Growing up, Keri Pickett hardly knew her mother’s brother. Uncle Roy traveled extensively through the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America during the middle part of the 20th century. She can remember seeing him only three times as a youth.
Circumstances allowed Keri and Roy Blakey to become better acquainted in 1983, and now a majority of Keri’s life is wrapped up in an attempt to tell the world just what Uncle Roy was doing on the road all those years.
“The Fabulous Ice Age” is a documentary film detailing the history of ice shows in America, dating back to the 1910s. Roy Blakey was first a fan, then a participant, and now a historian, with thousands of pieces of memorabilia (which can be seen at www.icestagearchive.com) and a desire to find a permanent home for his collection.
In an effort to help Uncle Roy in his endeavor, Pickett is telling his story and the story of the nearly unimaginable, glorious, and expansive age of traveling ice shows in her first film documentary.
“My raison d’être for doing this film is to help him and help everybody know about this archive that he has,’’ Pickett said. “Along the way, I realized why Roy has been so gaga over the story. It does feel to me like a diamond that has been hidden in the ground.”
“Keri quickly grasped the enormous scope and importance of the terrific story of theatrical skating, a subject that no filmmaker has tackled before,’’ Blakey said. “I’m extremely proud of her.”
The film is not yet completed, although Pickett is trying to get it submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in early 2013.
All creative work includes a story, and Pickett’s film story begins more than 100 years ago.
Ice skating shows date back to the early part of the 20th century, but got a spark of attention when famed skater Sonja Henie began appearing in movies that somehow managed to tie her ice skating abilities into the story, the way swimming was worked into movies starring Esther Williams.
Across the country, theatrical skating shows appeared at all kinds of venues – stadiums and arenas, of course, but also hotels and night clubs, where ice surfaces would be placed onto stages and behind screens. The phenomenon reached beyond the borders of the United States; ice shows were very big in Austria, Germany and England, among other locations in Europe. Eventually, South America jumped on board, and the bigger cities in that part of the Southern Hemisphere sponsored ice shows. When travel to Asia became more popular, skaters traveled to the Far East to do shows.
From the work of Minnesotan brothers Roy and Eddie Shipstad, who created the Ice Follies, to Henie’s work with the Hollywood Ice Revue, and the eventual creation of perhaps the most well-known troupe, the Ice Capades, the lavish shows wowed audiences both young and old and kept skaters busy once their competitive days were completed.
One of those skaters who were given a career in the artistic endeavor of theatrical skating was a young Oklahoman named Roy Blakey.
THE BLAKEY STORY
Having fallen in love with Henie in the 1940s when he first saw the movie “Sun Valley Serenade”, Blakey decided he wanted to become a show skater. A chance opportunity while serving in the U.S. military in Germany turned into a job, and Blakey was on his way to a career that took him around the world (and kept him from getting to know his precocious niece, Keri).
Throughout his travels around the world with the Holiday on Ice show, Blakey began a collection of ice show memorabilia, mostly publicity posters, although the collection did begin to include some extremely unique items.
When it came time to settle down, Blakey did so in New York, where he pursued a new career in photography, which he learned as part of an educational program from his military service. He ended up staying in New York for 25 years, all the while building an entire museum’s worth of items that brought back pleasant memories of the traveling ice shows the world had enjoyed for decades.
KERI MEETS ROY
Young Keri Pickett remembers the time Uncle Roy came to visit her family in Minnesota. Keri was about 14 years old, and she remembers ice skating with Roy, who taught her how to do cutbacks on the frozen lake behind their home. “I was just in awe of him because he could do spins that my body was not built to do,’’ Pickett said.
Pickett discovered photography in college, and when she graduated from Morehead State University, she moved in with her Uncle Roy in New York for two weeks in 1983 while working an internship with the Village Voice.
Although they did not live together long (one phone line between two busy professionals proved to be problematic), they developed a friendship that lasted for several years. During that time, Pickett became aware of Uncle Roy’s obsession with ice shows, and saw the volume of memorabilia he had stored away in New York.
In the late 1980s, Pickett developed Birkitt’s lymphoma cancer, and moved back to Minnesota to be with family. After a period of time, Roy moved to Minneapolis as well.
While battling her illness, Pickett created her own photographic studio (visit www.pickettphoto.com). Eventually, the studio became the permanent home and occasional showplace for Uncle Roy’s collection.
“Six years ago, I finally decided to try to do something on Roy and his collection as a film,’’ Pickett said. “I kept telling people this would be a great story, but nobody picked up the thread on it.”
Through the years, and with the assistance of Roy’s connections and the Internet, Pickett interviewed 50 skaters who had associations with the ice shows. The film is their story. Uncle Roy, it turns out, has become just a part of the story.
“Right now, what the film is, is a 100-year look at dancing on ice and Roy’s quest to save history,’’ Pickett said. “The amount of time Roy is on the screen has changed back and forth. Right now the film is 80 percent to the history and 20 percent to Roy’s story.”
To collect her interviews, Pickett began by attending ice show reunions. She came in contact with former skaters from Holiday on Ice, and was even the keynote presenter for the 70th anniversary party for the Ice Capades. She developed a friendship with Dick Button, who performed with both the Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice.
“Dick Button has become a real supporter for the film,’’ Pickett said. “I have really grown to care for him.”
Eventually, she brought the film to the present day when she interviewed Kenneth Feld, the creator of Disney on Ice.
“I have all the pioneers giving me their story,’’ she said. “The film ties all the eras together.”
By mid-September 2012, Pickett was preparing the application that would allow the film to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival next winter. That would provide some legitimacy to the effort, although Pickett already knows what she wants to have happen to the film eventually.
“My goal for the film has always been public television,’’ she said. “It is an educational documentary, and I want for this history to be preserved. If it goes to public television it has the potential to be seen in every market in the country.”
And why is that so important? It is because the film has a divine purpose.
“Everybody knows about this archive that Roy has, and it needs a home that is public,’’ Pickett said. “I’m hoping that one of the side effects of this film is finding the right home for this collection.”
The film does not have a conclusion, at least not a satisfactory one.
The ending Pickett is looking for is a permanent home for Blakey’s memorabilia collection. Blakey has had some interest in the collection from the Smithsonian, and the University of Minnesota has shown some interest as well.
A couple of years ago, Blakey made an appearance on the PBS show Antique Road Show, displaying a dress Henie wore in one of her movies. Show host and appraiser Leila Dunbar found out the extent of Blakey’s collection, and requested the opportunity to appraise the entire trove. That appraisal is due to take place early in 2013 and Blakey, who is in his early 80s, is rushing to build an archive for that moment.
Pickett plans to create a coffee table book of Blakey’s collection as soon as the film is completed and sold. But completing the film and selling it is key to anything Pickett has planned for her future, because the work and the cost of producing it have taken a toll.
Still, she believes the reward will be worth the cost when the film finds a home.
“I’ve had everybody say ‘We have been waiting for this forever’,’’ Pickett said. “My core audience is the people who are passionate about ice skating and would love to have ice skating as a central part of their life and livelihood. But I do think young skaters are interested and will enjoy seeing how beautiful the production era was that is now gone; I think young people will definitely be interested.”
“I'm no film critic and of course I'm totally biased, but Keri has managed to include the whole amazing story, complete with knock-out scenes from the spectacular ice shows and informative interviews with iconic skating legends,’’ Blakey said.