The Best Of 2021: A Skate Guard New Year's Spectacular

2021 has been yet another challenging year but one thing we can be thankful for is the presence of figure skating in our lives. Many of us haven't been in an ice rink for some time... but thanks to the incredible efforts of organizers around the world, we've been able to cheer on our favourite figure skaters from the safety and comfort of our homes.

As we applaud the great figure skating stars of the present and future, we have been perhaps more appreciative than ever of the sport's rich history. Many beloved members of the community have passed away this year, among them Olympic and World Medallists, respected coaches and professional stars. Their deaths all serve as a sad reminder that the pioneers of the sport won't be around forever. 

In case you may have missed them, here's a little countdown of 10.0 of the most compelling stories shared on Skate Guard this year. A Happy New Year to you and here's to more fascinating figure skating history in 2022! 

10. THE QUALIFYING ROUND QUAGMIRE

In May, we looked back at the complicated history of qualifying rounds being used to cut down on the number of entries at ISU Championships. The story behind 'keeping things short and sweet' was anything but!

9. FRIDA SEGERDAHL-NORDSTRÖM: AN UNLIKELY SWEDISH FIGURE SKATING PIONEER

Frida Segerdahl-Nordström is best known for being a pioneer in the world of hunting, but in the nineteenth century she was the first woman in Sweden to skate in front of an audience... with 'The Great American Skating King' Jackson Haines. We explored her fascinating story on Skate Guard in March.

8. IS ONE THE LONELIEST NUMBER? COLD HARD FACTS ABOUT SKATING FIRST

It took some serious digging through old archives to put together this particular piece in September! Is there any basis to the old skating superstition that skating first is unlucky? Or is the truth a little more complex than lore?

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

7. AN AMERICAN IN KYOTO: THE JACK B. JOST STORY

Remember that time an American won the Japanese men's figure skating title? This August, we took a deep dive into Jack B. Jost's extraordinary life story.

Arnold, Hans and Jacques Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

6. THE HALF-BROTHERS GERSCHWILER

Arnold and Jacques Gerschwiler are both members of the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame - and with very good reason! Between them, they taught dozens upon dozens of the world's best skaters of the twentieth century. In June, we took a close-up look at both of their life stories as well as some rare family photographs from Arnold's daughter Stella's private collections.

5. AIRBORNE: A TIMELINE OF CANADIAN JUMPING HISTORY

Who doesn't love a good jump? Here in Canada, we appreciate a good triple Axel as much as the next person. Back in March, we took a little journey through the history of Canadian figure skating and highlighted important Canadian milestones achieved in the air. P.S. - I like to call this one Meagan Duhamel's Greatest Hits. 

Photo courtesy Akbar Vanterpool

4. AXELS AT THE APOLLO THEATER: THE JOSEPH VANTERPOOL STORY

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Akbar Vanterpool about his father's incredible story. As one of the first men of colour to make a name for himself in the figure skating world, Joseph Vanterpool appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and skated at the historic Apollo Theater. If you haven't read up on him in this blog from March, you need to get on that.

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

3. IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Behind every great champion in the sport are incredible coaches. In February, we put the spotlight on the talented men and women who had a hand in the success stories of figure skating's highest achievers.


2. THE HARLEM-ON-ICE TOUR

During Black History Month in February, I had the privilege of highlighting the story a barrier-breaking figure skating tour in the forties featuring an all-African American cast. 


1. THE ALMANAC OF PROFESSIONAL FIGURE SKATING COMPETITIONS

Skate Guard's fourth full-length feature, released this May, explores the long and storied history of professional figure skating competitions, from the Victorian era to modern day. Through results, interesting historical tidbits, photographs and videos, this feature challenges the modern perception that professional competitions were only a thing of the nineties.

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

Impossible Blogs Of 2021


History is full of fascinating untold stories. Over the last twelve months, I've tried to unravel many of them as best as I could. However, for every blog you end up seeing on Skate Guard, there's usually another one that never made it off the 'cutting room floor', so to speak. Today, we'll take a look at five stories from skating history that I wasn't able to fully delve into for a variety of reasons. The stories may be incomplete, but I think you'll agree that they are very interesting nonetheless!

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Throughout the twentieth century, there were numerous instances of Asian skaters showing up at international competitions with programs that weren't the required length. Others misunderstood the required elements in a short program or the steps in a compulsory dance. It's really no wonder either - as written materials from the ISU weren't written in the languages these skaters spoke. Not understanding which death spiral you were supposed to perform is one thing... but not even being eligible to compete is another entirely! The May 1967 issue of "Skating" magazine noted, "Chang Om Ok, petite champion of South Korea, journeyed all the way to Vienna, Austria only to find that she couldn't represent her country at Worlds. An ISU regulation, unfamiliar to the South Koreans, states that a competitor must be twelve years old. Chang Om Ok is ten! But her trip was not in vain. She appeared as one of the skaters at the exhibition following the event." I would have loved to have delved more into young Chang Om Ok's story... but it proved to be an absolute dead end.

