Saturday, 27 February 2016

From The Big Top To Brussels: A Skating Family Touched By Two Tragedies

One chilly afternoon at a pond in Rye, New York, Dickie Osborn LeMaire laced up a pair of skates for a game of hockey. The ice was imprinted in that little boy's DNA. His aunt Patricia toured with Sonja Henie's troupe. His father Eddie toured North America as a youngster, jumping barrels on ice skates and even giving an exhibition between hockey games at the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid when he was eight. Eddie LeMaire grew up to win a national senior men's roller skating competition and national junior titles in both men's and pairs figure skating. After claiming the bronze medal at the 1943 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in the senior pairs event with partner Dorothy Goos, Eddie married Skating Club Of New York member Muriel Gerli and turned his attention to judging figure skating.

Dickie and Eddie LeMaire

Eddie's parents were Francis Edward LeMaire from Salt Lake City, Utah and Maud Emelie Reynolds from Chicago, Illinois. In her wonderful book "Indelible Tracings: The Story Of The 1961 U.S. World Figure Skating Team", author Patricia Shelley Bushman explained, "The LeMaires skated in ice shows across the country, including the Chicago's World Fair, the Texas Centennial Exposition, and countless nightclubs. Besides performing unique dances, Fran's specialty was performing serpentines around candles. He also taught skating in New Haven, Providence, St. Louis, and New York."

Earl Reynolds on bicycle skates racing cyclist Charles J. Fox

Little Dickie LeMaire's skating DNA didn't stop with his parents or grandparents. His great grandparents were the popular vaudeville duo of Earl Reynolds and Nellie Donagan. Earl Reynolds was born on October 28, 1868 and got his start as a fancy skater, carving out figure eights on New York ponds in the nineteenth century.

Early twentieth century illustration of Earl Reynolds

By the time he was nineteen, Reynolds designed a pair of bicycle skate and while wearing them, defeated cyclist Charles J. Fox in a highly publicized 1897 race. In a September 26, 1897 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Earl Reynolds said, "It is my intention to make a study of the bicycle skate, because I believe I see in it possibilities which have never exhibited themselves at least to me, in any one thing before. You see, my race with Fox was the first of the kind in the world. It was like the first trial of speed between the horse and the bicycle. Then the horse was given a start and the bicycle rider beat him so easily that he has always been glad enough to take a chance ever since... I do not pretend to be a prophet, but basing my judgment on experience and mechanical knowledge of speed-getters, I look for some marvellous results from continued experiments with the bicycle skate." His bicycle skates weighed two pounds each, consisting of a thin bar of brass with a fork at either end in which six inch wheels were set. They had steel rims and rubber tires." Less than a month later, he donned his bicycle skates again for a race with cyclist Leo Stevens, the hero of a fake balloon wreck. Two bicycle policemen pursued Reynolds and Stevens in an attempt to arrest them for 'scorching', but the duo took the cops on a wild good chase. When they finally caught up with the men, Reynolds was - according to the November 22, 1897 issue of The Sun - apprehended and "allowed to leave his skates at the bicycle squad police station in lieu of a bond. As they were nailed to his shoes, he was obliged to sit in the station in his stocking feet until another pair of skates was brought to him." A judge later threw out the case as there was no applicable law in place to punish the bicycle skater and cyclist.

After winning an international speed skating race in Switzerland two years later, Reynolds took to the Big Apple stage, appearing on Broadway as El Rio Rey in Frank McKee and Florenz Ziegfield Jr.'s musical comedy "A Parisian Model". While in New York City, he issued a challenge "to any man in the world to skate for the world's fancy skating championship." The Milwaukee Journal noted that he was "more at home on a pair of skates, whether they be ice or roller skates, than he is on his feet." 
Reynolds was also a jockey, played hockey, commissioned bets for John W. Gates and taught Ziegfield's common-law wife, actress Anna Held, how to roller skate.


In January 1908, he reprised his role in "A Parisian Model" and met Nellie Donegan, a roller skater from Indiana. The two joined forces both on and off skates, marrying in Donegan's home state and briefly teaching ice skating in New York City. In 1913, they packed their roller skates and embarked on a two year "tour of the world" that took them to Calcutta, Cairo and Madrid. Photographs evidence that during this tour - which was almost entirely done on roller skates - both Reynolds and Donegan donned ice skates for performances in Melbourne, Australia. The popular duo claimed to have earned one thousand dollars a week - during World War I - when they went to British East Africa and roller skated for Sayyid Sir Khalifa II bin Harub Al-Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar. By 1915, they were back in America roller skating in a vaudeville show at Keith's in Philadelphia alongside Will Rogers, 'eccentric dancers' Doyle and Dixon and singing comedienne Grace La Rue.


Almost as if they were cursed, all four generations of this incredible skating family were touched by unspeakable tragedy. In his early sixties, Francis LeMaire died of a massive heart attack. His wife Maude passed away only three years later. 

Fascinating performance art piece about The Hartford Circus Fire

Elsie Donegan and Earl Reynolds continued to perform into their seventies and joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus as performers during the 1944 season. Their act - Reynolds and Donegan Skating Girls - was billed alongside The Brannock Troupe, The Four Skating Macks, The Karrel Troupe and The Chinese Naitto Troupe as "an exciting equilibristic exhibition in which China's wizards of the wire vie with stars of the occidental world." They both survived the horrific Hartford Circus Fire on July 6, 1944 which claimed the lives of one hundred and sixty seven people and injured more than seven hundred others. Traumatized and unpaid, Donegan and Reynolds - along with hundreds of other Ringling employees - were held in Hartford and intensely scrutinized and questioned for almost a week. Elsie passed away a year later, reportedly of "shock" from the fire which was such a hellish scene that it haunted survivors for decades. After burying his wife, daughter and son-in-law, Earl Reynolds passed away at the age of eighty five in Indiana of a heart condition. En route to observe the judges at the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships for the USFSA as part of an orientation for a future promotion as an international judge, Eddie LeMaire and his thirteen year old son were among the victims of the Sabena Flight 548 crash that took the lives of the entire U.S. Figure Skating Team that year. The fact that one multi-generational skating family was touched by two unspeakable tragedies is almost too much to comprehend.

'Base value multiplied by 1.1', GOE, Program Component Score, 5.25. -1. They are all just numbers on a protocol sheet from a figure skating competition. In one hundred years, few will remember or care who landed a triple/triple combination and who missed their twizzles. The humanity of skating's history - the people, stories and adventures - are the essence of the sport's narrative. Though mired in tragedy, the tales of this long forgotten skating family Lutz right off the pages.

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, 25 February 2016

The Life And Death Of Rita Trapanese


Carolina Kostner, Silvia Fontana, Valentina Marchei... in recent years Italy has certainly produced some outstanding and accomplished female skaters. Earlier this month, we explored the story of Olympian and ice show star Anna Galmarini and today on Skate Guard, we will take a brief look at the tragic tale of another Italian woman with a fascinating figure skating career.

