Werner Groebli Interview
("Mr. Frick")

He was born Werner Groebli, but the world knows him as “Mr. Frick”.
Born in Basil, Switzerland in 1915, Werner Groebli came to the United States in 1937 with Hans Mauch and together they formed “Frick and Frack”.
They became two of the highest paid skaters of the time.
Eventually, Werner Groebli would go solo, known to Ice Follies fans as “Mr. Frick”.
He is most famous for his cantilever spread-eagle.
“Mr. Frick” spoke with us about his life both on and off the ice.

Q – “Mr. Frick” what are you doing living in Palm Springs (California)? Do you play golf everyday?
A – No. I don’t play golf. It takes too long time and they cost a lot of money. I chose Palm Springs just to get away from the Swiss town Zurich, mainly. They (Palm Springs) have milder weather. I’ve spent the last eleven, twelve winters here mainly for my wife’s sake. I don’t care too much for it. But, I’ve come to the end now because she passed away, December 2nd 2002. I just finished my affairs here. A million newspaper clippings go down the drain. Posters. The pictures I cleared out. I sent all the programs away. I sent my blades to the Smithsonian Institution, the United States Figure Skating Association, in Colorado Springs.

Q – Where did your skates go?
A – To the Figure Skating Association.

Q – And your programs?
A – Partly to the United States Figure Skating Association. Also, some to the University of Wyoming, the Heritage Foundation and the rest I sold.

Q – Where did you sell your programs?
A – Just to individuals at skating events and ice rinks that I used to go when they had ice here in the desert. Here in the Palm Desert, there was an ice rink, now it’s gone. There’s no ice between Bakersfield and Phoenix. Just sand.

Q – I guess that means you’re not skating, are you?
A – No, I’m getting older. If you fall, there will be that risk with your bones.

Q – What happened to Shipstad’s and Johnson Ice Follies?
A – Oh, it just dissolved. It’s complicated. Feld Jr. practically took it over. The circus (people). They took it over in the end, in the final years and converted it to Disney On Ice. There are four such units of these touring the country, somewhat smaller and no particular star, but, good production. My former assistant partner is now vice-president over these shows. At least four circulate the globe. Fortune Magazine called it a “musical chair in ownership”. The circus bought the ice show and the show bought the circus. Mr. Feld I saw in Los Angeles at the championship. He watched at the party.

Q – What would you do with yourself in-between performances? I know there were some days you did two shows here in Syracuse, anyway.
A – On Saturday, we did 3 (shows). On Sunday, we usually did 2 (shows). We’d sleep. We’d go down and ride the elevator, the only elevator at Hotel Syracuse that announced, a female voice that automatically announced, “First Floor, coffee shop”. If you didn’t step back far enough or interfered with the door closing, the elevator said, “Please step back. Please, close the door. You are delaying service”. I used to pull the newspaper in and walk off on the same floor. The automatic voice went on, “Please close the door. You are delaying service. Please close the door”. That was the only hotel that had that fun voice. What we did is skated a little in the daytime. We’d have at least one rehearsal a week. We skated for fun, did some of the ice dances. The ice was free and we picked up the mail at the rink.

Q – Is it true that you came to America with $50 in your pocket?
A – Yeah. That’s right.

Q – Is it true that you made a lot of money in the stock market?
A – Well, supposedly. I could’ve. I told other people how to make it, and never had enough patience to hold on. So, I made a little. But, my reputation is probably better than my results, for my own.

Q – Is it true that you hate elevators?
A – Yes. I’m scared. If I can walk-----I walk. Once I got stuck for a few seconds in New York and I got almost panicky. I don’t like these people who turn around in elevators and amuse themselves and fool around. Yeah, I don’t like elevators.

Q – I’m surprised you remembered about the Hotel Syracuse elevator. I would imagine that the whole cast of the Ice Follies would stay at the Hotel Syracuse when you were in town.
A – Yes, mostly as a rule. There was another hotel, oh, two blocks away. They usually got the best rate in one place. In Rochester, N.Y. I don’t know what hotel they stayed at. I stayed at the Holiday Inn. We used to have a bus take the company from Rochester to Syracuse. I got fed up riding buses, so, I took a cab and passed the bus that boarded in Rochester. The other fellow, Richard Dwyer, a skater, joined me. We split the fare. It was only $50. We didn’t have to ride that bus. We were there ahead of time. (Laughs).

Q – What didn’t you like about the bus?
A – Oh, eventually, you don’t like traveling in buses. We traveled a lot in buses. Years ago, we used to have airplanes, but, that’s too short of a trip. It’s just to get away from things.

Q – Is it true that you would start the day off with a shot of burbon over a grapefruit?
A – Yes.

Q - Is it true that you still have the first nickel you ever found?
A – I’m not so sure. (Laughs).

Q – Hey-----I just read these things. I don’t know what to make of them either. Is it true you used to bang your head against the dressing room wall to toughen up?
A – Yeah. I used to do that to show off. I’d find a particularly soft spot and bounce it off the wall, showing off. I knew how to take it. Sometimes I cheated with my face and they thought I hit my head. It got me in the fighting spirit. It works you up for the act.

Q – Is it true you performed for 80 million people and gave 12,000 performances?
A – Yes.

Q – When you landed in New York back in the late 1930’s, you immediately flew to L.A. to give an ice-show performance. Was that for the Ice Follies?
A – No Ice Follies. The Ice Follies existed, but, that was a separate show called Westwood where UCLA now is. An outdoor rink. It was called the St. Moritz Express. It had some very good skaters. But, it was unfortunate it was open air, and rain, wind, earthquakes and storms interfere. In the daytime you could skate on that ice and practice. Betty Gradle always came, then married to Jackie Coogan. We had a lot of fun. Then I went up to the west coast and played Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver and came back to Portland. We had no more costumes. The sheriff attached the baggage cars. Locked them. Because they couldn’t pay the bills. So, the show went on without costumes. Within 3 weeks before it performed with costumes and on the return it had no costumes. We rolled up the parts and the girls put on some kind of ballet skirt. It had enough substance to go over. So, the skating is the meat, not always the costumes.

Q – Do you still get recognized?
A – Yeah, sometimes. I wonder why. “Frick and Frack” was not only the personnal appearances in those 30 cities the Follies played. It was the 2 motion pictures, although they were B pictures, they played and played. They were made in ’43 and ’44. So, that spread the Frick and Frack image in every corner ‘cause you couldn’t cover it with the ice shows. It was a cheap picture but, it played the whole world. It was a very good picture in skating contents.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved