Adagio And Apache: The Ruth Mack And Everett McGowan Story

Ruth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skating
Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

Born March 20, 1900 in Crookston, Minnesota, Edward Everett McGowan was the son of Thomas and Josephine (Campbell) McGowan. He grew up in Glyndon Township, where his father was employed as a weigher for the Minnesota State Grain Inspection Agency. As a toddler, Everett learned how to skate while visiting Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He won a speed skating race on clamp skates at the age of six.

Minnesota speed skater and adagio pairs figure skating pioneer Everett McGowan
Photo courtesy University Of St. Thomas (MN) Archives

As a young man, Everett enjoyed just about every recreational pursuit imaginable - everything from speed and roller skating to baseball, lacrosse, boxing, badminton, tennis, croquet, dominoes and football. While studying law at St. Thomas shortly after The Great War, he played left half for the college's football team. In 1920, he won the Northwestern Indoor Amateur Skating Association's speed skating title and defeated future Olympic Gold Medallist Charles Jewtraw in a race in Lake Placid. He turned professional the following year, amassing an astonishing twenty five victories in his first season. One of them was a win against his own speed skating coach, Norval Baptie. Reporters called him the "Three Letter Man Of Skating".

Minnesota speed skater and adagio pairs figure skating pioneer Everett McGowanMinnesota speed skater and adagio pairs figure skating pioneer Everett McGowanspeed skater and adagio pairs figure skating pioneer Everett McGowan
Everett McGowan. Photos courtesy Hennepin County Library.

During the roaring twenties, Everett set a world speed skating record in the fifty yard dash, raced an automobile travelling forty four miles per hour on Onota Lake in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and competed in a six-day international roller skating race at Madison Square Garden.

Minnesota speed skater and adagio pairs figure skating pioneer Everett McGowanMinnesota speed skater and adagio pairs figure skating pioneer Everett McGowan
Everett McGowan. Photos courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Everett also played baseball and boxed professionally. He played hockey for six years with teams in Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg, before being sold to the New York Rangers, who farmed him out to the Springfield Indians, where he had a short but sweet career as a defenseman.

Ruth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skating

In the height of his success, Everett met a roller skater eight years his junior named Ruth Lillian Mack. They soon tied the knot and embarked on an unlikely career as professional figure skaters.

Ruth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skating
Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

Everett and Ruth - or McGowan and Mack, as they would soon become famously known - learned some of the finer points of figure skating from Gustave Lussi, Norval Baptie and Howard Nicholson. Soon they translated 'table top' adagio roller skating tricks to the ice and created a unique style that was all their own. Their first performances were in conjunction with speed skating races, hockey games and carnivals in the State of New York. At one such event in Syracuse, a reporter remarked, "The pair went through a series of waltz whirls, spins and stunts which had the fans constantly in applause." When they appeared at a carnival in Kansas City in 1934, the program stated, "Skaters: If your insurance is paid up, you can try this."

Ruth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skatingRuth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skating
Photos courtesy Hennepin County Library

Everett and Ruth's first big 'gig' was the Black Forest ice show at the Dallas Centennial Exposition in 1936. In the years that followed, they appeared in the film "Ice Follies Of 1939". They acted as producers and stars of their own travelling McGowan and Mack International Ice Revue, which brought them acclaim at hotels and movie theatres across America. They had a portable 20 X 40 tank rink which could be installed and frozen in less than twelve hours. Their advertisements boasted, "The only portable real ice rink which complies with every State and City refrigeration ordinance, and can be made at any size."

Ruth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skating

What many did not know at the time was the fact that Ruth and Everett's skating career almost ended before it really got started. Arthur L. Goodfellow recalled, "McGowan became afflicted with a rare and supposedly incurable form of arthritis. Every clinic visited had the same dismal response. 'Mac, your days of ice skating are over.' But McGowan, a fighter from away back, refused to give up. Two persons had taken a particular interest in his case - one was a doctor with a major health clinic, the other a former veterinarian and sports massage expert, Ralph Cressler, who at the time was managing the Hippodrome ice rink in St. Paul. It was Cressler who proposed an unorthodox method of treatment. He had tried it with varying degrees of success with arthritic animals. 'This idea of mine might help you,' said Cressler, 'but it will take a man with guts to do it.' McGowan's reply, 'Let's go.' So Cressler rigged up a special harness and literally hung McGowan from the rafters by the head, stretching [his] legs and spinal column for weeks. It was a rough ordeal and between bouts he'd go to the regular clinic doctor for check-ups. However, the unconventional Cressler treatment was unbelievably successful. Within eight months Everett and Ruth were ice show stars again." Unbelievably, Everett wasn't the only skater to endure such 'treatments' at the time. Olympic figure skater, film noir actress and ballet dancer Belita Jepson-Turner was also sent to a veterinarian for care.  

Ruth Mack and Everett McGowan, pioneers in the art of adagio pairs figure skating

Everett and Ruth appeared in shows at the College Inn, Hotel Sherman, Conrad Hilton Hotel, Adolphus Hotel and Boulevard Tavern. They also toured with Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice. The 1940 Ice Follies program raved, "Everett McGowan has... a tremendously rugged physique, coupled with cool nerves [which] gives him the ideal requisites for the exacting tasks he performs in this year's 'Ice Follies'. His partner, Ruth Mack, is a charming person both on and off the ice. She, in contrast to her husky partner, seems small and petite, but what she lacks in size is more than made up in courage. She goes through the rigors of the severe routine calmly and coolly and her striking personality radiates through the audience as she, with her partner, acknowledges the plaudits of the audience."


Everett and Ruth, along with their thirteen year old daughter Jo Ann (who went on to star in Holiday On Ice herself) were also featured in the 1944 Republic Pictures film "Lake Placid Serenade", starring Věra Hrubá Ralston. Their signature number was called "Cafe de Apache", and was set to Jacques Offenbach's "L'Amour de L'Apache". The Apache dance, popular in Paris in the early twentieth century, was a highly theatrical, angry dance with elements of stage combat that depicted a struggle between a pimp and a prostitute. Maurice Mouvet described it as "as an intensely brutal dance, but... not vulgar with deliberate vulgarity. It is the dance of realism, of primitive passion; as a picture of life in the raw it has beauty and artistic strength."

Arthur Godfrey and Everett McGowan
Arthur Godfrey and Everett McGowan

In April of 1952, Everett installed a portable ice rink for an episode of the variety show "Arthur Godfrey And His Friends". The episode, which was performed entirely on ice, was a massive hit and CBS was inundated with phone calls, telegrams and letters as a result.

All-Year Indoor Skating Rink at the Raleigh Hotel in South Fallsburg, New York

Everett and Ruth continued to perform professionally well into the fifties. They later operated the All-Year Indoor Skating Rink at the Raleigh Hotel in South Fallsburg, New York. On May 19, 1962, Everett was inducted into the National Speed Skating Museum's Hall Of Fame. Ten years later, he was inducted into the Ice Skating Institute's Hall Of Fame. Sadly, Everett passed away on May 1, 1982 in Kiamesha Lake, New York at the age of eighty-one. Ruth passed away on March 18, 2001 in Forest Lake, Minnesota at the age of ninety-two.

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