A vintage photo of skater Hans Leiter in drag performing in the Ice Capades in 1960.
Over the last few weeks for reasons I can’t quite attribute to any one event or reason whatsoever, I’ve been obsessively seeking out photos from vintage ice skating shows such as Holiday on Ice, the Ice Follies, and the Ice Capades. And like pretty much all of the Internet rabbit holes I dig for myself, it produced some pretty great results when it came to the old-school images I found of ice show stars in all kinds of crazy situations over the last sixty or so years.
Despite the fact that I’m from Boston, a true hockey town and lived only a couple of blocks from an ice skating rink, Cherrybomb can’t skate. And I’ve always been envious of people who can. Ice shows were very popular when I was growing up and I attended my fair share as a youth, but they were always of the kiddie variety and while there were ice skating clowns, I do not recall seeing full-on showgirls with feather headdresses or ice-skating jugglers tossing lit torches around on the rink. Perhaps if I had I would have run away with the cool kids in the Ice Capades because both of the previous scenarios still seem way more appealing than an office job.
Ice skating shows date all the way back to the 1930s and the Ice Follies’ performances began in 1936. The Ice Capades made its debut in 1940, and Holiday on Ice got its start a few years later in 1943. The Holiday on Ice show would travel around the world and after getting its start in Ohio, they took the show to Mexico City, South America, Asia, Africa and even Moscow while the Cold War was still in play making the show the very first U.S. entertainment/attraction to perform in the Soviet Union while Nikita Khrushchev looked on.
There was almost nothing these ice shows didn’t do including showcasing male comedians dressed in drag performing skits, and the inclusion of ice skating chimpanzees that performed with the Ice Capades—specifically a little chimp named “Jonny” who was a particular crowd favorite known for not only his ability to skate but for his ice skating stunts like doing cartwheels and jumping over obstacles like Evel Knievel. And if that’s not weird enough for you, at one time the Ice Follies featured a seven-foot, four-inch aluminum and plexiglass ice skating robot named “Commander Robot” in the 1969 version of the show.
Below you’ll find some shots of all three shows, as well as a short video of “Jonny” the chimp and Las Vegas-worthy footage of Holiday on Ice from 1977. Who needs drugs when you have these wild, contact-high inducing photos to look at?
Holiday on Ice 1974.
Paul Castle the “Mighty Mite” performing in the Ice Capades in 1959.
“Jonny” the ice skating monkey and a Holiday on Ice performer taken on the show’s 25th anniversary, 1968.
More mirth and mayhem on the ice after the jump…