Saturday, 3 June 2017

All The Best, Belita: The Definitive Biography Of Belita Jepson-Turner


INTRODUCTION

"I believe that Belita is a greater skater than any other woman in the world." - John H. Harris

The tales of those versatile, eclectic souls who are adept in flowing from world to world seamlessly and making an impact wherever they tread are perhaps the most fascinating. Without a doubt, Belita Jepson-Turner was one of those Renaissance people.

Raised wanting for nothing in a historic manor house in Hampshire, England, Belita was thrust into the spotlight by a domineering stage mother. When she danced with Anton Dolin, audiences had no notion of her skill as a skater or an actress. Film noir critics have largely played down her omnicompetence, painting her as an aloof, untrained knockoff of Sonja Henie. The result oriented figure skating world has revered her theatrical presence on the ice but largely relegated her to obscurity because she didn't win a medal at the World Championships or Olympic Games. In all three of these worlds, she was at times an outsider and at times a headliner. Yet no matter how bright Belita's light shined, in whatever world she twirled she eventually became a footnote.

I have endeavoured to include as many quotes from Belita and the central figures in her life as possible to allow them to narrate the story in their own words. In addition to countless interviews, a forty five minute audio recording called "Belita Speaks" is quoted from at length, allowing you, the reader, to gain valuable insight into her own perspective and life experiences. The prologue, a lengthy typewritten partial memoir penned by Belita about her early childhood, offers an intimate juxtaposition to the first chapter.

I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to Bill Unwin and Elaine Hooper for their extremely generous assistance with this project. I also have to extend huge thanks to Randy Gardner, the late Bob Turk, Charles Rogers, Jean Scott Brennan, Frazer Ormondroyd, Allison Manley, Robin Cousins, Bernard Ford, Cathy Steele, Karina Whiley, Anthony Whitaker, Lynda Young, Anthony Jepson-Turner, Christina Bayliss and Emma McDermott of Theatre Royal Bath and countless others who have contributed and assisted during the research process for this project.

In my thorough research of Belita's life, I found myself relating to many parts of her story. Whether your interest in her life comes through the lens of skating, theatre, film or dance, I hope that you come to appreciate as I did her unique journey through life. I believe you will agree when you finish reading that Belita was a force of nature. Immensely talented, dedicated, blunt, funny and at times chilly, she grabbed life by the horns and savoured it voraciously.

Garlogs Manor, Nether Wallop, Hampshire, 2016

PROLOGUE
By Belita Jepson-Turner

She was a lady. She wore pearls, tweeds and low heeled shoes. Her hair was dark brown and long, worn with a center parting then brought down in two thick soft waves on each side of her face and tied into a chignon at the nape of her neck. She was quite beautiful, her body was magnificent, tall and slightly boyish. This woman was lucky; she had money, position, friends, a good-looking husband and three children, two boys and a girl. They lived in a mansion called Garlogs standing in its own park and woods, surrounded by two hundred acres of farmland bordering Salisbury Plains in Hampshire. With the house and land went all the luxuries of county life in the early nineteen-hundreds.

One wonders why this woman was not satisfied. How with her tremendous strength and vitality she could turn her life into one of emptiness and loneliness. Maybe country life was too quiet; possibly she needed more excitement. As a girl her one wish was to be a dancer. When she told her father of her ambition he forbade it, as the stage was taboo for young ladies of high society in that era. With the birth of the daughter she decided that at last her early ambition could be satisfied. One wonders at what exact second the subconscious thought that she would be able to live through this child crossed her mind. I sometimes felt that she had planned my entire life before I was conceived.

I was born October 21, 1923, a few minutes before midnight at Garlogs, the youngest of the three children. Christened in the village church, like all our family have been for generations and where we are all buried. The graveyard is full of us.

The Jepson-Turner burial plot at Nether Wallop Cemetery

My name is Belita Gladys Lyne Jepson-Turner. The 'Belita' comes from the diminutive of 'Isabel' in Spanish which is 'Isabelita'. My great grandfather went to and built all the first railways in the Argentine. He married an Isabel there, then named a station and an estancia after her. To keep from getting his wife and the properties confused he called the station and estancia 'La Belita'. Since then there has always been a 'Belita' in the family. Gladys was one of my mother's names. The Lyne is from my Grandfather on Mother's side and comes from Lion. It seems that one of our ancestors was 'Richard The Lion-Hearted'. 'Richard' must have done some strange things in Italy whilst on his Crusades. Grandfather's name was 'Lyne-Stivens' and 'Stivens' is the Anglicized version of 'Stefano'.

All of the above history is hearsay as I have never troubled check any of it. The station and estancia do exist as they were mine until Peron took them to give to Eva. From the photographs of the estancia and house that I have seen they look lovely. Someday I hope to go to the Argentine and see it all. Granny was born in Buenos Aires and used to tell me stories about the country, Great Grandfather and the railways.

My brothers, Billy and Dick, are called Bertram William after Grandfather and Daddy; Richard Lyne after King Richard and Grandfather.


My first recollection I have of Mummy is that she smelled good; then that she was very beautiful, gay and happy, with a sweet, warm smile. She was always busy. Life at Garlogs in 1926 was a whirl of social activity and Mummy organized it all, the house and the garden, the village and our church. She was also on a lot of committees. There were always house parties and visitors, of course during the shooting and hunting season huge luncheons and balls.

'Bumbo' as she called her husband, I have no idea why, really only liked shooting and hunting. Daddy even carried his gun to church on Sundays in case he saw vermin that he could kill on the way. He did not dare take the gun in during a service so he would prop it up in the portal before entering. I remember seeing the gun and thinking how odd it looked standing there.

Daddy was selfish, cruel, boorish and utterly self-centred. From the time that I was born to his death seven years later he never did a stroke of work, he did not even play the market. I have no idea what he did or how he lived before my birth. He was unbelievably strong, not a large man but beautifully built. His hair was dark and he sported a small military moustache. From top to toe, he was the epitome of the Landed Gentry.

Daddy did not believe in doctors. Once when I was about three years old, he had a toothache. With Billy, Dick and I watching him he tied one end of a piece of string around the tooth, the other to the heavy front door, and ordered one of us to slam it shut. We refused, even though we were longing to see what would happen. Mummy then came into the hall and was furious with 'Bumbo', telling him not to be stupid and to go to a dentist. Daddy flatly refused and with no further ado slammed the door himself, extracting the tooth and spewing blood all over the flag stones. Dick could not stand the sight of blood and was promptly sick. I didn't mind at all. To my amazement I discovered that a tooth, like a tree, has long roots.

Those very early years at Garlogs with my brothers were tremendously happy ones, treasures to be stored and loved. We did not have a 'Nanny' but two or three governesses. Mummy believed that children should be taught to learn as soon as they opened their eyes. Because of this belief, our governesses were always French, German and Spanish. The French governess was with us for a long time. Her name was Germain Arosa. She was young, pretty, very nice and lots of fun.

The Spanish and German ladies came and went... rather rapidly... as Daddy persisted in insulting them publicly. "Dirty Hun!", "Lying Dago!", "Frog!" Germaine just used to smile, Mummy became angry, everyone else looked rather surprised.

Daddy disliked the way Mummy was educating us; he wanted us to go to the village school so that we would stay at Garlogs. His plans for our future were quite simple. Billy was to be the game-keeper, Dick the head-gardener and I the dairy-maid. Mummy of course disagreed with his ideas and the opposing opinions were the foundation for endless violent arguments and fights.

The idea behind the governesses was that we were to have a lesson a day from each of the, and speak little or no English. In fact my 'natural' language at that time was French. This horrified Daddy; he was getting a 'Frog' for a daughter!

We avoided the lessons as often as we could and spent our days running wild over the estate. There were six farms that Dick and I loved to visit. We were forbidden to go near them, but of course we did, the reason being that either one or both of us got hurt each time we went. Mummy was magnificent when bad accidents occurred, she never panicked, she was always calm and reassuring.

At this time we children still lived on the top floor of the house with the governesses. Our floor was entirely self-sufficient except for food which came from the kitchens downstairs. Billy and Dick slept
in one room, I was in the night nursery next door; the governesses had separate bedrooms down the landing opposite the schoolroom. Facing south at one end of the landing was a large window in front of which stood an old dining-room table. The walls on each side were lined with bookcases. The rest of the landing was covered with a switchback, a ping pong table, a slide, an electric train, three pedal cars, a tricycle and scooter, a rocking horse, several Meccano sets (which Billy and Dick told me I was too young to touch) and my doll's house. The doll's house was made for me by the village carpenter and looked a little like Garlogs. It had three floors and an attic. At that age, I could get into the rooms if I scrunched up a bit. I spent a lot of time furnishing and cleaning it. It was a nice house.

In a little room, beside the schoolroom, was where I kept my dolls, all three hundred of them. They ranged in size, from an early Victorian child bigger than I was, to a tiny baby doll that fit into the cot of the nursery in the doll's house. It was a strange, dark little room and the jackdaws were always falling down the chimney, giving it an eerie feeling.

The stairwell on our floor was enclosed with wire to prevent us from climbing up the bannisters and plunging headfirst to the bottom. The stairs had a gate across them. We rarely used the front staircase, it was much nicer to use the back stairs behind the baize door. These led, by way of the servants passage, to the stable courtyard, then past the garages and under the arch with the old clock, to the stables and dairy, past these up some stone stairs to freedom. Miles of fields and woods with no grown ups.

My days started at about six AM. I used to get out of my bed and crawl into Billy's, then he would read to me "Bulldog Drummond" or "The Saint". Then breakfast and if the weather was good out; if it was bad we stayed on our landing having lessons.

If we were out at lunch time we did not always come home. None of us were good eaters. One of Mummy's biggest problems was to stop the governesses taking food away from us as a form of punishment. We ate as little as possible and we all had loud-voiced objections to certain things. I would eat nothing with lumps in it; if mashed potatoes were given me and I found a lump in my mouth, I was promptly sick.

After lunch was rest time. I used to lie down with Dick and he would read to me. Sometimes his favourite, "Doctor Doolittle", or the "Tarzan" series. Then out or to lessons again till tea time.

When we had finished our tea we did hand work: leather and metal work, all forms of painting including material, glass and china. During this we were read to. What, and in what language, depending on the nationality of the governess on duty. Mommy was very strict about bed time. It was seven thirty, lights out and no nonsense. She used to come upstairs and make sure that we stopped hand work in time to be given our baths so that we would not be late, then she returned to kiss us good night.

Billy and Dick were both very good looking but completely different both physically and mentally. Billy's idea of a good time was to go out with the game keeper for the day. Shooting, fishing, ferreting. They used to spend hours checking on pheasants and partridge nests. He really enjoyed learning about all game animals and their habits more than anything else. Dick's idea of a perfect day was quite different. He liked to ride, climb trees, look at things and daydream. He spent hours on the farms with the farmers learning the care of domestic animals.


My brothers were my constant companions, and my life, so naturally, at that age, my character was a composite of theirs.

At about this point in our lives we were each given a suitable and expensive hobby. It was not considered necessary that we like our hobby, but it was considered essential that it be fragile, delicate and valuable. Something very difficult for young hands to handle and manipulate. Also that it trained the eye for colour, texture and form.

For Billy: birds eggs, and all the tools that went with it.
For Dick: stamps and all the necessary historical ledgerdemain.
For me: China baskets and ornaments.

When I was born my collection of objets d'arts was started. My trousseau was given me at my christening. Brussels lace for the wedding veil and train. Enough lace for all my nightdresses, tea gowns and all the other furbelows needed for a virgin marriage. Instead of toys, people were asked to always give me a piece of china as a present. My job, starting as soon as I could, with reasonable safety, handle delicate and breakable things, was to wash the collection two or three times a year. It numbered some odd fifty pieces even then!

With the arrival of the hobbies came the start (certainly for me) of Mummy's Dream: dancing classes. All three of us were sent to Romsey, about fifteen miles away to have our lesson. Mme. Vacani, who has taught every royal, titled and high society child its first step for years, had started a branch of her school at Romsey. So, to Billy, Dick's and my horror, our dancing career was started.

Once a week we were made to dress in party clothes. The two boys in white flannel shorts, white silk shirts, Eaton ties and belts; I in white muslin with embroidered forget-me-not's and mashing sash. Clutching our dancing shoes we were taken to Mme. Vacani's school. The class consisted of ring-around-the-rosy, to waltz time; standing in a line, pointing one foot after the other, then taking a step to the left and curtseys for the ladies, bows for the gentlemen, to a foxtrot; from the corner of the room, arms above the head as though holding a balloon, rising upon the toes, walk daintily across the room, this last was done is various arpeggios! The three of us managed to create havoc with all these exercises and any others the poor misguided teacher tried to teach the undisciplined Jepson-Turner children.

One day returning in the car, sex reared its ugly head. I heard my brothers say how very pretty they found one of the little girls in class. How lovely were her blue eyes and long blonde curly hair!

I was heart-broken and mortified, I was the ugly duckling of the family. I felt that I had lost my brothers love. My hair was mouse coloured, short and straight. Mummy, to my humiliation, always had it put in curl papers every night. Of course, Billy and Dick had curly hair! My skin was the colour of chalk, my eyebrows and lashes blonde so the eyes were invisible, I was undersized and frankly... hideous! Having listened to Billy and Dick rave about this blonde, I was sure that not only had I lost their love, but that no one would ever love me, and I proceeded to howl.

The next innovation in our lives to upset our freedom was the advent of a pair of boots and skates each. The ice skates were attached to the boots but the roller skates were not. In the winter we were taken to the nearest ice rink, which happened to be in Southampton. Then, the ice skates removed from the boots and replaced with roller skates for the summer. Daddy went with us to roller skate, he was quite good good, not only could he manage to stand up on those extraordinary things but turn around and do a wobbly waltz.

Now our weeks at Garlogs consisted of: in the winter, ice skating, languages, hand-work and playing on our landing; in the summer: dancing, roller skating, languages and running wild over our estate.

Mummy then had another idea, "LONDON".

She did not think we were progressing fast enough along her chosen line, so she decided that London was the answer, where teachers were always more easily obtainable. Whenever any of the family went to London we always stayed with Granny in her fifteen room flat. It was one of those old Victorian blocks, with high ceilings and large rooms, overlooking Regent's Park and Lord's Cricket Ground. One governess, the personal maid, three children, the chauffeur and Mummy went to 54 North Gate for a few weeks. Mummy never travelled light; somehow she managed to organize all of us plus her luggage, ours and various travelling pillows, rugs and receptacles for car sickness, into and onto the Daimler. Under her careful supervision the chauffeur drove us the seventy-eight miles to the flat. There we were greeted by the hall porter. His name was Clough and he had been at North Gate long before the three of us were born.

The first thing that Mummy did in London was to arrange for us to go to Mme. Vacani three times a week for dancing classes; the next was to get a family membership to the Westminster Ice Club where she took us twice a week. This left the morning and late afternoon for lessons and walks in Regent's Park. The Zoo was within walking distance and we went there a lot, sometimes taking a picnic which was great fun.

Mme. Vacani gave a matinee once a year at the old Scala Theatre. For some unknown reason it is highly respectable for such 'do's, though it stands on Greek St. in Soho. Naturally, for fear of offending their parents, all her pupils were in the matinee, whether talented or not.

Billy, Dick and I had been in a couple prior to our joining the London school. My first attempt, or so I have been told, was as the fairy of the Christmas tree. It was a disaster! Instead of doing any of the steps as taught, I went on stage and ran right off into the wings, after which I apparently got lost. Mme. Vacani, and the governess, who had been left to look after me, could not find me anywhere. I was at last discovered outside the stage door in a dead end street with an audience of slum children. It seems that I had decided it was sad that they could not see the show, and taken it upon myself to do it for them. I was showing them all the lovely, pretty things I had seen in the theatre and doing my best to give them the whole performance, dances and dialogue, with full description of costumes and set. Those children must have been very understanding. It's a wonder I was not stoned!

My next attempt on stage was as a 'dance mime', a trio with Billy and Dick: "Once there was a nursemaid walking in Hyde Park when she met a soldier and sailor." Billy was a Royal Guard and Dick a sailor. We were all very small so that our costumes had to be hand-made. I wore a white silk dress with turquoise polka dots, a turquoise cape with hood and matching shoes. The pram was made to match me, white outside, turquoise inside, the doll dressed the same. All chosen by me! Billy and Dick looked wonderful in their miniature uniforms. In the number, the nursemaid is walking through the park, she meets a soldier, they talk and do a dance, then a sailor appears, pushes the soldier aside, talks to the nursemaid and they do a Hornpipe. The nursemaid gets tired of both the soldier and sailor, walks off leaving them standing alone, then they go off together. End of number. End of Billy and Dick's theatrical career. I wasn't that lucky.

At Westminster Ice Rink Mummy used to skate with us. She got us a teacher who taught us to do edges, three turns and figure eights. Mummy used to waltz and tenstep during the dance intervals. She did them quite well. It was at Westminster, that early in my life, that I first saw my future trainer. His name was Jacob Gerschwiler. In those days he had few pupils. There was one, his favourite called Cecilia Colledge, known to all as Fatty. She was as round as a small tub with a pudding basin for a head. Her hair parted in the middle and pulled into two short braids that stuck out each side of her face. Gerschwiler said she would be a champion, but to us she did not seem very good. Fatty did not like the younger children and was nasty to us all. She was three or four years older than I was.

I could still not do my own boots up, so I had to go to the ladies skate room and to Number Seven. NUMBER SEVEN! Without him there would have been fewer girls skating for Britain in future championships. He watched over us with the loving care of a mother hen. He mended our boots, screwed on and sharpened our skates; when we had finished practicing he wiped and dried our skates, put Vaseline on them and kept our locker keys. He was divine. A round-faced, big, amiable Swedish-type Cockney, with thinning brown hair and a ruddy complexion. I never knew his name.


Skating was fun, dancing a rather boring waste of time. We were all delighted when Mummy decided it was time to return to Garlogs.

At Garlogs, Granny had her own room. It was very large and for some unknown reason was behind the baize door, near the billiard room on the second floor. It was very definitely her room! Billy, Dick and I were never allowed in there except when invited by Granny herself. Granny was tall, beautiful with snow white hair and a character of steel. Mummy was certainly her mother's daughter.

Whenever Granny came to stay at Garlogs, there was always trouble. She and Daddy did not get on well together. There seemed to be an instinctive antagonism between them. Even to us at our age we could sense the animosity. It was almost tangible like an electric shock. She always wore black or dark amethyst dresses which made her look forbidding. As a child, she frightened me.

One night I was being naughty and creeping about the house very late. Granny came swooping down like a bat, catching me by the arm and gauging out a chunk of flesh with her beautifully manicured nails. It hurt and bled. I don't think she meant it but she scared the living daylights out of me.

Granny was patroness of all the village charities so her visits coincided with events such as the show in the village hall, the rummage sale and the church fête. Any family meal became pure hell during these times. The arguments for and against everything were awful. Daddy was always against.

Rummage sales were very busy for Billy, Dick and me. Our landing was cleared of all our toys, and trestle tables put up everywhere. All other available space was taken with large cardboard boxes filled to the brim. Mummy had an arrangement with the shops in London whereby they donated all their damaged and out of date stock to the village sale. This all had to be sorted and priced; then there was the hand work table made by ladies of the county and the three of us over the year. This included a speeded up batch of any plain glass or china painted by us as soon as it was unpacked. We could do this quite easily with oil paint and stencils. The stencils were dressed up a bit with brush strokes. The hand work stall was Billy, Dick's and my responsibility. Our landing was invaded by ladies of the Committee all day. Never ending cups of tea and biscuits were passed around. For a week it was a madhouse. Three days before the sale, vans arrived to cart the stuff to the village, then two days work decorating the hall, setting up the stands and exhibiting the goods. People came from miles away. The sale only lasted one day but it made a great deal of money.

The church fête took place in the garden at Garlogs. For Mummy it must have been a great worry. Owing to the two lakes, the hills, woods and drive, the grounds were rather dangerous. We never got through the afternoon without incidents: some funny, some tragic. Once, very early in my life, Mummy was standing ready to receive at the top of the drive, looking proudly at her three children in their spotless white party clothes, when the guests started arriving. About half an hour later she suddenly noticed that she was missing a child. Her heart must have sunk, as with all the activity God alone knew what Dick was up to. She was not kept in suspense for long. An extremely nasty smell of manure, stale mud and rotten vegetation started to waft across the lawn. It was followed closely by Dick. He was white no longer. It seems that getting a little bored, he decided to experiment on his bicycle. He wanted to know how fast he could cross and recross the planks bridging the drainage canal at the bottom of the kitchen garden by the pigsties. Missing one of the planks. he fell in. It took two gardeners to get him out. Mummy, as though nothing had happened, instructed the butler to take him into the house and see that he was washed and disinfected.

A vague, virtually impossible attempt was made during the fête to keep the many children in one area to avoid accidents. One of the lakes had a punt. It was a threepenny round trip ride to the island in the middle. This was decorated in various ways. Sometimes it was a floral display, others a tropical forest. Once we made it into "Robinson Crusoe's Island". That was a great success. Usually the booth and punt were given to one of the (supposedly more responsible) older boys to run, with strict instructions that no unattended children were to be allowed on board. But as the afternoon wore on the cries of "Man overboard!" or rather "Look at Sally! She's fallen in!" increased. I think the total of Sally's and otherwise came to fourteen one afternoon.

Another threepence was paid for the privilege of using our tree house. Since Billy, Dick and I were natural athletes and completely fearless this was a rather dangerous adventure for the uninitiated. Quite a few people either got stuck up there and had to be brought down, or simply fell down.

We had a swing. Not an ordinary swing that you that you just sat on, this one you had to climb a  ladder to get onto. A low swing would have been no fun at all so we made the gardeners hang ours about five and a half feet in the air. It hung from the branch of a lovely old tree. When Billy, Dick and I wanted to use it we just climbed in the tree and shimmied down the rope. Actually, once one got the swing going to its full height the view from it was very nice. On the one side, the house, the two lakes, the tennis courts, some of the flower garden and large expanses of lawn. On the other, four fields, the water meadow and one of the farm houses.

On the other side of the oak tree from the swing stood the summer house. This was my personal job. I used to decorate the little house with garland of fresh flowers, put in the chairs and table ready for the fortune teller in the afternoon. She charged two and six a reading, took tips and demanded cups of tea. The archery stand was Billy's domain and Dick's the pony ride. Ample room for accidents in all. Mummy's first aid station, run by The Red Cross, was one of the best attended booths.

In the early days, the village show was a family affair. Even Daddy did something. Granny played the piano and accompanied. The governesses did props, scenery and the curtain if they could not perform. Germaine was great. She was the daughter of an opera singer and frightfully good. Years later she went into the theatre professionally with her own show, along the lines of Ruth Draper. Billy and Dick sang, recited and did sketches. Dick was the comedian of the family. Needless to say, I danced!

In one show, I did a pas de deux with Mummy. It was my first attempt at choreography! Mummy was a rainbow, I was a sunbeam; she wore a multi-coloured chiffon dress and a gold headpiece with ribbons hanging from it. She carried a long rainbow scarf, at the other end of which was me. Dressed in all gold. The ballet was not a success. Actually, I spent most of my time tripping over the bloody scarf!

