Billy Rose (USA)
Honor Pioneer Contributor (1995)
FOR THE RECORD: Master showman for water shows and aquacades from 1937-1941.
Billy Rose was a man of many friendly acquaintances, but few close friends and a man who loved to entertain. By the age of fourteen, William S. Rossenberg became, not an athlete, but the national shorthand speed writing champion. It was his knack of knowing what the public wanted that lead him to a career of producing the world’s most extravagant water shows, filled with colorful, artistic and athletic showmanship that was known as the “Aquacades.”
His first Aquacade was in Cleveland in 1937 and starred Olympic champions Johnny Weissmuller, Marshall Wayne and Eleanor Holm, whom he later married. Stubby Krueger was one of the swimmers and divers who performed with show girls in a 10,000 seat outdoor aqua theater in Lake Erie.
Billy was prepared for his showmanship career from his songwriting days in which he composed many top hits including, “Me and My Shadow,” “That Old Gang of Mine,” “More Than You Know,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” He also wrote the first singing commercial in 1924, “Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” During this time, he was married to Fanny Brice. The movie and stage play about Fanny, “Funny Girl,” depicts Billy’s showmanship abilities.
His Aquacades at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and 1940 were filled to capacity at every performance and over five million customers packed the stands. Billy also opened the Aquacade at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939. Buster Crabbe and Esther Williams eventually joined the Aquacades, and Olympic swimming champion Aileen Riggin served as production manager of the Cleveland World’s Fair show and assembled the divers and swimmers for Billy to select.
Billy Rose’s Aquacade water shows set the standard by which all water shows were judged. His masterful, show business mind will also be remembered for the development of extravagant water entertainment.