ON ICE – I

Ice Follies 63This started out to be another KGB story; but then as I got writing I realized that large

Ice Show revues are a thing of the past… just like vaudeville. So as I began to give a brief backstory to the intended story, KGB AND THE ZAMBONI, then I decided to delay it and write a longer version of ice shows as I remember them and as I worked them.

Back in the day when ice shows were full blown revues, ala Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, only on ice, and not today’s costumed skaters presenting a cut-down Disney movie, there were three major ice shows touring the country. Big shows. Big sets. Large casts that included solo stars, chorus lines, comedy sketches. And they used a large number of local stagehands. Spectaculars!

The original was Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies. It was launched by the two Shipstad brothers, Eddie and Roy, and Oscar Johnson. The three friends grew up in St. Paul, MN and were regular ‘Shop Pond ice rats’. The Shop Pond was behind the Great Northern railroad shop where the neighborhood kids had adopted as a rink for hockey and figure skating. It was on this pond that the Shipstad brothers and Oscar Johnson worked out routines and entertained audiences who were standing in the cold at the edge of the pond, and it was here that a new kind of entertainment was created. The world of lavish ice skating productions.

The three friends started the company in 1936. They were featured in the Joan Crawford movies, THE ICE FOLLIES OF 1939, starring Joan Crawford and Jimmy Steward, hoping to compete with the Swedish ice skater Sonja Henie’s popular movies. It flopped and didn’t put a dent in Henie’s popularity, but it put Ice Follies on the map. Sonja Henie eventually worked with the two major ice shows that followed the Follies; but she never worked for Shipstads and Johnson, because they had their own stars.

Over the years they presented many stars of the ice, for instance the comedic skating duo from Switzerland, Frick and Frack. Prior to bring in this act, Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson were the comic skaters, with their skid row routine. They were good but Frick and Frack were great.

Vastly popular, their stage names were adopted into the English language as a term for two closely identified people. Some of their routines are seldom performed because they are just too hard to do.

When Frack retired, Frick continued as a ‘solo’, using various young skaters as second bananas, who were never given a name as part of the act. One reason being the young skaters changed quite often. Some quit the act after just few performances. Frick was not an easy person to work with. He was very good but not as good as he thought he was. He was popular on the ice but not backstage. He was not friendly to his fellow skaters or the stagehands.

Roy Shipstad was a talented figure skater. He skated under the name Mr. Debonair. Recognizing that his age and front office work would force him to discontinue his Mr. Debonair routine, he scouted for someone to eventually take over the role. He found a youngster who was so good they didn’t wait for him to replace Roy Shipstad. They gave him a spot in the show under the name Young Mr. Debonair. He became a fan favorite from the start.

Young Mr. Debonair, Richard Dwyer, grew up in the show. Starting out as a preteen he continued skating well into adulthood. He went to high school in every city they stopped that had a Christian Brothers school. A few weeks here. A few weeks there. Had assignments to do from school to schoo. Got his high school degree working and touring.

Like Roy Shipstad, Richard was the epitome of a gentleman, before and after he dropped the ‘Young’ from his introduction, skating a classic form, dressed in a tux with a flower in his button hole. He always skated with six beautiful women in flowing gowns and gave out roses to women in the audience. And off the ice he was also a gentleman. A favorite of any one who worked with him, including the local stagehands like me.

Then there was a second generation Shipstad, Jill. Daughter of Roy, her routines were athletic and used some humor. Skating to music with a jazz beat, she seemed to be jitterbugging rather than the traditional graceful gliding.

One of Eddie’s son, Bob Shipstad worked in the front office and helped develop routines for the skaters. For one season the show presented Sesame Street costume skaters. When the Follies went full time Disney, Bob worked several years helping Vince Egan develop Sesame Street Live, (no ice skating), into the block-buster it is today.

Another star developed by the Follies was Karen Kresge. That gal was quite an athletic skater. And her routine was sexy with a capital S. Every male in the audience, that might have been nodding off, woke up when she was burning up the ice. In later years she, like many of the ice skating stars, worked for Holiday On Ice and also did choreography for both skaters and dancers. She worked with Woodstock Productions, a Charles Schultz company, for over 30 years. She was a great favorite of Snoopy, Schultz’s famous creation.

Charles Schultz grew up only a few miles from the Shop Pond albeit several years after the Shipstads and Johnson were on the Pond ice. Like many kids in that neighborhood Schultz loved ice skating all his life. In his later years he owned an ice rink in California and has an ice rink named for him in St. Paul.

