Sonja Henie — Skating To Stardom (1937) 🇺🇸

Sonja Henie — Skating To Stardom (1937) 🇺🇸

December 30, 2021

Sonja Henie, world champion ice-skater, makes her debut in Hollywood and tells her plans for the future.

An elf from the land of the Vikings, an elf with a pert retrousse nose — flashing brown eyes that sparkle with bubbling merriment and the sheer joy of living — an oval face that radiates health and freshness — and the whole crowned with a nimbus of golden hair — that is Sonja Henie, world queen of the ice, who is now adding to her realm by capturing Hollywood’s land of make-believe.

Beautiful she is, exceptionally beautiful even in Hollywood, where beauty abounds. But beauty alone no longer suffices. There must be something more. Personality — charm, of course — but above everything else — ability. And Sonja has them all. While her beauty might well be an heritage from her forebears (Scandinavian with just a dash of Irish to add flavor and elan) she had to learn to dance and to skate. And the facility with which she mastered both these difficult arts is the why of her present conquest in pictures.

If she can act with the same consummate artistry as she can skate, she will be priceless. Priceless not only to her studio, always in search of fresh material, but priceless to audiences surfeited with sloe-eyed langourous screen sirens whose hothouse beauty is their only asset and who move as if in a constant torpid dream.

For there is no langour about Sonja. She is pep personified. Her eyes scintillate, her dimples twinkle and her hands move in flashing staccato gestures while she talks. Every act, every phase of her being glows with vitality. Which is not unusual in an Olympic champion, at that, but for moving-picture queens it is definitely “something new.”

She refused our proffered cigarette with a quick smile: “I do not smoke,” she explained, “Because I keep rigid training rules always. Especially now. when I have to skate so much in this, my first picture.” She grew enthusiastic about her screen work. “There are lots of dancing numbers on skates,” she said, happily, “and they designed some charming costumes for me. I think it will be good — I do hope so. I want to be successful on the screen.”

All this was said with the most charming accent imaginable, but quite impossible to reproduce in cold type. “They built a special rink for me to skate on, on the sound-stage,” she added, seeming surprised at the immense expense the studio incurred so that her skates could fly.

“How about imitation ice, the kind they use in most of the skating scenes in pictures?” we suggested. “Hypo and water is its basic material. I think.”

She shook her head, showing three dimples at once as she smiled mischievously. “I had to have real ice or I could not skate at all, so —” with an eloquent shrug, “they made it!”

We asked how Sonja came to be an ice-skater. A question that she has been asked hundreds of times before, but we wanted our own answer, stubbornly, and waited for her reply.

“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be on the stage,” she said. “First I wanted to be a ballet dancer and I studied dancing until I was twenty years old. I study now, too, so that I can keep my sense of balance perfect. Ice skating is not alone a sport — it is an art! I have skated before hundreds of thousands of people; in fact, ever since I began to skate I have been before the public. I have tried to entertain — to put some of the beauty of the dance into my skating. Now I dance on skates instead of just skating.”

“What do you mean about dancing on skates?” we asked, interrupting.

“Well,” she explained, “Many actresses are dancers. They prepare for their acting career by dancing, f have done the same. I do not wish nor intend to give up skating. It means too much to me, and I believe it is too beautiful to be lost. I think it is as entertaining for people to watch as dancing, and much more swift. Now, I want to broaden my field, to carry my career another step forward with acting.”

Sonja, when she talks, is hardly the picture of a “cool, reserved Scandinavian.” Her mother, who accompanied her to Hollywood and lives here with her, explained this entirely un-Norwegian phase of Sonja’s personality. She had been nearby during the interview and now entered the discussion. She herself, is a handsome, distinguished woman, slender and quiet, with Sonja’s oval face reflected in her own.

“My mother — Sonja’s grandmother — was Irish,” said Mrs. Henie. “That is why Sonja has brown eyes, instead of blue. That is why Sonja is — well, Sonja.”

Sonja started being Sonja, it seems, at the age of three. She danced and skipped almost continually, often loving to wrap herself in drapes and pretend she was a dancer. At four Sonja began to study dancing at a ballet school in Oslo where she was born.

Thus, Sonja danced before she skated. She did not learn to skate until she was eight years old. Then, like any other youngster in Oslo in winter, she wanted a pair of skates for Christmas, so she could go to the Municipal Stadium with other children and skate, too.

Sonja learned to skate as other beginners did.

“I put on my skates,” she laughed, “scooted out on the ice, and promptly fell down. I may have cried, too. I don’t remember now.”

Once she found her legs, so to speak. Sonja knew she was always going to be happy while she skated. The other children raced on their skates and her own father would tell her about the time when he was the second fastest speed skater in Europe, — but Sonja was only interested in dancing on the ice. After she learned to skate, she paid even more attention to her ballet dancing.