Born on May 8, 1951 in Milan, Italy, Rita Trapanese dominated skating in her country for almost a decade, winning eight consecutive Italian titles from 1965 to 1972. Tragically, she joined the likes of two of her figure skating contemporaries - 1968 Olympic Bronze Medallist Hana Mašková and four time World Champion Pavel Roman - when she too tragically died in a car accident on August 10, 2000 in Gattatico, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Trapanese was by accounts a very strong willed and disciplined skater. She'd get up at five AM every day and be there when the doors at the Ice Palace Via Piranesi opened. By eight PM, she was in bed ready to do it all over again the next day. Her career was full of some wonderful accomplishments. In 1969, she won the bronze medal at the Richmond Trophy in England which she followed up with a win the following season.


After missing the podium on her first five attempts, in 1971 she won the bronze medal at the European Championships in Zürich behind Trixi Schuba and Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy. That medal would prove to be the very first medal an Italian ladies singles skater would ever win at a European Championships. She followed her medal win in Switzerland up with a silver behind Schuba in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1972. In doing so, she paved the way for competitor Susanna Driano to win two more medals for Italy during the same decade. Her Olympic appearances in 1968 and 1972 didn't boast the same results, though her seventh place finish in Sapporo was a massive improvement over her twenty fifth place effort in Grenoble. Her best finish at a World Championships came in her final attempt in 1971 in Lyon, France, where she was third after the school figures and finished fifth overall. She retired from amateur competition following the 1972 Olympic Games with aspirations of finishing school, starting another career and raising a family.


She enjoyed a brief professional career that included a stint with Holiday On Ice in Europe and performances with Moira Orfei, a popular Italian actress who is known as "the queen of the circus" and then got into journalism. On September 7, 1974, Trapanese married Dr. Maurizio Vaglini, a tumour specialist at the Milan Cancer Institute. Together, they raised two children and Trapanese dedicated much of her time to work and advocacy for underprivileged youth. An article shortly before her death from The Journal in Italy quoted Trapanese as saying "I have two of my own but for years I supported some in remote parts of the various continents: Indian, Brazilian and Santo Domingo. We write the letters and then I regularly receive their report cards and many photographs." She remained connected to the skating community as well, four months before her death attending a party celebrating the success of Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio. The Journal article said "that afternoon, she was almost on the sidelines, wanting the moment (to be) all for them. But she was moved, visibly excited" to be among her peers.

The car accident that took Trapanese and her husband's life in 2000 on Route 88 was as awful as any car accident could be. Mechanical trouble caused the Jaguar that Trapanese, Vaglini, Massimo Simonetta Bacchetti and Baroque were travelling in to drive into a cement bypass. Efforts to brake failed and they swerved into oncoming traffic and the Jaguar was hit from behind by a Ford Escort. Trapanese and Vaglini - unfortunately being in the backseat - suffered the brunt of the collision along with those in the front seat of the Ford Escort. Seventy four year old Luigi Volpe of Milan, the driver of the Ford Escort and Trapanese were killed instantly and Vaglini died later that evening in hospital of his injuries. Volpe's wife Maria Luigia Visani and the travel companions of Trapanese and Vaglini also suffered serious injuries. Trapanese has been posthumously remembered in her country with the Trofeo Rita Trapanese, which was the name of the ISU Junior Grand Prix competition held in Italy for a time. Her pioneering efforts in bringing Italian women's skating to the forefront should never, ever be forgotten. 

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, 23 February 2016

The Dazzling Duncan McIntyre Hodgson


Get ready for your head to spin faster than Lucinda Ruh, because this Skate Guard blog's got a little bit of everything: high society, hockey history, figure skating... and tuna. Yes, tuna. If you're allergic to seafood, get out! Just kidding. Don't be deterred. The tuna won't come into the story until much later on.

I suppose we should start by talking about Duncan number one. To say that nineteenth century Scottish Canadian businessman Duncan McIntyre was influential would be a bit of an understatement. He was not only a founder of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada but also the owner of the Canadian Central Railway. He played an important role in the 1880 Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate and thusly, in Canadian railroad history. The man also had a bit of money, to put it mildly. He lived in a downtown Montreal mansion designed by architect William Thomas on a ten-acre plot and rubbed shoulders with Québec's upper crust. He and his wife Jane Allan Cassils had four sons and three daughters. One of them was also named Duncan. Duncan number two's sister Mary Fisher McIntyre married her first cousin - yes, you read that right - Archibald Arthur Hodgson and together they had a son named Duncan McIntyre Hodgson, making three generations of Duncan's. Imagine asking Duncan to pass the gravy at Christmas dinner! 

Archie Hodgson was a member of the Montreal Hockey Club and was the scorer of the winning goal for his club in the first Stanley Cup final on March 17, 1893. Instead of following in his father's footsteps, his son Duncan joined the Montreal Winter Club. In no time, Duncan number three was one of the city's most promising young figure skaters. In 1918, he defeated Brooklyn's F.M. Meline for a win at a competition for 'boys under eighteen' held at the St. Nicholas Rink in New York City. A review of the event in the March 10, 1918 issue of The Sun noted that "Hodgson did not have the easy time that he had been expected to enjoy, for Meline gave him quite the contest... Meline showed surprising ability in free skating, but was beaten easily in the school figures in which he had only had meagre instruction."

Two years later when the Canadian Figure Skating Championships resumed after being cancelled for four years due to World War I, Duncan earned the silver medal in the senior men's event behind Norman Scott and ahead of Melville Rogers. The following year, he claimed his first of two Canadian senior men's titles. One thing that was particularly notable about his successes during his short stint as a competitive skater was the fact that for three years running he placed ahead of Melville Rogers, who went on to become a multiple time Canadian and North American Champion. After winning two national men's titles, Hodgson teamed up with Marjorie Anable to take top honours in the pairs event in 1923. Military service ended his short competitive career and he married Hylda Anne Ross, the daughter of famed horse racer and army Captain J.K.L. Ross. He did, for a time however, continue to take the ice to give exhibitions in Montreal skating carnivals after his competitive skating career came to a close.

According to Pat D.C. Barnhouse's paper "Trials and Tribulations: An Examination of the Decision to
Terminate the FHE 400 Hydrofoil Project", Duncan caused some waves while serving in the military: "After the Second World War a wealthy Royal Canadian Naval Reserve officer, Lieutenant-Commander Duncan Hodgson, commissioned the New York naval architect Phil Rhodes to design a hydrofoil for an attempt at the water speed record. The Defence Research Board (DRB) got wind of this and Hodgson was convinced to change tack and instead have a vessel designed to demonstrate the naval potential of hydrofoils. This became the five-ton R-100, more commonly known as Massawippi. It is important to remember that this collaboration came about because of the particular interest on one person in DRB and his acquaintance with Hodgson; it was not a corporate decision shared with the Naval Service Headquarters (NSHQ). That would probably have served to improve chances of commitment and acceptance on the part of the navy. This early work was later reviewed in a report for the chief of naval staff (CNS)." Understand any of that rhetoric? I can't say I did... but I think the gist of it is that he ruffled a few feathers.



