Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sonja Henie's tutu

I put in a few hours at the museum yesterday orienting one of our new members to the inventorying and cataloging process. Thoroughly confused her by doing a quick walk-through of PastPerfect, explained the hard copy inventory form we're using and what determines the Object Number for each item, did a fast tour of the storage building, took a quick look at the attic, and then -- because luckily she hadn't cut and run yet -- opened one box that had come down from the attic to show her how you never know just what you're going to find in those unlabeled cartons.

It was a small box, a medium size USPS Priority Mail box, and felt heavy so I figured we'd find a few books in it. And we did. We also found a stiff with dirt pair of men's basketball shorts from some unknown team (if they went with the matching jersey, the team was called The Bombers), a slightly moth-eaten felt patch from the Pelkie Agricultural School, a thick stack of flight instruction books, and . . . (dramatic pause). . . Sonja Henie's tutu.

Well, not quite. Towards the bottom of the box there were several programs from ice skating revues held in the Detroit area in the 1940s, including a close to pristine program from a Sonja Henie ice show. Wow. Sonja Henie, the woman who for several generations made every little girl in the world want to learn to figure skate. As a recent article in Vanity Fair notes:
There are now three generations that have never heard of her. Say her name to anyone under 40, and they won’t know that she was the first teen phenom of modern times—that in 1928, months before Shirley Temple was even born, this dimpled imp of 15 was already a child star on the world’s stage. She was called “the Nasturtium of the North,” “the Ice Queen of Norway,” “the White Swan,” . . . When she died, in 1969, her holdings were estimated at more than $47 million. Indeed, the word that really fit this bundle of cutting-edge charisma would not be coined until the 1960s, when Andy Warhol packed star wattage and have-it-all hunger into three syllables: “superstar.” Sonja Henie was the first.
I'm young enough that I never saw any of her movies as first-run features in a theater. Back in the 1950s, though, the local television station aired them repeatedly. It doesn't take many repeated viewings of Sonja Henie movies to make a person want to skate. In fact, all it took now was just holding that program and I found myself wanting to dig out the figure skates and start wearing them around the house -- which isn't quite as stupid as it sounds. You put on skate guards, wear the skates around the house, and you're strengthening the muscles in your lower legs and working on your balance without doing any special exercises. Plus, if you're short, you're suddenly several inches taller and able to see the dust on top of the refrigerator. But I digress.

Sonja Henie. The woman was an amazing athlete. The ice shows were glamorous, the movies decent entertainment (although, to be honest, she wasn't a particularly good actress), but what really makes her worth remembering is her career in competitive skating. She won 10 consecutive World Figure Skating championships and three consecutive Olympic gold medals. By today's standards, her skating seems rather mild -- we've gotten used to seeing women routinely perform triple Axels and other dramatic jumps -- but until Henie came along and changed the sport, even single Axels were unheard of for women. She shortened the skirts, changed the skates from black to white, and cemented figure skating's place as an Olympic sport.

So, wow, Sonja Henie's tutu. . .

1 comment:

  1. Learning how to skate is what built up my weak ankles.


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