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Sonja Henie (April 8, 1912 - October 12, 1969) was a Norwegianmarker figure skater and actress. She was a three-time Olympic Champion (1928, 1932, 1936), a ten-time World Champion (1927-1936) and a six-time European Champion (1931-1936). Henie won more Olympic and World titles than any other ladies figure skater. At the height of her acting career she was one of the highest paid movie stars in Hollywoodmarker.

Biography

Early life

Sonja Henie was born in Kristiania, current Oslomarker, the daughter of Wilhelm Henie, a prosperous Norwegian furrier, and his wife Selma. In addition to the income from the fur business, both of Henie's parents had inherited wealth.

Wilhelm Henie had been a one-time World Cycling Champion and the Henie children were encouraged to take up a variety of sports at a young age. Henie initially showed talent at skiing, and then followed her older brother Leif to take up figure skating. As a girl, Henie was also a nationally-ranked tennis player and a skilled swimmer and equestrienne.

Once Henie began serious training as a figure skater, her formal schooling ended. She was educated by tutors, and her father hired the best experts in the world, including the famous Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina, to transform his daughter into a sporting celebrity.

Competitive career

Henie won her first major competition, the senior Norwegian championships, at the age of 9.She then placed eighth in a field of eight at the 1924 Winter Olympics, at the age of eleven. During the 1924 program, she skated over to the side of the rink several times to ask her coach for directions. But by the next Olympiad, she needed no such assistance. Henie won the first of an unprecedented ten World Figure Skating Championships in 1927 at the age of fourteen, and her first Olympic gold medal the following year. She also won six consecutive European championships. Towards the end of her career, she began to be strongly challenged by younger skaters including Hedy Stenuf and Cecilia Colledge, but she held off these competitors to win her third Olympic title at the 1936 Winter Olympics.

During her competitive career, Henie traveled widely and worked with a variety of foreign coaches. At home in Oslo, she trained at Frogner Stadium, where her coaches included Hjordis Olsen and Oscar Holte. During the latter part of her competitive career she was coached primarily by the American Howard Nicholson in Londonmarker. In addition to traveling to train and compete, she was much in demand as a performer at figure skating exhibitions in both Europe and North America. Henie became so popular with the public that police had to be called out for crowd control on her appearances in various disparate cities such as Prague and New York. It was an open secret that, in spite of the strict amateurism requirements of the time, Wilhelm Henie demanded "expense money" for his daughter's skating appearances. Both of Henie's parents had given up their own pursuits in Norway—leaving Leif to run the fur business—in order to accompany Sonja on her travels and act as her managers.

Henie is credited with being the first figure skater to adopt the short skirt costume in figure skating, and make use of dance choreography. Her innovative skating techniques and glamorous demeanor transformed the sport permanently and confirmed its acceptance as a legitimate sport in the Winter Olympics.

Professional and film career

After the 1936 World Figure Skating Championships, Henie gave up her amateur status and took up a career as a professional performer in acting and live shows. While still a girl, Henie had decided that she wanted to move to Hollywoodmarker and become a movie star when her competitive days were over, without considering that her thick accent might hinder her acting ambitions.

In 1936, following a successful ice show in Los Angeles orchestrated by her father to launch her film career, Hollywood studio chief Darryl Zanuck signed her to a long term contract at Twentieth Century Fox which made her one of the highest-paid actresses of the time. After the success of her first film, One in a Million, Henie's position was assured and she became increasingly demanding in her business dealings with Zanuck. Henie also insisted on having total control of the skating numbers in her films.

In addition to her film career at Fox, Henie formed a business arrangement with Arthur Wirtz, who produced her touring ice shows under the name of "Hollywood Ice Revue". Wirtz also acted as Henie's financial advisor. At the time, figure skating and ice shows were not yet an established form of entertainment in the United States. Henie's popularity as a film actress attracted many new fans and instituted skating shows as a popular new entertainment. Throughout the 1940s, Henie and Wirtz produced lavish musical ice skating extravaganzas at Rockefeller Centermarker's Center Theatre attracting millions of ticket buyers.

At the height of her fame, her shows and touring activities brought Henie as much as $2 million per year. She also had numerous lucrative endorsement contracts, and deals to market skates, clothing, jewelry, dolls, and other merchandise branded with her name. These activities made her one of the wealthiest women in the world in her time.