Here's where the tuna comes in. In 1911, Duncan's father-in-law J.K.L. Ross set a record right here in Nova Scotia for catching the world's largest tuna. Caught with a rod and reel and no harness, Ross struggled with the fish for four hours and forty five minutes before hauling it in. The tuna was six hundred and eighty pounds. For good measure, Ross bested his own world record by catching a seven hundred and twenty pound tuna. Guess who beat the record? Duncan McIntyre Hodgson. The three time Canadian Champion - representing the brawn of pairs guys everywhere - hauled in a NINE HUNDRED AND NINETY SEVEN pound tuna with no harness in 1950. His record (also set here in Nova Scotia) stood for twenty years. I'll have to pop in to the Maritime Museum Of The Atlantic on a lunch break and see if they have pictures or anything. But seriously though... are you freaking kidding me? This guy made Charles C. Russell's Ripley's Believe It Or Not skating barbell feat look like small potatoes. A 1991 interview in Cape Breton's Magazine shares Duncan's best tuna catching tip: "Sometimes you threw out mackerel, and attracted them that way. But they didn't take the bait that way very much. I had one feeding out of my hands. I saw him every day at the same spot, and I'd throw a fish to him and he'd come up and take them. Extraordinary." Tame or not, I think I'll stick with my Clover Leaf.

Duncan McIntyre Hodgson passed away just three years after that interview about his fishing exploits on January 14, 1994, eight days after the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. He is buried in Montreal, the same city he was raised and trained as a champion skater. Despite his three Canadian titles and quite interesting story and background, I can honestly say the next time I'll be thinking of THIS skater is when I have a tuna sandwich.

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

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Beliefs Of Barbara Ann: Advice From A Late, Great Champion


I don't know about you, but I am a huge Barbara Ann Scott fan. For her time, her skating was just miles above what many of her competitors were doing and she had - throughout her life - such a sense of class, grace and humility. Today on the blog, we're going to take a look at some wonderful advice about competitive skating that Barbara Ann shared in her 1950 autobiography "Skate With Me". Surprisingly, over sixty five years later, much of it still holds up beautifully and what doesn't is delightfully charming. Pour yourself a nice cup of tea and learn a thing or two from this late, great Olympic Gold Medallist, World, European and North American Champion:

"Remember that the more technical fine points are not what they come to see. They want to be amused or startled."

"If you take a chance with old laces they are apt to break at the most inconvenient moment, just as your turn comes in a competition. Be sure not to leave your laces hanging. Tuck them in securely so that they can’t come loose. Don’t use ordinary hairpins. They are too apt to fly out. Be sure that you have your hair tethered down securely, for there is nothing Very appealing about a girl skating with her hair flopping all over her face. I used to wear a little bonnet which served the double purpose of keeping my hair back and my ears warm."

"You can’t do all of it alone. There must be someone, in whose knowledge you have faith, standing by to tell you what you are doing wrong because, at various points, we all go wrong."



"As the great day for which you have been training so hard approaches you will be more and more keyed up, an inevitable result of hard training and anxiety about competition, and so it will be more difficult for you to keep your mind on details that are of secondary importance to you, while at the same time you will tend to overemphasize the details that seem to you to be of primary importance. As you lose perspective - as it is only natural that you should do, for you are putting a great deal of yourself into the balance of one day and evening when you must perform in a certain way or feel that you have wasted all that has gone into preparation for that performance - you will find it harder to deal with others fairly. You will have to fight down impulses to be too demanding or too impatient and those are battles not worth fighting if, by using forethought, you can avoid them."

"Remember that all the others are apt to be keyed up, high-strung, and perhaps even overworried about themselves. People in this condition can be put off by a discouraging remark which will loom mountain-big in their minds; so be very, very careful about what you say and how you say it."

"When you are in the dressing room, I think, you should be friendly with those with whom you are to compete. You should encourage them and make it unmistakably clear that you wish them to have good luck just as you wish it for yourself. Doing that not only makes you feel better but you’ll find that the others will react to it and be nice to you."

"Watch your attitude toward judges, also, and never let the idea take root that they are prejudiced against you and are giving someone else the better breaks. They aren’t. They are there to help you by telling you accurately just how you stack up against the others. If you do something well they will give you credit for it. They are interested in the sport and so they are interested in you, for you are one of those who are developing the sport, carrying it on, introducing elements of skill that once were not known. So naturally they are your friends. Keep that in mind. It is a great comfort to you, while a cynical or complaining attitude is a tormenting burden."

"There are some people who may try to discourage you by making little remarks. Remember that a likely reason for their doing this is that they are afraid you are better than they are. You won’t meet many such people, but you do run into them occasionally and you should be aware of why they do this and not let their little remarks fester in your mind, for that can be very bad for you. just as you watch your diet you must guard your mind from drops of poisonous doubts, for the way you think has a mighty effect upon the way your body behaves at critical moments in competition. By your work and long hours of practice - and, yes, looking for signs that will make you believe that you are due to have good luck - you are creating a kind of structure of confidence and this structure must be kept solid and strong."

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, 18 February 2016

Fifty Two In Thirty Nine: The Afternoon Of The Waltz


Prior to the institution of the current IJS system, the record for the most ice dance teams to compete in any given World Championships was first set in 1994 in Japan, when no less than thirty six teams took the ice to skate two compulsory dances. Can you imagine judging that?! When one team - Noemi Vedres and Endre Szentirmai of Hungary - withdrew before the original dance, that made thirty five, a number of entries that I'm sure no one at the ISU thought they'd ever see again... but they did. In 2001, that number was equalled and in 2012, under 'the new system' another record was set at the World Championships in Nice, France, when no less than thirty eight teams started the ice dance competition.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir bested no less than thirty seven other ice dance teams to win the short dance at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships

The locale of that 2012 current record is fitting because it is exactly where the event we are discussing today took place. Alright, almost... right country, wrong city. Let's set our time machine dial to March 25, 1939. It was just before World War II and the location was the Molitor Rink in Paris. Remember how we talked in past blogs about the consistent passion for ice dancing in French skating history? France was ready to prove its point that year. The Club des Sports d'Hiver de Paris (The Club Of Winter Sports Of Paris) and The Elysee Skating Club pooled their resources that year to do something completely unprecedented... hold the largest ice dancing competition in history. Organized by André Fouquières, the event was 'an original ice waltzing competition' featuring no less than FIFTY TWO ice dance teams!

Fouquières not only assembled a judging panel with the knowledge base and patience to be able to sit through fifty two waltzes, but he also talked many of the teams into participating. What made the competition so unique wasn't only the massive number of entries. It was who those entries were. The country's top ice dancers competed against recreational skaters and old timers. Pairs skaters, like the then reigning national champions Guy Pigier and Soumi Sakomoto, competed. Skaters who had long since retired like Charles Sabouret and Elvira and Louis Barbey returned to contest the title. Arne Lie, who was a four time Norwegian men's champion in the twenties, ice danced with his wife. According to the French newspaper Le Journal, other contestants include Messr. and Mme. Henriques and Mlle. Blum. Although the public record doesn't let us know how it all went down in terms of results, it's pretty safe to say that an ice dancing competition of that magnitude was challenging to judge and quite a spectacle to watch. It is also quite possible that that record may never be repeated, but who knows? We tend to get a little too caught up in the present sometimes and forget that in a few decades time, what is current news may be as long forgotten as this ice dance milestone from decades past.

