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Beloved Mother, Champion And Virtuosa: The Yvonne Sherman Tutt Story

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

"Skating really should be an interpretation of music - almost ballet on ice... Rhythm, whether played from a musical score or expertly cut into ice with steel blades, gives satisfaction to performer and audience." - Yvonne Sherman, "Family Circle" magazine, 1951

"You must as well be yourself. After all, who else are you?" - Yvonne Sherman, February 5, 1950, "Albany, NY Times-Union"

Born May 3, 1930, in New York City, Yvonne Claire Sherman was the daughter of Swiss immigrants Walter and Claire Sherman. She grew up in a garden apartment on 79th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens with her older sister Margaret and younger brother Edward. Her parents met while ice skating in Switzerland and her father, a consulting engineer for a machinery firm, was a member of the Skating Club of New York.

Arthur Vaughn, Yvonne Sherman, Jane Vaughn and William Grimditch in 1939. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Yvonne's first love wasn't skating... it was playing the piano. At the age of seven, she made her debut as a concert pianist at Steinway Hall. In an interview in "Family Circle" magazine in 1951, she explained, "Skating came into my life as an antidote for something few parents have to worry about - too much piano playing by a six-year-old. I started taking piano lessons when I was four and I loved it - too much for my own good, according to my parents. They decided ice skating might be a good way to get me away from that too-enthralling keyboard. They took me to the Junior Skating Club atop New York's Madison Square Garden, where I was introduced to the famous skating coach and instructor Katie Schmidt. It was a red-letter day for me, if not for her. That day I tottered out onto the ice and spotted another youngster about my age skillfully cutting figures with what I thought to be astounding perfection. 'If she can do it, so can I,' I decided. 'And better,' I promised myself right then and there. Little Joan Coffman and I became fast friends and furious competitors from that day on and the following year we both were invited to skate in the children's number at the ice carnival given by the Skating Club of New York. 'Little Joan Coffman' and Yvonne's performance at Madison Square Garden in the Skating Club of New York's benefit for the Bellevue Hospital Social Relief Service was a huge hit. Yvonne portrayed Hansel; Joan was Gretel. They skated to the nursery rhyme "There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe". Quoted in the March 26, 1938 issue of "The New York Sun", her coach Katie Schmidt remarked, "She is a genius. She gives concert piano recitals, playing difficult pieces by Mozart and Schubert and Bach. She will grow up to be an accomplished skater."

Shortly after her 'grand debut on the ice, Yvonne began working with Howard Nicholson. She made her competitive debut in 1939, winning the Eastern Figure Skating Championships over skaters nearly twice her age. Lincoln A. Werden raved, "Little Yvonne Sherman of New York added a distinction to this meet by the way she skated both days... The 8-year-old lady in red velvet went through a repertoire that would have done credit to skaters many years older. She skated with confidence and her spins and jumps were noteworthy." That year at her first U.S. Championships in St. Paul, she finished dead last in the junior women's event.

Yvonne was successful at both the Middle Atlantic and Eastern Championships in the early 1940s, but similarly failed to translate those successes into wins on the national stage. In 1941, for instance, she failed to make the cut for the free skate in a field of fourteen. By 1943, she had left Howard Nicholson to take from Pierre Brunet. 

Yvonne with her competitors at the 1945 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Yvonne posing with medallists at the 1946 U.S. Championships

Yvonne finally had her big moment at the U.S. Championships in 1946, when she won the junior pairs title with Robert Swenning after finishing second the year before. In 1947, she claimed the U.S. junior women's title and was victorious in senior pairs, upsetting the favoured Kennedy Kids - Karol and Peter - who had finished second at the World Championships. 

In 1947, Yvonne also claimed medals in both singles and pairs at the North American Championships and graduated from the Professional Children's School, where she was president of her class. She earned the Greer-Robinson Memorial Scholarship for scholastic excellence for her academic achievements.

In December of 1947, a competition was held in Chicago to determine who would fill a spot on the 1948 Olympic team forfeited by Janette Ahrens, who'd retired after getting married. Yvonne, who had already qualified in pairs, bested Margaret Grant, Barbara Jones and four others to earn the singles berth.

Yvonne Sherman and Robert Swenning. Photo courtesy U.S. Olympic Committee Archives.

At the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, seventeen-year-old Yvonne was the only member of the U.S. figure skating team skating 'double duty' in both singles and pairs. Incredibly, with next to no international experience, she placed sixth in singles and fourth in pairs.

Yvonne Sherman and Robert Swenning. Top photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive.