My second attempt was more ambitious. It was called 'A Vase Of Roses'. Mummy was the full grown rose. Patricia (one of my cousins) and I were the rose buds; Billy and Dick the thorns. I had a prop made to look like a large vase. As the curtain went up, we were all discovered standing in a group within it. The little flowers came to life and the ballet had started. I had a lot of trouble with rehearsals. Billy and Dick would not take them seriously and we had to work from gramophone records as Granny had not arrived from London, so there was no rehearsal pianist. My troubles were added to by not being able to get the stage at the village hall, therefore we had to practice at one end of the drawing room on the parquet floor. That floor! It was more like an ice rink than a floor and Daddy forbade us to use resin. I had my heart set on doing lifts with Billy and Dick in the ballet, but every time I threw myself at them their feet would slip and we landed in a heap. I cried a lot during those rehearsals.

Like the pas de deux, it was not a success. It received more laughter than the stunned silence I had envisioned. I have never choreographed anything for anyone, other than myself, since. At least the theatre was saved that.

It was a mystery to me how Mummy could fool herself hat I had more talent for dancing and theatre than any other child. But she did. I used to hear her say that I was a born dancer! It was quite untrue. I was just average.

At about this time, Mummy decided that we should all go to Switzerland for the Christmas holidays. Daddy, when told, was furious. He did not want to leave Garlogs or the shooting over Christmas. Anyway, he had hated all foreign countries since his experiences in the Boer War. He flatly refused to go. When Mummy told us of the plan for the holidays, we became hysterical with excitement. We were going 'abroad' for the first time in our lives.

Before any arrangements could be made, we had to be put onto Mummy's passport. Germaine and the lady's maid, being French, had theirs and were going with us. Next, Mummy took us to Lillywhites where we were outfitted with ski clothes. Billy, Dick's and mine were exactly alike; we were each given a pair of brownish grey ski trousers with matching jackets and caps, beige cashmere sweaters with dark red and blue binding at the neck. The boy's sweaters had V-necks, mine was square. We were also fitted for our ski and snow boots.

I wanted a pair of beige skating boots - they were in fashion at the time - instead of the horrid brown ones I had, also another dress. I hated the one that I had. It was too brown, a flowered print with scallops at the bottom... hideous! Mummy said no to everything.

Mummy's idea of the chic thing to wear for sports was black. Her skating boots were black and her dress, a fine black wool jersey with a pleated skirt, black hat and gloves. She chose a black gabardine ski suit and boots. Maybe she chose black for these two sports as both have white backgrounds. Anyway, she looked quite lovely.

Skis were not bought, as Mummy had told that it was 'done' to rent them from the hotel ski shop.

I loved my skiing clothes for two reasons: they were like my brothers and I found trousers very comfortable. Skirts always caught on things and got in the way.

At last, all arrangements made, the packing finished, we were on our way. The journey to Switzerland was fascinating and uneventful. A few minor fights, a few minor lost articles. We lost Dick at Dover for a while. He had got in the wrong queue. The Channel boat held endless interesting things to look at. We refused to stay in the private cabin. People had rather a bad time keeping track of the three of us during the crossing. From Calais, we boarded Wagons-Lits for Zürich, there we took the funicular railway up to St. Moritz.

The change at Zürich was rather complicated owing to Mummy's manner of travelling. She had two large trunks and fifteen suitcases for herself, not counting her travelling pillow, rug, dressing case and other odd pieces. Billy, Dick and I had a couple of suitcases and a small trunk apiece. To our joy we had each been given a knapsack. Into these all our treasures were stuffed. Germaine and the maid had their luggage too.

The carriages of a funicular are all alike. It is like a skiers train which stops at every little village along the way. The whole train is made of wood and there are no separate compartments. The carriages are small, and inside, the wood is straw coloured and highly polished. The smell is divine: ski wax, snow, cedar, sausages, chocolate and oranges all mixed together. There is a center aisle, on each side of which stand slotted benches, in sets of two facing into each other. The benches are not upholstered.

It was difficult getting Mummy, her luggage and entourage on board and settled. She had never seen a train of this kind in her life. There was a great deal of screaming for 'Cooks' about the fact that there were no private compartments. It took the poor man a long time to explain that if you wished to get to St. Moritz, this was the one and only way to get there, sleighs notwithstanding.

Eventually we arrived at St. Moritz. The station was tiny, smaller than any I had ever seen. It looked, lit up with its fairy lights and its paint, exactly like the cover of a picture book. One only had to open it to start seeing a dream world. I was very nervous getting off the train in case the dream would shatter. To my delight, there was not a car in sight. Just lovely sleighs and those beautiful horses with their pom-pom's and bells. The bells ring through the mountains and valleys from sunrise to sunset like a winter symphony. They are crisp, clean and clear like snow and ice.

We arrived at Suvretta House, our hotel, about five thirty in the afternoon. It had taken three sleighs, each drawn by two horses, to get Mummy and her entourage from the station. We had seen little of St. Moritz on the way as it was fairly dark, but our driver could point out the hotel from quite a distance, as it stands above the village in its own grounds and was lit up. Turning into the drive we were greeted by our first sight of real skiers and tobogganists all returning from their day's outing. The cortège of sleighs pulled up at the porte-cochère and at one the divine smell of a Swiss house and the glowing warmth through the glass inner doors welcomed us.

So I made my entrance into my first hotel. The lobby, halls and passages were enormous. There were double doors to all the rooms, with about a foot and a half between each door. All the windows were double too and there was a fireplace in every room. Then the greatest discovery of all: huge feather beds! The joy of running across the room, jumping as high as you can and landing enfolded in a feather bed, with the smell of whatever soap the Swiss use to do their laundry in, is something I shall never forget.

Ours was a corner suite consisting of three bedrooms and a sitting room. Mummy was alone in one room, Billy, Dick, Germaine and I shared the other two. The maid was up in the guest servant's quarters. The bathroom was enormous with a lavatory up two stairs like a throne on a dias. Mummy travelled with all the indispensables: disinfectant, lavatory paper, face towels, soaps, paper lavatory seat covers and a first aid kit in case of accidents. Before we were allowed near the bathroom the maid was sent to clean it. The bath was huge. I had to have a footstool to get into it.

It was quite late when we got to bed that night. Mummy and Germaine had rather a difficult time getting us to stop our tour of exploration through the hotel.

Next morning, another introduction into one of the joys of life: café au lait, croissants and brioches with mountain honey. Mummy was extremely upset because the waiter had not brought marmalade. Of course, she had already had her morning tea and biscuit in bed, brought by her personal maid.

Billy, Dick and I were overwhelmed with so many new things to look at, eat and touch. Billy and I, we both had rather sensitive stomachs and were beginning to feel slightly sick from excitement but neither of us would admit it. Everything was too wonderful.

The view from the window was breathtaking. The Alps, with the sun slowly rising and the snow reflecting the myriads of colours. From our corner of the hotel, we could see no human activity at that time as the skiers had not yet started their daily workout. The ice rink was on the other side of the hotel. Very vaguely in the distance, the church spire started to be seen.

Having got into our new clothes, we could not wait to get out to see what the snow was like. The first surprise when we got outside was that it did not seem really cold, even that early with the sun not at its height. Later on in the morning we ran around without sweaters. A strange thing happened. We found that after running a little, we became short of breath and a bit dizzy. We dared not mention how we felt to either Mummy or Germaine in case they thought we were ill and kept us in. It was some days before we all found out that the strange feeling was due to the altitude.

The first thing we made Mummy organize when she came downstairs was the renting of our skis. Another new experience! We were all made to stand with our feet together, arms extended above our heads. If, with the skis standing upright we could palm the points, the skis were the right size. The next thing was to convince Mummy to get us three toboggans. Mummy refused to let us ski until she had reserved an instructor, so shaking with excitement we settled for tobogganing.

I think Mummy was a little frustrated that none of us had shown the slightest interest in the ice rink. We had not even gone to look at it. However, by then it was lunch time so she had to keep quiet about it. We had insisted that the ski instructor be booked early the next morning so the afternoon was free. Mummy got us on ice.

I can't for the life of me remember who she got to teach us that winter. It must have been one of the instructors under contract to Suvretta House. The three of us had progressed to rather wobbly figure eights and threes to a center, We could also go backwards by then. Mummy was rather partial to the dance interval and had a dance instructor to teach her the new dances. One of them was the Ten-Step.

One of the nicer things about a holiday in St. Moritz are the teas as we soon found out. Delicious hot, bitter chocolate with lashings of whipped cream and wonderful cakes. These were served in the lobby of the hotel. Once and a while we went into the village to have tea at Rumplemeyer's, which was in a very old four storied house. It was always terribly crowded.

In a couple of days we had settled down to a daily routine. Skiing in the morning, skating in the afternoon and either ping pong, indoor bowling or games after tea until bedtime. After we had been put to bed, Mummy used to go out, and I presume she enjoyed herself, but I have no clue where, with whom or what she did. She used to change whilst we three had dinner in the sitting room, then come and kiss us good night, looking divine in evening dress wearing jewelry and carrying her furs.

Our skiing progressed quite well. Mummy did it in a rather dignified manner as though it was impossible for her to ever fall down, much the way she did everything else. Billy and Dick seemed to be natural skiers, Billy being the better of the two by a small margin. I trailed along behind, as usual to do whatever they did, and falling all over the place.

Skating one afternoon, Billy was accosted by a very strange girl. She asked him if he wanted to dance with her. None of us could really understand what she wanted. Her speech and voice were very peculiar. Billy was horrified as he did not like girls at this time. Especially ugly ones. And this one really was ugly! They got through a waltz together and he said he was tired. Later at tea, an extraordinary lady beckoned the entire family to her table. Her dress was of sapphire velvet and she wore a black hat sporting a very large jewelled hat pin. Her hands were covered in rings. There must have been one on every finger. She also wore four or five ropes of pearls and on her front a diamond brooch. I was amazed, never having seen jewellery worn in the daytime, except for the traditional single rope of pearls. Her voice and accent were unbelievable. She turned out to be the strange girl's strange mother.

The girl's name was Carolinda and the mother was called Lady Butterfield, how or why I do not know. It appeared that they came from America, a place called Chicago, and that Lady Butterfield had something to do with meat. She told Mummy that she was very, very rich: a millionaire. Carolinda wa her only child and Lady Butterfield wanted her to have young friends to play with. She had noticed how well Mummy organized the daily activity of her brood and would it be alright for Carolinda to join them? Mummy said yes!

Carolinda turned out to be the sort of girl that plays lacrosse, the sporty type! She went at everything like an onrushing tank, including Billy. She had taken a lot of skiing lessons and was very good. Her skating was dreadful. She ploughed on with us every morning, noon and night. Dick and I had a lot of trouble with her. Not only were we younger, but by being around, frustrated her plans with Billy. Poor Billy. He had a miserable time trying to avoid her. I really loathed her. She pushed me around all the time. Once, she shut me up in between the double doors leading from the sitting room to one of the bedrooms and left me there. It was an hour before I was found. The entire hotel had been made to search for me. Mummy was angry.

Lady Butterfield became entranced by her daughter's skating and decided to have a yearly competition and donate a trophy. It was called the Butterfield Cup. I am certain that the idea originated with Mummy. The cup was for young ladies under twelve and was inaugurated at the Palace Hotel Ice Rink. Carolinda did not win.

Sometimes we went to skate at other hotel rinks. It was then that I saw for the first time the great skaters of the world: Karl Schäfer, Ernst Baier, Sonja Henie, Felix Kaspar and the younger batch that were being trained as future champions. This was my first introduction to really good skating and the possibilities of the medium.

There were various trainers always around, many of whom were pointed out to me as Gods. There was, of course, Jacob Gerschwiler, Howard Nicholson (one of Sonja Henie's trainers), Eugene Mikeler and many others. It all looked to me like a lot of work. Billy, Dick and I were not really impressed by skating, but Mummy wished us to get our Bronze medals when we returned to England.

Looking back, it seems to me that for the three of us, anything athletic or concerning movement seemed extraordinarily easy. The thing we loved best of all was skiing. That big day came when we were to take our third class tests. Even Mummy went in and passed. Billy and Dick got very good marks and I think that I was just 'allowed' through because I was so small. I could never do the turns properly and was forever falling on my face but, oh, how I loved it!

We were to go down to Arosa, a village which was a sleigh journey of about an hour and a half, to spend the day with Mummy's sister, Marie Earle and her six children, five boys and one girl. There was a great to-do about getting us a sleigh and we were told to take our boots and skates with us. Mummy had rugs, a change of clothes, a picnic hamper and various other things she thought might be useful for such a dangerous undertaking as going down the side of a mountain in a sleigh. None of this turned out to be necessary as the roads were usable for sleighs and horses are are built for that express purpose. The only thing that ever happened was once in a while, some lunatic on a toboggan would shout 'ahh tung' and come flying by. This is fine on the way down, but on the way up it invariably frightens the horses.

We arrived at Arosa, had lunch and were told afterwards to go and spend the afternoon much as we wished. Billy and Dick and the older Earle boys took off somewhere. I went with the younger ones to the ice rink where we played around. We were on the ice when Billy suddenly came running down to the rink, looking very frightened with a very white face to tell us that Mummy, on her way down to the rink, had been hit from the back by a tobogganist and had broken her shoulder. It seemed that she'd been taken to hospital where her shoulder was being set.

Quite suddenly, Billy became the head of the family and with the help of Germaine took care of everything. Dick and I were not allowed to go and visit Mummy, but Billy did and came back to tell us that she was alright, but in a great deal of pain. Her orders were that we were to return, quite regardless, to St. Moritz where she would join us the following day. How she managed to join us, how she withstood the pain, is something that I will never know. The organization of getting herself up the mountain minus an ambulance must have been fantastic.

She arrived at the hotel with arm and entire shoulder in a plaster cast. She then informed us that it was very badly set, that she simply could not stay in a foreign hospital and that she simply had to get back to London so that Sir William Willcox - who was our Godfather and student of Grandfather's - could organize the resetting of all the broken bones. With which she started our departure, arranging train tickets, berths, boat cabins, the maids, Germain and us!

Two days later, we were on the boat. We were warned as we boarded the channel boat that it was going to be a rough crossing. We went immediately to the cabin where we stayed till the swells started, then for some unknown reason Dick suddenly started feeling sick. Mummy, Germaine and the three of us went up on deck, Germaine assisting Mummy, where we sat on one of the benches, looking out to sea.

The waves were enormous and the boat was pitching wildly. The sailors kept coming up and asking us to go below. They told us that it was unsafe for us to be on deck. Mummy, in her usual way, explained that one of her children became seasick if enclosed in the cabin and that it was preferable for us to get air. At the end of her speech, the boat took a rather bigger lurch and Billy and I fell right off the bench and ended up practically falling through the railings along the side of the deck. It may sound unbelievable, but the railings were actually far enough apart at that time for a child to slide under the first rung. This rather frightened Mummy, with which she decided it would be better for us in the cabin. We had a rather difficult journey back as Mummy, with the heavy cast, found it very hard to walk and balance and every time she hit a wall, it obviously hurt her very much.

The rest of the journey was fairly quiet. Dick was not sick until nearly the very end of the crossing and I, like a stupid ass, took one look at him and proceeded to follow his lead. It was Billy's turn to laugh as then the maids started and Germaine and so that they only two feeling no pain were Billy and Mummy.

In a rather bedraggled state, we got into the Daimler which had been sent from Garlogs and were driven to London. Mummy was put to bed, Uncle Will was called and we were all told that Mummy's shoulder was not a broken shoulder, but an extremely badly splintered and fractured collarbone running into the neck. Uncle Will said that she should go into a nursing home. Mummy acquiesced and said that she would go in just long enough to have the entire thing cut open, the chips taken out, wired back together again, and made Uncle Will promise that he would let her come home as soon as she was conscious. To my knowledge, she only stayed in for three days. She again returned, this time with a much lighter cast than she had before, and seemed to be in less pain. None of this seemed to deter her from her original plans, which were to return to Garlogs for the hunting season and look after her people.

Garlogs again... It was getting to the point where Billy and Dick's schooling had to be decided.. They had been put down for several schools including preparatory and private, and they were now getting towards the age where a definite decision had to be made. This caused endless arguments between Mummy and Daddy, which I heard as I passed doors and windows during the day. Eventually, Billy and Dick were told they were to go to St. Peter's Court in Broadstairs, meaning that Billy would go a little older and Dick a little younger than usual.

Now, there started to be big changes in Garlogs. It was decided that the boys should move downstairs to sleep. So, a room was prepared next to Mummy and Daddy's suite for Billy and Dick. The room was redecorated: new beds, new furniture and new carpeting. Egg shell walls and a white ceiling overlooking one of the lakes. I was still upstairs with the governesses. Also, another innovation: Billy was allowed down to dinner. It seemed that Dick and I weren't old enough yet. Dick had to wait a few months. I had to wait a few years.

In the meantime, we had all three progressed to breakfast and lunch in the dining room. Our life (three three of us) had changed a little. I now wore the same clothes as my brothers. In other words, I was dressed in brogues, woollen socks, knickerbockers, a shirt and one of my skiing sweaters and my hair was put in a hairnet. From the back, you could not tell us apart. The only distinctive mark I had to prove that I was a girl and not a body was the square neck of my sweater.

Daddy, at this point in my life, started to teach me to be a good country girl. I was sent out with the gamekeeper to learn to handle ferrets and the art of rabbiting, how to pluck, skin and clean game, birds, rabbits and hares. When there was a shoot on, Billy sometimes used to go as a loader, but Dick and I had to go into the beater's cart from which we worked. After we had beaten, we had to go and pick up the game and bring it home where it was divided into so many brace per gun depending on the bag. The rest was taken to a cabin in one of the woods where it was hung either for eating or for sale. Daddy ran Garlogs as a shooting estate and it was one of the best, if not the best in England. Daddy was also probably the best gun in England and Billy was rapidly following in his footsteps.

One morning after breakfast, Daddy told me to come with him to the gun room where he took out a gun and loaded it and told me that I was to learn how to shoot. We walked out of the front door, across the drive and onto one of the lawns where he looked around and obviously decided that we were far too close to everything, so we went on a bit further down the hill towards one of the lakes where there was nothing that could be hurt or injured by a bit of gunshot within range. He then told me for probably the hundredth time in my life how to put a gun to my shoulder, right along the barrel, where the trigger was, how to stand, and anything else that he though necessary such as aim, the difference being that I realized the gun was loaded. He left me, telling me that when he said "Pull!" I was to pull the trigger. I stood there, holding the gun up and finding it just as difficult to keep the barrel steady, owing to the weight of the gun, as I always had when it was unloaded. At his command, I pulled the trigger.

The gun went one way, I went ass-over-tip downhill, ending up near the lake with what I was convinced was a broken shoulder like Mummy's. Daddy's anger at my incompetence, lack of strength and in his opinion, lack of courage, was something to behold. I refused to touch a gun again and would not even go and pick the thing up. I ran up the hill into the house and went screaming to Mummy where she read me the riot act and told Daddy that he was wicked to have given me a gun and asking me to shoot it and that he was never to do such a thing again.

Mummy still rode, sidesaddle, in those days and went hunting with Daddy, who was Master Of Hounds. They must have decided that it was time for us to have a pony. Up until then, we had been riding a dear old thing much too large for us called Moses. He was a sort of grey white, one of the gentlest creatures I've ever known. He used to follow us around like a dog. So, one day to our amazement, a horse van arrived and this very small, compact, muscular wild-eyed Arab pony was led out, and the three of us were told that it was ours and that we were to look after it. Mummy appeared, took one look, turned on Daddy, demanding an explanation of this horse. It seemed that she had wanted a nice, docile, quiet little pony on which it would be safe for us to ride, not a thoroughbred Arab trained for showing. It was very difficult to get the Arab pony into the stable and then into her loose box. Her name was Snowdrop.

Next morning, Billy tried to ride her. She bucked him off. Dick had a go. The same result. An immediate decision was made. I was not allowed near her. Once again, Mummy demanded of Daddy an explanation of where he had found her. His answer was that he had bought her cheap from Lord Bathurst because she had thrown all the Bathurst children. She was a beautiful horse with superb pedigree, with which Daddy went through all the breeding information. Mummy said she did not care what the pony looked like, who it was out of, or where it came from, that for us children it was unrideable and that he was to get rid of it immediately. This was never done. Somehow, Dick calmed her down and in a little while I was allowed to ride her on a guide rein with Salter, the groom, riding Moses.

One afternoon, I was out with Mummy and Salter. Mummy was on her mare. We were going past the back of one of the farm went a tarpaulin blew off one of the plows, frightening the mare, who shied and started to kick and buck. To my horror, I saw Mummy start to slide, saddle and all, under the horse's belly. The girth had not been tied up tight enough. Mummy landed virtually head first into the mud and farm dirt common to all country lanes. I expected her to be very angry and also very frightened. She was neither. Mummy calmly asked Salter to quiet the horse, resaddle her and help her to mount, with which we finished our ride. Mummy told me after we got home and I asked her if she was alright: "But of course, darling! You've never ridden with Bumbo. He goes straight through hedges and trees and it'll kill him one of these days. Next time you're near Daddy's horse, take a look at his mouth and face. They are terribly scarred. I am quite used to it and Bumbo would be very upset if I had not continued the ride in front of Salter." The first lesson: the fear must never be shown either to animals or people.

It was again approaching Christmas. The year had passed with various visits to London. The rummage sales, the fête and the village show. Daddy, it seems, for once had won an argument and we were to stay home for Christmas and go to St. Moritz a few days later.


The Christmas preparations usually started around November. The tree from one of the woods was chosen and cut down. Mummy decided what the top floor was going to be, such as Aladdin's Cave, a Japanese tea house, Treasure Island or something of the sort... and Holland once. Every year was a new theme. In other words, she turned the whole top floor into a land or a place, the point being that the children from the village should see something other than their own environment each Christmas. It took a tremendous amount of building, costuming and work. Most of it was done with crepe paper and usually the children had a grab bag. The rest of the house was for the most part left alone, except for the ground floor which was decorated with the traditional Christmas decorations.

There was always an enormous barrel full of Christmas pudding mix by the back door outside the servant's hall. This mix had to be stirred once for luck, once for a wish and from then on every time you passed it, so that the brandy and glazed fruit blended and the entire mixture matured. It was then put up as usual in pudding basins with the silver charms mixed in and tied in cloth. One of these was given to every house in the village and a huge one for us. The tree always arrived about a week and a half before the twenty-fifth. It was a nerve-wracking time because the tree when standing would reach from the ground floor right up to the skylight dome at the top of the house. It was very difficult and complicated to get the tree into the house and then to stand it up through the stairwell. The top of the tree had to be tied to a pulley and it had to be guided into position, some branches cut and wires attached to different parts of the trunk to keep it in position. The bottom of the tree was placed in an enormous tub of earth. Daddy had rather a thing about this. He always tried to keep some roots of the tree alive so that it could be replanted.

The whole procedure took about two days. We then started to decorate. This was a traditional thing at Garlogs: every branch and twig had to have the finest layer of cotton wool on it. The lights were put on by the gardeners, then the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, and all white decorations down halfway to the first landing, from then on all pastel colours, deepening down to the dark colours at the bottom of the tree. If there were not enough garlands or if some had been smashed the year before, we had to make others. The last thing to go on the tree was the tinsel.

Then there were the hundreds of presents to be checked to make sure they had no price tags on them, then wrapped and labelled. There was never less than one present for every servant and farmer and farm family on the estate. The dining room table was moved to one end and trestle tables brought in for the buffet tea, as the villagers and everyone came for the afternoon.

Mummy made Christmas stockings for us and all the house guests and servants in the house. They were not the small stockings which we see today, but full length ladies cotton stockings, dyed red. These she used to make up herself with the help of the governesses on Christmas Eve, and one put in everyone's bedroom.

