Ice Capades was founded in 1940 in Hershey, Pennsylvania by John H. Harris, who noted the popularity of ice skating displays during the intermissions between periods of hockey games. In the early days, Ice Capades shows were highly theatrical, with vaudeville elements, including scantily-clad showgirls.
Ice Capades shows were extremely popular for several decades—virtually a household name—although criticized by some as kitsch. Shows would often feature former Olympic figure skaters who had retired from amateur competition.
Harris sold the company in 1963 for $5.5 million; in 1986 then-owner Metromedia sold Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters as a package to International Broadcasting Corporation for $30 million. However, a decline in popularity began in the 1980s and the parent company went bankrupt in 1991. In 1993 Dorothy Hamill bought Ice Capades assets in a bankruptcy sale and attempted to revive the company with the critically acclaimed Frozen in Time: Cinderella on Ice, but attendance figures remained stagnant. In February 1995 she sold the company for $10 million to television evangelist Pat Robertson's International Family Entertainment Inc., but they announced plans to sell in August 1995, and Ice Capades went out of business a short time later.
Analysts believe that on the one hand, the increasing popularity of the sport of figure skating meant that more sophisticated audiences came to prefer straightforward Olympic-style ice-skating competitions, or skating shows for adults (i.e., without cartoon characters) such as Stars on Ice; and on the other hand, shows such as Disney on Ice (featuring Disney cartoon characters) successfully competed for the child audience.
In the fall of 2000, Ice Capades was resurrected by Garden Entertainment in its original format with a large cast of skaters. The new show was conceived, directed and choreographed by the former German pair skating champion Almut Lehmann Peyper. The show was not a financial success and closed in November 2000, canceling the remaining tour dates.
Another attempt to revive Ice Capades was made in the spring of 2008 with plans for a tent show production called "Mystika", billed as "Cirque Meets Ice". However, the previously announced 2008 tour dates were cancelled and no future shows have been announced.
In mid-August 2008, auditions were held in Lake Placid, New York for the all new Ice Capades. Developed by Entertainment Holdings and Red Brick Entertainment, Ice Capades will be produced as live skating shows, television specials, episodic series, and web content. Three-time U.S. pairs champion and two-time Olympian JoJo Starbuck has been named as Artistic Director.
The Ice Capades franchise was also successfully used for a while to manage ice rinks around North America, starting in Santa Monica in a converted bowing alley and in other venues such as the Galleria Mall in Houston, Texas; Costa Mesa California; Topanga Plaza (Los Angeles area) and San Diego among others. Among the executives who ran the chalet franchise were Michael Kirby, and Ron Priestley, (both former ice show stars) and George Eby. Acclaimed U.S. Olympic trainer, John Nicks, was their National Figure Skating director. The concept of using ice rinks in the center of shopping malls was successfully applied by Ice Capades. The rinks were developed and funded by the real estate developer with Ice Capades working on a monthly management fee plus a percentage of takings. Ice Capades Chalets also sold the concept of professional ice rink management to a major shopping mall in Johannesburg, South Africa (Carlton Center), and trained staff. It was to be their only international franchise. South African ice skating champion, Terry Meyer, was among those trained by Ice Capades at their Santa Monica Boulevard headquarters where costumes for the ice shows were also manufactured. With its expertise in making ice show costumes, Ice Capades were also tasked with making costumes for some of the top entertainers such as Elvis Presley and Liberace.