The 1933 North American Figure Skating Championships

Linen postcard of the third Madison Square Garden, Manhattan Post Card Publishing Co.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had just been declared President-Elect of the United States. Couples waltzed in nightclubs to the strains of Annette Hanshaw's "Moon Song". The radio series "The Lone Ranger" debuted, as did a new novelty in communication: the singing telegram. A cold snap resulted in record low temperatures in many American states and in Canada, the CRBC - CBC Radio's predecessor - made its grand debut. The year was in 1933 and on February 10 and 11, most of the Continent's top skaters gathered in New York City for the North American Figure Skating Championships.

It was the first time The Big Apple played host to the biennal event. School figures for men and women and preliminary rounds for pairs and fours were skated at The Ice Club in front of sparse audiences, but the finals for all disciplines were contested at Madison Square Garden. There were in excess of five thousand spectators for the events at the Garden - one of the largest crowd for any figure skating competition in the city at that point.

The judges for the event were Rosalie Knapp and Joel B. Liberman of New York, Charlie Morgan Rotch of Boston, Allan Howard and Norman V.S. Gregory of Montreal and John S. McLean of Toronto. Closed marking, coupled with the fact many spectators didn't see the initial rounds which counted for two thirds of the final score, added to the suspense for spectators. Let's take a look back at how things played out!


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Pairs and fours teamed performed their programs before the judges twice. In the preliminary rounds, they were judged on "contents of their program, difficulty, variety and manner of harmonious composition." In the final round, they were judged solely on performance. As expected, Canadians dominated in the fours event. The 'Minto four', consisting of Margaret Davis, Prudence Holbrook, Melville Rogers and Guy Owen, took top honours, followed by the Toronto four, consisting of Bud and Constance Wilson, Elizabeth Fisher and Hubert Sprott. America's lone entry, a Boston four consisting of Theresa Weld Blanchard, Suzanne Davis, Fred Parmenter and Richard L. Hapgood, placed third and last. Reporter Will Wedge remarked, "We thought the evolutions in fours last evening by [the Minto four] was one of the most graceful and charming spectacles we ever saw anywhere, and that big, crinkly haired, aquiline-nosed Rogers chap as distinguished looking a bloke as ever performed in this man's town."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Siblings Constance and Bud Wilson won the pairs event, ahead of Maude Smith and Jack Eastwood, Kay Lopdell and Donald B. Cruikshank, Grace and James Madden and Gertrude Meredith and Joseph K. Savage. The pairs event marked the first podium sweep by Canadians at the North American Championships in any discipline. It was also the third time in succession the Wilson siblings managed to win both singles titles and the pairs at the Championships.

There was no 'official' dance event, but Waltz and Fourteenstep contests were organized by the Skating Club of New York "to entertain the spectators while the judges [compiled] their results." Valerie Jones and Oscar L. Richard won the Waltz; Grace and James Madden the Fourteenstep. The winners of both events were decided solely by audience applause. Theresa Weld Blanchard asked judge Joel B. Liberman to mention the dance events in his write-up in "Skating" magazine. He responded by writing, "How can you ask me to so descend from the Olympian heights of a North American competition? But in view of our long friendship I will 'throw-in' a few words."


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Twenty year old Maribel Vinson, the defending U.S. Women's Champion, withdrew from the competition at the eleventh hour, explaining to reporters she wanted to focus her energy on the Skating Club of Boston's carnival, which was to be held just two days after the event. 

This essentially made the event a two-way race between Cecil Smith Gooderham, the 1930 World Silver Medallist and Constance Wilson-Samuel, the two-time and defending North American Champion. Both Canadian women performed exceptionally well in figures and were especially praised for their loop change loop and bracket change bracket. The "New York Times" reported, "As the morning progressed the participants seemed to gain in confidence, and their execution was so keen in the last three figures that a small group on onlookers, composed of critical, ardent enthusiasts of the sport, found ample opportunity to applaud."

Cecil Smith Gooderham, Audrey Peppe and Constance Wilson-Samuel

In the free skate, Constance Wilson-Samuel performed in a white dress edged with black, white gloves and a black ribbon around her head. A reporter recalled, "To the strains of a waltz, Mrs. Samuel went through an elaborate series of spins and jumps, the slow and fast one-foot spin bringing considerable approval from the crowd. A number of loop jumps added to the variety of her program and with several [Axel] Paulsen jumps she finished with a [Jackson] Haines spin right before the concluding fadeaway." In a direct contrast in fashion, Cecil Smith Gooderham skated in a black dress trimmed in white with a cluster of gardenias on her shoulder. Her program, set to a tango-foxtrot, included an Axel, Salchow and Jackson Haines spin. Beatrix Loughran's niece Audrey Peppe so impressed the audience in the free skate that she was called back on the ice after her performance to give another bow.

Audrey Peppe

When the marks were tallied, it was found the judges were divided between Wilson-Samuel and Smith Gooderham. "As a consequence," one reporter explained, "An itemized accounting had to be made of the point tabulation for both days, so slim was the margin of victory, and it was later announced that Mrs. Samuel had won by a 17-point advantage." Suzanne Davis of Boston took the bronze, ahead of New Yorkers Audrey Peppe and Dr. Hulda Berger.

In "Skating" magazine, Theresa Weld Blanchard remarked, "It was perilously close. Both of these skaters are real champions in school figures. Both make excellent turns, but Cecil's figures are rounder, she skates on a keener edge, but by the same token she is forced to sacrifice somewhat the retracing of the circles. In the latter department of the school figures Connie is superb. This necessarily involves flattening for an instant to make the circles overlap, but it takes a high degree of talent and a complete mastery of the skate to do it. Sonja [Henie] is mistress of that art, although she relies on it less and less. Cecil skates her figures like Maribel Vinson, that is, once on a hard edge it is difficult to depart from the natural arc of the edge."


There were almost no spectators for men's school figures, owing to the early morning hour they were held. Despite a self-professed 'bad ear' for music, two-time and defending North American Champion Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson "gave a marvellous demonstration in his free skating. So clear-cut and well-executed were the more intricate jumps and spins that he made them appear easy. His slow toe-spin and his varied Salchow and [Axel] Paulsen jumps were the essence of smoothness. The six-foot Canadian marked his program with several loop jumps and never wavered in his effective skating. The crowd was especially keyed to see young [Robin] Lee in action. Wearing his noted blue beret and a blue sweater, the youngster saved himself from a fall almost at the start of his program in attempting a back-loop jump, but he rallied quickly and continued through his skating and was loudly applauded. Partly because he has become a favourite in New York and partly due to his fundamentally sound skating that he showed last night in the school figures, the little fellow had to doff his beret as he made his way off the ice. His double [Haines] spin, up and down, and his scratch spin that he intermingled with the regular assortment of jumps, won many plaudits. [James] Madden had two unfortunate spills in trying jumps, but otherwise did very well, characterizing his skating with a number of spins. [William] Nagle, too, gave a good performance," according to a write-up in "The New York Times". Wilson easily won his third North American title, besting Madden,  Lee and Nagle. There was a thirty-four year age difference between Lee and Nagle - Lee was thirteen; Nagle forty-seven.

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