(A little aside. Although Shipstads, Johnson, and Schultz grew up in St. Paul they had problems with their hometown. Feeling they were slighted at their start, the Ice Follies refused to perform in St. Paul. All their Twin City performances were in Minneapolis and its suburbs. Schultz had his first strip ‘Lil’ Folks run the St. Paul Dispatch and then in 1950 the paper dropped him. A few years later they begged to have him back, but he vowed never to allow his strip, now re-titled as Peanuts, run in the St. Paul paper and it never has.)

And my all time favorite figure skater is Peggy Fleming, Gold Medal winner in the Olympics. Three times World Champion. Went on to be one of the biggest stars of Ice Follies. And like Richard Dwyer, one of the nicest people to work with.Peggy Fleming

Such a sweetheart! I made certain I had the same task each time the show was in town. After she finished her routine I would hold a flashlight so she could ‘walk’ up the rubber mats on the ramp to her dressing room. She asked me my name the first time I helped her, and she always remembered it over the years, and thanked me by name each time up the ramp. And always with her warm smile.

She changed her act each season but the one I remember the most her all blue routine. The ice bathed in blue light. Peggy wearing a blue gown. The eight follow- spots spread around the arena capturing her every movement, every facial expression, in their soft pale blue lights.

And, even though the show trouped an orchestra, she skated to a specially made tape of Frank Sinatra singing, IF YOU GO AWAY. Slow, sad, graceful skating as the lyrics lamented the thought of ‘you’ going away. Fast, gleeful skating as the lyrics changed to ‘but if you stay’. Back to the sadness of ‘if you go away, as you know you must.’ And ending in a slow face to black with the words,’please don’t go away.’ Frank Sinatra singing a great song and Peggy Fleming skating in a blue world! The poetry of an ice show.

Peggy married her high school sweetheart and they have two sons, and three grandchildren. She overcame breast cancer and is a spokesperson for early detection of the disease.

She keeps her hand in ice skating as a TV commentator.

Beloved by millions, her biggest outspoken fan was Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog. Charles Schultz devoted many a panel on Snoopy’s love for Peggy.

The Follies went downhill in a hurry as a lavish ice revue when the Felds, father and son, bought it. The father, Irving, was a show business promoter specializing in rock concerts . He brought his son Kenneth into the business and the two became big time promoters, with their flagship show, Ringling Brother Circus. In 1979 they bought Ice Follies and in 1981 they worked out a deal with Disney and Ice Follies was no more. The only big ice show now is the Disney costumed show centering around a Disney movie.

The Felds were not innovators but grew rich from the hard work and genius of others. The name Feld is not popular the show business community. The skaters of the Follies complained that the Felds were trying to make their show a circus on ice. They took acts like trained dogs and traditional clowns from the circus and introduced them into the ice show as additional acts that worked on rubber mats. They also introduced common circus practices such as low pay and disregard for their workers and performers.They helped grease the skids toward the extinction of the big ice reviews.

(In 1984 the Follies were doing their yearly stint in the Twin Cities. We had just finished up the between-acts preset and as we walked up the ramp we heard a lot of clapping and gleeful shouting in the dressing rooms hall. I asked a skater if what the clapping was about. ‘Somebody win the lottery?’ He said that the stage manager had just announced over the horn that Irving Feld, (the father), had just died. Ooh, applauding this. Cold, cold!)

I don’t know about the popularity of the Ice Follies around the country prior to the plug being pulled, but I do know they were selling out in the Twin Cities. I often thought that the show changed to Disney On Ice was because the big-name skaters did not want to work for the Feld Organization. It was much easier to control youngsters wearing Disney costumes, who are thrilled just to be in show business, then skaters who upheld the tradition started by the Shipstads and Johnson way back on a little ice pond behind the railroad garage in St. Paul.

After the Ice Follies began, two other organizations put large scale ice shows on the road. Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice. In On Ice Part 2, I will write about them.

Ice Follies

MARCEAU / HAMILTON BOOED

After the first performance of his sold- out week at the Minneapolis Pantages, the great mime, Marcel Marceau stepped to the apron of the stage, and breaking out of his character, Bip the Clown, SPOKE.

And the Audience BOOED!

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hamilton

Shortly after the election VP-To-Be Pence attended a performance of the hit musical HAMILTON on Broadway, and as he walked down the aisle to his seat, the audience booed! The ­­audience, not the cast, booed.

I can’t believe Pence attended a hip hop/rap musical/opera, based on the life of an immigrant bastard, whose mother was reported to have been part Black, for his own entertainment. More of an ego trip, a test of his newly granted status to be able to jump in line ahead of others.

Mr. Pence was a good choice to ride shotgun on Mr. Trump’s Hatemobile. He has a record of attacking Human Rights and the laws that protect them, first as a right wing radio talk show host, and later in his political career. Unlike Trump’s Twitter approach, Pence uses the evangelical-tunnel-vision-Tea Party-judgmental method. Thump the Bible, or what you think should be in the Bible, to support your stance against fellow human, and be sure to avoid any reference to the second part of what Christ said was the most important commandment: To love your neighbor as yourself.

