Five Fabulous Fellows Of The Fifties

In the heyday of lavish touring productions, hotel ice shows and colourfully costumed skating pantomimes, the press was certainly more than kind to the leading ladies. Male skaters, however talented or unique their stories, almost always seemed to play second banana. Today we will hop in the time machine and meet five fabulous fellows of the fifties whose accomplishments as professional skaters certainly warrant a second moment in the spotlight!


Ice show aficionados in the fifties would have had to have been living under a rock if they didn't know the name Michael 'Mickey' Meehan. This Irish born skater got his first big break as a Gloria Nord's pairs partner in the roller skating revue "Skating Vanities" and rose to prominence as an ice skating star in the early fifties with the Holiday On Ice tour.

A graceful skater who drew on ballet training, Mickey skated a romantic pairs act called "Stars In Your Eyes" with Joan Hyldoft in the 1952 show that stood out amongst the shtick for its elegance. So styled was his skating that "Dance Magazine" raved about his solo performance to Tchaikovsky's "Fifth Symphony" thusly: "If the balletic form Michael Meehan shows in Holiday On Ice is his on terra firma too, a dance star is in the wrong pew. If he worked hard he could easily be snatched by any ballet company." Leaving the touring ice show world behind, Mickey found success skating in the ice shows in the Boulevard Room at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago in the latter half of the fifties.


Hailing from Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, William Hinchy rose to prominence as a pairs skater in the late forties, winning the 1948 Australian title with partner Thelma Homsey. Following that win, Hinchy turned professional, took a job coaching in Melbourne and appeared with Thelma in the shows "Schooldays" and "Rhythm On Ice" at the Sydney Glaciarium, skating for a few years on the Tivoli Circuit.

The lure of stardom drew Bill to Great Britain, where he appeared alongside Belita in two of Claude Langdon's ice pantomimes at Empress Hall in London - "Jack In The Beanstalk On Ice" and "White Horse Inn On Ice". He then left Langdon's troupe to skate in Tom Arnold's pantomime "Queen Of Hearts On Ice" at Westover Ice Rink in Bournemouth and won the 1953 World Professional Championships in pairs skating with Maureen Pain. 


The son of Anna (LeBlanc) and Edward Richard, Rudolph Arthur Richard was born August 14, 1922 in the province of Quebec. His family emigrated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts in his youth, where his father found a job in a paper mill and his older sisters worked in a shoe shop. He was the third oldest of seven children.

While attending school, Rudy contributed to the family income by appearing in nightclubs and Vaudeville shows throughout New England as a dancer and giving dance lessons. Upon moving to New York City, he made the most of another passion of his youth - ice skating - one he'd never explored beyond skating in a few carnivals on local lakes.

Under the stage name Rudy Richards, he got his start in professional skating in the Terrace Room at the Hotel New Yorker. His success in "Newfangles On Ice" led to  a series of shows at the Centre Theatre including "It Happens On Ice", "Hats Off To Ice", "Stars On Ice" and "Howdy, Mr. Ice". At Marjery Fielding's Midnight Ice Show at the Iridium Room in 1944, he stole the show with his solo to Maurice Ravel's "Bolero", some forty years before Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won Olympic gold performing to the exact same music. In 1947 alone, he appeared alongside Belita in "Rhapsody On Ice" and Sonja Henie in the "Hollywood Ice Revue". During the forties, he also served a stint in the United States Army, serving as a Technician Fourth Grade during World War II.

Sonja Henie and Rudy Richards in the 1955 Hollywood Ice Revue. Photo courtesy The Norwegian Archives.

After performing in the Boulevard Room at the Hotel Stevens in Chicago, Rudy took a stab at the acting world, appearing with The Lighthouse Players in a play at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania. In 1961, he would appear on the silver screen in the 20th Century Fox film "Snow White And The Three Stooges", which starred Olympic Gold Medallist Carol Heiss.

However, Rudy achieved his biggest stardom in the fifties as a star in Holiday On Ice. He skated both solo acts and duets in the show and became a popular performer in both the United States in Europe. In 1955, he partnered Sonja Henie when the tour visited her native Norway. Rudy tragically died on July 8, 1964 in Los Angeles, California at the age of forty one. His death was allegedly a suicide caused by a barbiturate overdose.


Born September 4, 1928 in Mount Vernon, New York, Robert 'Bobby' Joseph Blake was an accomplished tumbler and diver in high school and the son of an Irish musician and step dancer. He got his start not as a skater but as as a song and dance man in nightclubs.

After seeing an ice show in Philadelphia, the red-headed young dancer decided that anything they could do, he could do better. Bobby took to the ice and trained for eight to ten hours a day for a year before his first professional skating audition. His first gig came in 1944, when he took on the role of pairs partner to Ruby Maxson in the Ice Follies. Her former partner, a brother also named Bobby, had joined the Army Transport Service and it wasn't long before Bobby Blake was away serving as a tank gunner in the Army Tank Corps himself.

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

After being discharged from the Army due to an injury and spending three months in hospital, Bobby rejoined Ice Follies briefly, then toured with Holiday On Ice and Ice Vogues. However, it wasn't until 1953 when he joined Arthur M. Wirtz's Hollywood Ice Revue alongside Barbara Ann Scott and Jacqueline du Bief that he really started turning heads.

Bobby later performed in a number of Gerald Palmer's ice pantomimes at Wembley in England. "Billboard" Magazine called him "a nervy jitterbug on skates who, judging from the preem, has his own skating sox brigade who swoon-scream for and at him. The kid is there on skates... and in a swing-waltz number does something to the paying customers that they'd appreciate having done for hours at a time. Maybe he's just enjoying himself, but the payees have a habit of enjoying what performers enjoy."