Somehow, Mummy always looked tired on Christmas Day. When I found out about the stockings, I realized why. Granny always came to us for Christmas. When it was over, there was always a great feeling of relief, owing to the tension caused by the disorganization of the house and everyone's lives for the month and a half of preparation.

The family, minus Daddy (as usual) went to Switzerland, returning to London instead of Garlogs that year. Billy, Diick and I were to go in for our Bronze skating medals. I was particularly anxious to pass. Mummy had promised that if I did well, I could have a new skating dress and boots. This was incentive enough for me to work hard over the holidays. It also set the pattern to be followed for many years. We all three passed and got our medals; I won my dress and boots. It was a lovely dress, powder blue velvet with a little hat to match. At least I got my beige boots and a new pair of skates. I was terribly pleased and proud of them but there was one slight difficulty. Mummy insisted on my wearing stockings and she had great trouble getting a corset made to fit with the suspenders to hold them up. The first time that I put on the whole ensemble, she found to her horror that the suspenders showed below my knickers. As she had never attempted to dress a skater, she had no idea what to do.

Eventually, the suspenders were disposed of and the stockings were sewn to ribbons attached to the bottom of the corset. I was also given beige silk gloves. This was to be my one and only skating dress for at least two years.

There was a great deal of bustle and a great many shopping expeditions to outfit Billy and Dick for their prep school. Maybe it was the fact that I was on my own for the first time, both skating and dancing, I don't know. Anyway, I told Mummy that Mme. Vacani was of no use to me anymore and that I should go to a school called The Cone School for my dancing. I think I must have been told or have heard about this school from one of the teachers at Mme. Vacani's. I could certainly not have heard it from any of the pupils. It was not a society school. In fact, it was not just a dancing school but an educational school as well. The regular students had all forms of normal educational subjects and took their regular exams. Plus that, they had dancing, music and acting.

I was beginning to think as an individual. My idea, of course, was that I should be enrolled as a regular student. However, this ambition was quickly stopped. I won part of the fight and was permitted to go as a private pupil for all forms of dancing, acrobatics and musical interpretation. I suppose that the desire to go to the school really started because of the fear of having absolutely no one to play with when Billy and Dick left. I was dreading their leaving home. I, in a way, wanted to go too. When all their school things had been bought and their little trunks and suitcases (and an attaché case each) were delivered to the flat, I stood in the hall and cried. We all then went back to Garlogs for a final few weeks before they left.

It was mushroom time and so we used to get up very early before breakfast to pick the mushrooms out of the fields to bring them back and have them cooked in milk and butter and then to gorge ourselves. The trouble was that all through the southern counties as far as mushrooms were concerned, the early bird definitely catches the worm. One day we were out all climbing a fence as usual and I was following Billy and Dick. I got stuck on some barbed wire. They paid no attention to me and just continued walking. In my efforts to get unhooked, I ran one of the barbs into the back of my leg and was stuck there. Nobody came for me for about two to three hours. It never entered Billy or Dick's mind to look for me until someone asked after breakfast where I was! As neither of my brothers had the faintest idea, it took some time to find me. I still have a rather nasty scar on the back of my leg.

These last few weeks at Garlogs with Billy and Dick were wonderful, even though there was a feeling of excitement about their new life. Sometimes, the boys were frightened; sometimes they were happy and pleased. The three of us at that time were very close. Mummy and Daddy fought a lot about this issue. Daddy did not want the boys to go to St. Peter's Court but Mummy was adamant. Finally, the day came for us to all go to London in order for them to catch the school train from Waterloo Station. We left Garlogs very early in the morning. Daddy came with us and went to the North Gate for an early lunch before going to the station. I could feel my tummy beginning to ache but I was determined to say nothing.

I think it must have been the autumn term as it's the shortest and because I was still wearing my white summer clothes. After lunch, we all got in the car rather sombrely and drove across the Thames to the station. Halfway across the bridge, the line of cars filled with little boys and their parents started and I could feel the tension mounting inside Billy and Dick. It took quite a while before we pulled up and could get the car unloaded and start walking towards the platform. I know I felt ice cold. Mummy was being very gay, Daddy sullen, Granny organized. Billy and Dick looked white and I think they must have been very apprehensive. The platform was crowded. One could see that everyone was near tears but that nobody was going to give way. There were special carriages with signs in the windows saying 'St. Peter's Court, Broadstairs'. Billy and Dick found seats then came back to the platform. We hung about for what to to me seemed like hours. Finally, the whistle blew. I could see that Dick was near tears. Billy, by now, was just grim. They got on the train and it started to pull out of the station. I felt dizzy and fainted. It was to me the end of my life.

Granny, Daddy, Mummy and I returned to North Gate where Daddy took the car straight to Garlogs. Mummy and I stayed with Granny at the flat. It was all horrid. It was so empty and lonely. I was given breakfast in my room, lunch and tea in the dining room, dinner in my room. My room was slowly being transformed into a school room. Eventually, the bed was take out and I slept in a little guest room. I think that Mummy, having got the boys off to school, was taking this time to sort out my future education. She had arranged for me to become a private pupil at The Cone School for an hour a day in the afternoons. She had also found an English teacher, Kathleen Murphy. Through Kathleen - with whom she got along very well - she must have found all my future academic teachers. Through The Cone School, the piano and singing teachers. My life, while all this sorting out was going on, was very lonely.

Like all lonely children, I escaped into the servant's hall which was warm, cozy and jolly. The cook's name was Mabel. She was absolutely bright, plump, blonde hair, blue eyed and larky. Eva, the parlour maid, was the epitome of all parlour maids: tall, thin, brown hair, brown eyed and severe in every way. Once in a while, she was kindly. The scullery maids and maids were all 'dailies' so they came and went. Mabel would let me help once in a while. I pushed fruit through sieves to make an English dessert called 'fool' and was allowed to roll out the pastry for tarts. Sometimes, I was sent for the afternoon to visit a distant cousin, Patricia Beresford, who lived in a large house on Avenue Road a few streets away. She was a drip. She always wore frills. She had a nanny.

I had all new clothes, which I found very uncomfortable as since the first time in Switzerland I had taken to wearing Billy and Dick's hand-me-down clothes, all except the sweaters, which were my old skiing ones. My hair had always been in a net and from the back you couldn't tell me from the boys. The only dresses I had were party dresses. Now, Mummy was dressing me in silk shantung with a double coloured smocking yoke and matching shantung knickers. She also took me to Anelo & Davide where my shoes were especially made of the finest kind of colours to match the smocking on my dresses, the reason for the shoes being that Mummy had found out through a doctor's daughter that children's feet were easily damaged by wearing stiff shoes.

The only bit of excitement to take place in these weeks was Jeanne Earle. It was to be her coming out dance. She was seventeen and at Cheltenham, the only other girl in the family, my first cousin. Her hair had to be put up by hairdressers in the flat. There were dress makers for her dress. Everyone had something to say about the colour and design for her first evening dress. Primrose yellow chiffon was eventually decided upon. There was a great to-do on the night of her coming out party. Granny gave Jeanne her grown-up pearls, Mummy gave her a brooch and Auntie Marie gave a bracelet. We started to dress her about three o'clock in the afternoon. There was a terrific fuss. I was into everything and very miffed because I was too young to go to the ball. For weeks after, I dreamt about what I would wear and how I would look when I was old enough to 'come out'...

PART ONE

"I am English, of course. Granny is practically Argentine and Italian in descent, granddaddy the same. They met in the Argentine, where granny still has many estancias. Daddy's blood was Spanish and Scotch. I'm sure we all have some French in us, too." - Belita Jepson-Turner

In the picturesque village of Nether Wallop, Hampshire, England, among a sea of old thatched roofs, you will find a sprawling estate dating back to the fourteenth century called Garlogs.

The estate was purchased in the early twentieth century by Dr. Bertram Herbert Lyne-Stivens, who was a throat surgeon of great esteem and a consulting physician to the court of King Edward VII. Dr. Lyne-Stivens had a private practice in Grosvenor Square in London's Mayfair District and was one of the first people in Nether Wallop to own a car. In his Landaulette, he would commute daily to Grately Station to catch a train to London to attend to his patients. In his absence, the daily management of Garlogs was left in the care of a staff of no less than twenty two servants: a butler, a footman, two housemaids, one between maid, one lady's maid, one governess, one cook/housekeeper, one kitchen maid, two chauffeurs, three stable lads, one carpenter, one bricklayer, four gardeners and two gamekeepers. Farm labourers were also employed and the grand estate played host to the Annual Show of the Wallop Horticultural and Floral Society.

Isabelita Jemima Drabble

Dr. Lyne-Stivens' wife was Isabelita (Belita) Jemima Drabble, the only daughter of George Wilkinson Drabble. George was the son of one Charles Drabble, who travelled to Argentina by sailing ship in the nineteenth century and played an important role in the English colonization of Buenos Aires. He opened his own bank in the city, established five large cattle ranches to export frozen mutton from Argentina to England with his River Plate Fresh Meat Company and built railroads on the Central Argentine Railway to his properties. One of the terminal railroad stations was called 'La Belita'.

George Wilkinson Drabble

When Dr. Lyne-Stivens, the great throat surgeon somewhat ironically passed away of a throat infection in May of 1915 (two years after his daughter Elsie Maie, who tragically died at the age of thirteen), Garlogs was acquired by Major William Jepson-Turner, a military man who had served in the Boer War. Jepson-Turner was courting Dr. Lyne-Stivens' daughter Gladys, known to friends simply as Queenie. The Major and Queenie married in December of 1917 and transformed the opulent manor house with its twenty bedrooms into a family home. First came two sons, Bertram William (Billy) and Richard Lyne (Dick), and then, on October 21, 1923, the protagonist of our story, Belita Gladys Lyne Jepson-Turner was born.

As Belita explained in the prologue, the Jepson-Turner children were educated privately and raised in affluence.  As a founding member of the committee of the Royal Academy Of Dancing, Queenie had a great appreciation of the arts. Her own thwarted dreams of becoming a successful dancer and skater shaped her determination to introduce her daughter to both dance and skating lessons at an early age.

Belita felt that Queenie was "just lucky that I had some facility for movement and line and that my eye could catch movement and line. Also, I was quite loose." As for skating, Belita believed that her Mummy "had some idea that the movement of ice and the speed going forwards and backwards and the spins would help me in my ballet. I must admit she turned out to be quite right about that." Queenie also briefly subjected Belita to piano lessons at the Royal Academy Of Music. She became quite proficient. In one competition, she was in the same class as Eileen Joyce and even beat the daughter of the great Myra Hess. This early exposure to music gave Belita a firm understanding of how to interpret it from an early age.

As was fashionable for many British families of means at the time, the Jepson-Turner's wintered in St. Moritz, Switzerland. By the age of eight, Belita won the Butterfield Challenge Cup for 'excellence and beauty in figure skating'. This competition for skaters under the age of fourteen was organized by Lady Hilda Butterfield, the wife of Sir Frederick Butterfield of the baronial Cliff Castle at Keighly, Yorkshire. In winning, Belita defeated Lady Butterfield's own daughter Carolinda Waters Fischer. She repeated that win two years later. In her diary from January 1934, Olympic Bronze Medallist figure skater Maribel Vinson-Owen recalled, "One day last week, they held a special contest for children under fourteen, and about eight entered. They decided to run it on ideal lines just to see if anything like a uniform result is possible. So they invited the champion of Belgium (Yvonne de Ligne), the champion of Germany (Ernst Baier), the champion of England (Megan Taylor), a Swiss skater, and the champion of the United States (Guess Who) to act as the panel of judges. Then just to finish up with a complete flourish, the vice-president of the International Skating Union (Dr. H.J. Clarke) acted as referee while one of the popular young members of the London Ice Club (Tony, no less) was the starter. Some of the kids didn't know an inner from an outer edge to begin with, and to be judged by so many champions completely removed whatever ability they had, but they were all cute as could be and one or two were so funny that the sedate judges couldn't keep straight faces to save them. There was one boy, an Italian, and he fought hard, but three girls had his measure, and the first two real talent. No. 1, Belita Jepson-Turner, an English child with a full repertoire of jumps, spins and stagy spirals was a complete mistress of theatricality even to a change of costume in between school figures and free-skating, all at the age of ten! Another ten-year-old, Susie Delvol, was second, a German less who was less accomplished but skated in a more quiet, pleasing style; I shouldn't wonder a bit if both are future champions. And to prove the point of all this, all five judges agreed on every place for every competitor, except the two lowest. Perhaps when Senior international championship judges know as much or more than the competitors, uniform judging blanks will be the result." By the age of ten and a half, Belita both earned the silver and gold medals of the National Skating Association.

Belita's early successes as a skater were particularly remarkable considering Queenie certainly didn't dress her for the part. She explained, "When I was put on ice, I was made to wear the colours of a ballerina: pink stockings, pink boots and pink gloves. Unfortunately, she also had a little corset made for me which was supposed to keep up my stockings. Since I spent most of my time falling down... my clothes had to be constantly loosened. This was done by a wonderful man in the ladies locker room whom I knew as 'Number Seven'. I never knew his name, but I can remember him to this day saying 'oh, not AGAIN, Miss Belita!' as she undid my dress and then my corset. Later, of course when I got a bit older, I went with the flesh coloured boots that I wore from then onwards." From the start, she struggled with the execution of compulsory figures - essentially 'the scales' of skating - but was a natural at free skating owing to her dance training. She recalled, "Dancing and skating to me were much the same thing... I started transposing the dance to the skating very early on."


Weaving seamlessly from the ice to the dance floor, Belita passed her all of her dance exams by the age of nine. "That included the Royal Academy Of Dancing, British style, the Cecchetti, Greek, acrobatic, tap and character," she recalled, adding that, "strangely enough, the Russian ballet style was not done in England at all at that time, and I really didn't start working with Russian teachers until I was about thirteen, I think." Too young to apply for the Cecchetti School, Adeline Genée offered to teach her. Genée was President of the Royal Academy Of Dancing in London until she was succeeded by Margot Fonteyn when she retired in 1954 and was regarded highly in dancing circles, but ultimately Belita caught the eye of another great in the ballet world.

One day, Queenie brought ballet master Anton Dolin to the Queen's Ice Skating Club where she was taking from coach Jacob (Jacques) Gerschwiler. Belita was asked to perform a spiral and Dolin was instantly impressed with what he saw. Turning to Queenie, he said, "If she dances as well as she skates, I'd like to teach her." Having seen Dolin perform "Giselle" as a seven year old, she admired his work greatly. The young ballerina on blades was nervous and excited when she auditioned for Dolin at his studio but she needn't have worried. Dolin had seen clear evidence of natural talent and took her under his wing. In two short years, Belita became his partner in a performance in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Laws in England at the time which were geared largely towards regulating theatrical and circus performances prohibited paid professional appearances by children under the age of fourteen. As such, Belita was not paid for giving numerous appearances while touring Great Britain with Dolin as his young dance partner. That most certainly did not stop her from making an impression. "He refused to have me on the road as a child," explained Belita. "I was fully dressed as a grown-up with the make-up, the jewels, the bag and the hat and the whole lot. I must have looked really very, very, very silly." Overdressed or not, she quickly adapted to the extremely foreign world of touring with support from older dancers. "Two of the ballerinas, who were in their late teens, decided to help me out and show me the ropes of touring," explained Belita. "One of them is the now Lady Menuhin, who was then Diana Gould... We had a wonderful time and they couldn't have been nicer to me and they couldn't have been better teachers. My first recollection of touring was washing my teeth on the first morning and there was one tap in the hall in 'the digs', which was what the English people called a theatrical rooming house, and I had eight people in front of me waiting to get to the one tap. I was really very shocked as I was a terribly spoiled child." While touring with Dolin, she played at Blackpool, where she dined with circus sideshow performers from the resort town's fairgrounds and "skated in any town where there was an ice rink, but not very seriously."

Belita and Anton Dolin

Assuming the "less common sounding" stage name Maria Belita (concocted by none other than Queenie), Belita made her first big splash in Cannes, France at a party arranged by Elsa Maxwell in a piece called "The Bluebird".  The party was a black tie charity affair in aid of a French children's hospital and no one knew quite what to expect of this young sensation that was being touted by Dolin as 'the next big thing'. Dolin wrote, "the day before [the party] I asked [Maxwell] if she would allow Belita to appear in a short, quite short, dance. Elsa said she would be only too delighted, and so Belita made her dancing debut in the South of France with Noël Coward playing the piano." Coward later said, "I was told I was to play for a little girl. Had I realized I was to play for an artist, I would have practiced." Wearing a dress designed by Anna Pavlova's personal designer, Belita earned a thunderous applause in her precocious international dancing debut. The audience included the Duke and Duchess of Kent and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In lieu of payment, Belita received a white, flower-embroidered dressing gown as a gift. She also received a very important piece of advice from Coward which stayed with her for the rest of her life: "The most important thing if you're writing a play is the beginning, the end of the first act and the end of the show or the end of the last act. I will remember this for the rest of my life, because I based all of my numbers on that and always remembered his words: 'important beginning, important middle and important end.'"

Belita and Jacques Gerschwiler

Although much greater accolades in the dance world were still to come, Belita still had her biggest tests as a figure skater ahead of her. While in Glasgow with Dolin's troupe, she received a telegram from Jacob Gerschwiler informing her that her name had been entered in the British Skating Championships. An injury to Megan Taylor - one of the top British skaters of the time - had opened the door for three young women to join Belita's long time training mate Cecilia Colledge on the team of skaters being sent into the heart of Nazi Germany for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. "I went to Dolin and asked him if I'd be allowed to go," recalled Belita. "He said he'd be delighted. He obviously couldn't wait to get rid of me! I don't blame him. I was a horrible child." With only a few weeks to train, she returned to Gerschwiler in London immediately.

Belita explained that "amongst other things, we started to do spread eagles. He'd invented a machine of some kind like a brace into which we'd put our feet. He faced us against a wall and then he tightened the brace with our feet going behind us. Well, I was very loose so it didn't take very many days for my feet to be facing the wall on the other side of the room. However, it did give me an absolutely super spread eagle! I did the spread eagle with my head practically on the ice but the trouble is, of course, it ruined my legs for the rest of my life. Many, many times later in my career I wished to heavens I could still be doing that spread eagle. We started to train seriously, and of course, my figures were appalling. They were absolutely desperate. My free skating was alright - always had been!"

From January 23 to 26, the 1935 European Figure Skating Championships were held at the Suvretta House Rink in St. Moritz, Switzerland. In addition to the senior women's competition, won that year by Sonja Henie, a junior women's competition was included in the event. Among the nine entries - eight young girls and one married women - were two Britons: Daphne Walker and Belita Jepson-Turner. Young Daphne claimed the silver medal, while Belita settled for fifth place.


Belita's greatest opposition at the Olympic trials in late November 1935 at the Westminster Ice Club came from a tall, graceful sixteen year old named Pamela Stephany. She recalled that "for some unknown reason, they decided to do the free skating before the figures, which in my case was a great help. Having ideas about my station in those days, I decided to have a silver sequin costume made. The dress was backless and a little silver sequin hat. It was almost rather not de rigueur because sequins hadn't been worn on the ice... I am talking about 1935 now. Also, no one had skated to a straight piece of music. They were all three different pieces of music, to each four minutes. The ones I chose were slightly more classical. For some unknown reason, Gersch just let me have my head and didn't argue. On the night we were going out for the trial, Gersch instructed his stable to go out and frighten the opposition as much we possibly good. He didn't do too bad a job actually! As I was waiting to go on, I suddenly heard Anton Dolin's voice and it gave me such a shock of adrenaline to think that he'd actually bothered to come to see me skate that I probably skated without touching the ice. At least that's what it felt like to me... Anyway, I got through the routine without falling over - apparently did quite well and got good marks  - and the next day were figures, and apparently, I didn't do too badly at those either because I ended up with the fourth member of the British 1936 Olympic team in Garmisch-Partenkirchen." The National Skating Association was in actuality initially quite hesitant to include such a young, inexperienced skater on the Olympic team, instead favouring the slightly older Stephany. Eminent pairs skater, judge and author Captain T.D. Richardson lobbied for Belita's inclusion, later recalling, "it was mainly through my persistence that Belita Jepson-Turner, a child of thirteen years, had been included in our British Olympic Ice-Skating team of 1936."

Queenie was delighted with Belita's result but at the time, the young ballerina on skates from Nether Wallop really had no great sense of what she had been signed up for.

PART TWO

"Sonja was queen of the ice. Every now and then, I will hear one of my neighbours whisper, 'She skated with Sonja Henie.' It's as much as I can do not to turn around and say, 'Heavens, no. I skated against Sonja Henie. She never skated with anyone.'" - Cecilia Colledge

The British figure skating team arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the Winter Olympic Games in a cloud of sadness. On January 20, 1936, His Majesty King George V had passed away at Sandringham House after a lengthy illness and the entire team from Great Britain sported black arm-bands to express their mourning. At the age of twelve, Belita was the youngest member of the British Olympic team in any sport at the 1936 Games. The English contingent included twelve skaters - four men, four women and two pairs teams - and from the moment the group arrived in Germany, there was trouble.


Queenie's pass for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games

Captain T.D. Richardson served as the team's Chef de Mission. His wife and former pairs partner Mildred acted as the team's non-playing Captain. In her memoirs, Mildred wrote of "bureaucracy run mad" in the host city: "Complete dossiers of all competitors had to be in quadruplicate, with many ridiculous laws and unnecessary details. To give an example of the absurd inflexibility of the authorities, I wanted passes for the parents or persons accompanying our skaters – most of whom were quite young – to enter the stadium, the restaurant and the dressing rooms reserved for competitors and officials during the practice sessions. These sessions sometimes meant attendance at the stadium from 6.30am until quite late in the afternoon. One would have thought this simple request would have been quite easily granted. No, it was met with blank refusal. I was told 'they must have tickets' at goodness knows how many marks a time. 'But,' I pointed out, 'tickets are now unobtainable, there are no tickets left!'  Useless to say that all I wanted was permits for the parents to be able to be with their children in order to keep an eye on them; their trainers could not be there all the time. It was only after banging the table harder, and shouting louder in my fluent – but doubtless somewhat ungrammatical – German, and also threatening to take the whole team back to England (which of course would have been impossible; wild horses could not have prevented our competitors from skating), that Ritter Von Halt, the chief organiser, a very unpleasant and arrogant Nazi, gave way and I got my passes." Mildred's husband added, "I think [Jaochim] von Ribbentrop, whom I knew very well, and to whom I complained, had something to say behind the scenes, where Ritter von Halt and a rather sinister individual with a French name, a Baron le Fort, were really enjoying their temporary taste of power."

Before the competitions even began, there was drama. A language barrier between German officials and British and American skaters ensued on one practice session when skaters were ordered off the ice prematurely so that they ice could be resurfaced for an upcoming ice hockey match. The British women - Cecilia Colledge, Belita, Mollie Phillips and Gweneth Butler - all left obligingly. However, when a steward went on the ice and attempted to remove American skater Maribel Vinson-Owen (who you'll remember as the judge of Belita at the Butterfield Challenge Cup in Switzerland) she refused to budge and gave the steward "a hefty back hander which sent him flying" when he grabbed her by the arm, much to the delight of the packed crowd.

Speaking of being sent flying, that's precisely what happened to young Freddie Tomlins, a friend and teammate of Belita's. Howard Bass recalled that "Freddie told Graham [Sharp] that he intended to get 'old Schickelgruber's autograph' and proceeded by devious means to bore his way right through Hitler's S.S. bodyguard, reputed to be impassible, and went straight up to the surprised dictator and handed him a pencil! He got the autograph, but what the S.S. guards got afterwards was, I gather, less rewarding." Belita later recalled, "I don't know what he said to one of the soldiers but they threw him out in his skates and his tights and his little badge and number and everything - threw him right out into the snow - and left him out there for about two hours, locking the door of the arena."

