Saturday, 18 November 2017

Papa's Got A Brand New (Skate) Bag

If you were a high school student in the nineties like me, it 'wasn't enough' to have a Note Tote. The 'in thing' was the zippered Five Star binder. You also couldn't 'just' show up after school at the rink with your skates in any old bag. The skaters that waltzed in pulling their 'rolly bag' luggage were the skaters that you took seriously. Though it's not something we often think about, the way that a skater transports their skates, guards, costumes and music to a rink is a bit of a status symbol... and believe it or not, one with an interesting history.

Vintage carrying case for ice skates

Though the image of Victorian era working-class skaters slinging their skates over their shoulders and trudging through the snow to the ponds isn't far off, serious 'fancy' skaters - ie. those with money - would sometimes make a show of taking their skates out of a wooden carrying case or bag. The January 3, 1891 issue of "Evening World" noted, "Those who purchase the finest grade of skates ought to have a case or bag to keep them in to prevent them from tarnishing. A fancy lined Morocco case is to be had for $2 and a chamois bag with two pockets, one for each skate, costs 75 cents. The chamois bag is as good as serviceable as the case, and can be used to rub off and polish up the skates when they are taken off." By the 1910's, skate manufacturers A.G. Spalding & Bros. sold cloth and felt double-pocket bags with drawstrings that had a division so that their skates would not clank together.


As competitive figure skating evolved in the first half of the twentieth century, live orchestras became less frequent during the free skating events. In addition to bags or cases for their skates, it became the vogue for skaters to show up at competitions with separate carrying cases for their records. These record cases were often decorated with stamps and decals from the various cities that the skater visited. And so, the perception became that the more decorated the case, the more travelled (and intimidating) the skater.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Interestingly, the first North American patent for a skate bag wasn't issued until 1948. Barbara Chour of Milwaukee's Skate Carrying Bag didn't prove commercially popular. The following year, West-Over Service Company in Colorado Springs began marketing the first skating bag "designed by skaters for skaters use". Their Skate Bag - which retailed for five dollars and ninety five cents - resembled a normal suitcase, but was collapsible... and monogrammed. Their advertisement in "Skating" magazine boasted, "Every detail to aid in the skater's enjoyment of his hobby has been thoughtfully taken care of in this specially designed skating bag. Just the right size for skates and you can carry extra costumes or equipment. The separate water-proof inner pocket fastens inside the bag. Made in an attractive, rich maroon water-proof fabric, the skate bag will be the envy of your friends."

In 1954, Frieda Alber patented a U-shaped Skate And Shoe Bag with a shoulder strap. In her patent application, Alber noted, "The transportation of ice and roller skates to and from the rink causes considerable inconvenience to the skater because of the rather large size of the skates, especially when the shoes are permanently attached thereto, and also because of their weight and usually soiled condition, especially after use at the rink. When they are brought to the rink in the usual piece of hand luggage, the problem arises of checking the piece of luggage with an attendant at the rink and when no such attendant is available, it must be left exposed to pilfering and stealing while the wearer is skating." By the late fifties, waterproof Skate Carrying Cases with plastic handles and brass plated locks were being sold by mail order.

Ice Originals By Lizette Skate Bag, circa 1960's. Photo courtesy Vintage Purse Museum.

With my days of Axels and double Salchows long behind me, I'm quite content to carry my skates to Halifax's Emera Oval in a beautiful Shutterfly tote with one of Toller Cranston's paintings on the front, gifted to me by Jenny Hall Engelka. For those of us who don't 'need' Zuca, companies like Zazzle offer up plastic rolly bags decorated with beautiful historical skating scenes. Whether you choose to seek out a vintage skate carrying case in an antique store or are a slave to your 'rolly bag', rest assured that it's what's inside that really counts.

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

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Original B&B: The Barney & Berry Company


"For one fifth of a century these skates have been before the public. Their durability has been proven by many years of constant use while the various designs, both of form and ornamentation, are of the highest, artistic excellence." - Barney & Berry's Catalogue Of Ice Skates, 1889-1990

I get requests for blogs on the history of skate making quite often and it occurred to me that it's been quite a long time - in fact, going back to the 2015 blog on The Starr Manufacturing Company - since I've devoted a blog to the subject. Today we'll explore a major player in early American skate making history, the ever popular Barney & Berry company.


The Barney & Berry company was founded at the old Warner's pistol plant near Springfield, Massachusetts. It was started by Everett Barney, a former supervisor of a small arms manufacturer during the Civil War who spent many a winter on the frozen ponds of nearby Framingham, and his old friend John Berry in 1865. Barney and Barney manufactured five hundred skates in their first year and later moved to Springfield, where they flourished in two locations for over fifty years.

The company was very much a skate making contemporary of the Starr Manufacturing Company and in terms of marketing skates for the masses, they were right up there. Arthur R. Goodfellow's wonderful 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" tells us that "The Barney & Berry company was in business until 1919 when the firm was purchased by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven. At the height of its operation Barney & Berry were turning out 600,000 pairs of skates each year and employing 250 workers."


Hold up for a second. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company? You read that right. The same famed gun company started by Oliver Winchester and perhaps best remembered in modern day for the lore surrounding his son's widow Sarah Winchester and The Winchester Mystery House has a long lost skating connection.