Bobby passed away on May 26, 1994 in Normal, Illinois at the age of sixty six. Quoted in "The Evening Independent" on February 24, 1959, he said, "I believe one can do anything if he works hard enough at it."


Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

"Skating is show business. It's ballet, dance, entertainment. I've skated that [way] all along, but others kept saying it is a sport." - Frank Sawers, "The BG News", April 11, 1973

Francis 'Frank' Traynor Sawers Jr., his Scottish born parents Frank and Margaret and older sister Isobel lived on Holmwood Avenue near Lansdowne Park in Ottawa during World War II. Young Frank first learned to skate on ponds in Ottawa was regarded by many as 'a natural'. Though he joined the Minto Skating Club, he was largely self-taught, though he received some dance instruction from his mother, a ballet teacher by profession. In fact, he received less than a dozen formal lessons, picking up most of what he learned from studying Barbara Ann Scott's practices. While attending Commerce High School, he won the Devonshire Cup for intermediate boys at the Club's championships and placed second in an intermediate waltzing championship with Connie Choquette.

Right photo (full advertisement) courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

An exciting free skater with little aptitude for school figures, Frank gave exhibitions during the intermissions of Senior Interscholastic Hockey League games and was regarded as something of a prodigy. The April 14, 1944 issue of "The Ottawa Citizen" raved, "Critics who have seen the lad skate refuse to believe that he hasn't spent most of his life under the tutelage of an outstanding mentor." By the age of sixteen, he got permission from his parents to quit high school and joined the cast of Ice Follies. At the time, he was the youngest member of the show's one hundred and fifty member cast.

Frank left the Ice Follies in the late forties and joined the cast of Holiday On Ice and came to Europe.
In 1949, he appeared in Ice Vogues at the Stoll Theatre in London with Cecilia Colledge and The Kermond Brothers. The following year was snatched up by Tom Arnold's "Ice Express".

Frank Sawers. Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine.

Frank went on to join Tom Arnold's company which toured Continental Europe. At only five foot four, he was a diminutive dynamo on the ice with a flair for the theatrical. He often stole the show in whatever production he performed in.

Frank appeared in the 1950 film "Zirkus auf dem Eis" with Marjorie Chase and Glenn Goddard and the 1952 film "Der bunte Traum" with Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier and Lydia Veicht. Joining Herber and Baier's German eisballets, Frank blossomed and was given the opportunity to perform leading roles, often with an interpretive and flamboyant bent. In an April 11, 1973 interview with "The BG News", he explained, "I'm not tall and handsome, so I played character roles. My favourite role was Pagliacci, the happy-sad clown. It was a tragicomedy role, and I played it for six years." Pagliacci, as we all know, was later famously interpreted on ice by Toller Cranston.

Though Frank was popular with audiences, unfortunately life behind the scenes mirrored that of the fictional clown that he portrayed in front of captivated audiences. On January 28, 1953, "Der Spiegel" reported, "A short time after the performance, at the large Ernst-Merck-Halle... the door of the caravan of [Ernst] Baier flew open and someone shouted, 'Frankie wants to hang himself!' Ernst Baier tried in vain to hold back his excited woman. On the way to the guest house, Maxi Herber learned from Spezi Wolfram that 'Frankie' (Frank Sawer), the 25 year old Canadian star, tried to hang himself from the chandelier of the board room. His bantamweight (56 kg) was sufficient to tear the chandelier from the ceiling. 'Mr. Sawers suffers from severe mood swings, he is nervous,' diagnosed the doctor Maxi called."

Prior to the suicide attempt, Ernst Baier had fired Frank from his eisballet without notice. The German press suggested it was because the young upstart had been upstaging him. Ernst claimed the termination was related to Frank's "nervous breakdown." There were allegedly fights and times Frank ran away for several days with no explanation. His cast mate Jock McConnell recalled, "We shared a dressing room in this show, and the atmosphere was electric to say the least, at every performance. Frankie's battles with the orchestra leader were volcanic as the leader did not understand English and Frankie spoke no German, the heated discussions would be totally unnecessary in today's world since we have the wonderful invention of taped music."

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

On another occasion after a duet with Maxi Herber was cut from the show, Frank started cursing and trashed the dressing room. Ernst Baier said, "Frank [acts like] such a small child that [must] have everything he wants. Whether it is a car or a human..."

Frank Sawers and Loismarie Goeller in Holiday On Ice

After the incident in Germany, Frank rejoined the cast of Holiday On Ice and toured Europe and South America for four years. Nothing seemed to go right. He became gravely ill and missed six months of skating after being coated in gold body paint to portray 'a Chinese dragon-god' and getting metal poisoning. In 1961, while skating in Argentina, he suffered a serious neck injury and was operated on in Buenos Aires. He never performed again but remained with Holiday On Ice as a coach and choreographer until 1968. Moving to America for a time, he taught skating at Bowling Green State University in Ohio for many years and used his show skating expertise to use in developing the precision team The Falconettes.

Frank returned to Canada in 1975, moving into a trailer park in Kinburn, Ontario and getting a job as a salesman at the Eaton's department store. He passed away on July 26, 1982 at the age of fifty five. Though he faded somewhat into obscurity, he was remembered by Jacqueline du Bief in her book "Thin Ice" as "one of the most artistic male skaters of our time. Full of imagination and choreographic ideas, to his originality he adds a brilliant style of expressive quality that is rare (especially among men) and great physical endurance. To see Frank on a good day is to have proof that skating can be a great art."

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