New York City Boy: The Gail Borden II Story

Photo courtesy University Of Southern California Digital Library; California Historical Society Collection at the University Of Southern California.

"Gail Borden I consider one of the most attractive show skaters on the ice today. He is such a man skating - of superb physique and immense controlled power, after [Gillis] Grafström I consider him the best pure stylist. His program however is not full enough to win a championship, nor are his advanced figures quite up to the standard required. What a pity his skating career has been so spasmodic." - T.D. Richardson, "Skating" magazine, 1934

Born February 19, 1907 in Manhattan, New York, Gail Borden II was the eldest son of of Marie Ann (Jaeckel) and Lewis Mercer Borden. Along with his sister Penelope and brothers Albert and Louis Jr., he grew up in a relatively well-off household with a nurse, cook and waitress at his beck and call. His father ran the Norwegian American family milk business, started back in the nineteenth century by Gail's great-grandfather and namesake, Gail Borden I, an American canning pioneer and the inventor of condensed milk. If Gail Borden I was the kind of relative you'd want to have in your family tree, another relation wasn't. The family claimed to be distantly related to Lizzie Borden, the purported murderess who "had an axe and gave her mother twenty whacks."

Gail Borden II and Maribel Vinson

Gail's skill with sharp objects wasn't with an axe like his long-lost relative Lizzie, but instead with the knives on his feet. Practicing at the Skating Club Of New York while working alongside his father and brother as an executive in the family milk business, he first rose to prominence in the latter half of the twenties, when he placed second behind Frederick Goodridge in the junior men's competition at the Midwest Athletic Club's annual skating tournament. In 1930, he claimed the 1930 U.S. junior men's title in Providence, Rhode Island. His win that year earned him a place on the American team at the 1930 World Championships in his home city, where he placed sixth of the eight men entered.

Gail Borden II, James Lester Madden, Walter Langer, William Nagle and Roger Turner at the 1931 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The following year, Gail travelled to Ottawa to compete in the North American Championships, where he claimed the bronze medal in the men's event behind Bud Wilson and James Madden. A bronze medal at the U.S. Championships that served as Olympic trials in December of 1931 earned him a place on the 1932 Olympic team. At age twenty four, Gail placed eighth of the twelve men who entered the competition

After spending some time training in England, taking up membership with the National Skating Association, Gail finished in last place at the 1934 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden as America's sole entry in the men's event. His trademarks included his ballet jump and his inside spread eagle, which Maribel Vinson described as "one of the most gravity-defying inner spreads in the world."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

After that event, Gail retired from competitive skating, settled in East Hampton, Long Island and worked as a securities broker. He devoted much of his free time to playing tennis and golf, yachting and painting wildlife. With David Newell of "Field & Stream" magazine, he frequently appeared on the radio show "Hunting & Fishing Club of the Air" and was later a regular guest on the television program "The Sportsmans Club".

Though widely respected as a sportsman, Gail's personal life frequently found him on the society pages. In June 1930, while still active as a competitive skater, he married Peggy (Margaret) Rossiter Eprden, the daughter of a prominent physician. She obtained a divorce in the autumn of 1931, charging cruelty. The couple rekindled their romance while Gail was training overseas with Maribel Vinson, Geddy Hill and James Madden and remarried April 1933 in London, England, only to divorce a second time in November 1941. Gail remarried Elsa Marie Tvedt, a Norwegian immigrant, in September 1942. The couple had two daughters.

In 1950, Gail and his second wife moved to Winter Park, Florida, where he continued his interest in conservationism, joined the Winter Park Racquet Club and was a regular at the All Saints Episcopal Church. He passed away on September 11, 1991 in Winter Park, Florida, exactly ten years to the day before 9/11 rocked the city he grew up in and represented in international figure skating competitions. In his September 12, 1991 obituary in "The Orlando Sentinel", writer Charlie Wadsworth recalled, "He was a very personable man... He was the kind of man who made friends wherever he went."

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