Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Frosty Frolics


Debuting June 15, 1951 on Los Angeles' Channel 5 (KLTA), The Frosty Frolics was the brainchild of the television station's late manager Klaus Landsberg. Combining figure skating, live music and dance as a kind of variety hour, it became an instant hit with California audiences. Don't believe me? The Frosty Frolics actually became the fourth most watched television show in L.A. less than two months after it first aired!


An effort was made in the first year of the show's production for coast to coast syndication and in early October 1951 the show went national. However, the show's sponsor for syndication went bankrupt after only network broadcasts and The Frosty Frolics returned to being a show that only aired in California, continuing to be popular among audiences until it last aired in 1956. The only known full episodes of the show exist in the UCLA Film and Television Archive.


The skating cast included members of the Ice Follies and Ice Capades troupes as well as professional skaters based in California who wanted a much needed break from the gypsy world of touring productions. Among the skaters were Mabel Fairbanks, the husband and wife team of April and Roy Schramm (stars of The Skating Schramms Ice Show which appeared in Hollywood, Hawaii and The Pacific National Exhibition), Evy Scotvold, Joanne and Buff McCusker, and Mae Edwards. The production was choreographed by Bob Turk.



In the book "KTLA's News at Ten: Sixty Years with Stan Chambers", the late Stan Chambers, the show's host, offered a behind the scenes glimpse into this effort: "If a skater fell, he had no choice but to get up and continue his routine. If a set tipped over or a prop broke, there were no re-takes... The audience watching at home was made to believe that Frosty Frolics took place at the Alpine Hotel, somewhere in the green forests of a beautiful mountain retreat. In reality, everything came from the prop department at Paramount Studios. Fake trees and real plants, tables, chairs, red carpeting for a walkway on the ice, cloth flats that were used to make the side of the hotel, and banisters for the dining area were all hauled over to the Polar Palace in the afternoon as the stage crew created their Alpine Hotel. The flimsy cardboard 'stone' walls were sprayed with a paint gun by an artistic genius, Sherman Laudermilk. He bent, twisted, and cut the cardboard, sprayed it with fast-drying paint, and created settings that you couldn't tell weren't the real thing... The crew wore ice skates, and the props were brought in on sleds or pushed across the smooth ice surface by skating stagehands. Several members of the crew were hired for their professional hockey playing experience. Most, however, were novices who learned to skate in record time. KLTA received countless calls from viewers who wanted to know the location of the Alpine Hotel so they could make dinner reservations or spend the weekend there. It made for interesting conversation when the switchboard operator explained that the Alpine Hotel wasn't real, and was broken down and returned to Paramount Studios every night." Costumes for the show came from a warehouse of old, forgotten costumes that was part of Paramount's wardrobe department. Reduce, reuse, recycle... believe me, I remember all that from my own skating club's shows. We had circus animals and snowflakes every single year and I'm betting we weren't the only club that did either.

Stan Chambers also reflected, "Few would have been so daring at the time to rent a rink, put together such a large cast, create new stories every week, and know the entire production would come together at airtime. Klaus had confidence in what he did, and he knew that the show would come off. I feel fortunate to have been a part of that production." I would have felt fortunate just to watch it every week, to be honest. Professional skating on television today has been reduced to a handful of carefully edited hour long specials every year. I don't think you'd ever see anything like The Frosty Frolics again... but the idea of a weekly live, old-timey theatrical skating show like this making a comeback is enough to make me smile, sip my tea and dream a little. It would be something, that's for sure!

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, 12 August 2017

The 1937 World Figure Skating Championships

Women's competitors at the 1937 World Figure Skating Championships. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

While much of the world was focused on the alarming rise of Nazism in Germany, the newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Spanish Civil War, all the figure skating world cared about was the 1937 World Figure Skating Championships. As was common at the time, the men's competition was held separately from the women and pairs events, with the former taking to the ice to compete on February 12 and 13, 1937 at the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna and the latter competing on March 1 and 2, 1937 at Empress Hall, Earl's Court in London, England.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

 Elemér Terták, Felix Kaspar and Henry Graham Sharp in Vienna. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Though well-attended, the men's competition that year received less press coverage than usual in Austria. This was perhaps owing to the fact that after Karl Schäfer had turned professional. Many felt the title would go to Great Britain's Henry Graham Sharp, who had been the runner-up at the World Championships in Paris the year prior. To the surprise of many, Austria's Felix Kaspar utterly dominated the competition, placing first on every judge's scorecard in both the school figures and free skate. Sharp was second in the figures but placed behind his teammate, Freddie Tomlins, in the free skate. Outside of the top six after the figures, Tomlins was only able to move up to fifth after his
dazzling free skating performance. Eighteen year old Elemér Terták of Hungary defeated Austria's Herbert Alward four judges to one for the bronze.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Cecilia Colledge

If the men's competition in 1937 received little attention, the women's and pairs events were the polar opposite. More than seven thousand spectators crowded Earl's Court to cheer on teenagers Cecilia Colledge of London and Megan Taylor of Manchester, both considered worthy successors to fill the title vacant after Sonja Henie left for Hollywood. BBC Radio even interrupted the National Programme to give listeners at home a play-by-play of the proceedings. Colledge handily took the lead over Taylor by some nineteen points in the school figures, all but giving her the lock on the title before she even stepped foot on the ice for her free skate. Swedish skating historian Gunnar Bang recalled that Vivi-Anne Hultén, third after figures, delivered a free skate reminiscent of Gillis Grafström: musically sensitive but lacking in technical difficulty. In contrast, Hedy Stenuf packed her program full of double jumps but her music served as a mere backdrop for her acrobatic highlights. Taylor, in a silver dress trimmed with blue feathers, had the most speed and power of the top skaters but Colledge showed cool precision and seemed to find a balance between the technical and artistic side of free skating. Six judges had Colledge first in the free skate, with the Swedish judge preferring Taylor and placing Colledge and Hultén in a tie. Colledge won with 2528.9 points to Taylor's 2488.0, with Hultén, Stenuf and Emmy Puzinger trailing in positions third through fifth.


In seventh was Belita Jepson-Turner, with ordinals ranging from fifth through tenth. Former World Champion Fritz Kachler, judging for Austria, had her third in the free skate... ahead of Hultén both in the free skate and overall. Jacline Brown, reviewing the event for French newspaper "Le Figaro", raved about Belita: "She is certainly the most acrobatic skater and also the youngest in this tournament. Her positions are impeccable and her lightness, her flexibility and dance training allow her to do anything."

