The Cold War On Ice: Peggy Fleming Visits The Soviet Union


"We didn't have a single appointment. We had the names of people we should see and the structure of the organization from our research. They knew of Peggy, and their interest in sports is great. They seemed to be interested in the show from the moment we first started talking," said Dick Foster, the producer of "Peggy Fleming Visits The Soviet Union", a revolutionary 1973 Bell System Family Theatre production that united for the first time skaters from the Soviet Union and the United States... in the middle of The Cold War.

Foster was referring to an initial meeting between himself, executive Bob Banner and members of the State Committee of The USSR Council Of Ministers For Television And Radio in November 1972. The production would mark the very first time an American film crew ever worked in the Soviet Union. The next spring, Banner, Foster and Fleming returned to Moscow and within a week got all the permission they needed. They were ready to film... and film they did. With Fleming, who was treated like a movie star, they shot sixty thousand feet of tape in twenty seven hours, contending with an extreme language barrier. Much of the communication was done in German, as crew members on both sides didn't know each other's language and had to find common ground. Another challenge were the extreme temperatures in the many skating scenes filmed outdoors. The average temperature was thirteen below, with one scene on The Bay Of Finland filmed in seventeen below weather with harsh winds. The July 13, 1973 issue of the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" noted that during filming, "Miss Fleming dropped her heavy overcoat, rose up on the toes of her skates and suddenly let out a piercing scream as the bitter cold closed in on her. A second or two later, however, she was gliding, twirling and leaping across the smile, smiling a bright defiance to the elements."

The August 30, 1974 edition of "The Dispatch" noted the historical significance of this production and its countless 'firsts':

- the first co-production of an entertainment special by an American company and the USSR.
- the first filming of an American star performing in the Moscow Circus and with the Moscow Ice Ballet
- the first filming of the Kirov Ballet for United States television.
- the first time American and Soviet cameramen worked jointly on an entertainment production.
- the first filming for the United States TV of the Moscow Puppet Theatre.
- the first filming in a USSR recording studio.
- the first United States TV production ever scored in the USSR under the direction of an American conductor and using the Soviet Television and Radio Symphony Orchestra.
- the first such TV special to be telecast simultaneously in both the United States and the USSR (same day and local time.)
- the first TV filming within the Palace of Catherine the Great.
- the first filming of a musical production number on the frozen Bay of Finland.
- the first filming of the original Andreev Balalaika Orchestra for Western television.
- The first time Soviets have scheduled special performances for the exclusive purpose of filming portions of this special.

The production opened with a solo number by Fleming called "Midnight in Moscow" skated at the Yublani Stadium in Leningrad. She was next seen skating on a frozen reflecting pond adjacent the Palace of Catherine the Great, performing the "Festive Overture" with members of the Moscow State Ballet On Ice. Following her solos, Fleming visited Soviet soprano Lyudmila Senchina inside the Palace as she rehearsed a performance to "New Rochelle" from the Soviet version of "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" at the Leningrad Musical Theatre. Ludmila then sang Cher's "The Way Of Love" in Russian accompanied by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra while Peggy skated another solo. A fourth solo set to "Two Guitars" on a lake adjacent to the Bogoroditse-Smolensky Monastery in Moscow followed. Peggy then played guest to Sergey Obraztsov's Puppet Theatre in Moscow where she was entertained by "Victoria Vibrato" and an all-puppet rock n' roll band called "Pop Art". The final two acts were an interpretation of "Swan Lake" with the Kirov Corps joining Vladimir Luzin of the Moscow Ice Ballet and Fleming on the icy Bay Of Finland near Leningrad and a duet to "Sweet Caroline" at the Moscow Circus where Fleming was paired by clown Andrei Nikolaev.


The production was simultaneously colorcast in the Soviet Union, United States and Canada on October 28, 1973. The title in North America was of course "Peggy Fleming Visits The Soviet Union" but according to Moscow television editor Irina Yevgrafova, the working title in the USSR was (translated) "Peggy Fleming: I Like It In Your Country". Recalling the production in the September 27, 1973 issue of the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune", Fleming said, "The American crew was very relaxed. They took their work seriously, but they had fun. The Russians were very businesslike, very tight. But after they started working together they relaxed and got to be real people. It was a wonderful thing to see." Americans and Russians getting along swimmingly in the height of The Cold War? It seems only fitting that the universal language of figure skating was what brought them together.

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Comments

  1. I think I remember that show. Peggy was so charming in it ... such a wonderful ambassador to represent the US in the USSR.

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    1. Glad the blog was able to bring back some fond memories!

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