Henie broke off her arrangement with Wirtz in 1950 and for the next three seasons produced her own tours under the name "Sonja Henie Ice Revue". It was an ill-advised decision to set herself up in competition with Wirtz, whose shows now featured the new Olympic champion Barbara Ann Scott. Since Wirtz controlled the best arenas and dates, Henie was left playing smaller venues and markets already saturated by other touring ice shows such as Ice Capades. The collapse of a section of bleachers during a show in Baltimore, Marylandmarker in 1952 compounded the tour's legal and financial woes.

In 1953 Henie formed a new partnership with Morris Chalfen to appear in his European Holiday On Ice tour. This was a great success. She produced her own show at New York's Roxy Theatremarker in January 1956. However, a subsequent South American tour in 1956 was a disaster. Henie was drinking heavily at that time and could no longer keep up with the demands of touring, and this marked her retirement from skating.

At the time of her death, Henie was planning a comeback for a television special that would have aired in January 1970.

In 1938, she published her autobiography, which was republished in a revised edition in 1954.

Nazi controversy

Henie's connections with Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials made her the subject of controversy before, during, and after World War II. During her amateur skating career, she performed often in Germanymarker and was a favorite of German audiences as well as of Hitler personally. As a wealthy celebrity, she moved in the same social circles as royalty and heads of state and made Hitler's acquaintance as a matter of course.

Controversy appeared first when Henie greeted Hitler with a Nazi salute during an exhibition in Berlinmarker some time prior to the 1936 Winter Olympics; she was strongly denounced by the Norwegian press. She did not repeat the salute at the Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchenmarker, but after the Games she accepted an invitation to lunch with Hitler at his resort home in nearby Berchtesgadenmarker, where Hitler presented Henie with an autographed photo with a lengthy inscription. After beginning her film career, Henie kept up her Nazi connections, for example personally arranging with Joseph Goebbels for the release of her first film, One in a Million, in Germany.

During the Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, German troops saw Hitler's autographed photo prominently displayed in the Henie family home. As a result, none of Henie's properties in Norway were confiscated or damaged by the Germans. Henie became a naturalized citizen of the United Statesmarker in 1941. Like many Hollywood stars, she supported the U.S. war effort through USO and similar activities, but she was careful to avoid supporting the Norwegian resistance movement, or making public statements against the Nazis. For this, she was condemned by many Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans.

After the war, Henie was mindful that many of her countrymen considered her to be a Quisling. However, she made a triumphant return to Norway with the Holiday on Ice tour in 1953 and 1955.

Personal life

Sonja Henie with her private art collection in Los Angeles, 1964
Henie was married three times, to Dan Topping, Winthrop Gardiner Jr., and the wealthy Norwegian shipowner and art patron Niels Onstad. After her retirement in 1956, Henie and Onstad settled in Oslo and accumulated a large collection of modern art that formed the basis for the Henie-Onstad Art Centremarker at Høvikodden, near Oslomarker.

In addition to her marriages, Henie had a variety of lovers, including her skating partners Jack Dunn and Stewart Reburn, a much-publicized affair with Tyrone Power, and a later romance with actor Van Johnson.

According to the biography Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows, written by her brother Leif with Raymond Strait, Henie was obsessed with money and sex, had a vile temper when crossed, and used her family and others shamelessly to advance her own ends.

She was diagnosed with leukemia in the mid-1960s. She died at age 57 in 1969 during a flight from Parismarker to Oslomarker. Considered by many as one of the greatest figure skaters in history, she is buried with her husband in Oslo on the hilltop overlooking the Henie-Onstad Art Centremarker.

Competitive highlights

Event/Season 1923 1924 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936
Winter Olympics 8th 1st 1st 1st
World Championships 5th 2nd 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st
European Championships 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st
Norwegian Championships 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st


Awards

Statue of Henie in Oslo


Filmography

Year Title Role
1927 Seven Days for Elizabeth Skater
1929 Se Norge Herself
1936 One in a Million Greta "Gretchen" Muller
1937 Thin Ice Lili Heiser
Ali Baba Goes to Town Herself (Cameo)
1938 Happy Landing Trudy Ericksen
My Lucky Star Krista Nielsen
1939 Second Fiddle Trudi Hovland
Everything Happens at Night Louise
1941 Sun Valley Serenade Karen Benson
1942 Iceland Katina Jonsdottir
1943 Wintertime Nora
1945 It's a Pleasure Chris Linden
1948 The Countess of Monte Cristo Karen Kirsten
1958 Hello London Herself


References

Sources

  • Raymond Strait and Leif Henie: Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows: The Unsuspected Life of Sonja Henie. ISBN 0-8128-8518-X.


External links




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