Lord Doneraile and Cecilia Colledge. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

In winning, Cecilia Colledge became the first British woman to claim the World title since Madge Syers in 1907. The "London Daily Telegraph" raved that her free skating performance was "of an exceptionally high order" and within a week of winning, she boarded a steamship and crossed the Atlantic to give exhibitions in Toronto and Montreal.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Lord Doneraile presenting Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier with their championship trophy. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Though Germans Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier skated exceptionally well in London and earned 80.1 points for their effort, some felt that Austrian siblings Ilse and Erik Pausin would come dangerously close to defeating them. British reporters posited that the next time the two pairs met, the Pausin's could very well dethrone the reigning Olympic Champions. When the marks were tallied, five of the seven judges had Herber and Baier first. The Austrian judge tied the two teams and British judge Jack Ferguson Page had the Pausin's ahead of their elder rivals and Britons Violet and Leslie Cliff (who won the bronze) down in fifth.

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, 10 August 2017

From Macaroni To Antiquary: Storer's Shadow


Born March 12, 1746 in the British colony of Jamaica, Anthony Morris Storer is a shadowy footnote at best in skating history. He grew up in affluence, owing to the fact that his father Thomas Storer was a wealthy sugar merchant in Belle Isle. And yes, that means exactly what you might be thinking... slavery. Anthony left Jamaica though, moving to England, where he attended the University Of Cambridge in his twenties, leaving without a degree. 

In a 2004 thesis published in "The Volume Of The Walpole Society", historian Lucy Peltz asserted that "Storer was, as a youth, a rake and a dilettante... After Cambridge he 'figured in the circle of bon-ton as the Colyphaeus of fashion and led the dancing world at Balls'.  A crony of Lords North and Carlisle, Storer had a modest career as a member of Parliament, serving on Lord Carlisle's conciliatory mission to meet the American rebels in 1778 and ending as Secretary to the Legation in Paris in 1783. Due to a 'persistent bilious ailment' which forced him to take up more temperate pursuits, paired with the growing popular appeal of the national past, by 1781, Horace Walpole could voice surprise at Storer who he considered to be a 'Macaroni... turned antiquary.'" His surprise? This 'rake' had reinvented himself as one of England's foremost collectors of antiquarian books and made a name for himself 'extra-illustrating' or 'Grangerizing' previously published works. 

Combing through the primary source material about Storer's life, the term 'macaroni' (meaning dandy) certainly seems to apply to a tee. He never married. In fact, no mention of any love life whatsoever seems to crop up. His entry in the "National Dictionary Of Biography" refers to him as "a man of fashion", noting his "sense and good nature" and that he "blossomed in the gay world of London, becoming conspicuous as the best dancer and skater of his time, and beating all his competitors at gymnastics. He excelled, too, as a musician and conversationalist." He also fenced and danced the minuet with the Duchess of Devonshire. His political career actually ended in a huff in December 1783. When his friends were ejected from office by the Duke Of Manchester, he opted not to seek re-election, got in a fight with his old 'schoolmate and longtime' friend Lord Carlisle and changed his will to write him out of it. After that, he complained of having nothing to do and spent all of his money collecting books and prints. His biographical sketch notes that his "expensive tastes and the love of cards kept him in comparative poverty until his father's death. In 1786 he was reading the Latin and Greek writers half the day with Dr. Edward Harwood... in April 1798 he languished for employment; but his father's death... brought him an ample fortune." With this fortune, Storer bought many more books and Purley Park, where he "expended a considerable sum improving and ornamenting the grounds." He died on June 28, 1799 "of a deep decline" in his health, leaving his not so hardly earned fortune to his nephew - also named Anthony Storer - and one thousand dollars to another 'dandy' named James Hare. Make of it all what you will. If your Georgian era gaydar isn't going off yet, let's get back to that detail we glossed over earlier: skating.

Robert Jones, the extremely controversial author of "The Art Of Skating", made zero mention of this Jamaican born dandy in his 1772 book yet numerous nineteenth century sources seemed to echo his prowess on blades. For example, "Nash's Pall Mall Magazine" related Storer as the "Admirable Crichton of his day: he not only excelled in dancing, fencing, skating, but was celebrated as a poet and a wit." Biographer John Nichols wrote "He was the best dancer, the best skater of his time... He excelled too as a musician, and a disputant, and very early as a Latin poet. In short, whatsoever he undertook he did con amore, as perfectly as if it were his only accomplishment."

James Gillray's engraving "Elements Of Skateing: Attitude Is Everything"

In Jones' day, skaters of societal standing in England - like the long forgotten dandy Storer - would have quietly excelled at the Flying Mercury scud, the spiral, the serpentine line, rolls and edges on an inside circle on frozen British ponds. There were no competitions or medals; no television cameras or tweeting fans. In their early study of the magic of figure skating, skaters like Storer were alone with the sound of their blades carving into the ice, trying to make sense of the sorcery of it all. It all had to be rather mysterious! And that's exactly how Phillip Gaskell described Storer in "The Book Collector" in 1956. "There is something mysterious about Anthony Storer," wrote Gaskell, noting how he always seemed to skate in the background of the lives of others in the political and literary society of his era. Sometimes history produces more questions than it does answers... and sometimes that mystery forces you to accept that there are dusty corners of history we may never fully understand.  

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, 8 August 2017

A Skeleton In The Rink Closet


In researching figure skating's rich history you come across stories that make you smile, stories that make you tear up, stories that make you think and every so often you come across a rare story that quite frankly doesn't evoke those any of those emotions. I think the only appropriate word that comes to mind with today's narrative would honestly be disgust. There's no happy ending; there's no surprise plot twist... but there is a skeleton in the rink closet to be unveiled.

Sketch of Robert Jones. Courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1772, the first English instructional book about figure skating, "Treatise On Skating", was penned by "Captain" Robert Jones. It educated would-be skating aficionados on inside and outside edges, stopping, spirals, spread eagles, changes of edge, backward skating, three turns and primitive figures. Ellyn Kestnbaum's book "Culture On Ice: Figure Skating And Cultural Meaning" noted that Jones' book "emphases on arm positions and finishing each move and illustrations of elegantly dressed and posed skaters indicated that the image skated conveyed to onlookers was at least as important as accomplishing the moves. People who took up skating learned, from experts such as Jones and from the more accomplished skaters they encountered on the ice, not only to enjoy the kinesthetic experience of skating movement but also to convey messages about their standing as skaters through such codes as controlled posture and polished movement on the ice." Rictor Norton's essay "Ice Skating In The 18th Century" further mused, "Skates manufactured to Jones' designs could be bought at Riccard's Manufactory in London. He was one of the first people to advocate the firm attachment of the skates to the shoes (by means of screws through the heels) rather than by means of straps and clips, in effect making the skate integral (previously skaters had to keep retying the skates to their shoes, and they kept falling off). He wrote, 'An easy movement and graceful attitude are the sole objects of our attention.'"
But who was this "Captain" Robert Jones? The blog The Queerstory Files summarized, "Robert Jones was born in north Wales in around 1740... [He] had a fascination for fireworks which were popular forms of entertainment at the time. Because of his fascination none other than the future Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder, enlisted Robert into the army – where else but into the artillery – and he joined the barracks at the Woolwich arsenal. From there Robert was to rise through the ranks to Lieutenant (not captain, as he was often reported as being and the rank under which his books were published). His love of fireworks stayed with him, and in 1765 published 'A New Treatise on Artificial Fireworks'."