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, 16 February 2016

The Old Smoothies

Often incorrectly attributed to architects of the era because of its common use in art and design, the phrase "Less is more" actually came from an 1855 Robert Browning poem. It seems a wonderful phrase to describe the contribution to the skating world of TWO husband and wife teams better known to adoring audiences worldwide as The Old Smoothies.


Orrin Lars Markhus' family emigrated to the U.S. from Scandinavia in 1853. After performing with his first wife Ellen at the College Inn shows at the Hotel Sherman during World War I, he taught his second wife, Irma Thomas, how to skate in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1936. The mature couple took to the ice one night for an audition for the Ice Capades and the rest was, as they say, history. A 1959 article in The Pittsburgh Press explains how Markhus and Thomas got their start as The Old Smoothies, an ice dance duo that wowed audiences from the forties to the sixties:  "The stars and other skaters had finished practice, and only a few lights burned in the damp Los Angeles ice rink that night in 1942. Most of the tired skaters, however, stood out of curiosity to watch an audition of a couple of older skaters. It was past midnight and hardly an auspicious setting for a tryout for the Ice Capades. Then someone turned on a recording of 'Shine On Harvest Moon' and Irma Thomas and Orrin Markhus glided out onto the ice. Before they had finished one full turn, the curiosity of the young pros had changed to interest and producer John H. Harris impatiently told an aide to keep quiet. 'I don't want to miss any of this,' he said. Mr. Harris hired Irma and Orrin and christened them 'The Old Smoothies'. They've been show stoppers ever since."

John Malone's "The Encyclopedia Of Figure Skating" explains that "their solo act was essentially the same every year, although the music and costumes changed. Portly, bald-headed Orrin Markhus, in an elegant tailcoat, glided around the ice primarily to waltz music with the slender Irma Thomas, whose evening dresses revealed only her skates. They performed no special tricks but, followed by a spotlight, they gave a sense of consummate grace and ease. The high point of their act, which always brought huge, affectionate applause, occurred when Irma raised the handkerchief that was always present in her right hand and gently mopped Orrin's glistening brow. The Old Smoothies were a shining example of how much can be achieved with a very simple performance done with an absolute mastery of style." The couple didn't miss a single show during the fourteen years they toured with the troupe. Retiring from the show in the sixties, Orrin passed away on April 16, 1979 and Irma is sadly no longer with us either. 

There was so much admire about this team beyond their grace. Irma never even donned skates until she was thirty eight, their children (the reason Irma took up skating in the place) grew up to become professional skaters themselves... and they were touring grandparents! A March 21, 1954 article stated that Irma even packed her knitting in her skating bag, which I also find absolutely charming.
However, although they dazzled audiences for close to two decades, Markhus and Thomas weren't the only Old Smoothies in town...


Brantford, Ontario's biggest claim to fame may be the fact that it was the birthplace of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, but right at the same time an eleven year old Gretzky was honing his puck skills, newlyweds Irene Kewpie and Harold Avery were taking their first steps onto the ice as members of the Brant Figure Skating Club. After winning the Ontario Figure Skating Association's veteran dance competition for seven consecutive years, the couple embark on a professional career. This was no small feat considering they had started skating at fifty two and sixty two, respectively. Capitalizing on the success of Markhus and Thomas' Ice Capades act, Holiday On Ice International decided to add its own act called 'The Old Smoothies' and (you guessed it) signed The Avery's.

Like Markhus and Thomas, The Avery's had a perfect attendance record. A March 24, 2011 article from The Brantford Expositor delved into the Avery's adventures with Holiday On Ice: "'My mother left a note here that says they skated 1,144 times without missing a performance,' their daughter, Bev Kirk of Brantford, said Wednesday. 'The Ice Capades called them in 1971 but they said 'no' because they were back home. Their life had changed and they didn't fancy it.' The Old Smoothies became regular guests on the Stars On Ice television show from 1976 to 1981. 'After 1981, they just skated around at all the clubs. They did a lot of that. They last skated together in 1988. Their last Flashing Blades show was in 1987 but they skated at places into the next year.' Skating maintained a strong hold on Kewpie. 'She loved to talk about everything to do with skating,' Kirk noted. 'They kept in contact with a lot of the skaters. They knew a lot of them and they loved the Olympics.' Kewpie was able to drive her car until a year ago when 'they' took away her licence. 'That upset her but she was pretty healthy and she had a fantastic memory,' said Kirk." Harold sadly passed away in 2000. His wife Irene passed away eleven years later at the age of ninety seven.

In my April 2014 blog "Age (Like 6.0) Is Just A Number" I talked about the ageist culture in figure skating: "At the risk of sounding like Peter Griffin (which absolutely isn't a bad thing), do you know what really grinds my gears? Ageism, especially in figure skating. American civil rights activist Maggie Kuhn once said, 'I think of age as a great universalizing force. It's the only thing we all have in common. It doesn't begin when you collect your social security benefits. Aging begins with the moment of birth, and it ends only when life itself has ended. Life is a continuum; only, we - in our stupidity and blindness - have chopped it up into little pieces and kept all those little pieces separate.' The culture and emphasis on youth in the figure skating community lends people to think they're 'too old' and their careers are over in their early twenties. They're 'over the hill' at legal drinking age and 'need to step aside to allow a new generation to move up'. Bitch please. Yes, our bodies change as we get older and don't always do things the way we always might like... or as easily. Judging by the evidence of so many skaters having both 'amateur' and professional careers that extended well past their teens and twenties and all of the incredibly talented adult skaters out there, is there any reasonable excuse for the belief that people should hang up their skates at twenty one because 'the clock is ticking'? It's really a quite delusional mentality."

Those brave souls who take up skating at a later age or persist on in competition despite the illogical chirping of 'they're taking someone else's spot' are shining examples that nail home this message that the masses in figure skating can't seem to get their pretty little heads around. Just as audiences cheered on The Old Smoothies, we should be cheering on all skaters - regardless of their age - who love skating enough to soldier and Salchow on. Life's simply too short not to do what you love. I should know. I am doing it right now as I write this.

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, 13 February 2016

The Snow Queen: A Skating Ballet


"Often work that draws critical vitriol ends up being really seminal." - Dean DeFino

Released for television on December 10, 1982, "The Snow Queen: A Skating Ballet" featured an all star cast of skating greats - 1976 Olympic Gold Medallists John Curry and Dorothy Hamill, 1976 Olympic Bronze Medallist Toller Cranston, 1972 Olympic Bronze Medallist Janet Lynn, U.S. Champion JoJo Starbuck, Canadian Champion Sandra Bezic and Canadian Silver Medallists Janet and Mark Hominuke among them - but was (despite some really lovely skating) actually panned by critics.


