The Superskates Shows

In the days before the U.S. government provided funding for Olympic athletes, an annual benefit show for the U.S. Olympic Fund at Madison Square Garden in New York City was an important fundraiser for America's Olympic figure skating hopefuls. 

"Superskates" was first held on November 25, 1974. A who's who of figure skating participated, including Janet Lynn, Toller Cranston and John Curry. The event was sponsored by the Women's Division of the New York State Olympic Committee and narrated by Dick Button. Following the event an 'Apr├Ęs-Patinage" supper-dance was held in honour of the skaters at the Rainbow Grill in the R.C.A. Building at Rockefeller Center. With tickets for the supper-dance going at fifty dollars a pop in 1974, some serious change was made at the latter event as well.

One of the driving forces behind the event's early success was its founder Edwin H. Mosler, Jr., the President of the Mosler Safe Company which made the vaults that protected the Declaration Of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights in Washington. Mosler was a private benefactor to many elite skaters and also the National Finance Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He passed away in 1982 - while "Superskates" was still going on - but the event wouldn't have happened without his philanthropic contributions and fundraising efforts.

"Superskates" was unique for a couple of reasons. It was one of the first major standalone shows in America to focus almost entirely on solo performances rather than lavish ensemble pieces. It was also one of the first large scale ice shows in the United States that allowed amateur and professional skaters to perform alongside each other.

Linda Fratianne leading a group spiral in one of the "Superskates" shows

Toller Cranston observed how exposing amateur skaters to the more 'glamourous' world of professional skating could have its benefits. On November 14, 1978, he told a reporter from the "New York Times", "There is a whole theatricality, the show biz side of amateur sport [skaters need or] they can't become top notch. It's a step they have to take to be a seasoned entertainer. Part of the sport, which is very much in evidence but hasn't been a criteria for excellence, is the glamour. Even in practice sessions in the world competitions there is an underlying theme of glamour. Everyone almost has matching underwear. They come out in costumes in practice. The Russians, they look like Hollywood in the 1920's. I saw them last year in Ottawa. They were the most glamourous things you'll ever see in your life. The Bolshoi Ballet designed their costumes, their hair was done by so and so. It was the Russian crown jewels that popped on to the ice. But it makes the show richer and advances the popularity of skating. The audience sees people dressed like movie stars performing super routines. They all want their sons and daughters to skate."

The cast of "Superskates" mainly consisted of American skaters, but also drew in many top international skaters including John Curry and Robin Cousins of Great Britain, Toller Cranston, Brian Orser and Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini of Canada and Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov and Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov of the Soviet Union. 

Over the years, the show exposed audiences to legends from years past like Tenley Albright, Belita Jepson-Turner and Richard Dwyer, as well as fresh new faces like Katherine Healy. It also played host to many unique performances, such as Allen Schramm's "Black Widow" number and a four consisting of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

At the 1976 show, John Curry premiered his iconic collaboration with Twyla Tharp, a seven-minute piece called "After All" set to a selection from Albinoni's "Concerto For Trumpet In B. Flat". Although dismissed by "New York Times" critic Anna Kisselgoff as "a solo in love with itself", Curry's minimalist interpretive piece mesmerized the audience at Madison Square Garden. The crowd's applause led Twyla Tharp to the ice for a bow.

At the 1980 show, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and Edwin Mosler presented Dick Button with the first annual Superskates Award for his contributions to amateur figure skating.

Advertisement for the final "Superskates" show

In 1984, an agreement was signed between CBS and China Central Television for sixty four hours of CBS television broadcasting to be played in China. These were the first regularly scheduled broadcasts of U.S. television ever in China... and among the content was coverage of "Superskates". Unfortunately, a year later the event was held for the last time.

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