Between the issues with passes, practice and Tomlins' ballsy misstep, the British figure skaters in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were feeling justifiably alienated before they even skated. In her BBC interview with David Jacobs in the seventies, Belita recalled the atmosphere as "terror... Sheer terror. Absolute horror... Well, it was the soldiers and the whole atmosphere. It was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen actually, the Winter Olympics were that year and we had storms and blizzards - really, probably the worst they'd had for a long time - and the soldiers all over the place and if you sort of looked cross eyed at them, they either hit you with a barrel of a gun as they did to poor old Freddie Tomlins." In speaking with Jacobs, she found humour in an unexpected face to face meeting with Hitler himself: "I must say, we did have one very funny thing that happened! We were going for the march past on the closing day and needless to say, the English contingent were always doing the wrong thing and Jackie [Dunn], Cecilia [Colledge], me and the whole lot of us were all trumbling up to the thing and we got there and there was a train across the whole road. So we looked at it and could see everyone else on the other side and we thought 'well, we've got to get over there!' So we got into the train, got out the other side and came face to face with Hitler and all the sort of saluting people 'going like this' [demonstrated Heil Hitler salute]. It was hysterical! Our knees buckled and we were ushered out in a great rush."

Cecilia Colledge and Freddie Tomlins. E.R. Hall photographs.

Decades later, Belita spoke with far more gravity about the Hitler encounter. She explained that Dunn "saluted and told us to move fast and we did, rushing to the nearest door, jumping out straight into all the storm troopers giving the salute, thinking it was Hitler coming out of his train. Jackie came to a full stop, bowed and served down the line like royalty, and the rest of us followed, looking extremely embarassed and sheepish. The minute we got past the last storm trooper, we ran fast as we could away from them. We were all absolutely terrified!" Equally terrifying was her later run-in with the Nazi Guards. "The German soldiers were awful, horrid, dreadful," she recalled. "I stupidly enough told one of the guards that they were schweinhund and got the butt of a gun in my stomach. They thought nothing of hitting us, or forbidding us to go in the rink or dressing rooms or food or anything. It was rather like being a prisoner." She recalled being woken every morning by "the boots walking past the window" and being told not to bow or curtsy but instead do the 'Heil Hitler' salute every time she stepped on the ice not once, twice, but four times to each side of the audience. Belita recalled "the wonderful Maribel Vinson-Owen" as being the one who led the charge to only do the salute once at the beginning and once at the end of each performance. The Britons followed suit. As a result, she said, "the Germans didn't like the Americans... or the English."

Sonja Henie and Adolf Hitler

The media darling of the 1936 Olympics was of course Norway's Sonja Henie. The reigning Olympic Gold Medallist posed for heavily staged propaganda pictures with Nazis, had lunch with Hitler and largely snubbed her competitors. Colledge, who won the silver medal behind Henie at the competition (and almost defeated her in the exacting school figures) later recalled, "She never talked to us. To her, there were no other skaters. Even on the podium after the Olympics, there were no kisses, no handshakes, not even a word. She never would have considered saying something nice."

Although Henie ultimately won her third consecutive Olympic title in Garmisch, word on the street was that the event had been fixed in her favour. Maribel Vinson-Owen wrote that during the right back bracket change bracket, "[Sonja] had almost no speed for the second half of the figure, she came up to the second bracket right on the flat of her skate instead of on an edge, a major fault, and after the turn she had to wiggle and hitch her skating foot to keep going, and then she pushed off for the next circle a good four feet before she reached her center, another very major fault... and when she had turned her twelfth and last bracket, she was at a dead standstill. So making no pretence of trying to finish out her circle, she just put both feet down, smiled a gay camouflage smile, and walked off the ice. We gasped to see the world champion do such a thing. The figure as it stood, deserved no more than Vivi[-Anne Hultén]'s 3.8 average, if as high as that, AND YET when the judges put down their cards, not one, not even Mr. Rotch, who indeed does know correct figures, had given her less than 5! We competitors and those on the sidelines who knew laughed in derision with a 'what can you expect'  tone - I looked at Mr. Rotch with the question 'How could you do such a thing?' in my eyes, and he just shrugged." Richard D. Mandell's 1971 book "The Nazi Olympics" aptly notes that "the two durable heroes of the German Winter Olympiad were Sonja Henie and Adolf Hitler. Only the undisputed empress of winter and the increasingly secure master of the Third Reich possessed the magic required to fascinate the masses at Garmisch and had the ranks of 'stars' in the world at large. The two were demonstratively together a great deal. They fed on each other's staged smiling ('Was it his corsage?') - she in clinging white; the Fuehrer slicked hair and wrapped in massive black leather overcoat." Henie's competitors were acutely aware of the political game being played; Vivi-Anne Hultén noting that "everybody said she became his girlfriend." Henie was so popular with the German public that police even had to play crowd control as people without tickets fought to get into the arena to watch her skate.

Belita and Cecilia Colledge

With all the attention on Henie - and to a lesser extent Colledge and Vinson-Owen -  no one expected Belita to walk away with a medal in Garmisch-Partenkirchen except Queenie. Mummy Dearest perched herself rinkside with her purple hair just so, anxiously waiting for her daughter's Coronation. It wasn't to be. She simply did not have the credentials or experience of her competitors. Despite her balletic grace and expert tutelage, too much time had been devoted to dancing with Dolin to have improved to the point in her school figures that she could have challenged the top tier of skaters. Belita's ordinals in the figures ranged from eighth to fifteenth place. She was in fourteenth place heading into the free skating with plenty of ground to make up.


A fall early in her performance noticeably shook her confidence. It all went downhill from there. Belita recalled, "I was expected to move up to at least seventh in free skating but I'm afraid that I really messed that up. It was a dreadful storm that day. I took off for my split jump, fell on my stomach, mucked up my knees and winded myself and that was the end of my routine, really. I just never stood up properly after that." She dropped to sixteenth place, only one spot ahead of Czechoslovakia's Vera Hrubá. Little did Belita or Vera know that despite their dismal finishes in those Nazi Games of 1936, their names would become intrinsically linked with Sonja Henie in the years that followed.

PART THREE

 "When I skate I want to dance, and when I dance I want to skate." - Belita Jepson-Turner

Belita's spectacular loss in Garmisch-Partenkirchen did not in any way, shape or form discourage Queenie's determination to make a star out of her daughter. She was as acutely aware of the scores of American Hollywood agents looming in the stands in Germany. Sonja Henie had turned professional and handsome Karl Schäfer of Austria, the men's champion, had followed suit. There were opportunities out there.


With Henie out of the picture, Queenie had it in her head that 1937 would be her daughter's year to shine. After finishing fourth in a field of nine at the British Ice Skating Championships at the Westminster Ice Club behind Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor and Gladys Jagger, Belita was selected by the National Skating Association to compete at the World Figure Skating Championships in London. There, she fared much better than she had in Germany. Skating in a white dress with a blue trimmed hat, she touched the ice with her hand during a spin but impressed the judges sufficiently to finish a credible seventh in a field of twelve. It wasn't a gold medal but the judges seemed to be warming up to the talents of the young British star. The Austrian judge, Fritz Kachler - a three time World Champion in his own right - had her ahead of Vivi-Anne Hultén, who had won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games. Jacline Brown, covering the competition for "Figaro" in Paris, wrote, "Belita Jepson-Turner is... certainly the most acrobatic skater and also the youngest - at 13 - in the tournament. Her positions are immaculate and her lightness and dancer's flexibility enable her to do anything." Coming off of her Olympic disappointment, Belita believed her result at the World Championships in London "rather saved her reputation."


After the World Championships, Belita went straight back to the Markova-Dolin Ballet. On a break, Dolin sent her on a vacation to the south of France, where inventor Georges Dupuy taught her to water ski. "He was beautiful, like a sea lion," she recalled. "I had a huge crush on him, and would have done anything, even died for him. The sea skis in those days were very, very different. They were quite long and quite wide... There was no flat water skiing at all in those days." The seas would be of a stormier variety when she returned to England.


In her daughter's absence, Queenie had been taking stock of the rise in popularity of professional skating in England following Claude Langdon's 1936 ice ballet "Marina" at the Sports Stadium in Brighton. To Queenie, they appeared to be just the right vehicle for Belita to make her mark. Langdon was planning a lavish production called "Rhapsody On Ice" which was to be held at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Colluding with Jacob Gerschwiler and Anton Dolin, she signed Belita up to participate without her knowledge and effectively ended her amateur career in the process. She was cast in the production as The Slave Girl, The Black Swan and The Princess and when she returned to England, it was her skating coach who broke the big news. She recalled, "I went to the rink to see Gersch to ask him what the training schedule was for the next year and he informed me that he'd turned me pro and that I was to open at Covent Garden Opera House on my fourteenth birthday, the age in England that a child was permitted to earn a living. I was surprised and upset and I went to Dolin and told him and he said that he knew and it would be a good thing for me. He said he would choreograph the pas de deux for me."


"Rhapsody On Ice" was the brainchild of Swiss Figure Skating Champion and 1920 Olympian Alfred Mégroz. It was actually a combination of two ice ballets - "Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter" - the first an original work by Mégroz and the latter an oriental fantasy based on the opera "Lakmé" by French composer Clément Philibert Léo Delibes. When Belita heard she was to skate "Lakmé" on ice she thought, "If anyone can think of anything stupider, I wish they would tell me."


As compared to Langdon's more fanciful "Marina", the Royal Opera House effort was an early attempt to present skating as high art for high society. The amount of money poured into staging a rather lavish effort was unheard of for the time. Refrigerating engineer David S. Burleigh was hired and ten thousand pounds alone were spent on installing ice on the Covent Garden's fifty five by seventy foot stage. A fifty member symphony orchestra was hired and a skating cast of one hundred and twenty professional skaters were employed, including two time Olympic Gold Medallists Andrée and Pierre Brunet, barrel jumper Phil Taylor and popular British show skater Freda Whitaker. Preparations went off without a hitch and on opening night, Queen Ena of Spain (a keen skating enthusiast) sat in the royal box in a theatre full of tiaras and hazy smoke, as the rare exception of allowing smoking in the theatre had been made for this special occasion. Also in attendance on opening night was filmmaker Anthony Asquith. Nigel Brown's veritable 1959 bible of skating history "Ice-Skating: A History" looked at some of the reasons things didn't go as planned: "These performers needed space, they were cramped... and obliged to execute too many movements 'on the spot'. The essential of skating art, 'gliding and sliding' was lost. The corps de ballet, too numerous for such a stage, crowded and collided, showing to a disastrous degree the failure on the part of the director to grasp the artistic aim of skating. The ambitious organizers made the mistake of trying to imitate the existing customs of ballet, instead of constructing an art form out of the natural possibilities of skating."

Belita and Phil Taylor

Belita and Harrison Thomson
Dance critic Arnold L. Haskell was also in the audience. He took the Swiss director's effort to task in the first edition of "Ballet Panorama" in 1938: "These proper skating 'ballets' showed all the faults that the ballet proper has rid itself of these last twenty-five years. The first drama was a romantic story, blend of 'Lac des Cygnes', 'Hansel and Gretel' and all the rest. The convention was for the performers to be on skates. Up to a certain point well and good. Fokine postulates an equal partnership between the arts composing ballet. One of the main criticisms of the skaters was made on that very point. The music was so subservient that the tempo was allowed to be tortured to an altogether unbearable degree. It no longer had an existence of its own. Noverre postulates a relationship between movement and the action of the story. In this romantic ballet a skater who excels at the feat and purely because he excels at the feat jumps over several obstacles clumsily deposited by the corps de ballet. This is the very divertissement entrance in the ballet that Noverre fought against. It was an excellent 'stunt' in itself and could have been used dramatically, but the drama it provided was something quite extraneous to the story and that depended on the fear that the skater would hurt himself when he came to a halt in safety. The second ballet offended in more and other aspects. The scene was laid in India. Now the convention we have accepted up to a point is that performers move on skates, but we have only accepted this up to a point. Both Noverre and Fokine invoke a type of naturalism and insist that the action shall be plausible. Ice under the burning tropical sun may be acceptable to some, but what is not is an Indian crowd in solid boots. Whatever the action that must appear ridiculous and the choice of scene was so extreme that there could be no two opinions. It was clearly a sake of skating for the sake of skating - and excellent much of it was... Movement on ice must also fit the style of the work. It is quite impossible even to approximate oriental movement on skates." Haskell's somewhat scathing review had pretty much been on the money. Langdon acknowledged that the show was a disappointment: "There were many talented skaters in it, and some (like young Belita herself) who were predestined to find fame and success in years to come, long after their Covent Garden appearance. To this day I confess I do not know all the reasons why this show was such a disappointment, while ice at the Stoll was such a success. Perhaps the regular 'Garden' enthusiasts resented the intrusion of ice entertainment and were slow to see the advantages of ballet on ice. Perhaps it is always an uphill battle to present a show, of any sort, in a setting and background which is startlingly different... The show was artistic, musical and colourful. In fact all our troubles were centred on the other side of the footlights, where there was (after the first few opening days) almost no audience. I was bitterly disappointed."


Despite the fact that "Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter" were probably best forgotten, Belita had been the only skater who had seemed to transcend the disaster. Her applause during the first bow on opening night on October 26, 1937 held up the show for several minutes and the papers raved of her "air of adult sophistication." Belita admitted, "needless to say, it was a disaster, but I received good reviews." Good wasn't the word! "The Edinburgh Evening News" called her "a miracle of effortless grace" and "The Field" proclaimed, "Belita can justly be claimed as the first skater who is a ballerina and the first ballerina to be able to translate the ballet to the ice."


The favourable impression Belita made in London paved the way for an invitation to return to Paris, France and without delay, off Queenie and Belita sailed. An ice stage was being installed at the Théâtre Mogador in Paris by Mitty Goldin at a cost of five thousand francs. The production for which the stage would be used was called "La féerie blanche" and was a variety style show combining dance, live music, skating and cabaret entertainment.


Directed by Louis Verneuil, the showy French production achieved everything that Langdon's "Rhapsody On Ice" failed to. The attractions were endless. Italian boxer Primo Carnera donned ice skates for the spectacle. Figure skaters included Jacqueline du Bief's older sister Raymonde, Jacqueline and Pierrette Vives, Arne Lie, Fritzi Gillard, Egon Kruent and Fried Havel, Anne and Robert Denis. Musicians, dancers, music-hall entertainers and French opera diva Deva-Dassy rounded out the massive cast. French newspapers sang the praises of the "mysterieuse" Maria Belita and comparisons were already being made to Sonja Henie. One reporter said she "was divine - more so than Greta Garbo ever was"; another said she was the "vision of a dream." A revival of Pujo and Vaugeois' journal "Action française" went so far as to call her "a miracle". She appeared in the eighth scene "Sous les Tonnelles à Vienne en 1830" as "La Jeune Fille" to Dolin's "L'Officier" in ballet slippers and returned for a solo skating performance later in the show, a "Valse romantique" ice dance number with Norway's Arne Lie. The show was originally only slated for an eight week run but was so popular that it was extended.


Belita recalled, "It was a revue and therefore really up my street. I could use all the things I had been taught and lessons learned from listening to great artists; talking to them and asking questions... I had two huge problems at the Mogador. My theatre training had always been for a Royal Theatre and following a conductor. At the Mogador, I had to start learning timing - never one of my strong points. The other was learning to skate on a tank. The ice stage at Covent Garden had been more like a small rink the size of the stage whereas at the Mogador it was a small tank measuring 30 X 20. I had to learn how to handle the small space. Mind you, I had less to contend with than Red McCarthy on his speed skates and his silver paint, which if he cut himself, he promptly got lead poisoning from the lead in the paint. He managed superbly but made an awful mess of the ice and I had to follow him with my solo."


Fourteen and famous, Belita was now firmly establishing herself as a sensation in Gay Paris. She made fast friends with creative genius Jean Cocteau, who had planned a similar production with Cecil Beaton and Salvador Dali with her in mind. "The stretch of their imagination was quite extraordinary. Cocteau's dance was called 'The Little Dream Girl', Beaton's was based on Emile Zola's 'Nana' and Dali's had lots of motorcycles at full throttle with me appearing from above to do acrobatics on the cycles," recalled Belita. She added, "Thank heavens it never came off!"


When the show closed in June 1938, Belita ultimately ended up doing a recital at the Palais Des Sports and partnering Dolin in Daphne Deane's "Gala de danse" at the Salle Pleyel and at the Comédie in Geneva, Switzerland. Swiss critics wrote that Belita was "a child more than a woman, all dressed in young innocence. There is in this body not fully blossomed a captivating freshness and a spirit of clear pleasure. Her personality is not yet complete but her reserve indicates a sound method that will lead (so happy are the beginnings) to a beautiful destiny." Although Belita's future was indeed brighter than she ever could have imagined, she was in a very precarious situation. She was old enough to make money yet too young to make decisions about the direction her career on the stage would take. Her destiny was in Queenie's hands.

With political tensions mounting on The Continent and World War II looming, forty seven year old Queenie packed up her fifteen year old daughter and forty four year old French maid Raymonde Vimont and set sail from Southampton to New York City on a fourteen day voyage aboard the French Line steamship S.S. Paris. Little did they know that when they arrived, their lives would change dramatically.

PART FOUR

"You lose your balance on ice too often to lose your sense of proportion. The likelihood of a fall is always on hand, waiting to bring the performer down to earth with a bump." - Belita Jepson-Turner

Depending on whether Belita or Queenie was telling the story and who they were telling it to, the reasons why the Jepson-Turner's found themselves in America often conflicted. One version told to the press was that Belita "wished to learn everything possible about American training and presentation" in dance. Another claimed that she had tripped while coming offstage at the "Rhapsody On Ice" show at Covent Garden and had sustained a back injury she hoped to treat by consulting an American specialist. The story told to friends was that a much older skater had given her a push into the orchestra pit when she was coming offstage at the Covent Garden show. Whatever the case may have been, she was on the ice in New York City practicing and posing for photographers two days after she arrived in America in November 1938.

From New York City, Belita, Queenie and The French Maid made their way to Los Angeles to seek treatment from a back specialist. Belita claimed, "The doctor didn't help, and I was in a wheelchair for a few months until Peter Lorre came into my life. He said he knew a man who could certainly cure me. This man turned out to be a veterinarian, who hung me as he did cows with bad backs. I was walking again in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I'd gained quite a lot of weight when I wasn't working."

After months of living out of a hotel, the Jepson-Turner women had blown through Belita's earnings from "La féerie blanche" and her performances with Dolin. Under the British evacuation scheme, currency regulations did not permit the export of funds with the exception of a small allowance. Investments from the Drabble side of the family in Argentina allowed only a stipend of independent income from a London banking house. To supplement this income, they sold jewelry, clothing and even a car they had purchased. As far as money 'being tight' for two women of means who grew up in a twenty room estate with a house full of servants goes, things were bordering on 'roughing it.' Belita remarked, "Mummy is a lovely person to starve with. Her sense of humour never let her down - I remember we walked through 5th Avenue, with paper wedged in our shoes to keep the rain from penetrating the holes." Back home in Hampshire, things weren't much better. Both Billy and Dick had enlisted in the war. Although Germans dropped many delayed-action bombs in Nether Wallop, most luckily landed in fields just short of the village which suffered very little damage. However, Garlogs was commandeered for military purposes and 'Bumbo' was forced to live in the gardener's cottage. As time grew on, he joined his sons to serve in the war effort.

With the men at War, the women were left to fend for themselves. Any fleeting hope of Belita returning to Europe to capitalize on her successes in France and Switzerland were squashed by American immigration officials. Belita explained, "I tried every way I could to get back to my own country. But when they learned my age the authorities insisted I stay here. My older brothers, both in service in England, felt happier that mummy and I were not in England. They were proud of my career and wrote that they wanted me to keep on with it and look after mummy for them." A teenage Belita, with Mummy Dearest in tow (or perhaps the other way around) approached Russian born impresario Sol Hurok, who was establishing a ballet theatre in New York City, and asked him for a job. He said "yes, baby, of course!" recalled Belita. When she explained she had no money, he told her, "Well, you and your mother will fly and the French maid, the thirty trunks, the water skis and the Pekingese will go by train."



And so the Jepson-Turner entourage jumped at the opportunity, heading to the Big Apple, where they took up residence in the Hotel Belvedere. Belita spent her off time between performances in New York studying American tap dance and taking vocal lessons. However, it became quickly apparent that performing in Horuk's ballet theatre was not going to pay the bills. Principals got paid twenty dollars a show at home and fifty dollars a show on tour, however only two out of town shows were booked - Houston and Vancouver - and those were six months apart. Belita explained, "I had to support Mother, her thirty trunks of luggage and the French maid, and ballet didn't pay enough. At one stage we had just a few cents a day for food." In between rehearsals, she sat down for coffee with dancing aviatrix Nana Gollner. "She was saying that she'd have to back to teaching people to fly in order to survive and asked me if there was anything else that I could do," explained Belita. "'Yes,' I said. 'I skate!' She nearly choked and said, 'You little fool! It's the second highest paying job right now in the United States, the first being films. Get on with it!'"


It pained Belita to have to give up her passion for dance to return to the ice to support the very person who had got her into this mess. That said, money was money, honey. The teenager bit the bullet, quit Hurok's theatre and briefly appeared in Maribel Vinson-Owen's "Gay Blades" show. It didn't last long. "John Harris saw me skate at Gay Blades two days later and booked me to skate during hockey games," explained Belita. "He paid three hundred dollars and I thought I had it made... In my first attempt in Pittsburgh I went and fell during Axel's in the first number. I was so ashamed that I went to J.H. and I said, 'you need not pay me for that number.' He laughed and he taught me a big lesson with his answer. He said that Sonja Henie would have asked for double and I was not to be a silly, little fool. Then I got an idea into my head that 'Rhapsody In Blue' would make a good solo, so I choreographed it with breakaway costume change throughout the number, skating from street child to grown up vamp. The first time I performed it was in Boston Gardens. It was an enormous hit. I thought I had it made. I never seemed to stop thinking I had it made in those days! The next date on the agenda was Cleveland. They hated it! In fact, they booed me so much I couldn't even finish me number and I had to leave the ice thoroughly humiliated... The two dates put together barely covered the cost of the costume. I ended with barely any money after those two dates. When I realized that skating between hockey matches was not a big money earner, I stopped and looked for another job."


After a brief stint in Philadelphia giving skating exhibitions during a speed skating derby, Belita found herself performing three shows a day on tank ice in the restaurant at the Hotel New Yorker. She was billed to diners as 'England's Premiere Ice Ballerina'. She explained, ""The show was directed by Don Arden and the tank was 20 X 20. One of the skaters who knew a lot about tank skating explained that the grooves in our skates should be made deeper therefore making it easier to stay on a small space. He was right and I did much the same work on the tank as I did in the big ice rink - spirals, Axels, the usual lot. I loved working there... I wonder how on earth Don got ten people to skate on that tank - and we weren't just standing around. Everyone was actually skating! We were actually doing things! Don closed the show with 'Merry Widow' and I was to run across the bandstand as fast as I could, jump off it and onto the ice and stop right at the edge of the tank, spraying snow all over the rinkside tables. They seemed to love it. I certainly wouldn't have! As a matter of fact, under no circumstances would I have sat at anywhere near the tank. Sometimes during a spiral, my leg went over their heads. Charles Snyder was a wonderful man. He was our boss. When my engagement came to an end, Mr. Snyder asked if I would stay. He told me that Mr. John Harris had spoke to him about my joining Ice Capades. He said he understood if I wanted to, but that I would always be welcome if I wanted to return to the New Yorker." Off she went to Atlantic City to rehearse for the first touring season of Ice Capades, set to open the following year. While she waited for things to get off the ground, she still had to make a living. That 'living' involved her signing on for another colossal flop.


