Sonja Henie in action
Sonja Henie on the ice in Chamonix during the Winter Olympics.
Sonja Henie, competing in her first Olympic Games at the age of 11.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Henie's Olympic gold medal
Sonja Henie in a crouching position while skating.
London, United Kingdom
Sonja Henie training in London.
Sonja Henie appears in one of her many Hollywood musicals.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Norwegian ice skater Sonja Henie at the training session in St. Moritz.
Sonja Henie, putting on her ice skates.
4 Pennsylvania Plaza, New York, NY 10001, United States
Sonja Henie in Madison Square Garden, New York.
Los Angeles, California, United States
Norwegian ice skater Sonja Henie as a film star in Hollywood.
Sonja Henie as 'Trudy Ericksen' and Don Ameche as 'Jimmy Hall' in a scene from the movie 'Happy Landing.'
Sonja Henie in a scene from the movie "My Lucky Star."
Sonja Henie and Richard Greene in a scene from the movie "My Lucky Star."
Sonja Henie and Robert Cummings on board a yacht in the spy comedy 'Everything Happens at Night.'
Sonja Henie as she appears in the spy comedy 'Everything Happens at Night.'
Sonja Henie shows off a trophy to the other skaters in a scene from the spy comedy 'Everything Happens at Night.'
Sonja Henie and Edna May Oliver in a scene from the movie "Second Fiddle."
Portrait of Sonja Henie posing on the ice, wearing a silvery skating skirt and a large feathered headdress.
John Payne and Sonja Henie in a scene from 'Sun Valley Serenade.'
John Payne with Sonja Henie in a scene from 'Sun Valley Serenade.'
Sonja Henie, Ilka Gruning, Adeline De Walt Reynolds in a scene from the movie "Iceland."
Sonja Henie performs a dance number on ice in the 20th Century Fox film 'Wintertime.'
Sonja Henie during one of her skating routines for International Pictures' 'It's A Pleasure.'
Sonja Henie vacationing at a fashionable winter resort.
Sonja Henie in an ice skating costume in a scene from the film 'The Countess of Monte Cristo.'
Sonja Henie doing hula on ice.
London, United Kingdom
Sonja Henie arrives at London Airport for her first professional visit to the United Kingdom on May 25, 1953.
Michael Wilding and Sonja Henie are on the top of a London bus, during the filming of a new colour musical, 'Sonja Henie in London.'
California, United States
World champion ice skater Sonja Henie poses with her ski gear, California, 1930s.
Sonia Henie, a championship skater and actress, shows her remarkable and graceful style in this photograph, the mid-1950s.
Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav
Statue of Sonja Henie
(Sonja Henie gives an intimate picture of her life from th...)
Sonja Henie gives an intimate picture of her life from the earliest years in Norway and makes available for the first time a world expert's instruction on skating. The world-famous champion tells you how to ice skate by giving instructions for the basic fundamentals and then directs you in the performance of all the school figures.
(American theatrical manager (Menjou) discovers Henie prep...)
American theatrical manager (Menjou) discovers Henie preparing for the Olympics in Switzerland and brings her to Madison Square Garden.
(The son (Romero) of a department store owner enrolls the ...)
The son (Romero) of a department store owner enrolls the store's sports clerk (Henie) at a university to use her as an advertisement for their fashion department. She falls for a teacher (Greene) and gets expelled.
(A studio publicist discovers a Minnesota skating teacher ...)
A studio publicist discovers a Minnesota skating teacher and takes her to Hollywood. She goes back to Minnesota but he follows her.
(A member of Glenn Miller's band sponsors a Norwegian war ...)
A member of Glenn Miller's band sponsors a Norwegian war refugee who turns out to be a pretty skater with eyes for her new guardian.
(Marine, James Murfin, is unaware of Icelandic customs. Wh...)
Marine, James Murfin, is unaware of Icelandic customs. When he flirts with Katina her Icelandic family takes his actions as a proposal of marriage to Katina. Desperately wanting out, James gets his buddy to help him.
(Nora and her uncle get railroaded into spending the night...)
Nora and her uncle get railroaded into spending the night at a broken-down hotel in Canada. After Nora falls for the handsome owner, she convinces her uncle to invest in the inn and modernize it. After the hotel opens, Nora's uncle faces financial ruin and her romance hits a snag in the form of a pretty reporter.
(Don Martin is a star hockey player with the Wildcats unti...)
