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Oral History: Interview with Osborne Colson


So many skaters from the golden age of figure skating are sadly no longer with us. I was delighted when Greg Hill reached out to me in the spring of 2024 and offered to donate several interviews he had conducted from 2001 to 2006 while researching a piece on the life of Maribel Vinson Owen. 

Today's blog is an interview conducted with legendary Canadian coach Osborne Colson on May 30, 2002. When transcribing handwritten notes of Hill's interview, I rearranged the order at times to keep skaters and topics together. 

I think you will agree that this oral history provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of figure skating in the 1930s!

Maribel Vinson Owen and Guy Owen

ON MARIBEL VINSON OWEN AND GUY OWEN

Maribel Vinson Owen had wonderfully peppy music when she skated at the carnivals put on at the Toronto Skating Club. I knew Maribel through the skating. 

Maribel was, again, older than I was, and when she came to skate these shows, we were absolutely mesmerized and hypnotized by the way she behaved on the ice and off. Such flamboyance! The girl was just magnetic. [In her skating] she was a free spirit. There's not many like that. Guy Owen was a free spirit too. All the top skaters are pretty well free spirits. I mean, there's something about us. We're individualists and we can't help ourselves being that way but we don't want to change. That's even stronger.

I was stunned that [Maribel] married Guy Owen. They were a bit too similar. They were both very effervescent, spontaneous people [who] loved life. [There was] more stability in Maribel than in Guy. I knew Guy Owen when he was sixteen years old, I guess. Maribel was older than Guy; Maribel was older than I was. I was just coming up. I always admired her style and her outlook on life. To a younger boy of 14 or 15, she was like a rock star. 

Guy got along with everybody. He had that kind of personality. I never saw him fight with anybody. Guy was terribly likable, very personable. Everybody adored him. He was an Ottawa boy. I'm a Toronto boy, so I got to know him skating through the competitions. He was also in fours. Guy would've been a tennis player because he had great knees. He was very imaginative. He liked to be heard. When there was a group, he would sometimes try to lead it. Skaters are kind of funny, because they're all quite expressive - at least they should be, if they're going to be good. They've got to have that colour. Guy had colour - definitely! 

Guy couldn't beat me in competition. I was younger and duller - much more conservative, at that point. I wouldn't say I'm conservative now. I competed against Guy in the Canadian Championships - both junior and senior - in Montreal, one year, and Toronto another. I envied [his skating] very much because his musicality was excellent. He had a great flair for music and movement - and he produced both at the same time. He had a winning smile, that you don't see very often in the skaters today. He used that personality. He knew he could win people over and he was hard to beat, because of that. You didn't want to skate after him. 2 or 3 fellows after him and the crowd would die down, but he always [brought down] the house. His double loop jumps were superb. [He would do] three consecutively. 

Osborne Colson

ON HIS OWN AMATEUR CAREER

I came up in a family that was very level-headed - a wonderful mother, a wonderful father. Both skated a little and played golf. [My parents] insisted I play the game. My father got me into cricket. He wanted me in team games. He thought that was better for you because he thought you get selfish when you're in a competition by yourself - and he was quite right. There's something about a team effort. If the team does well, and if you don't play well that night, your team won and you're all in a happy mood. You have to learn to lose and win. [Guy Owen worked in a bank.] Everybody started working in a bank because it was hard times. We were all of the same era. I worked in the Toronto Dominion Bank (then the Dominion Bank). We did it as a livelihood and to pay for our skating. We got three weeks holiday if we took them in the winter, so that was a great way to get in training.

ON JUMPING IN THE 1930s .VS. THE 2000s
 
Double Axels weren't done as much then, and triples were not done or even played with. The way they presented the jumps [in the 1930s] was almost better than some of the people that are doing doubles and triples today because they're more like little spins [in the air]. The jumps went up mainly. Today, you're trying to rotate sometimes before you get up and that... can't make a good skater. The hardest thing in the world, from a teaching standpoint, is to get your students to jump up, so that they have the time element to make the three rotations - and for the fourth, even worse. The style of skating has changed enormously.

Frances Claudet Johnson

ON GAY BLADES, FRANCES CLAUDET JOHNSON, KARL SCHÄFER AND WALTER ARIAN

Everybody was calling me to join [Maribel Vinson Owen and Guy Owen's show] Gay Blades, but I felt that they were all just turning from amateur to professional and they were all... not the most stable people in the world. One reason I didn't go with that group [was] because I knew it was the first time for [the Gay Blades] and at that time, I was Canadian Champion. I thought the company [Ice] Follies would respect what I was at, and I was at the age that I could learn something from being with some professional people - and Shipstad and Johnson certainly knew how to put this show together. They had a wonderful manager. He was from Chicago and really, he was responsible for making it a success. I toured for seven years.

Maribel controlled the show and she gave Guy more money (in salary) than Fran Claudet, and she shouldn't have because Fran did an awful lot of the choreography, plus skating pairs and singles. Fran got cancer. [When she was elderly], she said, "I don't want all those treatments. I've had a wonderful life" and she just died. Fran told me... that Maribel always said, "Oh, Fran, you're wonderful. You're worth more" but she never really gave her more.

Fran was quite an athletic girl, a beautiful tennis player. She was in the 1932 Olympics in pairs, with Chauncey Bangs. As she matured, she became more beautiful. She wasn't as pretty [as her] very pretty sister [in Toronto]. Fran died when she was ninety. I was at her 90th birthday in New York. Her family (on her husband's side) gave her a party. It was a marvelous party. Some of the old show people were there. Chronologically, you get older (you can't help that!) but the spirit of a performer seems to last until they die. I think it's a quality and she had that - just wonderful. When she skated, Fran had beautiful edges, and she admired all the skaters who had good edges. 

