#Unearthed: Queen Barbara Of The Silver Blades

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's 'buried treasure' is an article called "Queen Barbara Of The Silver Blades", which first appeared in "Coronet" magazine in January of 1950. It was penned by Harry Henderson and Sam Shaw.


It took courage and hard work for a little Canadian girl to become Olympic champ and machine-gun fire in World War I helped to make Barbara Ann Scott the women's figure-skating champion of the world. Incredible bot if you know the determination, courage and inspiration behind this twinkling blonde Canadian girl who has captured virtually every skating honor in the world. Acclaimed as the greatest  spinner ever seen on skates, she is the first girl star to grip public imagination since Norway's Sonja Henie of a decade ago. 

Representatives of Hollywood studios camp outside her door. She numbers Presidents, Kings, and Prime Ministers among her friends. In Canada, she ranks with Princess Elizabeth in popularity. And when she won the Olympic title, the whole Dominion took a bow. 

"From one end of Canada to the other there is great rejoicing... at the high honor you have brought yourself and your country," cabled sedate Mackenzie King, then Prime Minister. The story of how this pretty young girl finally achieved the championship really begins 13 years before she was born, in April, 1915. A young lieutenant named Clyde Scott, leading his men in the battle of St. Julien, was caught by shrapnel and machine-gun fire, and left for dead on the field. A German patrol found him and carried him to their base hospital. It was two years before he got back to Canada, where he found his parents had held memorial services for him. But although he was badly crippled, Clyde Scott possessed indomitable spirit. As he gradually recovered strength, he went to work in the Canadian Department of National Defense. Presently he fell in love and married. Soon he was the father of a pretty little blonde- Barbara Ann. 

As she grew up, a tremendous attachment developed between the girl and her father. Because he could barely walk, he was determined that his daughter be able to do everything he couldn't do - and do it perfectly. Under his tutelage, she became an expert swimmer, horsewoman, and all-round athlete. Years later, because her father had been deeply interested in aviation, she even learned to fly. In learning to skate, however, Barbara Ann got off to a later start than most Canadian children, whose icy winters provide a long skating season. 

What delayed her  was a series of mastoid operations, which left her in delicate health. In the belief that cold winds would prove too rugged for their only child, the Scotts steadfastly ignored her pleas for skates. These pleas had begun, her mother says, virtually in infancy. But she was six years old before she got her first pair of skates - a present from Santa Claus. However, her parents had bought her the old-fashioned, double-runner type. "I was heartbroken," says Barbara Ann. "I had my heart set on the single-runner boot type. But they were skates... and I went to bed wearing them." 

She struggled on the double-runners until the following Christmas, when a wiser Santa brought her swift single-runners. Better still, her parents allowed her to join the Minto Skating Club, headquarters for skating in Ottawa. There she watched older people practice figure skating, and soon was begging for lessons. Her parents agreed - on two conditions. One, Barbara Ann had to stay among the first six in her class at the Ottawa Normal Model School. Two, she had to keep up her daily hour of piano practice. Now this was a big order. In order to do her homework, and practice skating and piano, Barbara Ann followed a rigorous schedule. arising an hour earlier than the rest of the family. But she met the conditions... and she skated. Like any novice, she got her bumps and bruises with painful regularity. "In fact." she says, "it sometimes seemed that I did nothing but fall. But I learned that if you're afraid to fall, you'll never make a figure skater. One winter I wore out a pair of heavy slacks falling - just learning one new jump." But gradually she learned to skate on the edge of the blade, and then mastered the first figures - eights, brackets and counters. 

She made her first public appearance when she was eight in the Minto Follies as "The Spirit of the New Year." The Ottawa Journal called her "the darling of the show." The following year, Barbara Ann announced her goal: she wanted to become the world's greatest figure skater. "We encouraged her in her ambition," says her mother, "but I told her that if she ever displayed signs of temperament, her skating was finished." Soon Barbara Ann made her competitive debut in the annual Canadian skating tournament. When the tiny girl darted out on the ice, a gasp of surprise was followed by gales of prolonged laughter. There was no mistake. Waves of laughter were sweeping the crowd, people were pointing at her and roaring their amusement. Biting her lips, even forcing an occasional smile, she glided on unevenly until she had completed her last figure. Then, with tears streaming down her face, she sped off the ice and buried her head in her mother's shoulder. "Oh, Mother," she sobbed. "they're laughing at my skating!" It took days for her parents to convince Barbara that people had merely laughed at her tiny size - and at her audacity in competing against bigger girls. Once convinced, she began to overcome flaws in her skating. 

A year later, when she was ten, she became the youngest skater ever to win the gold. medal test, awarded for passing eight tests in basic school figures. But that is also when she got what Barbara still calls her "worst bump." As she came off the ice. she was met by her coach, Gus [Lussi], the Swiss expert who has become America's No. 1 champion-maker. Instead of congratulating her, he said: "Now we'll go back to the beginning and really learn how to skate." Barbara Ann gasped as Gus, with brutal frankness, pointed out her weaknesses and insisted she still needed intensive training in figure skating. But she paid heed. "He taught me humility," she says today. "I went back to fundamentals as if I had never seen skates." [Lussi] drilled her relentlessly. She spent up to eight hours a day on ice. Sometimes she skated the equivalent of 11 miles a day in figure eights. But no sooner had she mastered one aspect of a figure than [Lussi] was pushing her toward correcting another fault. She fell, she says, thousands of times. 

