Skating's Shirley Temple: The Hazel Franklin Story

Photo courtesy University Of Washington, Special Collections. Used with permission.

The daughter of John and Catherine 'Peggy' Franklin, Hazel Mary Franklin was born on New Year's Eve, 1924. She grew up in a suburb of Bournemouth, England with her younger brothers Michael and Peter. Her father was a music teacher and stock broker; her mother a classical pianist. Hazel first took up skating at the Westover Ice Rink, a hub for some of Great Britain's earliest ice pantomimes of note. Her first teacher was a musician named Irwin Pennock. She was 'discovered' by Sonja Henie's coach Howard Nicholson in 1934, when she was nine years old.

Right photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery

Hazel was sent to London to train with Mr. Nick, where she passed the National Skating Association's bronze and silver tests. At that point in time, Cecilia Colledge and Megan Taylor were considered England's top two female skaters, but quite a bit of fuss was made about Hazel being 'the next big thing'. Though much was later made in the press of the fact that she could have been the next Sonja Henie had the War not intervened, her only major competitive appearance was in the British Junior Championships - where she placed seventh. She turned professional as a young girl at the suggestion of her coach, who had more than an inkling of her star potential. In her first year as a professional skater, she gave a command performance before the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden and appeared in the popular ice revue "St. Moritz" at the London Coliseum.

The following year, Hazel and her family made the first of several Transatlantic voyages on the Queen Mary to America. If only she could get screen tested, they were told, she'd have her name up in lights just like Sonja Henie. That's not exactly how things played out... but Hazel did turn a lot of heads in the United States. A report of her first appearance in the Skating Club of New York's carnival at the Ice Club atop Madison Square Garden said, "Wearing a picturesque Scotch plaid pleated outfit, with Scotch velvet cap, the pleasant blonde youngster went through an interesting repertoire of jumps, spins and steps and won the admiration of the onlookers. Particularly impressive was the poise of the tiny girl - she is just about four feet tall - as she proceeded with her program. Starting with a split jump, Miss Franklin went into a spin, and continued straight through from corner to corner. After that she executed two flying Axel Paulsen jumps, followed by a horizontal spin and a number of steps. A Lutz jump was followed by a jump step and spin, three more Axel Paulsen jumps and more steps. From an acrobatic spiral she worked into a flat cross-foot spin, and then came one of the most difficult manouvres of all, a double Salchow. A toe spin terminated the program."

Photos courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

In October of 1939 - a month after World War II started - Hazel, her mother and two brothers made their final Transatlantic voyage together. It simply wasn't safe to make the trip back and forth from Southampton to New York City at the time with Nazi U-Boats prowling the Atlantic. Her father remained in England. An invalid as a result of an injury during The Great War, he was tasked with a position as an air raid warden. Michael and David were sent to a boarding school in Lake Placid and Hazel and her mother took apartments wherever a skating opportunity for Hazel presented itself.

Hazel and her mother's situation paralleled that of the great Belita Jepson-Turner, who found herself in America with her domineering stage mother Queenie when World War II broke out as well. What separated the two young women were their skating styles. Belita was a studied artiste with an extensive dance background; Hazel was an acrobatic young dynamo who loved to jump. At the time, only a handful of skaters were performing the double Salchow in their exhibition - and they were much more experienced skaters like Evelyn Chandler, Felix Kaspar and Freddie Tomlins. While Belita had refined artistry on her side, Hazel had pluck.

Photos courtesy "Life" magazine

For a time, Hazel and her mother stayed with Jane Sutphin Leitch's family in Cleveland. A tutor was employed and Hazel received lessons in algebra and art. In her memoir "Sirius-ly Rich" Sutphin Leitch recalled, "Our parents drove Hazel and her mother to the [Cleveland] Arena, and all of us attended every performance, not getting to bed before 11:30 p.m. - school night or not... We became such good friends that Hazel felt comfortable confiding in us that when she skated as the 'twelve-year-old sensation', she was almost fifteen!" The age thing is pretty central to Hazel's story. If you go back and look at the primary sources, you'll see that different articles from the same year will list her as ten, twelve and thirteen years of age. The only consistency seemed to be the fact that she was always billed as being younger than she actually was. Why was this?

Top photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

In the height of her skating career, Hazel looked young for her age. She also looked an awful lot like Shirley Temple, who was hugely popular at the time. Most of the 'leading ladies' in America ice shows of the era weren't teenagers at the time, so her youth became something of a novelty. American critics called her the 'Pocket Miracle Of The Ice' and 'Bundle From Britain'. If the offers rolled in for a talented 'twelve year old sensation', who was Hazel's mother to correct them?

Photos courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

The offers most certainly rolled in too. During wartime, Hazel gave exhibitions at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden in ice carnivals in support of British war effort and performed in the intermissions of numerous hockey games. The attention she garnered from these opportunities paved the way for top billing in ice revues at the Biltmore and St. Regis hotels. In 1941, she even starred in the "Circus On Ice" show at the New York State Fair.

Photo courtesy University Of Washington, Special Collections. Used with permission.

Hazel was featured in "Life" magazine as a potential successor to Sonja Henie and was among the first skaters filmed at the Rockefeller Center rink for newsreels. Her brother Peter later recalled that her spins were once timed using an electronic device and "she was declared to have the fastest crossfoot spin in the world." In 1943, she joined the cast of Ice Follies as a replacement for her close friend Jane Zeiser, who underwent an emergency appendectomy.

The Ice Follies allowed Hazel to venture into a more interpretive style of skating. In one number, she sported - gasp! - pants and appeared as a street urchin. In another, she dressed as a cat.

Hazel Franklin and Barry Green. Photo courtesy University Of Washington, Special Collections. Used with permission.

Hazel also dabbled in pairs skating, performing duets with Barry Green, a talented coach from Saskatchewan on leave from the Canadian Army. When she wasn't landing Axels and double Salchows, Hazel spent her time cooking, knitting, bowling and horseback riding. She earned several blue ribbons in horse shows.

In 1950, Hazel left the Ice Follies and joined the cast of Holiday On Ice. She spent close to a decade touring Europe before marrying Walter Henry Hadlich, who had been involved in the management of the Ice Follies in the forties. Settling in California, she taught for many years at the Valley Ice Skating Center in Tarzana. Her husband passed away in 1980 and Hazel died in the Los Angeles area on April 5, 1989 at the age of sixty-four.

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":