The Epic Thaells
The children of Isaac James and Sarah (Park) Thaell, Clifford Ernest Thaell and Verona 'Rona' Thaell were born December 4, 1910 and June 28, 1912 in Salford and Manchester, England. Their father was a master tailor. As youngsters, both Rona and Cliff both learned to skate at the Manchester Ice Palace but they didn't actually team up as a pair until their late teens.
While holidaying in Hawaii following the success of "Swiss Chalet", they put on a show in Honolulu with Sidney Froebel. A later show program noted, "They skated in Honolulu when the temperature was well over the 100 degree mark and regaled themselves by eating pineapple frozen into their portable artificial rink for decorative purposes."
Heading to North America, they appeared in Sonja Henie's revue at Madison Square Garden and Wirtz's Arthur M. Wirtz's All Star European Revue "Hello America!". On May 27, 1940 in Miami, Florida, Rona married John Caruana, who managed the S.S. Brighton and was the European director of Wirtz's productions. The couple's witness was none other than ice show star Laverne Bush.
During World War II, Rona and Cliff skated in Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Wirtz's "It Happens On Ice" and "Stars On Ice" shows at the Center Theater on Broadway. They also taught skating at the Glencoe Club in Calgary.
After the war, Rona returned to England and taught at Earl's Court in London. Interviewed in the "Sydney Morning Herald" on March 12, 1949, she recalled, "We had 70 to 80 children in our group classes at Earl's Court. They were divided into four groups of 20 each, and we took them through all stages of skating. We used to give them lessons of an hour, and during the last half hour would get the whole lot together on the ice and instruct them through a microphone." Cliff became a respected coach in America, teaching in Lake Placid, at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society and operating the Cliff Thaell Ice Skating Schools in a studio rinks in Philadelphia and Delaware.
Cliff's wife Edwina Blades
Rona moved to Australia in 1948, when her husband took a job as manager of the Sydney Glaciarium. She served as the club's head pro until the rink closed in 1955. Cliff married South African skater Edwina Blades, whom he toured with in Wirtz's revue. They lived in Blades, England when he was quoted in piece on dance blades in the November-December 1989 issue of "Professional Skater Magazine". Cliff expressed his confusion over the word 'blades' being used in North America. In England, the word 'blade' referred to a knife, razor or lawn mower blade, not a skate. In North America, skaters referred to skates as the boot and blade combined. In Great Britain, skaters referred to a skate and boot separately.
Rona in the middle. Photo courtesy Australian Professional Skaters' Association.
Cliff later returned to the United States, living in Lake Placid and later, Collier, Florida. He passed away December 15, 1996 at the age of eighty six. Rona remained in Australia and coached many Australian Champions. In 2012, she passed away at the age of one hundred. Prior to her death, she was still driving her car and going to aqua aerobics classes three times a week. Though this remarkable duo may never have won an Olympic or World medal, their contributions to the world of professional skating remain nothing short of epic.
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