WE WANT YOU, WE WANT YOU, WE WANT YOU AS A NEW RECRUIT



From propaganda posters to visits to elementary schools, the American military has employed numerous strategies to recruit new members. One of the most creative - and little known - was a 1959 campaign in New York City that used figure skating to draw in recruits.

In August of 1959, the United States Army set up a portable ice rink next to its recruiting station in Times Square, New York. Five skaters from the Ice Capades, who were performing in nearby Atlantic City, volunteered their time to perform two ten minute shows a day for a week for passersby as part of a recruiting campaign called Operation Hometown.

The campaign caused quite a raucous. Hundreds stopped what they were doing to watch the novel sight of figure skaters performing on a busy street in the middle of summer. Motorists stopped their cars in the middle of lunchtime traffic and one distracted taxi driver even rear-ended a Broadway bus. After the skaters finished each show, First Lieutenant Norman M. Merrill delivered a speech about Operation Hometown's mission to enlist men in the Army Air Defense Command and train them to repair, maintain and operate missiles at Fort Totten. Men who signed up were guaranteed that they'd be trained in new York and were sworn into the Army at a special ceremony at City Hall on August 28, 1959. Some of the recruits from Operation Hometown ultimately ended up going overseas to serve in the Vietnam War.

Why didn't this story warrant a blog of its own? How five skaters from the Ice Capades ended up performing split jumps and Salchows to recruit soldiers is anyone's guess and information on this Operation Hometown campaign isn't available in the National Security Archive.

SONJA BLACKMAN


This snippet, which uses a term that is very offensive today but was common at the time, appeared in "Skating" magazine in 1965. I was instantly intrigued. The same first name as Sonja Henie, from Jamaica, training in Switzerland and a pioneering skater of colour... There definitely had to be a story there. Without a doubt there is, but it's not one I was able to come up with. British and Swiss newspaper articles from the sixties don't mention a Sonja, Sonia or Sonya Blackman and a thorough combing of a big stack of old British skating magazines unfortunately didn't turn up a single mention.  Raymond Wilson remembered that she was really friendly and might have had lessons with Michael Abbott, but unfortunately that was about all I could come up with.

THE RINK MANAGER WITH STICKY FINGERS

It's pretty rare I make an exception and 'allow' roller skating on the blog... but I started researching this one thinking it was about an ice rink and said "who cares?" because the story was just too juicy!

From 1882 to 1884, twenty-eight year old Thomas R. Ackrill, Jr. served as manager of the Roller Skating Rink on Dwight Street in New Haven, Connecticut. Under his management, business boomed, with over thousands of paying customers coming through the rink's doors each year and carnivals and special guest performers attracting large audiences as well.


Thomas, an emigrant from England, was considered a well-connected, popular and promising young man and was a member of New Haven's First Baptist Church. However, when he married a young woman several years his junior, her parents were staunchly opposed to their union and the marriage was kept quiet for some months afterward.

Thomas packed his bags and disappeared in late January of 1884, leaving his wife and child behind. One thousand dollars went missing as well. The dough belonged to the Roller Skating Rink's proprietor H.H. Bigelow. The January 25, 1884 issue of the "New York Times" noted, "It was his custom to forward each Saturday to Mr. Bigelow, who resides in Worcester, a statement of the receipts and expenses of the rink for the week, with a draft for the amount of the net income. Last Saturday he drew from the bank the entire sum to the credit of the establishment and failed to send either draft or statement to Mr. Bigelow. Sunday he left his wife, saying he was going to New York, but would return the following day. At a way station he telegraphed her to go with her little child to her parents and remain until she heard from him again. Since then nothing has been learned as to his whereabouts. Yesterday the discrepancies in his finances were discovered. His friends say that his departure could not have been due to domestic troubles, for he and his wife idolized each other, nor can his flight have been due to the shortage in his accounts, for he had many friends and relatives who would gladly have aided him had he been financially embarrassed. Until quite recently Ackrill was Captain of the Ramblers' Bicycle Club, and spent money freely to make the organization a success. At a recent election, the club elected another Captain, and Ackrill, who felt that his services entitled him to a re-election, took umbrage and resigned. Several other members, who felt that he had not been treated fairly, withdrew from the club. Ackrill's friends say that he took his defeat so much to heart that he has been despondent, and hardly like his usual self. Of late he frequently talked in a way which indicated serious mental trouble. Many think he is suffering from aberration of mind, and that he will return and clear up his record."

In the days following Thomas' disappearance, a highly suspicious Mr. Bigelow travelled from Massachusetts to New Haven to conduct an investigation of his own. He interviewed Thomas' family members and friends and learned that prior to his disappearance, Thomas had been spending too freely and living beyond his meager salary. In April of 1884, Thomas' father-in-law took his landlord to court. This came about because when Thomas' wife followed his instructions and fled to her father's house with their child, she left the rent unpaid. The landlord, Henry M. Gorham, kept the couple's piano. Thomas' father-in-law argued that the piano belonged to his daughter, and could not be held for Thomas' debts.

