Yet again the BRI asks—and answers—the question: Where does all this stuff come from?
The very first was Don the Beachcomber, opened in Hollywood in 1933 by Ernest Gantt, a bohemian who had traveled the South Seas and brought back all kinds of idols, masks, and other relics. He used them to decorate his restaurant/bar, which created a singular ambience that attracted a movie-star clientele. In 1944 Victor Bergeron, owner of a generic Oakland, California, bar called Hinky Dinks, visited Don the Beachcomber, fell in love with the format, and immediately redid his bar as a Polynesian restaurant, adding to the walls thatch, tiki statues, masks, idols, and torches. He renamed the establishment Trader Vic’s. Both restaurants became chains (Gantt even legally changed his name to Donn Beach) with locations all over the country. The food: Chinese cuisine, still exotic to most Americans in the 1950s. Added flourishes like colorful fruit and serving food aflame made it even more exciting.
In 1940 John H. Harris, owner of a minor-league hockey team in Pittsburgh, began booking former Olympic figure skaters to perform during game intermissions as a way to increase attendance. It worked: Families (not just hockey-loving men) packed the arena.
As Harris added comedians, jugglers, clowns, and barrel jumpers, other arenas became interested, so Harris decided to take the show on tour (Boston Garden owner Walter Brown combined “ice” with “escapades” to come up with the name “Ice Capades”). On November 5, 1940, a 21-city tour began. For the next 50 years, the Ice Capades toured the world with an evolving format that included everything from movie-themed shows to Olympic-skater showcases. But in the 1980s, the popularity of the Ice Capades dropped sharply, facing new competition. Fans of Olympic-level skating could see Scott Hamilton’s Stars on Ice, while families had Disney on Ice. The Ice Capades died in 1991.