Richard Dwyer (“Mr. Debonair”)
Shipstads And Johnson Ice Follies
His name is Richard Dwyer, but fans of Shipstads And Johnson Ice Follies know him as “Mr. Debonair”.
He was a stand-out skater before he even joined the “Ice Follies”. He won U.S. novice, junior titles, third in the U.S. Seniors, Pacific Coast juvenile, novice, junior and senior titles-----all before he was 16 years old.
It’s a real treat to present an interview with a Superstar skater, “Mr. Debonair” himself-----Richard Dwyer.
Q – Richard, I absolutely loved the “Ice Follies”.
What happened to that show? Why did it have to end and when did it end?
A – Actually, it’s still in existence as ‘Disney On Ice’. Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies really ceased to be in ’79 or almost ’80. ’80 was still ‘Ice Follies’. It was the next year they started calling it Ice Follies: Holiday On Ice. I left the co. then. I left in the summer of ’80. So, I completed 30 years as Ice Follies. It had gone through 5 ownerships while I was there. The last owners were Kenneth and Irving Feld. I worked for them for 1 year. They started changing the name and I believe they really wanted to tie up with Disney ‘cause that’s where the appeal would be ‘cause Ices we having a difficult time, although they lived in for quite awhile. I went with (Ice) Capades and that lasted ‘til ’95 or something. Anyway that was the end of Ice Follies as Ice Follies alone, in 1980.
Q – When did you join the Ice Follies?
A – I joined the show I think on June 10 th 1950 and I completed my career I think on May 26 th 1980. But, it was 30 great years.
Q – Roy Shipstad personally selected you for the
A – That’s how it happened. I had been a competitor and competed in the Nassau Championships and I won the Junior Championship in 1949. Then I was third ranked behind Dick Butman. I was 14 1/2. They (Roy, Eddie Shipstad) had been following my career. All their ice crews followed the Amateurs just like they do today. Ray had retired and decided to hang-up his skates. I think their whole philosophy was, they would bring a young boy who wouldn’t be compared to Roy, who would grow into Roy’s footsteps, under his tutelage. So, the first year he was there, helping me do my number, giving me ideas, helping me start out. It was a great thrill.
Q – Would it be fair to say you were a star before you joined the “Ice
A – Well, I wouldn’t say that, but I did have a great deal of amateur success. I won the National Novice in ’48, National Junior Championship in ’49, and was third ranked in ’50 and that also put me in the world team place. We didn’t have the money for me to go the first year in ’49, and then in ’50 I went professional before the pre-amateur championships. And once you turned pro-----you were out whereas today people can earn money and they’re called, ‘eligible skater’ which is great cause it’s nice for all those champions to make money and be able to go ahead.
Q – Did the “Ice Follies” pay their
star skaters well?
A – Well, I’ll be honest, in that era, in 1950; I probably made $200 a week. I paid my mother’s traveling expenses for 3 years. But, the ‘Ice Follies’ were really kind, they gave me raises every once in awhile ‘cause they could see that my Dad was subsidizing our hotel bills. But, salaries were much different, in that era. Principle skaters were getting $175-$350. Line skaters-----my sister was in the line ensemble and I think she made $61-$62 a week. And we paid all our expenses and we survived. That shows you what the difference of the economy then.
Q – Where did you stay when the “Ice Follies” performed
A – In the 50’s we stayed at the Onondaga (Hotel) which is probably long gone (Note: It is gone) and I’ll bet rooms were $5-$6 a night. I don’t know. I can’t remember. Coffee was what? 20 cents. Breakfast was $1.20. So, you could survive. All our traveling expenses were paid, from the bus to the rink. It turned out it was good for me skating so long with the co. They were always fair to me, and as a result, I did ok.
Q – I’m looking at the tour schedule of the “Ice Follies” from
1964 to 1965. You worked about 7 ½ months out of 9 months (Sept. 1964
to June 1965). That’s almost like a Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour. You
even worked Christmas!!