Here's the hole in this story... and it's a rather big one. At some point, under unknown circumstances, Thomas returned to Connecticut. Newspaper archives don't offer up any clues as to what happened when he returned or how he got himself out of the jam he was in. Unbelievably, in January of 1885, Thomas was named assistant manager of the Roller Skating Rink in Lincoln, Connecticut. That autumn, he another job managing the Qunniac rink. It lasted around a month and then he resigned and got a job at a bakery.

In 1891, he was charged with embezzling $125 from Philando Ferry, his boss at the bakery on Church Street in New Haven. The February 28, 1891 issue of the "Morning Journal And Courier" noted, "The story connected with Thomas R. Ackrill's embezzlement... is another one of those cases in which the wife of some other man is involved. The woman is Mrs. Charles P. Thompson, wife of the member of that name of the firm Platt & Thompson of Orange Street. Ackrill has been paying her attentions for a considerable length of time and the husband's suspicions were correspondingly aroused. Private detectives from New York have been busy for some weeks shadowing both Ackrill and Mrs. Thompson. A detective occupied the next room to them at one of the local hotels, and this with other facts coming to light led the wife to take her departure to New York, where she is now. She sent word to Ackrill that she was out of money, and that led to the crime he committed, but which without much doubt he intended to replace. He met Mrs. Thompson in New York and there was apprehended by a detective who was following the party in the husband's interests, but knew nothing of the embezzlement. Ackrill confessed this and was given the opportunity to voluntarily return." Upon his return to New Haven, Thomas was arrested and Mr. Thompson filed for divorce from his wife. Philando Ferry ultimately dropped his case against Thomas after a "harmonious settlement" was made.

Thomas later remarried and got a job as a labourer in a die machine factory. He passed away in 1915, and I suspect the 'whole story' went to the grave with him.

HALA KOSLOFF


The success of Charlotte Oelschlägel's shows at the Hippodrome during The Great War led to an figure skating's explosive popularity in America. Rinks were bustling with activity, women were going gaga over the latest skating fashions and the country's top skaters became legitimate stars... and one of the biggest names of the era was a woman who went by the name Hala Kosloff.


Hala first grew the attention of the press in 1916 when she gave a series of figure skating exhibitions with Carl Waltenberg on an ice rink at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. Not long after, she materialized in New York City, where she gave a series of exhibitions at Iceland and the rink on the roof of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. However, it was a series of bold and balletic skating exhibitions at Thomas Healy's Golden Glades that drew her the plaudits of theatre critics. On November 11, 1917, the "New York Herald" raved, "Hala Kosloff, who is as fresh as the North, a refugee from the bitter tragedies of the war trodden countries, left Warsaw, Russian Poland, and made her fame in Paris. The Palais de Glace, known by the cosmopolitans as the best Parisienne attraction, worshipped the charm and grace of this beautiful and supple mistress of the ice. For two years the fame of Hala Kosloff in Paris made her the favourite. Now she comes to America and surpasses her former station in the Winter Ice Show. Miss Kosloff, who glices out on the ice from the self-opening egg, is a marvel in white in a well rendered travesty on Chanticloer. Her other numbers impel a lasting impression of her acting ability on the ice." In another number, reported "The Sun", she depicted "her majesty the Leghorn, and around her skate a flock of as beautiful chicks as ever wore the down of incubator babyhood." For this number she apparently wore a giant feather headpiece. As late as January 1923, she was performing duets at skating carnivals in Lake Placid with no less an authority on skating than Irving Brokaw himself.

Irving Brokaw and Hala Kosloff. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

But who was Hala Kosloff? Conflicting reports claimed that she hailed from Riga, Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and Warsaw. French newspapers from the decade prior to the time she surfaced in America offer zero mention of any skating performances of a Hala or Mlle. Kosloff.


The only possible clue to Hala's identity that showed up in the 1920 U.S. Census was a record for a boarding house on Broadway and 101st Street that listed a twenty-two year old named Hala Rusloff, who emigrated from Poland in 1914. This address was only a short distance away from Thomas Healy's Crystal Carnival Ice Rink on Broadway and 95th Street. Yet, there's zero mention of any Hala Kosloff or Rusloff anywhere after 1923. What became of this skating star of the silent film era... and who was she? In this case, history seems to be hiding the whole story.

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.

Dayton, Denishawn And Double Takes: The Harry Losée Story


"With Harry Losée doing the choreography, the show became dancing on ice, the fusion of skating and ballet I had fervently imagined since my days of regarding Pavlova as a goddess." - Sonja Henie, "Wings On My Feet"

The son of Bertha (Mielke) and Walter Loose, Harry Walter Loose was born August 29, 1901 in Dayton, Ohio. He and his older sister Emma had a modest upbringing. His father worked in as an assembler in a factory; his mother was a saleswoman. With dreams 'bigger than the Midwest', he left home at a young age to study at The Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts at a young age.

