The Thread Of Ariane


Born in Basel, Switzerland in 1924, Ariane LeVaillant was billed in the January 1939 issue of "LIFE" magazine as a teenage skating sensation from Switzerland whose "pretty face and pretty legs and natural grace may land her in the movies before many years".

Photo courtesy City Of Vancouver Archives

After competing in several junior competitions in Switzerland with little success, Ariane made a trip to the United States in 1937 in hopes of establishing a career skating in shows. She signed with an agent in New York named Harry Hirsch, who put out an advertisement in "Skating" magazine aiming to solicit work for her on the club carnival circuit. This first trip didn't solicit many takers, and so she returned to Switzerland... and for a time remained an amateur. Things didn't go well though. In her final competition in 1939, the St. Moritz Club, she placed dead last behind skaters from Switzerland, Great Britain and Czechoslovakia.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In late March of 1941, Ariane sailed from Newport, England to America with her fifty year old mother Martha aboard the cargo ship S.S. Lochmonar. The ship's manifest of 'alien passengers' offers two important clues about the motivation behind Ariane and Martha's trip. The eleven 'alien passengers' all shared two things in common: they were being admitted to the U.S. as 'quota immigrants for permanent residence' and their 'race or people' were all listed as Hebrew.


In January 1942, Ariane performed at a show in Boston, Massachusetts. Two months later, she was advocating for "the staging off a national open skating tournament" in America. In the March 5, 1942 edition of "The Herald Statesman", she stated her belief "that if the country's professionals and amateurs were to compete in one gigantic tournament, the event would be a huge success." The transplanted Swiss skating sensation's dream of competing in a pro-am competition didn't happen, nor did she land herself in the movies like Sonja Henie or Belita as "LIFE" Magazine had predicted or as Harry Hirsch had hoped. Instead, she joined the cast of Holiday On Ice for a time.


Ariane's one big claim to fame as a skater in North America was a starring role in a very obscure skating tour that took the province of Quebec by storm in the autumn of 1945. It was produced by one Monsieur Chalfont of Grand-Mère and called "New York Ice Fantasy". The tour opened in Shawinigan on October 27, 1945. In addition to solo performances, Ariane skated duets with Bruce Clark of Omaha, Nebraska, who had toured with Sonja Henie's show for five years. Another of the show's headliners was a sixteen year old named Karen Knaak. The show had a little of everything. In one number called "Musical Moments On Ice", Phil Bennett and Robert Mitchell played the piano on a sled pulled by members of the chorus. Phil Hiser skated pairs with Knaak and did double duty in a drag skating number as a washerwoman named Queenie. A New York youngster named Tony Le Mac, a stilt skater from Zürich named George von Birgelen and American speed skating champion Bobby McLean rounded out the cast. Many of the skaters in the show were direct from Sonja Henie's show, which had ended its run in New York City right before Chalfont's tour started.

Ariane Levaillant and Bruce Clark. Photo courtesy of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Ariane was quite popular with Quebec audiences, however a Sonja or Belita she was not. Little is known about her life after skating aside from the fact she settled in New York City.  She may not have starred in pictures but by coming to America, she found something far more important than any film role: safety and freedom.

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