The fate of Everett Barney and the reason the Winchester Repeating Arms Company bought out Barney & Berry was really quite depressing. In 1870, John Berry sold his entire interest in the company to Harvey and one of the Hervey Brothers, who coincidentally sold his shares to Barney as well only two years later. Barney was left to manage the company alone, a daunting task especially since he never recovered from the death of his only son, who perished of tuberculosis at the age of twenty six. Both of his marriages failed, and by the turn of the century he began to neglect the business. He was declared insane in 1913, and left his entire estate to the town of Springfield. At the time the Winchester Repeating Arms Company bought Barney and Berry, the firm was in receivership and the plant was in shambles.


To top it off, by the early twentieth century Barney & Berry's skates, though affordable, were facing stiff competition from other manufacturers, including Peck & Snyder, Sanford Skate Co., Kraft Co., Wirth & Bros, Stetson, Raymond, Behr & Mangels, Douglas Rogers, Gustave Stanzione, A.G. Spalding and J.I. Whelpley.


In the June 1968 issue of "Skating" magazine, Richard Stephenson wrote, "Despite its sad ending, the firm of Barney & Berry had a strong influence on the development of figure skating in the United States. It introduced skating to millions of people by providing quality skates at reasonable prices. Barney himself encouraged many of the leading figure skaters of the time, such as George H. Browne, an authority on the history of skating and founder of the 'international style' of skating in the United States. It is conceivable that, had it not been for the death of Barney's son, the firm of Barney & Berry would be producing quality skates today." One has to wonder if perhaps Everett Barney is one of the ghosts that now wanders the twists, turns and stairways that lead nowhere in the Winchester House, haunted by his own ghosts.

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

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Loving Those Lancers


Ländler dance was a folk dance that combined the gliding principle of the waltz, the improvisational yodelling, clapping and stomping of the polka and the intricate pivots and steps of Styrian dance. It was performed by both couples and small groups in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia in the eighteenth century. It was believed to have been first translated onto the ice in the ice - anglicised as The Lancers - in Canada in the late 1860's.


In the early twentieth century, The Lancers reached their height of popularity in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa following the publication "Dancing On Skates: How To Skate The Lancers" by Castle-Upon-Tyne English Style skater Colonel Herbert Vaughn Kent.

Skated in groups of eight to sixteen (four to eight couples), The Lancers were in essence a branch of combined skating that drew from elements of North American 'fancy' skating, the stiff English Style and early ice valse patterns from Austria and Germany. The figures had grandiose names like The Great Rose, The Grand Lily and The Grand Chain. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "A caller commanded the moves, and the couples executed 'Ransoms' ('Once-Backs' in England or 'Englanders' on The Continent) in opposite lines as if in a square dance. Lancer dancers thought in terms of north, south, east, west, and returning to home. The Lancers resembled a crude precision team trying to keep up rather than 'dance' in the sense Jackson Haines intended."


Reverend Francis Kilvert's diary offers several accounts of skating parties in Draycot Foliat over the Christmas holidays in 1870 where The Lancers were performed. He recalled how Lord Royston sulked after being corrected when he made an error calling the steps but that "The Lancers were beautifully skated. When it grew dark the ice was lighted with Chinese lanterns, and the intense glare of blue, green, and crimson lights and magnesium riband made the whole place as light as day. Then people skated with torches." Another man of social standing, Captain J.H. Thomson, praised the Lancers as a welcome alternative to being one of "those less enterprising persons who are content with merely travelling round and round the circumference."

In his popular book "The Art of Skating", Irving Brokaw remarked, "The chief points to remember in skating The Lancers are: First, to keep time; that is, for those who are skating to take their first strokes and make their turns exactly together; and second, to keep line; that is, when two or four skaters are skating side by side, they should keep their dressing. The appearance of a figure, where each skater may be skating perfectly himself, is quite spoiled if the skaters do not make their steps together, and if one gets ahead of another when they meant to keep in line."


As pairs and fours skating and ice dancing rose to prominence in the early twentieth century, The Lancers fell out of favour in North America. However, they remain a most fascinating footnote in figure skating's rich history... perhaps one of the earliest examples of just how complicated synchronized skating really is.

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

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Double Salchows In The Dark: How Skating Coped With The Blackout


"The standard of dancing is very high indeed. There about about nine dances done as a matter of course in the public dance sessions... The only departure from normal is the blackout which is very complete." - Jack Irvine, "Skating" magazine, May 1942

During World War II, the Blackout practice was serious business. To throw off enemy bombers, citizens in many countries were required to shield windows and doors with curtains, cardboard, tar or paint to block light from escaping. Street lights were dimmed or turned off and it was a common occurrence for city residents to report neighbours who, by keeping lamps on or candles burning, failed to properly comply, putting entire streets or blocks at greater risk of attack. Public spaces were often obvious targets and thus, many skating rinks only managed to stay in operation under Blackout conditions. 

