Wednesday August 11, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Roller Rink

On this Day:

In 1866, the world’s 1st roller rink opened in Newport, Rhode Island.  Well, perhaps so or perhaps not..let’s roll with this one a bit…

A roller rink is a hard surface usually consisting of hardwood or concrete, used for roller skating or inline skating. This includes roller hockey, speed skating, roller derby, and individual recreational skating. Roller rinks can be located in an indoor or outdoor facility. Most skating center facilities range anywhere from under 14,000 square feet (1,300 m2) to more than 21,000 square feet (2,000 m2).

Massachusetts businessman James Plimpton’s 1863 invention of an improved roller skate led to a boom in popularity in the late 19th century, particularly in cities of the American East Coast. At first, people roller skated at home, but within twenty years businesses dedicated to the activity began to spring up. Plimpton himself is credited with opening the first roller skating rink in New York City. Patrons who enjoyed ice skating during the winter months participated in the similar activity, now year-round. Early roller rinks varied greatly in size and type, both indoor and outdoor. Many consisted of simple wooden platforms that sometimes doubled as dance floors or ballrooms. While primarily an activity of eastern cities, a few enterprising individuals toured the rural areas of the Midwest and South with wagon-loads of roller skates. These entrepreneurs went from town-to-town, often in conjunction with circuses or carnivals, renting out skates and using whatever locally-available surface as an impromptu rink. The post–World War II baby boom also saw a boom in roller rinks across the United States. Having a roller skating birthday party became something of a rite of passage for American children in the 1950s to the 1980s. Roller rinks in the United States underwent significant changes in the 1970s. New plastics led to improved skate wheels—ones providing a smoother, quieter ride—and easier-to-maintain skate floors.

The Disco craze from popular 1970s culture led to another increase in the popularity of roller rinks—or roller discos, as some became. Gone were the staid lighting and old-fashioned organ music as a generally older clientele were replaced by adolescents and twenty-somethings skating under mirror balls and special lights to disco beats. The end of the Disco Era and the advent of inline roller skates hit the roller rink industry hard, with many rinks closing. However, as had happened earlier, most rink owners adapted and survived the economic storm. Roller derby, a professional sport of the 1950s and 1960s once considered virtually dead, has seen a DIY, grassroots rebirth in popularity in the early 21st century with amateur and semi-pro teams forming leagues nationwide. Many rink owners support this activity, along with roller hockey, speed skating, and roller figure skating contests (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

My family got on to the subject of roller skating after dinner, when my granddad told us that: “You can have nasty accidents at roller rinks… Your grandma and I first met at one.”

Second, a Song:

Roller Boogie is a 1979 American romantic musical drama film starring Linda Blair and Jim Bray, a former competitive artistic skater from California. The film also stars Beverly Garland, Mark Goddard and Kimberly Beck, and is directed by Mark L. Lester.

The film is set in the Venice, California suburb of Los Angeles at the height of the roller skating fad of the late 1970s. Two characters, Bobby James (Bray) and Terry Barkley (Blair), fall in love while boogie skating to disco music. Along the way they must thwart a powerful mobster who wants the land their favorite roller rink sits on and compete in the Boogie Contest.

The film received mostly negative reviews during its theatrical release, though it was a box office success. In recent years it has become a cult classic and a time capsule of the late 1970s disco era.

The soundtrack of the film largely draws on the disco sound that was popular in the late 1970s. A double-LP soundtrack was issued by Casablanca Records in 1979.

Almost all of the tracks were written directly for the movie by Bob Esty and Michelle Aller. Esty/Aller had at the time recently scored a sizable hit, writing Cher’s disco-single “Take Me Home”. Incidentally, they produced Cher’s accompanying LP of the same name, as well as the ill-fated follow-up, Prisoner. Cher would contribute one song to the Roller Boogie soundtrack – the Esty produced “Hell on Wheels”, used in the opening sequence. The track originally featured on the Prisoner album, and a rare accompanying video clip featuring Cher roller-skating also appeared around the same time as the release of the movie.