At the World Championships that followed in Davos, Yvonne again made the top six in both disciplines. Interviewed by Patricia Shelley Bushman for her book "Indelible Tracings", Robert Swenning recalled, "On the day of the Olympics it was really snowing so I promptly went back to bed because I was sure it was cancelled. Then I got a phone call: 'Come on, it's clearing up.' Three-fourths of the pair teams competed in bright sunlight, and then it started to snow again. We were the last pair to skate; we were frozen and the judges were frozen. We wound up fourth because we couldn't hear our music and they couldn't see us. We went to Davos for the Worlds and the same thing happened. The other top skaters competed in the sunshine, and we wound up skating in a snowstorm and came in fifth." At the banquet following the event in Davos, she treated the skaters and judges to a pianoforte concerto at the Hotel Belvedere.

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

When Yvonne returned home from Europe, she competed in the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs. Disappointing, she lost the women's title to Gretchen Merrill after leading in figures and finished second in pairs to the Kennedy Kids. A popular number she skated in exhibitions that season was an interpretive piece to Jules Massenet's "Méditation" from "Thaïs". She was one of the first skaters to interpret the famous piece on ice.

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

After the 1948 season, Yvonne decided to focus solely on singles skating and ended her partnership with Robert. That summer, she was crowned Potato Queen by the Adirondack Potato Growers Association. Her ballet classes at the Swoboda School of Ballet started causing people to pay attention to her free skating, even if she did have a reputation for being rather cautious. Dick Button described her thusly: "A tall, lissome girl, Yvonne's main asset on the ice was her grace. An interpretive but not an athletic performer, she excelled in school figures, back bend spins - and in unwittingly breaking the hearts of her male colleagues." 

Yvonne Sherman, Robert Swenning, Gretchen Merrill, Dick Button and Eileen Seigh. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1949, Yvonne bested Gretchen Merrill at both the U.S. Championships and North American Championships, becoming the first U.S. woman to win the latter title since Maribel Vinson, who last took the title prior to World War II.

Photos courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

At the 1949 World Championships in Paris, Yvonne claimed the silver medal in a four-three split over Jeannette Altwegg, who would go on to win the gold medal at the 1952 Winter Olympic Games in Oslo. Interestingly, the British judge had Yvonne first in the free skate at that event. 

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

Yvonne's successes in 1949 inspired Skating Club Of New York President David T. Layman Jr. to commission a bronze sculpture by artist Charles Keck called "Skating Girl", posed for by Yvonne. This piece was donated to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art for a time.

"Skating Girl" by Charles Keck

In 1950, Yvonne finished third at the World Championships in London, England, skating well but upstaged in the free skate on a night when many of the World's top skaters gave career-best performances. At the U.S. Championships that followed in Washington, D.C., she won the school figures over Sonya (Klopfer) Dunfield by the narrowest of margins. As Yvonne's strength was considered to be the figures, some felt that her narrow lead would be decimated by Sonya in the free skate. As it turned out, Sonya took a tumble early in her free skate. Yvonne had one of the finest performances of her career and easily defended her national title. In fact, it wasn't even close... she won by seventeen points! 

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

In "Tracings" magazine, Eugene Turner recalled, "Gifted with quality figures, but hexed with inferior free style... it was a rough road. Year after year, her usual lead in figures would disintegrate during the free skating. Blessed with a lovely style and musical taste, she at the same time appeared slow and weak, jumped poorly if at all. When her patience was finally rewarded it was not through any free skating improvement but because of the normal attrition at the top... So she decided to go to Gus Lussi for help... The old magician... went to work... [At the 1950 U.S. Championships] she appeared transformed; a human floodlight, a graceful dynamo, and electrical storm on skates. She was actually unrecognizable, as if she had decided to sell her soul to the devil for one huge performance. It was that master hypnotist Lussi. And perhaps that was what Gus Lussi did - hypnotize."

Yvonne Sherman and Dick Button at the 1950 U.S. Championships

Her goal to become World Champion unfulfilled, Yvonne retired from skating in 1950 to pursue a career as a concert pianist. Instead, she married army lieutenant and textile executive Arthur McGowan Jr. in October of that year, settled in Scarsdale, New York, skated in a few carnivals and devoted herself to motherhood and golf.

Left: Yvonne at her first wedding. Right: Yvonne in the sixties. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

After Yvonne and Arthur divorced, she walked down the aisle with William Thayer Tutt, a President of the International Ice Hockey Federation who later served as the head of the Broadmoor Hotel and helped bring the USFSA headquarters to Colorado Springs. It was both Yvonne and William's second marriage.

Though Yvonne didn't take advantage of what could have been a very lucrative professional career in figure skating, she remained extremely active in the sport. In addition to serving on numerous USFSA committees, she acted as a judge at eight World Championships between 1965 and 1980. She also judged the men's and pairs events at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble and the women's event at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. She was very much admired by the skaters who competed during that period. Olympic Silver Medallist and two-time World Champion Tim Wood recalled, "Yvonne was a sweetheart... a real classy lady. Always dressed to the nines with her hair done... a very nice lady. I liked her."