When we think of the Blackout, one of the first places we think of is England. Londoners were forced to barely subsist on meagre rations and contend with fuel oil shortages and gas rationing. They spent more of their time doing War work and running at the sound of sirens to their Anderson shelters than they did living. For some, figure skating was their sole escape from this dreary existence and the Richmond Ice Rink was their mecca. The late Richard Meacock recalled, "Nothing during the War could close the rink. Allied servicemen from all over the world insisted that it be kept open. Besides the kids of London couldn't do without it. So special was the rink considered - a meeting place of discipline, excellence and fun without alcohol - that the government made a special order to black out the five hundred foot long building to allow it to remain open... After all, the Richmond rink was an institution where more than 4 million people learned to skate." Despite the Blackout efforts, a bomb was dropped through the roof of the rink. Miraculously, it didn't explode.

In her book "Figure Skating: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted that in Great Britain, "Each rink had a shelter. Skaters did not have to take their skates off during an air raid, but they were asked not to leave their gas masks in the cloakrooms." Before it suspended publication, "The Skating Times" published an article on air raid procedures. At the Westminster Ice Rink, the glass roof was shattered during one such raid. Skaters in Aberdeen, Dundee and Kirkcaldy continued to practice in similarly perilous conditions.


While skaters in Europe were practicing loops in the dark, in Canada and the United States figure skating was flourishing more than ever before. However, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 forced North Americans to wake up to the possibility of an enemy attack on home soil. Blackout drills were advertised to U.S. citizens were in advance and in fact, Blackouts were actually quite common during skating sessions at clubs on the West Coast. In December of 1942, the Oakland Figure Skating Club even presented their carnival "Ice Vanities" behind a blackout curtain. The stars of the show included Maribel Vinson Owen and Guy Owen, Bobby Specht, Freddie Tomlins, Norah McCarthy and Irene Dare.

On the whole though, the most affected American skating clubs were (quite obviously if you think about it) the outdoor rinks.  In his 1948 history of the Cambridge Skating Club in Massachusetts, Arthur M. Goodridge recalled, "With the war came the 'blackout'. In October 1942 the Club asked the Air Raid Precaution Warden of the Committee of Public Safety for advice as to how much the rink lights should be dimmed. A polite letter was received in reply but it included the statement 'We are sorry to inform you that all illuminated outdoor activity has been prohibited for the duration.' Fortunately the War Department on November 20th issued new and quite definite regulations permitting lighting by 40 watt bulbs with 900 shades at least twenty feet apart. A plan of lighting was promptly submitted by Howard M. Turner, an Incorporator of the Club, and an engineer. The Blackout Committee, fearing reflection from the ice, allowed the club to install one-third (19) the 57‘ lights asked for and only on a trial basis. With the shortage of materials and workmen these were not in operation until January 2nd. Eventually the original lighting plan was approved and men working in the coldest weather completed the installation. It is worthy of note that although these 57 lights, hanging low over the rink, gave ample illumination, they were practically invisible to a passerby in the street! Perhaps it should also be noted that before any of these lights were put up evening skating went merrily on by the light of a very bright street lamp over the fence."

Police notice of a Blackout in East Suffolk. Photo courtesy Old Lowestott.

Some perhaps didn't take the Blackout as seriously as they ought to have. In November 1941, Tasmanian skating rink owner Thomas Alfred Humphries entered a guilty plea to a charge of permitting light to emit from his skating rink during a Blackout test. The November 15, 1941 issue of the "Advocate" noted that this was the very first case of a business owner in Tasmania defying the Civil Defence (Emergency Powers) Regulations and that during the test, "A messenger, a boy scout, was sent to the rink to inform the occupier that the lights were still showing. No alteration was made. Five minutes later, two more messengers were dispatched, but the lights continued to burn until the end of the blackout." Mr. Humphries claimed that when the sirens sounded, he had been trying to clear people from the rink and thirty had refused to leave. He also claimed that he "was afraid that there might be an accident, and that he would be held responsible." He was only fined five pounds - the maximum penalty was five hundred - and sent on his way with the warning that he could consider himself as "being treated with extreme leniency."

We have all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Hell, many of us suffer from it to some degree I think. During World War II, many English doctors began diagnosing patients with 'blackout anaemia': depression as a direct result of depression from the Blackout and poor nutrition. For many, a couple of hours here or there figure skating would have provided such a wonderful relief from that darkness. Then as it does today, skating saves lives.

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

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Commemorative badge and pin from The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario was a competition of many firsts. Advances in technology meant that for the first time, a central music system was used to play music via a telephone system from a sound room at the main venue, the four thousand, six hundred seat Fort William Gardens to both practice venues, the Port Arthur and Current River arenas. It was also the first time senior winners were given an engraved lapel-sized pin in addition to their gold medal, the first time a skater landed a triple Axel at the Canadian Championships and the first time in almost ten years - since the great Carbonetto/Magnussen upset of 1969 - that a defending senior champion would be dethroned at the Canadian Championships.

A trifecta of Canadian coaching greats... Louis Stong, Kerry Leitch and Doug Leigh. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

History aside, the "Canadian Skater" magazine noted that the competition wasn't all roses in a review of the event in their Spring/Summer 1979 issue: "The major complaint was not the facilities or the well-below zero Thunder Bay weather, but the judging of participants. Judges were openly booed for some of their marks and at times the corridors vibrated with angry comments about the judging. But still the crowds came and the stands were packed." In today's blog, let's take a look back and see what all the excitement was about!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

As was the fashion at the time, the top three in the novice ice dance competition remained the same from the compulsories through the free dance. Karen Taylor of Sarnia and Bob Burk of Ridgetown were the victors, followed by Wendy Birch and Danny Sorley and Carla Holdsworth and Herb Deary. Taylor and Burk's victory was remarkable in that the year before they hadn't even qualified for Nationals. A move to Toronto was apparently just what the young team needed. In the month's leading up to the 1979 Canadian Championships, they decisively snatched the Western Ontario Sectional and Central Canada Divisional titles.

