Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Don’t Worry,
We’ve Got Them Outnumbered

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.


  1. A life on the road isn't for everyone. Even if its in a rail car.

    1. That may be true, but when you are young, it does present its adventurous side--or at least a glamorous image.

  2. “Don’t worry, we’ve got them outnumbered.” is classic!! LOL!

  3. I remember the Ice Follies. I saw them at least once. I may even have seen Sam's act when I was a child. Since I was born in 1942, the late 40s or early 50s would have been just right for me to be taken to the Ice Follies. I don't know if it was Sam's troupe, but I'm sure it would have been in some city in North Carolina. My home town was Winston-Salem.

    It is amazing to me that you are able to follow one family so far and in such detail. I've known quite a few shy, sensitive people who "come into their own" when performing. I'm glad Sam found what he liked to do.

    1. Wouldn't that have been something, Mariann, if you had seen Sam's poodles in an Ice Follies show?

      Actually, I have the historic newspaper collections online to thank for serving up the material that enables me to delve so deeply into these family stories. I love the opportunities to ferret out these vignettes that can be found through indexed newspaper collections. If it weren't for that, it would have taken a prohibitively long time to research all these bits and pieces.

      Of course, knowing some of the stories from what family members have passed along has been helpful in guiding me in researching them further.

  4. Replies
    1. The guy must have had a fantastic sense of humor and been a quick wit.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...