Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The 1965 World Figure Skating Championships

From March 2 to 7, 1965, the Broadmoor Palace played host to the first World Championships on North American soil since the 1961 Sabena tragedy that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. World team. Incredibly - just four years after the catastrophe - American skaters rose to the occasion, repeating their 1959 achievement of having a medallist in all four disciplines at Worlds. Full of fascinating figures, the 1965 World Championships from start to finish were full of memorable moments. Pour yourself a cup of tea and prepare yourself for a trip down memory lane!

The ice dance event got off to a rocky start in the compulsories. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted that "the Rocker Foxtrot and Westminster Waltz dragged on for nearly three hours, with lengthy conferences between judges and referees. Judges marched on and off the ice after each dance because they could not sit on the ice, as was custom, in the narrow (85 X 90 feet) rink. One conference concerned marks ranging from 3.0 (Mme. Lysiane Lauret) to 5.4 (Margaret Ridgely) for a Canadian couple. The next night all returned to skate the Blues and Kilian..." In the end, Czechoslovakian siblings Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman retained their lead after the compulsories, winning the free dance and the World title. Having won the previous three years, their win was largely expected. Copley-Graves recorded that "no couple could hope to oust Pavel and Roman in the free dance... With amazing cohesion in their free leg movements, Eva and Pavel amassed a fourth consecutive World title. They did not skate in the exaggerated straight-back position of the British, with the result that came across as more fluid. Their innovative free dance energized the audience." The British team Copley-Graves referred to were none other than Janet Sawbridge and David Hickinbottom, who I bet got teased a lot in school. North American Champions Lorna Dyer and John Carrell, students of World Champion Jean Westwood, claimed the bronze ahead of Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, who made an unprecedented leap in the ice dance standings from fifth in the compulsories to second in their free dance, which received an ovation. In fifth were another team coached by Westwood, American Champions Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum. Canada's top ice dance team that year was Carole Forrest of the Upper Canada Skating Club and Kevin Lethbridge of the Lakeshore Figure Skating Club, in eighth.


Prior to the pairs event, Frank Hokomo (the head of the USFSA's Judging Committee) was busy talking smack about the competition to reporters. He said that "the Russian pairs are not good skaters by themselves. I realize this is heresy, but I believe any of the top American pairs are better skaters. The difference is that the Russians have more speed, more unison and better ballet precision. But our pairs can do more difficult moves in two minutes than the Russians can do in five." Despite his criticism, the reigning Olympic Gold Medallists, twenty nine year old Ludmila Belousova and thirty two year old Oleg Protopopov made history at the 1965 World Championships, winning the Soviet Union's first World title in any discipline with ease. Siblings Vivian and Ron Joseph, representing the Broadmoor Skating Club on home ice, settled for silver. The bronze in the pairs event that year went to another Soviet pair, Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik, students of the notorious Stanislav Zhuk. Neither of Canada's teams were able to make the top ten.


Tides would change for the Canadian team in the women's event. Eighteen year old Petra Burka of Toronto breezed in and took a very solid lead in the school figures over her chief rival, twenty one year old European Champion Regine Heitzer of Austria. In third and fourth places after the figures were two young American skaters, sixteen year old Peggy Fleming of Pasadena, California and seventeen year old Christine Haigler of Colorado Springs, who was recently injured at the time. Though Peggy was from California, she trained alongside Christine at the Broadmoor under Carlo Fassi. When it came time for free skating, Petra Burka wasn't perfect but she was absolutely exciting. Despite a fall on a double flip, she was the unanimous choice of all nine judges. Her marks all ranged from 5.7 to 5.9 and the top four after the figures remained in their same positions. The March 5, 1965 edition of the Montreal Gazette wrote that "the Canadian star, wearing an emerald-green costume with a green ribbon in her high-piled black hair, rolled a beautiful double lutz and a double axel and excellent height into her spirited performance. Miss Heitzer was expected to give the Canadian girl a strong battle for the title, but her free skating was not up to the standard of Petra's." On the same day, the Jamestown Post-Journal too sang Burka's praises: "Miss Burka had been rated before her victory as the best feminine figure skater in the world, and she put italics to that judgment with her bravura performance. Some experts who watched her said it was one of the most difficult programs of free skating ever attempted by any amateur skater."


However, the men's competition at the Broadmoor in 1965 had to be the most hotly contested. Of the twenty men competing, all but SIX would win a medal at the Olympic, World, European or North American Championships at some point in their career. Think about that for a minute!

Twenty four year old pre-medical student at the University Of Paris Alain Calmat, in his eleventh World Championships the oldest competitor, took a strong lead with 1135.2 points and 15.5 ordinals in the school figures. In second with 1112.2 points was Dundas, Ontario's Donald Knight, a lanky seventeen year old redheaded student of Sheldon Galbraith. Third was twenty year old European Champion Emmerich Danzer of Austria with 1110.8 points and in fourth was sixteen year old Scotty Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey with 1102.3 points. Taking himself out of the running for a medal was North American Champion Gary Visconti, who finished a disappointing ninth heading into the free skate. In a press conference after the figures, Danzer confidently said  "It should be a hard fight. I am a good free skater. So is Calmat. But I feel sure I will do well." Calmat stated, "I feel quite confident although you never know what might happen in any free-skating performance. You can always fall."


With so many great skaters in contention for medals, a showdown was brewing. There were many surprises. The March 8, 1965 edition of the Toledo Blade noted that twenty three year old Japanese skater "[Nobuo] Sato drew a thunderous ovation from the crowd for an enthusiastic display of bladework, during which he recovered smiling from a fall at one corner of the rink." Visconti delivered a fine free skate to move up to sixth while Danzer faltered, falling on one jump and stepping out of another. If any skater stole the show, however, it was Scotty Allen, who moved up from fourth to take the silver ahead of Knight. Calmat, on the basis of his strong lead in the figures, won his first and only World title. Interviewed in the March 6, 1965 edition of the Gettysburg Times, Knight said, "I skated my best. I did as well as I possibly could. I'm very happy. I feel very proud to have done as well as this after finishing ninth last year. My goal when I came out here was to try to finish among the top five."


Calmat, proud of his performance, chose to announce his retirement: "I think now I will quit. I may change my mind later but I've been skating in these championships since I was 14 and now that I've won it, it would be a good time to stop." He was probably right to do so. Over the next two Olympic cycles, his fellow 1965 Worlds competitors like Danzer, Wolfgang Schwarz, Ondrej Nepela, Tim Wood, Sergei Chetverukhin and Patrick Péra would utterly dominate men's figure skating. Sometimes you've get out to get out while the gettin's good, as they say in some twangy country song I'd rather not hear.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Theresa's Mail Bag: A Post-War North American Figure Skating Census


Olympic Bronze Medallist, North American Champion and FIFTEEN time U.S. Champion Theresa Weld Blanchard was not only the grand dame of U.S. ladies and pairs skating in post-World War I America but one of the founding editors of the United States Figure Skating Association's official magazine "Skating". Weld Blanchard and her pairs partner Nathaniel Niles first edited the magazine together until his death in 1931 and then for over thirty years - until 1963 in fact - she produced the magazine out of her own home!

In the last Skate Guard blog, we took an in depth look into this Massachusetts skating legend's life and career. What we didn't cover was an absolutely daunting letter stuffing effort that Weld Blanchard undertook during World War II. In 1940, she actually sent out over six THOUSAND surveys to figure skaters in the United States and Canada asking them a wide variety of questions about their interest and involvement in the sport. She then received all of the respondent's completed surveys back and tabulated, compiled and published the results. I'm sure the post office in Brookline, Massachusetts just loved her. Hell, she probably kept them in business!