As Pence was walking out after curtain call, Brandon Dixon, who played Aaron Burr, stepped foreword from the cast and spoke to Pence, who turned and listened. The words were courteous, well thought out, short and to the point. It was a thank you for attending, followed by an expression of fear that the new regime will not defend the planet, the children, their parents and uphold the inalienable rights of every American. The closing was, ‘We thank you for sharing this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation.’

Pence was silent about the affair but not the Head Hater, Mr. Trump. Trump got on Twitter, declaring Pence was harassed by the cast of HAMILTON. He demanded an apology from the cast and producers of the show, which Trump said he heard was very overrated. Trump also said the theater should be a ‘safe’ place.

To say the theater should be a ‘safe’ place is proof he knows about as much about theater as he does about Human Rights and the Constitution. From the time of the ancients Greeks the theater has been a place to shake up the audience and their hard fast ideals, whether the performance is tragedy, comedy, or a musical.

Nothing is more topical in our current atmosphere of hate than the play that premiered in London during the worse persecution of English Jews. The popular actor, director, theater owner and playwright, William Shakespeare, risked his career, his theater, his life, alone with the specter of causing riots with his new ‘comic’ offering, The Merchant of Venice. Going along with the hatred of Jews, he created a villain, Shylock, in the stereotypical role as a Jewish money lender. And then addresses the hatred and prejudice against the Jews  by giving Shylock one of the most poignant speech in literature against prejudice and hatred. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’.

            As Mr. Dixon argued against an apology, he pointed out, ‘Art is meant to bring people together; it’s meant to raise conscientiousness.’

To say that it was not the time or place to issue such a statement goes against the history of theater. To step forward and speak to the audience directly, to break the 4th wall, is a time honored tradition. No playwright was more adept at it than Shakespeare, in the play itself, like Hamlet’s many monologues: at the end of the play, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which starts: ‘If we shadows have offended…’  While the type of breaking the 4th wall as Mr. Dixon did, is not that common in America, it is quite common in other countries.

Personally I have seen this speaking directly to the audience used many times.

From the serious: On 9/11, we were setting up for a run of RIVERDANCE. Prior to the performance that evening, the multi national cast assembled in full on the stage. A spokesman spoke of the sorrow and offered condolences and prayers. At the end of the curtain call a dancer stepped forward and requested the audience join the cast in silent prayer.

To the silliest: During a performance of a play by the Stratford Theater at the Guthrie, Bill Hutt, a veteran Canadian actor made his entrance in a scene; but before he spoke his lines, he informed the American audience that the Canadian National Hockey Team had just beaten the Russians.

Trump’s Tweets accomplished what he wanted, keeping his Cesspool of Hate aboiling, giving his Brown Shirts something to rail against.

They called for a boycott against HAMILTON, a record breaking Broadway show with tickets sold out for months and waiting lists for more tickets both in NY and other cities where the touring companies are or will be playing. Frankly, I don’t think many Trump hard core supporters would go to HAMILTON with or without a boycott.

Of course there is a good possibility that the new regime will declare the musical to be VERBOTTEN and shut it down. But even then it will continue to be played around the globe as a symbol of American art and a remembrance of American freedom.

The Brown Shirts also called for a boycott of a small theater which has nothing to do with HAMILTON the musical. It has had the name Hamilton for decades because it is located in – wait for it – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada!

Then there was incident during a performance of the road company in Chicago, where upon hearing the word ‘immigrant’, a drunken Follower went ape. Screaming, swearing, threatening to kill the ‘Democratic assholes’and women and Blacks. threw wine on his own son. His wife was in tears pleading for him to stop. And even as he was being expelled from the theater by three security guards, he kept screaming, ‘We won! Get over it. This is Trump’s America now!’ PS: He is the CEO of a national company.

(That kind of behavior hits close to home for me. My nephew, Rick Dalglish, is Head Props for that touring company of HAMILTON.)

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marcel  

          The Marcel Marceau incident took place at the first performance of his farewell to America run at the Pantages in Minneapolis. And in spite of the boos, this brave man repeated his breaking the fourth wall after every performance.

            It was that terrible time in our history. Using the never proven pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Bush the Younger was about to loosen the dogs of war against Saddam Hussein. It was a time of bad intel, half truths, and outright lies.