The show actually appeared to be doomed from the get go. Salem Alaton's 1982 article "A snow queen that kept melting away" from The Globe And Mail explained that "the troubled effort to bring forth the Christmas season show began when Bernice Olenick, a TV producer from Boston, contacted gold medallist skater John Curry about doing a Yuletide Nutcracker Suite on ice. (Olenick was representing WGBH in Boston for the Public Broadcasting Service.) Curry was delighted. But when financing had been arranged, it developed that another station was producing a Nutcracker for Christmas. Then it turned out that Boston didn't have a rink which could be rented for a month. And about that time, one of the financial backers quit. At this point, several things happened: Olenick contacted the CBC. Curry said never mind the Nutcracker: he had always wanted to do a Hans Christian Andersen children's fantasy called The Snow Queen. So the CBC, Olenick and the rest got together, took over the Commander Park arena in the Agincourt district of Metro Toronto in balmy September, and started filming a very colourful co-production." In the end, the show was a go but the filming time was reduced to a week. It was ultimately broadcast twice on PBS in December 1982 and then slightly altered for broadcast on CBC between Christmas and New Year's Eve of the same year."


The adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story to ice was choreographed by Curry and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and starred Curry and Lynn as unlucky lovers Eric and Gerda. Bezic played The Snow Queen and Cranston, Hamill and Starbuck each portrayed different characters (a flower spirit, robber and gypsy) that Gerda meets on her way to the Queen's ice palace where Eric was whisked away in a trance to be slowly frozen.

It's hard to conceive critics giving the thumbs down to a production with such an incredible cast, but they did. Alaton, who said, "The Snow Queen didn't seem to have a snowball's chance of survival - the program just kept melting away", wasn't the only critic who wasn't sold on the choreography of this all star production. In his December 25, 1982 article "Snow queen an ice cream sandwich", Rick Groen wrote that the production was "alternately dispiriting and exhilarating, like sandwiching caviar between slices of processed bread. In fact, it's two very different shows defiantly rolled up into one. The opening and closing scenes (the bread) display the two lovers (a dashing Curry and an elfin Janet Lynn) frolicking at a winter fair with the proverbial chorus of happy rustics. Here, with a cramped ice surface plopped in the middle of a conventional stage set, the picture is cluttered and the skaters are confined. Inevitably, the choreography is reduced to a relatively slow and consistently repeated series of dull spins, mundane lifts and unexacting jumps. Despite the best efforts of director John Thomson, we're left with the worst of both worlds - neither the intricacy of dance nor the speed, the power, the sheer surge of skating. Happily, the middle acts are rescued by the most unlikely of heroes - none other than television itself. Using an 'ultramat' technique, Thomson unleashes a dazzling sequence of special effects - Dorothy Hamill, the 'flower spirit' gliding within a pink fold of delicate petals, then twirling off into the fairy tale ether; Cranston himself, in a cameo turn, flamboyantly arched beneath the menacing stalactites of a frigid cavern; a dizzying kaleidoscope of skaters superimposed upon skaters, circling each other with the concentric precision of atoms in a crystal. Dazzled and charmed and excited, we suddenly get transported for the finale back to that prosaic set, which beckons with all the allure of a postage-stamp rink in a Don Mills backyard. By then, however, The Snow Queen has made its elegant point. And so, ironically, has television, the real marriage broker in this wedding of athletics and art. In the casting surprise of the year, a flawed medium takes on the role of aesthetic purist. And plays the part with remarkable distinction."


Despite those less than stellar reviews from newspaper critics, the show received a much more cheery reception from more knowledgeable skating audiences who appreciated the superb quality of the skating itself. In an interview backstage during production, Curry opined about the creative process by saying that "the reason I did the Olympics was in order to be able to do things like this afterward. To me, the Olympics was having to prove myself, getting my diploma, before people would trust me to do the kind of work I like. You can talk forever about what skating is, whether it's a sport or an art. Skating is very much its own thing. What I've always tried to do is to bring to skating a lot of talents that wouldn't ordinarily focus on it, such as designers, musicians, choreographers... Working in a group restores my love of skating." Janet Lynn, too, echoed Curry's sentiments about developing as a professional skater: "I never liked the attitude that one has to develop to do well in competition. I think that having other interests does help, gives you dimension in being able to skate."


My personal opinion? If you want to talk eighties television skating specials, for me personally Toller Cranston's special "Strawberry Ice" will always be tops, but I think John Curry was actually right on the money with the craftsmanship of this particular production. As they say, everyone's entitled to their own opinion... and in mine, John Curry's vision and execution of skating as high art was as good as it gets.

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, 11 February 2016

Tonight We're Gonna Party Like It's 1909


Here's my guess. You're probably reading the title of this blog going "Gymkhanas? What in the hell is a gymkhana?" It's actually an Indian word that denotes "a place where skill based contests are held". In the Victorian and Georgian eras in Switzerland, the word 'gymkhana' was used to describe incredibly popular outdoor winter social festivals with games, food, skating contests... basically like a flea market with sports. However, as is often the case when the well-to-do get together in throngs, these affairs were often underscored with ulterior motives that went far beyond social networking.

At that point in skating history, The Continental Style reigned supreme in Europe. As many of skating's elite (including practitioners of the competiing English Style) headed to Switzerland to practice on beautiful outdoor ice, tensions were often high. Harry Stone's wonderful book "Ski Joy: The Story Of Winter Sports" sets the stage for the fetes and gymkhanas in Switzerland of the era and talks of how skaters of two different styles getting together brought politics into play: "The National Skating Association experienced its moment of truth in St. Moritz. They had spent years dithering over admitting the Continentals as a special section of the Club. But they had a traitor among them: In 1907 Edgar Syers stole a despicable march by announcing from London that he had formed a British club for the Continental stylists. The English school were furious. Not only had they been outmanoeuvred but Syers was not even a good skater. It was widely recognized that it was his wife, Madge, who carried him through all the pair championships they had won. With Princes as his base, the uppity Edgar Syers had acquired an almost unassailable position for his new fangled association. He had successfully inveigled the prestigious sporting Earl of Lytton into accepting the presidency. To add insult to injury, Syers had pre-empted the National Association and had already lodged an application for international status. Within two years the National Skating Association had planned a terrible revenge. After protracted negotiations, Edgar Syers was coerced into agreeing to an amalgamation. A meeting to forge the link was held at the Kulm Hotel. There the English school made sure of their triumph. While passing a motion congratulating the secretary E.E. Mavrogordato for the 'care and trouble he had taken,' no mention was made of Edgar Syers. As a final indignity, he was not even voted onto the committee." With this politically charged rivalry as a backdrop, work on developing rinks and clubs in Switzerland and governance of skating was 'set aside' for a series of weekly grand parties.