I actually kind of love her too, because this is interesting stuff to say the least. Weld Blanchard's findings, republished in the November 7, 1940 edition of the St. Maurice Valley Chronicle were as follows:

EXPENSES

"Last year, these figure-skaters spent approximately $700,000 on their sport; $194,000 on lessons, $155,000 on club dues, $90,000 on skating clothes, $58,000 on skating shoes, $56,000 on skates, and $16,000 on skating books. The total expenditure last winter exceeded that of 1938-39 by $100,000 and it is predicted that the growing interest in the game will cause still an additional $100,000 to be spent this season."

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

"Forty-six per cent of North America's figure skaters live in the northeastern part of the United States; 22 per cent in the U.S. Middle West; 14 per cent in Canada and another 14 per cent on the Pacific Coast. The remaining four per cent are distributed in South and in the Rocky Mountain States."

TRAINING

"Ninety-three per cent are members of private figure-skating clubs. In order of preference they like dancing, free skating and school figures, but admit they require more instruction in school figures, which they like least of all, than in other forms of figure-skating."

PRIORITIES

"Eighty-eight per cent of the skaters canvassed named figure-skating as their favourite game; the remainder designated other sports they liked better."

LIFE OFF THE ICE

"Sixty-one per cent of the figure-skaters questioned work for a living; 28 per cent attend school and eight per cent are house wives."

LENGTH OF CAREERS

"Sixty-four per cent have been skating for more than two years; the average for eight years. All but two per cent will continue skating this winter, while 93 per cent indicated the intention to improve this season."

GENDER

"Fifty-eight per cent of the figure-skaters are women, having an average age of 23. Men figure-skaters are older, their average age being 35, according to information elicited by the survey."

THOUGHTS

While much has certainly changed incrementally in the decades that have followed, I really can't say I'm that surprised by some of the results of Weld Blanchard's survey. Some standout figures in my mind were the sixty one percent of skaters who worked to subsidise their training expenses. It makes absolute sense given the strict amateur restrictions of that era, the fact a war was going on and (surprise, surprise) skating costs a lot of money. Talking strictly about non-skating related income, I think those numbers would certainly be lower among competitive athletes these days. Don't even get me started on the 'house wives' terminology... but again, it was a different time. The fact that the scales tipped with more females than males skating was no shocker to me either nor were the ages having studied that era quite extensively but I do think to those who aren't as familiar, the men's average age of thirty five might be a bit of a startling figure. 

Here's the one fact that I thought was the coolest: the sixteen thousand dollars spent on instructional books. From Irving Brokaw's 1913 book "The Art Of Skating" to Maribel Vinson-Owen's wonderful books as well as more classic international offerings detailing the International Style like George H. Browne's "A Handbook Of Figure Skating Arranged For Use On The Ice With Over Eight Hundred Diagrams And Illustrations And Suggestions For Nearly Ten Thousand Figures", skaters were serious about READING about the sport back in Weld Blanchard's glory days. It was cool to see the numbers reflect that. Again, sadly I think you'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful of tactile instructional books on the sport on many skater's bookshelves in North America these days. 

At the risk of sounding like some sort of out of touch thirtysomething codger yearning for the 'good old days' of figure skating long before I was born, I think the lesson reflected in these numbers was simply that skaters back in 1940 took their sport every bit as seriously even when there wasn't a cent to be made to be made from it... and they weren't retiring at nineteen or twenty. We absolute owe a debt of posthumous thanks to Theresa Weld Blanchard for the incredible amount work put into this decades old census of North American skaters. It's fascinating looking back at these numbers now and seeing just how much the sport has changed as we look towards all of the excitement at this week's World Figure Skating Championships in Tee's home state.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Friday, 25 March 2016

The Pride Of Brookline: The Theresa Weld Blanchard Story


"The skating world carries on." - Theresa 'Tee' Weld Blanchard, "Skating" magazine, October 1943

On August 21, 1893 in Brookline, Massachusetts, twenty year old Theresa D. (Davis) Weld gave birth to her first child, a daughter she too named Theresa. A year later came a son named Walter. Alfred Winsor Weld and his wife Theresa were affluent members of the community, boasting no less than five Scottish and Irish servants for their family of four. They were active in Boston's burgeoning skating scene, so much so that Alfred Winsor Weld was actually one of the founding members of the Skating Club Of Boston and its second President. This involvement afforded the family a position of privilege in the skating club and starting at the age of twelve, young Theresa Weld would harness and drive her pony and cart three miles from the family's home to the Boston club to skate. Under the tutelage of George and Elsepth Müller, Theresa honed her craft for several years before she decided to enter the competitive skating scene at the age of twenty one in 1914. Her debut at the U.S. Championships in New Haven, Connecticut that year was a dream start to anyone's career. In addition to winning the ladies title, she won the waltzing competition with Nathaniel Niles and finished second in the pairs event behind Canadians Norman Scott and Jeanne Chevalier.

With no U.S. Championships held the following three years, Weld and partner Niles kept busy by giving exhibitions on the lake in Tuxedo Park, New York alongside eminent skaters of the era including Chevalier, Mr. and Mrs. Irving Brokaw, Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb. One thing to keep in mind about most of the competitions in the U.S. during that era was that they were absolutely not strictly nationalistic affairs. Canadian and even European skaters sometimes entered. Such was the case in 1917, when Weld won the Hippodrome Challenge Cup in New York. Interestingly, much like in the case of Madge Syers competing against Ulrich Salchow, this particular competition pitted men against women. Although she beat two men (Niles and G.M. Lynes), it was her victory at this event over a British woman living in New York City, Rosemary Beresford, that began an quiet rivalry between the two skaters.

When the U.S. Championships returned the following year at New York City's St. Nicholas Rink, it was Beresford who was victorious by building up such a gap in the marking after the school figures that Weld was unable to bridge with her free skating performance, however lovely. The February 7, 1918 edition of the "New York Sun" praised her effusely: "Regarding Miss Weld in particular last night there was poetry, music and rhythm in each glide, bend and away. For beauteous grace and rhythmic movements Pavlova of the twinkling toes can give no lessons to Theresa of the flashing blades. Her style in the fundamentals, the first part of the programme, was next to faultless. It was finished, studious, typically Bostonian in attention to every detail yet with all so smoothly executed as to belie the effort and study of technique that lay behind it... In the free skating... Miss Weld 'trotted' over the ice with a graceful abandon that delighted the onlookers. She executed the difficult figures of the ice tango with movements devoid of effort or exertion, fading and melting one figure into another as she wove with infinite grace and wondrous skill the separate parts into a harmonious whole. Like a Norse elf she flitted over the ice with effort so craftily hidden as to make her appear wafted along by some unseen air current." Despite Weld's loss of the ladies title, Niles and Weld did win that year's pairs competition, defeating Sherwin Badger and Mrs. Clara Frothingham. However, Beresford's victory over Weld only fuelled the rivalry between the two women. According to the February 17, 1918 issue of The New York Tribune, Beresford "challenged Miss Weld to skate for the Hippodrome challenge cup, and Miss Weld graciously agreed to skate in the challenger's home city. Early in the contest, Mrs. Beresford's entry was withdrawn, leaving the only competitors Miss Weld and Mr. Niles. Mr. Niles won the cup in the judgment of the three judges, Irving Brokaw, James A. Cruikshank and George H. Browne of Boston, but the contest was a very close one and in several prescribed or school figures the contestants were ranked with the same marks... It was the general opinion of the judges that Mr. Niles' school figures slightly excelled Miss Weld's while Miss Weld slightly excelled Mr. Niles in the free skating. Of this part of her programme one of the judges said: 'There are three classes of skaters, amateurs, professionals - and Miss Weld."

No U.S. Championships were held in 1919 and the following year, Weld married a prominent Boston publisher named Charles Barnes Blanchard. Although her new husband enjoyed recreationally skating with his wife, he encouraged Theresa's on ice partnership with Nathaniel Niles. Bearing in mind that Niles too was married, this would have been a surprisingly liberal attitude among high society... but it was 'the roaring twenties' after all. After giving an exhibition of waltzing on ice in Philadelphia to benefit the Reed Street Neighborhood House, Weld Blanchard and Niles won another U.S. pairs title in 1920 at the Iceland Rink in New York and Weld regained her ladies title, defeating Miss Martha Brown of the Skating Club Of Boston and Mrs. Lillian D. Cramer of the Skating Club Of New York. According to the March 20, 1920 edition of The Sun And New York Herald, she "displayed all of the grace that earned her high honours in many contests. Her three change three and counters were exceptionally well done."