Brad McLean

The leader after the novice men's school figures was Vegreville, Alberta's Troy Ruptash, with Port Moody, British Columbia's Brad McLean second and Edmonton's Ian Edwards third. With a fine free skate, McLean ultimately took the gold, followed by Windsor's Darin Matthewson and Ruptash. Further down the standings were some notable names you just might recognize! In fifth and ninth were 1988 Olympians Neil Paterson and Lyndon Johnston and in seventh was future World Champion and two time Olympic Medallist Lloyd Eisler.

Rosemary Barth and Keith Davis

Kerry Leitch students took the top two spots in the novice pairs event, which consisted solely of a free skate. Rosemary Barth of Kitchener and Keith Davis of St. Catharines claimed the gold; Penny Wilson of Ingersoll and William Thompson of Waterloo the silver. Representing the North Shore Winter Club, Bonnie Epp and David Howe were third. Leitch remarked, "I didn't expect the novice level to be as high as it was and I'd say it's one of the highest in the last five years. It's surprising. The standards are improving so fast." If anyone would have known, it would have been Leitch. His teams had won the novice pairs titles at the Canadian Championships for five straight years.

Pint sized Torontonian Tracey Wainman led the pack of skaters from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the novice women's school figures. An impressive free skater, the eleven year old coasted to victory with a program that included a full slate of double jumps, including double Axels. Bolstered by a second place finish in the figures, Ann Parfitt-Lewis of the Inlet Skating Club took the silver despite being fourth in free skating. Montreal's Nathalie Barrette was third and Katherina Matousek, second in the free skate, just missed the podium. People were already started to go 'Tracey Wainman crazy' in Thunder Bay, but the CFSA opted to keep her off that particular year's Junior World team, stating that they felt it was best that she prepare for the move up to the junior ranks first. Mrs. Ellen Burka concurred with their decision and praised her young pupil thusly: "I would say she has a computer mind. The way she skates figures, the way she thinks things out. She never asks, 'why do I do this wrong?' She knows almost immediately and says, 'I will correct it.' She doesn't even have to talk about it."

Despite stiff competition from Becky Gough and Mark Rowsom, Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler won both the short program and free skate in the junior pairs event and glided to gold. In third place were Bill O'Neil and Eisler's future partner Katherina Matousek.

Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber

In an impressive field of fifteen junior ice dance teams, Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber of Toronto led the way from start to finish. With no skaters from the area competing in the event, Johnson (a former Thunder Bay resident) was very popular with the local crowd. Nova Scotians Gina Aucoin and Hans-Peter Ponikau claimed the silver, followed by Ontarians Darlene Wendt and Wayne Hussey, Terri-Lynn Black and David Dunstan, Quebec's Sylvie Ethier and Jean Bernier and Vancouver's Tracy Wilson and Mark Skokes.

Kay Thomson

Twelve year old Charlene Wong, who was only ninth in figures earlier that month at the Eastern Divisional Championships, took a surprise lead early in the junior women's event ahead of Toronto's Kay Thomson and Vancouver's Yvonne Anderson. Thomson rallied back in the free skate to take the gold in her first appearance at the Canadian Championships. Anderson and Calgary's Kathryn Osterberg knocked Wong right off the podium. In fact, she ended up down in ninth. One of the biggest surprises in the event was Montreal's Jamie Lynn Kitching, who moved all the way up to fourth overall... from unlucky thirteenth.

Brian Orser in Thunder Bay in 1979

Sixteen year old Mark McVean of Ottawa lead the way after the junior men's school figures, followed by Campbell Sinclair of Ottawa and Mitch Giffin of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Interestingly, none of those three talented young men ended up translating their early leads to a medal in Thunder Bay in 1979. After the short program another young man, Kevin Parker of Campbellville, appeared to be the skater to beat. Instead, rebounding from a ninth place finish in the figures, Penetanguishene's Brian Orser made history as the first man in history to land a triple Axel at the Canadian Championships. In fact, he did two of the latter in his free skate. Parker dropped to second and Shaun McGill of Mississauga, sixth after figures, claimed the bronze ahead of Vancouver's Bruno Delmaestro. In his book "Orser: A Skater's Life", Brian recalled the excitement in Thunder Bay thusly: "It was my first competitive triple Axel, the first ever done at Canadians... The Axel was the talk of the town. It was the novelty of the skating world. There were huge headlines. People would flock to the practice sessions after I won, just to see me land a triple Axel, and I would oblige. I have to admit that I loved it all, but it was also during this period of euphoria that I realized the people would expect the triple Axel now, and I was bound to it."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Joanne French and John Thomas. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Patricia Fletcher
and Michael de la Penotiere
In contrast to the whopping field of fifteen in the junior ice dance event, only seven senior couples competed in Thunder Bay in 1979. As expected, Toronto's Lorna Wighton and Oakville's John Dowding defended their title with aplomb after spending the previous year training in Hungary. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The top three placements from 1978 never wavered... Betty Callaway had improved Wighton/Dowding's compulsories. Lorna had very deep knees in the Viennese Waltz... Lorna and John's charming waltz OSP, coupled with exquisite choreography in their free dance to excerpts from 'Swan Lake', could not be surpassed. Their use of a central theme had such an impact compared to the multicut bits and pieces thrown together that talk of their dance spread worldwide." Patricia Fletcher and Michael de la Penotiere claimed the silver, followed by Nova Scotians Marie McNeil and Rob McCall, Joanne French and John Thomas and Lillian Heming and Murray Carey.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