Fetes were daytime affairs with a log fire burning, cake served and exhibitions of free skating given in both the English and Continental styles. Relaxed competitions in school figures for the more proficient skaters in attendance were contested. In contrast, gymkhanas were much more lavish afternoon or dusk affairs. Stone's book explains that "gymkhanas were altogether more frivolous with everyone encouraged to join in. They were usually organized by one or two of the local sporting clubs who used the entrance fee as a way of raising funds. One of the hotel bands would be hired for the occasion, Chinese lanterns were hung down the centre and on reaching the bottom, would split on either side. On reaching the top again, each would be joined by another skater so that the next time there would be four. They would keep doubling up until there was a massive column filling the entire rink. After a day or so of many diverse exertions, everyone would forgather for tea, or more probably, hot chocolate. In those hotels created for mountaineers there was little ceremony. A president at The Bear in Grindelwald tells how 'tea was served out of two urns with large baskets, chained to table legs to prevent theft, and filled with cakes. One just helped oneself to tea and as many cakes as one wanted and sat down wherever there was room. One one lady, whose husband was the uncrowned king of the British skating, was allowed a tablecloth and a teapot... At this time 'apres ski' - and even the American cocktail - were still unknown. Guests had to find their own amusement during the dull dusk interval between tea and dinner. The serious skaters at The Bear would congregate in the entrance hall, passing around a dirty and increasingly damp towel for cleaning the blades prior to leaving their boots overnight on one of the big heaters. Most hotels had a billiard room where the men would repair. The ladies would knit or read in the lounge while the band played selections from the light classics."

The use of music in these skating parties would surely have been met with disdain by the English skaters in Switzerland, who only a few years previous had been outraged at the Bear Hotel in Switzerland when Continental skaters had asked for a band to be hired to accompany their skating and had been effectively shut down by the English Style skaters. The Continental Style skaters decided to hire their OWN band then and the English Style skaters were forced to go along with it, much as they would have been at the gymkhanas. With the interpretation of music playing such an integral role in skating over the decades to come, it seems hard to fathom that skaters of a time not really so long ago would have had such rivalry over music being played at a skating rink. Politics aside. The 'good old fashioned fun' of these parties where competitors let their hair down and set aside their differences can offer the skating community a lesson even today. We don't always have to agree but if we work together and have a little fun, progress can and will continue to be made. Like the tables at The Grindelwald Skating Club's gymkhanas, there is room for everyone.

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, 9 February 2016

Downton Abbey On Ice: The Sensational Stories Of Skating Servants


"Skating-floors will, of course, be laid down in the houses of all the affluent, and invites will be issued from Portland-place and Park-lane... It will be the privilege of a gentleman to solicit the hand of a lady for the next figure-of-eight, to beseech her to take part with him in the date of the year, or to join him in a true-lover's knot. Servants will skate in and out with real ice." - excerpt from "The Artificial Floor For Skating" by George Cruikshank (1841)

At the time, many would have taken George Cruikshank's 1841 essay "The Artificial Floor For Skating" - which imagined servants skating around a parlour with an ice floor as light comedy. After all, most writings about skating during the Victorian era spoke only of the well-to-do. Skating may originally have been an activity for the classes instead of the masses, but hidden in plain sight are the stories of how servants took to the ice with the same enthusiasm as their masters.


In the nineteenth century in Holland, it was thought of as nothing to see milk-maids skating to market with pails balanced on their heads and porters racing down frozen rivers and canals with their loads but in many other parts of Europe, domestic servants would have been confined to the shorelines, steering carriages and sleds carrying their masters and tying their skates. With little freedom or time for recreation, one of the few times many servants to the wealthy would have had the luxury of taking to the ice would have been when they were watching over children... and keeping them away from undesirables. One mother's account from The New York Daily Tribune on Friday, December 31, 1909 noted that "the cautious mother does not let her child go skating without a bodyguard of servants" for fear of "the children of the rich [meeting] the children of the tenements".

'Lucky' servants took on more coveted roles specific to skating. Some rinks employed servants for the express purpose of assisting the well-to-do in putting on their skates while others - recall "The Skating Waiters Of St. Moritz" - were hired to serve skaters refreshments. In the late forties, the affluent Mrs. John Labatt (a member of the London Skating Club in Ontario) was known to have her servants serve drinks to the adult skaters. We can even recall from the December 2014 Skate Guard blog "Frozen Tennis Courts In The Himalayas: Skating History In India" how rickshaw and carriage builder Jack Blessington had his Indian servants assist in flooding tennis courts in Shimla for skating by spraying them with water.

More generous masters were known for encouraging their servants to take to the ice. Nicholas Blundell, the Lord of the Manor of Little Crosby in Merseyside, England, wrote in his eighteenth century diaries of taking his servants ice skating and Lord Halifax of Hickleton allowed his servants to skate on a South Yorkshire pond, recalling "beginners being impelled... on a wooden chair from the kitchen by the excellent Smith who had begun life 50 years earlier as my mother's pony boy and had become butler." Perhaps most amusing are accounts of masters actually REQUIRING the help to entertain them with their skating. The eccentric Henry Pelham Archibald Douglas Pelham-Clinton, 7th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme reportedly spent two million pounds constructing tunnels, underground chambers, a large ballroom, chapel, conservatories and skating rinks at Welbeck Abbey. Skating ran in the Duke's family - he was a descendant of William Grant, the subject of Gilbert Stuart's famous painting "The Skater" - but the only times the skating rinks were used were when he demanded that his chamber maids and stable boys skate for his amusement. Similarly, E.S. Turner's book "What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem" recalled how the Duke of Portland installed a skating rink on his grounds "on which his servants were expected to disport. According to a family memoir, if he came across a maid sweeping a corridor he ordered her out to skate, whether she had any desire to do so or not."

For other masters, the popularity of skating posed a major dilemma. There are many accounts from the turn of the century of maids refusing to accept positions unless they were given two or three nights off a week to go skating. These 'demands' became so widespread that "Punch" Magazine even depicted a maid refusing a job because there was no skating rink nearby in one of its 'Servantgalism' cartoons. Pardon the pun, but the icing on cake? In the March 20, 1908 edition of The Port Augusta Dispatch, one uppity Australian lady of the house wrote in to complain about her help thusly: "The young person who can lay claim to the simplest rudimentary knowledge of domestic affairs is scarce indeed. I have tried a long series of town 'ladies' who kindly consented to board with me and do a little housework at odd times, but their abilities if they had any were all in the social line. In fact 'going out' appeared to be their forte. One was an accomplished skater. While the Glaciarium was open, not a single night did she miss, and when fancy dress carnivals were on (and they seemed to occur with unceasing regularity once a week) she was lost to the public during the preceding day, her whole attention being devoted to the fancy toilette. It is satisfactory to know, that one's cook has secured several prizes as a fancy skater, but one could wish that her ability had been more in her hands and less in her feet."