The following month, Weld bid adieu to her husband and boarded the S.S. Finland with Nathaniel Niles, his wife and fourteen members of the American ice hockey team to go show off her figure skating skills at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. The April 21, 1920 issue of The Ogden Standard-Examiner reported that "Nathaniel W. Niles and Miss Theresa Weld, the American competitors to the Olympic figure skating championship, went to Brussels yesterday for practice as the Antwerp rink is now crowded with hockey players getting into trim. Cornelius Fellow, president of the International Skating Union, who is acting as manager of the American skaters, expressed the opinion today that Mr. Niles and Miss Weld have an excellent change of success. Miss Weld's first test will come on Sunday afternoon, in the women's event. Mr. Niles will compete Sunday and both will appear Monday in the contests for the couples."

Weld Blanchard had her reservations about competing in the Olympic women's event in a comparatively liberal dress, stating "I insisted the result was far too immodest as it was only six inches below my knees and I knew the audience would see my bloomers when I jumped." After finishing fifth of six women competing in the school figures, Weld Blanchard rebounded and won the free skate. Although some historical accounts have claimed that the judges were outraged when her skirt flew up when she jumped, I wasn't able to find any primary sources to substantiate these claims. Joe Layden, in his 1997 book "Women In Sports" noted that "she skated wonderfully and athletically, and received a raucous ovation from the crowd, which included hundreds of U.S. soldiers stationed in the region." However, the May 1, 1920 issue of The South Bend News-Times noted that "the Americans displayed considerable disappointment over the awards in the skating competitions for women last night. An examination of the judges' scores this morning showed that on total points made Miss Theresa Weld, of Boston, Mass., should have had second place. Her total was 898 points against Miss [Norén]'s 887 and Miss [Julin]'s 913-1-2. However, by the complicated award system used, each judge picked first, second and third choices in addition to estimating the number of points scored and Miss Weld was put third. Each of the competing nations had a judge except America." They were correct. The Swedish, British and Norwegian skaters entered were all represented by a judge and the other two judges came from France and Belgium. Weld's bronze medal win however was the first for a U.S. figure skater at the Olympics. The second won was actually by her partner Nathaniel Niles. Despite finishing sixth in the men's event and fourth in pairs with Weld, both Weld and Niles received "a diploma and medallion" from the Olympic Committee in Belgium.

Returning to America, Niles and Weld headed to Philadelphia in late February 1921 for the U.S. Championships held at the Ice Palace. Before the competition even started, they were winning. A ten step competition was organized as a fundraiser for the city's Broomall Holiday House and of course, the successful Boston duo won the cup donated by Mrs. Joseph N. Snellenburg with ease. When the competition started, Weld cleaned up. The February 28, 1921 issue of the Norwich Bulletin explained that "Mrs. Blanchard was the individual star of the tournament. During the three days' meet she competed in four events and was awarded four first places. In addition to her victories today, she retained her title as the women's senior figure skating champion." Her victories came in the ladies, pairs, ten step and waltzing competitions. The February 26, 1921 issue of the Evening Public Ledger lauded her for showing "superiority with the exception of her counters. Her execution and style were generally regarded as being smoother, better finished, larger and more accurate."

The accolades continued. In March 1922 in front of a hometown crowd in Boston, Weld claimed another ladies title, the pairs and fourteenstep gold medals with Niles and finished second in the waltzing competition to Beatrix Loughran and Edward Howland. In 1923, it was gold in the ladies and pairs and second in the waltz and fourteenstep; in 1924 came another ladies and pairs title, a silver in the fourteenstep behind Sydney Goode and James Greene and a third place finish in the waltz. Together or separately, Weld Blanchard and Niles would continue to play a dominant role throughout the twenties and early thirties. Travelling aboard the S,S. Paris on January 16, 1924, Weld Blanchard finished fourth in the ladies event and sixth in the pairs at the International Winter Sports Week in Chamonix, France later recognized as an Olympic Games. She returned as a solo and pairs competitor in 1928 as well, finishing in the top ten in both disciplines. Despite the fact many of her competitors in both disciplines were upping the ante technically considerably this part, she was holding her own. By the time she last competed at the U.S. Championships in 1934 as part of the winning fours team, Weld Blanchard had amassed an incredible six ladies titles, nine pairs titles, six ice dancing titles (waltz, ten step and fourteenstep) and a fours title, in addition to her Olympic medal, two North American titles and over a dozen more medals at the U.S. Championships in ladies, pairs and ice dancing. You want to know the most incredible part of it all though? In her twenty year competitive career, she only trained ten to twelve hours per week total in multiple disciplines... and only had two pairs of boots and blades the whole time... handmade heavy black leather affairs with Salchow blades. She seemed to manage just fine, didn't she?

Suzanne Davis, Maribel Vinson-Owen, Theresa Weld Blanchard and Joan Tozzer at the 1939 U.S. Championships

Weld Blanchard's involvement in the figure skating world after her competitive career ended was every bit as incredible. A strong promoter and advocate of the sport in America, she was also a prolific and versatile writer. She was one of the founders of the USFSA's "Skating" Magazine and served as the magazine's editor until 1963, continuing to contribute articles until shortly before her death. She was also a respected judge, organizing the first school for judges in the U.S. and served on the USFSA's executive board for thirteen years. She attended international competitions regularly, wearing her Olympic pins and hobnobbing with a who's who of figure skating. However, in an interview in the March 7, 1956 issue of The Shawinigan Standard, she humbly said, "I hope they will recognize me. There aren't very many who go back that far." Weld Blanchard even joined Joseph Savage in judging roller skating competitions during the off season and was a founding member of the New England chapter of a social organization comprised of former U.S. Olympians.

In 1976, Weld Blanchard was inducted in the inaugural class of inductees of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame. Sadly, she died two years later at the age of eighty four on Sunday, March 12, 1978; her funeral was held in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she resided her entire life. In her wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves offered these beautiful words in her memory: "Her drive to document skating change makes it possible for present and future generations to trace developments in the sport. Her intent to take ice dancing seriously when it was nothing but a curious pastime and frivolous competitive afterthought helped ice dancing obtain legitimacy... At the death of some people, you wish you could preserve their brain, their memories. Tee was one of those. Her travels throughout the world to skating events made her the one person who knew on a personal level all of the skating personalities - champions, pros, judges, and association officials, young and old alike - and all the issues, changes, controversies, decisions and regulations. She accepted what happened in the sport as part of the growth process. She nourished the seed of skating and thrived off it." Inducted into the International Women's Sport Hall Of Fame in 1989, Theresa Weld Blanchard's contributions to skating are, simply put, astounding.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The 1941 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Eugene Turner in action

As bombs dropped overseas in Europe and war efforts ramped up, American skaters couldn't be dragged away from the ice. Some trained in sunny California rinks; others in chilly New York ones. Still others took to the ice in a 80 X 80 cold storage warehouse in Detroit converted into two separate ice rinks. The show, as it always does in skating, went on when The Skating Club Of Boston played host to nearly one hundred of America's best at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships held from January 31 to February 2, 1941.

