A Long Overdue Reader Mail Edition

There's nothing I enjoy more than rolling up my sleeves, digging deep in the archives and piecing together the puzzle pieces to share stories from ice skating history from all around the world. Well, maybe there's one thing I love more... and that is hearing how these stories speak to the people who are reading them. Over the last year, I have received countless e-mails, messages on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and comments. I have heard from descendants of skaters whose stories were featured including Henry Eugene Vandervell and George Meagher and even skaters who are competing today who are starting to fall in love with the sport's history as much as I am. In today's blog - which is so overdue it is not even fit - I want to once again answer some of your questions and share with you a small sampling of reader mail, many connected to several of the blogs in the archives and some relating to topics that haven't even been covered:


Q: From Margo (via e-mail): "What is the most challenging part of writing about ice skating history?"

A: Without a doubt, my favourite part - and the most challenging part at the same time - is sifting through primary source material. Depending on the topic and the length of whatever I am working on, I can be poring over books, magazine and newspaper archives, genealogy records, interviews, videos, pictures, writing and calling people... you name it. A lot of people will turn to things like Wikipedia because they are quick and convenient when they are curious about anything historical and the fact of the matter is, Wikipedia is more often than not just plain wrong. There are is a ton of misinformation out there and if you want to do history justice, you have to put the time in to get the story as right as you can. At times it can be fun, but I've scrapped entire blogs halfway through a couple of times or put them on the back burner over one missing puzzle piece. Working with foreign language material is always tricky as well.

Q: From @Colinsfansdotcom (on Twitter): "The most interesting person you have interviewed is?"

A: I don't think anyone I have had the good fortune to interview HASN'T been interesting in some way and I'd hate to pick favourites. I will say that as a rule, skaters who are completely removed from the competitive scene are a lot more candid and really tend to open up a lot more. Two really fascinating interviews that I have done recently aren't even on the blog! Bob Turk and Bill Unwin, who I interviewed for the biography of Belita I will be releasing later this year, were just fabulous in every sense of the word and I can't wait to share some of their stories with you.

Q: From Linda (on Facebook): "What is your favourite era of history to write about?"

A: That's a toughie. I would have to say the thirties and forties. Professional skating just exploded during that period. Between the Sonja Henie stories and the rise of touring productions, the hotel shows, skating on the silver screen and the effect of World War II on skater's careers, it's such a fascinating era to research and write about. It's a period that I'll be exploring in great depth in blogs to come!


Debbie (on Facebook): "Mr. Dunfield used to say that figure skaters had lost the connection to their roots and didn't know their skating history. He would have loved your blog."


Trudi (via e-mail): "I published a monthly fan newsletter about Brian, The Lion Sleeps, between 1989 and 1996. Brian was great about keeping me updated with what was going on in his career, and also at giving me periodic interviews. He (and his family) were also greatly generous in allowing me, and everyone else who wrote for the newsletter, to be unstintingly honest in our writing and our reviews, something I really appreciated. I had a friend in the town I was living in at the time (Rochester, NY) who served as my circulation director and helped get every issue copied and in the mail. Also, a lot of great budding skating photographers (some of who ended up selling their photos to skating magazines) allowed me to use their photos for free. Brian's family subscribed and, for that matter, so did Kurt Browning's mom (what a sweetheart!). It was a great time in my skating-fan life!
I was only on the set of Blame It on the Blues for a day, but what a cool day! It was in the fall of 1994. Brian arranged for me to come into Varsity Arena on the University of Toronto campus and watch some of the shoot. The main thing I saw that afternoon was the shooting of action to part of the Murray McLauchlan song "Women Like That." Brian was shooting this sequence with the black ice synchro team. That shoot took the whole afternoon, and, in the end, it amounted to about 10 seconds' worth of video that made the show! It was a fascinating insight into the making of a TV skating special (which involved a LOT of ice maintenance because of all those takes!)."

Nigel Ogilvie (via e-mail): "My father was working to the end. His last article appeared in the PSA magazine 2 weeks before he died at 97 & 4 months. He always had a restless drive to create. Warm regards and keep up the good work."


