With I, Tonya, getting Oscar buzz and scheduled to go into wider release this month, figure skating is all the rage. Let’s examine Hollywood’s take on the sport.
The Ice Follies of 1939 (1939) This American musical drama stars Joan Crawford as actress Mary whose marriage to renowned ice skater Larry Hall (the one and only Jimmy Stewart!) brings on a host of issues both personal and professional. Also starring Lew Ayres (who played Dr. Kildare in nine movies), and three of the legendary International Ice Follies as themselves in their film debut.
Sun Valley Serenade (1941) In this black and white musical band pianist Ted Scott’s (John Payne of Miracle on 34th Street fame), manager has a bright idea; drum up publicity for the band by having adopt a foreign refugee. Instead of the child orphan Ted and the others were expecting their ‘refugee’ is a very attractive young woman named Karen Benson (real life three time gold medalist figure skater Sonja Henie of Norway), much to the chagrin of Ted’s fiancée. When the band gets a Christmas gig in Sun Valley, Karen tags along and hijinks ensue. Beside Henie’s elaborate routines on ice, the movie’s also noteworthy for premiering “Chattanooga Choo Choo” which won the Oscar for Best Original Song and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The Cutting Edge (1992) Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man) directed this romantic comedy written by Tony Gilroy. Wealthy spoiled Kate Mosely (Moira Kelly of One Tree Hill) is a world class figure skater but her diva antics keep scaring off potential partners. Her coach Anton (Roy Dotrice of Amadeus) in a last ditch effort recruits washed-up hockey player Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney of Eight Men Out) who hates figure skating. The two form a prickly partnership that eventually takes them to a stand-off against a Soviet team at the 1992 Olympics.
Reflections on Ice (1999) This HBO produced documentary features extensive footage and discussion of the early days of the sport. It covers everything from gender roles in ice skating, indoor vs. outdoor skating, politics of judging, costuming, the notorious Trixie Schuba and Janet Lynn rivalry and more. Worth special mention is the tragic plane crash of 1961 where the entire U.S. skating team was killed prompting a cancellation of the World Championships that year. Includes interviews with such legendary skaters as Peggy Fleming, Barbara Ann Scott, Dorothy Hamill, and Carole Heiss Jenkins.
The Fabulous Ice Age (2013) Keri Pickett directed this documentary about the golden age of touring ice shows which entertained generations of Americans, beginning in 1915 when a young, German, Charlotte from Berlin, brought her ‘ballet on ice’ to America’s Hippodrome theater. From frozen ponds to sold out arenas ice skating was BIG. Through archival footage and interviews with ice show producers, skating stars, and fans alike Pickett brings this uniquely American art form to life and also tells the story of one skater’s quest to preserve and share the history.
Top photo: Bigstock