Opening on Christmas Day 1939 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., "The White Plume" was to be a touring stage adaptation of Edmund Rostand's 1897 play "Cyrano de Bergerac". Produced by the Shubert Organization, the musical in two acts had a whopping thirty three musical numbers, almost all of which were panned universally by critics. So poorly received was the show that it closed in Pittsburgh only twelve days after it opened. George Huston, the show's musical director and star was hung out to dry, but much like when she appeared in "Rhapsody On Ice", Belita's dance as The Orange Girl was considered by many as one of the production's only redeeming moments.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.

After living in uncertainty and having the responsibility of supporting two grown adults thrust upon her as a teenager for two years, Belita finally found some solace in the stability of performing with the Ice Capades when the tour started up in 1940. There were familiar faces; other European skaters who had escaped the horrid life of gas masks and bomb shelters in Europe. Her former Olympic teammate Rosemarie Stewart, a pairs skater, joined the cast with her husband Robert Dench. Old friends Megan Taylor and her father Phil and her former competitor Vera Hrubá were also on hand for every performance. The critics sincerely appreciated Belita. The Billboard noted that she "more than upheld her headlining designation. A blond beaut hailing from Britain, she scored heavily with sensational Lutz jumps and sit spins. Attractive settings enhanced her Garden of Roses and Blue September ballets, George Byron giving story body in song for the latter number and Belita deservedly rating the plaudits as a premiere ballerina on blades."


It wasn't all smooth sailing. On opening night at the Atlantic City Convention Hall in New Jersey, Belita glided into the spotlight surrounded by chorus skaters to a rousing applause dressed as a harem dancer... and fell flat on her face. On another occasion, she had a seven hundred dollar diamond gold cross stolen from her dressing room at the Boston Garden. Despite the setbacks, she reflected on her Ice Capades experience largely as a learning one: "I've never been an ingénue and to my horror, the solo I was given was 'Little Alice, Blue Gown' and needless to say, I was in a blue dress with puff sleeves and a little Peter Pan collar. I was a disaster! It was another one of my disasters - my many disasters! My blades were still sharpened for the tank and I could barely cover thirty feet, let alone I didn't have any stamina at all and no wind. The other number that I was rehearsing was the classical version of 'Deep Purple' arranged much the same style as 'Rhapsody In Blue'. When we opened with that, it went more or less alright but it wasn't really very good. Norman Frischke came to my rescue and seemed to understand what was the matter. He explained that working in arenas, you had to come over strong. That was when I found the gimmick of slapping my leg at the end of spins and being aggressive on skates. Then the timing came to cause trouble. I just did not know what it was about! Joe Jackson, Jr., the great clown, got so angry at the way I took my calls and never listened to the audience that he used to stand by me with a fishing line in his hands and a hook in my back and pull me in and send me out in order to teach me what it was about. After a lot of effort, I got the idea and never looked back either on the style of number or my timing."

However, Belita's at times ornery personality - which we'll explore in more detail later - cost her a starring role in the 1941 film "Ice-Capades". When Herbert Yates, the bigwig at Republic Pictures, put the moves on the teenage star, she pushed him into a flower bed. To ensure Yates was out of her hair, she introduced him to her cast mate Vera Hrubá.

A flat out refusal to work with Yates resulted in a third woman, Dorothy Lewis, getting the starring role and Belita refusing to participate. The official story told to press was that Lewis got Belita's part due to "an inability to get together with Republic executives regarding billing and script". At the urging of Ice Capades executives, Belita finally agreed to appear in the picture on June 12, 1941. By that point, the skating sequences had already been completed so she was ultimately featured only in one speciality number. Hrubá went on to marry to Yates. Under the stage name Vera Hrubá Ralston, she earned a great deal of exposure - and money - appearing in her husband's films. Belita was clearly on a different playing field in terms of acting and skating ability than her former competitor, but she later matter-of-factly said, "She came off better than I did. I should have known better. She ended up a multi-millionaire."


Although Belita's role in "Ice-Capades" was a 'blink or miss it moment', the film was actually nominated for an Academy Award. With the success of Sonja Henie's 20th Century Fox films "One In A Million", "Thin Ice" and "Lucky Star", producers from other studios were busy scouting skating stars to rival the Norwegian sensation. Mummy Dearest's turquoise lidded garage doors perked up at the mention of dollar signs.

PART FIVE

"Ice shows are big productions now. They are spectacular shows which the whole family can enjoy. That accounts for their amazing popularity. There was one ice show ten years ago; today there are fifteen... Girls get married through working in ice shows, too. The shows have their stage-door Johnnies just as the theatre. I even know a couple of girls who have received mink coats." - Belita Jepson-Turner

The Monogram Pictures Corporation, a Poverty Row studio in Hollywood which specialized in Westerns, was looking for a Sonja Henie of their own. Queenie arranged for the bigwigs at Monogram to watch Belita perform alongside her former competitor Maribel Vinson-Owen in Harry Losee's Hollywood Ice Revels, which opened August 12, 1942 just north of Wilshire Boulevard at the one hundred by two hundred foot Tropical Ice Garden in Westwood Village. Belita's solo, "Choreonocturne", was sufficiently wowing to the producers and she was hired to perform a solo during the studio's upcoming skating film "Silver Skates". "All I had to do was transfer my Capades solo to tank size using a medley of the music they wanted in the film," explained Belita. "I was rehearsing in a tent on the back lot when the producer came in to watch. He then handed me a piece of paper and said, 'would I like to speak a line?' I said, 'one line? No.' He looked surprised! A few days later he reappeared with a script and asked if I'd like to co-star with Ken Baker and Pat Morison. Needless to say, this time I said yes."


Directed by Academy Award nominated director Leslie Goodwins, "Silver Skates" debuted on February 26, 1943. The film was heavily and creatively promoted. Monogram's James Schiller, in conjunction with the opening of the film at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, organized 'the Silver Skates Championship for graceful skating'. It was a week long competition at the Tropical Ice Garden in Westwood judged by Dr. J. William Snyder, head of the Mercury Figure Skating Club Of Los Angeles. There were daily eliminations, with the final night judged by Belita and Viennese skating coach Eugene Mikeler. Belita donated silver trophies to the winners and presented them during the intermission of a hockey game between the Victoria Navy Team and Les Canadiens. She also gave a solo exhibition and performed a duet with Mikeler. Highways were heavily papered with posters; window tie-up's went up at music stores. The film was advertised on KHJ and KFAC radio. Belita did interviews on "Breakfast at Sardi's" and "Man In The Street"; songs from the film were played at the Biltmore and Ambassador hotels. Louella Parsons' story on Belita was blown up as part of a huge display of lobby art at the theatre on opening night. Monogram was determined to make the versatile Briton a star.


The film was certainly traditional 'skating movie' fare with a flimsy love triangle plot and better skating than acting. Belita upheld her part of the bargain, easily upstaging her non-skating co-stars, Kenny Baker and Patricia Morison. However, the reviews were a decidedly mixed bag. The Milwaukee Sentinel raved that, "the tall, blond Belita, who glides majestically on the glittery ice like a swan, is by far the greatest skating importation to adorn celluloid - and that includes Sonja Henie. She has beautiful rhythm and a commendable ability to remain upright after a series of difficult pirouettes. Unlike Miss Henie making her picture debut, Belita appears to be a natural thespian." Other critics were suitably unimpressed, criticizing the bland, very American skating of Belita's partner Eugene Turner and not finding Belita to have Sonja's panache. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette went as far to say, "Miss Belita is no Sonja Henie nor will she ever win any Academy awards." Belita  told NEA Hollywood correspondent Erskine Johnson, "Honey, I wish I could get my hands on that film. I looked like a monster. I weighed 135 pounds and it was all muscle. I was a monster." She later mused, "'Silver Skates' was a bad film and I came out it quite well."


Monogram ultimately took the response of the film as a cue to go back to the drawing board and make use of Belita's on ice talents as a niche in films with less skating-driven storylines. They locked her in a a seven year contract. Her salary shot up to two thousand dollars a week but rather conveniently, as it was against the law to pay minors in the film industry in America, Queenie held the purse strings. Writer Philip K. Scheuer recalled Queenie doing all of the talking for Belita at Monogram's notoriously ostentatious press preview buffets. He described the reluctant star as, "a medium-tall girl, little more than a child with her large eyes and crown of flaxen hair (only lately done up, surely, from adolescent braids), she seemed all but lost in that center of noisy conviviality, speaking seldom but always politely and wearing on her irregular but piquant features an expression that could have hidden petulance, sadness, or a little of both."


The afterglow of Belita's first taste of movie stardom was short-lived. In April, while commanding a section of Britain's Rifle Brigade in The Libyan Desert, 2nd Lieutenant Richard Jepson-Turner's arm was shattered during a heroic tank battle. When Richard returned from Tunisia to London in the summer of 1943, he was shown “Silver Skates”. He was proud of his sister who he hadn't seen in some four years. However, the Jepson-Turner's were again reminded of the cruel reality of World War II when two months later, Belita's friend and 1936 Olympic teammate Freddie Tomlins was killed over The English Channel when the plane he was flying was shot down in a battle with a German submarine. The reality that her family and friends in Europe were living in daily danger must have preyed on Belita's mind but she was simply too busy to let the doom and gloom bog her down. After all, at twenty one, she had finally won her own war with Mummy Dearest. Finally, she had control of the money she earned and how she lived her life. Live it she did.

Belita skated daily at the Polar Palace. It was there she met Bob Turk, then a teenager who played phonograph records for Sonja Henie who practiced at the same rink in the mornings. In the afternoons, Turk and Belita forged a fast friendship on the ice, largely due to the fact his outgoing personality forced the introverted Briton to open up. He explained, "Surprisingly enough, she'd just come to the public sessions and that's how I got to know her. I did a real good, fast camel spin and she and I used to do double camels together. She came every day and always wore the same thing: brown slacks and a pearl coloured long sleeve blouse and a turban on her head. She showed up from 2:15 until 5 and we all skated together. We'd see how many Axel's we could do in a row before we lost our speed. B could always do the most. We never thought anything of skating in the public session. It's what everyone did back then." Ever present, looming in the wings was the colourfully coiffed Queenie. Turk gave his impressions on Mummy Dearest: "Her mother was very sort of grand... and everyone called her mother Queenie. She always came to the rink with B. and had a very heavy English accent. She'd come in and sit up there in the booth very pomp... you know, very like a queen. Her mother never said much. She wasn't very friendly. But then again, Belita wouldn't talk to anyone either. She would talk to people on the ice but she was a little standoffish... just cool."


Cool perhaps, but far from lazy. In her off time, Belita volunteered at Bette Davis and John Garfield's Hollywood Canteen on Cahuenga Boulevard. The canteen was a strictly dry zone which offered free food, dancing and entertainment to U.S. servicemen. She also studied ballet under Madame Bronislava Nijinska (the younger sister of Vaslav Nijinsky) and at the Mariinsky Theater. Turk recalled, "I took ballet class with her all the time. At one point I studied with a Russian teacher from the Mariinsky Theater. I was there before B. was but then Belita wanted to take class, so I said 'why don't you take from Madame Bekefi who was the woman I had studied with?' Then when Sadler's Wells was in town, B. knew all of those dancers so she brought some of them to class. In those days, I wasn't a professional skater but they put me in between and we all took class together. One time, they put me between B. and a dancer from Sadler's Wells named Merle. The teacher came around and made a correction. We were doing Tendu Battement and the teacher said 'Bob, put in your foot' and then when she went by, Merle said, 'yeah, you dumb shit!' They were always razzing me and kidding with me." Belita also found herself on the society pages when she went on dates with snacky model Alan Curtis and boozy actor Errol Flynn. Flynn held the unique distinction of being perhaps the only actor to be linked 'romantically' in some sense to both Belita and Sonja Henie.


Belita's upbringing caused her to approach life as a competition. Whatever the pursuit, she attacked it with a soft-spoken, cool confidence. Although she claimed to be quite shy and an introvert, some thought she was moody and temperamental. She insisted she was not. Her competitive approach to life led her to dabble in boxing, wrestling, fencing, painting, needlepoint, playing violin, language study (she spoke English, French, German and Spanish), diving, swimming and horseback riding. Unfortunately, many of these 'extracurricular pursuits' were in fact thrust upon her by Queenie and at least one caused ultimately caused friction. Belita explained, "Being under contract to a studio was no fun, especially in my case as I had to stay and train every day. Mother didn't think that class with Nijinska and ice practice was enough, so she put me with Bill Tilder to teach me tennis. This was not one of her good ideas as Bill paced the course about twenty or thirty laps after every lesson. Running on hard courts takes all of the jump out of the legs. Nijinska started to get angry and told Mother she was ruining me so thank speed my tennis career never came off."


A smoker and compulsive coffee drinker - and what's wrong with that? - Belita said in 1943, "My day begins at 9 o'clock and I work very hard. I am to dance, sing and skate in my next picture, and singing is not a thing I do very well." The pressure was very real. With a budget of more than five hundred thousand dollars, her next Monogram project would be the largest budget film the studio would produce at the time. The expectations may have been huge, but our star had the goods to deliver.

PART SIX

"Part of me deeply and profoundly regrets having been [a skater]." - Toller Cranston

"I hated the ice. I hated the cold, the smell, everything about it. [I only ever did it] for the money." - Belita Jepson-Turner

"She did not really mean that and only said it for the effect." - Charles Rogers



The film "Lady, Let's Dance" managed to do everything for Belita's career that "Silver Skates" had not. It was the first time her talents as a skater, dancer and actress were showcased in tandem on the silver screen. In a prime example of art imitating life, she predictably portrayed a European refugee working in California that got her big break. However, the effort was anything but predictable for Monogram. Edward Kay put considerable effort into the musical scoring and Mischa Panaieff and Dave Gould were brought in to choreograph dance sequences. By the time filming at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel in Lake Arrowhead was complete, director Frank Woodruff was convinced he had a hit on his hands. He was correct.



Monogram sent Belita and her handsome co-star James Ellison on one of its unending, dreaded 'personal appearance tours'. which saw them signing autographs at individual premieres of the film in select American theatres. Reception by critics of the world premiere in San Francisco on April 5, 1944 was so excellent that Monogram dubbed the film into Spanish for foreign release. Meanwhile, film goers from Australia to Amsterdam (where the film was released as "mijn hart klopt voor Belita") were enchanted with her versatility and stage presence. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for both the Scoring of a Musical Picture and Song ("Silver Shadows and Golden Dreams") and any doubts about Monogram's decision to sign Belita were largely quelled. She was not Sonja Henie. She was Belita... and that was fabulous in itself.


Following the success of "Lady, Let's Dance", the next big plan was to finance a tour presented by the Frederick Brothers Music Corporation called "Holiday On Ice". Monogram President Trem Carr planned to foot the three hundred and fifty thousand dollar bill for the tour.  "Rhapsody" was scheduled to open in August 1944 with planned shows in San Diego, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, St. Paul and Chicago, using the Monogram Studio's 100 X 80 ice tank in venues where ice wasn't already installed. A Technicolor film called "Holiday On Ice" (much in the style of "Ice Capades Of 1941") was even discussed but when many of the venues planned for the tour were magically booked for Sonja Henie's Hollywood Ice Revue on the same dates planned for Belita's tour, Monogram was forced to scrap the project.

Another scrapped project was a touring ballet choreographed by David Lichine especially with Belita in mind. She recalled, "I was to play only New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco. The studio agreed to this but three weeks before I was to leave for New York, they refused to let me go. They did not like loaning me out, quite regardless of the money. I don't know why. However, they did allow me to go on tour ballroom dancing on a P.A. in Variety between films doing seven to nine shows a day. It was strange performing at ten o'clock in the morning - which we had to do sometimes - and very tiring. It was good experience though." In October 1944, she ballroom danced with partner Maurice St. Clair at The Oriental in Chicago, Illinois. Two months later she was at The Olympia in Miami, Florida performing in an eclectic variety show with comedic roller skating trio The Skating Lockwells. Following the standard 'anything goes' philosophy of hotel shows of that period, the show was emceed by Frank Marlowe and also featured juggler and 'manipulator of hats' Lew Hoffman and Larry Leverens on the Wurlitzer organ.  Belita's role in the show? Performing 'adagio and ballroom dance' with none other than Ice Capades star Bobby Specht. "Golly, he was a good skater... in fact a great skater," she mused. But there was far more to the story than that!


The son of Wisconsin dentist, Specht started skating at the rather late age of thirteen and won the U.S. men's figure skating title in 1942. With partner Donna Atwood, he was a popular draw with the Ice Capades. Belita and Bobby met each other through his famous parties. Bob Turk explained that "when Ice Capades came into town, Bobby Specht would rent a big house - usually out in Beverly Hills - and every skater in the world would be there. They'd bring a bottle. I'd say to Belita, 'Bobby's throwing a party, did you want to come?' and she'd say 'sure' so I'd pick her up and take her with me and the damn parties would go on till three or four o'clock in the morning and that's how I got to know her originally." Soon, Belita became infatuated with the handsome American skater, refusing to leave his side. Turk recalled, "one time I took her to a party up in the Hollywood Hills at Bobby's house and she got really drunk and we got ready to leave and all of a sudden instead of getting in my car, she just walked down a little hill and sat down and I said 'B, what are you doing?'. She said, 'I don't want to go home!' I said, 'if I don't take you now, you're just going to have to sit here because how will you get home?' She said, 'I don't know.' So I went down the hill and sat down beside her and said, 'Listen, you don't have a car. You either go with me or how are you going to get home?' She said, 'I'll call a cab.' I said, 'Where are you going to find a telephone?' It was up in the Hills!"

Belita and Queenie rented a ten room house on North Crescent Drive that turned into a Dew Drop Inn. Belita, Queenie, a piano playing cook named Virginia Paris, a miniature poodle named Frou Frou, Bobby, his mother Agnes Mae and a revolving door of Belita's visiting dance friends all stayed there at one point or another. Belita told reporters that her and Bobby were "going to get married when we both stop running around the country. But that won't be for three or four years yet. He paints and writes poetry. He's the brains of the family." The picture she painted to reporters of a relationship with the Ice Capades star wasn't as it seemed. In reality, she was very much in love with a man she couldn't have.

Patricia Albers' book "Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter" asserted that Bobby "was one of the first major athletes to speak openly about his homosexuality" yet fellow Ice Capades star Cathy Steele asserted that Bobby "would have married her" and that he was "infatuated with her". She said, "if he were ever to marry a woman, it would have been Belita." Bob Turk delved into Bobby and Belita's complex relationship, explaining that "Bobby was very, very gay. He never tried to hide it and he always had a lover. The skater Alan Konrad and he were sort of lovers and then Bobby never really had a lover until almost the end of his life. Bobby was always drinking and he was wonderful! He just drank an awful lot and I think he drank to avoid getting involved sexually with anybody. Bobby was always nervous that Belita might put the make on him so he'd always have someone around when they'd go out or something but to my knowledge, she never did put the make on him. He was an alcoholic and a wonderful guy. We'd go to parties and he'd say, 'Come on, Turkey! Let's have another drink!' and he always ended up passing out. He was one of the sweetest guys in the whole world and he really personally led a sad life because there was always some guy or some gal who was after him like Belita and he'd just try to avoid it. He'd just drink and pass out but he was a sweet guy and very kind. There were guys he took care of financially but he was just the sweetest person ever and he didn't have delusions of grandeur or an ego - nothing! We used to act like crazy fools. He and Belita were very good together but like I said, he was very nervous that she might put the make on him." Whatever the true dynamic of their relationship, Belita thought the world of Bobby and followed him around like Mary's little lamb.

The cancellation of the "Holiday On Ice" tour and film meant that Belita spent 1945 without a movie to work on or promote. While her brother Billy was busy getting married over in England, she took on a diverse series of projects to fill her time while Monogram cooked up their next vehicle for her. Soldiers in Quinte West, Ontario ogled over a pinup picture of the British beauty in an issue of "Brief" magazine. A wire came to the RCAF Trenton base stating that she was going to come and visit the troops. She never did. She was out east with Bobby in tow skating exhibitions during the intermissions of films and making 'personal appearances' for Monogram, the same people who had intentionally sent the wire to stir up the hype.


When Belita returned home to Beverly Hills months before she had intended because Bobby had been called back to the Ice Capades, she was again forced to hotel hop because she had rented out her house while she was away. One reporter noted that, "she's done more moving since her return than she did when she was out on the road." Making the most of her 'free time', she kept busy with dance classes and found time to help friends. Bob Turk recalled, "In 1945, I was skating in Ice Capades as Bobby Specht's understudy and I had my nose fixed... She'd come over to my house and put ice packs on my nose. She was just very ordinary that way."


Belita even fed the publicity machine on her weekends off. Loaned out for Paramount newsreels, she performed a water ballet on skis while being towed behind a high powered motorboat on Lake Arrowhead. Then in August, she was photographed performing an underwater ballet in the swimming pool of Los Angeles Town House. "I was there down at the pool when she did that. It was across the street from the Wilshire Hotel at the Cocoanut Grove. It was fabulous," recalled Turk. The project took only two days to film and saw her wearing a soggy forty pound ballet tutu. In her interview with David Jacobs in the seventies, she recalled, "I made the first underwater film I think that's ever been made and being a little mad, as I said before, I decided to do it in a tutu - a full tutu with a swallow's queen crown thing and shoes... I went to Jack's Of Hollywood and got this tutu made - gold one - and for some unknown reason, they decided because it was in the water that they better wire it, so they wired it, every layer of the tutu and I got in the pool and plummeted straight to the bottom. Couldn't get up at all because of all the wires and the weights and everything. They had to fish me out with a pole. So we got me, you see, and dried me off, gussied up me makeup and all that sort of thing, took all the wires out and we started the film and I'd worked very, very hard to make it look absolutely true, classical ballet underwater. No bubbles, no anything... So they got the film finished, they looked at it and I was called and told to go back, because it looked as if it was not done underwater. Would I please go down and do the finish and blow bubbles out? So I had to go down - I was furious! - get down on my knees, take in a whole mouthful of air [and blow out]. The camera was a whole lot of bubbles. I was most annoyed." Shots of the underwater ballet taken by photographer Walter Sanders appeared in LIFE Magazine on August 27, 1945, right in the height of swimmer/MGM actress Esther Williams' rise to fame. Belita claimed, "The studio was not very pleased as they considered I was doing something dangerous... All these extra-curricular occupations had to be done on weekends as during the week, I was at their disposal. They soon put a stop to that by giving me publicity and photo calls so I couldn't get away anymore."


After an ever so brief, unbilled cameo apppearance in the final scene of the Monogram musical comedy "Swing Parade Of 1946", Belita started seeing a Hartford born actor named Joel James McGinnis, who went by the stage name Joel Riordan. Things got serious rather quickly. She returned home to Garlogs for a long overdue visit with Dick, Billy and her father, to tell them about her relationship with Joel in person. However, there was also an ulterior motive for the trip home to Nether Wallop: pawning off Mummy Dearest, who wasn't in good health and was increasingly becoming a financial burden.