Excerpt on "The Inside Circle" from "Treatise On Skating"

Interestingly, the publication of his second book - his "Treatise On Skating" would hardly be the most significant moment of the year 1772 for the Jones, the son of a tailor. In another of Rictor Norton's thoroughly researched essays, "The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England: The Case of Captain Jones, 1772" an extensive case study is offered on Jones' 1772 trial. Norton noted, "In July 1772 Captain Robert Jones was convicted at the Old Bailey for sodomizing a thirteen-year-old boy, and sentenced to death. The sentence was respited for further consideration, and in October Jones was granted a Royal Pardon on condition he leave the country.''

Norton's research, which includes links to dozens of primary sources and a full transcript of Jones' trial including testimony from the thirteen year old victim Francis Henry Hay, makes it painfully clear that this was a pretty clear cut case of abuse and let me tell you, it's not pretty. I'll spare you all of the details but let it suffice to say in reading the transcript from the trial, it's quite evident that this figure skating pioneer got a lucky break with his pardon in an era when capital punishments were frequently doled out like candy.

"Captain" Jones received his pardon on September 12, 1772, was discharged from Newgate prison less than two months later and according to a newspaper clipping on file with the British Library was living in the South of France with "with a lovely Ganymede (his footboy)" by June of the next year. Unreal! He really learned his lesson, didn't he? Over a decade later, Jones turned up in of all places Turkey, where he re-entered military service. A December 6, 1788 article from "The Times" indicated that in the end karma might have come back to bite him in the ass: "Captain Jones, as far as we have been able to trace him, never had employment immediately from the Grand Signior; although at different periods in the pay of several Beys; and in the service of one of them he was at the time of their rebellion against the Sublime Porte, and reported to have been put to death, with near 30,000 others of the vanquished party." 

Not every story is pretty. Not every story does have that happy ending... but this deep, dark elephant in the room that has long been written out of accounts of the sport's history has now been dusted off and put on display once again. 

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 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, 5 August 2017

Bangles And Boat Tickets: A 1909 Skating Courtroom Drama

Editorial cartoon of Leslie Gross

Almost a century before Nancy and Tonya and 'the whack heard around the world', the good people of Australia were transfixed on a skating courtroom drama of their very own. The case of Leslie Gross .vs. The Sydney Ice Skating Rink and Cold Storage Company, Limited played out in a Sydney courtroom on Saturday, September 18, 1909 and let me tell you, I don't even think Judge Judy could have kept a straight face for this one.

Indent agent Leslie Gross' case against the organization that ran the Sydney Glaciarium charged the company with publicly assaulting and beating him, dragging him from the skating rink and injuring his reputation by falsely imprisoning him. He also asked for the princely sum of two thousand pounds in "damages". It all may sound like a lot of nasty business, but the actual story paints Gross in quite a different light. I will let you be the judge!

Dunbar Poole, competitor at the 1911 and 1912 World Figure Skating Championships

"The Northern Star" reported that the "plaintiff had been a regular skater at the Glaciarium, practically from the opening [in 1907]. The incident which gave rise to the present action happened on the evening of Friday, June 4. Plaintiff went to the rink that evening in order to skate, and shortly after putting on his skates he met two young girls, who told him  that they had picked up a bangle. He took them across to the office to ascertain if the loss of the bangle had been reported, but it had not. He afterwards went with one of them down to the private skate department, and made  inquiries there, without success. There was a boat ticket attached to the bangle, which bore the name 'Mrs. Wallace.' Plaintiff left word that a bangle had been found, and that If Mrs. Wallace inquired for it she could have it. He afterwards gave the bangle into the care of a little girl, who was sitting with her mother in the rink, until the owner should ask for it, and then went on skating. Later on, while the plaintiff was sitting down, Mr. Dunbar Poole, manager of the rink, came over and demanded the bangle, and as the plaintiff declined to restore it to anyone except the lawful owner, he was threatened by Mr. Poole with arrest. A person who said he was Mr. Wallace also came up and asked for the bangle, and was told if Mrs. Wallace claimed it she could have it on applying. Plaintiff probably gave the impression that he had the bangle in his possession, whereas; as previously stated, he had given it into the keeping of the little girl. Plaintiff resumed his skating, and while so engaged he was seized by one of the rink attendants, handed over to two plain-clothes constables, dragged hatless, and still wearing his skates, out of the rink, followed by a large crowd, across to the Redfern Police Station; where he was locked up for about an hour. The police during that interval went across to the rink, and had no trouble in getting the bangle from tho little girl. After plaintiff had been released from custody he returned to the rink, and was refused admission, although he was without his hat and was still wearing his skates. Eventually he was permitted to re-enter on condition that he did not skate. He accordingly went in and got his hat; and then left. The defendant company was subsequently written to on Plaintiff's behalf, and their reply was to the effect that they would return the defendant his registration fee, together with his boots and skates, which had been left at the rink, at any time he might appoint, as it was their intention not to admit him to the rink again."

You have to marvel at the incredible maturity of this grown man right? The Sydney Ice Skating Rink and Cold Storage Company pleaded not guilty, arguing that the plaintiff behaved "in such a way that they were entitled to remove him, which they did without unnecessary force." One has to chuckle at this well-to-do, hatless (heaven forbid) man being dragged out of a rink with his skates still on by police because he refused to give back a bangle and boat ticket to the rink owner and the owner's husband. Really classy stuff. In the end, a jury voted unanimously in favour of the defendants. Dunbar Poole went down in history as one of Australian figure skating's most important pioneers and Leslie Gross is remembered simply as the man who was barred for life from the Sydney Glaciarium. History is not often cut and dry, but in this instance there was indeed a real winner... and a real loser.

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, 3 August 2017

Cross-Cuts Are Anything But Boring

George Meagher's illustration of The Anvil

In defense of the 'new judging system', the more frequent argument you will hear is, "well, when 6.0 was around, all they did were cross-cuts. Cross-cuts from one end of the rink, then a jump, then cross-cuts to another end of the rink and another." Largely owing to that argument, poor old cross-cuts have really been demonized in recent years and you know what? It is really a shame. They're as Canadian as a hot cup of Tim Horton's coffee on a cold Calgary day.

