Shadows In The Snow

Sonja Henie modelling off summer fashions in 1939

Once a well-known art critic and literary editor of the "Los Angeles Times", Willard Huntington Wright was compelled to pen detective stories he hated writing under a pseudonym to keep himself in the lifestyle to which he was accustomed during the Great Depression. By all accounts, he was a raging alcoholic with few redeeming qualities, and at the height of his infamy, he'd burned almost all his bridges. It seemed his luck was turning around on April 7, 1939, when Twentieth Century-Fox bought a manuscript he'd written, with plans of turning it into a major motion picture. He died four days later.

In July of 1939, the bigwigs at Twentieth Century-Fox announced that Willard Huntington Wright's manuscript would be reworked into a film called "Shadows In The Snow"... and the star would be none other than Sonja Henie. Sonja was slated to play the role of Ella Guthar, the companion of a rich emerald fancier's invalid daughter... who was having an affair with her charge's brother. Though Sonja was to be the star, the main character in the script was Philo Vance, a gumshoe detective popularized in a series of radio plays and short films released by Warner Brothers in 1931 and 1932 . Though the manuscript (of course) had a skating scene for Sonja's character, the film - a murder mystery - would have been a huge departure for her and could have potentially taken her career in a different direction.


Darryl Zanuck planned to film start filming "Shadows In The Snow" in December of 1939, not long after Sonja finished work on the drama-comedy "Everything Happens At Night" with Ray Milland, but the project was put on hold. By January, Sonja was touring with her Hollywood Ice Revue... and was in the thick of her New York Supreme Court case with Dennis R. Scanlon, who was trying to get twenty percent of her earnings out of her, claiming he had helped her secure employment as an actress.


Ultimately, Willard Huntington Wright's manuscript was released by Charles Scribner's Sons as the S.S. van Dine novelette "The Winter Murder Case" but its adaptation for "Shadows In The Snow" went through so many revisions that it wasn't even the same film when it finally made it to the silver screen.


The end result of the rewrites was Sonja Henie's biggest silver screen success ever - "Sun Valley Serenade" - and Willard Huntington Wright never saw a dime, let alone a writing credit.

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