Jane Reece photograph of Harry Losée, 1922. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

Black-haired, blue-eyed Harry became a favourite of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn and quickly made a name for himself in New York City's dancing circles. Though he had no French roots (his mother was a German immigrant and his father was thoroughly Midwestern) he changed his last name to 'Losée' for impact. In the roaring twenties and early thirties, he danced in such productions as "Blood And Sand", "Salomé", "The Thief Of Baghdad", "The Manhatters" and "The Merry Widow Revue". He and another of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn's protégés even travelled to California to give a number of recitals. His "Indian Dagger Danse" became a signature number.


When Ted Shawn left the Denishawn School to focus his attention on developing an all-male troupe, Harry became Ruth St. Denis' partner for a time and began to focus more so on directing and choreographing. In the early to mid thirties, he worked on the Broadway productions "The Show Is On", "Very Warm In May", "Keep Moving" and "At Home Abroad". In 1934, he presented "The Passion Of St. Sebastian", set to a Debussy score, at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Harry by accounts a colourful character. In his autobiography "This Bright Day", composer Lehmann Engel recalled, "Harry Losée was the first of many dancers I was to know. Harry and his friends seemed to me both fascinating and evil, and I was dazzled by their cheap glamour... Harry, a tall, well-developed man in his mid-thirties, lived in a cheap hotel, a hangout for infrequently employed vaudevillians. He was always surrounded by other dancers, booking agents, hangers-on (but to God alone knows what). Because of prohibition, he himself produced quantities of gin. We stayed up late every night. I wrote music for him, which he used in a free recital at Wanamaker Auditorium - his gesture toward 'art'. He wanted, as many performers want (in an abstract sort of way), to be a 'great' artist, but he was unwilling to sacrifice anything from the frippery of his wasteful life for sustained work. One engagement brought Harry to Radio City Music Hall early in its existence. Harry worked on a dance number for himself, a female partner, and the resident corps de ballet. A day before the opening performance, it was discovered that the music he had worked with (Ravel, I believe) was not available. Harry called me to the Music Hall at about midnight prior to a scheduled 10:00 am orchestra dress rehearsal, asking me to compose new music. Two exhausted dancers lay on the floor of a small office where I worked at a piano. When I would complete a phrase or two, the dancers would come alive, stand up, try out the steps to music, then lie down again... This went on all night. At 11:00 am the orchestra played the music, and the dancers changed none of their choreography. I was paid seventy-five dollars."


Harry's 'big break' in Hollywood came in 1937, when Hermes Pan hired him to do the ballet sequences for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO film "Shall We Dance". He was immediately hired to work on Sonja Henie's second film "Thin Ice", which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction. It was the beginning of a long association with the Norwegian skating queen. Even though he had zero skating background himself, he drew accolades for his work translating dance to the ice in her films "Happy Landing", "Second Fiddle" and "My Lucky Star". He also did choreography for Sonja's Hollywood Ice Revue and her earlier shows at Madison Square Garden. In a review that appeared in "The New York Times" in 1939, critic John Martin wrote, "Sonja Henie's recent ice show at Madison Square Garden [which] leaves one more convinced than ever that the ubiquitous art of the dance has poked its nose into the field of sport on something more than a mere snooping expedition... The amusing thing and also the hopeful thing about Mr. Losée is that he is not skater at all, but a dancer, and the things he asks his company to do are probably shockingly unorthodox as well as sometimes downright impossible." Harry and Sonja shared the same work ethic - do it again and again and again until it was right. "I first outline on paper what I want to do, and then talk it over with him. He knows everything about camera angles," Sonja explained in an interview in "Silver Screen" magazine.


Harry's work with Sonja Henie may have been his most remembered contribution to the skating world, but it certainly wasn't his only one. He also worked on the Wartime skating films "Ice-Capades", "Ice-Capades Revue" and Abbott and Costello's "Hit The Ice". In 1940, he directed the "New York Ice Revue" tour, which starred Vivi-Anne Hultén and Maribel Vinson Owen. Two years later, he directed the "Hollywood Ice Revels" at the Tropical Ice Garden in Westwood Village, which starred Maribel Vinson Owen and Belita. It was at this show that Belita was 'discovered' by producers and offered a speaking role in "Silver Skates".


Sadly, Harry's important contributions to figure skating didn't continue long after World War II. After being in ill health for some time, he suffered from gastro-intestinal bleeding and cardio-respiratory arrest. He died on December 16, 1952 in Los Angeles. He was only fifty-one.

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' 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? 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.

Pliés And Precision: The Chester Hale Story


"The possibilities of ice dancing haven't been scratched." - Chester Hale, "The Knickerbocker News", June 17, 1942

In July of 1977, Robert W. Larkin penned an absolutely fascinating piece for "The New York Times" entitled "Turning Ice Skates Into Dance Shoes". He traced the links between choreographers and figure skaters back to the thirties and forties, mentioning the impact of Harry Losée, John Butler, Terry Rudolph, Catherine Littlefield, Belita Jepson-Turner and countless others who had played integral roles in translating legitimate dance to the ice before John Curry and Twyla Tharp's famous collaboration. But a footnote in Mr. Larkin's piece was the name of a man whose impact on the figure skating world is truly immeasurable... and perhaps someone you've never heard of.