Before the cross-cut firmly established itself as the popular way to get from point A to point B in free skating, many skaters would simply get a running start or glide along in a Dutch roll in between dance steps and figures. Even the great Norwegian speed skater Axel Paulsen - the inventor of the Axel jump - did not lap around the rink a few times a la Evgeni Plushenko before he bounded in the air. The cross-cut was actually original known as the Anvil and as skating historian Nigel Brown explained in his gem of a 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", it "originated in Canada about 1870 and took its name from its outline upon the ice. Later the figure was known as the 'cross-cut.' It was discovered through the failure in the correct execution of the loop. Beginners today when learning loops frequently fail to get a perfect round curve, and produce a small straight cut at the apex of the loop. This is because the body is not in proper balance with the foot, the latter arriving at the top of the loop before the body, which causes a slight slowing up in the movement, when the skate slides back a fraction waiting for the body to catch up and swing round, the skate naturally follows it and the loop is made. However by encouraging this tendency of the skate to stop and slide in a straight line, the cut made at the culminating point of the loop could be made with certainty, and of considerable length. This was a cross-cut."

In his 1919 book "A Guide To Artistic Skating", Canadian skater George Meagher elaborated, "Up to a few years ago 'crosscuts' were known as 'Anvils,' owing, no doubt to the resemblance to a blacksmith's anvil... These figures, in which we find absolutely no change of edge but three changes of direction, have always been remarkable for their difficulty. Few skaters excel in them. To execute the 'Crosscut,' the skater begins on an outside edge with a curve, say, on the right foot. The curve, if completed to a circle, would have a radius of about two feet. When the skater has completed a semicircle, and would naturally make the complete circle, the right foot is drawn very sharply backwards in a perfectly straight line of about six inches, the skater then continuing forward on the outside edge, and crossing his former lines in two places... The balance foot swings backward with much force as the skater draws backward, and forward as he draws forward."


Special figures with cross-cuts as the main feature abounded in the late nineteenth century. Meagher described a "double-headed crosscut" (with the bottom part closed with a forward straight line), a Swedish Crosscut, double Swedish Crosscut or 'Reverse Canadian Crosscut' and a Rocker Crosscut attributed to one Lord Archibald Campbell. Many other variations of the figure abounded during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and were mentioned in various skating books. They included the Diamond Cross-cut, Lebedeff Reverse Cross-cut and Sanders Reverse Cross-cut. Each included what we consider cross-cuts today as part of figure designs.

By the early 1880's, skaters like Louis Rubenstein were showing off their skill at Anvils in Canadian competitions and it's entirely likely (even probable) that it was he who introduced Russians Georg Sanders and Alexei P. Lebedeff to the 'Reverse Cross-cut' or Anvil when he visited St. Petersburg in 1890. By 1892, the New England Association was including 'curved angles - cross cuts or anvils' among its lists of competitive elements and an article from the December 13, 1896 issue of the "Brooklyn Eagle" boasted that Meagher could do "over one hundred anvils... without stopping." 

Perhaps most amusing when you think at how much smack talk goes on towards programs full of cross-cuts under the IJS system is that back in the day, they were frowned upon too... but for different reasons. John E. Nitchie noted that cross-cuts or Anvils were considered a 'trick figure' once upon a time. Many late nineteenth century skaters simply considered them to much of a novelty or even too difficult to practice. Even the great German professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel once said of cross-cuts, "They are not pretty figures but are sometimes useful in embellishing a skating programme through their oddity."

History sometimes forces us to look at things from a different perspective. What was once new, novel, difficult and odd is now considered old school, boring, simplistic and commonplace. Whatever your views are on the construction of programs under 'the new system', the fact remains that a program full of cross-cuts was a program was indeed a program full of figures. 

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, 1 August 2017

The Sensational Silverthorne's


Born February 1, 1923 and March 3, 1925 in the seaside resort town on Brighton, England, Dennis and Winifred 'Winnie' Silverthorne were the children of two energetic candy shop owners. They learned to skate at the S.S. Brighton on rink atop a filled-in swimming pool in the mid-thirties and by the ages of fourteen and sixteen, Dennis was Great Britain's junior men's champion and Winnie the junior women's silver medallist. The careers of the two promising skaters from Sussex were cut short when World War II broke out.

Though underage, Dennis was recruited to join the Royal Air Force. He was first sent to Dunnville, Ontario where he trained at a pilot school alongside 1939 World Silver Medallist Freddie Tomlins. Then, he flew a four-engined Avro Lancaster over German occupied areas in Continental Europe. Reporter Tom Hawthorn noted in 2004 that "the only close scrape he discussed after the war involved a jilted girlfriend. Her responsibility was to pack the aircrews' parachutes and, soon after their romance soured, she handed Mr. Silverthorne his backpack with what he took to be a peculiar smile. He was grateful he did not have to use the parachute on that mission." Meanwhile at home in England, Winnie joined the Women's Royal Naval Service and acted as a scientific instrument inspector.


The siblings reunited both off and on the ice after the war, studying under Arnold Gerschwiler and Armand Perren and forging a partnership as a pairs team. In May and December of 1946, they held off challenges from Bob Hudson and Jean Higson and Tony Holles and Joyce Coates to win two back-to-back British pairs titles. At the 1947 European Figure Skating Championships in Davos they won the silver medal behind Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet of Belgium. So impressive were they in their big international debut that the Czechoslovakian judge had them in first place. At the subsequent World Championships in Stockholm, they barely missed the podium, finishing in fourth behind another Belgian pair, Suzanne Diskeuve and Edmond Verbustel. Judges from France, Great Britain and the United States had them in the top three. They capped off their brief competitive career with top six finishes at both the 1948 Olympic Games and World Championships in Switzerland.


Turning professional in July of 1948, Winnie and Dennis appeared in Tom Arnold's "Stars On Ice" at the King's Theatre alongside Marilyn Telfer, Valerie Morn and Adele Inge, supplementing their income from the ice pantomime by teaching skating in Brighton. After briefly touring with Arnold's international company in India, Dennis married Belgian Champion Micheline Flon in 1950. Winnie and the newyleds boarded the Cunard liner RMS Franconia in December of 1951 and headed to New York City with plans of coaching in Canada.


Dennis settled in Schumacher, opening the Silverthorne Skating School in St. Thomas in 1959. Although he helped launch two skating clubs in London, Ontario in the seventies (Ilderton and Forest City) his biggest claim to fame was the fact he coached Donald McPherson from the time he was a young boy until he won gold medals at the Canadian, North American and World Championships. After remarrying to a skating judge named Patricia Herrick, he also coached in Cleveland, Ohio for a time. Winnie was quite the accomplished coach in her own right. Settling in Alberta, she coached first at the Glencoe Club and later at the Calgary Winter Club. Like Dennis' star McPherson, Winnie's prize pupil, Brian Pockar, was also a Canadian Champion and a World Medallist. In 1979, Pockar said of his long time coach, "I've chosen Winnie and put my career in her hands. She takes it seriously and I trust her."

