Wednesday, March 15, 2006

the world of Roller Derby...

is, sadly, a little less today...

Roller derby queen Ann Calvello dies after cancer bout
By Sandra Gonzales and Rodney Foo
Mercury News


Ann Calvello, a grand doyenne of roller derby whose outrageously dyed hair and brawling spirit made her a Bay Area icon, died Tuesday (3/14/06) in a Peninsula hospital after a brief battle with cancer.

She was 76.

Calvello had been diagnosed with liver cancer just a week ago and had been given four to six months to live, said Bill Prieto, Calvello's life partner of 30 years.

``I'm just in shock. I don't know what to say,'' he said Tuesday night from the San Bruno home they shared. ``She didn't even last a week.''

Prieto said he took Calvello to the emergency room Tuesday after she complained of pain. She died about 3 p.m. at the hospital.

Calvello enjoyed fame as a star on the San Francisco Bay Bombers after helping introduce the rough-and-tumble spectator sport to the country decades ago. Calvello joined her first roller derby team in 1948 when she was only 18.

Her looks earned her the nickname ``Banana Nose,'' and she quickly garnered a reputation as a bad girl because of her splashy clothing and hair color that ranged from purple to green and even polka dots.

Roller derby, a phenomenon that reached its zenith in the 1970s, matched teams of men and women on a banked-track oval where choreographed moves and knockdown brawls were the rule.

Calvello, who also skated professionally in Philadelphia and New Jersey, later was signed to the U.S. team and traveled throughout the world. She became an international legend, packing arenas and dazzling television audiences, at one point earning the moniker Roller Derby Queen.

Calvello continued to entertain crowds even in her later years, skating in charity events well into her 60s. And her influence on the sport still looms large. Teams in a women-only league in Austin compete annually for the Calvello Cup.

Carol ``Peanuts'' Meyers Roman, a former member of the Bombers, remembered getting into a fight with her old teammate on the track. The fight continued in the dressing room.

``She came at me and grabbed me around the waist and head'' and soon equipment was flying around the room, Roman said.

Roman, who was soon to be married, got 17 stitches in her scalp.

The fiery Calvello, who always got the last word, labeled Roman ``Frankenstein's bride.'' Then she volunteered to stand in for Roman as the bride.

She loved the give-and-take of roller derby and was always quick with a jibe, whether kidding about trackside broadcaster Walt Harris' toupee or Jerry Seltzer's attire, hanging the sobriquet of ``Drip Dry'' on the game's impresario.

``Annie would say, `Jerry, as much money as you have, you should buy a better suit than a drip and dry,' '' Roman said. ``That was Annie, she had a name for everybody.''

Roman said Calvello's unbridled wit and mouth kept Harris on his toes during interviews with her.

``It was hard for him to relax with Annie,'' she said. ``He never knew what she was going to say.''

Harris described Calvello as a larger-than-life figure worthy of a book. In 2001, Calvello was the subject of a biographical documentary, ``Demon of the Derby.''

Ever the iconoclast, Calvello was something of a loner to her teammates outside the rink.

``I wasn't one of those who hung around the skaters,'' she told the Mercury News in February. ``I'd go down to North Beach.''

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