The St. Paul Winter Carnival goes back to 1886, making it the oldest winter festival in the United States. It predates the Tournament of Roses Festival by two years.
Several Eastern newspaper correspondents kindled the start of the Winter Carnival by visiting St. Paul in the fall of 1885 and returning home to report that Minnesota was another Siberia, unfit for human habitation.
A group of local business owners decided to retaliate by creating a wintertime festival which would showcase all the beauty of Minnesota winters. They worked with the City of Montreal, which already had a winter carnival in place. Traditions of the carnival include the Ice Castle; Indoor and Outdoor Parades, King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows; the mischievous Vulcan and his red-caped Krewe; the Bouncing Blanket Girl; and Klondike Kate.
Over the years national entertainers have come to St. Paul to participate in the festivities, either in parades, the coronation, or special performances. This list includes some of those performers and events. Please note that the information comes from newspaper items and records at the Minnesota Historical Society, but performers seemed to change at the last minute quite often, so don’t hang your hat on this account.
One note: As with the State Fair, there were many events that were nothing special but evoked the Winter Carnival name to attract attention. Here’s an example, I think:
The Hotel Lowry seemed to make this a habit in the ’30s, couching these performances as “Winter Carnival Attractions.”
Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees appeared at the St. Paul Auditorium nightly from January 30 to February 5, 1937. Vallee also got the honor of crowning the Queen of the Snows.
Unclear whether this event by the St. Paul Civic Opera was an official Winter Carnival event, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.
On February 1, 1948, Music Night consisted of a vaudeville show with 22 acts and 275 performers! Featured performer was English actress Madeleine Carroll. Carroll made a name for herself in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935). In 1938 she was the highest-paid actress. Also appearing was Lanny Ross, a popular American singer, pianist and songwriter.
A show called the “Carnival Funatics” was staged on February 2-4, 1950, at the St. Paul Arena. The show starred Bob Crosby, Dr. IQ, and eight acts of vaudeville.
Ed Sullivan came to St. Paul to be the Grand Marshall of the first parade on Saturday, January 30. He arrived on the 28th for a private event, and a photo appeared on the 29th with Aquatennial princess Gloria Shopek giving him “mink-trimmed long underwear,” no doubt in anticipation of his outdoor parade duties.
Sullivan returned to New York after the parade , and the next day, Sunday the 31st, part of the Winter Carnival’s Musical Jamboree was telecast on his “Toast of the Town” TV show over CBS.
A teen dance was held at the Prom Ballroom on February 1.
On Sunday, February 7, the Vulcan Serenade show featured Eddie Fisher and Homer and Jethro.
On January 29, 1955, WCCO sponsored a Winter Carnival Radio show, featuring:
- Robert Q. Lewis
- The Chordettes
- Carmel Quinn
- Cedric Adams
- Jaye P. Morgan
- Lois Hunt and Earl Wrightson
- Bob DeHaven
- Jan Arden
- Don Liberto
On January 28, 1956, the WCCO Winter Carnival Show featured:
- Johnny Carson
- Steve Lawrence
- Mindy Carson and harmonica soloist Richard Hayman replaced Rosemary Clooney at the last minute when Clooney, who was pregnant, was refused permission to make the trip by her doctor.
- Bob DeHaven and Cedric Adams were the emcees.
- The Choralaires.
A scheduled flyover by the Blue Angels was cancelled.
The Queen Coronation on January 31 featured a Mambo exhibition.
The show “Strike it Rich,” with host Warren Hull, was shown from the Paramount Theater in St. Paul from January 30 to February 3 over CBS.
Dave Garroway did a remote of some sort from the Carnival on “Wild World of Sports” on NBC, although Garroway himself may have stayed in New York.
Leo Carillo was also listed as a celebrity attendee in 1956.
Dinah Shore was a special guest in 1957. She and the Singing Skylarks performed at the Queen Coronation. A segment of the Dinah Shore Show was broadcast live from the 1957 St. Paul Winter Carnival on January 31 over NBC.
“The Home Show” was broadcast from a skating rink over NBC on Friday, January 25, 1957.