Many of the skaters who competed in Boston that year later moved on to successful careers in the professional ranks. Twelve year old novice ladies champion Dorothy Goos of the Skating Club of New York was certainly one; she was headlining with Holiday On Ice by the time she was seventeen! Fresh off a win at the Pacific Coast Championships, a twenty one year old self certified judge and self taught sensation named Eugene Turner defended his U.S. senior men's title. The handsome young skater was the toast of Massachusetts that year. The Sunday Morning Star on February 2, 1941 noted that "Eugene Turner of Los Angeles, a scarlet-coated master of the spins, scored a perfect six tonight to successfully defend his men's senior title... The 20-year old Californian concluded a five-minute exhibition with a series of toe and change-foot spins and intricate foot weaving, that won him the unanimous decision of the judges... Turner, wearing a brilliant red jacket, executed a series of back bend spread eagles that brought continuous applause from the gallery." That splash of colour in a sea of grey certainly brightens your spirits to read, doesn't it? Arthur R. Vaughn Jr., a sixteen year old from Philadelphia who wore his glasses while he competed, bettered his fourth place finish from the year previous in Cleveland, Ohio to finish second ahead of Brooklyn, New York's William K. Nagle. Like Goos, Turner moved on to show biz as well. In 1942, he skated with Sonja Henie in "Iceland" and 1943, he partnered Belita in "Silver Skates".

Jane Vaughn

With Joan Tozzer marrying and retiring from competitive skating, the senior women's field was wide open. University Of Pennsylvania student Jane Vaughn of Philadelphia rose to the occasion, defeating Gretchen Merrill of Boston (that year's Eastern Champion) as well as Charlotte Walther of New York, Dorothy Glazier of Boston and the Pacific Coast Champion, Ramona Allen of Oakland, California. If the name Jane Vaughn rings a bell, it's because she went on to become The Most Hated Skating Judge In Vienna in 1967.

Donna Atwood and Eugene Turner

After losing to Patty Vaeth and Jack Might in their hometown of Colorado Springs at the Pacific Coast Championships, Donna Atwood and Eugene Turner reversed that result in Boston in the pairs event. Winning the bronze were Joan Mitchell and Bobby Specht. After the event, Atwood and Specht teamed up and won the following year's national pairs title together before joining the professional ranks and becoming two of the most popular Ice Capades stars of all time.

Sandy MacDonald and Harold Hartshorne won the ice dance event for the third time at the 1941 U.S. Championships in a deep field comprised of fourteen teams. Although many male U.S. skaters were starting to enlist, I'd say fourteen senior ice dance teams during World War II was pretty good, wouldn't you? Lynn Copley-Graves, in her wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" noted that "things were happening so fast [in the development of ice dance in America] that no one had yet passed the Gold Dance Test, so it could not be a prerequisite in the Dance event" in those days. Eugene Turner, who had medalled in both the men's and pairs competitions, incredibly claimed the silver in ice dance as well with partner Elizabeth Kennedy. In third were Edith Whetstone and Alfred L. Richards, Jr. Due to a lack of entries, the fours competition was cancelled and judges announced that the previous year's winners, Jannette Ahrens, Mary Louise Premer, Robert Uppgren and Lynn W. Wakefield Jr., would continue to hold the title for another year.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Only Fritz This Blog Is On Is The Fritz Dietl


When someone literally dedicates their entire life to figure skating, I think they deserve a standing ovation even if it is a posthumous one. Born July 30, 1911 in Vienna, Austria, Fritz Dietl got his start in the sport at the relatively 'late' age of twelve, something I can definitely relate to. He didn't do it in an ice rink in Chester, Nova Scotia though but rather in one of the most majestic and historic settings of them all: the frozen Danube River, where skaters had been taking to the ice in the winters for centuries.

After getting a degree in economics at the insistence of his father and playing tennis professionally, Dietl joined the International Artists Organization, finding work throughout the thirties in ice shows in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, South Africa and Switzerland. He relocated to the United States in 1939, accepting an offer from Arthur M. Wirtz to perform in Sonja Henie's shows. He used his engineering background to design twenty four inch stilts designed specifically to work with skates and performed his novelty act in America for six years. In a 1998 interview with Dianne Powell he reminisced, "I remember when Sonja told me I had to take my camel spin out of my program. She said I made her look stupid because I did a better one on stilts than she did without. I said, 'Sonja, if you get off your high horse it'll take me 10 minutes and I'll give you a camel spin assist.' I explained it. She was a talented skater. She said, 'for that you can keep your camel spin in your program.'"

After his professional skating career ended, Dietl taught at the Skating Club Of New York for a time. In 1958, he purchased Webber's Garage in Westwood, New Jersey and converted it into a skating rink where he would act as owner, manager, skating director and even Zamboni driver. At the time, it was the only skating rink in the area. The Fritz Dietl Ice Rink still thrives today!

Dietl was a charter member of the ISI (Ice Skating Institute) and also the coach of two time U.S. Champion Scotty Allen. Allen won the silver medal in the junior men's event at the 1961 U.S. Championships and was thus included in a group of young skaters that would have the amazing learning experience of being sent by the USFSA to observe the best in the world at the 1961 World Championships.

Amazingly, it would be the Fritz Dietl Ice Rink that saved both Dietl and Allen's lives and kept them off the ill-fated Sabena flight that crashed in Brussels, Belgium that year. Patricia Shelley Bushman's book "Indelible Tracings" explained that "Scott Allen and his coach, Fritz Dietl, had tickets for the Sabena flight. The eleven-year-old would have been the third young spectator, along with eleven-year-old Jimmy Scholdan, and thirteen-year-old Dickie LeMaire... Three days before the plane took off, the compressors broke. He had to wait for parts to come in and fix the problem before he could go. Dietl was the chaperone so they both delayed their trip." The difference a day can make is quite the understatement! Under Dietl's guidance, Allen became one of America's top men's skaters in the era of rebuilding after the 1961 plane crash, winning the Olympic bronze medal in the 1964, World silver medal in 1965 and three medals at the North American Championships.

In addition to his rink and students, Dietl spent countless hours mentoring professional skaters and working with the International Professional Skaters Guild, judging skating at the regional level for the USFSA and serving on both the ISI and PSA boards. He received Lifetime Achievement Awards from both organizations. In 1991, Westwood, New Jersey even made July 29 Fritz Dietl Day.

In a 2003 article from the ISI Edge newsletter, Jim Lange reflected on Dietl: "I think his life speaks volumes in what he has done for the industry and for all the generations he taught, all the young skaters who have gone on to teach others. He had a smile that lit up a room. He was always gracious, a very good listener, always very sincere." 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Scott Hamilton also reflected on Dietl in his book "The Great Eight": "I was in a pro competition in South Africa and was having a great time after the event was over. Fritz pulled me aside to give me a life lesson that would change my perspective forever. He said, 'Do you want a long career?' 'Of course,' I said. 'Then always be number two,' he said. 'Always put someone above you. Never put yourself first.' Now this is a man who performed with the greatest diva in the history of pro skating. Sonja Henie was a huge star and always put herself first and made a fortune doing just that. But here was a man telling me to put others first. Seeing that I was captured by his advice, he continued, 'Number ones come and go, but a number two can last forever.' It was an amazing nugget of wisdom. There is an Olympics every four years with new stars and new excitement. How am I going to survive that in a long career? I decided that he was probably right and started my long journey as a self-proclaimed 'number two.'"

Sadly, Dietl passed away on March 29, 2003 from complications of heart trauma, leaving behind his beloved wife Carola and sons Ernst and Gregory. His star pupil Scotty Allen recalled, "Fritz would often say, 'The only limitations that you have are the ones that are self-imposed. It's all in your mind, not your body. You can achieve almost any objective you set yourself to.'"

