Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 9

If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it. Maritimers use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way.

I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... and a delicious 6.0 finish!


Mae West

In 1895, Oscar Hammerstein opened a giant entertainment complex in Broadway, New York that included four theaters, an oriental café, a bowling alley and a billiards room. Quickly overwhelmed by debt, the ambitious project scaled down a little and one of the larger theaters - The Music Room - reopened as the New York Theatre. In 1912, it took on the name Moulin Rouge, inspired by the revolutionary French cabaret of the same name.

The show that christened the opening of the New York Moulin Rouge was called "A Winsome Widow" and was produced by Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. of Ziegfeld Follies fame. It debuted on April 11, 1912 and had an impressive one hundred and twelve show run. Although Emmy Wehlen and Leon Errol received top billing, the show was stolen by a then-teenage vamp named Mae West.

Cathleen Pope and George Kerner

The show also included (you guessed it!) figure skating on an 'ice tank'! A review from the April 12, 1912 edition of "The New York Times" described the skating scene from "A Winsome Widow" thusly: "A novelty in itself, which represents the interior of an ice palace, with the myriad skaters, glitteringly attired and providing a wonderful medley of gliding, changing color." The headline skaters in this scene were Cathleen Pope and George Kerner, a professional pairs team who trained in New York and performed with Charlotte Oelschlägel in the ice ballets at The Hippodrome. They were one of the first American duos that performed adagio style tricks on the ice.


In recent years, there has been a certain amount of blubbering about 6.0's being given out like candy in the latter years of the now-defunct judging system's existence. In the late fifties, the sport faced a very different kind of concern - low marking in school figures. 

In April of 1960, Dennis Bird penned the following eye-opening complaint in his column in "Skating World" magazine: "Here, at random, are two sets of marks for the ladies' back paragraph bracket. First - 4.7, 4.8, 4.6, 4.7, 4.8, 4.5, 4.6, 4.9, 5.2; and second - 5.0, 5.1, 5.0, 4.9, 4.7, 4.9, 5.1. The first set were given to Sjoukje Dijkstra at Garmisch. By present-day standards they were good marks for a good figure. Anyone who could today earn the second set of marks could probably be European Champion at least. Needless to say, they were not awarded in 1960. They take us back eleven years - in fact, to the World Championships of 1949. They were the marks of Barbara Wyatt, who finished, not first or second, but tenth in figures. Ája Vrzáňová, the winner, scored 5.5 or more on this figure from nearly every judge. Could anything show more graphically the decline in compulsory figure standards which had taken place in just over a decade?" Dennis Bird's remarks pose an interesting question we may never know the real answer to  - did the skaters get worse or did the judges get tougher?


With the Ice Follies and Ice Capades playing to packed houses across America during World War II, it's no wonder that other event promoters had dollar signs in their eyes and attempted to duplicate their success. Two extremely similar tours, both all but forgotten today, had dismally short runs.

Ice Vanities of 1940 opened on Christmas Day, 1939 with a run of ten shows at the State Fair Coliseum in Syracuse, New York. The production starred Vivi-Anne Hultén, Guy Owen, Lois DworshakVěra Hrubá Ralston, Freddie Trenkler, Eric Waite and Rosemary Stewart and Bob Dench. One of the tour's highlights was Trenkler's imitation of Donald Duck. The production was produced by Bill O'Brien, choreographed by Gustave Lussi and promoted by World Wide Sports, Inc. After its opening in Syracuse, the show continued on to Pittsburgh, New Haven, Providence and Boston. Financial problems caused the tour to eventually fizzle.

The New York Ice Revue, a joint venture of wrestling promoter Ray Fabiani, opera impresario Fortune Gallow and Hugo Quist, who once managed the 'Silent Finn' Paavo Nurmi, failed more spectacularly. The tour opened on August 14, 1940 on an outdoor rink at Fabiani's Philadelphia Gardens ampitheater, starring Vivi-Anne Hultén, Maribel Vinson Owen, Guy Owen, Ann Taylor and  Gene Theslof, Eric Waite and Betty Lee Bennett and John Kinney. It was devised and staged by Harry Losée. The production seemed doomed from the very start. A heavy rain nearly destroyed the outdoor rink just prior to the first show on opening night. When it ventured to the State Fair Coliseum in Syracuse, New York - the site of the Ice Vanities of 1940's first show - the organizers founded they had to share the stage, as it were, with a series of livestock competitions. Though thousands of spectators turned out to see their interpretation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on ice, the organizers had a disaster on their hands. An article from the "Syracuse Herald-Journal" noted, "Task of staging the show is complicated by the necessity of removing the tankbark and dirt placed over the ice each day for the cattle judging before the revue can begin." The tour was dissolved because the three producers couldn't see eye to eye.


Prior to the thirties, most of the skating clubs that existed in England catered to the upper crust of society. Academics, society ladies and even members of the House Of Lords all held membership with The Skating Club and Prince's Skating Club.