            Unlike the 1st Gulf War, where Bush the Elder had a large coalition of nations and U.N. approval, the only backing Bush the Younger had was Tony Blair of the U.K., who later admitted he had been wrong in his backing of Bush.  Neither Bush nor Blair had approval of the majority of their advisors. And even though the terrorists of 9/11 were Egyptians and Saudis, and had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, much of the backing for this invasion of Iraq was wanting revenge for 9/11.

            France, who backed the 1st Gulf War, was outspoken in its disapproval of invading Iraq this time. France was hated by the American hawks. A Congressman sensing a chance to pick up future votes, actually submitted a bill to change the term French Fries to Freedom Fries.

            It was in this time of rupture in America and in the Western World, that Marcel Marceau spoke to the audience and was booed. This French Jewish gentle man of peace did not preach, did not take sides. This man who had known the horror of war first hand, simply asked the audience to pray the whole affair could be worked out without violence, without war.

            I doubt if many in the audience feaared they would have to fight in Iraq. Let the kids in the service take the risks. I doubt if many in the audience had ever served in the military, let along fought in a war. Yet these chickenhawks booed Marceau’s request for prayers for a peaceful resolve.

            Marceau was just a teenager when Germany breached the Maginot Line, the ‘Wall’ that France had built to stop any German invasion and took over France.  The Nazis took his father to Auschwitz where he was ‘exterminated’. Marcel and his brother joined the French Resistance.

            (This also strikes home to me. My wife’s birth father, a French Jew, left his Mexican wife and new baby girl, my wife, and to back to his homeland and fight in the Resistance. He was never heard of again.)

            Marcel was personally responsible for smuggling 500 or so children to Switzerland. It was during this time, he got into mime, silent entertainment to keep the children quiet.

            With the Liberation of France he joined the Free French and was a translator for General George Patton.

            He knew the horrors of war.

            I was standing in the wing with a flashlight waiting to help him offstage. I clapped as loud as I could after his prayer for peace, but the boos won out. As I led him off I commented, ‘Dumb, damn, chickenhawk S.O.B.s!’

            He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘C’est La Vie, Don. So many fought and died so people can speak their mind, or even boo. This great freedom  is not allowed in a Fascist government . Let us hope it will always be that way in America and France and all over the world. ’

            When Marcel Marceau went to leave the Pantages for the last time, he paused and hugged me. ‘Merci, Don, for joining me in the hope for peace. And, when things happen that you disagree with, just remember, C’est La Vie. That’s Life, mon ami.’ When his farewell tour was over he went back to his home in France where he died a few years later.

            To Mime aficionados Bip the Clown will always be the King of Mime. And we who knew him also as Marcel Marceau, we  are twice blest. We admired his deft artistry of silence and also the deep humanity in his speech. To us he was both an artist and a hero.

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This was written in the time between Trump was elected by the outdated procedure  of the Electoral College, 

which overruled the fact that he did not win the Popular Vote, 

and the time he took the Oath of Office.       

Sorry, Mr. Trump, if you can’t stand the booing you chose the wrong road to travel down. I suggest you have the First Amendment of our Constitution explained to you. And maybe even go to a performance of HAMILTON. Learn how that immigrant from Nevis and the other Founding Fathers created the foundation that makes America great.

Soon Mr. Trump, barring a successful revolt by the Electorial College voters, you will have to take an oath to protect and obey this Constitution for ‘the diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientation’ that make up our great country, America.

Oh! Oh! Little did we know or even imagine!

And now we must do what we can do

Vote!  Wear a mask! Abolish the hate!

C’EST LA VIE

 

 

MAY GOD BLESS FRANCE

Peace in France

Normally I consider myself ½ half French, in my ancestry. After the events of 11/14/15, I consider myself 100% French, at least in my heart.

I remember in 2003 when the majority of Americans were against France when it refused to back George W.’s unwarranted and illegal invasion of Iraq. I remember the people booing Marcel Marceau at the Pantages when he asked the audience to pay for peace and not have America invade Iraq. (Marcel Marceau who was fighting Nazis in the French Resistance years before America entered the war. The same Resistance that my wife’s birth father fought and died for.) I remember the condemnation of our congress against the government of France. I remember a bill submitted that the name ‘French Fries’ be changed to ‘Freedom Fries’.

I wonder how all those people remember their actions today.


People who either forget or don’t know out history, fail to realize that without the help of the French Navy and the French fighting England at the time, we never would have won our Revolutionary War and even if we did, we would have lost it in 1812 if again France didn’t help us out.


We owe France an awful lot and right now we owe them our prayers.


Que Dieu bénisse la france.


And please, do not forget that this deplorable action by a few fanatics is being condemned by Muslims all over the world. Don’t give in to hatred. Hatred is responsible for this act and others like it on both sides of this ‘war’. Just moments ago, mourners in Paris chased off anti-Muslim bigot that tried to invade the Paris vigil.