The second winter of her skating-life, Sonja started to win honors at figure skating. At nine years old. she won the Junior competition of the Oslo skating club. At ten she won again. At eleven she won the Norwegian championship and went to the Olympic games in Switzerland — just for the experience and without making any effort to win. By this time, she realized that she had much to learn before she really began to skate with any degree of seriousness, such as making it her chosen profession.

As a result, she decided to train assiduously before entering any more competitions. This when she was already Norwegian champion!

At the age of thirteen she undertook active competition again and placed second in the world championship matches in Stockholm. The next year she won the world championship, thus, at the age of fourteen, Sonja’s dancing on ice had carried her to the World Figure-Skating Championship. The title has been hers ever since. In 1928 she captured her Olympic championship which she retained in 1932 and 1936.

“Just what is figure-skating?” we asked Sonja, at the risk of seeming very stupid indeed.

“Not many people know, exactly,” she said. “It isn’t just ‘making a lot of fancy curley-cues on ice,’ as someone put it, but is one of the most difficult, dangerous and beautiful of sports. You see, generations of skaters have established certain classical figures with which to test their skill. There are eighty championship figures which any competitor must be able to perform. The judges give each skater six figures — and the competitor does not know until the last minute which of the eighty these six will be.”

“Tell us more,” we begged, interested.

“Figure-skating is not a test of ingenuity in creating new figures,” she continued, “but of perfect execution of the eighty established figures. I spent three seasons practicing the ‘common’ toe whirl before I would attempt it in public.”

“Is it dangerous — if you are out of condition, for example?” we asked.

“Yes, very,” smiled Sonja, “but I am lucky, and the worst I ever had was a sprained ankle once. I sleep at least ten hours every night to keep in condition and, before an exhibition, I do not eat for four hours because the food would be as upsetting to me as it is to an opera star — I must be completely alert in every muscle and nerve.”

Sonja has worked hard for her success on the rink. When she was eighteen she went to London and studied ballet dancing under the Russian, Madame Karsavina. After learning the intricacies of the ballet, Sonja translated the famous Dying Swan dance into a dance on skates — and her brilliant performance in London’s Ice Palace won for her a command show before the late King George and Queen Mary. The present King, then Prince of Wales, attended also.

Sonja has been admired by royalty all over Europe. She has skated in command performances for the rulers of Belgium and Sweden, and. of course, before King Haakon VII of Norway. The Norwegian ruler sends her a telegram before every public appearance. In 1934, ex-crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Germany gave her his diamond stick-pin crowned with the Hohenzollern crest.

In her Beverly Hills home Sonja has a “roomful” of silver cups, gold medals and plaques that she has won in skating competitions. Her career has taken her all over Europe and to the United States in 1929, her first visit. At this time she learned an American custom that she made her own.

“I heard about carrying a rabbit’s foot for good luck,” she said earnestly, “and I have carried one myself ever since. I hope it will bring its luck powers forward now in pictures.”

“Have you got it with you now?” we asked.

“Oh yes,” she answered, quite seriously. “I keep it with me especially — in Hollywood.”

Sonja seems to think that all the luck she can dig up is needed in the land of cinema.

Her return to the United States this March came after winning the Olympic championship in Germany. Her appearance at a skating rink in Los Angeles was a huge success, for in five performances she was seen and applauded by 20.000 spectators.

A quartette of major studios sought her name on the dotted line of a contract that could be written just as she liked. Darryl F. Zanuck, vice-president in charge of production at 20th Century-Fox, scored a “scoop” for his studio when he obtained Sonja’s coveted signature.

“I like this studio,” said Sonja, “It is so big. And so pretty, with its trees and grass. But I am impatient to see how my picture comes out. I want to see how good — or bad — I might be.”

“Are you nervous about facing a camera?” We asked.

“Yes,” she said surprisingly, considering the thousands of people she has had for audience. “I am used to big crowds of spectators — but close-up, when they watch every move of your face — no, that is different. It is rather hard,” she admitted.

Before saying goodbye we asked Sonja if she had any pictures of herself skating.

“The studio took some the other day. They are very good — against a background of ice and snow — all fake!”

The “fake” sets of the studios never fail to interest Sonja. She loves to visit the sets and watch other actors work. Her one disappointment was suffered when she attempted to see Greta Garbo and was refused admittance to the sacred set. She had wanted to meet Garbo more than any one else in Hollywood.

“Do you think I should change my name?” she asked, anxiously. “Every-one here seems to use another name on the screen.”

“No,” we said firmly. “Sonja Henie is a lovely name.

“If only people would pronounce it correctly,” she mourned. “It’s like “Son-ya Hay-nee, see?”

We thanked her and left her, looking more than ever like a little elf in a Norse fairy-tale.

Miss Henie in a typical pose from one of her dance sequences in the new 20th Century-Fox picture One in a Million. The complete set as shown was built on a studio sound stage.

Source: Motion Picture Studio Insider, January 1937