On her way back from Hurn to New York City aboard Pan American Airways Flight 101, a snowstorm grounded Belita's plane in Newfoundland for twenty six hours. When she finally arrived in New York, she reportedly had measles, strep throat, a temperature of almost one hundred and a four and a threat of pneumonia. She was rushed from the plane to a hospital for treatment. Many friends who had been on hand at LaGuardia Field to welcome her home with a kiss - including Monogram President Steve Brodie - were living in fear that they contracted her unique combination of cooties. She was confined to a suite at the Gotham Hotel for several months. Chatter of her doing an eight week show in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia (where "Lady, Let's Dance" had been particularly popular) quickly subsided as she recovered. It was while she laid sick in a New York City hotel that Joel popped the question.

Although Belita dreamed of a marriage in Nether Wallop with her family in attendance, as soon as she was back on her feet Monogram's publicity machine was putting Belita to work. Her busy schedule meant that several proposed dates for her wedding to Joel proved unfeasable. The couple eloped and married quietly in Ventura, California in May of 1946. The marriage was kept secret from even her best friends because as Queenie was ill, she wanted to make a second trip to Garlogs to break the news to the Jepson-Turner clan in person. There was no honeymoon and there wouldn't be. She was to set to star in Monogram's first million dollar picture, "Suspense", which would be the Poverty Row studio's most expensive effort yet. It was while she was in Chicago for the film's premiere that she let the news slip in an overseas telephone conversation that she had been married for several weeks. The news of her marriage would take back seat to the success of her biggest film role yet.

PART SEVEN

"I always had a great fondness for Belita because she didn't know what the fuck was happening! She was a great skater, but acting and particularly filmmaking were totally foreign to her." - Barry Sullivan

Enter The King Brothers. Frank, Herman and Maurice Kosinzki were three brothers raised in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighbourhood whose questionable background as slot machine and bathtub gin kings served as an unusual precursor to their work as film producers. The reputation of the brothers (who dropped their Jewish last name and went by the pseudonym King) in Hollywood circles definitely preceded them. Their films were usually drive-in, low budget affairs with recycled sets and plots and they were known to employ blacklisted directors using pseudonyms. However, their company King Brothers Productions was in charge of Monogram's first A budget picture and every stop was pulled out to deliver a product that would excel at the box office and make a 'legitimate' A list star out of Belita. She noted, "All my films up to 'Suspense' were quickies and made in two weeks at the most... I used to make money by betting on one-takes. I rarely lost. 'Suspense' was different except for the one-takes. It took six weeks to make and we had decent time for the rehearsal.



"Suspense" was absolutely unlike any film featuring skating that had ever been made at the time. It was film noir through and through and The King Brothers were taking a considerable risk by including a skating element to the film in the genre. They commissioned Philip Yordan, who had penned the Academy Award nominated screenplay "Dillinger" and the stage hit "Anna Lucasta" to do the script. They also brought in Frank Tuttle, acclaimed for his 1942 film "Gun For Hire", to direct. Barry Sullivan, Bonita Granville, Albert Dekker, Eugene Pallette and George E. Stone were cast alongside Belita, who took on the role of skating moll Roberta Leonoard. Perhaps most crucially, 1927 Academy Award winning cinematographer Karl Struss was hired to add a sense of imagination and drama to the project.


The skating scenes for "Suspense" were choreographed by Nick Castle and filmed at the Tropical Ice Garden in Westwood Village, which was leased for rehearsals and filming. Castle fell so often during the rehearsals that he added rubber plugs to his golf shoes to gain traction on the ice. Belita's skating appearances in the movie - in turns coquettish and haunting - were characterized by the cinematography of Struss, who used many glass shots to create oblique angles. Belita explained, "We must rehearse for days and days. Then, when we are finally ready to work before the camera, we must rely entirely on our own judgement. We can't fix marks on the ice to denote positions before the camera, and still we must be completely certain that we remain within range of the cameras and lights at all times."


One of the film's most climactic moments required Belita to jump through a ring of swords. She claimed that the scene was done in one take. When director Tuttle asked for another, she told him that was all they were going to get. Herman King of The King Brothers said, "I supervised the placing of the knives. It was a big job. We could have killed her. I was technical advisor in charge of not killing Belita." The star herself explained, "The ring was made of very sharp aluminium, and the knives were hard rubber. I refused to rehearse it. Frankly I was scared. I figured that if I was going to be cut to pieces it had better be on film. I asked for ‘danger pay.’ Fat chance. It went OK, but I refused to do a second take."


Speaking of cutting, tension ensued on the set when Belita's big solo was put on the chopping block. "Introspection", which was shot in three hours on one afternoon, was the star's pride and joy. She said, "I refused to finish the film unless that number was restored." In the end, Tuttle and the King Brothers gave in to the demands of their increasingly hot-headed star. Bob Turk recalled,
"The beautiful skating that Belita did in 'Suspense' was done almost by accident. They hadn't planned to do that big skating number and when she found out, she really got furious and insisted that they do it so she went in on a Saturday and they filmed that number without any music. That number was a series of sections that Belita used to always do like the Axels with the lunge and the Développé in the front and the three turn and the lunge and the Axel and the Développé... Those were combinations that Belita always did even when she practiced in the rink. Then a great composer looked at what they shot and he put that music together on the tape after they filmed the number."


In June of 1946, the stage of the Chicago theatre where "Suspense" was released was transformed into an ice rink so that Belita could perform for promotional purposes. From the get go, the psychological thriller enjoyed considerable box office success and impressive reviews. Belita later recalled the film as her personal favourite. Co-star Barry Sullivan said, "I was treated like a star. The picture made a lot of money. I always had a fondness for [Belita]." The impact of Belita's work in "Suspense" was not only at the box office. The film finally made the skating world - and Sonja Henie - take notice. Bill Unwin explained, "Although Sonja never admitted that she saw Belita skate, she did see Belita's 'Suspense' and 'Silver Skates'. Ted Shuffle said that once she'd seen Belita in those shows, she straightened her leg out on her camel [spin] and he said the line improved in Sonja's skating dramatically. He said Sonja skated way better in her films after she'd seen Belita's films than the previous ones."


A palpable tension between the Brit and the Norwegian had festered over the years and comparisons were often made between the two. Bob Turk weighed in: "Sonja in popularity and financially was way above Belita. Sonja on the ice was sweet and much more popular. When Belita appeared in Ice Capades, she was very cold. I mean, she skated gorgeous numbers but Sonja had that big dimpled smile and when she got out on that ice, she'd do four and five encores. Belita didn't. Belita was dramatic and cool. She the better skater but she was like a cold ballerina. She was always very serious. She wasn't popular with an audience like Sonja was."

When asked point blank about the relationship between her and Henie in an interview with David Jacobs in the seventies, Belita shot back with a coy, knowing smile and a diplomatic response: "That's a difficult question. I don't know that I was a successor. We were quite different in style! She was signed up to 20th Century Fox. They actually offered me a contract for life for as much money as I wanted if I never touched skates again." She added, when asked if they were rivals, "Uh, that's her opinion, not mine."

Despite Belita's carefully chosen words, the rivalry between the two very much existed. The Briton turned cold whenever Henie was mentioned and told a reporter in 1942 that, "ice-skaters don't like each other" when prodded on the subject. Reportedly, an autographed photo of Sonja in the possession of friend Joe Marshall was signed "to Velita". The name stuck and not so mysteriously, an advertisement for Belita's later "Rhapsody On Ice" tour appeared in the Eugene Register-Guard announcing, "VELITA: World's Champion Skater and Picture Star Presenting Rhapsody On Ice." The clincher? A five year tiff with good friend Bill Unwin that was a direct of result of Belita saying of Henie's 1969 death, "The best day of my life was when I read that she died in an airplane alone". Ice-skaters don't like each other indeed! The catty side of the British star was one that far too many of her contemporaries would become all too familiar with over the years.

The war stories about Sonja Henie's - ahem - temperament have been well-documented over the years, but Belita's temper was every bit as legendary. She herself claimed that she became angry when "double-crossed, or people are unnecessarily mean, or someone steals a number of mine and does it ahead of me in a show." The extent of her temper went far beyond that. Bill Unwin claimed, "If you got her as Belita, as the ordinary person, she was the kindest person you could ever come across. But don't ever cross her. She could be the devil. She could tear into people for no reason whatsoever."

Belita had the battle scars to prove it. She told reporters in 1942, "When I'm mad I generally bash my fists against doors. Once when I was 11, I was fighting with my brother Dick. He jumped behind a glass door and I bashed it with my fist and went through it. I was so cut up they didn't think I'd live - that's where I got my scar." Unwin added that "she was running away from her brother and the toilet door had a glass upper part which was quite usual over here in those days. It was like a coloured glass top. She ran in there to get away from him and somehow or another, the glass broke and cut her face and severed the top part of her arm. Her arm was scarred all the way down as well. That's why she always kept one arm covered in a costume. There was a huge scar right down the arm. Lots of people said it was in 'Suspense' with the knives, but it wasn't that at all. She had about 5 or 6 attempts to have the scar removed but her skin had got keloid build-up in the collagen and the scar always returned."


Volatility was omnipresent in Belita's relationship with husband Joel as well. The two knew how to push each other's buttons and often did, but the newyleds managed to put on a good show for the family when she returned to Garlogs at Christmastime in 1946 to introduce her husband to her family. While in Nether Wallop, she firmly expressed to Dick and Billy that "Mother was their responsibility now" and in doing so, created tension in the family. When she returned unceremoniously to the United States in February of 1947, Belita was back in the studio working on her next Monogram picture.


After shelling out a near fortune to film and promote "Suspense", money was tight for the noir "The Gangster", which was based on Daniel Fuchs' book "Low Company" and directed by Gordon Wiles. From the get go, Belita was having tiffs over her salary with The King Brothers, actually threatening to walk out at one point if it wasn't doubled. Another bone of contention was a scantily clad boudoir scene with co-star Barry Sullivan, who too was fighting with the King Brothers over the direction of his character. She negotiated and won, telling reporters "now I wear a big bath towel, and I think the points gets over quite as well - that is, you know that Barry Sullivan and I are more than just friends." Despite the off-screen disputes, the cast of "The Gangster" actually got along very well. Belita was a particular fan of her co-star Akim Tamiroff's work and despite a rocky start, filming in February and March of 1947 went off without a hitch. The film enjoyed moderate success at the box office - although certainly nothing to the extent of "Lady, Let's Dance" or "Suspense" - and in a few months, Belita was back on the ice in a second attempt to revive Monogram's scrapped skating tour initially planned two years earlier.


As a popular tour had been established under the name "Holiday On Ice", Monogram's proposed skating tour was renamed "Rhapsody On Ice". Belita, who was a firm believer in superstition, had a sense that the project was doomed from the get go. Between the money woes and the name change, something just seemed off to the British star. In June of 1947, she auditioned a skater named Sonja Penny, who even brought her birth certificate to the audition to prove to Belita that Sonja Penny was indeed her name. It all just seemed a bit too coincidental. The tour opened at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in September of that year but was delayed for several days when Joel Riordan was unable to make ice. Ukrainian born singer Sophie Tucker, a friend of Belita's who had a show down the road, filled in temporarily. Ultimately, the tour was ultimately again postponed.

Belita accepted a random invitation from skating coach Rupert Whitehead to perform in a club carnival in chilly Winnipeg, Manitoba. The ice was extra wet, having been covered in a thick layer of water at Whitehead's request. He recalled, "Belita had a husband who thought he was running things. I had to tell him two or three times that the contract was between Belita and me! He came up to me and said, 'She'll never skate on that ice.' I told him, 'That's none of your business. If she's not going to skate she tells that to me.' At that moment, Belita arrived. 'Oh what a wonderful idea, I can hardly wait!' So she did her number. Her final move was to leap in the air and land in a split right on the ice. She even made a splash. Well, the audience just couldn't get over this." The show proved a pleasant diversion to the bigger picture shaping up in Belita's life at the time.


After the lukewarm success of "The Gangster" and the failed second attempt at a Monogram skating tour, the trajectory of Belita's career began to take a downward turn. As the poster girl for the studio, her constant 'public appearances' began to be perceived by Hollywood reporters as somewhat desperate. While some writers cattily suggested that she would go the opening of an envelope, others were far crueller. Hedda Hopper style gossip journalist Dorothy Kilgallen gleefully quipped that she was "the poor man's Sonja Henie." Ignorant of the critics, Belita kept her career afloat by going underwater.

PART EIGHT

"Belita had beautiful lines. She was a thousand years ahead of everybody with her moves. She was so balletic and artistic. It was all about the music." - Catherine Machado



In February of 1948, Belita appeared alongside an aging Johnny Weissmuller in Henry Sieff's "Aquashow" at Earl's Court in London as part of the Health and Holidays Exhibition. From the time rehearsals for the water show began at the Marshall Street Baths, it was quickly apparent that the duo didn't mesh... and for good reason. "He was always exposing himself and trying to get in her knickers," explained Bill Unwin. "She said he might have been a good swimmer, but she could always beat him and get away from him because he would always get his tackle out underwater. He always used to try and grab her and do things with her but she said he was well known for that with other performers in the Aquashow." Belita wasn't the only actress who had worked with Weissmuller to have made similar claims. In 2000, Esther Williams claimed Weissmuller groped her underwater, yet Weissmuller's close friend Mike Oliver and his son continued to fervently defend against the rumors in Weissmuller, Jr.'s 2002 book "Tarzan, My Father". The friction between Belita and Weissmuller was indeed palpable though, and their inability to work together was eclipsed by the fact that the show was quite poorly received. In May of that year, Weissmuller was telling anyone who would listen in New York City that Belita being "uncooperative" was the reason the show failed. While visiting Paris, Belita responded by telling the press that she promised to give him "a few thousand well-chosen words" if he didn't shut his gob.


Belita returned to America to star in yet another Monogram noir, "The Hunted". With a budget of one hundred thousand dollars, the picture was directed by Jack Bernhard and produced by Scott R. Dunlap. Cast alongside Preston Foster, she actually did some of her better acting in this particular film as convict femme fatale Laura Mead, despite the fact that off screen she was yet again fighting constantly with The King Brothers. It got so bad that Steve Broidy of Allied Artists Productions took over to keep the peace during the three week filming process. Despite the low budget and at times predictable screenplay by Steve Fisher, "The Hunted" was a bigger box office success than "The Gangster". However, it would be Belita's last starring film role.


Following her role in "The Hunted", Belita traveled to Europe and for a time entertained American troops in tank shows for the USO, culminating in a stop at the Casa Carioca, an Armed Forces Recreation Center nightclub. After her engagement in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, her and Joel traveled to Paris. They ended up at the Ambassador Club. Belita explained that the club was run by "Jo Longman, who was managing the boxer Marcel Cerdan who was to marry Édith Piaf. We all had a lovely supper the night before Jo and Marcel were to leave for America. He was going to have a fight and I can't remember with whom. Unfortunately, the plane crash and they were both killed. I don't think Piaf ever got over it."


Following her strangely timed connection to one of the biggest news stories in France at the time, she met Burgess Meredith at the same club and he took her under his wing, casting in the low budget film "The Man On The Eiffel Tower", based on Belgian writer Georges Simenon's 1931 novel "La Tête d'un homme". The picture was co-produced by Franchot Tone and Irving Allen as T&A Film Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures.


She took on the supporting role of Gisela. the wife of a lens-grinder framed for murder. She also forged a friendship with actor Charles Laughton, who co-directed the film with Meredith and starred alongside Tone. Without any real plan in France, Belita was thankful for the work. She said, "Charlie took me under his wing. Once again I had fallen on my feet, having such a great artist of a teacher... I loved him very much." During the shoot, she learned of Laughton's plans to start a theatre company in California. She wanted in but friend or not, he wasn't having any of it. She explained, "I asked if I could join, his answer was 'no!' Then he softened it by saying 'you make good money, and I can only offer subsistence and frankly, not even that.'"


She returned with Joel to America in the summer of 1949, bringing actor friend Robert Ryan a 16 mm. reel showing all of the members of a French family he had adopted two years before. She spent the autumn of 1949 socializing with Barbara Ann Scott, the Canadian skating sensation who had just won gold at the St. Moritz Olympics and dancing in a scene on The Ed Wynn Show.


It initially looked like the third time might be the charm when the "Rhapsody On Ice" tour concept was again revived in January of 1950. "I created a tank show in Downtown Los Angeles," explained Bob Turk. "There were only nine in the show. After a month of it, the agent said to me 'could you make this show a little larger?' and I said 'sure'. Well, I thought maybe he meant to make it sixteen people but he wanted like forty people in it and I did it. We put Belita in it and took it to Havana, Cuba. Red McCarthy was in that show and I choreographed it and skated in it. We couldn't find enough skaters so I took dancers - the best dancers from MGM - and put them on skates." During an era when segregation was very much a reality in America, Turk included Mabel Fairbanks, a woman of colour, in the cast. One of Turk's goals for "Rhapsody On Ice" was to take Belita out of her comfort zone. He explained, "She wasn't a boisterous person. As a performer, she was cold. She never did anything that was fun... so I had her do a Hawaiian number. She was very uncomfortable learning that. She really didn't like doing it but I made her do it. That was something that was way out of her style. She did it and she did it very well. She was a disciplined woman and she did it because I wanted her to do it. I suppose I did it maybe because Sonja had done it and of course, she did two of her other numbers which were wonderful."

Sadly, a serious injury to the leading lady on the show's opening night at the Teatro Blanquita in Havana reaffirmed the fact the show had been indeed doomed. Husband Joel, singing a dramatic song about temptation was to shoot a blank from a pistol at his wife as part of the act. Things went terribly wrong when the wadding in the pistol was so heavy it knocked the Briton down. The shot broke her skin and gave her two serious powder burns but she finished the show, patched up with cotton gauze. The show had a two week run and afterwards, two of the skaters in her show (Art Franklin and Patricia Wallace) remained in Havana to teach the Cubans skating until May of that year. Belita and Joel returned to Hollywood. Tommy Gorman of the National Sports Enterprise made the trip to Hollywood to try to sign Belita in the Canadian based tour "Skating Sensations Of 1951". The tour had been a star vehicle for Barbara Ann Scott, but she was leaving for England to skate in Tom Arnold's "Rose Marie On Ice" at the time and a replacement was needed. Belita's contract with Monogram didn't allow her to take the job and instead, Gorman focused his attention on other projects, including of all unlikely things – a rodeo in Halifax that summer.


Belita turned to the theatre stage, appearing in her old friend Charles Laughton's revival of the play "The Cherry Orchard". Desperate for work, Laughton claimed that she "begged to be allowed to join the group, and finally did after a six-month apprenticeship of making coffee and doing the tidying up - at a time when she was the most famous ice-skater in the world!" The show lasted for six months, with Belita appearing on stage with her poodle Frou-Frou nightly. She was immediately thereafter to appear in Laughton's adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night". Rehearsals were underway and the play was almost ready when Paul Gregory, who managed “The Cherry Orchard” pulled the plug on the show at the last minute for financial reasons and Laughton went on the road with his one man show.


With her contract with Monogram finally over and no real prospects remaining in America, Belita and Joel packed it up and returned to England. Over a decade after making her mark in Claude Langdon's failed productions of "Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter" at Covent Garden, he would rehire her to do the very thing she was absolutely sick of doing at that point in time: skate.


In no way daunted by the success of ice show impresario Tom Arnold, Claude Langdon's ice pantomimes in London in the fifties were enormously popular. His productions were written and produced by Eve Bradfield. a Fulham born comedienne who did blackface, appeared with George Formby in Tom Arnold's productions and produced the first Windmill Theatre shows for Vivian Van Damm. Langdon and Bradfield first worked together in 1938 in Brighton in the "Ice Time" show which followed his smash hit "Marina". Like Belita's old friend Cecilia Colledge who was busy coaching in North America, Bradfield drove an ambulance through the streets of London during the Blitz. Over tea with one of her neighbours, Langdon spotted an "Ice Time" program from the Brighton days and in no time, talked the skilled ex-producer in a comeback.


With Belita in mind, Bradfield carefully wrote "Babes In The Wood On Ice". Langdon laid down a cool two hundred and ten thousand dollars, hired one hundred and fifty five skaters, a backstage crew of three hundred and amassed a wardrobe of one thousand elaborate costumes for the ice pantomime.


The show opened on December 21, 1950, with Belita starring as Robin Hood. She skated in tights as the outlaw who stole from the rich and gave two the poor decades before Katarina Witt reinvisioned the idea as part of her comeback at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. She also performed aerial ballet. "Babes" co-star, the late Heather Belbin, recalled how she went full circle from being awestruck of Belita, to being struck by her to Belita forgetting the whole thing altogether: "When I was eight or nine years old, I was at Queen's Ice Rink when a lady with very blue eye shadow came to the rink and sat at the edge of the ice – that was 'Queenie', Belita's mother. I had only heard of Belita, the wonderful skater, and when she stepped onto the ice, I stepped back and watched this very balletic skater and was enthralled. We shared the same coach, Jacques [Gerschwiler]. I swam at the same club, passed all my ballet tests, just as Belita had done at age 12. Little did I know that I would be called 'Baby Belita.' In the show, 'Babes in the Woods,' at Empress Hall, I was cast as Girl Babe to Belita's Robin Hood. During rehearsals, [Gersch] taught me a new spin that was so different. I practiced that spin until I had it so good! Then put it in my solo. I did not know that Belita had a lesson with [Gersch], and he taught her the same spin. Uh oh! While Belita was watching the dress rehearsal of the show and saw that spin in my solo, she jumped out of her chair, came onto the ice and slapped my face. She said, 'How dare you copy any of my tricks!' After a time, it was sorted out with management and she apologized in front of the whole cast. Many years later I was invited to a party at the house in [Hammersmith]... I was worried she would be nasty to me. Instead, she latched onto me and stayed with me the evening. Seems she did not put together that I was the little girl skater from years back that 'copied' her spin!"


Although Belita was discouraged by the "cheapness" of having to perform in ice pantomimes to make a living mere years after having her name on billboards in conjunction with the film "Suspense", money was money honey. Following the death of her grandmother, she was back on stage at the Empress Hall in 1951 for a year long run of Langdon's "London Melody On Ice". Langdon recalled that he once again "asked Belita to do an aerial ballet on wires, as well as her customary sensational skating; and if Britain had more talented youngsters who were ballet-trained as well as enthusiastic skaters, we should be able to devise ice shows even more colourful and full of movement than any yet seen." As is often the case in show business, things weren't entirely rosy behind the scenes. During first week of rehearsals, a man wearing a gorilla suit was rehearsing his part in an act where he flew down from the roof on a rope with iron girders to the ice. He grabbed at the rope, missed it and plunged one hundred and fifty feet to the ice. He was killed instantly in front of the entire cast. Skaters broke down in tears, the ice was cleared, rehearsals were cancelled... but in true show biz 'the show must go on' fashion, the show went on. Although Belita, dressed as a French poodle and accompanied by a canine partner, sizzled in one number, up-and-coming comedian Norman Wisdom more often than not stole her thunder.

Norman Wisdom signing autographs during the run of "London Melody On Ice"

However, the show was a great success. Captain T.D. Richardson recalled, "The music was by Robert Farnon and the Sadler's Wells singer Tom Round sang the charming songs most beautifully. Unfortunately, when it came time for the curtain call, everyone was smiling... except Belita. Wisdom recalled, "I was aware that Belita seemed a little resentful that I was getting such good applause. Here was a beautiful girl, and a wonderful skater, but she was making it obvious to us that she was the star of the show."



Sidelined by a leg injury and unable to skate for much of 1952, Belita appeared with comedian Peter Kent on the BBC radio show "Calling All Forces" and took advantage of the downtime to spend time recuperating in Paris, a city she had great fondness for. She was back in England by October of 1952, celebrating her birthday with a lavish party on ice at The Hippodrome in London.