Chester Hale. Nickolas Muray photo courtesy Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Collections.

The son of Wilbur and Laura (Moffett) Chamberlin, Chester Lord Chamberlin was born January 15, 1897 in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father, a respected reporter with the "New York Sun", passed away when he was only six years old. After his father's death, Chester, his mother and older sister moved in to the Montclair home of his uncle, who worked as a teller at a telephone company.


Chester, a dapper young man with dark brown hair and blue eyes, was sent to the Morgan Park Military School in Chicago, where his older brother worked as a journalist. He briefly studied medicine at the University Of Chicago. While visiting New York City, he saw Vaslav Nijinsky perform at a theatre and was instantly hooked on ballet. He quit school, began studying dance and took on the stage name Chester Hale. By the age of eighteen, he was dancing at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo alongside Nijinsky, making twenty-five dollars a week. He was reportedly the first American to join Sergei Diaghilev's company.

Chester Hale. Nickolas Muray photo courtesy Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Collections.

From 1917 to 1920, Chester toured South America, Puerto Rico and Spain with Anna Pavlova, whom he'd met in Argentina. He managed to avoid being drafted during The Great War, claiming exception due to "American propaganda among Argentines". He was working as a physical director at a YMCA in Buenos Aires at the time.


Chester Hale. Nickolas Muray photos.

During the roaring twenties, Chester both performed and choreographed in a number of Broadway stage plays at the Capital and Roxy Theatres. He rubbed shoulders with a who's who of the acting world, including stars like Ruth Gordon and William Holden. He danced a duet with Rosa Rolanda in the Charles B. Cochran backed "Music Box Revue" and collaborated closely with choreographer Busby Berkeley, who later worked with Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda and Gene Kelly. Irene Castle hired him to stage her American vaudeville tour.

Chester Hale. Nickolas Muray photo courtesy Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Collections

In his early thirties, Chester established The Chester Hale Schools in Manhattan and Long Island, which offered classes in ballet and tap. Dancers were scouted to perform in ballets he staged in nightclubs and theatres and sent as part of travelling troupes to Australia, Fiji, the Moulin Rouge in Paris and the Lido in Venice. He achieved considerable fame during Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration for his work as a choreographer in New York City. In 1934, Chester was hired by MGM and went to Hollywood to stage dance performances for several films, including "Here Comes The Band", "Naughty Marietta", "Rose Marie" and "Anna Karenina". He taught Greta Garbo how to dance the mazurka for the latter film. In 1938 and 1939, he produced an acclaimed dance productions staged at the Dallas Centennial and New York World's Fair.

After his eleven-year marriage to swimmer and dancer Amata Grassi had ended in divorce, Chester remarried to Helen Margaret Marine, twenty three years his junior, and settled on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Not long after, he choreographed a dance number for Lucille Ball in the RKO film "The Big Street".


During the forties and early fifties, Chester worked as the director and choreographer of the Ice Capades and Ice Cycles tours. With Rosemarie Stewart and Bob Dench as his assistants, he brought his 'go big or go home' approach to dance to the ice. He was responsible for creating the Ice Ca-pets and Ice Cadets and it was his vision for ensemble skating that shaped the tour's format - and precision synchro skating to a degree - for years to come. He wasn't exactly beloved by all. He could be intimidating but he got results. One dancer he worked with claimed he threatened to have her fingernails pulled out if she didn't dye her hair blonde. 


Nevertheless, Chester worked with a who's who of skating, including Megan and Phil Taylor, Belita Jepson-Turner, Donna Atwood and Bobby SpechtVěra Hrubá and Robin Lee and pushed the boundaries of skating and dance to new levels... despite having no real background in the sport himself.

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

In the early fifties, he began working for Morris Chalfen as the choreographer for Holiday On Ice, travelling the world and putting together numbers for productions in exotic locales like Bogota, Colombia and Reykjavik, Iceland.

Chester and Helen Hale. Photo courtesy David Heeley.

Chester retired in Redondo Beach in the sixties. He passed away on August 13, 1984 at the age of eighty-seven, leaving behind a son and three grandchildren. Though he pushed professional figure skating to new heights, his impact on the sport has been largely 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' 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? 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.

The Best Figures Skaters In The World

 

Today we'll take a quick look at the best figures skaters in the world! All of the accomplished skaters listed in this table won the compulsory figures at the World Figure Skating Championships. The skaters with a * beside their name also won the overall title.

