Exploring The Collections: Show Programs

Every Skate Guard blog that is put together draws from a variety of different sources - everything from museum and library holdings and genealogical research to newspaper archives and dusty old printed materials I've amassed over the last ten years or so. 

This year, I thought it would be fun to give you a bit of a 'behind the scenes' look at the Skate Guard Collections, which include books, magazines, VHS tapes, show and competition programs, photographs and many other items. These Collections date back to the nineteenth century and chronicle figure skating's rich history from the days of quaint waltzes in coats and tails to quadruple toe-loop's.

 Whether you're doing your own research about a famous 'fancy' skater in your family tree or a long-lost ice rink in your community or just have a general skating history question you can't find the answer to online, I'm always happy to draw on these resources and try to help if I can. 

The first aspect of the Skate Guard Collections I wanted to write a bit about are show programs. For as long as skating shows, carnivals and ice pantomimes have been around, audiences have been given or sold printed programs that provide a chronological order of performances and highlight the skaters in the show. There are dozens upon dozens of these programs in the Skate Guard Collections, including many richly illustrated programs the Ice Capades and Ice Follies tours - the illustrations in which were really works of art in themselves. 

So, what can we learn from show programs? More than you might think! In addition to beautiful photographs of the skaters participating, the program for the Toronto Skating Club's thirty-fifth annual carnival in 1942 tells us:

- The members of the Club's Board Of Directors and Committee's, which give us clues as to the names of the parents of many of the Club's top skaters.
- That many club members were serving in the military or engaged in War work.
- That the year prior to this Carnival, the Board Of Directors were able to donate twenty-five thousand dollars to the Red Cross Blood Donors Service through the co-operation of members.
- The music that was popular amongst skaters at the time. Norah McCarthy, the 1940 Canadian Champion, skated to Emil Waldteufel's "Frühlingskinder", while a youngster's group number, which featured future stars like Suzanne Morrow, Marilyn Ruth Take and Norris Bowden, was set to "Tip Toe Through The Tulips" and Arthur Pryor's "The Whistler And His Dog".
- The instructors who were teaching at the club at the time. The senior professional in 1942 was Walter Arian and the 'lady professionals' were Elizabeth Fisher and Joan McNeil.
- That Boris Volkoff, the famed dance choreographer, played a key role in creating the ice ballets in the carnival.
- The products and services that skaters and their families would have been using at the time - which give us insight into the costumes that they sewed, the cosmetics, jewelry and tights they wore, the availability of ready-made C.C.M. skating wear that was sold at local department stores and yes - the cigarettes they smoked. 

When you look at the programs of larger-scale touring ice shows like the Ice Follies, you really get a sense of the glitz, glamour and expense that went into staging these kinds of productions. The program for the 1964 tour talks about the sixteen-year association of composer Larry Morey. Larry worked with music director George Hackett, an orchestra and vocal groups to create original music for four of the tour's acts in 1964. In case you're wondering who Morey is, he co-wrote the songs "Whistle While You Work", "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Heigh Ho" from the 1937 Disney classic "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs"! Another interesting thing we can learn from this particular program is how international the cast of the Ice Follies was becoming by the sixties. The cast featured dozens of skaters from the United States, Australia, Austria, Canada, Great Britain, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany. If you crack open the program for the 1954 show, you can see that there were less than ten non-North American cast members.

One of the most useful aspects of show programs are the short biographical snippets that are often included. These short write-up's can tell us where a skater was from, at what age they took up the sport, what their interests were off the ice and what their accomplishments were prior to the time they skated in the show. As an example, the biography for World Champion Dianne de Leeuw from the 1977 Holiday On Ice tour's program tells us that she was twenty and had been skating for sixteen years. So now we know that Dianne started skated at the age of four... a seemingly insignificant but interesting fact that you won't find if you pop her name in the Google.

For a list of the show programs in the Skate Guard Collections, click here. If you've got show programs collecting dust in your attic or basement that you'd like to donate, I'd love to hear from you!

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.