Saturday, May 25, 2013

And Then They Were Eleven

Samuel Bean, junior, might have been working with a dozen toy poodles for the Shipstads and Johnson’s Ice Follies in 1954, but come time for the 1955 season, the canine crew was down to eleven.

They were evidently still a spectacular hit, judging from not one, but two mentions in the Oakland Tribune.

A feature length story on Sam and his eleven charges appeared in the August 7, 1955, “Entertainment and the Arts” section—along with a photograph to up the adorableness factor, of course.

The poodles, appearing along with the Ice Folliettes in a 1954 act billed as a “sophisticated French race track number,” had so won the hearts of Ice Follies audiences that they returned—well, all but one of them—for the 1955 season. The more recent Tribune article, most likely, coincided with their appearance that year at the Winterland in San Francisco.

While Sam’s eleven adorable charges were out prancing on the ice—you didn’t suppose they wore ice skates, now did you?—Sam kept a low profile backstage. His poodles—“among the bright particular stars” of the show—usually kept fairly close to their training routine.

There were exceptions, of course. As Tribune reporter Wood Soanes put it, Sam was the “unseen and usually unsung hero” responsible for the poodles’ training—and, as intelligent as poodles might be, they didn’t always stick to the program.
They get the plaudits from the throngs at each performance; he gets the headaches because it seems that poodles, even toys, have minds of their own.
With apologetics befitting a proud parent, their trainer Sam explained,
I have my ideas; they have theirs; we sort of talk it out. Nine chances out of ten I win, but no matter what it says in the books, a poodle is a rugged individualist and there are occasions when it takes a good deal of convincing and a man has to have a heap of patience to come out of the business top hand.
One of those insufferable four-legged headaches must have been Pierre. An unrepentant lover of children—though he had his particulars—Pierre would occasionally ditch the scripted version of the show and ad lib his way through the act…in the lap of an unsuspecting front-row spectator.

Patient as ever, Sam was quick to cover for Pierre’s little quirk:
            Pierre likes kids—not just any old kid, but some kid that takes his fancy. Now Pierre knows the routine of the show as well as I do but let Pierre spot a kid that he likes in the crowd and I’m licked.
            I’ll be standing back stage looking through the peep-hole to see how the kids are doing when oops, there goes Pierre jumping over the railing into the lap of some youngster. There isn’t much I can do about it except wait until he makes up his mind to come in. That’s when the lights go out to clear the stage for the next number.
            If the lights stayed on for any length of time, as they did once when we had a short and the circuits wouldn’t break, Pierre would stay with the audience for the rest of the evening. The fellow’s a ham actor, that’s all there is to it. I talk to him and try to explain that he’s a paid entertainer and he listens very carefully but, frankly, he doesn’t seem to give a hoot.
After a season like that in 1955, the poodle cast might soon be down to ten…


  1. Oh Jacqi, such a cute and funny little story - almost makes up for the lack of a YouTube video of poodles on ice. I love Sam Jr.'s way of talking - he was funny. He seems to have inherited his father's humor (ref: skinning the Woolfe).

    1. It was understated, but definitely still that same streak of humor.

      While I couldn't find any YouTube videos, if you can access any of the NewspaperArchive links to Sam's stories, there are a couple photos included with the articles--including, of course, the poodles.

  2. I love it! The toy poodle is "a rugged individualist"! Sounds as if Sam Jr. inherited his dad's sense of humor!

    1. And that is quite telling, too, about how Sam saw each one of those pooches. In Sam's eyes, each one of them was an individualist.


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