In 1968, Yvonne helped organize a skating revue at the Playland Ice Casino in Rye in hopes of generating more interest in figure skating in the Westchester area. Before the show, she screened a color educational film about the sport made by the National Film Board of Canada. She told reporters, "There is very little juvenile delinquency in Canada, where ice sports occupy the attention of the youngsters many months of the year. The active youngster is rarely in trouble. The inactive ones spent their idle time thinking up what trouble to get into next. Let's keep our youngsters busy in sports. Let's keep them skating and playing hockey, and we'll develop fine citizens of tomorrow. By providing the sports and competitions which will include participators as well as spectators, we will get our children off the streets, away from the jukeboxes, and in healthy recreation."

Left: Yvonne Sherman and William Thayer Tutt at the 1979 Midwestern Championships at The Broadmoor. Right: Yvonne Sherman posing in the sixties.

Yvonne was inducted into the USFSA Hall Of Fame in 1991 at the same time her late husband William Thayer Tutt was inducted posthumously. She remained active in the figure skating community her entire life and passed away on February 2, 2005, in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the age of seventy-four. Her gravestone reads, "Beloved Mother, Champion And Virtuosa".

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Ernst Oppacher, The One-Foot Axelling Airman

Photo courtesy Wiener Eislaufverein

Ernst Oppacher was born October 8, 1892, in Merano, a historic resort city in South Tyrol that was then under the jurisdiction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but is today part of Italy. He was raised as a Roman Catholic. His father passed away when he was quite young, and his mother Marie turned to his uncle Ernest Wlatnigg for support. Ernest was the Gränzinspector of the Südbahn-Telegraphen (Austrian Southern Railway), a respected inventor and an enthusiastic member of the SC Wörthersee who served as a judge at several Austrian figure skating competitions during the Edwardian era. 

Ernst and his older brother Josef were all-around athletes who excelled in swimming and boating. Ernst won a swimming contest at the Ronacher's Kurhotel Annenheim am Ossiacher See in his youth. The brothers Oppacher took up figure skating at the SC Wörthersee as boys and devoted much of their free time to the sport while studying at the Staats-Obergymnasiums in Klagenfurt. The brothers earned prizes at numerous figure skating competitions for boys in the late Edwardian era and by 1909, Ernst had placed second to Austrian Champion Anton Steiner in the Internationale Herren-Kunstlaufen class at a competition in Vienna, two places ahead of his schoolmate Willy Böckl. Ernst and Willy's rivalry began when they first started competing. From 1907 to 1909, Willy was only able to beat Ernst once in a youth pairs skating event in 1908. Willy, of course, went on to win four World titles in the roaring twenties. Ernst's skating career was nearly as impressive. 

Ernst Oppacher, Fritz Kachler and Willy Böckl

After missing the 1911 Austrian Championships due to an inner ear infection, Ernst earned his first of three consecutive silver medals at the event in 1912. That same year, he placed third in the contest for the Dr. Karl von Korper-Preis in Vienna. By this time, he was representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. In 1913, Ernst placed fifth in his debut at the World Championships and won international competitions held in Klagenfurt and Troppau. In 1914, he was fourth at both at the European and World Championships, but placed first in the Internationales Kunstlaufen um den Preis des Wiener Eislaufverein, held in conjunction with that year's Europeans. Then came the Great War.

Ernst served as an aviator during the Great War, reaching the rank of Oberleutnant. He and his brother were aces with the K.u.K. Luftfahrtruppen, flying single-seat biplane aircraft in missions over Europe. Ernst managed to escape the War relatively unscathed, but Josef died of his injuries when his plane crashed during an air battle in the Southern Theater Of War in August of 1918. That same year, he mourned the loss of his beloved grandmother, the family matriarch.

Otto Preißecker, Ludwig Wrede, Fritz Kachler, Georges Gautschi, Josef Slíva, Willy Böckl and Ernst Oppacher at the 1925 World Championships in Vienna. Photo courtesy Wiener Eislaufverein.

Ernst was one of a small handful of Austrian figure skaters who achieved success internationally in the pre-war years and returned to competition when ISU Championships resumed in 1922. He earned the bronze medal at that year's European Championships, defeating the reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist Martin Stixrud in the process. In 1923, he placed fourth at the World Championships in Vienna. In 1924, he earned the bronze medal at the World Championships in Manchester, defeating British Champion Jack Ferguson Page in his home city. Ernst earned fourth-place finishes at his two final ISU Championships, the 1925 World Championships and 1927 European Championships, reclaimed the Internationales Kunstlaufen um den Preis des Wiener Eislaufverein and won two Austrian senior men's titles during this period. Had other pre-war Champions like Fritz Kachler and Gösta Sandahl not also staged post-war comebacks, his successes might have been even greater.