Fran enjoyed the show [Gay Blades] very much. She was the right one to start there because she'd been teaching, and she just said, "I'm going to take a fling at show business!" She had a very good smile and beautiful teeth, and found that she could capture an audience very easily. She was never egotistical, never conceived about it, but she literally enjoyed it to the point that nothing was better. We actually became very, very fond of each other. She was six years older than me and we were very, very close friends really until her death. I think she did a bit of a pair with Karl Schäfer and then I think she skated with Walter Arian. She quite liked Karl. He was a lovely skater and had good edges. Walter Arian was trying to make advances towards romance with her and she didn't particularly like him. I think he's Austrian. He was a good coach. I took lessons from him. Arian coached the Jenkins brothers in Cleveland. What Gay Blades really needed was a real manager. Most skaters of that kind of talent aren't the best business people. They don't even like doing the books.

Maribel and Fran understood each other. They were both talented people and they'd have their little arguments but that's only because she suddenly realized that Maribel was kind of favoring Guy - and the money too. But Fran was never bitter about anything. She used to smoke a little bit, and she'd take one drag out of the cigarette and that gave her a chance to [properly think about her] answer. She wasn't impulsive to snap something out at you.

Laurence Owen

ON LAURENCE AND GERTRUDE OWEN

Laurence Owen inherited both qualities from her mother and her father and when she did the compulsory figures, a musician or a composer could've composed a piece because of the way she skated. She was so fluent in movement and so magical. I mean, she was a really great skater. [Maribel's mother] Gertrude Vinson wore the same kind of hat as the Queen Mother.

ON MICHELLE KWAN

Not the same, but Michelle Kwan gives you a thrill, to this day. There may be better skaters, but there's some spell that she's able to cast on people, and it's endeared her to the world. I hear she's going to skate again, which I'm not sure whether she should, because certainly if she doesn't have a trainer [that's not a good idea].

Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

ON GRETCHEN VAN ZANDT MERRILL AND BARBARA ANN SCOTT

Gretchen Merrill was a very lovely girl. Life got too tough for her and she committed suicide. She came up and studied with Otto Gold, a Czech coach, who also used to coach Barbara Ann Scott. Gretchen didn't quite have the temperament for competition, particularly. You have to have ice water in your veins and not be tough. I worked with Barbara Ann myself and she would get me to fire the bullet. She'd say, "You look after that," and she'd just come out smiling. I'm used to the intrigue and Barbara Ann and I still talk to one another frequently.

ON THE SABENA CRASH

I felt terrible about the Crash [in 1961] but I said, "You know, Maribel will be up in heaven there, and she'll start the first ice rink." Well, these other people were weeping right, left and center, and I said, "No, I'm kind of envious of her." But I admired her and I knew she had that quality.

ON MARY JANE HALSTEAD

Mary Jane Halstead wasn't a great skater. She had a lithe body and she could direction. She turned out to be quite a good teacher, after the show folded. Unfortunately, just like Guy Owen, she ended up being an alcoholic and killed herself with booze. She was a very sweet person, and I knew the whole family. She was just average as a skater. She did a pair - not a great pair - but she presented herself well, and she had a nice body. Whatever she put on, she looked great. I think she enjoyed the Gay Blades phase of her life. It was her first break into professional skating. Mary Jane Halstead, Fran Claudet and Guy Owen were all friends. 

Cecil Smith and Melville Rogers

ON CECIL SMITH AND MELVILLE ROGERS

Melville Rogers was an average skater - very handsome! His son is extraordinarily handsome and lives in Toronto. We have lunch twice a week. Melville was very pompous. He came from a wealthy family. He knew he was good-looking ad he sort of demonstrated that to all. He skated a pair with my cousin, Cecil Eustace Smith. My cousins skated against Maribel at Worlds and Cecil came second to Sonja Henie. She was a very beautiful girl and she never did turn pro. She chose to get married. She didn't want to marry a skater and she turned out to be as successful in golf [as she was in skating]. Melville would come to Toronto (that side of my family was quite wealthy] and he would always sponge off them.

George E.B. 'Geddy' Hill, Grace and James Madden

ON GEORGE E.B. HILL, GRACE AND JAMES MADDEN AND AMERICANS

Geddy Hill was a wonderful architect. He did Richard Dwyer's house in California. A very nice fellow, actually. He was a very good friend of Fran Claudet's.

The Madden Family - Gracie Madden, James Madden - were wealthy people and they were great friends [of Geddy's]. Some Americans are exactly just like we are. They're no different. you know, you think, "Canadians - horribly cold and Americans are so brash [when they win] a title. That's nonsense. I had the privilege of working in the States for seven years and my close, close friends are from America. I brought the boy that - a good coach now [Don Laws] - taught Scotty Hamilton and took him to Worlds. I'm so pleased that I had that part of my career.

ON COMPULSORY FIGURES

Edges are not done as well as they were done in years past. You see, there are no figures done. I don't say the figures should've gone for competitions, but [in] the beginning you should be doing figures, because the parents are paying while you teach them things they would've learned automatically in figures. So they're wasting their money. The discipline, the concentration, the focus and also, the use of time - with your studies and with your school. You could blend it all together. Now they free skate too much, and they have greater injuries and [more knee problems].

