Small But Mighty: The Chuckie Stein Story

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

Charles Philip 'Chuckie' Stein was born on January 11, 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother Elizabeth (Keck) Stein passed away when he was only a toddler and he was raised by his father Philip and stepmother Josephine (Gropp), a German immigrant to America. His father worked for a department store as an upholsterer before starting his own business.

The second oldest of four siblings, Chuckie was raised on Pittsburgh's North Side. He graduated from high school in Perrysville, just outside of the city. His first job was at the Perry Theater, where he worked as an usher. The movie house was owned by John H. Harris, who also owned the Pittsburgh Hornets hockey team. Harris offered Chuckie a job as the hockey team's mascot. He wore a hockey uniform with the number '1/2' on it, because of his height. At only four feet tall and sixty two pounds, he was a little person. At the time, he was more often than not referred to by another word that is considered highly offensive today.

Chuckie had zero experience as a skater when he began working for John H. Harris, riling up the crowd during hockey game intermissions. The only lessons, if you'd call them that, he received were from home team's players. Despite this, Harris took a chance on Chuckie, offering him a job in his most famous venture - the Ice Capades.

Chuckie Stein and Nate Walley

Nate Walley took Chuckie under his wing and soon the two men were performing comedic duets together. These numbers, which played on their extreme height difference, had names like "One And A Half". In their most famous act together, Chuckie played a ventriloquist's dummy. In other acts, he appeared as a panda bear, a mouse, Santa Claus, one of the seven dwarfs and even in drag in an ode to Shirley Temple's famous "On The Good Ship Lollipop" number. Chester Hale, the famous Ice Capades choreographer, was responsible for putting together most of his programs.

Despite the fact that Chuckie lacked the skating skills or experience of most of his fellow cast members, for over a decade "the tiny funnyman" consistently stole the limelight from his peers, endearing himself to crowds at Ice Capades and Ice Cycles shows from coast to coast. Was there an underlying element of exploitation of Chuckie's height and size? You bet. It was the forties... and to ice show producers and audiences alike, he was in many ways 'a gimmick' and treated as such.

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

In the height of Chuckie's fame as a skater, "The Knickerbocker News" claimed that he was attempting to get his pilot's license with help from a novel invention devised by an Atlantic City mechanic. The reporter wrote, "The mechanic-friend rigged up a pair of metal tubes about 24 inches long with the ends curved into 'U' shapes. Strapped to Stein's feet much the same as roller skates, the tubes enable him to reach the rudder-pedals which otherwise would be inaccessible." 

Left photo courtesy "International Ice Skating Directory"

Weary from over a decade of constant traveling, Chuckie handed in his notice to the Ice Capades management in the early fifties. He took a job as the head skate guard at Pittsburgh's new North Park rink, where he met his future wife Donna May. He later worked for many years as a property appraiser for Allegheny County and served on the West View Borough Council. He passed away at the age of eighty two on October 30, 2003 in his home city, suffering from complications of kidney disease.

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