Winnie passed away in Calgary on March 7, 1998 at the age of seventy three and is remembered to this day for her dedication to working with not just champions, but skaters of all levels. Dennis left this world in London, Ontario at age of eighty on January 2, 2004 after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. In his "London Free Press" obituary from January 2004, Lianne Anderson (then president of the Ilderton Skating Club) recalled, "He was a driving force in the sport. You don't find many people who commit that much of their life to anything,.. He was always a gentleman, always properly dressed and perfectly mannered. Figure skating is a business - a career - but he was always there for the kids." Dennis was inducted posthumously into Skate Canada's Hall Of Fame in 2006 and Winnie is remembered through the Alberta/Northwest Territories/Nunavut section of Skate Canada's annual Winnie Silverthorne Award presented to skaters who give outstanding performances in competition.

 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.

Friday, 28 July 2017

#Unearthed: Skate Sailing Down The Skatchawattomie


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time.

This month's #Unearthed comes to you from as the result of anecdote shared in Arthur R. Goodfellow's fabulous 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating".
The author wrote, "Skates have been life-savers on more than one occasion. There was the 16-year old Canadian girl who skate-sailed twenty miles down the Skatchawattomie River in 20-degree below zero weather to get help for her brother who was in danger of losing his eyesight due to burns received in a cabin fire. With their parents away, there was no one to go for assistance but his sister. Using a home-made skate sail and her brother's long skates, she started the journey as dusk was falling without thought of danger to herself. But ten miles down the river, a pack of howling winter-starved timber wolves gave chase and pursued her all the way to the settlement. It was only by skillfull use of the sail and constant tacking in the moonlight that the heroic girl eluded the gray mass of terror and skated to the safety of barking dogs, running men and the lighted, open doorways of the hamlet - and help for her brother." This harrowing anecdote was certainly reminiscent of the story "Cornelius And The Wolves", which we've already covered on the blog. But was it fact or fiction?

I reached out to Deidre at the University Of Saskatoon who put me through to a retired (and very kind) ninety one year old limnologist. Neither had ever heard of the Skatchawattomie River, but pointed out that it was probably either a name given by the local First Nations people or a river that has long since dried up. I was, however, through some digging able to find out that the source of this story was the January 10, 1910 issue of "The Victoria Daily Colonist". The paper was one of the first daily newspapers on Canada's West Coast and often printed fictionalized accounts of real life stories, so while it's pretty safe to say that this likely did happen, some poetic license was most likely taken to 'make a good story', so do take it with a grain of salt. Now in the public domain but crudely digitized, I was able to largely correct the digitization errors in editing to reveal the original story "Skate Sailing For Life" in its entirety.

"SKATE SAILING FOR LIFE" (C.H. CLAUDY)



"Put on an extra pair of socks, please Fanny. It will be bitter cold tonight. Jack, get me the brown blanket for Jim. He needs it for when I stop at Harrige's."

Mr. Billings spoke quietly, but his heart was in a tumult. It was not easy for him to leave his sixteen-year old daughter and eighteen-year-old son in a trapper's house in middle Canada at the height of an unusual snap of cold. But his partner, in camp forty miles away had been hurt by a falling tree, and had sent word by a neighbour assisting for him, and Mr. Billings had to go.

"And, Jack," he called, as his son came with the horse-blanket. "Take care of Fanny. You're the man here now. And keep off the river. I saw wolf track's this morning."

"Why, father, are you sure?" cried Jack. "It must have been a dog. We have never heard of a wolf this far south since we've been here."

"They were wolf tracks, son," was the answer. "I know a wolf track when I see one... You stay away until I get back. I'll be back before two or three days."

This was all there was to his leave taking. They were not emotional people, these Billings. That father had to go forty miles with the thermometer twenty-five below zero, that they two were to keep house alone, In a place where loneliness stalks bare-faced always, [there] were things to think of, to regret, to sorrow over, if need be, but not to make a fuss about. Frances and John Billings were both children of the wilderness, and something of the stoicism of the men and the women and even of the beasts and the trees that live alone, far from their kind, and weather the rigors of seven months winter was theirs, even at the age when youth and high spirits fight bravely against cold and silence and hard work.

The house was lonely. It was bad enough to have father gone, but to have him away and not to know
whether "Partner Uncle Phil" would ever come again or not, to have empty rooms and empty chairs to face, was more than uncomfortable. The two young people looked at each other gravely across the supper table.

"Don't let's mope, Jack," said Fanny. "Let's clear, up the attic. It needs it, and work is more fun than sitting still."... The girl arose, took a lamp, and went lightly upstairs. In a moment, Jack... joined his sister. Together they dressed as if for outdoors, and then went up to the big, dim, cobwebby attic. It was cold.

"Whew!" said Jack. "Let's begin.  Let's start on that pile of junk over there!'' and he stepped toward it as he spoke.

Whether he stumbled and fell or hit her arm by accident, he could not tell, but the next instant he was working madly to extinguish the flames which the oil from a broken lamp was spreading, while Fanny beat at his face and body with a blanket. Luckily they put the flames out. But when all was out save the smoke, Jack was curled up on the floor moaning, his face black and his cry all: "Oh, my eyes - my eyes! Oh, my eyes!"

Very gently, Fanny led him down the stairs, into the warmth and light of the sitting-room. As the warm air struck him, he gasped with pain. "My collar, Fanny; get it off - oh!"

Quickly the girl unbuttoned his collar and opened his shirt at the neck. He was badly burned. Deftly she bathed the tortured face and neck, bound up the burns and oiled the bandages. Then there was nothing to do but sit and watch.

Jack was a man in heart if a boy in years. Beyond his first involuntary cry, he grit his teeth and said nothing. But Fanny knew. Once when she left the room noisily and crept back, she heard him moan, "My eyes! Father, my eyes! "

It was too much for Fanny. She said to herself: "If I were hurt, Jack would never sit still and watch. He'd do something. He needs a doctor. It's only twenty miles, to town by the river. I can make it under the hour with the sail."

Even as she began to get together skates, cloak and gloves, sweater, and the fur, she stopped.

"Wolves!" Father said he saw a wolf track. And father told Jack to stay off the river. If father were only here! If I only had another horse... but I'm not afraid. At least, I'm not much afraid. And he didn't fell me to stay off."

Quietly she made her preparation. There were Jack's skates, longer and sharper than hers, but she knew she could use them., There was the fur, which fits head and neck and shoulders; there were the thin mittens and the thick fur ones to cover them, the sweater, the belt, and the fur cloak. The skate sail she meant to use was in the barn. She had already seen that the wind was pounding the river. Fanny stepped into the sitting- room.