Throughout his competitive career, Ernst was regarded as being competent though at times shaky at figures and having smaller tracings than some of his competitors. He was far stronger at free skating, though, as one writer from the "Wiener Montagblatt" put it, "His presentation and attitude left something to be desired." He was second in free skating at the 1914 World Championships and two judges had him first in free skating at the 1922 European Championships and 1923 World Championships. His greatest contribution to the sport was arguably his invention of the one-foot Axel, later popularized by Cecilia Colledge in the thirties. For many years, it was known in Austria as the Oppacher jump.

In the early thirties, Ernst moved to Düsseldorf, Germany. In December of 1934, he married his wife Margarete and in 1940, he became an authorized officer and power of attorney for Böhler & Co Aktiengesellschaft. In the fifties, he served as a director of the company's stainless steel mill in Kapfenburg. Little is known about his later life and his successes in the skating world have gone largely unnoticed for decades.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Stoll Ice Theatre

During the Restoration, on December 8, 1660, one Mrs. Hughes (no, not the housekeeper on "Downton Abbey") made history as the first woman in England to take the stage in a Shakespearian play. The historic performance of "Othello" in question took place at a playhouse at Gibbon's Tennis Court in what is now the site of the famous Peacock Theatre in Kingsway, London. A theatre has stood on that spot between Sardinia and Portugal Streets since the seventeenth century. The Royal Opera House, later known as the Stoll Picture Theatre, opened there in the autumn of 1911 and in the days of penny-pinching and rationing just after World War II, the venue played an important role in British figure skating history during its short run as the Stoll Ice Theatre - England's first dedicated ice theatre.

Australian-born theatre impresario Sir Oswald Stoll's fascination with figure skating started in the summer of 1930. Klammek's Ice Ballet, an obscure touring group from the Continent, gave performances at two of his theatres - the London Coliseum and the Stoll. The ice ballet was featured in a variety show featuring a tramp cyclist, musicians, a balancing act and a magician. On June 6, 1930, the "Acton Gazette" reporter, "Skating on artificial ice the sports craze of the moment, its votaries being even more enthusiastic than the followers of greyhound and dirt-trick racing. Nothing could be timelier, therefore, than the appearance of this new ice skating show, in which all the movements of a traditional stage ballet - pirouettes, arabesques, entrechats and so forth - and performed on artificial ice by a skating danseur and five ballerinas. The attraction has been very successful in Paris and Berlin, where enthusiastic audiences have been enraptured by the beauty and grace and acrobatic agility of the skating dancers, led by the prima ballerina, Gertrude Ehrich and the premieur danseur, Bob Laenge."

Pamela Prior with a group of chorus skaters in St. Moritz at the London Coliseum

Seven summers later, Sir Oswald Stoll commissioned Claude Langdon to produce the three-act ice spectacle "St. Moritz" at the London Coliseum. The production, which starred Pamela Prior, Erich Erdös, Sidney Charlton, Eva Keats and Erik van der Weyden and Hermann Scheinschaden, was a smash hit. Claude Langdon recalled, "After my presentation of 'Marina' a representative of Sir Oswald Stoll came to me with the proposition that I should put on a similar show at the London Coliseum, owned by Stoll. I was more than surprised when I knew that Stoll was interested, for despite my modest success with 'Marina' I still did not think I had sufficient stagecraft to present productions of a London Coliseum nature. Also there was an apparently insuperable structural difficulty in constructing a portable ice rink suitable for a theatre stage. With some regret, therefore, I told Sir Oswald that I would have to turn down the suggestion of an ice show for the Coliseum. It just did not seem possible. Stoll, wise showman that he was, did not take No for an answer... The ice show 'St. Moritz' was devised which was a terrific success and enjoyed a record run."

In December of 1937, Sir Oswald Stoll presented "The Merry Doll" at the Stoll Theatre, based on the famous Eisballet performed years prior by Charlotte Oelschlägel at the Admiralspalast in Germany. The forty five minute pantomime on ice was performed four times daily in the weeks leading up to Christmas on an ice stage measuring forty-four feet wide and forty-two feet long. The production had a cast of sixty - many of which had performed in "St. Moritz" -  and featured a visit from Father Christmas.

