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'Ice Age' to showcase era of traveling ice shows

Donations sought to complete documentary

Traveling ice shows like <i>Holiday on Ice</i> were all the rage back in the day.
Traveling ice shows like Holiday on Ice were all the rage back in the day. (courtesy of Keri Pickett)

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By Troy Schwindt, special to icenetwork.com
(02/01/2013) - When skating legends Richard Dwyer and Tom Collins reminisce about the glory days of the traveling ice show, they paint a picture of a magical time that is never coming back.

The glamorous skaters, the elaborate production sets and costumes, the intricately orchestrated routines -- all melded together to entertain families across the nation for much of the 20th century.

"We used to fill Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, Chicago and many other of the country's major arenas, and every show was sold out," said Dwyer, who played the iconic Mr. Debonair in the Ice Follies and Ice Capades. "Every city loved the ice shows."

While those wonderful times hold fond memories for Dwyer and Collins, they hope an almost-completed documentary film can preserve this golden age of the traveling ice show for everyone to see and enjoy.

Filmmaker Keri Pickett is in the final stages of completing her movie, titled The Fabulous Ice Age. She started on the film nearly seven years ago in an effort to help tell the story of her uncle, Roy Blakey, who became a show skater after seeing the famous Sonja Henie perform on the silver screen. During his time as a performer, Blakey collected thousands of pieces of ice show memorabilia. He hopes to find a permanent home for his vast collection in conjunction with the film's release.

"Roy is the viewer's backstage pass to this unique history," Pickett said. "The movie covers the history and Roy's passion for the ice shows, his skating career and the fact that he wants this history to be remembered for all the glamour, but also because the shows offered a skater an opportunity -- a way to make a living."

Pickett has traveled the country interviewing skaters and others associated with the traveling ice shows. Her film, which she hopes to enter in various film festivals this year, has the financial support and backing of many of the sport's greats, such as Dwyer, Collins, singles and pairs star Ken Shelley, and two-time Olympic champion and show skater Dick Button.

"It takes people back to when the ice show industry was started, where it all came from," Dwyer said. "It has the great entrepreneurs like the Shipstads (Roy and Eddie) and (Oscar) Johnson, Morris Chalfen and John Harris, all of those people who created those shows."

With the project 90 percent finished, Pickett is turning to the public to help her complete the film. She has spent more than $100,000 of her own money and needs help raising the final $77,000. Learn more about the film at www.fabulousiceage.com and about Blakey's ice show memorabilia collection at www.icestagearchive.com.

"My bills will be coming in over time, because after post-production there is the cost of the festival entry, attendance and public relations," Pickett said.

Collins, who skated in the shows and launched Champions on Ice in 1969, said many young people don't know anything about the traveling ice show era. This film, he said, will "be an education for them."

It was typical, Collins said, to have 100 performers in a show, and for them to travel city to city by train.

"You had the large casts, you had the unbelievable costumes, you had the beautiful girls," Dwyer said. "It was an extravaganza."

"The show itself was the star," Collins added. "People came to see Ice Follies or Holiday on Ice or the Ice Capades. They bought tickets just for the name of the show."

These shows used to sell out famous venues such as Madison Square Garden for two weeks (24 shows) at a time.

"People loved it, and they had their favorites, and they would applaud when certain people came out, such as Frick and Frack, Freddie Trenkler and Hans Leiter," Dwyer said.

"People would actually wait from year to year for the ice show to come back," Collins added. "It was the event of the year."

When one of the ice shows came to town, the local newspaper would often put it on the front page or the sports page.

"We have to admit, it was before television," Dwyer said. "So we were the great family entertainment, and it lasted for many years after that."

Collins is looking forward to seeing the film upon completion and believes that everyone will be in for a treat.

"When they see it, it's going to be a thrill for them," Collins said.

Those interested in helping Pickett fund the rest of the film can go here to make a donation. Donations can also be made to the Independent Film Maker Project by going here.