Sunday, January 4, 2015

wacky tacky Icons: Pat McGee "The Blonde Skateboarding Goddess"

Nearly two decades ago, my grandfather* became something of a media darling.  At more than 70 years old, and after fourteen attempts, he was the most "age-advanced" man ever to pass the California State Bar Exam.  Much lauded by his family and his community, he became the oldest, newest practitioner of law in our Golden State.  As if our adulation wasn't enough, he was extremely gratified by the coverage he received on the Today Show, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and within the venerable pages of People Magazine.  Somehow, he even parlayed his story into a winning appearance on Wheel of Fortune!  Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Grandpa was able to really stretch his proverbial "fifteen minutes of fame."

Over the years, Andy Warhol's words, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes," have adopted a rather negative connotation.  Beyond Warhol's jaded view of our celebrity-driven culture, the contemporary subtextual implication is that any and all seekers-of-fame are inherently unworthy of our attention.  As fame is famously fleeting, it is my opinion that those who come by it honestly, deserve their fifteen golden minutes - or more - in the sun.  1965, in fact, was a particularly golden year for one sunny little honey from San Diego.

Pat McGee "The Blonde Skateboarding Goddess" on the iconic, May 14, 1965 cover of LIFE Magazine

Like a real-life Gidget, Pat McGee, was one of the original 1950s-era surfer girls braving the waves amidst a sea of boys.  As surf culture evolved to include "the craze and the menace of skateboards," McGee was immediately onboard as an early adopter.  She was not only the first female skater to be sponsored (Hobie), but also the first national women's skateboarding champion.

I wonder if McGee felt like a groundbreaker or if she was just having fun.
Any way you slice it, she did both...with killer hair!!!

McGee demonstrates her skill on a board manufactured by the Vita-Pakt Citrus 
Company of Covina, CA - no shoes required.  It appears that the patch on her 
sweater, worn for the Life Magazine story, features the Vita-Pakt logo as well.

Described in 1965 by Life as "the most exhilarating and dangerous joyriding device this side of the hotrod," the skateboard now seems like such an innocuous, if still exhilarating, part of American life.  However, there was a time, as evidenced by a 1965 episode of What's My Line?, when the concept of a professional skateboarder was an entirely foreign one.

Pat McGee "Demonstrates Skateboards" on What's My Line? (May 16, 1965)

I get a particular kick out of it when eloquence personified, Arlene Francis, zeroed in on McGee's "line" by asking, "Is this this new board, skating board?"  Having grown up in the epicenter of skateboarding, it is hard to imagine a time when skateboards were such a novelty that the most sophisticated and worldly panel in show business would ask such sophomoric questions.  Never advancing beyond the kneel-on-the-nose technique myself, I am certainly the exception to Southern California's mandatory skateboarding rule.  Perhaps instead of watching both of my brothers skate, I should have studied with Mike Douglas under the tutelage of Ms. McGee. 

Pat McGee on The Mike Douglas Show (1965)

Groundbreaking not only in terms of bringing a dynamic female presence into male-dominated sports, McGee was also a forerunner in sponsorships and endorsements.  She easily translated her innate athleticism and all-American appeal into commercial success!

A television commercial for Bell Telephone Corp. (1965)

A real fixture in the Southern California beach life, McGee was a natural as a player in the films reflecting the teenage scene.  Although she has but one credit on her IMDb page (It's A Bikini World), we just happened to be watching another production by TransAmerican Films (American International's "frenemy" in films about California culture) and caught a glimpse of who we think to be an uncredited McGee getting groovy in a wild fringe dress.

Lil' Pat McGee (?) wiggling to "The Wigglers" in Beach Ball (1965)

After the raising a daughter and exploring life's many opportunities, McGee (now going by Patti McGee) rediscovered her love for skateboarding.  A skateboarding proponent both personally and professionally, McGee is universally recognized as one of the sport's most influential pioneers. In 2010, McGee was recognized as such when she was the first female ever inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.  We're just sorry that it took so long to induct her into the wacky tacky hall of fame.  Although, the honor is equal, I'm sure.

Pat McGee could not be any cooler, or more worthy of Hall of Fame status,
as the cover girl on the fourth issue of Skateboarder Magazine (1965).

As I've grown from boy to man (and my head has consequently gotten further from the ground), I've become increasingly fearful of falling, further minimizing my chances of becoming a skateboarder, professional or otherwise.  Nevertheless, I can easily recognize the contributions to American culture and the advancement of women in sports made by Patti McGee.

If the options are "skate or die," I'm afraid for my future!!!
You can call me Fatty McGee.

(This ripping video was directed, produced, and edited by my
awesome brother who encourages and enables my crackpot behavior) 

So, do you skate?  Man or woman, amateur or professional, if you're a skater you owe quite a debt of gratitude to the "Original Betty."


Mr. Tiny

*About halfway through penning this post, I was informed that my grandfather had passed away at 92 years of age on January 1.  Born in 1922, I am sure he had little notion of ever seeing the year 2015, which he did, if only for a few hours.  Certainly grief is natural, but it is difficult to be too bereft when considering the decided richness of his extremely full life.  His army service (he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel) and civilian careers took him from Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma to Panama, Hawaii, Brazil, and across the United States.  He was the father to eight children, grandfather to more than thirty grandchildren, and great-grandfather to plenty more.  The deal he made with my uncle for them both to see law school through to its natural conclusion resulted in two attorneys in the family (a career for my uncle, a point of pride for my grandfather).  What inspires me most about his life is the 70-year marriage he shared with my grandmother!  SEVENTY YEARS!!!  While he and I shared little in terms of passions or points of view, I admired his joy for life, his love for my grandmother, and his penchant for storytelling.  I give him a lot of credit for eventually settling his family in the part of the country that allowed my parents to find each other.  Because of him, ground zero for surf/skate/kustom culture (intrinsic to the wacky tacky way of life) is the place that I call home.  To him, I dedicate this post about chasing California dreams.  Happy Trails, Grandpa, 'til we meet again!

Benjamin Roll
August 19. 1922 - January 1, 2015


  1. I love Ms. McGee not only for her skateboarding prowess but for her platinum hair!

    My condolences on the passing of your amazing grandfather. Should the world have more people like him, it would definitely be a better place.

  2. i'm so sorry to hear about your grandpa, but what a wonderful full life he lead! SEVENTY YEARS???? I hope travis and i get that much time together. we're just now at about 13.
    and pat mcgee is the coolest! i love all those photos of her skating!

    1. It's probably not a record breaker, but isn't 70 years kind of mind-blowing?!?!! I hope you and Travis have at least 75 years!

      Patti McGee is so cool! I love how well she did on The Mike Douglas Show - a total pro!

  3. So sorry to hear about your grandpa...but am so impressed by his life and legacy. Also, I don't know what impresses me more, the story about your grandfather being oldest person taking the bar exam or your mother's stint on a 70s game show. Both are intensely fascinating to me.

    As for Pat Mcgee...she is seriously the cutest person I have ever seen.

    1. Isn't she perfect?! Cool hair, cool attitude, and handstands on a skateboard??? It doesn't really get any more awesome!

      Thank you for your high opinion of my mom & granddad; it is hard to be objective, but I guess they are kind of neat!

  4. What a great tribute to your grandfather!
    Sorry for your loss, but I love the way you cellebrated his life!