Here’s to all that gorgeous Ice Capades snatch at the Bakersfield Civic Auditorium!
By Paul Mavis
There’s a fun Facebook page I always visit—The Saturday Morning Vault—that recently posted a shout-out to the Hanna-Barbera’s All- Star Comedy Ice Revue live-action/animation variety special, hosted by Roy Clark, Bonnie Franklin, and a gaggle of treasured H-B cartoon characters, that aired on CBS on January 13th, 1978 (Friday the 13th…first clue). Zap! Total recall. I was instantly transported back to the icy cold, drab-gray, economically-devastated Northwest Ohio of my youth, where pre-dating pleasures were found (mostly) on your third- hand 13-inch black and white Curtis Mathes portable (“the most expensive television set in America…and darn well worth it,”). I had completely forgotten about this not-at-all atypical representation of the mid-70s TV variety special genre…and for no little amount of reasons. Full of ancient, creaking jokes, long, taut skaters’ legs, indifferent animated segments, and lots and lots of tacky, cheap glitz, the Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue is…wonderfully moronic.
Fashioned like one of ‘ol Dino’s boozy celebrity roasts (without, unfortunately, Foster Brooks or Don Rickles), the Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue is more delayed birthday bash than roast for Fred Flintstone (voice work of Henry Corden), because the guest of honor is missing. He’s 48, and his pals at Hanna-Barbera have rented out the Bakersfield Civic Auditorium to throw him a star-studded brawl. Hee Haw‘s Roy Clark and CBS wage slave Bonnie Franklin (from the network’s smash sitcom hit, One Day at a Time) are the on-barely-speaking-terms hosts, while up on the dais are The Banana Splits, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Jabberjaw, Hong Kong Phooey, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, and The Hair Bear Bunch (the voice talents of Daws Butler, William Callaway, Paul Winchell, Allan Melvin, and Don Messick).
So…where’s Fred? He’s at home, naturally, watching the special on TV with his neighbor pal, Barney Rubble (voice work of Mel Blanc). Fred mistakenly thought the tribute was the following night, so he and Barney race to the auditorium to join his friends before the roast is over. Of course, it’s not that simple (various obstacles like toll bridges and railroad crossings slow them down), so we’re “entertained” with various skits, including skating from the Ice Capades‘ Ice Capettes, musical numbers from our hosts and guest stars The Sylvers, some rollerskating bits from CBS’s and H-B’s The Skatebirds series, and alleged comedic banter at the dais, while we wait for the guest of honor to appear. Will Fred make it in time for punch and cake…or will he luck out and get crushed by a dinosaur on the way to the arena?
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Hey: we had to watch something—anything—to take our minds off Jimmy Carter. I have an excellent memory for what I used to watch on TV, and I clearly remember tuning into at least part of Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue. Now…no doubt I probably switched off at 8:30pm to catch The Rockford Files over on NBC (it was either that, or endure Buddy Ebsen cavorting with Victor Borge and Neil Sedaka in a “special” Command Performance, or listen to William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan discuss President Carter stealing the Panama Canal away from America), but if the Ice Capades were on TV, in any form no matter how adulterated…I was there.
The closest I ever got to the Ice Capades were the constant TV commercials hawking their appearances at our local, crummy Sports Arena, whenever they’d skate into town. I can’t imagine the look on my old man’s face if I had dared to suggest we go (his response would have been something along the lines of, “Well, at least three of my sons are men,”). Had I been smart enough, though, to appeal to his unabated prurient curiosity (“Um, Dad…did you see their costumes?”), we probably would have followed them like Deadheads. If only I had told him my interest in all that tatty glamor was less Rip Taylor and more Mo Wanchuk from Slap Shot (“I don’t like the way they cover their jugs all up with the feathers, ya know? They oughta cut the costumes up higher, so you can see more ass. This isn’t art…this is sex!”), I wouldn’t have had to see the erotically athletic Ice Capettes filtered through the distressingly childish antics of clowns dressed in Hanna-Barbera costumes.
Ah, well. At least we have Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue. And I mean at the very least. You know there’s going to be trouble when during the first two minutes of the show, in the opening camera pan of the dais, Huckleberry Hound casually begs for more applause from the non-existent studio audience. That’s crossing the red line during warm-ups, okay? Confirmation of gloves-off trouble comes when the hosts reluctantly walk out…and Roy Clark appears to fade in and out of alternating consciousnesses, from a stunned daziness to visible anger, to marginally suicidal.