A young Barbie and Paul

In the absence of the previous year's champions Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan, it was fifteen year old Barbara Underhill of Oshawa and eighteen year old Paul Martini of Woodbridge's year to make a move. The unique team with two different coaches (Barbara worked with Anna Forder-McLaughlin; Paul with Judy Henderson) took a massive lead over Susan Gowan and Eric Thomsen of Vancouver and Lee-Ann Jackson and Bernard Souche of Cambridge in the short program, earning first place marks from all seven judges. With a thrilling free skate, Underhill and Martini won their first Canadian senior title. Jackson and Souche placed second in the free skate but had to settle for the bronze overall behind Gowan and Thomsen. Bowmanville and Oshawa natives Andrea Derby and Jim Sorochan finished fourth. Underhill and Martini's victory in 1979 marked only the third time in the history of the Canadian Championships that a pairs team had won the junior and senior titles in successive years.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Vern Taylor and Brian Pockar. Photos courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

In the senior men's field of eight, nineteen year old Brian Pockar of Calgary defeated twenty year old Vern Taylor of Toronto by a hair. How close was it? Pockar had ten ordinals and 80.40 points; Taylor eleven and 79.90. Both men skated extremely well in the free skate, but the judges ultimately opted to reward Pockar's more well-rounded performance over Taylor's eight triple free skate. Taylor's athletic effort earned a standing ovation from the appreciative Thunder Bay crowd and top marks for technical merit in the free skate. Taylor's loss was dictated by the fact that he had been sixth after the figures and short program. Pockar's performance was nothing to sneeze at in itself. He fought hard, saying he felt like he'd "run a five minute mile." Brockville's Gordon Forbes took the bronze, followed by Don Mills' Gary Beacom, Montreal's Daniel Beland, Coquitlam's Jimmy Szabo, Vancouver's Dennis Coi and Windsor's Kevin Hicks.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Janet Morrissey

In the senior women's school figures, twenty year old Deborah Albright of Toronto and nineteen year old Carleton University student Janet Morrissey led the pack, with twenty year old defending champion Heather Kemkaran of Toronto trailing in third. A clean as a whistle short program gave Kemkaran a three ordinal and 0.64 lead on Morrissey heading into the final phase of the competition. Morrissey rebounded in the free skate, earning first place ordinals from eight of the nine judges, the gold medal and a trip to the 1979 World Figure Skating Championships in Vienna, Austria. Kemkaran was second; Albright third. In an interview in the February 5, 1979 edition of "The Globe And Mail", Morrissey exclaimed, "I just can't wait... 'I've never been to Vienna or anything. I'm just so hyped up... I put in one of my triples, one of my best efforts at it. And I had two double Axels, one in a combination... I did kind of a fluke thing at the end where I tripped on one of my jumps but, aside from that, I was really happy with the way I skated.''

The February 5, 1979 issue of "The Ottawa Journal" noted, "It has not been an easy road to the top for Morrissey. She was never one of those young 'phenoms' who burst on the skating scene with a big buildup and ride up the ladder in the early stages in a wave of publicity. It was easy to stay relatively unnoticed skating out of Nepean when the focus was on the Minto stars of the past few years. Lynn Nightingale was Ottawa's and Canada's queen of the ice, with a gracious manner, a great talent and a show-stopping personality on the ice... As Morrissey worked her way into the limelight there was never a suggestion from her that her talents were being overlooked by media, fans and particularly judges who aren't supposed to be influenced by reputation, but frequently are. She just kept working, smiling, skating and improving, believing that if there was any justice in the world at all that her day would come." It did in Thunder Bay.

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

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

From Black And White To Technicolor: A Bobby Specht-acular


The son of Oscar and Agnes Mae Specht, Robert 'Bobby' Specht was born October 22, 1921 in Superior, Wisconsin. His grandparents immigrated to America from four different countries and his father was a successful dentist with his own private practice. Bobby and his two brothers had a comfortable childhood, enjoying meals prepared by a live-in maid when he wasn't attending classes at McCaskill Junior High School.

Though he often whirled around the old Curling Club rink at Belknap and Oakes, Bobby didn't start skating seriously until he was thirteen years old, when he caught the attention of coach Frank Sullivan. Under Sullivan's tutelage, young Bobby became the sixteenth person to pass the U.S. eighth figure test. In 1938, he won the bronze medal in the novice men's event at the U.S. Championships in Philadelphia. The following year he captured the novice title. In 1940, Specht took on double duty, winning the U.S. junior title and teaming up with Chicago skater Joan Mitchell in pairs. 