ON THE PAST AND PRESENT OF SKATING

I'm not saying that the skating in the past was by any means as good as it is today. I'm just saying that there are certain qualities that I wish were still with us with the new skaters because they would make them absolutely stand out. There's the technology. Biomechanics  is understood by the coaches. We all take courses in it. The systems of training are a little more in-depth.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 1954 U.S. Figure Skating Championships


From March 18 to 20, 1954, the famed Polar Palace in Hollywood, California played host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Though the U.S. Championships were held in California in 1947, the event marked the first time that Los Angeles had the distinction of playing host to the event. It was also the first time since 1947 that the event was held over a relatively short three-day span. The rink where Sonja Henie and Belita Jepson-Turner had once practiced couldn't have been a more regal setting for America's top skaters.

Senior medallists in 1954. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Each of the event's evening free skating sessions had sellout crowds of one thousand, six hundred spectators and the rink's coffee shop was full of skaters and judges, who snacked and smoked while discussing the high and low points of the competition. The jukebox played "Mr. Sandman" by The Chordettes.


There were social events too - a dinner and cocktail hour hosted by the Inter-Club Association Of Southern California, a Judges Dinner and a turkey dinner and dance, which was held in one half of the lobby of the host hotel, The Ambassador. Every medallist received a solid gold pin with a diamond inset from Harry E. Radix, engraved "1954 National Championships". The event's success was credited to the efforts of Otto Dallmayr, the Competition Chairman and Deane McMinn, then President of the Inter-Club Association.

Tenley Albright center ice at the Polar Palace, carrying the American flag. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Now that we have a picture of the event, let's look back on the most important part... the skating!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

Sidney Ann Foster and Franklin Stirling Nelson. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College Archives.

Sidney Ann Foster of Fargo, North Dakota and Franklin Stirling Nelson of Tulsa, Oklahoma were the only novice or junior winners who didn't hail from the West Coast. Sidney and Franklin trained in Boston, under Cecilia Colledge and were students at Radcliffe and Harvard. They took the Silver Dance title, making history by performing the first winning free dance in this category at the U.S. Championships.

Patricia Kilgore with the Heaton R. Robertson Memorial Trophy. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Dawn May and David Hertz of Seattle, Washington took the junior pairs title. They were the only other novice or junior winners who weren't from California. Joan Zamboni and Charles Coulon medalled in both Silver Dance and junior pairs. At the time, Coulon was President of the host Los Angeles Figure Skating Club. Tim Brown, a student of Eugene Mikeler from Glendora, coasted to victory in the junior men's event on the strength of his figures. The free skate and silver medal was won by Milwaukee's Raymond Blommer, who was seventh in figures. Patricia Kilgore of Compton took the novice women's title, winning the new Heaton R. Robertson Trophy. Placing dead last in her first trip to Nationals was Maribel Yerxa Owen.

Roderick Reid, John 'J.J.' Bejshak, Robert Brewer, Lawrence Lovett, Lorin Caccamise, Don Mike Anthony, James Short, Richard Swenning and Bradley Lord. Photo courtesy Robert Brewer.

Sixteen-year-old Robert Lee Brewer of Alhambra was the winner of the novice men's event. In fact, the top five spots in novice men all went to skaters from California! Placing sixth was young Bradley Lord from the Skating Club of Boston, a student of Bud Wilson.

Robert Brewer

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Machado, skating in her home rink, moved up from second after figures to claim the junior women's title. The leader after the figures, Sherry Dorsey of Mercer Island, Washington fell twice in her free skate and dropped to second. Mary Ann Dorsey, who was third after figures, withdrew after catching the flu. With a spectacular free skate, sixteen-year-old Claralynn Lewis of Colorado Springs moved up from being in a tie for seventh after figures to take the bronze. Machado was awarded the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for the most artistic performance in either the junior or senior women's events.

THE PAIRS AND ICE DANCE COMPETITIONS


Edward and Carmel Bodel and Sidney Ann Foster and Franklin Nelson. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The 1953 Gold Dance Champions Carol Peters and Danny Ryan had parted ways to take jobs teaching in Washington, D.C. and at the Minto Skating Club. With unanimous first-place votes, married couple Carmel and Edward Bodel reclaimed the Gold Dance title that they had last held in 1951. For their effort, they earned the Harry E. Radix Trophy. Carmel worked as a secretary; Edward in the construction field.

Carmel and Ed Bodel

Phyllis and Martin Forney of the Hershey Figure Skating Club took the silver; Patsy Riedel and Roland Junso of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club the bronze. Finishing just off the podium in fourth were Janet Williams and Bill Kipp.

Dawn May and David Hertz and Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Left: Phyllis and Martin Forney.

Only three pairs vied for the senior pairs event and the Henry Wainwright Howe Memorial Trophy. The winners, with first-place votes from four of the five judges, were Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner of Fresno. Margaret and Hugh Graham of Boston finished second; Lucille Ash and Sully Kothman of the Broadmoor Skating Club third. The results were exactly the same as the previous year's Nationals in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the only difference being that Sully had skated with Kay Servatius that year. Missing from the event were Anita Andres and Dudley Richards. They'd won senior pairs at the Easterns and were named to the World team but Dudley received a draft letter for the Korean War.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

The Jenkins brothers

Twenty-two-year-old Hayes Alan Jenkins of Colorado Springs wasn't just the likely winner in the men's event in Los Angeles. He was practically a shoo-in. Hayes had won the last two World Championships and the previous year's World Championships. He also benefited from the fact that after the World Championships in Oslo, Jimmy Grogan - who would have been his closest competitor - had turned professional.

David Jenkins. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College Archives.