Hey, Roy: I know this isn’t your dream gig. It’s a paycheck. So be a pro and at least try. Zero energy, zero enthusiasm. At one point, Jabberjaw cracks that Bonnie “is a living dol[l]-phin,” to which Roy somnolently manages, “I’ll bet you said that on porpoise.” Sure it’s a terrible joke, but a professional makes do with what’s in the script. They don’t take out their career trajectory disappointment on the audience. Curiously, as well, there are no close-ups of Roy (de rigueur for TV at that time). Maybe he thought if the audience couldn’t really see him all that well, they might think it was someone else.
Bonnie Franklin, to her great credit, is there to play. She’s smiling, she’s looking around, she’s even laughing at the jibes. When Jabberjaw offers the classic Henny Youngman “Take Fred Flintstone…please!” crabby Roy responds, “Boy is that an old, tired joke,” to which Jabber retorts, “So is Fred.” Without effort, onlooking Bonnie offers a genuine laugh, something she does quite often during the production. Now that’s a pro: hitch up your garters, do the best you can with the material, and try to have some fun, fun that hopefully translates to the audience, as well. Speaking of pros: whomever was inside the Jabberjaw costume knew what he or she was doing. He’s the funniest thing in the whole show. Whether he’s continually trying to chomp on Roy’s arm, or dejectedly slumping his snout down on the dais, he gets big yocks whenever he’s on camera.
The Ice Capettes numbers can’t help but be visually—if erratically—interesting. A nice overhead Busby Berkeley shot, or a sweet P.O.V. camera placement at deadcenter of the spinning “pinwheel” (“Get your ass in gear, for the love of Mike!”), is then frequently followed by chaotic, messy shots of the skaters whirling off-camera to crash god knows where. Just when you see some p.o.a. shaking it in yellow hot pants, bam! she’s gone.
Those little Ice Capettes kids were frankly more on point than the adults (they’re eerily accurate), while that stiff-armed Hisashi Kuchiki ungracefully executed some kind of phony Polynesian fire number, complete with a S&M bondage gear outfit (dog collar connected to a chest strap thingy), all to the lilting notes of the Theme from S.W.A.T. (no “Iron Lotus,” unfortunately). Honestly, the Skatebirds generate more excitement (the characters crashing around like pinballs? Funny). A truly gawdawful slapstick “comedy” bit pops up with Bob Young and some mewling, crying idiot, ending in a same-sex Sound of Music duet (jesus christ…). Much better are the funkalicious The Sylvers, who perform Disco Showdown while the skaters and various H-B characters get down and dirty on the ice (at one point, the Ice Capettes are clearly “presenting” to the Banana Splits. You know why…).
Roy Clark gets his big number: strumming The Theme to Love Story (hear that? It’s the sound of millions of kids getting up from their TVs and going to the can), while Cissy Moore tries not to skate too close to him (it’s a pretty cool set—why didn’t they show until the final shot?). Bonnie’s big Broadway number—Nacio Herb Brown’s and Arthur Freed’s You Are My Lucky Star, from the movie, Broadway Melody of 1936—is agreeably large-scaled, with Bonnie shedding her huge mink to reveal her sexy, undulating little body sheathed in gold lame, as she belts out the familiar tune. Unfortunately, this is a cheap TV production, so no one thought of doing a second take when the lip-synching goes off track. No skating for Bonnie, either, although she gets a cool B. Berkeley crane ride at the end.
As expected, Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue wears out its welcome well before its brief 50 minute run time. Everything starts getting choppy and unsteady as the dull animated scenes are dropped in at shorter and shorter duration (poor Barney must have been left in a ditch at some point), while the big wrap-up number, where the H-B characters introduce themselves to us (shouldn’t this have played at the top of the program?), stiffs. I must admit, though, that I did rather enjoy the fey, charming 1920s megaphone number, that “latest swamp stomp,” The Gator Glide (“Get…your arms up high! Kiss…your blues bye bye! Then striiiiiiide! It’s called ‘The Gator Gliiiiiiiide’!”). However, it comes far too late to erase Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue‘s numerous mistakes…mistakes we admittedly enjoy far more than its successes.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.
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