Samuel Bean may have seen his addition to the Shipstads and Johnson's Ice Follies as “rather funny at the time,” but his ability to be “patient” with show animals became his ticket into the very world of cities which he had previously sought to escape. Touring around the continent with the one hundred forty member company on the Ice Follies’ own specially chartered sixteen car Great Northern train, Sam and his poodles—and the rest of the crew, of course—appeared in cities as far flung as Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Milwaukee, New Haven, Minneapolis and Montreal.
Of course, the Ice Follies wasn’t always such a big production. The originators, brothers Eddie and Roy Shipstad and Eddie’s friend, Oscar Johnson, got their start in Minnesota. Branching out from local opportunities in their home state, they took their show on the road first to Tulsa, Oklahoma. That was in 1936.
Serendipity was not always a part of the Ice Follies story. Though the timing might have been right for the entrepreneurs’ new brand of entertainment, the Shipstads and Oscar Johnson’s new brainchild company arrived in Tulsa on the heels of a polio epidemic. Understandably, not too many people turned out for opening night—so few, in fact, that after peeking out to view how full the house was, Oscar Johnson returned to deliver his legendary line to the waiting cast, “Don’t worry, we’ve got them outnumbered.”
Thankfully, after that opening fiasco, the company saw success, city after city—and then, season after season.
When Sam joined the troupe in the late 1940s, the company’s reputation was well established—as was their routine. I’m not sure how a quiet, sensitive individual like Sam—who talked about feeling “hemmed in” by city life—found himself adapting to the glitz of stage life and the demands of cross-continental travel. Perhaps it was his love for his furry charges that kept him dedicated to his task, despite these drawbacks.
Though the Ice Follies name continued for decades, the originating partners sold their enterprise in 1954. When the Oakland Tribune reporter Wood Soanes wrote the feature article on Sam’s work with the Follies in 1955, the company was headed into a season under new ownership.
Perhaps that explains the strange note at the conclusion of the Tribune article:
Bean is approaching that period when he can achieve an old ambition of having his own pet shop in the East Bay where he can train and groom anything from poodles to percherons.
An odd note, indeed, for Sam Bean was hardly reaching retirement age. At that point, he was only thirty four.