"Jack," she said, "Jack. I'm going to town and get Dr. Perry. He'll be here in a few hours, and I'll come back with him. I can't see you suffer like this, and he may be able to do you a lot of good. No, don't say anything - I'm going."

Either Jack didn't hear, or, hearing, understood, she didn't know. He put out a hand to her, and she grasped it and kissed it an unusual demonstration for her to make and then ran from the room. The tears froze to her lashes as she stepped ouside. It was bitter cold and even in her fur, the north wind's icy knife cut true and sharp.

"This isn't the time for tears; it's the time for me to be a man," she said, half sobbing to herself, nor smiling at the words. She ran to the barn, and took from the wall her brothers' skate sail. Shaped like a big kite, it was nine feet long, five broad, with two crossed spars to hold it taut. She remembered how she and her father had laughed at Jack when he made it, after some plan he had seen in one of their rare magazines, and how he had had the laugh on them and the envy of all the countryside youth when he had carried it and outstripped the fleetest skater of them all. Then she caught her breath
with the thought, "What if I'll never skate again?", shook the dread from her, and tried to .think only of Jack as well and strong. It was with profound gratitude... that she remembered that she had a generous brother who had shared his sport with her and taught her how to use the thing, so graceful when well managed, so cumbersome to the novice."

"I'll make you a lighter one; this is yoo heavy for you," Jack had said. But she was glad she had learned to use the heavy one.

Slipping on her skating gear quickly, Fanny drew the straps tight - tight. "It'll shrink with the cold; mustn't get loose," she thought.

Then, confident, and with fears behind her, she stepped off the little wharf onto the black surface of the Skatchawattomie. She was not cold now, the excitement of adventure had gripped her. A few strokes brought her to the middle of the little river. The skate sail she held horizontal over her head, well knowing that to bring it broadside to the wind before she was ready was to be thrown or have it torn away for her. Then carefully she set her feet, the right one in front, drew in her breath, and with a sudden motion, brought the skate-sail upright along her right side. Before the wind could whip it about, her left hand had caught the horizontal spar which rested on her shoulder, her right grasped the upright, and almost as if shot from a gun, she spun away down the cracking, booming ribbon of
ice which stretched so far. so black, in front of her.

It was an exhilarating sport, this skate-sailing, almost like flying... So swift the motion, so bird-like and so effortless, the body seems without weight. Keen air whips the blood to the face with such a tingle, and the excitement of the possibility of a spill and of the motion and the necessity for alertness in guiding is so great that as a sport, it has few equals. But joyous as Fanny always found skate-sailing, it was not sport tonight. It was business. She had little time for enjoyment... [She had] to get to town and get the doctor back to that poor burned body in the house, already so far behind. Yet it was impossible to keep some feeling of exultation from her herself, even though she cursed herself for it.

Even as she exulted In the swift motion and shook with a little shiver of pleasure at her speed, her face blanched. Seeming an answer to the loud ring of the skates on the brittle ice there came through the air from behind, a soft, high keynote. She had never heard it, but she knew what it was.

"Wolves," she whispered; "wolves!" And then again, "Wolves!" She could not be mistaken.

Well she knew, from many a campfire story, told by the hunter and trapper, as well as from thrilling tales her father had told, what a pack of winter-starved wolves may mean to the unwary traveller. One wolf can be scared away, two or three need but a little vigilance, but a pack is death to one man, be 'he armed' how he may.

For a moment panic gripped her. But always she saw in her imagination the picture of a suffering, dearly loved face, a freckled hand, groping for her... The black ribbon of ice swung steadily and low beneath her feet and there was but little noise, only of the skates as they cut into the cold, cracked surface and an occasional "clang" as she struck with one foot or another a frozen bit of wood or an airhole or a crack. She was thankful for her brother's skates that saved many a tumble and for her strong ankles. With every bend in the river, she must change the position of her feet and sometimes swing the heavy sail over her head and down the other side. Cold she was not. Going with the wind, she felt none; across it, the sail protected her. Only her feet were getting numb, from vibration rather than cold.

Then again she heard it, nearer now and louder, a keen high, cry that was half a howl and half a growl and wholly terrifying. She looked back. There was nothing in sight. But "Horror!" she thought. "Horror! They are coming - coming - and soon I'll see them behind me. Give me strength!

The banks of the river were as black as the surface. Star shine only lighted the path and she prayed... Right behind her, it seemed, came the noise of the pack. In full chase now, and scenting well the flying quarry just ahead. But Fanny, her blood high and her brother's helpless cry still in her ears, forgot to be frightened as she turned and looked back.

"Small pack," she thought, as they swung into sight, eager and lank and swift, pin-points of light for merciless eyes, "but big enough for me."

Then she turned her face to the work in front. She had to change sail several times to make a difficult turn, and she felt she was losing ground. But a flow in the wind took her, just then and instead of easing off as she had been doing to relieve the strain on her ankle and leg, she held it up against the wind. Then the flow fell and her speed dropped. Behind her, closer and closer, she heard the occasional cry of the pack.

"But it isn't far now," she thought. "It can't be far now. It's just around that bend. Hopefully." Fanny did not know the river as Jack did, and the night and the excitement and the wolves had confused her
as to just where she was.

Now she swung Into a long and narrow stretch with the wind dead across it, and she had to tack or lose speed. And as she tacked, looking round, her she could see the black mass of terror sweeping straight down the ice. "It's now or never," she thought, as she reached the bend the river. But it was to be "now".

"There! There it is! There it is!" Fanny's thought was a cry aloud. The lights of the little town were in sight and with the wolf-pack trailing twenty yards behind her, she flung herself at the low wharf, pitched the sail to the pack and while they worried with it, flew - skates at all - into the little store, and gasped out her story to an astounded crowd of men, and then faded quietly into a land where there were neither wolves nor ice nor burned brother Jack.

In the long days of convalescence, when no one knew whether he would ever see again or not, Frances had to talk and to read much to keep from thinking too often of those hours of horror; for Jack, when, blinded and panic-racked, he waited helplessly for the aid which seemed so long in coming; for her when, coupled with the thought of being torn to pieces, was the other terror that, should she fail, her brother might suffer for days before relief, or - the end.

But the terror of these memories grew less with each passing hour, and vanished on the day when Dr. Perry took the bandage from Jack's eyes and he saw again.

"It was that, and a girl's pluck, that saved your eyes, young man,'' he said pointing to the torn sail standing in the corner of the room. But Jack only raised his eyes and took his sister's smiling face between his thin, scarred hands.

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, 27 July 2017

A Wonder From Winnipeg: The Rupert Whitehead Story


The son of Edward and Julia (Davis) Whitehead, Rupert Whitehead was born on April 16, 1910 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Rupert and his four siblings, Eleanor, Katherine, John, and Virginia, were largely raised by a British nurse. The Whitehead children attended elementary school in Winnipeg but their mother pulled them all out of school for a time when the family suffered through a year of whooping cough, chicken pox and the mumps. The family relocated briefly to Prince Rupert and Victoria, British Columbia before returning to Winnipeg.

