join his first “Roller Derby” on August 13, 1935. Twenty thousand spectators filled the Coliseum to see the Transcontinental Roller Derby.


Leo Seltzer brought his Transcontinental Roller Derby to the Ice Coliseum in Portland on Sunday, October 9, 1938. Leo Seltzer would go on to become the “Father of the original Roller Derby” which lasted for nearly four decades.


Portland theater mogul Walter Tebbetts became a Walkathon Promoter, holding a Dance Marathon at Atlantic City in 1932. Early in 1933, he held a show at Camden, New Jersey, using one of the hangars at Central Airport. Later, on September 9, 1933 Tebbetts held a show at The Auditorium at Atlantic City. Tebbetts hired Red Skelton as a youthful comic MC. Paducah, Kentucky became the site of another show that Tebbetts opened on January 16. It was followed by another show at Atlanta’s Southeast Fair Grounds on January 23, 1934.

Tebbetts opened at Dreamland Park Ballroom in Newark, New Jersey on July 31, 1934. On September 8, 1934, Tebbetts opened a Walk-a-Derby at Trenton, New Jersey. Then on October 26, Tebbetts opened at Grand Rapids, Michigan, He opened a show at the Olympic Park Ballroom in Irvington, New Jersey on January 29, 1935 and again on April 6. Later that year, on October 8, Walter Tebbetts opened a show at Camden, New Jersey.


Walter A. Tebbetts

After the Walkathons began to loose their popularity, Tebbetts returned to Portland to manage his theater interests. He remained active until his death in January 1962.

Dedicated to the memory of Portland native and historian Frank Schlick for his many hours of historic research.


Last updated 10-22-17


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