The Ice Capades was a traveling entertainment show featuring theatrical performances involving ice skating. Shows often featured former Olympic and National Champion figure skaters who had retired from amateur competition. Started in 1940, Ice Capades grew rapidly and prospered for fifty years. A decline in popularity ensued, and the show went out of business around 1995. There have been several attempts to revive the show and its name.
Ice Capades was founded in February, 1940 in Hershey, Pennsylvania by nine men who called themselves the Arena Managers Association. They met to discuss forming an ice show to play in their arenas during the 1940-1941 entertainment season. The arenas represented were all well-known venues of the day:
- Boston Garden, represented by Walter A. Brown
- Buffalo Memorial Auditorium – Louis Jacobs
- Cleveland Arena – Al Sutphin
- Hershey Sports Arena – John B. Sollenberger
- New Haven Arena – Nathan Podoloff, brother of Maurice Podoloff
- Philadelphia Arena – Peter A. Tyrrell
- Pittsburgh's Duquesne Gardens – John H. Harris
- Rhode Island Auditorium – Louis Pieri
- Springfield Coliseum – Eddie Shore
In 1936, Harris had hired the legendary skater Sonja Henie to perform between periods of hockey games. She created a sensation among Pittsburghers, confirming his faith in ice skating's potential as a spectator amusement. The other arena managers agreed with this assessment, chose the name "Ice Capades", and formed a group of skaters.
The group's first performance was four months after its founding, on June 16, 1940 at New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. The show closed there on June 29 and moved to Atlantic City Convention Hall, where it played nightly from July 19 through September 2. Famous skaters in the large cast included Belita, Robin Lee, and Vera Hruba. The group's first touring season under the Ice Capades name covered 24 cities between November, 1940 and May, 1941.
The show's success spawned two films from Republic Pictures, "Ice-Capades" in 1941, and "Ice Capades Revue" in 1942. The films featured actors and entertainers of the day such as James Ellison, Ellen Drew, Jerry Colonna and Phil Silvers, as well as the Ice Capades skaters. They were not considered to be films of quality, and the first one was panned by The New York Times
In 1942, the show featured world champion skater Megan Taylor, new talent Donna Atwood, and an acrobatic team from Boston. The next year U.S. figure skating champion Bobby Specht joined the show. He would be actively involved with Ice Capades for the next 31 years. 1943 also introduced the "Old Smoothies," Orrin Markhus, 51, and his partner Irma Thomas, 44, plus Trixie, the skating juggler. The production number "Toys for Sale" was the first story on ice with original words and music.
Ice Capades shows were extremely popular for several decades and became a household name, although they were criticized by some as kitsch. From 1941 through 1981, the Ice Capades show was a summertime fixture at what was then known as Atlantic City Convention Hall.
John H. Harris sold the company in 1963 for $5.5 million. By the mid 1970s, Ice Capades had grown to three different touring companies under one Ice Capades umbrella: The East Company (the original 1940 company); the West Company; and the Continental Company (the latter was formed in 1974). In this period, they owned several railroad baggage cars that were used to transport the show. In 1986, then-owner Metromedia sold Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters as a package to International Broadcasting Corporation for $30 million. However, a decline in popularity began in the 1980s and the parent company went bankrupt in 1991. In 1993, Dorothy Hamill, who headlined the East Company from 1977 to 1984, bought Ice Capades assets in a bankruptcy sale and attempted to revive the company with the critically acclaimed Frozen in Time: Cinderella on Ice, but attendance figures remained stagnant. In February 1995 she sold the company for $10 million to television evangelist Pat Robertson's International Family Entertainment Inc., but they announced plans to sell in August 1995, and Ice Capades went out of business a short time later.
Licensed characters and properties used in productions included "A Flintstone Fantasy" (1967), "Hey Kids, Meet The Snorks!" (1985), "The Ewoks" (1986), and "From The World of Nintendo" and "Barbie Talent Search" (both 1989).