I'm going to take Dietl's advice. My objective for this blog is to create a well researched, diverse and eclectic figure skating library of skating history for people who are just as passionate about the sport as I am. Sure, I'm not spending most of my time picking apart skater's coaching choices and underrotations but I believe that what I'm doing with this blog is every bit as valuable and worthy of its own audience... and I'm done with limitations. With your help, this blog will never be on the Fritz. It's going to keep on growing.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The 1980 World Junior Championships


This week in Debrecen, Hungary, skaters from Israel, the Czech Republic, Japan and America won gold medals at the 2016 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. Today on Skate Guard, we will set the time machine for thirty six years ago, when the best young skaters in the world converged on the Thompson Arena at the University Of Western Ontario in London, Ontario for the 1980 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. It was the second World Junior Championships held that year and the first time in history that the event would ever be held on North American soil. Let's explore some of the stories that made this event particularly memorable:

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

In the short program, Lori Baier of Mitchell, Ontario and Lloyd Eisler of Seaforth, Ontario finished third behind defending World Junior Champions Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov and their Soviet teammates Marina Nikituk and Rashid Kadyrkaev. Although Selezneva and Makarov pretty much had a lock on gold (and DID win with a spectacular free skate), when Kadyrkaev injured himself in a practice session the day of the free skate, a door was opened for Baier and Eisler. They skated right through it with a flawless free skate that featured two back to back throw double Axel's early in the program. They moved up to second place ahead of Nikituk and Kadyrkaev with 3.2 points to the Soviet's 3.8.  In a Globe And Mail interview, Eisler said, "Tonight is the best we've ever skated. That's all that really matters. It is especially important to skate well in front of the home crowd. After we did the two throw double Axels, it felt really good and I knew we were on our way."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

The ice dancers had a terrible go of things in London right off the bat in 1980. Defending sixteen year old champion Elena Batanova arrived from Moscow with her partner Alexei Soloviev... and a suitcase full of men's shirts and slacks. The compulsory dances were delayed by thirty five minutes due to a blinding snowstorm and many skaters arrived late, taking shuttle buses from the hotel which was usually only fifteen minutes away. Despite having to borrow costumes, Batanova and Soloviev skated to a convincing lead in the two compulsory dances skated - the European Waltz and Paso Doble - ahead of teammates Natalia Annenko and Vadim Karkatchev. Canadian siblings Karyn and Rod Garossino of the Calalta Figure Skating Club finished a strong third despite some peculiarly generous judging of the Soviet teams by the Eastern bloc judges. The Soviet judge gave Batanova and Soloviev a 5.3; all other marks were in the 4's. Despite slightly faltering in their OSP, a Middle Eastern belly dance themed program that would have been quite ahead of its time for a original set pattern dance, Batanova and Soloviev maintained their lead ahead of Annenko and Karkatchev and the Garossino's. In good ice dance judging fashion, the results of the twelve couples offered very little movement. You know how that story goes. The Garossino's, who worked with Sandra Bezic on their choreography for this event, captured the bronze medal overall behind their Soviet competitors. Lynn Copley-Graves, in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", shed light on the free dance: "[Batanova and Soloviev] moved lightly in the free, with not much speed or edge, but with the musical interpretation and choreography so characteristic of Soviet ice dancers. For example, Alexei caressed Elena's boot and she clung to his neck and swung her legs from side to side. Elena, Alexei, and the second-placed Soviets... entertained with mime movements. The enthusiasm of these two couples drew in the crowd. Karyn and Rod Garossino, 15 and 17, coached by Michael Jiranek and Roy Bradshaw, looked elegant while skating their first free dance in competition and were surprised to receive a medal. Under the new marking system, the free dance carried more weight, allowing the third Soviet couple, Tatiana Gladkova and Igor Shpilband, to overtake Sophie Schmidt and Eric Desplats from France. Sophie and Eric would have had a large enough lead to hold fifth under the old system."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Fourteen year old Swiss Champion Oliver Höner, the winner of the school figures in the previous World Junior Championships in Megève, France (held in January 1980), once again claimed an early lead in the competition's first phase with a four/three split from the judging panel. In second with first place marks from the West German and American judges was a young Paul Wylie; in third with a first place nod from the Austrian judge was Scott Williams. Soviet skater Yuri Bureiko was in fourth and Japan's Masaru Ogawa fifth. Although Neil Giroday of the North Shore Winter Club had won the junior men's event at the Canadian Championships held earlier that year, strangely the CFSA decided not to send a single men's entry to the international competition held in their own country although they had two spots. An interesting note regarding the figures events in London that year would have to be the fact that the ISU tested an adaptation of its scoring system adopted on December 1, 1980. In essence, a 0.6 factor was given to the winner of figures, a 1.2 mark was given to the second place finisher, 1.8 to the third and so on. This mark was added to a 0.4 factor for the short program and a 1.0 for the free skate to give a skater a total of 2.0 points if they won all three rounds of competition. Then ISU honorary vice president John Shoemaker explained the changes in a December 11, 1980 interview in The Globe And Mail: "The new system reflects a desire to give good free skaters a more realistic chance to win, This is an attempt to have the results actually reflect the 30 per cent mark (for figures), 20 per cent (for the short program) and 50 per cent (free skating). In the past, the figures' weight could work out to as much as 70 per cent." In the short program, Paul Wylie skated clean, landing a double Axel/double loop combination to snatch the lead. Scott Williams moved up to second and Yuri Bureiko to third. Höner dropped all the way down to sixth. In the final phase of the competition, Wylie was again brilliant, landing two triple toe-loops and several double axels. His only mistake was a popped triple Salchow attempt. Bureiko won the silver, coming out incredibly strong but fading later in his program. Scott Williams, who was struggling with a back injury, dropped to third and had to be helped to the dressing room after his performance although he did recover sufficiently to accept his medal.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

In the school figures, sixteen year old Andrea Rohm of Vienna (a student of 1968 Olympic Gold Medallist Wolfgang Schwarz) dominated the the rocker, change bracket and back outside loop, receiving marks of 3.5 and 3.6; the highest given during the event. Following in the standings were West Germany's Cornelia Tesch in second, American Maria Causey in third, Marina Serova of the Soviet Union in fourth, Canada's Diane Ogibowski in fifth and West Germany's Eva Drometer in sixth. Canada's second entry, Charlene Wong of Pierrefonds, Quebec was thirteenth. Sparing any modesty, Schwarz told reporters that Rohm was "following in the tradition of excellent Austrian school figure skaters such as myself, Emmerich Danzer, Trixi Schuba and [Regine Heitzer]." After the short program, Serova and Tesch were tied with the overall lead after placing first and fourth in their efforts. An article in the December 13, 1980 Globe And Mail explains that "they were followed by Maria Causey of the United States, Tiffany Chin of the United States, and Ogibowski. Andrea Rohm of Austria, the leader after the compulsory figures, faltered badly after the short program, missing two of the seven required elements and managed only a 15th-place finish; that dropped her to sixth over all and probably out of medal contention. The other Canadian entry, Charlene Wong of Pierrefonds, Que., performed flawlessly, finishing sixth in the short and moving up to ninth over all. Ogibowski, the current Canadian novice champion, elected to do her combination jump, a difficult double Axel-double loop near the end of her program. Ogibowski overrotated the double Axel and fell on the double-loop attempt. Wong, whose goal is to finish in the top five over all, did the same combination, but made it the second element. 'The double Axel has always been one of my strongest jumps, so it was natural to put it into the combination. The reason that I do it near the beginning is because I like to get one jump in first to warm up.' Her only mistake was a shaky landing on a double Lutz. Serova, who won the short program with a faultless performance, was fourth after the figures. Chin, a tiny 70-pounder from San Diego, Calif., made the biggest move, vaulting from eighth to fourth over all on the strength of a second-place performance in the short program."