Year

Men's

Women's

1896

Gilbert Fuchs*

(none)

1897

Gustav Hügel*

(none)

1898

Gustav Hügel

(none)

1899

Ulrich Salchow

(none)

1900

Ulrich Salchow

(none)

1901

Ulrich Salchow*

(none)

1902

Ulrich Salchow*

(none)

1903

Ulrich Salchow*

(none)

1904

Ulrich Salchow*

(none)

1905

Ulrich Salchow*

(none)

1906

Gilbert Fuchs*

Madge Syers*

1907

Ulrich Salchow*

Madge Syers*

1908

Ulrich Salchow*

Lili Kronberger*

1909

Ulrich Salchow*

Lili Kronberger*

1910

Ulrich Salchow*

Lili Kronberger*

1911

Ulrich Salchow*

Lili Kronberger*

1912

Fritz Kachler*

Zsófia Méray-Horváth*

1913

Fritz Kachler*

Zsófia Méray-Horváth*

1914

Fritz Kachler

Zsófia Méray-Horváth*

1922

Fritz Kachler

Herma Szabo*

1923

Fritz Kachler*

Herma Szabo*

1924

Gillis Grafström*

Herma Szabo*

1925

Fritz Kachler

Herma Szabo*

1926

Willy Böckl*

Herma Szabo*

1927

Willy Böckl*

Sonja Henie*

1928

Willy Böckl*

Sonja Henie*

1929

Gillis Grafström*

Sonja Henie*

1930

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1931

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1932

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1933

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1934

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1935

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1936

Karl Schäfer*

Sonja Henie*

1937

Felix Kaspar*

Cecilia Colledge*

1938

Felix Kaspar*

Megan Taylor*

1939

Henry Graham Sharp*

Megan Taylor*

1947

Hans Gerschwiler*

Barbara Ann Scott*

1948

Dick Button*

Barbara Ann Scott*

1949

Dick Button*

Ája Zanová*

1950

Dick Button*

Ája Zanová*

1951

Dick Button*

Jeannette Altwegg*

1952

Dick Button*

Jacqueline du Bief*

1953

Jimmy Grogan

Tenley Albright*

1954

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Tenley Albright

1955

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Tenley Albright*

1956

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Carol Heiss*

1957

David Jenkins*

Carol Heiss*

1958

Tim Brown

Carol Heiss*

1959

Tim Brown

Carol Heiss*

1960

Alain Giletti*

Carol Heiss*

1962

Karol Divín

Sjoukje Dijkstra*

1963

Manfred Schnelldorfer

Sjoukje Dijkstra*

1964

Manfred Schnelldorfer*

Sjoukje Dijkstra*

1965

Alain Calmat*

Petra Burka*

1966

Emmerich Danzer*

Peggy Fleming*

1967

Wolfgang Schwarz

Peggy Fleming*

1968

Tim Wood

Peggy Fleming*

1969

Tim Wood*

Trixi Schuba

1970

Ondrej Nepela

Trixi Schuba

1971

Ondrej Nepela*

Trixi Schuba*

1972

Ondrej Nepela*

Trixi Schuba*

1973

Ondrej Nepela*

Karen Magnussen*

1974

Jan Hoffmann*

Karin Iten

1975

Sergei Volkov*

Dianne de Leeuw*

1976

Vladimir Kovalev

Isabel de Navarre

1977

Vladimir Kovalev*

Anett Pötzsch

1978

Vladimir Kovalev

Anett Pötzsch*

1979

Jan Hoffmann

Anett Pötzsch

1980

Jan Hoffmann*

Anett Pötzsch*

1981

Jean-Christophe Simond

Claudia Kristofics-Binder

1982

Jean-Christophe Simond

Claudia Kristofics-Binder

1983

Jean-Christophe Simond

Rosalynn Sumners*

1984

Scott Hamilton*

Katarina Witt*

1985

Alexandr Fadeev*

Kira Ivanova

1986

Alexandr Fadeev

Kira Ivanova

1987

Alexandr Fadeev

Kira Ivanova

1988

Alexandr Fadeev

Katarina Witt*

1989

Alexandr Fadeev

Claudia Leistner

1990

Richard Zander

Jill Trenary*


So what does this table reveal? I think the most significant thing is that after the short program was introduced in 1973 and figures were devalued to thirty percent, there is a noticeable increase in skaters who won the school figures but not the overall World title. With twelve wins, Ulrich Salchow holds the record for winning the men's figures at the World Championships the most times. The women's record-holder is Sonja Henie, with ten. 

Ulrich Salchow

In her outstanding article from "Skating" magazine in 1991, Susan A. Johnson points out, "In 80 years of Men's Championships, only six times (in 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1989, and 1990) did a winner of the figures who completed the competition not become an overall medallist. And in the 70 years which the Ladies' Championships were contested, only four times (in 1974, 1976, 1986 and 1987) did the winner of the figures fail to win a medal."

Richard Zander, an American-born skater who represented West Germany, holds the unfortunate record of being the winner of the figures at the World Championships to place the lowest in the overall standings. He finished seventh overall at the 1990 World Championships in Halifax, the last ISU Championship to include figures. The women's figure winner with the lowest overall finish was another West German, Isabel de Navarre. She finished sixth overall in 1976.

Trixi Schuba

One of the most interesting things about this list, however, concerns Trixi Schuba. The 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist earned the nickname 'the human scribe' for her uncanny accuracy in the school figures, and much was made of her two World title wins being based solely on her success in the first phase of the competition. When she won in 1971 and 1972, she placed only seventh and ninth in free skating. What's quite fascinating is the fact she won the figures in 1969 and 1970 as well, actually placing a spot higher in the free skating in 1969 than she did when she won her first World title. She lost both of those World titles because the winner both years, East Germany's Gaby Seyfert, finished in second place in the figures. The winner of the free skating competitions in 1971 and 1972, Janet Lynn, finished fifth and third in figures those years.