The WCCO King’s Coronation Radio show was held on January 25, 1957, and starred:
- Carmel Quinn
- Jim Lowe
- Arlene Francis
- Hugh Downs
Michael Ansara, who played Cochise on the TV show “Broken Arrow,” revealed his January 11 marriage to actress Barbara Eden upon his return to Hollywood after appearing at the Winter Carnival.
George Gobel made several appearances and rode in the parade on February 1.
Jack Bailey broadcast “Queen for a Day” for five days over NBC. Bailey was also the emcee for the Queen Coronation.
Other celebrities in 1958 were:
- Jim Backus
- Sgt. Preston
- Fran Allison
Jimmy Dean broadcast his show from St. Paul over CBS. The notes say February 2 in New York, February 3, 4 and 6, two shows.
Other celebrity visitors to St. Paul in 1959 were:
- George Montgomery
- Ronnie Burns (son of George and Gracie)
- Arnold Stang
Entertainment at the Coronation included the St. Louis Park Parkettes and the Modernaires: Hal Dickinson, Paula Kelly, Allen Copeland, Chuck Kelly, and Vernon Polk.
The Howdy Doody Show, featuring Bob Smith and Clarabell, was broadcast on NBC on Saturday, February 6.
KSTP sponsored its first Winter Carnival Jazz Festival on February 5, 1960.
Celebrity visitors were:
- Tom Tyron, who played Texas John Slaughter in a TV series of the same name as part of the “Wonderful World of Disney.”
- Robert Horton (“Wagon Train”)
- Marvin Miller (“The Millionaire”)
Entertainers at the Coronation on January 31 were the Parkettes and the Kirby Stone Four.
KSTP’s second annual Jazz Festival was held on January 29, 1961.
Performers from the Garry Moore Show came to town to tape a show to be aired on CBS on January 31. Moore had to cancel his appearance in the Saturday parade due to the recent death of his mother. In addition to Moore, the cast included:
- Marion Lorne
- Durwood Kirby
- Morey Amsterdam
- Dorothy Collins, and
- Carol Burnett, in her first visit to the area.
Other celebrity guests in 1961 included:
- The cast of “Bonanza:”
- Lorne Greene
- Pernell Roberts
- Dan Blocker
- Lorraine Day
- Fran Allison
- Ray Neal
- Angela Cartwright
The Parkettes were once again invited to perform at the Coronation on January 30.
The Winter Carnival was broadcast for 90 minutes on the “Wide World of Sports” on ABC on February 11.
KSTP’s third annual Winter Carnival Jazz Festival took place on January 28, 1962.
Celebrity guests were:
- John Smith (“Laramie”)
- Doug McClure (“Checkmate”)
- Mitzi Gaynor
- Frank Faylen (Dobie’s dad in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”)
- Ronald Reagan
MEMORY MUSIC SHOW
On February 2, 1962, KRSI Radio and the Winter Carnival assembled a Memory Music All-Star Orchestra for a special dance and show, reported Will Jones in his column. (KRSI was a “Memory Music” station at the time.) The orchestra was made up of local musicians who had played with national bands led by such luminaries as the Dorsey Brothers, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller. The event was to take place at Stem Hall at the St. Paul Auditorium. (Minneapolis Tribune, January 18, 1962)
Entertaining at the Coronation were the Parkettes and Mitch Miller and the Choralaires.
Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows’ appearance at the Cornation on Friday, January 23, was broadcast over CBS. The Steve Allen Show was taped at the Winter Carnival as well.
Also appearing were Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans; the Captain Kangaroo was videotaped in the St. Paul Auditorium on February 2 and was aired on February 22.
A Festival of Jazz was held on January 3, sponsored by KSTP and the St. Paul Musician’s Union.
At the Coronation on January 28, performers included singer Bonnie Murray, Fran Allison, the Ukranian Folk Ballet of the Twin Cities, the Parkettes, and the Park Petites.
NBC broadcast a “Sports Spectacular” on January 25, airing the National Outdoor Speed Skating Championships.