Though Hayes' younger brother David gave him a run for his money, Hayes won both the free skate and a second national title. Ronnie Robertson, who'd finished second the year previous in Jimmy Grogan's absence, took the bronze and Tulsa's Hugh Graham finished fourth. Though the Broadmoor Skating Club finished a strong second to the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club in the battle for the Bedell H. Harned Trophy for the club that earned the most points overall, Hayes was the only skater from the Broadmoor to earn a gold medal in Los Angeles. 

Hayes Alan Jenkins. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College Archives.

Hayes also won the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for the most outstanding artistic program in either the junior or senior men's events. Sevy Von Sonn wrote, "His tremendous poise and the ease with which he skated, coupled with his ability to coordinate his skating moves and music beautifully, were indeed a joy to behold."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Tenley Albright at The Polar Palace.  Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Eighteen-year-old Tenley Albright of Newton Center, Massachusetts may have been the defending U.S. Champion, but after losing her World title to West Germany's Gundi Busch in Oslo, she was determined to fight back from the disappointment. After amassing an incredible one hundred and fifty point lead in the figures, she appeared in a fuchsia satin dress with matching gloves at center ice to perform her free skate to "Birth Of The Blues" - the same program she'd performed in a film for the Polio Foundation.


After performing a double Axel, Axel/double loop combination and a spread eagle/double Salchow/spread eagle sequence, she earned a standing ovation and first-place marks from every judge on her way to her third national title.


Fourteen-year-old Carol Heiss, the youngest competitor in the six skater field, was unanimously second. The fact she even competed was quite a feat, considering that only two months earlier she'd suffered a serious injury in practice after colliding with her sister. "I really did nothing more than a double flip and a double loop, but I was so far ahead in figures that helped me to stay second," Heiss told Allison Manley in her 2012 interview on The Manleywoman SkateCast. Four judges to one, Frances Dorsey defeated Patricia Firth for the bronze. The only non-teenager in the field, twenty-two-year-old Margaret Ann Graham of Tulsa finished fifth. Miggs Dean of Farmington, Michigan was sixth.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Rest In Peace Frank Carroll

 

Frank Carroll was a remarkable skater and coach. He first learned to skate on a pond and later joined The Skating Club of Boston. Under the tutelage of Maribel Vinson Owen, he was a medallist at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at both the novice and junior level. After winning the senior men's event at the 1960 New England and Eastern Championships, he turned professional and toured with the Ice Follies. His coaching career spanned decades. He coached numerous elite skaters over the years, including Michelle Kwan, Linda Fratianne, Evan Lysacek, Denis Ten, Timothy Goebel, Christopher Bowman, Gracie Gold, Tiffany Chin, Nicole Bobek, Fumio Igarashi, Angela Nikodinov, Daisuke Murakami, Michael Chack, Doug Mattis, Mirai Nagasu and Carolina Kostner. Frank was inducted to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1996 and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2007. He passed away on June 9, 2024 and leaves behind an incredible legacy as a larger than life figure in the sport.

Oral History: Interview With Austin Holt

You're in for a treat this week! Greg Hill got in touch with me in the spring of 2024 to donate several interviews he conducted between 2001 and 2006, for a project on Maribel Vinson Owen. 

The first of these interviews I will be sharing is with Austin Holt, an American World Team member who was coached by Maribel. 

This interview was conducted on February 27, 2003. I reorganized some of Hill's handwritten notes to group skaters and topics together. 

I think you will agree that this oral history gives an interesting peek behind the scenes of figure skating in the 1940s and 1950s!

ON THE EARLY YEARS

I started skating with Maribel Vinson Owen. The rink in Berkeley opened in 1940. I had already been skating just a little bit once or twice a month down at the old Oakland rink, which was a 1/2 hour streetcar ride for me, at the time.

The opening of the rink was celebrated by a big amateur show, which I presume Maribel produced. I wasn't familiar with her at the time, so I don't know any of those details. My Dad took me to the opening of the show - I was fourteen. Very coincidentally, we sat next to one of the pillars of the skating club - Celia Bissel. She had 2 girls that skated, both Maribel's pupils, and she was a great friend of Maribel's. Mrs. Bissel twisted my arm to join the club, which I proceeded to do. I started taking group lessons. In the early winter of 1941-42, I entered my first competition (via group lesson).

I didn't have any private lessons from Maribel yet [though] I guess I took a private lesson to put together the program that I skated for State Novice - which I won. That was a unique experience in itself, because I came in third in figures, and then I came in third in free skating, and I won the competition. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. I advanced rapidly.

After my grand triumph at State, I went to Regionals (West Coast) and lost to one of the fellows that beat me in free skating at State. It was a big triumph and then a big let-down, but a huge lesson. That gave me a dose of what was going on.

So, the next year, I was very well prepared, and I won the California and State Junior, and then went to New York City at Madison Square Garden, and won the National Novice - all under Maribel. She started giving me private lessons in the summer or fall of 1942. She was coaching at Iceland at the time. I skated under Maribel from 1940-43. Early on, it was mostly class and minimal contact, and then the last year, a little heavier on the private lessons.

Photo courtesy "Listen" magazine

ON GUY OWEN

Guy Owen was also coaching. He didn't specialize in figures. I took a couple of free skating lessons from Guy and a couple of classes with him. I admired his free skating fantastically, but I didn't much agree with his teaching technique. He was a wonderful showman, outstanding with his famous Gaucho routine. When he came out and did outside edges down the rink, everyone fell down clapping - it was fabulous. He was an amazing jumper because he had good elevation. He was a small person, very light. He could hang [in the air] - he had the idea of hanging. His best jump, I would say, was a stag jump, that looked like he was falling over a six-foot fence. That was sensational. I never saw him try a double jump but he did some spectacular 1 1/2 jumps - very, very high. He didn't do a very good Axel. It was more of a Sonja Henie turn-around jump backward-type Axel - sort of open spinning Axel. But he got tons of applause.