A – Right, we did. And actually that schedule you’re looking at, doesn’t that say we opened in San Francisco in June? Because we played San Francisco all summer for 10 weeks. We did the old show at night and learned the new one during the day. Actually for many of the years I was with the show we did 10 performances a week, 3 on Saturday, 2 on Sunday a week-----well, 9 (performances) and then we also only had a month to 5 weeks off for many years. So, we used to figure 400 shows a year or pretty close to it. A lot of times we did extra shows in Boston during the February school break. We did 2 shows a day in Philadelphia during Christmas, everyday. It was fun. My God, I can’t even believe I did it.
Q – Wasn’t that schedule exhausting?
A – Not when I was young. (Laughs). Now, I don’t know what I’d do. I went back with (Ice) Capades in my 50’s and I was doing a lot of shows. I think what happens is you just rise to the occasion. You get in good habits and stay in training and you make a go.
Q – When you performed on Thanksgiving night here
in town, what would you do after the show?
A – The ‘Ice Follies’ and all the ownerships always made sure we had a Thanksgiving dinner as a group and we had a ball. We had a Christmas dinner where everybody would get together. Usually we’d sit 10 at a table and each would have a turkey to carve. No matter where we were. And in Syracuse I remember we went out to some nice restaurants. Some of the press and some of our friends and the arena people were also invited if they wanted to come. So, it was really festive. That part of life was well taken care of. You never felt lost from the holidays of the people you cared for.
Q – Who gave you this title “Mr. Debonair”?
A – Roy Shipstad was the original ‘Debonair’. Then I became the young ‘Debonair’, until I was about 26 or 28. All of a sudden at a dress rehearsal it was ‘The Debonair’, and later they changed it to ‘Mr. Debonair’. I think it just kind of happened. It was a great title and it worked. I always had the six beautiful girls in the glamour gowns, and gave away a dozen roses every show. It really was a traditional number.
Q – Did you pick out the person to give the roses
to at random?
A – Yeah. I would usually look before I started my act because with the spotlights you really couldn’t see that well. But, I would go out during the show and try to spot more of a grandmotherly recipient, rather than somebody young, because Roy always did that. Anyway, I made many friends, you can’t believe. Families would call me and say mom still talks about her roses. Even when some of these people passed away, I would get a card that said, ‘Rich you won’t believe it-----your picture was still on her dresser’. It was just a kick. I became part of the family because of that, not in every one, but, in a lot of instances. It was a great time in my life. It’s still got so many memories, so, I’ll never complain. (Laughs).
Q – Weren’t you studying law at one time?
A – Well, I finally got my undergraduate and I never did follow through with the law. I talked about it a lot. I got a few courses under my belt and then I went back with ‘Ice Capades’ and I worked with them for 13 years and so I didn’t get the law degree. That’s something I thought I really wanted to be but, the skating…..I still skate. I performed in China in March (2005) and I can still do a few things. So, skating is still giving me opportunities.
Q – And you’re also into real estate? You’re
building a duplex?
A – Well, this is kind of what happens in my life. I worked with ‘Ice Capades’ from ’81 to ’93. 8 of those years I was a guest star at 4 or 5 I was full-time. I left ‘Ice Capades’ in ’93 and I came back to California. Then Charles Schulz the creator of ‘Peanuts’ he had me in his ice shows a number of times if I was ever available. He offered me the job of general manager of his Redwood Empire Ice Arena and Complex in Christmas of ’94. So, I moved up there and worked for him for 5 years, ‘til he passed away. Then all those jobs ceased to be ‘cause the kids took over the management. It was great. It was their place. So, I came back to L.A. I had a Dad if you could believe it who was 99 who survived almost 4 more years that I hung out with. He had a sheet metal shop. So, I kind of went to the sheet metal shop with him and I learned a little bit, and had some fun. I kept skating. Through the years I’ve been very fortunate because I did invest not a lot, but some in real estate. So, I ended up with a few houses. My brother and I, here we are old-timers, trying to build a duplex down here in Newport Beach. It’s taken forever, but, it’s gonna happen. That really takes a lot of my time, plus I’m at the sheet metal shop everyday. I feel just very fortunate. I’m gonna be 70 in a week. So, you know, life is still going.