Of all these stories of servants skating, perhaps the most charming is an anecdote from the March 3, 1955 edition of The Milwaukee Chronicle, which noted that "the known history of floor waxing starts with the French whose palace parquet surfaces gleamed with wax polished by servants who skated across the floors with rags tied to their feet." There you have it! If you don't think history can teach you anything, you are wrong. Take a lesson from old Jeeves - or Jacques - and get to cracking on those floors. I may be mistaken, but I believe you get extra points for Swiffering up extra stains in the second half of your program.

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, 6 February 2016

The Most Hated Skating Judge In Vienna

When Jane Vaughn won her two U.S. titles in 1941 and 1942, bombs were dropping overseas. Genocide and unspeakable horrors were taking place in Nazi concentration camps. When she retired from the sport after winning her second title, she married then First Lieutenant Henry Sullivan of the Air Army Corps Henry Sullivan (who went on to be a Commandant and the head of the Air Force Academy) and settled in Omaha, Nebraska where she remained active in the sport writing for "Skating" magazine and serving as an international judge at countless events.

It was at one of these international competitions, the 1967 World Championships in Vienna, Austria, that she made international headlines by outraging the Viennese audience and European skating community with her judging decisions.The March 2, 1967 issue of the Victoria Advocate gives us the gist of what went down in Vienna that year: "Mrs. Jane Sullivan of Omaha, Neb., was accused by Austrian and West German officials of erratic judging in the men's and pairs competitions. As the result of the complaints, she faces possible suspension by the International Skating Union. The American judge caused a furor in the Austrian press when she awarded minimum marks to Austrian title defender Emmerich Danzer in the men's compulsory figures Tuesday. One newspaper screamed 'scandalous judging - American general's wife dislikes Danzer' after Mrs. Sullivan put the local hero into 10th place. Her fellow judges placed him between first and third. Then she incurred the wrath of the West Germans by placing their favorite pairs skaters, Margot Glockshuber and Wolfgang Dannem, seventh in the [short program]. The other judges put the Germans in second place behind Russia's Ludmila Belousova [and] Oleg Protopopov, the title holders. What really riled West German coach Erich Zeller was that Mrs. Sullivan gave the highest marks to the American pair, Cynthia and Ronald Kauffmann of Seattle, who completed the [short program] in second position. 'American judges are among the worst in the world,' Zeller said. 'It seems the United States is always sending them to Europe to be nasty to us.' Ernest Labin, Austrian vice-president of the ISU and head judge in the pairs competitions, said Mrs. Sullivan's championship record will be subject to an investigation by the ISU. 'We have had so many complaints about Mrs. Sullivan, we'll probably have to take action against her. I expect she will be suspended for some time.'" Seeing as no known footage exists of Danzer's figures or the pairs short program in its entirety, we can hardly speculate on whether or not Vaughn Sullivan's marks and ordinals were justified but based on Austria's well documented history of suspect judging, as the old saying goes... "those in glass houses should not throw stones."

As the competition continued, Sullivan became the target of the Viennese audiences. She was loudly booed whenever her name was announced as being one of the nine judges and constantly throughout the competition when she gave her marks. The March 4, 1967 issue of The Day noted that "she had the lowest scores for six of the twenty men skaters, including champion Danzer and runner-up Schwarz. She also gave [Scotty] Allen the lowest marks he received." The fact that it's noted that she gave Allen, a former Olympic Bronze Medallist from the United States with a strong international record, his lowest marks is a pretty poor talking point in any argument of national bias. It's also entirely possible she was just a low marker and that her ordinals were for the most part consistent with the rest of the panel. She could have been judging what she saw that day - as much judges do - and not bowed to bloc judging or other pressures. After all, the judging panel in the men's event that year was comprised of six European judges, Vaughn Sullivan and a judge apiece from Canada and Japan. In the pairs event, she and Canada's Donald Gilchrist were the only non-European judges. Although it's absolutely possible she WAS in the wrong (we weren't there) the evidence given in media accounts leans more in my eyes to the fact that she was most likely calling it as she saw it and not towing the line. John Shoemaker, then USFSA President, defended Sullivan in Vienna in the March 4, 1967 Independent Journal, saying "she has an outstanding record as a thoroughly honest judge. Otherwise she wouldn't be here." Shoemaker deferred the matter to the ISU... and a strange twist of fate actually played a pretty big role in allowing the whole hullabaloo to die down when the head of the Jane Sullivan witch hunt, ISU President Ernest Labin, died suddenly in Vienna that same year. Sullivan would go on to judge at future World and Olympic competitions, including the 1976 Games... in Austria. It looks like the most hated judge in Vienna in 1967 got the last laugh.

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, 4 February 2016

Howdy, Mr. Ice And The Demise Of The Centre Theatre


New York City's Centre Theatre may no longer be standing, but during the forties it enjoyed a decade of popularity as an exclusive venue for live skating shows. It all started in 1940, when maverick ice show producer Arthur M. Wirtz negotiated with G.S. Eyssell, the executive producer of Rockefeller Center and the president of the Radio City Music Hall to convert what was then a stage theatre into an ice theatre. A quarter of a million dollars was spent on the whole transformation and in October 1940, a three hundred thousand dollar production called "It Happens On Ice" kicked off the festivities at the Centre Theatre with a two year stint. Other shows followed: "Stars On Ice", "Hats Off To Ice", "Icetime" and "Icetime Of 1948". Beginning in the summer of 1948, Sonja Henie and Arthur M. Wirtz staged the sixth skating production to take to the Centre Theatre stage, "Howdy, Mr. Ice".

The cast was impressive. U.S. Bronze Medallist and 1948 Olympian Eileen Seigh made her professional debut and popular show skaters Skippy Baxter of Canada and The Bruises (Monte Stott, Sidney Spalding and Geoffe Stevens) of England headlined. Other prominent performers were Jinx Clark (the gun-toting bartender we met in "The Ghost, The Skater And The Shotgun" back in October 2014), Rudy Richards, Harrison Thomson, Paul Castle, Mickee and Paul Preston, juggler 'Trixie' (Martha Escoe La Rue) and ice comedians Buster Price, Jimmie Sisk and Buck Pennington.

Although Freddie Trenkler appeared in earlier shows, by December 6, 1948 (the date of the program I have), he was no longer in the show. Music was performed by Nola Fairbanks, Dick Craig, William Douglas and Fred Martell. "Howdy, Mr. Ice" held both matinee and evening performances and featured choreography by Catherine Littlefield, a former prima ballerina who was also the director of the Philadelphia Ballet Company. Elaborate costumes designed by Billy Livingston and Katherine Kuhn accented a lavish stage set by Bruno Maine. 

The show itself was in two acts and featured elaborate production numbers that ranged from Americana and typical ice show fare (Yankee Doodle Dandies, skating flowers and a Christmas number) to more avant garde pieces. Among the latter were an African safari lion hunt, an artistic piece depicting Mercury and Pandora skated by Baxter and Clark and an interpretive solo skated by Seigh called "Golden Eagle". The show's second act opened with a lavish production of "Sleeping Beauty" and the grand finale - "The World's Greatest Show" - was a circus theme with skaters dressed as clowns, elephants, leopards, panthers, giants, horses and acrobats. A few things made "Howdy, Mr. Ice" particularly unique compared to other ice shows of its era. It included aerial work from Jinx Clark (which has only really become largely popular on ice in recent years) and Skippy Baxter was attempting triple jumps in the show before Dick Button landed the first in competition in 1952.