Sir Oswald Stoll died in 1942, leaving almost ninety thousand pounds to his employees. A few years later near the end of World War II, plans were already in motion to transform the Stoll Theatre to a venue dedicated specifically to ice shows. Howard Bass recalled, "During my demobilization leave I met Bob Giddens, editor of 'Ice Hockey World', Britain's weekly newspaper covering that sport, and began free-lance writing for him, editing a special page mainly about theatrical skating... I soon... found myself at the office of a certain Major Gerald Palmer, who, like me, had not long discarded his uniform and was just beginning to grasp who was who on skates. 'What on earth do you want to see me for?' was his greeting. I told him that, in six months' time, the Stoll Theatre would be transformed into an ice theatre and that he would produce skating shows there for Tom Arnold. He laughed at my cheek, gave me an exclusive story, and we have been the best of friends from that day to this."

In 1946, less than a year after the armistice, the newly transformed Stoll Ice Theatre presented its first skating production, Tom Arnold's Ice Revue. Produced by Armand Perren and directed and staged by Gerald Palmer under the supervision of Tom Arnold, the show was choreographed by Beatrice Livesey. Hans Witte, who designed the rink, acted as technical adviser. The show's stars were Perren, World Champion Cecilia Colledge and Olive Robinson. 

Cecilia Colledge. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Other acts in the 1946 show included a nod to America's Wild West with a pony supplied by Chipperfield's Circus and a grand nineteenth-century Viennese ball. "Tom Arnold's Ice Revue, like almost all of the Stoll Ice Theatre's productions, went on tour to rinks and theatres throughout England and Scotland after its run in London.

Scene from Stars On Ice at the Stoll Ice Theatre

The following year came the second big Stoll skating spectacle, Tom Arnold's Stars On Ice. Daphne Walker replaced Cecilia Colledge as the leading lady and American ice acrobat Adele Inge was brought in to wow Londoners with her daring backflip and 'Acro Ice Trics'.

Reginald Swinney's Stoll Theatre Orchestra and the Maria Des Anges' vocal sextet provided the music for the lavish show, which included a game of badminton on ice, a nod to London's frost fairs of The Thames and a Spanish-themed ice ballet.

Tom Arnold and Gerald Palmer stepped things up a notch in 1949, with Ice Cascades, billed as England's first 'aqua ice show' and a director named William Manluk was brought in to stage water scenes in a small swimming pool alongside the ice. This time, American Carol Lynne, Terry Brent and Phil Romayne had top billing, with ice comedian Heinie Brock and trick skater Red McCarthy prominently featured.

Ice Cascades acts included a dark number called 'The Furies' featuring witches, vampires, gorgons, sorcerers, sprites and McCarthy as a bat, covered head to toe in silver body paint, and an adaptation of Rodgers and Hart's ballet "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue" from the Broadway musical "On Your Toes". The "Croydon Advertiser" called it "a brilliant show... astonishing and exciting... generously seasoned with comedy."

In 1949, the Stoll Ice Theatre presented Ice Vogues, perhaps the flashiest production of them all. Swords, veiled dancers and a warrior prince mesmerized the audience in 'An Enchantment In Kurdistan'. Cecilia Colledge, the show's star, skated no less than four solos and comedian Richard Hearne brought his famous 'Mr. Pastry' act to the ice. Howard Bass recalled, "On final dress-rehearsal night Dicky Hearne invited me to watch him prepare the famous 'Mr. Pastry' make-up, for which, as millions of televiewers have seen for themselves, no wig is ever used, his own hair being actually whitened for every performance. 'Has Cecilia been teaching you?' I asked him that night, knowing the show required him to skate round with her in the guise of a shaky beginner in true Pastry tradition. 'No,' he replied. 'I've never skated before and I've made a special point of not having any lessons or even trying it out in rehearsals, because my falling about will look much more realistic that way.' Well, the price was many tender sports in embarrassing places after opening night, but how typical was that philosophy of this great trouper who, like so many successful comedians, takes his work very seriously in order to provoke such rib-tickling merriment as he unquestionably has."

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

Though there hadn't been any loss of interest, the shows just couldn't compete with the size and pageantry of the lavish ice pantomimes that would take England by storm in the early fifties. The 1950 production of "Rose Marie On Ice" at Harringay Arena, starring Barbara Ann Scott and Michael Kirby, ushered in a new age of full-length pantomimes and musicals on ice at the Empress Hall, Earl's Court and the Empire Pool, Wembley. From a financial standpoint, it didn't help that both Empress Hall and the Empire Pool could accommodate almost ten thousand audience members to the Stoll's five thousand.