Often, she came home from the Minto Club in tears. The cause was nearly always the same: "flats." A "flat" is caused by skating on the flat of the blade rather than its edge. "It took me years to get the flats out of my figures," she says. "I'd think I had done a figure perfectly and go back and look at my track on the ice. There would be those awful flats. Sometimes the only thing that helped was tears." In the summertime, Barbara Ann swam, rode horseback and lived an active social life. But when skating season rolled around, she had to pass up the parties. She couldn't go to dances or movies with friends because it would interfere with her studies or skating. Another discouragement was the fact that her goal seemed to recede as she neared it. 

For instance, at 11, she won the Canadian junior championship; but by so doing, she put herself into the tougher senior division, competing against much older and more experienced skaters. Then, in 1941, something happened which made Barbara Ann even more determined to succeed. Her father died from overwork as a confidential secretary of the Department of National Defense. 

"I used to practice eight hours a day and think I was working very hard." she says, "and then I would come home and find him still working, sometimes long after midnight. No matter how tired he was, he never stopped." After her father's death, expenses became a big problem. Barbara Ann and her mother economized in every way to pay for instructors and travel to distant competitions. All of this had to come out of a pension of about 83,000 a year. But now her tireless practice began to pay off. That year and the following one, she was runner-up for the Canadian championship. 

In 1944, she won the title, and defended it successfully the following year. In 1945, she came to New York and won the North American title by topping graceful Gretchen Merrill of Boston and six other contenders. And now a group of Ottawa businessmen came to the Scotts' financial aid. They raised thousands of dollars to make it possible for her to compete for the European championship in Switzerland. She won, and two weeks later went on to capture the world championship tournament in Stockholm. 

The victory was celebrated all over Canada, and the welcome she received on returning home surpassed that which greeted the British royal family in 1939. Business firms bought newspaper space to congratulate her. Prime Minister Mackenzie King welcomed her in person. Toronto suspended the anti-noise ordinance for 20 minutes upon her arrival. And in Ottawa, the City Council appropriated 83,500 to buy a cream-colored convertible as a present. Nobody had prepared Barbara Ann for the welcome in Ottawa. Thousands of people were milling about the station: the rotunda was crowded with government officials and members of Parliament The cream-colored convertible, however, set off an uproar that rocked Canada for weeks. Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, protested her acceptance of the car on the grounds of "professionalism." Canadians were infuriated at this interpretation of their gratitude. For days no other subject was discussed in Canada. However, the Canadian Olympic Committee regretfully suggested that it would be best for Barbara Ann to give the car back if she wanted to continue skating as an amateur. What was at stake was her chance to win the Olympic title. Tearfully, she gave the car back... and prepared to defend her European and world titles, and win the Olympic crown. She returned to Europe early in 1948 and outskated contenders for her [European title].

By the time the Olympic competition rolled around, Barbara Ann's record book showed that she had put in - during her career - more than 20,000 hours of practice. At the Olympics, all this practice equaled perfection, which, in turn, equaled the championship. But instead of hustling off to her dressing room, she stayed to applaud the other skaters. This lack of temperament and her ladylike manners create friends for her among competitors. But the latter are also made uneasy by the fact that behind that politeness is the determination of a champion. 

Like most champions, Barbara Ann is slightly superstitious. She believes that No. 13 on her arm band will help her win. At the Olympic matches, she drew No. 13. A competitor's coach, thinking she would be upset, was dumfounded to discover she was delighted. In the summer of 1948, with all the world's most important skating titles in her grasp, Barbara Ann turned professional. She says it was the hardest thing she ever had to do. 

When she finally agreed to turn professional, it was with the stipulation that part of her earnings were to support institutions for crippled children. As a result, she has one of the most unusual contracts in show business. The St. Lawrence Foundation to Aid Crippled Children pays her a salary and expenses. To them she refers all Hollywood offers, skating promoters, and manufacturers seeking endorsements. There have been other benefits. The cream-colored convertible, which she once had to give up, has been returned to her by grateful Canadians. The Scotts' financial problems are at an end. And to her own surprise, Barbara Ann even shows signs of liking show business. 

After years of wearing modest costumes, she takes delight in flashy and bespangled outfits. Yet she re-mains her polite, considerate self. During an appearance at New York's Roxy Theater, she shocked blasé autograph seekers, who are accustomed to being brushed off, by leaning from her dressing-room window and yelling: "Hi, gang! I'll be right down." Although her name has recently been linked romantically with several young men, Barbara Ann says she has no serious matrimonial plans at present. "I won't get married until I have finished my career as a professional skater," she says. Then she adds: "And that is something I have barely begun!" 

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.