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[whitespace] Roller Ballsy

Roller queen Ann Calvello is still hell on wheels in 'Demon of the Derby'

By Sarah Phelan

In a fair and equitable universe, Roller Derby queen Ann "Banana Nose" Calvello would be living it up in a Beverly Hills mansion, complete with roller rink, tanning parlor and her very own line of Ann Calvello dolls, which would kick butt, jab elbows and flash neon-sparkled fingernails when you least expect it. All of which proves that this universe is majorly screwed up, since this 74-year-old goddess is currently living it down in San Bruno--a stone's throw from the San Francisco International Airport--having recently lost an eye to cancer, an operation which has prevented her from doing her second favorite activity, lying in the sun.

"Hey, everyone says I don't look my age, but to me I look 150 years old right now, because I haven't been in the sun for a year," says Calvello, who in typical gutsy fashion is still hoping to make it to Santa Cruz for the Saturday night screening of Demon of the Derby, an amazing study in ballsiness featuring Calvello doing what she loves best--brutally kneeing the opposition while spending her life skating in circles.

"But just because I've spent my whole life skating in circles doesn't mean I'm stupid," says the untanned septuagenarian. "I was wearing my hair green before anyone," she says, in a voice that suggests that even at 150 she could out-dye anyone in town.

But though joining the international Roller Speedway in 1948 took her to Paris, Belgium, Manila and Guam before the word jet-set had even been invented, Calvello was hardly raking it in. Still, she was loving it at a time when there weren't exactly a whole bunch of outlets for a strong-legged tomboy with an assertive edge.

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Santa Cruz Film Festival 2003

Culture Shock: Raw, clever documentary 'Culture Jam' champions the 'joyful revolution' of ad busting, sign-jacking and all-around culture hacking as part of the Santa Cruz Film Festival Friday program.

Roller Ballsy: Roller queen Ann Calvello is still hell on wheels in 'Demon of the Derby.'

You Gave Me Shiva: A hyperkinetic NYC tour guide and a frightening vérité look at the terrorist attacks make for a fascinating SCFF program about Sept. 11.

Green Enos and Ham: 'Story of the Space Chimps' reveals what two unsung American heroes went through for the glory of the U.S. space program.

Let Us Prey: Cheri Lovedog's 'Prey for Rock & Roll' gets a homecoming on the SCFF's opening night.

Bitter Fruit: 'Coloring the Silver Screen' program focuses on the history of African Americans in cinema and the strange-but-true history of Billie Holiday's haunting rendition of 'Strange Fruit.'

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"When I was young, I couldn't get a date, because I had more muscle than the guys. I never worked out. I just had natural definition. Men were threatened by it, which didn't work because I'm a Leo and don't like weakness. I just want to be appreciated," says Calvello, who married and had a daughter, but soon divorced and returned to the rink.

By the late 1950s, she and Miffy "Big Red" Jensen had started the Bay Bombers, and skated pretty much nonstop until the Roller Derby packed up in 1973, right around the time tennis queen Billie Jean King was putting women's sports on the financially viable map.

"It's over and that's it. It's different times. That's what I said at the time the Roller Derby packed it in. There were gas shortages and the oil crisis and our manager didn't care, and men didn't want us there," says Calvello, who never made a dime from skating and survived by bagging groceries and other part-time jobs. All of which never stopped her from loving and practicing her preferred sport right into her eighth decade.

"I'm not a quitter, but this cancer thing has really got me down," she confides, remaining as modest as ever off-rink, despite all that she's done, including having a movie made about her, the Santa Cruz Film Festival entry Demon of the Derby.

"'Step on me, but don't wipe your feet.' That's a classic Ann Calvello expression," she confides. "'If you're good, don't brag.' I never thought I was that good of a skater. My whole family is very athletic, but everything came so easy, skating was a snap for me. But my shit stinks like everyone else."


Demon of the Derby plays Saturday, May 31, 6:45pm, at the Del Mar as part of the SCFF's Modern Goddesses program and is followed by Body: A Woman's Definition, a rivetingly freakish documentary about women bodybuilders.

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From the May 28-June 4, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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