Collection tells story of legendary local rink


CONTRA COSTA TIMES: November 19, 2010

Nothing says November like ice-skating, and one of the most celebrated rinks of all time was torn down 25 years ago this month.

Montclarion Lisa Malione-Brenkman remembers it like it was yesterday — and she should. She’s spent the last seven years working on an impressive collection of memorabilia from San Francisco’s iconic Winterland Auditorium and the Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies.

“My greatest memory of the Ice Follies,” she says, is of watching the performances as a child. “Sitting inside Winterland Auditorium, which was huge, feeling the lights shining on the ice and watching the pretty ladies skate in a large group — all wearing exactly the same beautiful costumes.”

Lisa’s family was connected to show business. Her mom, Fran, was a choreographer and dancer who worked for one of the Ice Follies’ dance directors. Her father, Mal, was a musician who played with artists such as Spike Jones. Lisa herself started performing professionally at the age of 5.

“Mom and Dad used to take me to a lot of glamorous productions,” she said, “so I always remember being fascinated by the excitement — the colors of the lights and the costumes, the original music, along with the personal treatment, being able to go backstage after the show.”

Sometime around 1965, Lisa’s mother was given the opportunity to buy costumes the Ice Follies production company had retired. She thought she would use some of the pieces for her own dance

troupe, but plans changed and the costumes stayed in storage, untouched, for almost 40 years.

In 2003, Lisa started researching the costumes and found that many of them had been created by Academy Award-winning designer Helen Rose, who was on loan to the follies from MGM Studios. They included an elaborate set of hand-sewn costume gowns from 1955 that contained 4,322,000 individual sequins.

But the collection really came together when she acquired more than 50 of the original sketches that Rose had drawn for the show, many with handwritten notation and fabric swatches never before seen by the general public.

Bringing this era back to life has become Lisa’s passion. As a former dancer herself, she says there’s an “artistic dishevelment” to her work, as she organizes show fliers from other states, personal letters and other souvenirs that “reflect the significant effect this show had on so many people.” Throughout her hills home are dozens of original black-and-white photographs of the 32 professional skaters known as the Folliettes, with their stunning costumes and celebrated choreography. She’s also recording the memories of several of the women who skated in the Helen Rose era — all of whom are now in their 70s.

Her collection tells the story of a legend in local history. It’s the story of an imaginative show on ice that was hailed as “the greatest triumvirate in the world of entertainment.” With the 75th anniversary of the Ice Follies in 2011, Lisa looks forward to sharing her passion with the world.

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