The “Hell on Wheels” Japanese single includes another Prisoner album track, the 12″ version of “Git Down (Guitar Groupie)”, which is advertised as “Theme from Roller Boogie”. However, the song does not appear in the movie. This single features a still of Linda Blair and Jim Bray on the cover.

The song “Lord Is It Mine”, performed by Bob Esty, was originally written by Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson for their LP Breakfast in America. He also performed the tracks “Summer Love”, “Rollin’ Up a Storm” and “Roller Boogie”. The segued opening tracks of side two of the double LP, “Electronix (Roller Dancin’)”, and the Latin-disco instrumental “Cunga”, are credited to Bob Esty and Cheeks. Craig Safan composed cues for the film’s original score, however, the film tends to rely on actual songs as opposed to instrumental pieces.

Along with “Hell on Wheels”, the other song on the soundtrack that was previously available prior to the soundtrack release is Earth, Wind & Fire’s well-known disco single, “Boogie Wonderland”, featuring the female group, the Emotions. Only one song featured in the film does not feature on the soundtrack, Jean Shy’s “Night Dancer”, which appears in the movie when Terry first visits the roller-disco rink.

The film was promoted with a lengthy trailer in the autumn of 1979, before the premiere in New York City in early December. The film was released nationally on December 23. The film grossed $13.2 million at the box office, proving popular with teen audiences. Initially, Compass International Pictures planned on a sequel (to be set in Mexico—Acapulco Roller Boogie); however, probably due to the end of the disco fad, the idea was scrapped. According to a Teen Beat article published in 1980, Linda Blair intended on moving away from the horror genre in favor of more lighthearted pictures such as Roller Boogie, but returned to the genre the following year in another Compass International Pictures-produced movie, Hell Night (1981). Jim Bray did not appear in any other films after Roller Boogie, despite achieving something of pin-up status in teen magazines largely based on his appearance in the film. Stoney Jackson would appear in the third and final season of The White Shadow as Jesse B. Mitchell before its cancellation in 1981, and in Michael Jackson’s music video “Beat It” (1983). He also appeared in Diane Lane’s movie Streets of Fire (1984) as the lead singer of a doo wop group.

In August 2006, fashion brand American Apparel played the movie in store windows in New York City. Matthew Swenson, the company’s fashion media director, stated, “We became obsessed with that movie. On a whim, we also bought lamé fabric and turned them into leggings, and the gold and silver took off.” Despite a weighted average vote of 3.7/10 on the Internet Movie Database (and also a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes), the film has developed a loyal following and is seen as something of a time-capsule of the late 1970s and the disco era. The film is considered a cult classic.

The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Awards founder John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made (per Wikipedia).

“Boogie Wonderland” is a single by Earth, Wind & Fire with the Emotions, released in April 1979 on Columbia Records. The song peaked at number 14 on the dance chart, number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 2 on the Hot Soul Singles chart. Boogie Wonderland was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA and Gold in the UK by the BPI.

Here is the “Boogie Wonderland” scene from the film “Roller Disco”.  I hope you enjoy this! 

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vprZhrFNL_U)

Thought for the Day:

“The first years of my life were spent in a roller disco in the early ’80s called Flipper’s. It was a real riotous, incredible time. I am slightly obsessed with the place.” – Liberty Ross

Further to the Psycho Smile:

Ross Fishman of Chicago, Illinois, USA writes:

“Funny to see this, David. I was born 6 weeks after Psycho came out and the OB/GYN told my 8-month-pregnant mother NOT to see the movie for fear that the shock would send her into early labor. I hope you’re doing well, buddy.

Ross”

And Rob Dickson of North Vancouver, BC, Canada writes:

“Greetings from Lake of the Woods!

This memory of the movie Psycho brings back my clear memory of seeing the movie in Ottawa. Afternoon matinee, by myself, and the audience had a large group of teenage girls – as I was also – 16 – and I still remember clearly their collective scream in the shower scene.

Hope you are staying healthy

Best regards

Rob”

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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