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Sonja's Wild Party

On February 5, 1955, over three hundred of the silver screen's biggest stars made their way to Ciro's Nightclub on the Sunset Strip for the first big costume party in Hollywood in many years. The A-listers came at the invitation of one of Los Angeles' most popular hostesses... three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie... and the party the Norwegian ice queen threw that Saturday night was nothing short of epic.

Joan Crawford and Sonja Henie

The costume party had a circus theme and guests were greeted at the entrance of Ciro's by mounds of sawdust, sideshow posters, snake charmers with real-live reptiles, a calliope playing Big Top music... and a three and a half ton hippopotamus who "sat with a bored expression outside the front door". Their hostess made her grand entrance riding atop a baby elephant borrowed from the Moulin Rouge, wearing a revealing spangled pink leotard.

Inside, guests sipped champagne served from giant bottles and watched acrobatic acts and clowns perform while waiting for supper to be served. A station with popcorn, soda pop and cotton candy was set up to add to the gay atmosphere. After the cocktail hour ended, a curtain that cut off the main room was pulled open and Sonja's guests marched in to eat dinner under a real circus tent, with aerialists swinging about and dogs and ponies aimlessly wandering to and fro. "I wanted to have other animals but they smell," Sonja told a UPI reporter.

The supper menu consisted of turtle soup, filet mignon and baked Alaska. Each table had a tiny merry go-round as its centerpiece. After dinner came dancing with three live bands. Well-stocked buffet tables serving caviar, crab, lobster and shrimp were set up on the sidelines. The party was so over the top that Associated Press writer Bob Thomas remarked, "Old Hollywood hasn't seen the likes of it in years."

The atmosphere was only highlighted by the imaginative costumes of Sonja's guests. Zsa Zsa Gabor came dressed as Vampira, the Charles Addams' TV character; Cesar Romero a gaucho.
June Allyson was a clown; Jeanne Crain a Balinese woman. Jane Powell came as a scantily clad Valentine and Jack Rau a panda. Peggy Lee was a tattooed lady; Susan Hayward an elephant trainer. There were three bearded ladies. Virginia Warren, the daughter of Chief Justice Earl Warren, arrived with Ed Pauley Jr., the son of the Democratic leader, dressed as a harem girl. James Mason came as a clown, sporting a bulbous prosthetic nose that lit up. His wife came in drag, sporting a moustache and goatee.

Liberace drew the most attention, arriving with his TV producer's wife Tido Fedderson, sporting a tuxedo with ruffled shirt and gold sequined tie. When questioned who he was dressed as, he cheekily told reporters, "Liberace".

Among the many other famous party-goers were Cary Grant, Lana Turner, Lex Barker, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Van Heflin and Bob Cummings. Judy Garland, who was almost eight months pregnant with her son Joey at the time, made a fashionably late entrance out of costume. Sonja awarded the prize for Best Costume to Esther Williams. The swimming sensation came as a Persian mind reader with a goldfish bowl advertising "underwater fortunes".

The top shelf scotch was flowing freely and Sonja worked the room in a diamond tiara and collar estimated to be worth over one hundred thousand dollars. Her guests made merry at Ciro's until the wee hours of the morning... and she reportedly didn't bat an eyelash when the fifteen thousand dollar bill for her shindig arrived. When asked why she chose to throw such a lavish get-together, Sonja smiled and told reporters, "No reason. I just felt like having a party."

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":