Celebrity guests were:
- Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez)
- Inger Stevens
- Smiley Burnette (“Petticoat Junction”)
- Gary Lockwood (“The Lieutenant”)
- Bud Palmer
- Herb Shriner, humorist
- Bea Benadaret (cancelled because of illness)
- Rufe Davis
- Jon Provost and Lassie
WINTER CARNIVAL SPECTACULAR
On Friday, January 31, 1964, Bill Diehl coordinated the first WDGY Winter Carnival Spectacular, which drew 20,000 people: 16,000 inside the St. Paul Auditorium and 4,000 outside. It was the largest crowd in the auditorium’s history. The hierarchy of the bands, as listed on the poster, is interesting. The Trashmen were the Top Dogs, followed by National Acts Jan and Dean, Linda Scott, Joey Powers, Clyde McPhatter, Tracey Dey, The Blenders, and the Ideals. Following them were local acts Mike Waggoner and the Bops, The Stompin’ Underbeats, and Tim and the Galaxies.
The Parkettes performed at the Coronation on January 25.
NBC aired a “Sports in Action” show on Sunday, January 31.
Celebrities in attendance were:
- Robert Vaughn (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”)
- Celeste Holm
- Sammy Fain
- Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter on “Gomer Pyle”)
- Jim Nabors (“Gomer Pyle”)
The Minneapolis papers give no indication of a rock ‘n’ roll dance in conjunction with the Winter Carnival in 1965, although the 1966 show is advertised as the 6th annual.
A planned remote of the Jimmy Dean Show fell through.
Performing at the Queen Coronation on February first were:
- The St. Louis Park Parkettes
- Marilyn Sellars (1957’s Miss Northfield, by the way)
- Carmen Cavallaro, “Poet of the Piano”
“Wide World of Sports” aired the National Outdoor Speed Skating Championships on January 31 on ABC.
Also in attendance were:
- Smothers Brothers
- John Forsythe
- Captain Kangaroo
WDGY sponsored the third Winter Carnival Music Spectacular on Sunday afternoon, January 30, 1966, at the St. Paul Auditorium.
- The McCoys
- Bobby Goldsboro
- The Boys Next Door, a group from Indiana
- Local group the Marvelous Marauders. Marauder Jerry Cadwell is looking for information about the event, including newspaper accounts, other performers, and anyone who might have been directly involved with organizing the show.
Monte Hall was the Grand Marshall of the Torchlight Parade. Hall videotaped 10 performances of “Let’s Make a Deal” at the St. Paul Auditorium Theatre between January 31 and February 4, to be broadcast over KSTP over the first half of February. The cost to bring the show to the Carnival was sponsored by the Minnesota Federal Savings and Loan and the Minnesota State Department of Business Development, but the endeavor still sustained a $10,800 loss.
Celebrities in attendance were:
- Michael Anderson and Barbara Hershey (“The Monroes”)
- June Lockhart
- Ed Ames (Mingo on “Dan’l Boone”)
- Dale Robertson (“Iron Horse”)
The Fourth Annual WDGY Winter Carnival Spectacular was held on January 29, 1967, at the St. Paul Auditorium, featuring the Blues Magoos. Also on the bill were Danny’s Reasons, T.C. Atlantic, the Hot Half Dozen, and the Music Machine, reportedly the only band that tuned up.
Also making an appearance was the WDGY Chicken Man, who accidentally hit one of the DJs in the mouth with his wings. By then the two hours were over and the St. Paul Auditorium needed the room, so the Blues Magoos had time for four songs. Their big hit, “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” was in the top 20 on the national charts, but the reviewer said it hadn’t really got going here. She was kind of nasty. But anyway, the Mighty Mike Barich got a shot of Chicken Man! Who was in that Chicken Man suit? What did he do? Was he on the air? Did he just go to shows and used car lot openings?
David Ocar explained that Chicken Man was an American radio series created by Dick Orkin that spoofs comic book heroes, inspired by the mid-1960s Batman TV series. The series was created in 1966 on a Chicago radio station WCFL, and was then syndicated. Chicken Man first soared the radio airwaves from 1966 to 1969. It ended up being heard on over 1,500 stations and is the longest running radio series in history.