In a remarkable come from behind win, American Tiffany Chin took the gold medal in the women's event, ahead of Serova and a second Soviet skater who made up some serious ground in the free skate, young Alexei Mishin student Anna Antonova. The December 15, 1980 issue of The Globe And Mail explained how it all went down: "Chin, a 4-foot-8, 70-pounder from San Diego, Calif., completed her rise from eight after the compulsory figures with an almost flawless free-skating performance. Her only fluff came on an attempted triple Salchow jump - a move not included in her program, but inserted on a whim when everything was going so well during her three-minute performance. Neither Chin nor her coach, Frank Carroll, had set any goals of winning a medal. 'I knew that I had a terribly talented child who could win if she were to skate well,' Carroll said. There are very few her age in the world so talented. I have learned, though, never to expect anything, so we didn't set any goals." Carroll, who coached Linda Fratianne to world titles in 1977 and 1979, has coached Chin for three of the four years she has been skating. Ogibowski miscued twice during her free skating, falling on a triple Salchow during the slow part of her program and on a double Axel near the end. She said afterward that she probably will make some changes in her training techniques, especially her compulsory figures. Ironically, she placed fifth in the figures, a surprise because they are considered her weakness. 'I'm not too disappointed with my showing here, but there will be some changes when I get back home. My figures need more time and I've never had a short program before. I have thought a lot about moving to Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver for more ice time and training, but I get lots of ice time in Minnedosa. As long as I train properly and don't goof off, I'll be able to improve.' Despite the excellent showing by Chin, Midori Ito, an 11-year-old and, at 3 feet 11, the smallest skater in the competition, stole the show. Ito, from Nagoya, Japan, jumped from 20th after the figures to eighth [overall] with a dazzling display in the free skating. Ito drew top marks from the judges to win that portion of the competition and a standing ovation from the crowd."



It would seem few international competitions from the eighties would be complete without a story of Midori Ito rallying an impressive comeback in the free skate. It's interesting to note that thirty six years later, yet another young woman from Japan - Marin Honda of Osaka - stole the show at the very same competition. As Shirley Bassey once fabulously sang, "it's all just a little bit of history repeating".

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Isabella Butler: Figure Skating's Best Kept Secret


On a balmy August afternoon in 1906, Isabella Butler sat in the lobby of the Hotel Jermyn in Scranton, Pennsylvania cradling her baby. "At first I would shut my eyes, hold my breath and half swoon with fear. Now, would you believe it, I am conscious of every moment and every foot of the loop," she told a reporter from The Scranton Republican. Although Butler was an incredibly skilled skater, she wasn't telling this reporter about the loops she carved on the ice. She was referring to "The Dip Of Death".

Imagine a turn of the century automobile careening down a curved roller coaster track, doing a full loop in the air over a forty foot chasm and flying onto another track. That was Butler's job in Barnum and Bailey's Circus in 1906 and 1907. The stunt was reportedly based on an act called "L'Auto-Bolide" that was spotted by an agent in Paris, France. It was brought over to America as "The Dip Of Death" by one Mademoiselle Mauricia De Tiers. Her successor, the young mother from Boston, performed it twice daily for two years, holding a fan in one hand and driving with the other. If that's not crazy enough for you, how would you feel if I told you we were just getting started? 

After studying medicine at Vassar College in New York, Isabella met her husband Tom, a stunt bicycle rider. It was through his circus connections that she got the Barnum job but after two years of performing "The Loop Of Death", she yearned to pursue her real passion: figure skating. Her husband helped make that happen too. Teaming up with Edward Bassett, who won a fancy skating competition at the St. Nicholas Rink in March of 1907, Isabella was one half of a hugely popular Vaudeville figure skating act that took America by storm for the better part of a decade. Tom Butler travelled with the duo, making artificial ice for their stage performances and closely guarding the secret to how he did it to reporters and curious audience members alike.



Boston born circus star and impresario Stanley W. Wathon promoted Butler and Bassett, falsely billing them as the "World's Champion Skaters" to draw in patrons. The ruse worked. Patrons flocked en masse to the Fifty Eighth Street Theatre in New York City to see what all the fuss was about. The New York Clipper, on March 14, 1908 recalled their act: "A tank of real ice, about eight or ten feet in length by half of that in width is set in the centre of the stage, and on this the team perform their skating novelties. The act opens with some neat evolutions by both Miss Butler and Mr. Bassett and then each takes an individual try at it, with capital results. They do some remarkable feats, particularly when the small space in which they are compelled to work is taken into consideration. Miss Butler aroused plenty of enthusiasm and Mr. Bassett's skating around four lighted candles brought forth hearty applause. The entire act is worthy of the highest praise, and is something new for Vaudeville. It ran about twelve minutes, in three... He introduces a marvellous human top spin, in which he claims to spin at the rate of several hundred revolutions a minute." Following their Big Apple debut, Butler and Bassett took their icy stage act on the road to Chase's Theatre in Washington, D.C., The Grand Theatre in Pittsburgh and Bennett's Theatre in Montreal between May 1908 and January 1909.

Over a decade before the nineteenth amendment guaranteed American women the right to vote, Isabella Butler was personally responsible for teaching New York women to figure skate. These 'skating suffragettes' were largely members of the city's upper crust. On April 21, 1909, The Bridgeport Evening Farmer reported on her classes and skating thusly: "Desiring to interest her sex in the sport she yielded to the entreaties of Mrs. Irving Brokaw and Mrs. Ernest Iselin and had a class at the St. Nicholas Rink which did more to create the interest in ice skating among the women of New York than anything else had done for several years. Miss Butler expressed a desire to enter the world's skating contest last year but the cruel men debarred her because of her sex. She has challenged all of the prominent women skaters of this country and Canada to contests but they have not seen fit to risk defeat." Considering the laws surrounding amateurism in competitive figure skating in those days, one might construe the latter statement about Butler wishing to compete as a bit of 'enthusiastic journalism' or another Wathon story told to draw in patrons, but we weren't there. Who knows what her intentions truly were? At any rate, it's fascinating history.

Bassett and Butler continued to perform their act in theatres from Chicago and Memphis to San Francisco and Sacramento. When they weren't on the road, they practiced on the ice separately: Bassett at the Crystal Ice Rink in St. Louis and Butler at The Elysium Rink in Cleveland. Isabella Butler also skated singles and pairs with none other than Norval Baptie, whose story we looked at on the blog back in July of 2014. The Duluth Herald, reporting on her performance in a show with Baptie at the Duluth Curling Rink in Minnesota in February of 1911 noted, "her form is faultless, and form counts most in figure skating, and she executes the most difficult figures with the greatest of ease. Miss Butler goes through the entire repertoire of fancy figure skating, showing remarkable control and wonderful ease in every move she makes. Her work last evening was greeted with a round of applause that must indeed have pleased her." By 1915, Butler and Bassett were skating alongside Gladys Lamb and Norval Baptie in the "Castles In The Air" shows at The Ice Palace above the Forty Fourth Street Theatre in New York City, executing complex figure eights and novel spins while diners guzzled back cocktails between six and nine over supper. The next winter, she was in Los Angeles on a five month contract ice skating at the Hotel Alexandria with her sister Grace and Irish born Australian skating pioneer Dunbar Poole.

Roman Mars aptly mused on the podcast 99% Invisible that "it's totally unfair. Hydrox cookies came out four years before the introduction of Oreos, but Hydrox could never shake the image that it was a cheap knock-off, an also-ran. As a consumer product, it's completely out of your hands if you're deemed a mighty Transformer, or a loathsome Gobot. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all."
The documented history of figure skating has for years worked very much the same way. Madge Syers in, Mabel Davidson out. Sonja Henie in, Belita out...  Isabella Butler out. A university educated mother who jumped "The Dip Of Death" with Barnum And Bailey, toured America skating on artificial ice and taught women to skate before they could vote... forgotten. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

How Henie Handled Hedda Hopper


Academy Award winning actor Spencer Tracy kicked her in the derriere at a West Hollywood nightclub. "Citizen Kane" star Joseph Cotten pulled her chair out from under her at a charity benefit.
Femme fatale Joan Bennett sent her a skunk with a note that read, "Won't you be my valentine? Nobody else will. I stink and so do you." At one time, hat loving actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was one of the most despised people in Hollywood.

Keeping tabs on the lives of celebrities was Hopper's full time job and it is no surprise that three time Olympic Gold Medallist, ten time World Champion and Twentieth Century Fox star Sonja Henie often popped up in her columns. Quite interestingly, Hopper, a staunch Republican who played a major role in the whole blacklist debacle took little digs at Henie in the early forties but backed off her considerably as the decade wore on. Compared to much of the venom she spewed about other top Hollywood actors and actresses of her era, her coverage of the Norwegian star was after 1943, mostly either saccharine sweet or trivial. She always included Sonja on her annual lists of the richest and most influential female celebrities in Hollywood though!

