Beyond One Jump: The Nate Walley Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Born January 4, 1907 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Nathan 'Nate' Evans Walley was the son of William and Mabel (Munger) Walley. He grew up in Minneapolis, where his father was Superintendent of Field Engineering for the Mahr Manufacturing Company, an oil burner business. He was the oldest of eight children. As a young man, blonde haired, grey eyed, fix foot six Nate worked as a jobber in a machinist shop. He learned to skate outdoors on frozen ponds and 'prided himself' on never taking a skating lesson in his life.

The Mahr Manufacturing Company. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

In the early thirties, Nate started teaching in Minneapolis. After a short while, he moved to California and became one of first professional instructors at the Skate and Ski Club of San Francisco. While there, he skated his famous 'goofus' comedy number with Douglas Duffy in the first amateur ice carnival on the Pacific Coast in 1933. 

Nate Walley, Dunbar Poole and Howard Nicholson at the 1934 World and British Open Professional Championships at the Hammersmith Ice-Drome. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Nate moved to England in 1934, where he won the British Open Professional title twice consecutively, defeating the likes of Howard Nicholson, Jacques Gerschwiler and Edi Scholdan. Back in those days, the competition consisted of both school figures and free skating - not something we think of today when it comes to professional events. It was his spectacular free skating that helped him prevail on both occasions. While in England, he taught at Streatham Ice Rink for a time, passed the National Skating Association's Gold test and appeared in the revue "A Night In Cafe Montmartre" with Phil Taylor and a young Freddie Tomlins, who was his pupil for a short period.

The following two years, Nate taught at the Melbourne Glaciarium during the summers and Granite Club in Toronto in the winters. While in Australia, he gave several exhibitions and even worked with the Victorian Ice Hockey Association's teams. An account of one of his performances from the May 11, 1936 issue of "The Age" stated, "Mr. Nate Walley... gave an exhibition of spins and jumps with an ease and grace and phenomenal speed of a type never seen before at the rink. His work was also connected up by dance steps and his jumps included the Lutz and the difficult flying Axel-[Paulsen], but it was his spins that held the audience spell-bound. He entered a spin at a normal speed but then worked into a pace until he seemed like a top unloosed from a string." Nate's exhibitions and teachings helped generate pre-War interest in figure skating in Australia. It was also he who brought siblings Gwen Chambers and Ron Chambers to Canada to coach in Montreal and Toronto.

Samuel Jarvis and Nate Walley. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Not long after returning to America to teach in Lake Placid prior to World War II, he married Edythe Dustman, a Powers model from West Virginia who once worked as a designer for a marionette show. Edythe decided to take up skating after she did a modelling photo shoot on the ice. The two met as teacher and student.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine (top) and "Skating World" magazine (bottom)

The married couple became skating partners, starring in shows on the Ice Terrace at the Hotel New Yorker. Nate also appeared in the "Ice Frolics" at the International Casino in New York alongside Guy Owen, Evelyn Chandler and Bruce Mapes and in carnivals doing a comedy drag act called 'Mr. and Mrs. Go To Town' with Samuel Jarvis during this period. He supplemented his performing career by teaching in Cleveland, working with U.S. Champion Eugene Turner. Edythe later became a coach herself, teaching alongside her husband at the Broadmoor Ice Palace in Colorado Springs.

Edythe and Nate Walley

After starring in "Varieties On Ice" at the Boulevard Tavern in New York City, Nate and Edythe joined the cast of the Ice Capades, dazzling audiences throughout North America well after the War ended. Nate took young Chuckie Stein under his wing and developed several popular comedy acts that played upon their extreme height difference. During this period, Nate also served as President of the newly-formed American Skaters Guild, which evolved into today's Professional Skaters Association.

Nate and Edythe's daughter Deborah was born in August of 1947 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They divorced in 1953 and Nate remarried to Carol Lynam in 1962. His daughter Deborah went on to become a Hollywood starlet who appeared in "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" with James Darren, "Spinout" with Elvis Presley and several beach party films in the sixties.

Deborah Walley

In the sixties, Nate was employed as the figure skating director for both Holiday On Ice and Ice Capades and teaching at the St. Paul and Land O' Lakes Figure Skating Clubs in Minnesota's Twin Cities. 

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

In his book "Blazing Ice: The Real Story Of Show Business", R. Scott Carlton recalled, "To say Nate's reputation preceded him would be a meaningless understatement... He demanded the highest standards from his students, although I never heard anyone accuse him of being difficult or arrogant. Nevertheless, in his golden years he developed one peculiarity which probably drove the Holiday On Ice bosses crazy: he refused to work with any skaters he didn't like, a privilege accorded very few coaches. So which skaters did Nate like? He offered his services to those skaters who were willing to work hard and do so with a strong, positive attitude. He disliked skaters who were lazy or exhibited negativism toward their art. You couldn't ask for anything more fair or democratic than that."

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

Though he's probably best remembered for his namesake jump (the Walley), Nate also made another very important contribution to figure skating during his lifetime. He collaborated with the USFSA on a comprehensive table of jumps and spins, categorizing everything from the well-known Axel and Salchow to the often underappreciated toeless Lutz and one-and-a-half flip. This table, adapted and republished around the world in dozens of languages, helped expand the possibilities of free skating to countless skaters and coaches. Nate passed away on October 15, 1975 in Minneapolis at the age of sixty-eight, his contributions to the figure skating world rarely given the due they are deserved.

Want to learn more about Nate Walley and the history of his namesake jump? There's a whole chapter devoted to it in the new book "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps". Get your copy today!

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":