The thing that really appealed to me about his free skating was the effect of lightness - butterfly-like lightness. That was sensational. Because, up to then, I had subjected to the guys in Oakland - can't remember the guy's name and the Baxter Brothers (Skippy and Meryl Baxter). They were just turning pro and going into the show.

Meryl Baxter was one of the guys that I competed with in the State Novice, but Skippy had this very, very manly, not very good form. There was another fellow at the rink there (I can't think of his name), a younger fellow who skated somewhat like Skippy, and they would do a double flip and he got about 3 1/2 feet in the air - absolutely fantastic. I admired this, but it wasn't this light, floating butterfly-like appearance that Guy Owen had. So, that's what I aspired to.

Where I got into problems with his teaching is, I would watch him jump and then I would take a lesson on the same jump, and it would be different from what he did. For example, he always said that on a toe-loop, the emphasis was on the skating foot, not on the toe jump. In other words, it was an edge jump, but with a toe assistance. If you went and looked at the ice after he did a flip jump, you would see a humongous crater where his toe went in. So, I had time at that age reconciling that problem. 

His personality was dashing, easy-going, nonchalant. If he was ever morose, I only saw him in that kind of mood once in a while. I think he kept that pretty well private. At that time, he was just getting into the alcohol.

Guy Owen

ON CHOREOGRAPHY

One thing, however, that I took into my pro career. These days, coaches coach, instructors instruct and choreographers choreograph - and never the twain shall meet. In those days, Maribel taught me figures and free skating elements, and I did my own choreography, with her approval and assistance. That was expected. When I started teaching, I sort of compromised on that because I found that thirteen to fifteen-year-old kids were not really capable of creating a dramatic or athletic effect in a program, but if I created a program for them, it looked artificial. You know, I see that today a lot in international skating. I was totally out of skating for thirty-five years. I didn't watch it on TV or anything and then lately, I watch a little TV and then turn it off quickly. I get disgusted. I can tell when a program has been choreographed 100% for a skater, because I can hear music playing and a movement - like say there's a triplet in the music and a three-turn that's indicated - and then the person does the three-turn a measure late. I can hear the music and then I see the move. Well, the kid has learned the program, but can't skate it. I see that all the time, even in the highest level.

ON LAURENCE OWEN

Laurence Owen got most of her music sense from her Dad. Maribel's catchphrase was, "Pick out a nice waltz and skate to the rhythm." Which I did, a couple of times, that's fine. 

Laurence Owen and Maribel Yerxa Owen Jr.

ON MUSIC

I have a very heavy musical background - junior high, high school, college and all that, so I was really into doing musical interpretation but I didn't really realize that and get into it until I got into international skating, and did the five-minute mega-program, which I did all by myself, because later on, like I say, I was trying to remember the chronology.

ON THE WAR AND MARRIAGE

I was in the service until 1946 and then I got out, and hung around L.A. because I was very interested in a girl. We got married in L.A. and then we moved to Berkeley. One of the reasons we moved there was to skate in Berkeley and take lessons from Maribel.

ON THE 1949 AND 1950 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

At Wembley in England in 1950, I came in fifth. Strangely enough, in 1949 in Paris, that was the best program I ever did and I came in seventh. I did pretty good figures too. Maribel warned me. She said, "Now you're not gonna be known, so you have to go at least one year to get known." Boy, was she ever right! The following year in England, I didn't do so well - didn't skate very well at all - but I got marked a whole lot better than I did the year before! That doesn't say a lot for international judging, but I think we're starting to get the routine on that.

I turned pro in the early winter of 1952. I got a job in Switzerland, due to Maribel indirectly. When I first went overseas to world competition, she set me up with connections like crazy. The big contact in England was Beecher More and a female dance teacher. I met them all. Maribel advised us where to stay, where to go and where to eat. Then, in Paris, again more connections. I can't remember the lady's name, but my wife and I went to dinner at the lady's house, and a big official - a big official in the French Worlds. 

ON CROOKED JUDGING AND WILHELM HENIE

Once Maribel was in direct competition with Sonja Henie (1936), it was a World Championship and Maribel was skating pairs with George Hill. Maribel's father, I believe, was on that trip, or it was one of the American judges. One of them went to Sonja Henie's father or had met him socially, or something. The conversation led to how people were expected to do, etc. Sonja's father was reputed to have said, "If you judge Sonja first in the free skating, we'll give you good marks on your pairs (George Hill and Maribel). So the reply was, "Well, that sounds interesting. What are you talking about?" He said, "Well, if you can put Sonja first, we'll give Hill and Vinson third in the pairs." And the response was, "Why not first?" Sonja's father said, "I'm sorry, first and second are already promised." Maribel recounted this to me, to try and prepare me for international competition.