Hopper visited Henie on the set of "Sun Valley Serenade" in May of 1941, noting that the skater and John Payne "spent the afternoon clad in heavy ski clothes and huddled before a fire for a scene" on a day where the temperature was above thirty degrees. Then two years later on May 2, 1943, she turned her nose up at the star, printing a story about Henie being turned down by Warner Brothers: "The first time Sonja Henie performed on skates here, and before any one but Sonja thought of her as a movie bet, Holly brought her to Warners' for a screen test. Unfortunately, even the casting director refused to see her, and Holly was stymied. When he went backstage to ask if her she was interested in pictures she replied: 'Yes - but I do vant just to do a bit with skates. I vant to be the vun who is in luff with the leading man!' And when he asked if she could act she said, 'Any one who is a champion must have intelligence enough to be a good actress!' (Well, the jury's still out on that one.)"


Perhaps Henie and Cesar Romero's 1943 film "Wintertime" converted Hopper into a Henie fan, because aside from idle gossip linking her romantically to stars Michael North, Dan Topping and Steve Crane, she really was surprisingly kind to Henie! In one column, Hopper pointed out how polite she was to her dinner companion on set at a film. On another on July 30, 1944, she gleamed, "Sonja Henie, with a new chassis and streamlined hairdress was the center of attraction" at a garden party. That autumn, when discussing how Henie expressed an interest in taking on more serious roles, she said, "If our little skater's set her mind on it - she'll do it!"

Hedda Hopper's Henie compliments continued on June 11, 1948: "When I visited Sonja Henie in her dressing room on the set of 'The Countess Of Monte Cristo,' I found her and her mother planning the entertainment for 300 guests at her annual party. Last year only half of her tennis court was covered; this year the tent will cover it all. Sonja was taking care of an infected finger. She was about to do a scene in a one-piece black lace slip; and I must say that her chassis is as streamlined as some of those figures she cuts on ice."

Just how did the Norwegian manage to escape the clutches of the gleeful gossip columnist that many Hollywood stars of the era viewed as a pariah? Simple! Sonja gave Hedda Hopper access. In her 1981 memoir, Ingrid Bergman noted, "Sonja was in the top bracket so her parties were among the best in Hollywood." The delightful Ann Miller, in Edvard Hambro's 1995 documentary "Sonja Henie: Queen Of The Ice" gushed, "Every star in Hollywood would be there. Producers and directors... people like Marlene Dietrich, Merle Oberon, Ty Power (who was also at one point in her life very enamoured [with] her), Clark Gable... I could go on and on. The stars she had there!" By inviting Hedda Hopper to these lavish parties and welcoming her when she showed up on film sets and skating rinks for interviews, Henie provided Hopper the captive audience she needed to do her job. In turn, she received good press. Carol Channing also noted that when the Istanbul Hilton opened, she was on the same press junket flying from Hollywood to France to Turkey with both Hopper and Henie.

Inviting the tiger into your den is only wiser than keeping them locked outside if you are the one with the upper hand, and Sonja Henie, whatever you might say about her, was a very smart businesswoman.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Headbanging History: Tracing The Roots Of The Bounce Spin


You know that cherished recipe that has been passed down through the generations? The one your grandmother taught your aunt and your aunt taught your mother and your mother taught you? The story of one of adagio pairs skating's most mind blowing tricks of the trade - the bounce spin or 'headbanger' goes a little like the story of that recipe... and I had a little fun trying to unravel the mystery.

Before we take a look at the mystery and the history, let's take a look at what the bounce spin is. It's a jaw dropping adagio pairs trick where one partner swings the other around with both feet off the ice, supported only by the grip of the swinger on the swingee's ankle. The swingee is elevated up and down during the spin. Performed well, the head of the swingee comes terrifyingly close to being smashed on the ice. The International Skating Union, of course, wants no part in it. Per ISU regulations "spinning movements in which the man swings the lady around in the air while holding her hand or foot, are illegal... Twist-like or rotational movements during which the lady is turned over one or more times with her skating foot leaving the ice are not permitted."

World Professional Champions Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding have one of the best bounce spins out there and have performed thousands in their career without a hitch, but even they have had a close call. In my interview with Anita back in June of 2013, she told me that "while performing in a Sun Valley show we were entering into a bounce spin (headbanger) and right as Frank took that hard back inside edge to pull me off my feet he stepped onto a gum wrapper that had blown out onto the ice! We both fell hard but fortunately we came out of it with only some bruises as well as bruised egos." It's dangerous business.


My quest to learn how the bounce spin got its start began by doing the obvious - asking Anita how she and Frank learned it. Anita explained that "Frank learned the bounce spin from Don Yontz when he first joined Ice Capades in 1978. Don was a roller skater turned ice skater for professional ice shows as an adagio skater. He had the best bounce spin and Frank was lucky to learn from him." 

Like Anita and Frank, who have taken their act everywhere from Guam to Germany, Don Yontz' skating background was every bit as unique. A former water skier and roller skater who since turning professional in 1968 toured with Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice, Yontz was actually the principal skater and organizer of the first skating show at Cypress Gardens in the mid-eighties. He explained to me that he "learned it from Cal Cook circa 1969. I saw a roller skating table act do it in an old film from the thirties or forties. The roller table acts were popular in Vaudeville. The neck spin and neck swivel also had their origin there as well as the teeth swivel gimmicks. Remember, the table was sometimes only four feet in diameter. My early adagio training was from then partner Darolyn Prior. She was trained by Terry Rudolph at the Casa in Garmisch, Germany. There has never been a trick that thrilled an audience more. Hard to learn or do, no. Dangerous, yes."

Who was this Cal Cook? In the sixties, Cal and his wife Dori, daughter Melanie (Kim) and twins Kris and Kelly were one of skating's few family acts. While touring with Holiday On Ice as a stilt skater, he met his wife Dori, a chorus skater in the show from Los Angeles. They both left the tour, moved to Burbank, had children and Cal took up coaching. When Holiday On Ice returned to Hollywood, Morris Chalfen convinced Cal and Dori to return to the show... and incorporate the whole family in an act! The children, who hadn't even skated before, took lessons. Choreographer Tommy DePauw worked out an act for them which focused around Cal and Dori as an adagio pair and the family went on the road exploring the world by trailer. It would have been while The Cook Family was on tour as 'Harrigan's Hooligans' that Cook would have taught Yontz the bounce spin, which he passed down to Hartshorn and Sweiding. 

Tracing the bounce spin further back appears to confirm Yontz' assertion that the adagio trick had its roots in the table top roller skating acts that were incredibly popular in both Vaudeville and hotel shows during the twenties and thirties. Take this 1950 act from roller skaters Jerry Berke, Art Wall and Eva Hartley for example. You can clearly see that the 'swivel spin' tricks they were attempting were eerily similar to many adagio tricks we see on ice today.


Although the bounce spin most likely originated on rollers, there is evidence that some variation of the trick was performed on ice as early as the twenties. An advertisement for one of the Hotel Sherman's College Inn skating shows in Chicago depicts Norval Baptie swinging Gladys Lamb around by her ankle with the assistance of one arm and credits them as "the originators of the airplane spin." As you can see, pretty damn similar!