She returned to performing in Langdon's "Jack And The Beanstalk On Ice" at Empress Hall alongside Belbin, Austrian siblings Ilse and Erich Pausin, Adrian Swan, lanky ice comedienne Lucille Gaye and Basil Cudlip-Green, who took on the role of evil magician Asmodeus. The show, which cost four hundred and twenty thousand dollars to produce, took in over forty five thousand dollars in advance ticket sales during the first ten days. In competition with Tom Arnold's production of "Sleeping Beauty" at the Empire Pool at Wembley, sales waned over time. In the lead role of Jack, Belita donned armour and doll masks specially constructed for her by Harry Kellard, skated a duet to "You Do Something To My Heart" with Muriel Kay and was again called upon to perform aerial ballet in addition to skating and dance acts. Writer Iain Hamilton recalled, "Belita traverses the white expanses with the grace of Hermes winging over the wine-dark sea - and look; when there is a beanstalk to be climbed, here is a beanstalk sprouting from the ice and ninety-feet high. Up goes Belita to the tip hop, skate-shod still, as though climbing beanstalks came as naturally as dancing over 20,000 square feet of ice, 1 1/2 inches thick, weighing 300 tons, kept frozen by 14 miles of piping."


The following year, Belita reunited with her old dance teacher and partner Anton Dolin. He appeared (uncredited) as the dance partner of Gene Tierney in the MGM spy thriller "Never Let Me Go", which starred none other than Clark Gable himself. She was cast as the Russian ballerina wife of a newspaperman played by Richard Hadyn. Unfortunately, she later recalled that her big dance number "was cut from the film because there was something wrong with the Cyclorama, which they hadn't noticed in rushes."


Months after the film's March 1953 debut, she was busy preparing for her most ambitious skating project in years: a variety production called "Champagne On Ice". Belita explained, "Jack Parnell, who ran the Palladium at the time asked if I'd be interested in a half floor/half ice revue to open in Dublin. I was now in a position to ask for my dance director, which I did." After a problem-filled opening in Ireland, the show made its way to the Hippodrome in London, where the show met with considerable success.


Starring Belita, her husband Joel, Mary Naylor, Wally Bong, The Two Earls and singer Richard Gray, "Champagne On Ice" was criticized by one journalist as "a series of routines roughly woven into a show". The first half of the production was performed on a plank over the stage, which was iced and extended over the orchestra pit. Directed and choreographed by Richard Barstow and produced by Edith Warstow, the juxtaposition of dance, skating, musical and comedy acts was largely effective. However, behind the scenes a rumor was perpetuated by one of the chorus girls that Mary Naylor was a brilliant skater, but that they wouldn't let her skate a solo for fear she'd upstage Belita. By her own admission, Naylor couldn't even stop on skates but the rumor spread like wildfire among the cast nonetheless. She laughed in hindsight and said, "before long, I was a gold medallist! Isn't that a beautiful thing?" adding, "It was a marvellous show in a way because it was wood for the first half and ice for the second half and I was supposed to be the leading lady of the first half and then [Belita] took over and did some marvellous things. She did a ballet scene that was incredible! It was when the song 'Ebb Tide' was very big. So they put this 'Ebb Tide' on and she went up on this ladder... and she was in Kirby's harness and then she'd fly... We had this great big stage set and it looked like she was underwater. So she'd dive in and did it like a mermaid without being a mermaid and she did all of the spins because she was a brilliant ballet dancer. They said 'no one's ever done on strings what this woman can do.'... That was in the first half."


 The show, performed twice nightly, was actually very well attended and Belita recalled a clown act she performed in the show as "the most fun I had on skates in years." She made such an impression on Sylvia Gilley that the London sculptress designed a twenty eight inch high bronze statue of Belita performing a catchfoot spin. She thought it was "lovely."


In the summer of 1954, Belita starred alongside Max Wall in yet another Langdon production, Erik Charell's "White Horse Inn On Ice". Over three hundred tons of plaster was used by Van Bunnens, who oversaw the design of a mountain range overlooking an almost authentic replica of the White Horse Inn of the village of St. Wolfgang in the Austrian Tyrol. She portrayed Josephina, the proprietress of the inn. Like many of Langdon's productions, the show was broadcast on BBC. The Marquartsteiner Schuhplatter Dancers and a male chorus skating around the rink lip syncing to "White Horse Inn" were highlights of the production but there was little doubt as to who the star was. Unfortunately, an accident during one show where Belita tripped over a button which had fallen off a costume and became embedded in the ice knocked her semi-conscious. Members of the audience had to step in and carry her to her dressing room. An understudy filled in for twenty minutes until she bravely came back out on the ice. On another occasion, Belita recalled, "the Russian athletic team came to see the show. I was so busy trying to show them that other countries could produce athletes that I did twenty three Axel's consecutively at the end of the solo. Harry Rabinowitz who was conducting thought I'd gone mad, stopped the music and let the drummer get on with it. After the show, he told me off a fair treat." Despite the odd mishap, "White Horse Inn On Ice" had a very popular one hundred and seventy four show run and Langdon's ice pantomimes provided a welcome distraction from meagre post-war rations at a time when fewer than twenty percent of British households owned a television set.

Rather ingeniously biting the bullet and returning to her skating roots in Langdon's ice pantomimes might have kept Belita's image afloat and food on her table, but behind the scenes her world was crumbling around her. A one-night only ballet performance at Royal Festival Hall came and passed unceremoniously. Her father passed away in September 1954 and that very same month, she separated from her husband Joel. They briefly reunited for a vacation in Lake Arrowhead in January of 1955 but by the next month, she wanted nothing to do with him. By December of 1955, he brought a divorce suit to a Los Angeles court, alleging she deserted him in September of the previous year. Belita returned with a cross complaint, alleging cruelty and that he had threatened violence in making her sign a seven-year managerial contract which gave him forty percent of her earnings. In the end, the divorce went through just days before Christmas in 1956. She got out of the contract but the divorce cost her five thousand dollars as part of the terms of a property settlement. She claimed in her petition that he beat her twice in public, knocked her down in the street and made her nervous. She told reporters, "he hit me rather frequently when he was more intoxicated than usual." Friend Bill Unwin later asserted that the volatility of the relationship was very much a two way street and both Belita and Joel knew how to push each other's buttons. Bob Turk had another take on their relationship: "I always thought Joel was gay and maybe he was, I don't know. At times, I thought Belita was gay too. I think he just sort of hung onto her and was just going along for the ride."


While turmoil unfolded in her personal life, Belita kept up the facade that life was rosy and threw herself into her work. She starred alongside 'Mr. Pastry' Richard Hearne and singer Frankie Vaughan in "Wildfire", another Claude Langdon project. Philip Green and Norman Newell, who wrote the music for "White Horse Inn On Ice", returned to work their magic. Bernard Spencer trained a massive chorus of supporting skaters and Pauline Grant returned as producer. The show opened at Empress Hall in the summer of 1955 with Belita starring as the princess Pocahantas. Ticket sales suffered initially as the show was in direct competition with a Wembley production of "Babes In The Wood" starring French skater Jacqueline du Bief as Robin Hood. Belita was none too pleased as du Bief was taking on the exact same role that she had absolutely owned in Langdon's production of "Babes" some five years earlier. However, favourable reviews of her portrayal of Pocahantas helped "Wildfire" succeed in the end. It would prove to be Belita's final Langdon ice pantomime. The end of her relationship with Joel, who was as determined to keep Belita working and making money to support him as Queenie had been, finally motivated Belita to break free from these exhaustive skating pantomimes and plan a comeback to 'legitimate' theatre. For so many years, skating had been a means a survival. Fuelled by the memories of her silver screen successes, Belita felt she had something left to prove.

PART NINE

"By nature, she was a very serious type of person and not very animated. She was very kind, very sweet but very low key. Everything was serious with her. She didn't joke. It was like she didn't think of life as being fun." - Bob Turk



In late May of 1956, Belita returned to the stage in Allen Vincent's play "Sight Unseen" at the Theatre Royal Bath. Presented by Anna Deere Wiman, the comedic thriller co-starred Derek Blomfield, Donald Stewart and Rosemary Davis. Theatre goers enjoyed the coffee, tea, ice cream and chocolates served and four licensed bars more than the play. Its run only lasted one week. "B. wasn't a great actress," admitted Bob Turk. He said, "she was very typical of her personality. She was very low key. I could never see her doing anything very emotional. You never saw her smile or get very excited."


The day after the play premiered, Gene Kelly's experimental dance film "Invitation To The Dance" was released. Belita had negotiated an appearance in the film's second segment, "Ring Around the Rosy", set to original music by André Previn, who later composed a piece called "Belita". The filming had taken place in England at the same time as "Never Let Me Go". Unbeknownst to Kelly, she had moonlighted on the same set, appearing briefly in the MGM film behind his back. The "Ring Around The Rosy" scene in Kelly's film in which Belita danced linked several romantic stories tied by the exchange of a gold bracelet, a cleverly conceived precursor to the "Red Hat" piece that Christopher Dean would choreograph for ice decades later. The bracelet is originally given by a husband to his wife. She gives it to an artist who gives it to a model who gives it to her boyfriend who gives it to Belita who gives it to a crooner who gives it to the hat check girl. The hat check girl's boyfriend takes it, gives it to a streetwalker who gives it to the husband who returns it to his wife. Clad in a tight leopard print dress, Belita exuded sensuality as she stepped over bodies on the floor, whipped her hair out of her face dramatically and vamped off with the smitten singer. Her scene lasted less than a minute but garnered far more attention that her return to the stage at Bath.
Without Monogram's support, acting jobs were few and far between. Although Belita had firmly established herself as a queen of the ice in England, her film success in America a decade before meant nothing to directors in England. The former movie starlet was reduced to being a back-up dancer to Cyd Charisse in MGM's "Silk Stockings". Her blink-and-you'll-miss-it part in "The Red Blues" did nothing to reestablish her stage career but it did put bread and butter on the table.


The real beginning of the downward spiral came when producer George Abbott took a chance on B. when he brought "Damn Yankees" to the London Coliseum in March of 1957. She recalled, "I got lousy reviews for my singing for which I can't blame anyone. I can't sing." Although Punch Magazine praised her, other critics were not so generous. Belita's stint as the character Lola alongside Welsh actor Ivor Emmanuel only lasted three months. Also cut short was a brief engagement to the recently divorced and strikingly handsome Major Prince George Galitzine. Instead, he married former Christian Dior model Jean Dawnay. Deflated, she packed her bags and set sail for New York, the same city where her adventures in America began almost twenty years earlier.

"I hated skating and I am happy to report I haven't skated now for three years," Belita told American reporters in June of 1958.  "I'm on a new kick. I came over from London this trip to study mime." A meeting with Marcel Marceau while she was playing in "Damn Yankees" had inspired the trip. She explained, "I went and saw Marcel Marceau at matinee and thought he was wonderful and asked him to teach me. He sort of tried me out in his dressing room, asking me if I knew what living mime was and I answered 'yes', and he said 'show me' and I did. Living mime can't be taught. A person is born with it. He then asked about skating and we went through a couple of moves. He was working on his skating sketch, so it was a great premise and again, I was lucky with a great teacher." At Marceau's suggestion, she studied under his teacher Étienne Decroux. "I was doing two mime classes a day and a ballet class," explained Belita. "I never let him know I was a dancer. He hated dancers! I told him that I was a skater and he was quite happy with that. He maintained that dancers could never do mime because of their training. I don't know why."

 It was while studying the art that she ran into her old friend Burgess Meredith, who she worked with in "The Man On The Eiffel Tower." He offered her a role in his off-Broadway play "Ulysses In Nighttown", an adaptation of James Joyce's novel "Ulysses". Blacklisted actor Zero Mostel earned critical claim for his role in the production. Belita explained her role in the play thusly: "I'm one of three streetwalkers in the play and and we represent animal, vegetable and mineral. I'm not certain I understand it wholly, but I will say this: we entertain the public. That's the name of the game, isn't it?"

It was while appearing in Meredith's play at The Rooftop Theater that Belita met Irish born actor Jimmy Berwick. "He was a very nice guy... a very ordinary guy," recalled Bob Turk. The couple spent an inordinate amount of time together, packing books in a loft apartment between shows to make ends meet because money wasn't great in the play. Belita even worked in the kitchen in good skating friend Ája Vrzánová's restaurant. Unphased by her 'fall from grace', she told reporters "I just want to earn a living."

When the theatre where "Ulysses In Nighttown" was to be torn down, the show was taken on the road, first to England and then on a European tour. While back in England, Belita was involved in a serious automobile accident in September of 1959 in Basingstoke. Fortunately, her injuries were relatively minor: cuts and bruises and a scar on her face. However, a female passenger in the other vehicle was tragically killed. Despite the ordeal, she continued on with "Ulysses" to Paris, where the play was so well received it won an award.

A shocking cancer diagnosis promptly ended Belita's run with Meredith's play in Paris. Diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, she went under the knife and came out on top but was greatly weakened both physically and psychologically by the experience. Incredibly, while in recovery, she appeared in Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's independent film "La terraza". In the allegorical film, she appeared to be thrown from a parapet and left with an injured leg. The role almost spoke symbolically to how her own career was at that point crippled by forces that seemed to be out of her control. The film appeared unceremoniously in the 13th Annual Berlin International Film Festival in 1963 without Belita in attendance.

In 1967, Belita married Jimmy Berwick. The couple bought the Rose Cottage alongside the Thames River in the southwest London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. To support themselves with an eye on eventually retiring, the newlyweds opened a nursery on the property called Crabtree Gardens. Belita did not know the first thing about gardening at first but caught on quickly. They hired out of work actors to work there and often hosted artist friends.

In ailing health nearby in Berkeley Court overlooking Regent's Park, Mummy Dearest passed away quietly on July 10, 1975 with "no flowers, no mourning, no letters, please, by her request." Although Belita had fond memories of her mother from her childhood, she harboured bitterness towards the one person who - more than anyone - had controlled her destiny. In her typewritten memoir, which forms the prologue to this biography, Belita only crossed out three words and they referred to Queenie. They were, "I loved her."


Life was remarkably quiet for Belita and Jimmy until the late seventies when, rediscovered by British television in a "Where Are They Now?" interview with David Jacobs, Belita returned to the public consciousness. She began receiving fan mail again and made a point of responding personally to every letter. She also returned to the ice with plans to stage a one-woman show at the Richmond Ice Rink. It never materialized but a return to the ice remained on her mind. "One day my secretary, Bill Bain, came into my office to tell me there was an English speaking lady who wanted to speak to 'Bobby'," recalled Bob Turk. "It was Belita. That is what she had called me in those earlier years. She explained that she wanted to do a 'tank' show on a 20 x 20 ice surface. She wanted the ice to be made in squares of 2×2 foot squares like a chess board. She explained that she would have a toe shoe on one foot and an ice skate on the other... I think either she'd been drinking or she was a little crazy and I'm listening thinking 'now what the hell is she talking about?' There was a refrigeration guy that we knew - Bob Bennett - and she said there's only one person who could do it and that's Bob Bennett so I just went along and that was the end of that conversation."

Finally, at the age of fifty-eight in 1981, she was invited to skate as a special guest in the annual Superskates benefit for the U.S. Olympic Fund at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She performed a short piece based on "(In My) Solitude" by Duke Ellington. Afterwards, at a benefit at the New York Statler Hotel, she told New York Times reporter Judy Klemesrud, "I'd like to prove to anybody who's had cancer that they don't have to pack up". In another interview, she said, "you can skate as long as you want to. I saw one skater do intricate routines at the age of 60. Like all sports, skating is healthy." However inspiring her final skating performance in New York City might have been for some, friend Bill Unwin felt it was a mistake. He said, "She should not have done that. It wasn't good. She had already had half of her gut and her bowel taken out then, so all of her balance was off. She couldn't hold it on a camel spin or pull out."

In 1982, Belita's first husband Joel died in San Bernardino, California. The next year, Anton Dolin passed away in Paris. As Belita made peace with the loss of two leading men in her life, she retired from running Crabtree Gardens on her sixtieth birthday and began hitting the bottle quite hard. That's when The Evil Fairy came out.

PART TEN

"I'll see you again. Whenever spring breaks through again.
Time may lie heavy between, but what has been is past forgetting." - lyrics from "I'll See You Again" by Noël Coward, one of Belita's favourite songs

Although it's an old favourite of skating fans and both dance and film critics, there really is nothing easier than sitting on a soapbox and passing judgement. Yes, Belita may have competed in the Olympics, starred in films, plays, skating spectaculars and dance recitals but her turbulent life off the ice would take its toll on anyone. There was the domineering Queenie and the messy divorce from Joel. There were the failed comeback attempts that bruised her ego and the struggle with cancer. There was the cruel perception that she was a "poor man's Sonja Henie". All of these things haunted Belita and like so many of us with demons, she fell back on her vices.

Belita and Jacqueline du Bief at Belita's studio at Rose Cottage. Photo courtesy Bill Unwin.

Bill Unwin explained that especially later in life, "she was a big drinker. When she'd gone from the gin to the scotch in the evening, she'd go right off." On one such occasion, Unwin took Ruby Andreotti and her sister over to Rose Cottage. After Ruby sat next to Jimmy, Belita's eyes darted over to the scarf that covered her hair. "Have you got any hair under there, dear?" Belita said. Ruby replied, "yes, but I've got very Caribbean hair. It's very crimpy. Even if I have it straightened, the next day it's gone back again." Undeterred, Belita continued her line of questioning: "Oh! How old are you?" Ruby answered coyly, "I don't tell anybody my age." Belita quipped back with a steely glaze and a swig from her glass, "Well, I was looking at your hands dear. You've got to be well over eighty!"

In reality, stories like these peppered Belita's entire adult life. Catherine Machado, who represented the United States in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games, recalled practicing her spins on the same ice as Belita at The Polar Palace when the Briton skated up and yelled, "Could you please move away from here?" On another occasion, she beat the snot out of a paperboy. Unwin recalled, "We came back from having lunch and at that time she was having problems with her back. The guy was going around sort of putting leaflets through the door and she attacked him because she'd had so many gin's at lunchtime. She said, 'WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING AROUND MY-" and he said 'oh, just putting leaflets in' and she went and chased him down the street and kicked his ass." Triumphantly, she announced, "he'll never put another leaflet through my door again!"

These tales - and even the comment she made when Sonja Henie passed away - paled in comparison to a scotch-fuelled fiasco involving Belita, Jimmy, Bill Unwin and two very well known skaters, who we will for the sake of privacy and legality call Ms. X. and Ms. Y. Belita had always claimed to Unwin and anyone that would listen that Ms. Y. had put the moves on her when she was a teenager. Unwin alleged that Belita said of the incident, "I was getting ready on the stairs for the finale and I was only thirteen or fourteen years old and [Ms. Y.] stuck her hand into my costume and tried to kiss me on the lips on the stairs." The night that Unwin brought Ms. X. and Ms. Y. over to Rose Cottage, Unwin said, Ms. Y. and Belita "were fine at the beginning and then I saw [Ms. Y.] was talking to her and they sat on the sofa and all the rest of it. As the evening went on, I said to [Ms. X.] 'Maybe we should have a taxi now' and she said, 'No, look, they're getting along fine!' and the next thing I hear was Belita saying, 'If you say that one more time, I'm going to smack you!' [Ms. X.] went, 'Ooo!' and I said, 'I told you dear, the whiskey's going down and the evil fairy's coming out!' She did attempt to smack [Ms. Y.] and then she got up and fell backwards and smashed her table, hit her head and ended up with us carrying her and putting her on the bed and [Ms. Y.] sitting on the bed and saying 'oh darling! how are you?' and all that. We called for a taxi but when I went in and said 'look, do you want me to get you an ambulance?' she said, 'that [bitch]'s tried to reach down and touch my [you do the math] again while I'm lying here!' Her husband Jimmy came in and said, 'It's wishful thinking, B!'"

In 1992, Belita was honoured by the Ice Theatre Of New York in a benefit for the company's Rehearsal Fund with a screening of "Suspense" and question and answer session at two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button's Manhattan apartment. A who's who of the skating world were in attendance, including Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley. Bob Turk recalled, "Dick Button asked me to come to New York and introduce her and everything and Belita asked me if I'd come a couple of days ahead so I did. Belita was staying at a friend's apartment and I picked her up and took her out to lunch and she drank about three of those double shots of vodka but she wasn't really drunk. You wouldn't know she was drinking because her face stayed very straight, very serious. We spent the day together and then at this soiree interestingly enough, she was sitting in the bedroom before I went out and did an introduction. I asked her if she'd like a drink and she said, 'No dear, I never drink when I'm working' which I thought was really cute. Then she came out and talked about her career, how she wore those natural colour boots and dancing with Anton Dolin."

Bob Turk later came to visit Belita one day when he was in Europe doing choreography for an ice show in France. He recalled, "I produced and choreographed the Lido in Paris. One of the times I went to a meeting I thought, well, I'll stop in London and that's when Belita and her second husband had that nursery there. I stopped at the hotel and got their yellow pages and I just started calling nurseries and I said, 'My name is Bob Turk and I was a friend of Belita, the skater and I know she has a nursery here'. I called about three of them and they said, 'no, I'm sorry, that's not it' and then finally, about the fourth one, the guy says, 'well, you've got the right place' and he said, 'Belita, there's a Bob Turk on the phone' so she grabbed the phone and said 'My God, where ARE you?' and I said in London so she said 'Come on over!' so I got a cab and went over. We spent the whole day together and we talked skating and theatre. I tried to take her out for dinner but she was vain and said, 'oh dear, I'd never go out in public unless my hair was done and my make-up and everything' so we just spent the whole day and evening together and had a bite to eat there. She told me that one time, she had performed in Paris and she didn't take money because of taxes or something so they gave her a set of gold flatware and she showed it to me." That was the last time that Belita saw her old friend from California in the flesh, although they did speak on the phone several times after that.

Belita's later years were full definitely marked by a certain bitterness. One by one, she said goodbye to the stars of her life: The King Brothers, "Suspense" co-stars Barry Sullivan, James Ellison and Bonita Granville, her ex-fiancé Prince George Galitzine, her brother Billy and sister-in-law Rosemarie. In 1999, her beloved Bobby Specht passed away suddenly in Cathedral City, California. "He lost his vision," explained Bob Turk. "He could have had eye surgery and he didn't and they just found him down on the floor down here." Belita took Bobby's death particularly hard. Bill Unwin recalled, "She absolutely adored Bobby Specht. She was so upset when Bobby died. She loved him dearly." The death of her husband Jimmy the following year was even harder on her. Charles Rogers, the husband of Billy's daughter Louise, noted that Belita became very depressed Jimmy's death. She also became very disenchanted with the the direction figure skating was headed. She lamented, "There seems to be a great deal of talk about the art of skating but somehow the art of skating has been lost entirely to technical tricks like 'double trouble' and quadruple jumps, which seem to have taken up much of the routines in the amateur skating competitions lately."

The depression, the booze and the painful goodbyes painted a backdrop to her declining health. Unwin, who looked after her for the last ten years of her life, noted "she had many different complications. She was in and out of the hospital... lots of bowel complications, stomach problems. The last couple of years, she was very incapacitated with the nerve at the base of the spine. It was almost like sciatica. She could move only very little at all but was still mentally very, very alert."