In 1932, a whole new type of skating association emerged... one specifically for members of the working class. The Civil Service Ice Skating Association was formed by a group of six civil servants that also happened to be figure skating aficionados. By 1935, The Association's membership swelled to over five thousand! In "Britain To-Day", Doris W. Hutchings recalled, "Affiliated to the National Skating Association, it is, after the Motoring Association, the largest body of its kind in the world... Its ambition was to train members into first-class skaters at a minimum cost, with special facilities for practicing. The Association, through co-operation with Rink Managers, offered members reduced fees, special figure patches, their own dancing sessions, competition cups, social visits to other rinks, and a yearly Winter Sports party to Switzerland."

In the mid-thirties, the Civil Service Ice Skating Association began holding its own carnivals. One held at Streatham Ice Rink in 1937 drew no less than four thousand spectators. The March 14, 1938 issue of the "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer" described the following year's carnival thusly: "The annual event gets bigger and better each year. The chief feature of last night's carnival was 'Eve of Waterloo', a pageant and fancy dress ball on ice. The period dresses and the dancing made a fine spectacle. It had been hoped that Sir Samuel Hoare, a very keen skater, would attend, but pressure of affairs prevented him. The prizes were presented by Lady Harding, and Freddie Tomlins, recently returned from the World Championship in Berlin, gave a brilliant exhibition."

During World War II, The Civil Service Ice Skating Association ceased operations but by the time austerity gave way to optimism in England in the fifties, it was going strong again. "Special classes on clean ice" were held before public sessions at the Earl's Court, Durham, Harringay and Birmingham rinks and a small free magazine for members called "The Service Skater" was published. One of The Association's most popular outings was an annual trip by train from London to the S.S. Brighton. After an informal afternoon skate, members would have tea before taking to the ice for a private session, where they could compete for prizes for ice dancing. Members were allowed to be partnered by non-members, and dances from the National Skating Association's bronze schedule were skated. There were also two annual competitions - one with junior and senior events and the other a junior dance championships for the Edith Ford and Walter Pratt Cups. 

The Association survived until at least the mid-eighties, with branches at both Queen's and Richmond. Membership as of 1986 was three pounds. What became of the Association is unfortunately unknown, as the CSCC Sports & Leisure has no records of a skating club beyond the eighties. Whatever the organization's fate, it certainly is an interesting footnote in figure skating history.


Located in downtown Minneapolis, the towering Nicolett Hotel played host to some pretty famous names over the years. John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt stayed there, and Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw were among the famous musical acts that wowed hundreds in the hotel's renowned, air-conditioned restaurant, the Minnesota Terrace.

Dorothy Lewis at the Nicolett Hotel

To mix things up from its usual stream of musical and variety acts, the hotel's management installed an ice tank in the Minnesota Terrace in 1942 and began presenting a steady stream of ice shows. Every evening at 8:15 and 11:30, patrons were treated to a thirty minute long skating spectacular that was worth every penny of their three dollar and fifty cent steak dinner. Though the skating shows were especially small in size, often with only two or three principals and a four woman precision line, the calibre of skating was impressive for the era. An unusual highlight of many of the Nicolett's ice shows was a game called Dance Quiz, where audience members had to guess which dance was being performed. The lucky winner received a bottle of wine.

In 1948, Dorothy Lewis brought her shows "Dorothy Lewis Glides The Globe" and "Skating In The Skyscrapers" to the Nicolett and wowed audiences with an on-ice interpretation of the musical "Oklahoma!", accompanied by a nine-piece band. In the October 30, 1948 issue of "Billboard" magazine, reporter Jack Weinberg raved, "Miss Lewis has come up with a real bit of business for this one... Co-starring with her is Bobby Maxson, formerly of the 'Ice Follies' cast. Opener is an airport scene, with two men dressed as pilots, stepping from behind curtain, followed by two gals. Eddie Delbridge, one of the skaters, takes [mic] to warble 'I Love The Girl I'm Near'. The foursome does fancy spinning. Miss Lewis takes ice for an exciting 'visit' to Lily Daches and does some fast-moving one-leg stands while trying on bonnets to determine which one she wants. It brought heavy mitting from the house. The four-girl line and two men come on for an 'Oklahoma' number depicting star's visit to play, skating to 'Surrey With Fringe On Top'. Maxson puts in his initial appearance for some expert ice-skimming to 'What A Beautiful Morning'. His one-foot sit spin is terrific and goes into a stand twirl at fast tempo. The wind-up has the gal line, tow men and Maxson doing a whip to 'Oklahoma'. The finale is Harlem, with the four gals and two men doing an exaggerated jitterbug on ice. Lewis and Maxson come in and wind-up in a black-light whip which is the most colourful ever seen here."

Dorothy Lewis and reporter Will Jones on ice at the Nicolett Hotel. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library. 

Unfortunately, the Nicolett Hotel's ice shows sadly befell the same fate of many other hotel ice shows of the era. A combination of an oversaturated market of ice shows and post-war taxes on cabarets led the hotel to discontinue its evening skating spectacles by the early fifties. The hotel was ultimately torn down in 1991, leaving only fleeting memories of suppertime spins from an era long past.


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":