Richard Dwyer: "Mr. Debonair"

Vicki S. Luy
Richard Dwyer

When Richard Dwyer’s father, a Nebraska native who had skated on a backyard rink as a child, took his family to see an Ice Follies show in 1943 he had no inkling of the scenario that was about to unfold.

“My father got all excited after the show and decided everyone in the family should start skating. We did not go every week, but I absolutely loved it,” Dwyer said.

He won the Pacific Coast juvenile title in 1946, claimed the national novice title in 1948 and captured the junior crown the following year.

At age 14 he was ranked third in the U.S., behind Dick Button and Hayes Alan Jenkins, and was headed to the 1950 World Championships until fate intervened.

Roy Shipstad was retiring from Ice Follies and was looking for a replacement to take on the ‘Debonair’ role. He offered it to Dwyer who knew it was a great opportunity.

His parents discussed the matter with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, who were then the stars of a successful U.S. television sitcom. “They were the ones who encouraged my folks to let me do it,” Dwyer recalled.

It was the beginning of a career that lasted three decades. “The most important thing at the time was my education so my high school arranged for me to attend a school in every city we played in. Over the next three years I attended 26 different schools.”

During the 1950s he performed in 350 shows on a tour that ran 46 weeks a year. Dwyer missed six months in 1958 when he was called up into the army and another year in 1961 due to the Berlin Crisis.

At every performance Dwyer would present a woman in the audience with roses. He estimates that he handed out more than 12,000 bouquets. “That was a lot of fun,” he said. “I got so many letters, and I became an honorary member of so many families.

“I went to the USFS National Showcase in Escondido recently. I al- ways skate at the end of it and this year I got to hand out roses one more time.”

“I still have the same top hat I wore back then, which looks just about as bad as me. We’re aging. I am tempted to get it freshened up,” he added with a laugh.

Dwyer quit Ice Follies in 1980 at age 45 determined to create a new life for himself and to seek out different chal- lenges. “My first dream was to get into television, but that did not work out,” he said.

In 1981 he signed on as a guest performer with Ice Capades and remained with the tour until 1993.

He admits that he has never had the courage to retire from skating. “I still skate five days a week for maybe a half an hour or an hour. I still really love it.”

Now 75, Dwyer said there were so many memorable moments in his career. “Being inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1993 was a huge honor.

“It took me 22 years of summer courses to graduate from the University of San Francisco and just recently I was inducted into their Hall of Fame. That was a great moment.

“And performing in the Caesars Tribute a couple of years ago with all those unbelievable champions was wonderful.”

Dwyer will be honored by Ice Theatre of New York this October for his contributions to the sport. “I am so excited, it is so special.

“I once auditioned Moira North for Ice Follies,” he said with a smile. “She has done so much for skating and this is just an unbelievable honor.

"I am really looking forward to it. I am sure it is going to be a great evening.”

Originally published in October 2012