Eighteen months before she passed away, she moved to Montpeyroux, a commune in the Dordogne department in Aquitane in southwestern France, to get into a warmer climate. Jo Lynch, an artist who had worked in Crabtree Gardens and lived in part of the house that Jimmy and Belita bought adjoining Rose Cottage inherited a studio built by the couple. Unwin explained, "The day before she was supposed to go to France, she fell and broke her hip. She went into hospital and had the hip done here but she insisted she wanted to go after they put the pin in, but they kept her in. They wouldn't let her out of the hospital. Jo eventually got her in the car and drove her but she said, 'I made a mistake by moving but it's too late to do anything now. I've had everything transferred here.'" Jo's husband  André, a doctor, had acquired land in Montpeyroux and the couple was able to set Belita up with a residence on the property where he could see to her care privately. In declining health, she found pleasure in the isolation and time spent with her dog. Belita said, "I have a lovely time doing absolutely nothing." Unwin added, "that was it... she died there." On December 18, 2005, Belita Jepson-Turner slipped away peacefully at the age of eighty two.

Just as quietly, Belita's legacy lives on. Garlogs and the lakes where Belita skated as a youngster remain in the family, as do her skates. At the manor today, you'll find much of the same decor Belita would have remembered: beautiful antique furniture, blue baize doors fronting what would have once been servant's quarters, a large marble statue and towering cases of stuffed birds. They are all now owned by Charles Rogers, the son-in-law of Belita's eldest brother Billy. Belita's trophies, medals and newspaper clippings survive with Bill Unwin. Brother Dick, at the time of publication, is still alive - though in his nineties and in declining health. Movie buffs have begun to recognize the role of the unlikely star as her films have slowly made their way out of cold storage and into film noir festivals. A renewed interest in the study of Anton Dolin's body of work has reintroduced her to dance historians. Most enduring, however, are the remembrances  from the figure skating world.

Canadian Champion Jennifer Robinson paid tribute to her with a skating performance to Manuel de Falla's "Suite populaire espagnole", taking inspiration in her choreography from the film "Suspense". Nathan Birch of The Next Ice Age said, "Belita was balletic, theatrical, and entertaining. Any young skater should study her work." World Champion Bernard Ford recalled, "I remember vividly living in Birmingham as a child, and my parents taking me to the Dudley Hippodrome to see Belita's stage show. I must have been about seven. I recall the one scene which presumably opened in her bedroom and she was in bed. She pulled back the sheets and instead of slipping into a pair of slippers, she put on her skates and then began a routine. That's all I remember about the show. As I said, it was set on the stage and so her manoeuvrability was somewhat limited, but that's what I remember. Back in the nineties, I travelled back to Birmingham for the World Championships as a guest of NISA. Travelling to London at its conclusion, I saw some old friends. At one of the get-togethers, I met Belita with her husband. I told her of my memories of that show and we both had a laugh."

Robin Cousins, who won the Olympic Gold Medal in Lake Placid in 1980, recalled meeting Belita "a couple of times. In the early days of my career, I think once at Richmond Ice Rink and I think the second was somewhere in Europe at a skating event. I don’t remember too much other than she was very gracious and was clearly drawn to the artistry of the performance more than the technical jumping we were doing on the ice. If you watch her perform you see the natural powerful grace she exuded. There was no question whether she had ballet training. Every move showed it. She was imposing on the ice and in ‘Suspense’ she was magical.  I also remember a conversation with Toller [Cranston] who was a big fan of hers and how he loved her mystery. 'We’re kindred spirits' he said, 'because we both only go by one name!' And they loved to do the same bent leg camel spin!" The late John Curry, who won the Olympic gold medal four years before Cousins, was also an admirer of Belita's work. American professional figure skater and choreographer Tom Dickson, made sense of Curry's admiration while capturing best the essence of what made her style so captivating: "She skated with a fluidity and movement sense that was decades ahead of her time. Her sense of edge control combined with spacial awareness and body line is shocking... not only when compared to her peers but also compared to contemporary skaters! It is easy to see where John Curry got his inspiration. Notice not just her unbelievable extension but how that extension obeys the laws of edge quality and definition...  Her ability to exude feeling and embody her movement while taking total mastery of it just completely astounds me. Belita was like Terpsichore... the muse that enraptures you and makes you not be able to take your eyes away from her. She was the iPod of her time.. like the musical mp3 that changed the way we think about music... Belita was a skater that completely altered our perception of what the body can do on ice." Bob Turk's praised his late, great friend effusely, saying "I still think to this day that Belita was probably the greatest woman skater ever. I don't think anyone was as beautiful a skater as she was."

There is no linear conclusion to Belita's story. That simply is not how history or biography works. She was a gifted dancer, skater and actress but moreso, like all of us, she was a complex person with many shades and peaks and valleys in her life. Behind standing ovations, there were crushing personal defeats that no one saw. The influence of external factors - whether they were in the form of The King Brothers, Queenie, World War II, the Sonja Henie craze or the good folks at Tanqueray - all played roles in how her story played out. Yet all it takes is another viewing of the grainy YouTube videos and newsreel footage that survive of her film, dance and skating work for the fascination with the complexity of her story to return. Like a square peg in a round hole, Belita's story doesn't fit any mould. The best stories don't.

SOURCES

Interviews, Private Collections And Records:

Ancestry.com; London Metropolitan Archives.
Archives Of Royal Opera House Bath.
"Belita Speaks". 2003 audio interview in the holdings of the Pro Skating Historical Foundation Archives. Donated by Bill Unwin and Heather Belbin, graciously shared by Randy Gardner.
Clippings: Photo Album. Mildred Richardson. NISA Archives. 
Clippings: Recueil. "Féerie blanche" de Louis Verneuil. Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Correspondence with Bill Unwin. Various, 2016 to 2017.
Diary Of Maribel Vinson-Owen. January 1934.
Genealogical research of George H. Graham of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
General Register Office, England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes.
Interview With Nathan Birch. September 13, 2013. Skate Guard.
Interview With Tom Dickson. September 4, 2013. Skate Guard.
Interview With Cathy Steele. February 16, 2016.
Interview With Bob Turk. February 17, 2016.
Interview With Bill Unwin. January 16, 2016.
Letter From Elaine Hooper Regarding Visit To Garlogs. February, 2016.
Recollections of Robin Cousins. January 6, 2016.
Recollections of Bernard Ford. January 6, 2016.
Recollections of Charles Rogers. January 3, 2016.
"Recollections Of The Winter Olympic Games Of 1924-1956 By Mrs. Mildred 'Wag' Richardson, Wife Of Captain T.D. 'Tyke' Richardson". September 1984 (Dennis Bird), edited January 2014 by Frazer Ormondroyd.
Royal Opera House Archives. "Iced Gems: Remembering the Royal Opera House’s indoor ice-skating rink". January 16, 2016. Laura Brown, Archivist, ROH Collections.
Undated three press release (circa 1951). "Belita". Rosa Heppner, graciously shared by Bill Unwin.
Undated typewritten thirty six page memoir written by Belita Jepson-Turner about her family and childhood, graciously shared by Bill Unwin.
U.S. Border Crossings, London, England Electoral Records, UK, Outward Passenger Lists, British Phone Books.

Audio and Video:

In addition to viewing footage of Belita's films and skating performances, I also consulted:

BBC Archives. Interview with David Jacobs.
British Library Board Theatre Archive Project. Audio interview with Mary Naylor and Jack Kodell (Sue Harbour). February 14, 2009.
British Pathé. "Rhythm On The Rink". December 12, 1940.
British Pathé. "Personality - MEET BELITA". September 23, 1946.
British Pathé. "Happy Go Lovely Beauty Contest". June 25, 1961.
British Pathé. "Belita's Party". November 23, 1953.
Edvard Hambro. "Sonja Henie: Queen Of The Ice". (documentary, 1995)
Gary Leva. "Film Noir: Bringing Darkness To Light". (documentary, 2006)
Open Kwong Dore podcast. March 25, 2013 interview with Toller Cranston (episode 13).
The Ed Wynn Show. October 6, 1949.

Books:

"Ballet Go Round". Anton Dolin, published by Michael Joseph Ltd. 1938.
"Ballet Panorama". Arnold L Haskell, published by B.T. Batsford Ltd. 1938.
"Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor". Simon Callow. 1987.
"Charles Laughton: an intimate biography". Charles Higham, printed by Doubleday. 1976.
"Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy". Alan K. Rode, 2008.
"Don't laugh at me: an autobiography". Norman Wisdom with William Hall. Century. 1992.
"Earls Court". Claude Langdon. Stanley Paul And Co Ltd, printed by The Anchor Press Ltd. 1953.
"Figure Skating And The Arts: Eight Centuries of Sport and Inspiration". Frances Dafoe. Published by Schiffer. 2011.
"Figure Skating History: The Evolution of Dance on Ice". Lynn Copley-Graves, 1992. Platoro Press.
"Film Noir FAQ: All That's Left To Know About Hollywood's Golden Age Of Dames, Detectives And Danger". David J. Hogan, 2013. Published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.
"Forties film talk: oral histories of Hollywood, with 120 lobby posters". Doug McClelland. 1992. Published by McFarland & Co.
"Historial Dictionary Of Crime Films".  Dr. Geoffrey John Mayer. Published by The Scarecrow Press. 2012.
"Ice Skating". T.D. Richardson. 1956.
"Ice-Skating: A History". Nigel Brown. Published by Nicholas Kaye Ltd. 1959.
"International Ice Skating Directory 1951". Published by Phyllis East Publishing Co. Ltd.
"Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter". Patricia Albers.
"Modern Figure Skating". T.D. Richardson.
"More Magnificent Mountain Movies". W. Lee Cozad, 2006.
"Movie Roadshows: A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973" Kim R. Holston, 2012.
"Nether Wallop In Hampshire". Dorothy Beresford. 1973.
"No Wonder I Like Butterflies: A life of travel". Patricia Margaret, 2013.
"Olympic Story: The Definitive Story of the Olympic Games". Ernest A. Bland, 1948.
"Pair Skating And Dancing On Ice". Robert Dench and Rosemarie Stewart. 1943.
"Tarzan, My Father". Johnny Weissmuller, Jr. 2002.
"The Complete Book of 1940s Broadway Musicals". Dan Dietz. 2015.
"The Comprehensive Encyclopedia Of Film Noir:  The Essential Reference Guide". John Grant. 2013. Published by Limelight Editions.
"The London Stage 1930-1939: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel". J.P. Wearing. 2014.
"The Nazi Olympics". Richard D. Mandell, 1971. Published by The Macmillan Company.
"The Rough Guide To Film Noir". Alexander Ballinger and Danny Graydon. 2007. Published by Rough Gides Ltd.
"Thin Ice". Jacqueline du Bief. 1956.
"This Skating Age". Howard Bass. Stanley Paul And Co Ltd, printed by The Anchor Press Ltd. 1958.
"Unstoppable Energy, Unshakable Faith: An Autobiography Of Rupert Whitehead". Rupert Whitehead. 2000.
"Whatever became of ...?". Richard Lamparksi. 1973. Fourth series.
"Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960" Alan Gevinson. 1997. The American Film Institute Catalog.

Internet Sources:

Classic Movie Chat blog. "Belita, Take 2". (Edward Z. Epstein)
IMDB. "Belita" (Gary Brumburgh)
LA Observed. "Catherine Machado: LA ice queen talks Olympics." (David Davis) February 21, 2014.
Noir City Sentinel (Film Noir Foundation). "Belita: The Ice Queen Of Film Noir" (Eddie Muller) July/August 2009.
Pro Skating Historical Foundation. "The Sensational Belita".

Journals, Magazines and Newspaper Articles:

The Lancet, March 6, 1886. "Births, Marriages, and Deaths"
The British Medical Journal, May 22, 1915. Obituary of Bertram Herbert Lyne Stivens.
The Evening News, November 23, 1935. "Skating Hopes"
Tweed Daily, January 14, 1936. "Champion Skater"
Northern Daily Mail, March 23, 1936. "Miss Colledge Wins The Women's Figure Skating Championship"
The Sunday Morning Star, September 27, 1936. "Combines Ballet Dancing With Ice Skating"
Western Morning News And Daily Gazette, February 16, 1937. "Miss C. Colledge In The Lead."
The West Australian, February 26, 1937. "Women In Sport: Local And Overseas Activities"
Aberdeen Press And Journal, February 17, 1937. "Miss Colledge Retains Figure Skating Title"
The Citizen, March 1, 1937. "World's Championship In London"
Figaro: journal non politique, March 4, 1937. Deux "Etoiles" De La Glace: Cecilia Colledge Et Megan Taylor.
The Skating Times, October 1937. "Covent Garden's Ice Ballet"
L'Intransigeant, December 20, 1937. "100 acteurs et danseuses vont faire des sports d’hiver
sur la scène dé Mogador".
The Skating Times, April 1938. "An Ice Ballet Star"
Journal De Genève, May 22, 1938. "Gala Anton Dolin"
Journal De Genève, May 24, 1938. "Récital de danse"
New Zealand Herald, August 11, 1938. "English Ballerina"
The Cayuga Chief. February 2, 1940. "To Give Skating Exhibition Sunday"
The Montreal Gazette, December 13, 1940, "Ice-Capades Star Dworshak, Belita"
The Billboard, August 9, 1941. "Spectacular 'Ice-Capades Opens In Atlantic City; Record Gross"
The New York Post, September 25, 1941. "Ice-Capades Opens At Loew's Criterion" (Archer Winston)
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 28, 1941. "$700 Jewelry Stolen From Skating Star"
Daily Illini, March 6, 1942. "Skating Stars"
The Billboard, August 29, 1942. "New 'Ice Revels Of 1943' Looks Good In Coast Debut"
Prescott
Evening Courier, November 3, 1942, "Hollywood Sights And Sounds" (Robbin Coons)
Elmira Star-Gazette, November 19, 1942. "The Voice Of Broadway" (Dorothy Kilgallen)
Showmen's Trade Review. April-June 1943. "Big-time Campaign for 'Silver Skates'"
New York Evening Post, April 28, 1943. "Hollywords" (Sidney Skolsky)
Toledo Blade, November 4, 1942, "Skating Star Packs Wallop, Coons Warn"
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 8, 1943, "'Silver Skates' Brings Belita To The Fulton"
St. Petersburg Times, March 14, 1943, "British Belita Rivals Henie On The Ice" (Louella O. Parsons)
Screenland magazine. May 1943-October 1944 archives. Hunter Publications, Inc.
Sunday Times, April 11, 1943. "Lost Arm, But Fought On"
The Milwaukee Journal, May 1, 1943, "Belita Shines Brightly In 'Silver Skates'; 'Vanities' at Riverside"
The Deseret News, August 3, 1943, "Socialite Now Ice Queen Of Films" (William A. Rutledge III)
Daytona Beach Morning Journal, September 30, 1943, "Hollywood" (Robbin Coons)
The Milwaukee Journal, October 3, 1943, "Monogram Climbs Into Big Leagues" (Fred Stanley)
Modern Screen. January-November 1944. Dell Publishing Company, Inc. "Meet Belita!"
Dance Magazine. Volume 18, 1944. Rudor Publishing Company.
The Milwaukee Journal, January 30, 1944, "Some Fancy Footwork" (Janice Gaines)
St. Petersburg Times, April 8, 1944, "Playhouse Film Features Belita, Lovely New Star"
The Deseret News, April 25, 1944,, "Belita Makes Film On Holiday" (Louella O. Parsons)
The Billboard, June 10, 1944. "Holiday On Ice Set For August"
The Billboard, October 21, 1944. "Vaudeville Reviews"
The American Weekly, November 19, 1944. "Amphibious Ballerina"
The Billboard, December 23, 1944. "Vaudeville Reviews"
Motion Picture Herald magazine. May-June 1945. Quigley Publishing Co.
The Morning News, March 21, 1945. "Around The Town"
Herald-Journal, May 12, 1945. "Exclusive For The Herald-Journal"
The Saratogan, September 8, 1945, "Belita Menage Takes Daffiness Award"
Manchester Evening News, December 17, 1945. "News Flashes"
The Yorkshire Post And Leeds Mercury, January 4, 1946. "British Skating Star"
Schenectady Gazette, January 21, 1946, "Belita Cables She's Stranded In Britain"
Ogdensburg Journal, April 22, 1946. "In Hollywood" (Erskine Johnson)
The Deseret News, April 26, 1946, "Belita Appears As Real Actress In 'Suspense'"
Chicago Sunday Tribune, June 9, 1946, "Suburban"
The Philadelphia Enquirer, June 16, 1946. "Hollywood In Review" (Carl Schroeder)
Brooklyn Eagle. July 5, 1946, "Screen" (Herbert Cohn)
The Milwaukee Journal, June 15, 1946, "Belita Was A Baby Ballerina And Also Tops In Figure Skating World"
Screenland magazine.  Jul-Dec 1946. "The Editor's Page: An Open Letter To Belita"
Chicago Sunday Tribune, August 18, 1946, "Meeta Belita!" (Freida Zylstra)
The Deseret News, November 11, 1946, "Belita To Appear On Lyric Stage Nov. 18"
The Deseret News, November 18, 1946, "Belita Admits She's 'Too Old' -- For Skating"
St. Petersburg Times, February 9, 1946, "New York's Cafe Society Fears Attack Of Measles"
Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1946, "Looking At Hollywood" (Hedda Hopper)
Brooklyn Eagle. March 4, 1947. "Hollywood" (Jack Lait Jr.)
New York Post, May 24, 1947. "Hollywood Is My Beat" (Sidney Skolsky)
Chicago Daily Tribune, June 14, 1947, "Looking At Hollywood"
Eugene Register-Guard. June 15, 1947. advertisement for Rhapsody On Ice.
LIFE Magazine. August 27, 1945. "Speaking Of Pictures... Ballet Dancer Goes Under Water In Hollywood"
Desert Sun, October 14, 1947. "Celebrities Flock to Opening of Pago Pago at Opening Dinner Event"
Desert Sun, October 24, 1947. "Many Notable La Paz Guests Since Opening".
St. Petersburg Times, November 28, 1947, "Bob Stack Land Stars Role In 'Peg O' My Heart" (Louella O. Parsons)
Advocate. November 28, 1947. "Belita Is Her Own Taskmasker"
The Toledo Blade, February 15, 1948, "Belita In 'Rash' Affair"
Ogdensburg Journal, May 7, 1948. "In Hollywood" (Erskine Johnson)
Greene County Examiner-Recorder, June 24, 1948. "At Community"
Ogdensburg Journal, July 31, 1948. "In Hollywood" (Erskine Johnson)
Prescott Evening Courier, August 16, 1948, "Broadway" (Jack O'Brian)
Alþýðublaðið, May 21, 1949. Film Listings.
The Dispatch, July 11, 1949. "Behind The Scenes In Hollywood" (Harrison Carroll)
The Owosso Argus-Press, January 17, 1950. "The Chorus Girl Of Old Is Now On The Ice" (Bob Thomas)
Le Monde, January 21, 1950. "`L`Homme De La Tour Eiffel" (Henry Magnan)
The Chicago Tribune, January 22, 1950, "Blank Pistol Victim"
Times-Union, May 12, 1950. "Society As I Find It" (Cobina Wright)
The Montreal Gazette. June 6, 1950. "Playing The Field" (Dink Carroll)
Plattsburgh Press-Republican. July 13, 1950. "In Hollywood" (Erskine Johnson)
Plattsburgh Press-Republican. November 6, 1950. "In Hollywood" (Erskine Johnson)
The News, January 13, 1951. "New Twist On Archer"
The Spectator, Volume 189. 1952. Iain Hamilton feature on "Jack And The Beanstalk On Ice"
The Billboard. January 20, 1951. "London Crowds Flock to $900,000 Worth Of Shows"
Plattsburgh Press-Republican. July 2, 1952. "In Hollywood" (Erskine Johnson)
The Billboard. January 10, 1953. "Ice Age Comes To London"
Little Falls Herald. August 13, 1953. "At The Movies"
The Billboard, October 3, 1953. "Ice Show For London House"
The Newcastle Sun, October 22, 1953. "Statue"
The Courier-Mail. June 16, 1954. "A Kick Out Of His Job"
Children's Newspaper. June 9, 1954. "Ballerina On Ice"
The Argus. October 18, 1954. "Ice Star In Heavy Fall"
The Courier And Advertiser, August 20, 1955. "Return To Ballet"
The Lakeland Ledger, June 6, 1956, "Ice Skater Belita Says Mate 'Cruel'"
Star-News, December 20, 1956, "Belita Divorced"
Star-News, June 25, 1957, "Marilyn Is At Very Best In New Hit; Skating Star Belita To Wed Royalty" (Walter Winchell)
Tyrone Daily Herald. August 18, 1958. "My New York".
The Singapore Free Press, September 5, 1959. "Actress In Car Crash"
Reading Eagle, September 17, 1959. "Broadway" (Danton Walker)
The New York Times. November 25, 1964. "La Terraza (1963) Screen: 'The Terrace,' Shocker From Argentine: Attempt at Symbolism Ends in Melodrama Torre Nilsson Depicts Youth in Rebellion" (Bosley Crowther)
Names: A Journal Of Onomastics. "Flicks, Flacks, and Flux: Tides of Taste in the Onomasticon of the Moving Picture Industry". December 1, 1975. Leonard R.N. Ashley
United Press International, September 18, 1981. "Belita's Back" (Glenne Currie)
The New York Times, November 20, 1981. "The Evening Hours"
The Times. April 2, 1992. "Prince George Galitzine"
The London Gazette. December 7, 1994. "Partnerships"
The Windsor Star, June 19, 1999. "Belita Did Prove To Be A Fine Actress" (Marshall Jay Kaplan)
Newsweek, October 25, 1999. "Humiliating Hitler"
The Globe And Mail, March 28, 2003. "Robinson Belies Her Age With A Spot In Elite Flight" (Beverley Smith)
The Telegraph. Obituary. December 22, 2005.
The Daily Post. Obituary. December 23, 2005.
The Independent. Obituary. December 27, 2005 (Tom Vallance)
The Montreal Gazette, March 26, 2009. "Churchill's Wartime Assistant"
St. Andrew's Nether Wallop and St. Peter's Over Wallop parish newsletter. July 10, 2010. "Garlogs, Nether Wallop".
The Independent. Obituary. August 19, 2012.
Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2015. "JoAnn Dean Killingsworth dies at 91; Disneyland's first Snow White" (Steve Chawkins)

Programmes:

"Anton Dolin et Maria Belita Avec Sidney Beer". 1938. Courtesy Bill Unwin.
"Hollywood Ice Revels". 1942.
"Jack And The Beanstalk On Ice". 1952. Courtesy Elaine Hooper.
"The White Horse Inn On Ice". 1954. Courtesy Elaine Hooper.

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6 comments:

  1. What a fantastic story! I've admired Belita's beautiful skating for years and still am fascinated by the quality of her edges, complete control of movement and the fact that she was so ahead of her time! Thank you Ryan, for this wonderful look back at one of skating's legends!

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    1. So happy you enjoyed reading, Doris! There's just something so captivating about Belita, isn't there? It took me a lot longer to really 'appreciate' Sonja Henie's style actually... but the first time I saw Belita, I was mesmerized. Absolutely ahead of her time and underrated.

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  2. Wonderful to read this Ryan. I met Belita at Queens in I think 1959. It was just amazing for me to meet my idol. She was with a group of people and I was introduced to her. She took me to one side and asked me what I loved about skating and what my dreams were. Her beauty just radiated not only in her skating movements but also in the way she spoke to a little girl about her skating. She told me to work very hard and my dreams would come true. I have never forgotten her.

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    1. Thank you for reading Heather and love hearing this memory! She was incredibly special and I'm so glad you got to have that moment! 😀

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