• Wed, Mar 24 2010

Shelved Dolls: Joan Weston

Joan Weston

1935-1997

The Blonde Bomber

Serena Williams. Mia Hamm. Lindsay Vonn. They would all be so much cooler if they were on roller skates. Just like Joan Weston, the original roller derby girl. Throughout the 1960‘s and 1970’s she was a household name – though she was also known as “The Blonde Bomber”, “Golden Girl”, “The Blonde Amazon” and “Roller Derby Queen”. Often compared to Candice Bergen, crowds loved her as she tore through Madison Square Garden in a spiffy scarf and her signature traffic-cone-orange and black uniform.

Joan didn’t necessarily see herself becoming a roller derby star when she was attending Catholic school. She really wanted to be a nun, but her grandparents frowned upon that choice. Still, when she first started competing in roller derby she noted, “The language terrified me and when I learned what the words meant and that many of the skaters believed actions spoke louder than words, I nearly quit. It was a far cry from St. Mary’s.”

She adjusted. It helped that she’d always been naturally athletic – she was offered a softball scholarship – and that as soon as she started roller derby she was hooked. And the nun-ish persona quickly melted away. Over the years, she became a consummate roller derby girl – and had the false teeth to show for it. During one notable contest she found herself in a shouting match with a referee, during which two of her teeth flew directly at him. He replied, ”I don’t mind you yelling, but don’t send your teeth out to bite me.”

Which is pretty awesome. During a time when most women were still expected to marry young (these are the Mad Men years more than The Wonder Years), Weston spent her time kicking butt. And, she was still considered super sexy – to an extent that she was immortalized by a young Raquel Welch in the movie version of her life. She also became the highest paid female athlete of the 1960’s.

Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, that didn’t mean as much as it would today. Weston noted, “With some of the newer kids it is [okay to fight]. They fight skaters, management, fans, everything. They’re angry.  I think they reflect the mood of the times. Yet, when it comes to fighting for a cause – like equal pay for female skaters – they chicken out. I earn about $30,000 a year now. If I were a man, I’d be earning close to $50,000. It isn’t fair.” The wage gap didn’t really decrease until Billie Jean King’s tennis victory in 1973, but you have to imagine that athletes like Joan Weston has something to do with it.

Joan told Family Weekly:, “Do I have regrets? Yes. But, and this is a big ‘but’ in my life, I do have stardom and that can’t be minimized. Anyone who tries to minimize it doesn’t have it. Money is one of its joys. But money isn’t where it’s really at; money isn’t why you work for stardom continuously, even when you already have it. Stardom is recognition, approval, power. Do you know what it’s like to be able to bring 20,000 people to their feet – to make them hate or love you? That’s where it’s at. Power!”

Sadly, the roller derby league folded in the mid 1970’s, but Weston was still intent on showing young women how to skate. She continued to do so up until her death at age 62 from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Steal Her Style: Minimal make-up, but get in a good deal of exercise to keep your muscles toned, and don’t be afraid to wear bright colors. They go especially well with bleached blonde hair.

Recommended Reading:

New York Times Obituary http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/18/us/joanie-weston-62-a-big-star-in-the-world-of-roller-derbies.html

Derby Memoirs http://derbymemoirs.bankedtrack.info/mem_Weston_Joan.html

Family Weekly http://astroworf.tripod.com/fw1.html

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