Rupert received his first pair of skates at Christmas when he was in grade five. "It was a mild winter," he recalled in his memoir "Unstoppable Energy, Unshakable Faith", the primary source material for much of this blog. "Our front walk was covered with ice. So I went to the front steps and laced them on. My father was behind me urging me, 'Don't do it. Don't do it, Rupert. You have to learn to skate.' But I wasn't listening. I got them laced on and started off. I skated all the way to the boulevard, turned around and skated back. I can still see the white marks from the blades. That is how I learned to skate."

Rupert took to skating in the flooded backyard of a family friend's home on Kingsway and on the flooded courts of the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. Encouraged by the 'fancy skaters' who practiced on the frozen tennis courts, he joined the Winnipeg Skating Club and took lessons at rinks on Smith Street and Portage Avenue. He recalled, "It was great. We would skate for two hours, have food and milk and then walk home under the stars. Because there were few street lights we learned about Orion, the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Those were happy times."

Rupert entered several of the Winnipeg Skating Club's competitions, winning the championship for boys under fourteen in 1924 and later, the club's intermediate and junior competitions. In one event, he narrowly defeated a young man named Elswood Bole who later played an important role in Winnipeg's city administration. He also performed in the club's first carnival in the early twenties. He recalled, "One act took the form of a three-ring circus. For reasons unknown I was the last skater to leave the ice. I realized there would be no skating action while the rings were removed so I stepped into a ring and began to practice my sit spin. Each time I tried, I ended up sitting on the ice. Then I managed about a half a revolution and then two and then I was spinning and managed to stand up instead of sitting down. Suddenly there was deafening applause. For a second I was frightened. Mr. Dick Bingham, the carnival producer, stopped me. 'That was great, Rupert, do it again tomorrow night.'

Aidrie Main and Rupert Whitehead

After graduating high school at the age of sixteen, Rupert tried his hand at banking. A series of bad investments and failed business ventures left him in serious debt at a very young age. It was during this period that the Winnipeg Skating Club became the Winnipeg Winter Club, and while the financial industry struggled through The Great Depression, he borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. He took solace in ice dancing with a group of eight friends at the club. He recalled, "One day we found ourselves welcoming a new member. Her name was Aidrie Main and [she] hailed from Montreal. She and I became good friends. Her energy seemed to watch mine... Aidrie suggested we both try to pass the '2nd test' as it was known in those days. We practiced diligently for several weeks and succeeded. At the end of the skating season, she returned to Montreal."

In 1930, Rupert's father fell ill and passed away. Shortly thereafter, his uncle - a millionaire from California - passed away leaving Rupert and a cousin in England the bulk of his fortune. As 'the new man of the house', Rupert settled into his role with reluctance. Though his substantial windfall could have solved his money woes, through failed business venture after failed business venture, the money was lost and young Rupert developed what would be an almost lifelong, very public drinking problem.


Through it all, he got up at six or seven in the mornings and practiced at the Winnipeg Winter Club in hopes of passing his gold figure test. During this period, he competed thrice at the Canadian Championships, winning the bronze medal in the junior men's event in 1931, the Canadian junior men's title in 1932 and the bronze medal in the senior men's competitions in both 1933 and 1934 behind Bud Wilson and Guy Owen. He recalled that at one event, "The present holder, Montgomery (Bud) Wilson said he would not come to Winnipeg unless there was competition. So, you know who became the competitor! I volunteered and skated against him. Of course, he got very high marks and I got very low marks. But I got marks for being a good sport. Also, it gave me a chance to try for the gold [figure test] because there would be enough judges in Winnipeg. By George, if I didn't win my gold medal in figures, very difficult figures, and a very difficult long free skating program!"

Rupert also tried his hand at fours skating for a time. He recalled, "Skating fours were very popular, usually two men and two women. Ours consisted of Betty and Peggy Holden, sisters, Philip Lee and myself. Of course, I was in charge, planned the program and was even going to design the costumes... [My mother] made us two sets of terrific costumes: a Russian four and another in black and white. The front was white, the back, all black. The division down the sides was absolutely perfect." By 1936, he'd put together a new four with Burton Kennedy, Mary Arckle and Evelyn Rogers. They achieved some popularity and were invited to carnivals as far away as Minneapolis. He was coached by Leopold Maier-Labergo during this period.

In 1937, Royalite, an oil company Rupert had bought stocks in, struck Texas Tea and he made a pretty penny. He was also invited to be a guest skater in the Royal Glenora Skating Club's carnival in Edmonton. He recalled, "I was standing at the middle of the ice waiting for my music to start. The spots came on. The music began. From then on, I cannot remember a thing! What I do remember is that there was an awful lot of applause... When the show was over people actually leapt over the fence onto the ice to shake my hand." Rupert's good impression led to an invitation from the club to be their head professional. He accepted, and worked long, cold days, teaching figures and ice dance and organizing competitions amongst his students with wrapped gifts as prizes.

When his contract ended, Rupert married his wife Yvonne and returned to Winnipeg to work as a professional at the Winnipeg Winter Club. His position was short lived. In the autumn of 1941, he arrived at the club to prepare for the upcoming season only to find the doors locked. He later learned that the club had been sold to the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve. Again having made another series of bad investments, his oil money was gone and he was flat broke.


Unphased, Rupert decided to start his own skating club, which he first called The Figure Skaters Of Greater Winnipeg, later the Winnipeg Ice Club. He plastered the city with posters that said 'Rupert Whitehead, Gold Medallist, Dance, Silver Medallist, Former Junior Canadian Men's Champion will teach figure skating' and started giving lessons at the Sherburn outdoor rink. His club was an instant hit and soon he was presenting carnivals at the Amphitheatre. As director of these shows, Rupert brought in some big names, including Barbara Ann Scott and Belita Jepson-Turner. He performed as well, waltzing with his wife and skating solo exhibitions. One of his favourite programs was set to "Giannina Mia" from Rudolf Friml's opera "The Firefly". He recalled the program thusly: "My number was just graceful dance movements, one jump, what is called a half a revolution or waltz jump, one spin, and then a flip jump at the very end." He closed the number by having the lights blacked out, skating out the curtain, running up to the other side of the rink and emerging when the lights came on. The audience ate it up. Rupert's shows added a touch of colour to the grey Prairies throughout much of World War II.

