Werner Groebli Interview
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.
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
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
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
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
A – Yeah. That’s right.
Q – Is it true that you made a lot of money in the stock
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
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
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.
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