Where did the bounce spin really get its start? A hotel skating show in Chicago or at the Casa Carioca in Germany? A Vaudeville table top roller skating act? Somewhere else entirely? I am not convinced it is a mystery that anyone can solve with absolute certainty. However, pieced together these scattered clues provide the ingredients for one of the most thrilling elements on pairs skating's menu. A recipe for disaster, if you will.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Shackled Schramm's


"You love the audience and the applause." - Ray Schramm

Born in North Dakota and raised in Minnesota, Ray and Roy Schramm were about as unique as they come in the figure skating world. The twin brothers learned to skate on a pond in their backyard and at the age of eighteen joined the Ice Follies. The November 29, 1947 edition of Billboard magazine described their act: "Among the newcomers, the Schramm twins (Ray and Roy) are outstanding with a novel duo routine with ankles and wrists shackled to one another." Principal skaters Ray and Roy became known as The Shackled Schramm's for their unusual act chained together called Shackled Shadows. Other show skaters attempted to duplicate their act, and it just didn't work out the same. I will say that Klimova and Ponomarenko's "Captives Of Love" program with wrists shackled together was quite well done... but again, not really the same thing. Think about how hard that would be for a minute. You would not want to be catching a toe pick, that's for sure! The Schramm twins also made a foursome with another set of twins - Joanne and Joyce Scotvold - on the tour.


After serving in World War II, Ray Schramm returned to the Ice Follies where he met and married his wife Nadine Thompson. Ray and Nadine continued their professional careers performing in hotel ice shows and television specials until 1953. The following year, they bought their first ice rink in Mill Valley then moved to facilities in San Anselmo, Corte Madera and Marin. Roy and his wife April Schramm formed a professional pairs team and developed The Skating Schramm's Ice Show, performing a ten week gig on the E.K. Fernandez circuit in Hawaii as well as in Hollywood and at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, British Columbia. They also appeared on the California skating television show The Frosty Frolics in the fifties. In case you hadn't guessed it, Allen Schramm, the immensely creative choreographer and professional skater, is indeed Ray Schramm's son. Creativity clearly ran in the family.


Do you know what was even cooler about The Shackled Schramm's though? When the twins retired from touring, their next door neighbours were a pair of seven year old twins named Vicki and Judi Denton. At Ray's Raydine School Of Skating, the older twins worked with the younger twins for ten years and helped prepare them for their OWN professional careers with Ice Follies.

Between touring productions like Holiday On Ice, the Ice Follies and Ice Capades, countless hotel shows and the British ice pantomimes, so many immensely creative skaters were able to carve out bona fide careers for themselves as professional skaters in the twentieth century. These two brothers from America's midwest had perhaps one of the most unique concepts going in their era. Audiences loved it then as much as we all can appreciate it now!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Outstanding Ogilvie's

A. Raclare Kanal photos; Courtesy Jaya Kanal's It Figures! blog

Joan Astley Thompson was born in British Ceylon, a colony which no longer exists.The daughter of a British investment banker, she travelled a great deal in her youth and attended schools in Colombo and Calcutta before moving with her family to Great Britain. It was at the Queen's Ice Skating Club in London that Robert Ogilvie, a talented student of eminent Swiss coach Jacques Gerschwiler, met Joan. As was the case with so many at the time, World War II put a wrench in their skating development.

According to an article in the November/December 2012 edition of the Professional Skaters Association's magazine, "on September 6, 1940, Bob reported for training as an X-ray technician at the Royal Army Medical College in London. The college was about a half a mile down the Thames River from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and about one hundred yards from the 'Ice Club'. On the second night of his stay, the Germans started the 'blitz' by dropping a bomb on the Ice Club, destroying the building, which was never rebuilt. After a period of intense attacks, bombing continued spasmodically during his stay. Fortunately, the Queen's Ice Club near Hyde Park was below ground and continued to function throughout the War both as a rink and air raid shelter. Regrettably, one of the Queens Ice Club professionals, Walter Gregory, the inventor of the Rhumba, joined the Royal Air Force and was killed while fighting a German attack. Mr. Ogilvie spent about eighteen months working in a large army hospital before being sent out to Singapore, Malaya, which fell to the Japanese a few months later. Thus, Bob spent the remaining three and a half years of the war as a POW. Detention was very difficult on Mr. Ogilvie as the Japanese did not give the prisoners their Red Cross parcels and restricted daily rations to the volume of dry rice that would fit in the palm of your hand. 'At one point,' said Nigel Ogilvie, Bob's son, 'the medical officers concluded that eating food with maggots was okay because they added some protein value.' In a camp where almost 100% of the POW's had malaria and nearly 30% died, Bob credited his guardian angels for protecting him although in the end he did come down with beriberi (vitamin deficiency)." Meanwhile in England, Joan worked as an operating room nurse at St. Mary's Hospital and as an ambulance driver during The Blitz. The carefree days of figure skating must have seemed so far away for the war torn lovers but when Robert was liberated from the POW Camp in October 1945, the couple reunited determined to pursue their passion for the sport together. Both passed their Gold tests and Robert became certified as a judge.

Two years later, the on and off ice couple made their debut as a pairs team on the international stage at the European Championships in Prague. They finished an impressive fourth ahead of the sibling team of Jennifer and John Nicks. However, after marching in the opening ceremonies of the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, they were cut from the British team in favour of the Nicks' and another sibling team (Winnie and Dennis Silverthorne) due to an excess of entries. Instead, they were sent to the 1948 World Figure Skating Championships in Davos where they finished a disappointing twelfth place of the fourteen teams competing.

They married the same year and went on to an impressive professional career that saw them join touring productions in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Northern Africa and France before coming to America and skating at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. They then embarked on a coaching career in California, working first at Frank Zamboni's rink and then with the St. Paul Figure Skating Club in Minnesota. In 1957, they were hired as choreographers by the St. Paul Summer Pops Concert Committee to help revive the city's failing Summer Pops concert series by adding figure skating presentations to the mix. According to the September 23, 1957 edition of The Billboard, the Ogilvie's story was featured extensively in local media at the time in an attempt to draw skating fans to the events: "Feature stories included experiences of the Ogilvie's with the 1948 British Olympic skating team, traveling the international ice skating show circuit starting in 1949, and their work with 'wet' ice in Spain contrasted with the first-class ice sheet in the St. Paul auditorium."

The Ogilvie's moved from Minnesota to Maryland in 1959, where they established themselves as top coaches with the Skating Club Of Baltimore. A May 3, 2006 article in The Baltimore Messenger noted that in the Maryland city, "the Ogilvie's organized a popular, competitive, family-oriented ice club and trained students to achieve skating's gold level, the 'black-belt' equivalent for the sport." Robert Ogilvie patented the Ogilvie Blade Gauge and penned several books on figure skating including the USFSA's 1968 Basic Skills Program book, "Competitive Figure Skating: A Parent's Guide" in 1985 and "Handbook Of New Era Figures" for the Professional Skaters Guild Of America. In talking about school figures in his 1968 book, I think you'll find this expert coach's musings on scribes particularly on point:


For their outstanding contributions as coaches in America, both Robert and Joan Ogilvie were bestowed honorary lifetime memberships with the Professional Skaters Association. Joan retired from coaching in 1998 and enjoyed growing roses and breeding Siamese cats until suffering a fall in her Rodgers Forge, Maryland home in May 2003 and passing away in St. Joseph Medical Center at the age of eighty two. Robert passed away on November 18, 2013 at the age of ninety seven. In a January 23, 2014 article in The Baltimore Sun, former student Brienne Teske noted that "'He was very strict and he really ran a tight ship. He expected complete respect... We were scared of him because when he got angry, he scared you. You were a little girl, and there was this gentleman with a strong, deep voice and a British accent. But you respected him and you did what you were told. As you got older, you knew that his bark was certainly much louder than his bite, that he was a wonderful person and there was really nothing to be afraid of.' Robert Ogilvie once videotaped one of Fiske's struggling skaters, went home, studied the tape, typed up a report and presented it to Fiske, the student and the student's parents. The student soon landed that problematic jump. 'He loved it,' Fiske remembered. 'That was what he loved to do: analyze.'"

From their World War II experiences to Olympic disappointment, The Ogilvie's certainly endured their fair share of heartbreaking moments. Yet, the couple persevered and drew from their experiences in teaching many future coaches the same kind of life lessons they drew from themselves. Skating owes them a great debt.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.