During the War, Rupert and Yvonne welcomed three sons, Bill, Michael and Tim. For a period, Rupert stepped away from skating to undergo training with the army reserve, but in no time he was back on the ice, putting his students through the paces with the same iron fist as his military trainers.
However, by 1950, Rupert was struggling with the lows of his alcoholism and quit skating and coaching altogether, giving his position and even his skates to 1934 Canadian Junior Champion and former fours partner Philip Lee. Unfortunately, under Lee's direction, the Winnipeg Ice Club absolved within a year. Penniless and with few prospects, Rupert turned his life around as the Executive Director of the Greater Winnipeg and Manitoba Safety Councils. He played a major role in devising and implementing defensive driving programs in the province and even for a time dabbled in real estate.

Three decades later, Rupert had somewhat of a personal epiphany. He sold his real estate holdings, cancelled all of his subscriptions to business magazines and newspapers and turned towards religion. He considered a visit to a Franciscan monastery a life-changing event. A book lended to him by one Father Oswald called "The Sermon On The Mount" greatly changed his perspective on life. In retirement, he devoted his time to curling, playing bridge, attending church and writing. He even penned four novels: "The Gold Caper", "The Top Of Water", "The Note Skater" and "The World, A Fresh Start". Unfortunately, none of these books were ever accepted by a publisher.

In April 1996, a group of Rupert's former students organized a touching reunion full of speeches where they described the impact that he had made in their lives. Soon, Rupert and his former students were on the ice every week at the River Heights Community Club and he was welcomed back to the skating world with open arms. After attending the 2000 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Calgary, he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall Of Fame in 2004. On April 16, 2010, accompanied by three of his former students, he skated two laps around the ice at the Winnipeg Winter Club to celebrate his one hundredth birthday. He passed away on October 30 of that year, having left an indelible impression on Manitoba's skating community.

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, 25 July 2017

The 1982 Skate Canada International Competition

The Canadian contingent at 1982 Skate Canada International. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine. Used with permission.

The Skate Canada International competition held from October 28 to 30, 1982 might have taken place just days before Hallowe'en, but the competition itself was far from scary. Held at the Kitchener Auditorium in Kitchener, Ontario, the international competition boasted forty seven competitors from thirteen countries. The event was broadcast on CTV and received major sponsorship from NOVA Corp, an Alberta based energy company. Although a pairs competition had not yet been added to the Skate Canada roster, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini were on hand to perform nightly exhibitions to music from "Cats", Vangelis and John Denver. World ice dance champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean also appeared to give special exhibitions at the event, although they did not compete. Let's take a brief look back at how things played out in each discipline in Kitchener back in 1982!

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Rosalynn Sumners
The CFSA was left scrambling at the eleventh hour when - a week before the competition - Canadian Champion Kay Thomson withdrew due to injury. Also out was Elizabeth Manley, who had recently switched coaches and moved to Lake Placid to train with Emmerich Danzer. Seventeen year old Diane Ogibowski of Minnedosa, Manitoba was the third woman they had initially named to the Skate Canada team but there wasn't really a contingency plan in place to decide who would join her in Thomson and Manley's absence. A five competitor 'skate-off' was held and fifteen year old Monica Lipson of Toronto and sixteen year old Barbara Butler of Oakville were chosen.

The school figures were won by Finland's Kristina Wegelius with West Germany's Manuela Ruben second and Seattle, Washington's Rosalynn Sumners third. In the short program, only four of the eleven women competing skated cleanly. One of them was Ruben, who moved up to take the lead. Another was Vikki de Vries of the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, who finished second in the short program but remained in fourth place overall. Sumners fell on her combination jump but remained in second overall. The Canadians fared much worse. Lipson fell twice and sat in second, Obigowski was tied for ninth with Susan Jackson of Great Britain and Butler finished last.


Skating to a medley of tunes that included a steppy disco version of the "Gone With The Wind" theme, de Vries landed a nice triple toe-loop and triple Salchow early in her program but things got a little wonky as she went on. She managed to overtake a conservative Wegelius and a fumbling Sumners for the gold. Anna Kondrashova of the Soviet Union, who was second in the free skate, placed fourth and Manuela Ruben, the short program winner, fell apart and finished fifth. Ogibowski was eighth, Lipson ninth and Butler eleventh.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Annenko and Sretenski at 1982 Skate Canada International.  Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine. Used with permission.

Americans Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert withdrew due to illness, leaving eleven ice dance teams from eight countries to tango to the top. Canadians Tracy Wilson and Rob missed their opening cue in the second compulsory dance (the Argentine Tango) and restarted without penalty. They finished a strong second behind Americans Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, setting the stage for the exciting Rock N' Roll OSP.

At the St. Ivel competition in England the month before Skate Canada, Wilson and McCall had debuted their new OSP. It wasn't well received by the international judges so they scrambled to replace it on short notice, even enlisting the help of a radio station to get clearance rights to skate to "Stray Cat Strut".  With Rob sporting a greased back ducktail and Tracy in fishnets and a ponytail, they skated brilliantly. Three judges had them ahead of Spitz and Gregory; two had the duos tied. They got a huge standing O from the Kitchener crowd - Wilson's first ever - but the Soviet judge gave them a 4.8 and had them dead last of the eleven teams competing.


Contrasting their crowd-pleasing OSP with a dramatic free dance to music from the French film "Les Uns Et Les Autres", Wilson and McCall finished second overall behind the spunky Spitz and Gregory. Canadian commentators criticized the American's free dance as being too similar to pairs skating. Soviets Natalia Annenko and Genrikh Sretenski edged an injured Wendy Sessions and Stephen Williams for the bronze. Americans Renee Roca and Donald Adair, also recovering from injury, were seventh.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Brian Orser.  Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine. Used with permission.

One of the earliest precursors of the 'Battle Of The Brian's' in Calgary in 1988, the men's event at Skate Canada in 1982, was billed as the 'Battle Of The Triple Axels'. In his book "Orser: A Skater's Life", Brian Orser mused, "An American TV station did a split-screen comparison - 'Who had the better triple Axel?' - and showed Brian [Boitano] and me side-by-side going through our Axels."

Eleven men from nine countries competed in the school figures, where Axels meant little and loops everything. Boitano, the nineteen year old Linda Leaver student from California, came out on tops ahead of West Germany's Heiko Fischer, Poland's Gzregorz Filipowski and France's Philippe Paulet. Brian Orser finished a disappointing fifth, all but assuring an anti-climactic end to this 'battle' before it even began.




In an almost identical scenario to the one that would play out two years later at the Sarajevo Olympics, Brian Orser found himself ahead of an American in both the short program and free skate... but second overall. And just as would be the case four years after that at the Calgary Olympics, Boitano took the gold in Kitchener and Orser the silver. If it was any consolation, it was Orser who landed the triple Axel in his free skate and Boitano who two footed his. Fischer ended the event in third ahead of Filipowski, the Soviet Union's Boris Uspensky and American Bobby Beauchamp. Canada's Kevin Parker was seventh when he started the competition and seventh when he finished.

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