In 1939 Carl Snyder, a booking agent for big name bands, began producing ice shows on small portable rinks in hotels and nightclubs. He put one together in 1943 that was named “Holiday On Ice.” One of its stars was Joan Hyldoft, a teenager who was Miss Cincinnati. Both Joan and “Holiday On Ice” would go on to illustrious careers in the ice show world. Other than a mention of “Akron” in the 1943 souvenir program my research has not tracked down any specific locations or types of venues for its performances.
Snyder produced a second edition of “Holiday On Ice” in 1944, staged and directed by Donn Arden who was to became legendary for creating spectacular stage and ice spectacles. It’s unclear which edition Cal and Emery Gilbert saw but they reportedly asked Snyder to bring his show to their Ice House skating rink in Toledo, Ohio. These photographs show the 1944 cast on large ice in an unidentified arena. I’m eager to obtain any information about the 1943 and 1944 performances.
The three men were eager to profit from the booming ice revue business and joined forces in 1945—but found their first production frozen out of the big arenas by “Ice Follies,” Sonja Henie, and “Ice Capades.” Fortunately Emory Gilbert’s work to create larger portable ice rinks had finally produced a successful one measuring 125 ft. x 65 ft. Thus armed, “Holiday On Ice” began touring to cities which had no established ice facility, many of them in the southern U.S.
Morris Chalfen was a Minneapolis businessman, restauranteur, and boxing and basketball promoter. He was also a player in skating show business—president of the board of Harold Steinman’s “Skating Vanities,” a touring roller skating extravaganza (see footnote below). “Vanities” was staged by top theatre pros, had a fine cast of skaters headed by beautiful star Gloria Nord, and toured major arenas including Madison Square Garden, Chicago Stadium, Maple Leaf Gardens, and the Pan Pacific Auditorium. But a roller production was not fulfilling Chalfen’s dreams; he knew that the big future was on ice. Then “Holiday On Ice” caught his eye. Chalfen joined Carl Snyder and the Gilberts in 1946, providing the much needed financing for additional portable rinks to eliminate costly days off between play dates. He was made president of “Holiday On Ice” and began to enlarge and improve the show. It was a marriage made in heaven.
What had once been a liability became an asset. Not confined to performing in established rinks and arenas with ice making equipment, “Holiday On Ice” could play anywhere—indoors or out. The troupe might perform on a theater stage in one town while another of their traveling rinks was set up in an outdoor football stadium at the next stop. When the skaters, costumes, musicians, stage set, and spotlights arrived it was show time in practically no time.
Encouraged by the success of the U.S. outdoor dates, Chalfen cleverly sent “Holiday On Ice” down to Mexico in 1947 where the show created a sensation. Seventeen thousand cheering ticket buyers packed every performance for 19 nights at Mexico City’s National Stadium. Business was muy bueno! The colorful, glamorous American musical spectacle on ice was also a smash hit in Guadalahara’s bullring.
A second unit, “Ice Vogues,” was created and additional portable rinks were constructed. The “Vogues” company took over the “Holiday” production at its season’s end and extended the itinerary for an additional year including stops in Cuba and Hawaii. “Holiday On Ice” performed in North American cities while “Ice Vogues” was sent on extensive tours of Central America and South America. Soon all units were named “Holiday On Ice.”
The magic mix of skating, lively music, slapstick comedy, and lots of pretty girls in glamorous costumes on a gleaming ice stage proved to be a surefire recipe for international success. The long roster of the show’s great stars includes Dorothy Goos, Murray Galbraith, Jinx Clark, Rudy Richards, Joan Hyldoft, Kay Servatius, Arnold Shoda, Paul Andre, and Tom Collins. With offices in Minneapolis, Cleveland, Paris, and London, multiple “Holiday” troupes carried their own ice around the world for performances on five continents. The little seed that Carl Snyder planted in 1943 grew into a mighty global empire, The World’s Largest Producer of Ice Shows.
The early 1960s brought big changes to North America’s ice show business as “Ice Capades” and “Ice Follies” were each purchased by large entertainment companies. In 1964 the U.S. “Holiday On Ice” companies became a subsidiary of Madison Square Garden Corporation. Chalfen remained as Executive Producer and retained his ownership of “Holiday On Ice” outside of North America. With its powerful new backing, “Holiday On Ice” finally played “The Garden,” a hugely successful four-week engagement in the fall of 1965. With tongue firmly in cheek, one New York newspaper reviewer pointed out that the company had prepared for its New York City debut with a ten-year tryout in Moscow, Tel Aviv, Rio, and Rangoon.
Thomas Scallen, who owned “Ice Follies,” bought the North American “Holiday” shows in 1971, but in a 1976 struggle lost them to former Sonja Henie producer Arthur Wirtz. (When Scallen purchased “Ice Capades” in 1986 he became the first person to have owned all three of America’s mighty ice shows.) In 1979 Ringling Bros. Circus owners, father and son Irvin and Kenneth Feld, bought “Holiday On Ice” and “Ice Follies” and toured them as a combined show for two seasons. From that the Felds created “Walt Disney’s World On Ice”—marking the end of “Ice Follies” and “Holiday On Ice” in North America.
“Skating Vanities” was the beginning of the IceStage Archive collection. I grew up roller skating in the streets of Enid, Oklahoma, and saw ice skating for the first time in a movie theatre there—a Sonja Henie musical film that immediately sparked my dream to skate in an ice show. But there was no ice rink in Enid so I concentrated on improving my roller skating—and learned about “Skating Vanities.” The show came to Oklahoma City every autumn and I always took the bus there to see it. I saved the souvenir programs and every newspaper and magazine article I could find. I wrote “Vanities” star Gloria Nord annually for an autographed photo and simultaneously collected everything possible about ice shows, skating films, and skating stars. Letters went out to theatres, hotels, and night clubs requesting souvenirs from the many small ice shows of that time. I’m now very grateful to the Hotel New Yorker, the St. Regis, The Stevens (Conrad Hilton), and Roxy Theatre, etc. for the extremely rare documentation I have of their wonderful ice shows.
In the summer of 1949 “Skating Vanities” made its first visit to Europe to such a resounding success that it returned in the summers of 1950 and 1951. Gloria Nord became so popular in London that the directors of Wembley Arena convinced her to switch to ice and created two lavish ice spectacles around her there each year through 1958. “Skating Vanities” faltered without its great star. It returned to Europe and toured South America, changed its name to “Hippodrome,” and added the wild non-skating comedy antics of Olson & Johnson, but came to an end in 1955.