Two passersby reading the large sign posted outside the Stoll Theatre when it closed

The Stoll's management turned its attention to presenting plays and films. By 1957, the theatre closed its doors for good, with a large sign posted outside by manager Prince Littler claiming the 'crippling' entertainment tax was the reason for its demise. It was demolished the following year.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Casa Carioca Nightclub

Nestled in the Bavarian Alps, the Casa Carioca nightclub was located in the recreation area of the USAFEUR (United States Air Force In Europe) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany right next to the stadium that hosted the 1936 Winter Olympic Games where Sonja Henie won her third Olympic gold medal. Created by Frank Gammache and managed in its early years by former U.S. infantry officer Jimmy Lynch, the club was built by General George Patton Jr.'s Third Army engineers in August of 1946. The construction of the Casa Carioca was an expensive endeavor. The space featured a sliding festooned roof that was rolled back in the summer and little expense was spared on the Casa's lavish interior.

In his book "The Life And Times Of A Cold War Serviceman: August 1928-30 November 1969", Maurice F. Mercure described the venue as being "in the shape (form) of a large horseshoe, with an ice rink in the center, where ice shows were performed. The dining area consisted of three tiers of tables surrounding the ice rink. This arrangement allowed the people entering dinner to observe the ice show without anyone blocking their view." The club's 30 X 40 foot ice rink was under a retractable dance floor which allowed patrons to get their groove on before and after the lavish skating productions which were without question the club's main attraction.

In the Casa Carioca's early years, the ice shows were directed by Walter Hofer and performed mostly by a cast of West German 'Casa Carousel' skaters. The December 26, 1947 issue of "The Milwaukee Journal" reported on what life was like for the skaters who performed in the second year the club was open: "The girls in the ice ballet wear dresses... made from parachutes. Their pay is small, but they get one hot meal a day and they live the way they want to, just skating. They practice from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the evening they put on a one-hour show."

Peter Voss performing at the Casa Carioca

In 1949, Terry Rudolph was hired to direct and produce the shows at the Casa Carioca. The cast remained largely European at first. Performers included Lydia Veicht, West German junior champions Gabriele Weidert and Inge Jell and adagio skaters Helga Neff and Peter Voss, who went on to later star in ice shows at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. However, there was a regular influx of skating talent from abroad. American skaters serving in the military and stationed in Europe, like Dudley Richards and Jimmy Grogan, became star attractions. Australia's Margaret Godfrey was cast by Rudolph the day she arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to audition. In 1967, she recalled, "I think the director selected me because I was thin and she likes to have thin skaters in her show." A talented Bavarian local named Cathy Steele - yes, Cathy Steele of Romayne and Steele - also got her start at the Casa when she was just sixteen. In an interview with Randy Gardner and Susan Austin for the Pro Skating Historical Foundation, she recalled, "I was underage and really should not have been in the club. Terry took me in to replace another girl. I started my pair skating there with Blair Heimbach." Olympic Medallist Hans-Jürgen Bäumler's mother worked as a seamstress for the show and as a boy, he practiced on the club's ice when it wasn't needed for the show. Traveling companies like the Wiener Eisrevue visited in the fifties and Belita even briefly appeared at the Casa Carioca in the late forties, while on a USO tour when she was under contract with Monogram and living and working in America.

The Casa Carioca was the delightful Roy Blakey's first introduction to professional skating. He joined the club's skating cast after serving two years in the U.S. Army and stayed for eighteen months. In his September 2012 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, he recalled, "The ice was 15 feet wide and 17 feet deep. You could get enough space to do jumps and the adagio teams could do their lifts and spins, but it was a very unusual configuration... We were slightly above the eye level of the people who sat in front." Among those front-row patrons were a who's who of American celebrities. Everyone from Jeanette MacDonald and Peter Lorre to Errol Flynn and Elizabeth Taylor visited at one point or another. Skaters performed to live music performed by a seventeen-piece orchestra. While serving in the military, Burt Bacharach himself was an accompanist to the club's ice shows.

British professional skater Jock McConnell learned of the Casa Carioca from a skater from Bournemouth who was on holiday from Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier's Eisrevue in Germany. He recalled, "I traveled to Garmisch on the conclusion of the summer run in Bournemouth to find myself housed up the mountain in a hotel called the [Riessersee] Hotel, where only U.S. Army Officers were billeted. What luxury for an ice skater... and for the next six months it was 'something special.' The first three weeks, I sat in the nightclub watching the show which was a tribute to Cole Porter and titled 'Let's Do It' and certainly every skater who went out there to skate certainly did it! The music was provided by Andre and his twenty-two piece Orchestra from Budapest and was located high above ice level. There were two vocalists for the show, and this was a new innovation for the skaters... On Saturday of the third week, we had Officer's night at the club, and there was an emergency call for me, as the skater who did the part of the 'devil' in a Heaven & Hell scene had fallen sick and was unable to perform his part in the show. I was summoned to the club at short notice and tried on the 'red tights' which went with the costume. It was a fiasco, to say the least, as the skater was much taller than me, but this being the only tights on hand they had to be put on and that was that! Having forgotten my jockstrap did not help the situation, but no matter what, Jock was skating the part of the devil which meant that I chased the two Austrian stars into Hell, around the ice in other words, to the music of 'Too Darn Hot'. When I appeared in the light with the costume and my bandy legs in these red tights, there was a 'howl' from the audience, especially when I jumped with the music with the pitch-fork in my hand, needless to say, I was an instant success, and it was not produced as a comedy part, and here I was making it just that, and the rest was easy! On the conclusion of my two-minute debut, the Colonel of the U.S. Army post who was in the audience raced backstage with a large glass of whiskey for me, and congratulated me on being such a fine substitute on short notice, and from that moment on, I knew things would work out and that I had etched my name in the programme and the show as the devil in the Heaven & Hell scene. Joy Aston and her partner starred in this show and we had numerous German skaters who were worthy of stardom anywhere, in any ice show, such was the talent at Terry Rudolph's disposal."