Joan Mitchell and Bobby Specht. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Despite a rocky first year of competition as a pair, by 1941 it seemed the duo were hitting their stride as a team. Specht and Mitchell won the 1941 Midwestern Championships but an infected ankle kept Specht off the podium in his senior debut at the 1941 U.S. Championships in Boston. He did, however, claim the bronze in the pairs event. Patricia Alber's book "Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter" recalled Specht and Mitchell's free skate at that event thusly: "The Chicagoans hit the ice like a wildfire and, with Bobby skating through the pain and the crowd roaring, put in a performance blazing with daring and fight - yet slightly off. They left town bearing third-place trophies." The winners that year were Eugene Turner and Donna Atwood. Remember the name Donna Atwood... we'll be hearing more about her later.

Donna Atwood and Bobby Specht. Photos courtesy the 1953 Ice Capades program.

In 1942, a knee injury ended Joan Mitchell's career and Bobby turned his attention back to singles skating. He won the Midwestern senior men's title ahead of Minnesotans Arthur F. Preusch II and Robert Premer. At the 1942 U.S. Championships in Chicago, he completed his triple crown to win a senior title to go along with his novice and junior ones. Even more impressive is that through all of this, he was at university studying architecture.


With the World Championships put on hold by the ISU in the height of World War II, Specht opted to turn professional, tour with the Ice Capades and enlist in the military. The November 2, 1942 edition of "The Pittsburgh Press" talked of Specht's enlistment in the U.S. military: "While appearing here with 'Ice Capades of 1943', Bobby enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and was sworn in. He was told that he wouldn't be called to report for duty for four or five months, so in the interim he will continue to appear with Ice Capades in its cross-country tour." During this period, he and his mother moved in with professional skating star Belita Jepson-Turner, whom the newspapers reported he was dating... although that wasn't exactly the case. In a March 2016 interview, Bob Turk recalled, "Bobby was very, very gay and never tried to hide it. He and Alan Konrad were sort of lovers for a time, but he never really had a lover until the end of his life."


After being discharged in the army in November of 1943 due to rheumatic fever, Bobby returned to the Ice Capades and again did double duty, headlining both by himself and with a new pairs partner... his former competitor Donna Atwood, who turned professional at the ripe old age of sixteen at the onset of the war. The two were paired by tour owner John H. Harris and starred together in ice ballets adapted from "The Sleeping Beauty" and Sigmund Romberg's "The Student Prince". They made the cover of "Life" Magazine and appeared on "The Colgate Comedy Hour", "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Steve Allen Show". Bobby even lended his visage to a newspaper advertisement by The Thomas Scalp Specialists on men's hair loss. During this period, Bobby was known as the host with the most. Whenever Ice Capades would come to Beverly Hills, he'd rent a house and throw lavish parties, attended by a who's who of the figure skating world. They'd often last until three or four in the morning.

Bobby Specht and Sandy Culbertson in John H. Harris' production of "Snow White"

In short, Bobby was kind of a big deal in skating in the fifties. When Donna Atwood retired from professional skating to raise her children in 1956, Bobby soldiered on and continued to skate with Ice Capades and club carnivals until 1964, when he broke his foot. He remained with the tour for a time, taking on the roles of the producer and publicity director. In these capacities, he worked with Bob Turk, who was once his understudy. Turk recalled, "Bobby didn't have any delusions of grandeur... nothing. He was the sweetest guy. When we were younger, he and I used to act like crazy fools. He called me Turkey."

Bobby Specht and Donna Atwood

Bobby also coached skating for a time but later turned to the bottle heavily and lost his vision. Bob Turk recalled, "He could have had eye surgery and he didn't and they just found him down on the floor." Bobby's death at the age of seventy seven on January 11, 1999 in Palm Springs, California devastated many in the skating community. His legacy lives on through the work he did in giving back to professional skating, which had given him so much during his career as an Ice Capades star.

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

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Czech Please!: A Triple Bill Of Czechoslovakian Skating Pioneers

Czechoslovakian skating ticket from 1951. Courtesy Czech Library of the Ministry of National Security.

From Ondrej Nepela, Jozef Sabovčík and Petr Barna to Ája Vrzáňová and Radka Kovaříková and René Novotný, there's absolutely no question that skaters from the former country of Czechoslovakia have left important footprints on figure skating history. We've explored the stories of many great Czech skaters on Skate Guard previously, and today we'll meet three more Czechoslovakian skating pioneers, each with their own fascinating tales. Pour yourself a frosty mug of Pilsner Urquell and hop in the time machine as we meet these three compelling characters!

JOSEF SLÍVA



The son of Anton and Anna (Rožnovská) Slíva, Josef Slíva was born in the town of Třinec along the Olza River on November 28, 1898. His family were German immigrants to Czechoslovakia, and thus he studied at a German elementary school and German gymnasium in Cieszyn. As a young man, he partnered in a construction company with his brothers Anton and Alois and took on an instrumental role in the founding of his local skating club.

Though his brothers were also talented skaters, Josef proved to the most skilled skating Slíva. At the age of twenty five, he entered his first major international competition - the 1924 Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France - and almost medalled! His ordinals at those games ranged from first through seventh and his result proved to be Czechoslovakia's best finish at those Games. Stronger in school figures than freestyle, Slíva never quite managed to rise enough in the standings to win a medal at a major ISU competition. He placed fifth at the 1925 World Championships in Vienna, behind four Austrians... with a judging panel consisting of three Austrian and two Hungarian judges. Fifth place finishes followed at the 1926 World Championships and 1928 Winter Olympics.

