From Pin-Ups to Ewoks: Studies in Crap Charts The Tragic Decline of America’s Touring Ice Spectaculars


Each Thursday [except Thanksgiving, hence the late entry], your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

Souvenir programs from assorted ice shows

Date: 1952 – 1985

Discovered at: Antique malls in Kansas City and Northampton, Massachusetts

The Cover Promises: Tragedy struck today when a young beauty was discovered lying dead in a uriney ice rink, dressed in two Hostess Sno-Balls and Shakespeare’s neck-ruffle.

Once, long before threadbare touring companies and kiddie horrors like Disney on Ice, traveling ice shows aspired to grandeur. In the 1950s, Holiday on Ice trucks hauled around dozens of skaters, hundreds of costumes, thousands of spangles, and even its own ice-rinks, which at one point made sound financial sense.

People so loved the spectacle that the lavish souvenir programs turn up in almost every antique shop your Crap Archivist raids.

These days, the Disney ice show is such an afterthought that nobody even proofreads the web-site: “It one colossal party on ice!” the site boasts, just before smashing the tanks General Ross has sent after it.

Here’s highlights from the glory days, culled from three vintage programs. We start with 1952’s Holidays on Ice show, probably best know as the year of the south-of-the-border tribute to the nipple.

Your Crap Archivist’s solemn promise: deep in today’s entry is the single greatest image in Studies in Crap history.

Such international flavor was no fad. According to Roy Blakely’s authoritative Ice Stage Archive, in 1947 Holiday on Ice played to 17,000 a night for two and a half weeks in a bull-fighting ring in Mexico.

The shows featured sophisticated pageantry.

Unlike the family-friendly Disney folks, the producers of Holiday on Ice dared to explore their audience’s darkest fetishes.

Here’s a fresh, only-on-ice twist on an old cliche: what if Hell truly did freeze over?

Extensive market research revealed that, after sex and spectacle, audiences love nothing so much as “Miscellaneous Weirdness.”

By 1964, some of those oddball bits of vaudeville had been purged. The production numbers, however, had achieved a Zigfieldean grandiosity.

Here, two dozen ladies are dressed as the individual cells of a pom-pom.

Gape at this celebration of some vague idea of Mardi Gras:

Still, some trace elements of miscellaneous weirdness remained, now filed under “Novelty.”

I defy you to found something that brilliantly strange in any city’s Fringe Fest, ever.

There’s also yet another tribute, this one to comic racism:

You’re just one click away from that single greatest image! Proceed only if you’re comfortable with a feeling of minor disappointment at everything else you behold for the rest of your life.

By 1970, just a pinch of that weirdness remained. Fortunately, that pinch was potent.

Actual caption:

The wonder chimp Spanky is back again playing Alice in Blunderland of all things! Trainer Dave Pitts of Evanston, Ill. (who has been making stars out of chimps of the past 12 years) portrays the White Rabbit and guides Spanky through mid-air flips, a fire-jump and a meeting with Duchess Meany, Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.

That burst of chimp glory comes not from Holiday on Ice, but from 1970’s Ice Capades program, a glossy keepsake the size and shape of a record cover. The Ice Capades fancied itself more glamorous than its rivals, especially after 1966, when producer/choreographer Robert Turk, inspired by shows he’d worked on at the Lido, cut most of the comedy and aimed for the Parisian.

By 1970, that meant evening wear and a wheel seemingly designed for a Zodiac-themed Showcase Showdown.

The Ice Escapades played bigger cities and boasted better-known stars than Holiday on Ice. The 1970 show featured Tim Wood, the 1969 World Figure Skating Champion. Olympics Bronze-winners Margot and Danne skated to a Beatles medley, World Free-Style Champion Tommy Litz appeared in a segment titled “An Astrological Affair.”

Here’s a chilling glimpse of that:

The splashy numbers have been toned down, and tributes are scarce, with the exception of this one to the hair of Marcia Wallace.


By the 80s, the ice show audience had dwindled. On the ice, the tonal confusion grew worse: 1985’s show included both Ravel’s “Bolero” and something titled “Hey Kids, Meet the Snorks!” The Ice Capades ran through a series of buyers – including Dorothy Hamill– before winding up in the hands of Pat Robertson, where it became just another thing he promised would return from the dead sometime soon but didn’t. Holiday on Ice, meanwhile, still tours Europe, which might be the best argument yet for American exceptionalism.

Perhaps the American ice show’s lowest moment came at 1985’s Ice Capades.

Is there anything they couldn’t ruin? Seriously, I bet when Tim LaHaye gets raptured, if he sees those Ewok bastards cavorting around heaven, even he would hitch right back down here.

[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice‘s sister paper, The Pitch.]

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