Sadly, the Casa Carioca was destroyed by fire on November 4, 1970. To this day, the rumour mill churns and the court of popular opinion speculate on the circumstances surrounding the club's demise. We do know from proceedings of the United States Congress House Committee on Armed Services in 1972 that Frank Gammache, who had been directly responsible for the Casa Carioca's record-keeping, files and negotiating all contracts with employees of the ice show since 1949, was convicted of fraud under the German criminal code while managing the club... something that came out in the wash in investigations following the fire that burned down the club. Many held out hope that the club would be rebuilt, but all that remains of this legendary venue are fond and fleeting memories.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Greece Is The Word: A Gander At Greek Figure Skating History

Ice rink in The National Gardens Of Athens, Christmas 2005. Photo courtesy Robert Wallace.

"Old things become new with the passage of time." - Nicostratus

Known for its hot summers and mild winters, Greece was home to one of the oldest civilizations in Europe. The ancient Greeks were renowned for their advances in art, science and culture more than two thousand years ago. It was also in Greece that the Olympic movement was born.

Owing to Greece's climate, ice skating didn't catch on in the same way it did in other European countries. Though there were ice factories in Athens, Salonika, Patras, Corfu, Cephalonia, Missolonghi, Zante (Zakynthos), Volo, Tripoli, Kalamata, Syra and Larissa during The Great War, they only operated for about half the year and mainly served the purpose of manufacturing ice to cool beer and pack sherbets.

Before the first ice rink in Greece was even built, the country had already made inroads into the figure skating world. Jimmy Demogines, the 1969 U.S. Junior Silver Medallist, earned the nickname "Zorba The Greek" because of his family background. Britons Diane Towler and Bernard Ford performed an Sirtaki-inspired free dance to great effect, winning no less than four World titles during the sixties. 

"Fantasy On Ice", a smaller-scale touring production starring Simone Grigorescu and Lenel and Kirk van den Berg, made its way to Greece in 1985. The show was set under a tent, in a white marble amphitheatre in the port city of Piraeus, near Attica overlooking the Acropolis. Both Toller Cranston and Robin Cousins had (as it turned out, luckily) turned down starring roles in the production. Not long after arriving, the event's promoter bolted for an airport with the money, leaving the skaters stranded. The city denied the organizers access to the rink, and the ice rink and set were kept under lock and key for weeks. 

Coincidentally, The Stadio Eirinis kai Filias (Peace and Friendship Stadium) in Piraeus was the first big Greek stadium to install an ice rink. It also opened in 1985 and was designed by the architectural firm Thymios Papagiannis and Associates. The Stadium hosted the first Greek Ice Hockey Championship in 1989. By the early nineties, the skating rink fell by the wayside as the Stadium was needed for other sports like basketball and track and field. As is often the case, when one rink closes, another one opens, and Greece was actually fortunate enough to have two ice rinks until 2001 when the rink in Moschato closed its doors. Two years later, the second rink in Athens was demolished and Greek skaters found themselves rinkless. While many skaters trained abroad, others had to put their skates on a shelf. Things were so dire in 2008 that a group of skaters from Marousi were training for the National Championships in a temporary rink covered by a tent in a parking lot. The situation has improved somewhat today, with rinks operating in both Athens and Oraiokastro, Thessaloniki.