Robert Brewer

ON COACHING ROBERT BREWER

I coached Robert Brewer for the Olympics. That was sort of my swan song. Coaching Robert was hard work. He was one of those people I talked about earlier, who was not very musical. He was very cooperative and brilliant - a fine mind - but he just didn't have a knack for music. I was telling you earlier about being able to tell when programs were choreographed. At the 1955 World's Championships, I choreographed what I considered one of the best programs I've ever done in my life, to Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody". It was fantastic. I had to teach it to Robert step-by-step, because he didn't feel it to the music. So practice, practice, practice until we got it so it was good. It moved to the music very well. We went to the Worlds in Paris and the record player... They played shellac records at that time. I had a nice shellac record cut of the piece. The record player was on top of temporary grandstands, so you can imagine when anybody got up or sat down, or walked around on these grandstands, the record player would go crazy. Well, that happened right in the middle of Robert's program. I was a nervous wreck. I about had apoplexy. I was beseeching the referee and asking for a reskate. Robert went on through his program as if nothing had happened. He just skated the program the way he knew it... which is totally to his credit. He got rather good marks, but he got marked down a little bit because the program wound up a little too short of the the timer and they were very fussy at that time about that. Robert had fantastic figures. He was one of the few people that I'd taught who was able to just strike an edge and make an absolutely perfect circle. I had one other pupil in the L.A. area that I'd take credit that I taught that to - she won National Novice and did rather good figures. I mostly retired from coaching in 1958. Surprisingly well, Robert did his own program for the '59 and '60 competitions. I coached him a little bit off and on in Pasadena when he was there, and then I got a pass as a coach for the 1960 Olympics. Robert was a very steady person. I couldn't quite say phlegmatic - not outgoing - and that was reflected in his skating. His figures, of course, were fantastic. His free skating was... not flamboyant. He had fantastic edges and developed very nice, steady jumps.

ON ICE SHOWS 

I got acquainted with the idea of fours skating when Maribel and Guy did very a good four routine in a couple of the amateur shows we did. It was 'show biz' with the spotlights, the makeup and a huge production. After I'd won the National Novice, I came back and did a show that spring. I was featured n a ballet number - I was the 'primo donna'. That was fun. Maribel did a big, big choreographed number. I think it was "Les Sylphides" or something like that. It was a huge production. Then, another time (1942 I think) she did a great big show and the theme was Aztecs. She was steeped in Latin American lore and we all ran around with these funny costumes and Aztec headdresses and kilts. Literally hundreds of skaters just pouring around the ice. She was big on big production numbers. I remember every time, about halfway through rehearsal, she would totally lose her voice, she yelled so much.

I also remember one she did, which I thought was standard procedure, and it scares the heck out of me now. She would choreograph the numbers as we were rehearsing them. She didn't have everything all written down. She said, "Well, let's try this. No, that's not gonna work. Go in the other direction. Okay, that works. That's it!" With twenty-five or thirty people on the ice. At the time it seemed normal, but since then, it's enough to give you a heart attack.

ON MARIBEL VINSON OWEN AND GUY OWEN'S MARRIAGE

I remember, about 1948, I was married at the time, and we'd just bought a house. My wife and I remember waking up one morning to something rattling on our window in our second-floor bedroom. Lo and behold, it was Guy outside, throwing pebbles up at our windows saying, "It's time to come for the morning session!" That was a time of difficulty with Maribel and Guy. They argued a lot. They'd argue about day-to-day stuff, like needing a car or whether they should go to a doctor.

ON THE SABENA CRASH

When I heard about the crash, it was a big shock to me, because had I stayed in skating, there would have been a good chance I'd be on that plane.

ON GRETCHEN VAN ZANDT MERRILL

Gretchen Merrill - "Queenie" - was a New Englander, and one whole summer I guess, or a whole year, she came out and trained in Berkeley. That was cats and dogs with Maribel. Gretchen and her mother and Maribel, going at it, around and around. Gretchen was opinionated and had a strong personality. Maribel admired people with strong personalities, but she had to be on a level slightly above, or it didn't work.

Maribel Vinson Owen. Photo courtesy Harvard University Archives.

ON MARIBEL VINSON OWEN

When Maribel was coaching me, I don't remember a lot of technique. I have since become a very technical instructor. I base my instruction on body position, hip position, lean and the mechanics of all the turns, which I worked out very well. Kinesthesiology hadn't been invented when I was teaching but yeah, I got into that pretty deeply and I stood me in good stead. Nowadays, I am just going back to teaching part-time, twice a week - a little class for adults only. I consider myself a very competent teacher but I was not a good coach. I couldn't beat people into doing stuff they didn't want to do. Which, to get back to Maribel, she had a knack of convincing you that you could do something which I thought was outstanding.

She exuded a total attitude of confidence and competence. She appeared to me, even as a kid, as the most sophisticated person I'd ever met. She was overpowering without being authoritarian. She was authoritative. She knew what she was talking about in almost any subject. You talk about Broadway plays or opera, just pick a subject, and she knew it. She was really big on Broadway shows. Noël Coward comes to mind. I was more into classical music, so we didn't have a meeting of the minds there... although she respected classical music and knew it pretty well. One of the things that she did in the summer of 1942 to 1943, she or Nash, the rink manager there, whoever it was, convinced the San Francisco Symphony to do a series of pop concerts at the Berkeley Ice Arena, which they did. Boy, skating to a live, world-class symphony orchestra was unbelievable.

In those days, I remember all of the concerts we did, all of the skating shows and everything - it was wartime, and all of the windows had to be painted black. It was pretty amazing for that time of year.