Matthew (via e-mail): "When I was a child, one of my favorite fairytales was Sleeping Beauty and though Walt Disney’s animated classic stood as the best version, I was attracted to anything related to the story. Thus, in 1987, as PBS was gearing up for its annual holiday-season fundraising drive and they ran a commercial advertising the premiere of Sleeping Beauty on Ice, I grew very excited and yearned to see the show. I didn’t see the production’s initial airing because I was only six years old at the time and not allowed to stay up well into the evening. Fortunately, having witnessed my excitement, Mom and Dad promised to record the broadcast and let me watch it the next day. Up to this point, I had exhibited no interest in skating so they felt that I would enjoy the show for a while and then consent to taping over it. However, after viewing it once I was so taken by the actors’ performances, so impressed by the elaborate sets, so dazzled by the costumes and special effects and so moved by the recreation of the music, that it immediately became a defining feature of Christmas. From then on, December 1st always saw me retrieve the video from the back of my collection and watch the special continuously for the entire month. Of course, as a result of such faithful use, the tape slowly but surely began to deteriorate and for a time I was concerned that I would one day lose it completely. Happily though, a few years back I went on Amazon, purchased a brand new studio copy and transferred it directly to DVD along with some other memorable holiday programs. So, it is now preserved indefinitely and I can enjoy it without having to worry about quality loss. Through watching Sleeping Beauty on Ice, I grew to love Robin Cousins and Rosalynn Sumners in particular (that love culminated in me personally meeting both of them in 1999) but I nevertheless have an affection for everyone involved in the production and enjoy reading about selected members, especially when I find the information by accident. As a result, when I recently did an image search for Shaun McGill and the picture that fronts your post appeared, I clicked on it and was delighted to read such a long, detailed piece on him. I must tell you that his story brings me mixed feelings. In one sense I was warmed that, in spite of his “demonically intense” performances and rather fierce-looking appearance, Shaun seemed to be quite a caring person who handled difficult situations with aplomb. In another way, however, I was saddened to learn that he became a victim of AIDS so early in his life. Having a chronic, debilitating illness is bad enough but it’s even more painful when you think that, had Shaun remained healthy for just a little longer than he did—into the mid-1990’s—he would have benefitted from the medication that now keeps HIV dormant and thus still be here. My heart goes out to his friends and loved ones. Well, best wishes to you Ryan and thanks again for your hard work!"


Sandra Bezic (via Facebook): "Romeo and Juliet On Ice was the first time I choreographed a full production for the camera. I'm forever grateful to Dorothy for the experience. I learned so much from Director/Choreographer Rob Iscove, who took me under his wing and was open to collaboration. Dorothy, Brian, Toller, - the entire cast - were fully committed to honouring Shakespeare, and Prokofiev’s score. Every step, every shot was rehearsed and blocked with nothing left to chance. On a shoot like this there’s always a sense that it is for ‘forever’. I have vivid memories of the long, intense days....and the laughter (we cast my brother, Val, as Paris - Juliet’s arranged husband-to-be - who kept Dorothy in stitches). Zandra Rhode's hand painted silk costumes were breathtakingly romantic, regal and inspiring. Dorothy and Brian worked their asses off without complaint. They were so very, very beautiful. Thanks, Ryan, for acknowledging this production, and for stirring treasured memories. Sandra xo"


Helen (via e-mail): "Dick Button called me this morning and I owe it all to you. On October 7, I sent you an e-mail asking why and when women's ice skates had gone from delicate to monstrous. You suggested that I consult Don Jackson's company. I looked at the website, but decided (perhaps mistakenly) that I would just get some boiler-plate response. Then I saw that Dick Button had come out with a book, so I thought I could reach him c/o his publisher. But "Push Dick's Button" is self-published, so that didn't help. However, I did learn that he is an avid gardener and frequent lecturer. Meanwhile, I have a gardener friend, who set out to find someone who had worked with Mr. Button. After making sure that I wasn't some nut case, that person gave me his address. So I sent Mr. Button a 3-page, handwritten letter on my best stationery. I also included two photos: one of Barbara Ann Scott looking ethereal and one of Carolina Kostner looking ethereal only from the ankles up - with the message "how did we get from these skates (Scott) to these (Kostner)?" (I also love the synchronicity of your February 21 piece on Barbara Ann Scott.) This morning my phone rang, and it was Dick Button himself !! He actually had no answer for me, either, and joined me in lamenting the ugliness of modern skating boots. He mentioned an early skater called Charlotte who skated in boots so delicate that they looked like silver ballet shoes, "but I've no idea how she skated in them." (I subsequently Googled "Charlotte ice skater"  and was directed to Wikipedia and to SkateGuard---big surprise!)  After we discussed how returning  to competition would work out for Virtue/Moir, the conversation wound down. So, although I still don't have an answer to my question, I found my experience tracking down and talking to Dick Button so much fun that I don't care. And the reason that I am grateful to you is that had you been able to solve the puzzle of the skates, I would never have embarked on this search. As I mentioned to Mr. Button in my thank-you note, I will be dining out on this for quite a while. With many thanks for your role in this delightful experience and for your excellent blog,"

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.