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' 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? 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.

The Best Figures Skaters In North America


Today we'll take a quick look at the best figures skaters in North America! All of the talented skaters in this table won the compulsory figures at the Canadian and U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The skaters with a * beside their name also won the overall title.

A point of reference for the list of figures winners at the U.S. Championships: figures were last a part of the senior men's and women's events in 1990, but were contested for close to a decade afterwards as a separate championship event.  

CANADIAN FIGURES CHAMPIONS

Year

Men

Women

1939

Montgomery Wilson*

Mary Rose Thacker*

1940

Ralph McCreath*

Mary Rose Thacker

1941

Ralph McCreath*

Mary Rose Thacker*

1942

Michael Kirby*

Mary Rose Thacker*

1944

(not held)

Barbara Ann Scott*

1945

Frank Sellers

Barbara Ann Scott*

1946

Norris Bowden

Barbara Ann Scott*

1947

Norris Bowden*

Marilyn Ruth Take*

1948

Wally Distelmeyer*

Barbara Ann Scott*

1949

Roger Wickson*

Jeane Matthews

1950

Bill Lewis

Suzanne Morrow*

1951

Peter Firstbrook*

Suzanne Morrow*

1952

Peter Firstbrook*

Vevi Smith

1953

Peter Firstbrook*

Dawn Steckley

1954

Charles Snelling*

Barbara Gratton*

1955

Charles Snelling*

Ann Johnston

1956

Charles Snelling*

Sonja Currie

1957

Charles Snelling*

Carole Jane Pachl*

1958

Charles Snelling*

Margaret Crosland*

1959

Donald Jackson*

Margaret Crosland*

1960

Donald Jackson*

Wendy Griner*

1961

Donald Jackson*

Wendy Griner*

1962

Donald Jackson*

Wendy Griner*

1963

Donald McPherson*

Wendy Griner*

1964

Charles Snelling*

Petra Burka*

1965

Donald Knight*

Petra Burka*

1966

Donald Knight*

Petra Burka*

1967

Donald Knight*

Valerie Jones*

1968

Jay Humphry*

Karen Magnussen*

1969

Jay Humphry*

Karen Magnussen

1970

David McGillvray*

Karen Magnussen*

1971

Toller Cranston*

Karen Magnussen*

1972

Toller Cranston*

Karen Magnussen*

1973

Toller Cranston*

Karen Magnussen*

1974

Toller Cranston*

Daria Prychun

1975

Toller Cranston*

Lynn Nightingale*

1976

Toller Cranston*

Lynn Nightingale*

1977

Ron Shaver*

Lynn Nightingale*

1978

Jimmy Szabo

Heather Kemkaran*

1979

Brian Pockar*

Deborah Albright

1980

Gary Beacom

Heather Kemkaran*

1981

Brian Pockar

Tracey Wainman*

1982

Brian Pockar

Tracey Wainman

1983

Gary Beacom

Kay Thomson*

1984

Gary Beacom

Kay Thomson*

1985

Brian Orser*

Tracey Wainman

1986

Brian Orser*

Tracey Wainman*

1987

Brian Orser*

Elizabeth Manley*

1988

Brian Orser*

Elizabeth Manley*

1989

Kurt Browning*

Charlene Wong

1990

Jeff Partrick

Margot Bion


You'll notice that this table starts in 1939, which was obviously not when the Canadian Championships began. In figure or 'fancy' skating's early years, the competitions were covered in newspaper's 'society' pages instead of in the sports section. More often than not, only the winners were listed. That said, there are some accounts of skaters winning the figures but not the overall title prior to 1939. Two examples of this would be Constance Wilson in 1925 and Cecil Smith in 1933. When Constance won the figures in 1925, Cecil took the overall title and when Cecil won the figures in 1933, Constance was the overall winner.

Tracey Wainman. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Perhaps the most interesting thing this list reveals is that for five years in a row (1980-1984), the winner of the senior men's figures was not the overall winner. Three of those years, Gary Beacom won the figures at Canadians. Tracey Wainman would have actually won four Canadian titles in the eighties instead of two had they have been based on figures alone.

The winners of the school figures the last time they were held at the Canadians in 1990 didn't even medal. Jeff Partrick and Margot Bion both placed sixth overall that year. The winners, Kurt Browning and Lisa Sargeant, were both second in figures.

Another interesting tidbit that stands out is that from 1952 to 1956, only once did the winner of the women's figures take the overall title - Barbara Gratton in 1954. Five different women won the Canadian title during that decade.