Reviews were mostly favourable. The Spokane Daily Chronicle called the show "delightful" and "the best in its series" and The Ottawa Citizen called it "proficient and well-staged". However, by the late forties, competition was fierce in the entertainment history in New York City. Ice shows were in direct competition with new musical acts and stage plays and many people chose to spend what dispensable income they had on tickets to new musicals that debuted in 1949 like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "South Pacific" instead. As seats filled on Broadway, residents of The Big Apple bid adieu to Mr. Ice. In no time flat, the seats were empty and The Centre Theatre lost its lease in the spring of 1950. The venue briefly used as an NBC television studio before its demolition in 1954 and it would be decades before The Ice Theatre Of New York would fill the void left by the closure of this spectacular venue.  

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, 2 February 2016

The Marvel From Milan: The Anna Galmarini Story


Born in the height of World War II on October 15, 1942, Anna Galmarini grew up in Milan, Italy. The four foot ten, ninety five pound dynamo with dark hair and bright green eyes started skating  at the age of ten at the Sport Palace in downtown Milan during school gym periods because she hated tennis. In an interview in the April 1, 1971 issue of the Kingsport Post, she explained, "my older brother was interested in ice skating. I thought it looked like fun." She also showed an interest in hockey, but her parents made it clear, "you may skate, but no ice hockey." Figure skating it was. She started without a coach at the beginning, then began to take lessons twice a month. By age thirteen, she was Italian junior champion and training eight hours a day. At the age of fourteen, she went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany to study with the best European coaches.  In 1957, representing del Circolo Pattinatori Artistico di Milano, she won her first of four consecutive Italian senior women's titles. However, when she entered her first international competition, the 1957 European Championships in Vienna, Italian silver medallist Carla Tichatschek placed sixteenth to her nineteenth. This forgettable debut only prompted Galmarini to train even harder.

When she returned to the European Championships the following year, her progress was so remarkable that she moved all the way up to tenth place in a field of twenty two. However, at the World Championships that year in Paris, she floundered and finished a disappointing twenty first... again behind Tichatschek. A big part of the reason she struggled was her inexperience in skating world class school figures. The Milwaukee Sentinel on January 11, 1968 recalled that "she scored erratically in her earliest European and World Championships, but her free skating was so poetic that she gradually crept up on the prima ballerinas of the frozen stage - Carol Heiss, Sjoujke Dijkstra and the late Laurence Owen. She was a tone poem on the ice." The following season, the judges finally rewarded her with an eleventh place finish at the European Championships and a ninth place finish at World Championships. Though not exactly a medal threat heading into the Olympic season, her strength in free skating - particularly on the second mark - made many competitors nervous.

Anna Galmarini's strength as a free skater wasn't the only thing that made her competitors take notice. Keeping in mind that this was during Carol Heiss' era where 'young ladies' were expected more than ever to uphold a 'perfect ice princess' image, she didn't quite fit the mould. While training in West Germany, she introduced Olympic Silver Medallist Marika Kilius to smoking cigarettes. She also found her name in the West German newspapers and courts. The February 24, 1960 issue of "Der Spiegel" purported that after a twenty year old Berliner, Manfred Pfaff, had a liason with seventeen year old Galmarini, he was beaten by Anna's father and her coach Erich Zeller. Pfaff filed a criminal complaint against Zeller, saying he'd beat Galmarini during the incident as well. Despite the press attention, 1960 was her most successful year as a competitor. After winning her fourth Italian title, she placed in the top ten at the European Championships, Olympics and World Championships. So impressive was her free skating that year in Squaw Valley that on February 21, 1960 the Italian newspaper La Stampa-Domenica called her style "very whimsical and elegant" and "quite different from what they are accustomed to [in] Europe."


Immediately after the 1960 World Championships in Vancouver, Galmarini started touring with Holiday On Ice in Europe. During her six year stint with the company in Europe, she often played second fiddle to skaters like Alain Giletti and Sjoukje Dijkstra but after winning the 1965 World Professional Figure Skating Championships at Wembley, people really started finally recognizing her star potential. She joined Holiday On Ice's U.S. tour in 1966 and in America found far more recognition and respect touring alongside skaters like Ronnie Robertson, Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman, ice comic Jimmy Peacock and World Professional Champions Marianne Althamer and Karl-Heinz Kramer. After a brief return to the European tour, where she again took second billing - this time to Olympic Bronze Medallist Hana Mašková - she returned to the America for good as a featured soloist on Holiday On Ice. On the tour, she also skated pairs with Gary Visconti; one of her co-stars was Marei Langenbein, the mother of future British Champion Charlene von Saher.


Tiring of being shipped back and forth across the ocean, Galmarini left Holiday On Ice and joined Ice Capades, skating for several years in the seventies alongside skaters like Karen Magnussen, Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley, Tommy Litz, Linda Villela, Billy Chapel, Freddie Trenkler, Sashi Kuchiki and Melissa Militano and Johnny Johns. It was while she was with the Ice Capades that she met her husband Jules Mayeur, a technician with the show. They travelled together while on tour, living the 'gypsy life' in a thirty one foot motor home.


Not only did Galmarini live a nomadic 'gypsy life' while on tour, she portrayed a gypsy princess on the ice as well. Her programs were always described as very interpretive. She skated as a gypsy princess, a clown and even a cat, skating to Les Baxter's "Jungalero" on the 1968 Holiday On Ice tour. In the September 18, 1968 issue of The Norwalk Hour she mused, "I cannot just skate. I must skate like a cat - feel like a cat, become a cat. You must think your part. Ballet training helps tremendously in this way." After her own performing career ended, she actually worked as a skating coach for the Ice Capades when her husband was promoted to technical director in the early eighties.

In reading many interviews with Galmarini, it became absolutely apparent that she was a remarkably fascinating woman. She spoke English, Italian, French, German and Spanish and dreamed of becoming an interpreter and building a forty foot sail boat and just sailing around the world. She expounded upon the virtues of dance training and the joys of getting involved in the sport. Her biggest passion though? Cooking. In the August 31, 1975 issue of The San Antonio Express, she explained, "I cook everything from lasagna to beef stroganoff to chow mein and sometimes I combine the entrees. It's my own concoction of Chinese-Italian cooking." In an article in The Miami News on March 27, 1969, she even shared her recipe for Veal Cutlets Milanese, which I'm including below.


Although she sadly passed away in 1997 at the age of fifty four, there's no denying that Anna Galmarini's story is unique and worthy of appreciation. From her late start and incredibly quick rise in the standings as an amateur skater to the 'bad girl' stories to touring on two continents, her love for cooking and interpretive style, she was clearly one cool cat both on and off the ice. Although the photos and videos may be grainy, her exuberance jumps out at you and becomes as crystal clear as a freshly resurfaced sheet of ice.

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