The Blonde Bomber & The Last Hurrah of Ann Calvello and the Resurrection of a Unique American Sporting Event. by Andrew J. Epstein, Spaghettibrains Press, www.spaghettibrains.com
Fans of the modern era of roller derby women should not miss this book by former Chicagoan Andrew J. Epstein.
It is a fantastic photo and essay book of the original derby women (and men). But it is enjoyable even for those who never have been to a Roller Derby match, because it is filled with history, excellent photography, and the stories of some incredible women pioneers who fought against the odds to create a league, and a family. Plus, we learn about the new women's derby resurgence as well.
The Blonde Bomber of the title is Joan Westin, who Epstein covered frequently. She had more than 20 years in the business, and could pack audiences around the country from her Chicago-area base as a member of the Pioneers.
As Andrew writes: "Joan also owned a 'women's bar' [The Driftwood in Hayward, Calif.]. She held court there. … Fans, skaters, gay men, and women were always welcome in the bar." While she married a man who was her "buddy," she kept that on the downlow, because she thought it would hurt her image as the Amazon Goddessan ironic turn for a women's sports legend.
We also learn from Ann Calvello, the Demon of the Derby, a character bigger than life, captured in the film Demon of the Derby. Epstein also covers some of the men of the era, during a time when sexism was rampant and the women were just for show, even though they gave their blood, sweat and tears just as much as the guys.
Epstein, who is well known as a photographer of Chicago's gay and urban scenes from the 1970s-1990s, brings the stories up to date, as we find out the tragic ends of athletes such as Joan, all the while getting a first-hand view of what it was really like in the decades of the women's roller derby circuit. The Blond Bomber ruled the track for 20 years, but we also learn about so much more of this rich history, as told through Epstein's clever eyes and camera lens.
While the original derby closed in 1973, Epstein makes sure to document the re-birth of this classic American sport, with photos and profiles of some of the new women in town. This is simply a fantastic book for fans of women's sports, history and some very tough athletes.