U.S. FIGURES CHAMPIONS

Year

Men

Women

1914

Norman Mackie Scott*

Edith Eliot Rotch, Theresa Weld* (tie)

1918

Nathaniel Niles*

Rosemary Seton Beresford*

1920

Sherwin Badger*

Theresa Weld*

1921

Sherwin Badger*

Theresa Weld Blanchard*

1922

Sherwin Badger*

Theresa Weld Blanchard*

1923

Sherwin Badger*

Theresa Weld Blanchard*

1924

Nathaniel Niles

Theresa Weld Blanchard*

1925

Nathaniel Niles*

Beatrix Loughran*

1926

Nathaniel Niles

Beatrix Loughran*

1927

Nathaniel Niles*

Beatrix Loughran*

1928

Roger Turner*

Maribel Vinson*

1929

Roger Turner*

Maribel Vinson*

1930

Roger Turner*

Maribel Vinson*

1931

Roger Turner*

Maribel Vinson*

1932

Roger Turner*

Maribel Vinson*

1933

Roger Turner*

Maribel Vinson*

1934

Roger Turner*

Suzanne Davis*

1935

Robin Lee*

Maribel Vinson*

1936

Robin Lee*

Maribel Vinson*

1937

Robin Lee*

Maribel Vinson*

1938

Robin Lee*

Joan Tozzer*

1939

Robin Lee*

Joan Tozzer*

1940

Eugene Turner*

Joan Tozzer*

1941

Eugene Turner*

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill

1942

Bobby Specht*

Phebe Tucker

1943

Arthur Vaughn Jr.*

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill*

1944

(not held)

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill*

1945

(not held)

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill*

1946

Jimmy Lochead Jr.

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill*

1947

Dick Button*

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill*

1948

Dick Button*

Yvonne Sherman

1949

Dick Button*

Yvonne Sherman*

1950

Dick Button*

Yvonne Sherman*

1951

Dick Button*

Sonya Klopfer*

1952

Dick Button*

Tenley Albright*

1953

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Tenley Albright*

1954

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Tenley Albright*

1955

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Tenley Albright*

1956

Hayes Alan Jenkins*

Tenley Albright*

1957

David Jenkins*

Carol Heiss*

1958

Tim Brown

Carol Heiss*

1959

David Jenkins*

Carol Heiss*

1960

Tim Brown

Carol Heiss*

1961

Gregory Kelley

Stephanie Westerfeld

1962

Monty Hoyt*

Barbara Roles Pursley*

1963

Monty Hoyt

Lorraine Hanlon*

1964

Scott Ethan Allen*

Christine Haigler

1965

Gary Visconti*

Peggy Fleming*

1966

Scott Ethan Allen*

Peggy Fleming*

1967

Scott Ethan Allen

Peggy Fleming*

1968

Tim Wood*

Peggy Fleming*

1969

Tim Wood*

Dawn Glab

1970

Tim Wood*

Janet Lynn*

1971

John 'Misha' Petkevich*

Julie Lynn Holmes

1972

John 'Misha' Petkevich

Julie Lynn Holmes

1973

Gordon McKellen Jr.*

Diane Goldstein

1974

Charlie Tickner

Dorothy Hamill*

1975

Gordon McKellen Jr.*

Dorothy Hamill*

1976

David Santee

Dorothy Hamill*

1977

David Santee

Barbie Smith

1978

Charlie Tickner*

Linda Fratianne*

1979

Charlie Tickner*

Linda Fratianne*

1980

Charlie Tickner*

Linda Fratianne*

1981

Scott Hamilton*

Priscilla Hill

1982

Scott Hamilton*

Priscilla Hill

1983

Scott Hamilton*

Melissa Thomas

1984

Scott Hamilton*

Rosalynn Sumners*

1985

Brian Boitano*

Tiffany Chin*

1986

Brian Boitano*

Debi Thomas*

1987

Brian Boitano*

Debi Thomas

1988

Brian Boitano*

Debi Thomas*

1989

Daniel Doran

Jill Trenary*

1990

Todd Eldredge*

Jill Trenary*

1991*

Craig Heath

Kelly Ann Szmurlo

1992*

Brian Schmidt

Kelly Ann Szmurlo

1993*

Gene 'Gigi' Siruno

Kelly Ann Szmurlo

1994*

Gene 'Gigi' Siruno

Melanie Dupon

1995*

John Baldwin Jr.

Lisa Bryson

1996*

Everett Weiss

Cassy Papajohn

1997*

Everett Weiss

Melanie Dupon

1998*

(not held)

Cassy Papajohn

1999*

(not held)

Lisa Frenzel Swain


Aside from the post-1990 events, only four times has the winner of the school figures not won a medal in a senior event at the U.S. Championships. All four times, it happened in the women's event - in 1969, 1973, 1982 and 1983. The only tie in senior figures at the U.S. Championships happened at the very first event in Boston in 1914. 

Maribel Vinson Owen. Photo courtesy Harvard University, Radcliffe Archives.

Roger Turner holds the record for the most wins in the school figures in the men's event at seven, while Maribel Vinson Owen holds the record for the most wins by a man or woman at nine. Julie Lynn Holmes and Priscilla Hill both have the distinction of winning the figures at the U.S. Championships twice, but never winning a national title. 

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' 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? 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.