By 1939 arena owners were begging Follies to start up a second show. When the group couldn't be bothered, some arena owners met in Hershey, Pa. on Valentine's Day 1940 and formed their own troupe. John Harris, who owned the Pittsburgh pro hockey team, was chosen to head the new enterprise, and Walter Brown, later the Boston Celtics' owner, came up with the name of Ice Capades (from escapades, if you're scoring at home). The group hustled up $44,000 and reckoned the new fad would last maybe five more years.
Today it costs $1 million or more to mount a new show, so great an investment that each production must be kept going for three years to turn a profit. This year's Ice Follies will be next year's edition of Holiday On Ice National, and the '77-'78 production for the small-town Holiday tour, which is called Holiday On Ice International (sic), presumably because it plays such world metropolises as Rock Island, Kalamazoo and Abilene.
Holiday has always scored well overseas. With Dick Button in his swan song, it dented the Iron Curtain in 1959, when that was still a big deal (Khrushchev was nuts about the show), and its jazzy American style has so appealed to Europeans that a number of their own revues have folded. Overall, the three Capades shows outdraw Follies and Capades is considered a more solid property.
Both shows have a well-earned reputation among employees for parsimony. Capades is a subsidiary of Metromedia, while Follies is a major property of a small Minneapolis outfit known as Medicor and is widely known to have suffered "a cash-flow problem." But Follies is proceeding resolutely under a new president, Lyman D. Walters, and is talking of launching new tours to Europe and Central America.
Though the shows are friendly rivals and duplicate products, skaters almost never jump from one show to the other. There has never been an ice show trade, and even in an Olympic year there are no draft picks. Both revues are bidding for Dorothy Hamill.
WALTER KERR, " NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE," 1956: I kept thinking of the scale and the sweep that had been added to the human body by the simple expedient of strapping a couple of blades to the actor's ankles. And I also kept thinking how much less interesting and how much less satisfying all this was than watching the human body do the same thing, or half the same thing, unaided.
PAUL GUZMAN, ICE CAPADES, 1975: There's always the mixture of art and athletics. Skating is like flying. It's that airy feeling of flying. You get into a spin. You can feel your arms fighting the centrifugal force, and you bring them in, and you know you'll go faster, faster. Skating is a great thing. I've always wanted to make love on the ice.
An ice show on the move is a collage of people and property frozen in transit. Capades still uses trains to carry its equipment. Most arenas have their own ice-making apparatus, but with its sophisticated equipment Capades can lay down a rink in 12 to 14 hours. Usually a layer is spray-painted to give the ice a soft creamy-white effect. It was said that Sonja Henie sometimes skated on frozen milk. The average rink is an inch and a half deep, 160' by 65'. It would make 1.5 million ice cubes. Eighty or more people—skaters, stagehands and musicians—travel with a show. There are hundreds of costumes, weighing up to 30 pounds each, and the costumes are, in many respects, more important to an ice show than who is inside them. Fines are levied on Capades skaters for not wearing proper underwear or for trying to put on costume pants standing up. "The rich, gorgeous costumes are absolutely critical," says Bob Turk, director and choreographer of Capades. "You need an illusion, and people especially seem to want glamour. Cher stumbled on that. People tune in to see what she has on, not what she'll sing."
The ice show is a curious subculture. There is a preponderance of women, but they are, for the most part, schoolgirls on a lark. They set the tone for the troupe, not the pace. At the other extreme, there are the backstage crewmen and skating old-timers, notably the comedians; and in the middle, so to speak, are the younger male skaters, In Capades, many of them are homosexual. "Management likes them," says one skater. "They don't make waves and they take great care of their costumes."
Tryouts are held in every city on the tours, and male skaters, especially tall ones, are always at a premium. In contrast, suburban high school girls come out in groups, dozens of them assembling for auditions. If they make the line, as Capets or Ice Folliettes, they skate a couple of years, see franchise America—learning how to distinguish with authority between Holiday Inns and Best Westerns, Big Macs and Whoppers—and then, knowledgeable and mature beyond their years, return to school or get married. It is an interlude, not a job, and many of them get extra money from Dad back home. The starting line salary is around $200 a week, but out of that the skaters must spring for room and board, and most end up doubling, tripling, even "quadding" to save cash. Everybody calls them "the kids." "In the line, it used to be all old gypsies shooting 10-year pins," says Dick Troxler, the Capades' set-construction boss. The kids are a relatively new development.