Roller (A)rena (the A is silent) came into being on the evening of Saturday, September 16, 1972. Born in Gravelsnatch, Kentucky in 1948, the boy who became Rollerena came out in 1961. He would hitch hike or take a bus to Louisville and became the “bluegrass* belle of three counties as a teenager. In April of 1966, at the age of 18, he registered for the draft and graduated from High School in May of 1967. (The Outweek interview December 24, 1989 shows photos of him at seventeen and in basic training.)
He served in the artillery infantry in Vietnam and returned to the states in September 1969. Late in 1969 he worked on Wall Street spent New Year’s Eve of 1969 in Times Square. He started roller skating to work in 1970 (this was regular roller skates, not in-line rollerblades which became popular on the streets in the 1980s and 1990s).
He was 5 feet 11 inches and 128 lbs, he practiced at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue. He was given the nicknamed Rollin’ Skeets; he wore a visor, umbrella on his head, a backpack and a little horn at his waist for foot traffic. In 1971 he was in the Gay Pride Parade as Rollin’ Skeets.
On September 16, 1972, he went into an antique store on Christopher Street put on a bathrobe-like gown, a 1950s hat, a straw basket and skated up and down Christopher Street. He went into a bar, the whole place went absolutely wild! A crowd gathered like they were awaiting Glinda landing in Oz. This was the birth of Roller Arena the Fairy Godmother.
She made her debut as Roller Arena in the 1973 Easter Parade. Her skating was limited to well-heeled neighborhoods, gay spots and chic haunts like Studio 54. She collected thirty 1950s hats, costume jewelry earrings, and 15 pairs of rhinestone glasses. October 15,1979 Roller- Arena changed her name to Rollerena. In 1980-81 Rollerena became a cartoon subject in Rollerena published in The New York Native, by Mike Thomas.
The creator of Rollerena did not consider himself a drag queen; instead she became the character of a Fairy Godmother. As Rollerena became more and more well known people began to request her presence at various events. She had a post office box, a friend as business representative, post cards, began skate dancing at the popular discos, and was in many newspaper articles and TV and radio talk shows.
Rollerena went by the names Rollin’ Skeets in 1970, Roller Arena Fairy Godmother in 1972 and Rollerena Fairy Godmother in 1979. Various newspapers gave different spellings to the Fairy Godmother and these spellings are used in the Finding Aid as they appear in the articles, they include: Rollerina, Roller Rena, Rolla-Reena, Rollerarena, Roll-Arena.
- 1948 born in Gravelsnatch, KY
- 1961 at age of 13, met a soldier stationed in Kentucky
- 1966 18th birthday, registered for draft 4/25/1966
- 1967 graduated from High School.
- 1968 drafted into the Army
- 1969 served in Vietnam
- 1969 Returned in September 1969, worked on Wall Street, spent New
- Year’s Even in Times Square.
- 1970 May 12 roller skated to work (new job at Rockefeller Center)
- 1971 Gay Pride Parade first appearance on skates as Rollin’ Skeets
Night of a 1,000 Gowns to benefit Broadway Cares and God’s Love We Deliver, courtesy of GAYLIFENYC. Thank you