Ice Capades alumni from the 1950s reminisce over pictures and scrapbooks at Mellon Arena yesterday. From left are Patricia Golden Roman, Charlotte Vallo Honea, Arlene Timko Moran, Virginia Barker Reel, Evelyn Gray Shore and Jean Bailey Kaufman.
By Dan Majors Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Olympic champions skating on the Mellon Arena ice yesterday did more than just dazzle the audience with their spins, jumps and dancing.
They stirred memories.
Some of the strongest recollections were shared in the arena's Blue Line Club, where a dozen women who skated with the Ice Capades in Pittsburgh during the 1950s gathered for a reunion.
The event was organized by Bob Recker, 65, of Warrendale, who worked behind the scenes at the Ice Capades, moving equipment, when the arena opened in September 1961. (The famous retractable roof was opened for 22 minutes but then closed in fear that the 74-degree weather would melt the ice.)
With the arena scheduled for demolition and the Smuckers Stars on Ice show there yesterday, Mr. Recker thought it would be fun to reunite some of the original performers of the Ice Capades, the creation of Pittsburgh entertainment entrepreneur John H. Harris. The show premiered in 1940.
"When the arena opened, the first production was the Ice Capades," Mr. Recker said. "The skaters performed 20 shows in 10 days, drawing almost 190,000 people."
Evelyn Gray Shore, who is in her 70s, traveled from West Springfield, Mass., to take part in the reunion. She skated with the Ice Capades in the 1950s.
"These skaters today are Olympic skaters," Mrs. Shore said. "We were local girls who answered Mr. Harris' ads for skaters between the height of 5-foot-1 and 5-foot-5. We would train at nights after high school and on weekends."
They skated in lines and circles, dancing and kicking as they glided across the ice. They performed production numbers from fairy tales, Broadway plays and operas. Olga Hurenko Preffer, of Dormont, donned a furry costume and head to play a chipmunk in "Snow White" in 1953-55.
Pat Brannigan Doherty, 82, of Sewickley, has been working with wardrobe departments behind the scenes of Pittsburgh shows for more than 60 years.
"We worked as dressers, and I traveled with the Ice Capades," she said. "The wardrobes were fabulous. They were just beautiful. And very expensive and elaborate. The girls were very strictly governed in their dress and their treatment of the wardrobe."
Arlene Moran, 77, of Murrysville, said she did not receive her first week's paycheck in 1952 because Mr. Harris, an exacting task-master, caught her sitting in her costume.
She doesn't recall the amount of that check, but she said she was glad that she stayed with the show. She and the other women agreed that their shared experiences were well worth it.
Dan Majors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.