Scottsdale resident Lela Bogardus got an early start in fitness, one that led to a job on ice.
"My parents thought ballet was too fancy, so my sister and I took acrobatic lessons."
If you have ever seen Ms. Bogardus in the Fitness Center at Vi at Silverstone in north Scottsdale, you would realize her parents did her a big favor. She can do many exercises that I can‘t even think about trying. She is still as limber as a teenager. I‘ve seen her lie face down on a large ball and balance. Not only can I not do that, but if I got down there, I probably would have a difficult time getting up by myself.
Acrobatic lessons were not the only balance and coordination activity Ms. Bogardus participated in. At the age of 12 1/2, she began ice skating. From October through March, the Tulsa Figure Skating Club had the use of the Coliseum in Tulsa. The floor was covered with ice and they would hire a professional skater to assist during the winter months.
"For the first hour, we would skate figures.‘ Then the rest of the time was split between free skating and ice dancing." Ms. Bogardus said. "I think there was only two times a year that the ice outside was frozen thick enough to skate on."
Ms. Bogardus and her older sister Jean performed in many of the Ice-Travaganza‖ shows. The Tulsa Figure Skating Club would produce a different show each year. When Jean graduated from high school, she joined the Ice Capades which was a touring ice show founded in1940 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, by John Harris, owner of Pittsburgh‘s Duquesne Gardens arena.
Ms. Bogardus continued in high school for one year, but with her parents‘ blessing she joined her sister and the Ice Capades tour at the age of 16-1/2. However, she didn‘t give up on her school work and received her high school diploma through correspondence course work.
Some of you may not be familiar with the Ice Capades and thus I would like to give you a little history. In 1936, Mr. Harris had hired the legendary skater Sonja Henie to perform between periods of ice hockey games. She created a sensation among Pittsburghers, confirming Mr. Harris‘ faith in the potential for ice skating as a spectator amusement.
Harris contacted eight other arena managers who were part of the Arena Managers Association and they planned an ice show to play in their arenas during the 1940-41 entertainment season.
The arenas represented included the Boston Garden, Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Cleveland Arena, Hershey Sports Arena, New Haven Arena, Philadelphia Arena, Rhode Island Auditorium, Springfield Coliseum and of course Pittsburgh‘s Duquesne Gardens.
The first Ice Capades performance was four months after its founding on June 16, 1940, at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. The show closed there on June 29th and moved to Atlantic City Convention Hall where it played nightly from July 19 through Sept. 2.
The first touring season of the Ice Capades began was between November 1940 and May 1941 and covered 24 cities. The show highlighted professional figure skaters, comedians, clowns, jugglers, barrel jumpers and showgirls on figure skates.
In 1942, the show featured world champion skater Megan Taylor and a new talent Donna Atwood, who was just 15 years old. Atwood would later become the wife of Mr. Harris.
Ms. Bogardus joined the tour in 1945 and recalls the remuneration was around $59 a week. Eventually, she was recognized as an understudy to Donna Atwood and then, she received a little more.
"The tour was interesting as we would spend a week or so in Cleveland, take a train to St. Louis for a week or two and then onward. In the five years I was with the Ice Capades, we traveled all over the United States, however, never to the Southwest states. There just weren‘t the venues or high density populations," Ms. Bogardus recalls.
She does remember the first year going up to the Pacific Northwest but they discovered a lack of venues close to one another and thus, never returned during her tenure.
Her most memorable nights were her several trips to Los Angeles. They would reserve the front row around the rink in the Pan Pacific Auditorium for celebrities, actresses and actors. There was a young man by the name of Art Gelien, who was a very good skater, but not part of the Ice Capades. Ms. Lela Bogardus says.
"He would hang out with us while we were in L.A. You won‘t remember him as Art Gelien as he later changed his name to Tab Hunter, the American actor, singer, film producer and author," she said.
Los Angeles presented Ms. Lela Bogardus with a unique complication. If you hadn‘t received your high school diploma, you were required to attend four hours of school each day.
"I had completed my senior year via correspondence, but they hadn‘t held the graduation ceremony yet, so I didn‘t have a diploma," she said. "There was a bus strike in L.A. at the time, thus I purchased a bicycle and rode it to school each day. One afternoon, I missed the shuttle to the Pan Pacific Auditorium, so I had to ride my bike."
I suspect L.A. became memorable for Ms. Lela Bogardus for more than the celebrities she was able to meet. A sailor by the name of Jack Bogardus was in the Navy and stationed in San Diego. He had dated a gal by the name of Betty Shears back in New Haven, Connecticut, who skated in the Ice Capades.
He had contacted Betty and he arranged a date. She was going to find a female for Jack‘s Navy buddy.
They were standing at the outside stage door and when Jack inquired about Betty, he was told she had a date with a lieutenant commander that night and wouldn‘t be available. The stage door opened again and it was Ms. Bougardus, who had had parked her bicycle outside the door and it was gone.
She said to Jack and his Navy buddy, "What happened to my bike?" Jack told her they hadn‘t seen a bicycle and Ms. Bogardus figured it must have been stolen and the sailors didn‘t have anything to do with it. Mr. Bogardus then said, "Would you like to go dancing with us at the Palladium?"
"It was during the war and I had seen many sailors and I thought they were kind of cute. I just assumed since they were in uniform, they were good people, so I accepted," she said.
Of course you all know that Ms. Bogardus not only dated Jack for the four years he attended Princeton, but married him upon his graduation.
In the 1947-48 year tour, Ms. Bogardus received her first featured number. The costumes pictured were unskatable and thus, they were changed to tutus and no wigs or crowns, as Ms. Bogardus is pictured below.
Ms. Bogardus admits she learned many valuable lessons in the five years she was part of the tour.
"The fact that I was self-supporting at such a young age gave me a great feeling of independence and helped shape me into becoming a free spirit," she said.
She also admits it wasn‘t always a bed of roses.
"The tours were a grueling 11 months long and
we traveled by train. I didn‘t like the constant packing and unpacking," she said.
There were approximately 80 performers on the tour and they had some parties while on the road. Fortunately, Mr. Bogardus was able to make some of them and Lela and Jack are pictured below at one of the parties.
The Ice Capades prospered for some 50 years. A decline in popularity ensued in the 1980s and the parent company went bankrupt in 1991. Dorothy Hamil bought the Ice Capades assets in a bankruptcy sale and developed "Frozen in Time: Cinderella on Ice," a theatrical style show billed as Dorothy Hamill‘s Ice Capades. Hamil sold the company for $10 million in 1995 and it never recovered.
I asked Lela if she ever had the inspiration to become a competitive ice skater with aspirations to making the U.S. Olympic Team. She kind of laughed and said, "Those kids start skating about the same time that they start walking. They all have professional coaching from the time they put on their first pair of skates. I didn‘t start until I was 12-1/2 so I didn‘t have a chance."
"The sport has come so far so fast," she said. "When I was skating, men and women were only doing double jumps. Now, they are doing triples and some, even quads."
Not only does Ms. Bogardus do a performance in the Fitness Center here at Vi, but she remains active participating in a multitude of available fitness classes. She is a member of the Vi Tones and several of their performances have featured Lela as a dancer. I didn‘t know her back when she was in the Ice Capades, but I believe she is as graceful today as anytime in her lifetime. She is still a shining star.