Josef found himself at the center of controversy in 1930, when he shockingly defeated reigning European Champion Karl Schäfer at the European Championships in Štrbské Pleso based on a win in the figures supported by a bloc of judges from Czechoslovakia, France and Yugoslavia. It was soon discovered that the Yugoslavian judge listed (Ivo Kavsek) was switched with a non-ISU judge from Yugoslavia (Victor Vadisek) who judged under his name. The scandal made the front page of the "Wiener Sport-Tagblatt" and the ISU Council declared the results of the competition null and void. The event was reskated in Berlin, with Schäfer again winning and Josef absent from the roster of competitors. Interestingly, Josef placed a dismal twelfth of thirteen competitors at his final major international competition, the 1931 World Championships, also in Berlin. In an obvious instance of insane national bias, the Czechoslovakian judge had him first. No other judge had him higher than tenth overall.

Josef left the competitive skating world in some disgrace because of what happened at the 1930 European Championships, but he remained active behind the scenes as an administrator with the Czechoslovakian Skating Union and a judge. He judged the pairs events at the 1937 European Championships in Prague, the 1937 World Championships in London and 1939 European Championships in Zakopane. With his brothers, he constructed his own model of skates and even penned a manual on skating technique comprised of articles previously published in Berlin Eissport magazine. In 1947, his brother Anton was sentenced in Ostrava to twenty years in prison for his ties to the German Nazi Party and Josef faded into obscurity, the rest of his story obfuscated behind the Iron Curtain.

VLADISLAV ČÁP



Born April 13, 1926, Vladislav Čáp was identified as one of Czechoslovakia's most promising young skaters in the thirties and spent much of World War II training in England under the watchful eye of famed Swiss coach Arnold Gerschwiler. When major international competitions resumed following the War, he shocked everyone by placing a surprising second at the 1947 European Championships in Davos behind Arnold's nephew Hans. At the World Championships that followed, he was third after figures, but dropped to fourth overall behind Hans, Dick Button and Arthur Apfel.

Then Čáp's bad luck started... At the 1948 European Championships in Prague, he placed a disastrous eighth in a field of nine skaters. At the 1948 Winter Olympics, he dropped to tenth. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Dick Button recalled, "Vladislav Čáp, the Czech, returned to the dressing room considerably let down. He had been a victim of hard luck. After the first minute his record broke and he had to finish without music, a serious handicap. The referee had offered him the choice of being marked as he had skated, or of repeating his program to different music. Čáp elected the former, because it would be no simple matter to substitute another selection for one which, through months of rehearsal had provided the timing for his program. Vladislav had everyone's sympathy, and his accident was a reminder to all his rivals that luck, despite infinite preparations, could intrude to disastrous effect." At the World Championships that followed, he again placed tenth and at his final international event, the 1949 European Championships, he finished fifth in a field of six. The poor Czech just couldn't seem to catch a break. However, after his retirement from the competitive skating world, things appeared to look up for Čáp for a time. He graduated from České vysoké učení technické v Praze (Czech Technical University in Prague) with a degree in electrical engineering and worked as an international referee and ISU committee member. He also served as the Czechoslavakian Federation's Secretary from 1954 to 1957.

In 1956 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, he was even the first official ISU technical delegate to serve at an Olympic Games. However, later that same year, the Czechoslovakian government denied him the right to travel abroad and started monitoring his communication with figure skating officials who lived abroad. He wrote the book "Interpretation Of The Rules Of Figure Skating" and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Physical Education, but his communist bosses had his name removed as one of the authors. In 1959, he was arrested under communist regime for alleged spying and sentenced to five years in the slammer. He served three and a half. While in prison, a book he'd co authored with Josef Dědič called "Figure Skating For Referees And Coaches" was published. After his release, Čáp began to design artistic lighting for buildings, including the Czech National Bank, a casino in Saarbrücken and Prague's main post office. He became an authority on stage lighting and worked at the Scenography Institute and for Československá televize (ČST), a state sponsored television station. He also lectured on stage lighting at the Prague Academy Of Performing Arts and penned several scholarly books on lighting technology. Čáp left ČST in the early nineties and continued to work implementing interior and exterior lighting at home and abroad until his retirement in 1995. He passed away on December 30, 2001 in Prague.

EVA NYKLOVÁ



Although she skated in the shadow of her more famous Czechoslovakian teammate Vera Hrubá Ralston for much of her early career, Eva Nyklová was widely respected as one of the finest free skaters of her era, and had it not have been for the cancellation of major figure skating competitions during World War II, she very well could have medalled on the international stage. Prior to the War, she trained in England and became an NSA Gold Medallist. T.D. Richardson called her "a young skater of very considerable promise who has a good command of the school figures and skates a difficult free programme with great charm and assurance."