I got into arguments with Maribel and I still disagree with her on the problem of hip position. She had the world's most natural, easy spread eagle - when your feet are 180° in direction. She just naturally had that position - very open hips. She expected everyone else to be able to do that - and I couldn't. I have very tight hip structure. I can't turn out like that. So, over and over again, she tried to get me to do spread eagles and I never could. I had a problem doing that. I had a bad knee and that aggravated it. At age 65, I had arthroscopic surgery and it fixed me up perfectly. All during my skating career, my left knee would lock now and again. Four years later, I found out it was because of torn cartilage

One of Maribel's most famous remarks that I remember to this day was, on a good position, say on a forward inside edge - as in ballet, I'd turn my leg out and she'd say, "No, no, you look like a dog at a tree!" This really led me directly into analyzing hip position and free leg position on all the edges and stuff, in a very technical way. I don't think - I could be mistaken - I haven't gone back and read her books again - I don't think she presented that stuff in a really technical way.

I don't remember getting an awful lot of technical, basic rules from her. She must have been technically and fundamentally sound because I wound up with rather good figures, but I don't know how...

All the time that I knew her, she was an excellent skater herself, and very, very solid on an edge, and that was impressive.

She was an eminent party girl - particularly the second time around. After the War, when we came back to Berkeley, Maribel wasn't there and I remember corresponding with her, begging her to come to Berkeley. Eventually, she did. I was taking lessons in Berkeley from Hans Johnsen. I passed my gold medal in '48. I think it was with him. Then Maribel came and I went to Worlds under her tutelage. She was there from 1948 to 1950, at least. I was good friends with the Swennings.
 
One of the things Maribel really loved was camping. There would be Maribel, her current boyfriend and another skater I was married to. They went camping at the lake for a weekend. We hung around and always observed the cocktail hour. It was very nice. A couple of times we'd go over to the beach north of San Francisco - Schago Bay or Stinson Beach. That's when Maribel and Laurence were around 9 and 12, around there, maybe a little younger. Maribel [Jr.] was a typical teenager; Laurence was an absolute pixie... In both her manner of movement and her personality, she was a cute kid - bright. You couldn't take a bad picture of her. When Laurence was very young, we'd go to parties at their house. It would be the middle of the night and she'd have to get up and go to the bathroom and that was a big deal. There's this sleepy little kid in her long PJs, staggering around. Then, Maribel and family went back to Massachusetts around 1956. 

I remember that one of [Maribel's] gentleman friends in 1949 or 1950 was Carl Prussing. He was a real gentleman, very correct, sophisticated, a Renaissance man-type, very sociable and businesslike. Around Maribel, he was always very quiet. If you talked to him individually, he was a very forceful personality. She met Carl in the skating world of the San Francisco Bay Area. I think he was an official of the San Francisco Skating Club. He was the gentleman who accompanied us on some of our camping trips, or beach trips.

Maribel's "support group", so to speak, was largely made up of society matrons (I guess you'd call them) and skating mommas of the Berkeley area. A couple were very, very dear friends with her and they were mostly people of breeding [social status]. I remember one friend who actually was a skater - Margo Dodge - of the Dodge automobile family, from the Piedmont section of Berkeley.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Pioneering Pre-War Poles: The Stories Of Poland's Early Lesser-Known Champions

Though Poland joined the ISU in 1928, it was not always a nation that kept with 'the skating times'. By the mid-1950s, there were still no indoor rinks in the country and Mother Nature so limited the development of the sport outdoors that skaters could only train fifty to sixty days of the year on one of the country's two outdoor rinks. Despite their challenges, skaters persevered and had occasional successes internationally before World War II. However, weather, politics, and even war played a hand in the stories of many of Poland's early champions. In today's blog, we'll learn a little more about some of these pioneering Poles!

HENRYK KRUKOWICZ-PRZEDRZYMIRSKI

The son of Charles and Wanda Maria (Smirzitz) Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, Henryk Juliusz Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski was born March 27, 1889, in the village of Niemirów, which borders modern Belarus. His father was a pharmacist. In Warsaw in 1908, Henryk made history as the first and only Polish skater in history to win a medal in singles skating at the European Championships. However, he technically represented Austria due to his residence in Lemberg (Lviv), now part of Ukraine but then under Austrian rule due to the Partitions Of Poland.

After the end of The Great War, Henryk joined the military. He fought in the Polish-Bolshevik War, reaching the ranks of Captain Of Artillery and Supreme Officer of the First Artillery Division before studying at the Wyższa Szkoła Wojenna, a military college and receiving a scientific degree as a 'Certified Officer'. In 1922, he returned to the figure skating world, winning his first of three consecutive Polish Championships in pairs skating with his wife Olga (Pośniak) Przedrzymirska. That same year, he was elected Vice-President of the Polish Figure Skating Association. Three years later, he was also elected Vice-President of the Polish Ice Hockey Association.

Tragically, Henryk was killed on September 8, 1944, in downtown Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. His brother Emil, a general in the military, was captured by German troops and spent much of the War as a prisoner. After being liberated by Western allies, he emigrated to Great Britain and Canada.

WALTER GROBERT

Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland

Born August 2, 1911, in Dąb, a northern district in the city of Katowice, Poland, Walter Grobert trained with the Silesian Skating Association. He became somewhat of a local skating star by the early thirties. He won the Polish national title in 1935 and the following year made history as the first singles skater representing Poland to compete in the European Championships.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Henryk Juliusz Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, a Warsaw native, had won the bronze medal at the 1908 European Championships but represented Austria at those Championships due to the Partitions of Poland at the time. Unfortunately, at the 1936 Championships in Nazi Berlin, Walter finished dead last. Surviving World War II, he returned to competition for a time before becoming a dentist. He lived in Katowice until his death on July 2, 1993.