The emcee of the Coronation was Charlie Boone. Entertainment included the Parkettes, the Lamplighters singing sextette from McGuire’s, and Dave Wesley’s Barbara Coast Banjo Band
1968’s Celebrity guests included:
- Peter Graves (“Mission Impossible”)
- Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French on “Family Affair”)
- Leif Erickson (“High Chaparral”)
- Deborah Walley (“The Mothers-in-Law”) Walley had lived in St. Paul.
- Bob Crane (“Hogan’s Heroes”) Crane was the Grand Marshal of the Torchlight Parade
- Colonel Sanders?
WDGY’s Winter Carnival Music Spectacular took place on January 28, 1968, at the St. Paul Auditorium. Entertainment was provided by
- Jon and Robin and the In Crowd (“Do it Again”)
- The Lemon Pipers (“Green Tamborine”)
Charlie Boone was the emcee of the Coronation on January 31. Entertainment was provided by the Parkettes, the Max Metzger Orchestra, the Sandpipers, and Pat Boone. Boone was also was also the Grand Marshal at the Grande Day Parade.
A remote broadcast of the Mike Douglas Show apparently fell through.
Celebrities on hand were:
- Leonard Nimoy
- Greg Morris (“Mission Impossible”)
- Mary Myers Berger (speed skater from St. Paul)
- Don Galloway
A teen dance was held at 2:00 on February 2 at the St. Paul Auditorium Arena featuring local bands the Mystics, the Happy Daze, and TC Atlantic.
Eight lovely ladies had the opportunity to have breakfast with Leonard Nimoy at the 2 Crowns Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel. Winners also rode in the parade.
The 1970 Winter Carnival was dubbed “Ten Days of Mid-Winter Magic.”
This is a little confusing. Apparently UNIVAC held a company party on Thursday, January 29, featuring:
- The Osmonds
- Diane Shelton
- Stu Gilliam
- Impact of Brass, a “nine-man troupe with a new instrument sound” (late of the Bomm Boom Room of the Fountainbeleau Hotel, Miami)
Then the Coronation was held on January 30, but only some of the above were invited:
- The Osmonds
- Impact of Brass
An attempt to have a remote of the Merv Griffin Show apparently fell through.
Other celebrities on hand were:
- Chet Huntley
- Omar Sharif and his Bridge Circus (did he play bridge or have animals?)
- David Hartman (“The Bold Ones”)
- Jean-Claude Killy
- Robert Clary (“Hogan’s Heroes”)
The WDGY Winter Carnival Spectacular, February 4, 1970, was a “terrible flop,” according to the Insider, with less than 1,500 in attendance. Performing were Tiny Tim, Al Martino, and Johnny Nash. The Cowsills were also mentioned in the brochure. Arne Sagarsky was the booker of the show.
A blurb in the Tribune dated February 15, 1970, reported that the Tiny Tim show lost $10,000, but the loss went to the promoter (presumably Sagarski) and not the Winter Carnival. Only 1,000 attended his show, despite his recent appearance on Laugh-In. Maybe all the performers were at the same show and the reporter was blaming it on Tim?
Entertainment at the Coronation on February 2 included Dave Wesley’s Barbary Coast Banjo Band, the Parkettes, and the Brandywine Singers. And possibly Bob Crosby.
Special guests included:
- Jean-Claude Killy
- Gail Fisher (“Mannix”)
- Buck Taylor and Glen Strange (“Gunsmoke”)
- Henry Darrow (“High Chapparal”)
- Burt Reynolds (“Dan August”) Reynolds was supposed to be the prize in a “Breakfast with a Star” promotion.
At the Coronation on February 1, the emcee was Howard Viken, with entertainment by the Parkettes and guest Forrest Tucker.
On January 29, the Cornation entertainment included the Parkettes, the Four Lads, and the Dan Belloc Orchestra.
Entertainment at the Coronation included the St. Louis Park Parkettes, Marilyn Sellars, and the Performing Arts Learning Center Steel Drum Band.
KDWB and Dick Shapiro sponsored a Winter Carnival Spectacular at the St. Paul Civic Center Arena on January 26, 1974, starring Steely Dan and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. The show was opened by the Mystics.
This website ends at 1974..