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Cinderella Story
Steve Wulf
March 07, 1994
Former Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill has found a perfect fit as owner and star of the Ice Capades
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March 07, 1994

Cinderella Story

Former Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill has found a perfect fit as owner and star of the Ice Capades

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The Ideal Toy Company began producing Barbie-like Dorothy Hamill dolls. She signed a three-year contract, for a reported $1 million a year, to skate with the Ice Capades: 13 shows a week, 18 to 23 weeks a year. She moved from Riverside, Conn., to Hollywood and dated Dean Paul Martin, the son of Dean Martin. She was in a whirlwind romance with the world.

But whirlwinds make you dizzy, and Dorothy took some spills. Her coach, Carlo Fassi, sued her family for money that he thought he had coming to him. (The suit was settled out of court.) Because Hamill was more mercurial than Peggy Fleming, her predecessor as America's ice princess, she began getting some negative publicity. Her agents had her doing some pretty lowbrow TV specials with Bruce Jenner and Hal Linden, Sally Kellerman and Professor Irwin Corey. Life on the road with the Ice Capades gave her a bleeding ulcer and made it difficult for her to see Dean Paul, who was trying to juggle professional tennis, acting and flying in the Air National Guard. Besides that, she says, "I was tired, and I was skating rotten."

During an on-again phase in their five-year romance, Dorothy and Dean Paul were wed on Jan. 8, 1982, at a church in Beverly Hills. Among the 300 guests were Frank Sinatra, Ali MacGraw, Kenny Rogers and Milton Berle. After honeymooning in Arizona, Dorothy rejoined the Ice Capades on tour in New Jersey, while Dean Paul returned to pilot training in New Mexico. Two years later they again went their separate ways, this time for good. They remained friends, however, and Dorothy was devastated when Dean Paul was killed in a plane crash in 1987.

By then she had left the Ice Capades. In 1983 she performed in a well-received ice version of Romeo and Juliet for CBS, and in 1984 she skated with the John Curry Skating Company, the artistic troupe led by her '76 gold medal counterpart. Her skating revived, she won four straight World Professional Figure Skating championships (1984-87).

In 1986 Hamill met Ken Forsythe, a sports physician and a former member of the Canadian Olympic ski team. A year later they were married. Together, they produced both Alexandra and the highly acclaimed Nutcracker on Ice in '88.

The Ice Capades, in the meantime, was skating on thinner and thinner ice. This was an American institution that had started on Valentine's Day, 1940, when a group of arena owners got together in Hershey, Pa., for the purpose of forming an ice show to play their buildings. Rival shows like Shipstad and Johnson's Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice later sprang up, but over the years, the Ice Capades served as the standard of excellence, employing such greats as Dick Button, the Protopopovs, Fleming, Scott Hamilton, Torvill and Dean, and, of course, Hamill.

But by the late '80s, Walt Disney's World on Ice, which was an amalgam of the Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice, had begun to lure away the children, and audiences were dwindling for the Ice Capades' mix of Vegas-style production numbers, dogs in tutus, and Barbie, the Simpsons and the California Raisins on skates. By 1991 the Ice Capades, then owned by the International Broadcasting Corp., was in Chapter 11 and near artistic bankruptcy.

Reenter Miss Hamill. "It was breaking my heart to think there would be no more Ice Capades," she says. "It wasn't just that I once skated for the company, it was also the thought of all those skaters out of work." So the Forsythes began to explore the possibility of acquiring the Ice Capades. The positive response to The Nutcracker on Ice convinced them that telling a single story was the way to go with the heretofore vaudevillian Ice Capades. The tale they chose was Cinderella, patterned more after the English pantomime version of the 19th century than the Walt Disney animated version. (Children attending Cinderella...Frozen in Time often ask, "Where are the mice?" As a trade-off, this Cinderella has a friend—the cellar boy Buttons—and a father.)

Hamill wanted to upgrade the caliber of skating in the Ice Capades, and she knew whom she wanted for the principal roles. Even though she hadn't yet bought the company, she began talking to skaters about a year ago. One call was to her old friend Catherine Foulkes, a real estate attorney with a prestigious Boston law firm. Foulkes had not only skated with Hamill in the John Curry Skating Company but had also been a dancer in the Boston Ballet before graduating summa cum laude from Boston College Law School. Hamill had an irresistible part for her. Says the 36-year-old Foulkes, "When I met with one of the senior partners to ask for a leave of absence, these words actually came out of my mouth: 'Dorothy Hamill wants me to play Cinderella's fairy godmother in the Ice Capades.' "

For choreography Hamill lined up Tim Murphy and Nathan Birch of The Next Ice Age, a cutting-edge skating company in Baltimore. For the costumes and set she prevailed upon the legendary Desmond Heeley, who dressed Richard Burton for Camelot. Canadian composer Michael Conway Baker was commissioned to write the original score, and the Sinfonia of London recorded it.

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