A Satirist From St. Paul: The Heinie Brock Story

Born February 6, 1900, Henry Kriefer 'Heinie' Brock was the son of German immigrants Henry and Evelyn Brock. He was raised with his younger sister Lucille in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his father worked as a salesman for a telephone company.

Fred Premer and Heinie Brock. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Heinie got his start on the ice as a teenager. In the February 4 edition of "Boys' Life" magazine, he explained, "Everybody skates in St. Paul. I didn't have any skates and I wanted the best because I decided to be a champion. So, I added a second newspaper route (I was already running one) and in almost no time I had my skates and was on my way." The enthusiastic young skater's plans for greatness were derailed for eight months at the age of fourteen, when he was diagnosed with polio. While bedridden, he would eye the pair of skates hanging from a hook on his closet door, vowing he would skate again. Soon, he was cutting it up on the ice in carnivals, skating a comedy act with Fred Premer.

Skate he did, but diminutive, one hundred and fourteen pound Heinie also excelled in a wide variety of pursuits in his youth, skating just being one of them. He was a Boy Scout and while attending the University Of Minnesota, played baseball, football, hockey and basketball with other young men twice his size.

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

Heinie was a member of the Delta of Sigma Nu fraternity and Illinois Athletic Club Swimming Team, as well as a teammate of a young Johnny Weissmuller. While a member of St. Paul Athletic Club, he became the intercollegiate central A.A.U. diving champion. After finishing university, he opened a clothing store in Minneapolis but the Great Depression forced him out of business. Instead, he opened a boy's camp on Lake Carlos which focused on drilling young men in athletics.

In 1936, Heinie joined Ice Follies, quickly earning accolades and fans with his comedic stylings on ice. Many compared his style to that of Charlie Chaplin. He earned the nicknames 'the master mimic' and 'the diminutive comedian'. In one of his acts, he 'paddled' onto the ice in a canoe filled with empty rum kegs. In another, he portrayed a sloppy drunk. In an interview in "The New York Post" on December 3, 1938, he explained, "I have five stock, or basic, situations in my routine and branch out from them into different variations in accordance with the response of the crowd. I've been building up my act for ten years, but I still have no set plan when I go on the ice. I listen intently for the laughs and let them be the guide for my next stunt. The spectators play a very important part in my act. In fact, they're indispensable." The master improviser and comedian's routines varied widely. The December 18, 1936 of "The Chicago Tribune" noted, "Brock's biggest laugh comes from rubber legs and his comic pantomime has been compared to that of Toto, the silent clown. In one of Brock's numbers at the Stadium he will be dressed as a Chinaman, doing a burlesque of [Bobby] McLean's barrel jumping act. Brock gets over eight barrels with a flourish, but winds up with some of his former fancy diving technique by sliding forty feet off the rink. In his second number, the clown from St. Paul will burlesque Sonja Henie's interpretation of Pavlova's 'Dying Swan' dance classic." Show programs listed the act as "One Of The Back Row Girls". Heinie called it "The Dying Duck".

This 'Dying Duck' program once got Heinie in quite a bit of hot water. In her book "Thin Ice", Jacqueline du Bief recounted a hilarious story where Heinie and Papa Henie squared off backstage during a show: "A story that I thought rather funny was told me recently by someone who was a member of the company for ten years. It happened in Chicago during one of their first engagements and, because the show was still very short, as an addition to the programme Sonja Henie had been engaged and was presented as a guest of honour. Amongst other exhibitions, she gave her rendering of the dying swan. Immediately after this number, a young comic skater by the name of Heinie Brock, who is to-day one of the most famous comics on ice, made his entrance dressed as a duck and, bathed in blue light, he parodied the pitiful gestures of the dying swan. The public laughed heartily and so did his friends but when Heinie Brock made his exit he was greeted back stage by the threatening stick of Papa Henie. Out of breath after his performance, the young man did not understand what was the matter at first, but then, taking to his heels he led Mr. Henie in a chase which took them - he in his duck’s costume and Mr. Henie brandishing his stick - through all the passages and corridors of the arena." Just quackers!

Heinie left Ice Follies in 1946 and headed to Europe, where he appeared in Holiday On Ice and skated in Brighton and at London's Stoll Theatre. He also appeared in "Rose Marie On Ice" alongside Barbara Ann Scott, Michael Kirby and Pat Gregory and "Robinson Crusoe" at Wembley with Daphne Walker.

In 1952, Heinie skated in Dorothy Lewis' ice show in the Minnesota Terrace Room at the Hotel Nicollet in Minneapolis and in 1953, returned to England to appear in Tom Arnold's "Coronation Ice Cavalcade" with Micheline Lannoy. Throughout the fifties, he supplemented his skating with minor television appearances in such shows as "Raintree County", "Gunsmoke" and "I'll Cry Tomorrow". He even appeared on the game show "Do You Trust Your Wife?" with his first wife Mary.

After Mary passed away in 1975, Heinie remarried and welcomed three step-children to his life. He opened a restaurant called El Paseo in Santa Barbara, California and lived out his final days in Woodland Hills. He passed away August 20, 1989 at the age of eighty nine from complications of emphysema. Regarded by many as one of the finest ice comedians of his era, Heinie set the bar high for the many ice comedians who followed in his footsteps.

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