During Eva's reign as Czechoslovakian Champion, she placed eighth at the 1937 and 1938 European Championships and seventh in 1939 in London. At the 1939 World Championships in Prague, she moved up to fifth behind Megan Taylor, Hedy Stenuf, Daphne Walker and Lydia Veicht. Rather than wait out the War, she instead turned professional and enjoyed success in several of Tom Arnold's productions. She appeared in "Ice Follies" in Belgium and starred in "Cinderella on Ice" in 1949 and 1950 and "Stars On Ice" in London. By the fifties, she was a senior figure skating instructor in Nottingham, England. She married Robert Evans in Harrow, Middlesex in 1954 and devoted countless hours to teaching young skaters to excel at the sport that was in her blood.

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

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The First Tom Collins Tour


Whether it be inflated PCS marks or the cringeworthy aesthetics of many of today's spin combinations, figure skating can often leave us dying for a drink... perhaps the delicious concoction of gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water concoction the world knows as a Tom Collins. 

It was a beloved man of the same name who organized the first ever star-centered North American figure skating tour back in 1969. For decades, Tom Collins' tour packed some of the biggest venues in North America and offered skaters from around the world wonderful opportunities. It went by many names over the years - the USFSA/CFSA/ISU World Champions Figure Skating Exhibition, the Tour Of Champions, the World Figure Skating Tour, the Olympic Figure Skating Tour, the Tour Of Olympic And World Figure Skating Champions, the Tour Of World Champions and finally, Champions On Ice - but what really made Collins' tour unique was the fact it was the first in North America to bring together eligible and ineligible skaters and to focus largely on solo work instead of group or ensemble pieces. Showgirls and polar bear costumes the Tom Collins tour was not; many of the tour's performers were gifted amateur athletes at the peak of their careers.

Janet Lynn

After the 1969 World Figure Skating Championships held at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Tom Collins (who was then Holiday On Ice's vice president and general manager) teamed up with Holiday On Ice's founder Morris Chalfen to present the USFSA/CFSA/ISU World Champions Figure Skating Exhibition tour. In order to retain the eligibility of the skaters who participated, they received sanctions from the International Skating Union, Canadian Figure Skating Association and United States Figure Skating Association. A 2008 Jay Weiner article from the "Minnesota Post" aptly described what made that initial tour unique: "A concept was born. Tour with the planet's best skaters, not as a night-clubby, lounge-acty, circuslike ice show, but as a serious skating, performance show. Let the world champs show their competition routines in person to the folks at home. Sure, add pizzazz, but show the athleticism."

The cast was eclectic, featuring some of the top skaters of the era but also some lesser known stars. Among the big names were Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov, Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, Ondrej Nepela, Janet Lynn, Karen Magnussen, Tim Wood, Gaby Seyfert, Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, Hana Mašková, Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin, Patrick Pera and John Misha Petkevich. The United States was further represented with Ron and Cynthia Kauffman, Julie Lynn Holmes, Melissa and Mark Militano, Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky and Gary Visconti. Canada additionally contributed the talents of Anna Forder and Richard Stephens, Jay Humphry, Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie and Linda (Carbonetto) Villella. Rounding out the impressive cast were some lesser known names to North American audiences: four time British Champions Linda Bernard and Raymond Wilson, three time British Champion Patricia Dodd, West German Pairs Champions Gudrun Hauss and Walter Häfner, Australian Champion Janet Schwarz, East German Champions Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz-Ulrich Walther and four time Japanese Champion Kazumi Onishi (Yamashita).

Rising stars also joined the cast in select locations. Among the cast of the tour's 'grand finale' on March 30, 1969 at Madison Square Garden were a young Dorothy Hamill and a duo of precision teams - The Precisionettes from the Skating Club of Riverdale and The Hockettes from Ann Arbor. The latter team fundraised much of their own way to New York City to participate, selling over two thousand dollars worth of chocolate bars.

The musical selections of the skaters on the 1969 tour were diverse, to say the very least. Janet Lynn skated to Simon and Garfunkel; the Kauffman's to The Beatles. Gaby Seyfert performed to the "Pas de deux" from "The Nutcracker", while Diane Towler and Bernard Ford danced their way through the Broadway standard "Mame".

Melissa and Mark Militano

Although the 1969 tour would mark one of only two occasions where Collins didn't travel along with the cast, his earliest effort would have been quite the novelty for the skaters participating as previous post-Worlds ISU organized tours had been centered almost entirely in Europe. Although skaters visited an incredible fifteen cities that spring (eight in Canada and seven in the U.S.) and their efforts were well received, the enterprising duo of Collins and Chalfen lost money to the tune of twenty five to thirty thousand dollars. Ouch! Although the management of Ice Capades organized another similar tour featuring top amateur skaters in 1972, Collins wouldn't revive the tour that cost him a small fortune until 1975. It all started somewhere though - with a vision - and if you think about how huge that tour was in the eighties and nineties especially, it's just incredible.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman on the 1969 Tom Collins tour

Lynn Thomas, who wrote a review of the initial tour in "Skating" magazine, remarked, "Perhaps the most important thing about the tour was not the exposure of American audiences to such excellent skating, but the international relations among skaters. All the club members who so generously entertained the champions noted an amazing rapport among them regardless of their nationalities."
Reflecting on his experience putting on this beloved tour in a 2008 interview with ESPN, Collins said "I had a great run." He most certainly did... and reflecting back on how it all started for Collins is a wonderful reminder of something that we all seem to need to be reminded of sometimes... if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

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