Manuel del Toro, The Puerto Rican Patinador

Latin American figure skating pioneer and artist Manuel del Toro
Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

The son of Mercedes (Bellido) and Pedro Gregorio del Torro Gomez, Manuel del Toro was born August 3, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York. When he was a baby, his parents brought him to Puerto Rico. Manuel, his older sister Mercedes and younger brother Jorge grew up in the municipality of Mayag├╝ez, where his father worked as a house carpenter. 

Manuel's family returned to New York when he was ten. His father found work as an operator at a cork manufacturing company, and settled on Lorraine Street in Brooklyn. As a teenager, he studied art at the Graduate School of Industrial Art. To make ends meet, he got a job as an usher at the Center Theatre, which was famous for its lavish ice shows. Employees were permitted to use the theatre's ice stage during off hours. Manuel bought his first pair of skates and began dabbling on the ice. Though he received no formal instruction, he was able to catch on to the sport quickly after memorizing the moves of the performers in the shows he'd watched dozens of times. After only five weeks, he was invited to join one of the shows, but his skating career was delayed by his service as a Private First Class with the United States Marine Corps. 

Latin American figure skating pioneer and artist Manuel del Toro
Manuel del Toro and Jerry Rehfield

After his discharge from the military, Manuel landed a role in an ice show at the Boulevard Room at The Stevens Hotel in Chicago. Billed as 'The Greco Of The Ice', he quickly earned a reputation as a multi-talented performer. Having taken some voice classes at the Minneapolis College Of Music, he was tasked with emceeing, singing and skating in many hotel ice shows.

Ad for Dorothy Lewis ice skating show at the Hotel Nicolett

In Manuel's professional career, which spanned four decades, he performed at the Starlight Roof of the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, Barbara Ann Scott's Skating Sensations Of 1950 tour, Dorothy Lewis' shows at the Hotel Nicollet in Minnesota, the Terrace Room of the Hotel New Yorker, the Roxy Theatre, the Ice Vogues and Holiday On Ice tours, Wiener Eisrevue, the ice shows at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago and Johnny Flanagan's Ice Spectacular "Fiesta Tropicana" at the Cabaret Caprice at the Sheraton in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In 1960, he also appeared in a television special hosted by Johnny Desmond called "Music On Ice".

Latin American figure skating pioneer and artist Manuel del Toro

Manuel performed everything from adagio pairs acts to barrel jumping and interpretive and comedy skating, and was hugely popular with audiences. It didn't hurt that he was six feet tall, dark and handsome. He was married at least three times and had four children - two sons named Ricardo and Alfredo and two daughters named Patrice and Vanessa. His wives included Peggy Lou Harrison, a model named Jane Conlon and the professional skater Jinx Clark.

Latin American figure skating pioneer and artist Manuel del Toro
Manuel del Toro and Jerry Rehfield

Manuel was not only a talented figure skater and singer, but an exceptionally gifted and versatile commercial artist. He did everything from oil paintings to sculpt metal (clay with aluminum coating) to sculpture. He also designed parade floats and made rugs on a loom. In his spare time, he enjoyed baseball, golf and swimming. 

Latin American figure skating pioneer and artist Manuel del Toro

Manuel passed away on June 11, 1999 in his home in Florida, having lived in Pompano Beach for many years. His pioneering role as one of the America's first Latino figure skaters absolutely deserves recognition. 

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