For many years, skating in Greece was governed by the Hellenic Ice Sports Federation, which was founded in June 1986. It became a provisional ISU member in 1987 and a full member in 1991. In October 2011, long-time President and founder of the Hellenic Ice Sports Federation Christos Chatziathanassiou died suddenly. At the time of his death, a representative from the [Pegasus Kypseli] Athletic Club stated, "He left with the big complaint of the state's long-standing unjust behavior towards the Hellenic Ice Skating Federation and its activities, yet thanks to his great personal love for ice skating and his great personal sacrifices he was able to keep up the bar in the activities of the Federation, having of course the support of his faithful associates. It is a characteristic fact that the State has had a negative impact on its financial contribution to the Federation's sporting activities, such as the Pan-Hellenic Championships, National Teams, etc., which caused it a great deal of sadness." It was later claimed that the Hellenic Ice Sports Federation operated illegally for many years, mismanaging approximately three million dollars in state subsidies. The ISU dropped Greece like a hot potato for a time, before allowing the Hellenic Winter Sports Federation, Greece's reworked governing body for figure and speed skating, curling, ice hockey, skiing, luge, bobsled and skeleton to (re)join in 2015.

As for Greek coaches, there are a few important names to note. Katerina Papafotiou won the Greek women's title three consecutive times in the early nineties. She went on to serve as the National Coach of the Hellenic Ice Sports Federation for many years. Her coach was World Champion Vladimir Kovalev, who for many years worked with Greek skaters. Fellow Soviet Olympians Nina Zhuk and Konstantin Kokora also worked with Greek skaters.

Greece's first representative at the World Junior Championships was Vasya Houpis, who placed second to last in 1990. At the 1992 World Championships in Oakland, Elaine Asanakis and Mark Naylor made history as Greece's first entry at a senior ISU Championship. Naylor grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Asanakis in Brooklyn, New York. Asanakis and Naylor trained at the University Of Delaware under Ron Ludington. Asanakis, the daughter of Greek immigrants, later represented Greece internationally with Joel McKeever and Alcuin Schulten. Interestingly, she and McKeever had once competed internationally together as fours skaters, representing America but skating with different partners. Unfortunately, Asanakis and McKeever failed to qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, missing a berth at the qualifying competition in Vienna the autumn prior by just two spots.

Panagiotis Markouizos

In Prague in 1993, Harris Haita made history as the first singles skater from Greece to compete at the World Championships. The following year in Japan, Lefki Terzaki became the first Greek woman to compete at Worlds. At the 1998 World Championships in Lausanne, Ubavka Novakovic-Kytinoy became the first Greek judge at a major ISU Championship. She went on to become involved as an official in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Athens' Panagiotis Markouizos was one of the first Greek skaters to perform more than one triple jump consistently. Georgina Papavasiliou was the first Greek singles skater to make it past the qualifying rounds at Worlds. Papavasiliou, who was born in Scotland but had ties to Corfu, finished twenty-ninth in 2002.

Christa-Elizabeth Goulakos and Eric Neumann-Aubichon. Photo courtesy J. Barry Mittan.

Zeus Issariotis, the son of a Toronto tavern owner who grew up in the Greek village of Isari, near Athens, took the silver at the 2005 Copenhagen Trophy - the first medal for a Greek man internationally. He trained at the Cricket Club for a time under Canadian Champion Sébastien Britten.
In 2007, Themistocles Leftheris became the first Greek American skater to win a senior medal at the U.S. Championships. The same year, Christa-Elizabeth Goulakos and Eric Neumann-Aubichon made history as the first Greek ice dancers to compete at Europeans and Worlds. They were both born in Canada but her family was from Greece. His former partner Alice Graham once skated with Andrew Poje. Goulakos and Neumann-Aubichon trained in Quebec with Chantal Lefebvre and Arseniy Markov. They weren't the only couple to represent Greece who didn't live there. From 2008 to 2010, pairs skaters Jessica Crenshaw and Chad Tsagris represented the country at the World Championships. She hailed from the United States; he from Canada. They were coached by Isabelle Brasseur and Rocky Marval.

Nikki Georgiadis, who represented Greece at the World Junior Championships with her fellow Canadian-born partner Graham Hockley, was the final torch bearer in Greece for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. She had the honour to lighting the cauldron at the historic marble Panathenaic Stadium in Athens before handing the Olympic Flame to the Canadian organizers of those Games.

Over the years, many touring ice shows including the Russian All Stars and Disney On Ice have entertained Greek audiences. In 2011 and 2012, ANT1 even aired a Greek version of Torvill and Dean's "Dancing On Ice" competition. Unfortunately, the series was an unprecedented flop, with complaints about everything from the low-budget production to the fact that none of the judges or host really had much of a skating background.

Anna Chatziathanassiou and Maria Mastrogiannopoulou. Photos courtesy J. Barry Mittan.

Though Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron represented France in international competition, Papadakis' father hails from Korydallos, a suburb of Athens. This, of course, makes Papadakis the first figure skater of Greek heritage to win both an Olympic medal and a World title.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed." Though the history of Greek figure skating is relatively recent, who knows what the future will hold?

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":