EDYTA POPOWICZ

Edyta Popowicz. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

A Silesian Sonja Henie, Edyta (Gosiniecka) Popowicz was the darling of Polish figure skating during the early thirties. Though she never competed at the European or World Championships, she won four consecutive Polish national titles and earned a silver medal at the Slavic Games in 1932. Prior to 1930, women in Poland only competed in pairs skating - not singles - so she was truly a pioneer. Her husband fought in the Battle of Lemberg and the Polish-Ukrainian War and worked for the Central Mining Institute in Katowice, where he designed mining machinery and equipment. Edyta survived two World Wars and passed away on December 17, 1993, at the age of eighty.

THE BRESLAUER BROTHERS


Artur Breslauer. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Silesian siblings Artur and Pawel Breslauer were Poland's answer to the Jenkins brothers... when future Olympic Gold Medallists Hayes and David were just little boys. They came from a family of well-known Katowice morticians who arranged the funerals of the princes of Pszczyna and the famous Polish journalist and politician Wojciech Korfanty. The Breslauer family was chock full of accomplished sports stars. Artur and Pawel's father and brother were both accomplished road and speedway motorcyclists and Pawel himself was a champion relay runner before he began seriously pursuing figure skating.

Pawel Breslauer. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Pawel won the Polish Championships in 1936, 1937, and 1949 and Artur took top honours in 1938 and 1939. After World War II, Pawel changed his last name to Wroclawski, not wanting people to think he was German as Breslau was the Germanicized name for the city Wroclaw. Though Pawel enjoyed a long coaching career in Poland after the War, Court records sadly suggest that Artur may not have survived life in Poland during the War.

STEFANIA AND ERWIN KALUSZ


Stefania and Erwin Kalusz. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Following the retirement of Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski in 1935, Chorzów siblings Stefania and Erwin Kalusz reigned supreme as Polish pairs champions for four years running. Seeking better weather conditions by training in Zakopane and at the Engelmann rink in Vienna, the consistent young pair placed fifth at three European Championships and competed at three World Championships, their best finish being seventh at the 1937 World Championships in London.

Stefania and Erwin Kalusz. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

World War II effectively ended this promising young team's competitive career. Erwin, who was an accomplished cyclist and a mathematics student, enlisted in the Wojsko Polskie during World War II. He was killed on the Italian front while attempting to desert the army. After the War, Stefania married famous Polish singer Janusz Gniatkowski. She passed away in June of 1985.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Celebrate Figure Skating History This Pride Season!

Rainbow hearts above the text "Celebrate figure skating's fabulous LGBTQ+ history"

Happy Pride Season!

Check out Skate Guard's Pride Season page for a timeline of LGBTQ+ figure skating history, a required reading list and a Pinterest board highlighting how the history on the figure skating has intersected with LGBTQ+ history.

To nominate LGBTQ+ skaters to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here.

Celebrate Figure Skating History This National Indigenous History Month!

 Poster advertising National Indigenous History Month

Photo courtesy Government of Canada

June is National Indigenous History Month! What better time to highlight the important history of skaters of First Nations, Inuit and Métis heritage. You can view the special content for National Indigenous History Month by tapping on the top menu bar of the blog or visiting the following page:


To nominate skaters of Indigenous heritage to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here.

The 1929 European Figure Skating Championships

Competitors and judges at the 1929 European Championships

On January 18 and 19, 1929, a who's who of figure skating in Europe gathered in Davos, Switzerland to compete in the 1929 European Figure Skating Championships. 


The event was held as part of a Winter Sports Week in Davos that included hockey games and speed skating races. Though Scandinavians dominated the speed skating races, not a single figure skater from any of the Scandinavian countries participated in this event.

Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Though the International Skating Union wouldn't officially institute women's and pairs competitions at the European Championships until the following year, 'unofficial' championships for both classes were included in the Davos event. In the women's event, Melitta Brunner and Ilse Hornung of the Wiener Eislaufverein claimed the top two spots, followed by Berlin's Else Flebbe, Grete Kubitschek of the Engelmann Club in Austria and Lilly Kuhn from Switzerland. Brunner's victory over Hornung was decisive - 198.9 to 187.6 points - but just over one point separated Flebbe and Kubitschek. Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser defeated fellow Austrians Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede and Gisela Hochhaltinger and Otto Preißecker and Ilse Kilshauer and Ernst Gaste of Berlin to take the pairs title.

Dr. Georges Gautschi

A blanket of snow made for treacherous ice conditions in the men's school figures... and a panel that included two German judges didn't do a thing to help any of the five German participants. Both German judges, along with the Swiss and Belgian judges placed Austria's Karl Schäfer first, while the Austrian judge - former World Champion Fritz Kachler - cast his vote for Dr. Georges Gautschi of Switzerland. This was one of the few instances during the roaring twenties of judges working 'against' their own skaters.

Karl Schäfer in 1929. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

With a performance that was described by the Austrian press as "eclectic", sixteen-year-old Schäfer was the unanimous winner of the free skate and overall title. Gautschi was defeated by both Ludwig Wrede of Austria and Herbert Haertel of Germany in the free skate, but his strong showing in figures was more than enough to earn him the silver medal. Wrede took the bronze. Interestingly, the only skater who wasn't from Germany, Austria or Switzerland in the ten-skater field - Czechoslovakia's Rudolf Praznowski - received ordinals in the free skate ranging from third to last place. Schäfer's gold in Davos was his first major international win and Gautschi's silver was the first ISU Championship medal won by a Swiss skater in history. The January 21, 1929 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" remarked, "Since Grafström had not started, Schäfer's victory was never in question... In the compulsory figures on Friday morning, the snow had been strongly [dehabilitating] and thus possibly resulted in his reduced skills, but on Saturday they came to the fore. Schäfer was the best man in the field."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.