Analysts believe that the increasing popularity of the sport of figure skating meant that more sophisticated audiences came to prefer straightforward Olympic-style ice-skating competitions, or skating shows for adults (i.e., without cartoon characters) such as Stars on Ice. At the same time, shows such as Disney on Ice (featuring Disney cartoon characters) successfully competed for the child audience.
Portable ice rinks
In the early 1950s, the group started using portable ice rinks, called "tanks." This made it possible for them to perform in arenas that did not have their own ice surface, greatly expanding the number of venues where the show could operate. It took several days and 30-40 workers to install the tanks. In the late 1960s, Ice Capades designed and patented a new portable ice rink system that could be installed in less than 10 hours on most arena basketball floors or other surfaces.
Chalet skating rinks
In 1966, Ice Capades bought an ice skating rink in Topanga Plaza shopping center, Canoga Park, California. The success of this venture led to the establishment of the Ice Capades Chalet Division, which owned and operated about thirteen rinks, ran ice skating schools, and developed a curriculum that could develop a skater from beginner to competitive skater. Most of the Chalets were in California and Texas, with others in Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. The chalets were started by Michael Kirby, former voice of Ice Capades shows and eventually expanded to over two dozen facilities under the management of ISI Hall of Famer and Ice Capades VP, Michael R. Booker.
In the fall of 2000, Ice Capades was resurrected by Garden Entertainment in its original format with a large cast of skaters. The new show was conceived, directed and choreographed by the former German pair skating champion Almut Lehmann Peyper. The show was not a financial success and closed in November 2000, canceling the remaining tour dates.
Another attempt to revive Ice Capades was made in the spring of 2008 with plans for a tent show production called "Mystika", billed as "Cirque Meets Ice". In mid-August 2008, auditions were held in Lake Placid, New York for the all new Ice Capades. Developed by Entertainment Holdings and Red Brick Entertainment, Ice Capades was announced for production as live skating shows, television specials, episodic series, and web content. Three-time U.S. pairs champion and two-time Olympian JoJo Starbuck was named as Artistic Director. However, in April 2009, the tour was canceled by its organizers, Garden Family Shows, stranding many of the performers without pay and leaving suppliers unpaid
Former Ice Capades skaters have organized reunions, typically held every five years. The 2010 reunion, held in Las Vegas, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Ice Capades. It was attended by more than 500 people.
In popular culture
Sitcom episodes with a plot involving tickets to the Ice Capades were still being written years after the demise of the company, including episodes of The Drew Carey Show, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Gossip Girl and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show has also been widely parodied, for example by cartoonist Gary Larson with good-natured comics captioned "Ice Crusades" and "Dirt Capades".
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- "Ice-Capades (1941)". IMdB, The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
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- "Ice-Capades Revue (1942)". IMdB, The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- "Ice-Capades Revue film summary from All Movie Guide". Retrieved 2009-04-03.
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- Slate.com: The Ice Capades: Requiem for the ice carnival
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- Hines, James R. (2006). Figure Skating: A History. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-07286-3.
- IceCapades.tv, August 16, 2008
- Ice Capades scraps international tour
- "70th Ice Capades Anniversary Reunion". Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- Norako, Leila K. "The Crusades and Western Cultural Imagination". Rossell Hope Robbins Library, University of Rochester. Retrieved 2009-11-27.[dead link]
- Larson, Gary (1992-06-01). Cows Of Our Planet (Far Side Series). Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0-8362-1701-2.
- Newsreel of 1962 Ice Capades show. Includes links to others.
- 70th Anniversary Reunion web site (2010) - extensive collection of Ice Capades photos, historical content, etc.
- Slate.com: The Ice Capades: Requiem for the ice carnival
- Two program covers
- 2000 Ice Capades revival feature story
- Archived web site of 2000 Ice Capades revival
- Website of the 2008 Ice Capades revival.
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/22/09 - Ice Capades alums say thanks for the memories
- Historical photo and video essay by Ice Capades alumni/ae
- Ice Capades of 1964