Don Martin is a star hockey player with the Wildcats until he is barred from hockey for hitting a referee. Through the actions of Chris, Don is able to get a job with Buzz Fletcher's ice-show as the novelty act. Chris trains with Don and he is a success, and they marry. But Gale is also interested in Don and when Don has a chance to leave and join Jack's premiere show, Gale takes him drinking. As an alcoholic, he is in no shape to skate for Jack; so Buzz has Chris do a routine. Her act is great and Jack wants her, without Don, for his ice skating show. Don leaves her to allow her to go on to stardom.
Sonja Henie began training early. From the age of four, she skied with her parents and older brother Leif in the family hunting lodge in Geilo. Simultaneously, she started her much-loved ballet lessons. Her instructor was Love Krohn, an Oslo ballet master who had been a teacher of the great Anna Pavlova. Henie continued her ballet lessons as she took up skating; gradually the idea of combining the two took hold in her imagination.
Because her parents thought a six-year-old too young for the unforgiving ice, she had to beg for her first pair of skates. When they finally relented, she tagged along after her elder brother, who rarely succeeded in ruses to avoid her, whenever he skated in Oslo's Frogner Park. By the age of seven, she could negotiate the slippery surface on her own. She was an absorbed, wildly enthusiastic skater, forgetting meals as she lost track of time doing her figures and swirls. Her efforts drew the attention of a young woman, Hjordis Olsen, who belonged to Frogner's private club. Olsen had observed the child, who appeared to live on the ice from sunup to sundown, and invited her into the secluded area where club members practiced their spins and jumps. There, Olsen started with simple lessons in school figures which Henie practiced so assiduously that her father Wilhelm Henie, on Olsen's recommendation, entered her in the children's competition held each year. Henie took first prize: a silver paper cutter with a mother-of-pearl handle.
The following year, when she was eight, Sonja won the Junior Class C competition and went from there to the Senior A category, Norway's national championship. To train for that, she was given lessons by Oslo's leading skating instructor, Oscar Holte. She was also put on a schedule - three hours of skating in the morning, two in the afternoon - and a diet regimen that called for her to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at regular hours.
In the spring and summer, she continued her ballet lessons. School became a series of tutorings. Henie counted herself extremely fortunate to have been born in a family that could afford private lessons, not only at home but also in the countries where she would go to train and perform.
Henie won her first figure skating competition at the age of nine. The next year, she began training for the national championship of Norway. In 1923, she became the senior national champion of Norway.
After winning the Norwegian championship, she went with her family to St. Moritz and Chamonix and, in 1924, was entered in the Chamonix Olympic Games just to have the experience of the competition. Though one of the judges gave her top ranking in free skating, she took the last place.
At 14, Sonja was entered in the 1927 World championship in Oslo, the youngest contestant ever in that event. Skating before thousands of onlookers, including Norway's King Haakon VII and Queen Maud, she twirled herself to victory and into a decade of travel and international ice rinks. Henie's top-ranking stirred some controversy, however, because two of the five judges - the Austrian and the German - gave their first-place votes to Herma Planck-Szabo, gold-medal winner of the 1924 Olympic games. Though the three Norwegian judges prevailed, the International Skating Union instituted a rule that only one judge per country be allowed in international meets.
At the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz, no one debated Sonja Henie's top ranking. It was awarded her by six of the seven judges. Only the American judge voted for Beatrix Loughran of the United States, who took third place.
The St. Moritz Olympics were succeeded by the World Championships in London. In addition to another first place, Henie took pleasure in learning that the meet had occasioned an increased public interest in figure skating, evidenced by the addition of four new skating rinks in the city of London. She was less thrilled at the thought of the royal faux pas she committed there as she responded to Queen Mary of Teck's questions about skating with the suggestion that the queen take up roller skating. Henie considered that the safer sport.
After Europe, America beckoned. In December of 1929, Henie sailed for New York to give performances in Madison Square Garden before traveling to Canada where she won her fourth World Championship title.
Her first place at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid in 1932 was unrivaled; she was the unanimous choice of the seven judges. That event also saw two Sonja Henie clones, one of whom would be the first reminder of the ever ticking clock. Megan Taylor and Cecilia Colledge from Great Britain - both 11 years old - took seventh and eighth place.
Rumors began circulating that Henie would be accepting proposals for professional engagements in the States, one of them from a film company. Though her father turned them down because they were not particularly good offers, and the family did not like the idea of professionalism in sports, it did not still the voices. Gossip had also been ignited in Canada when, on their arrival in Montreal, Wilhelm stuck by his decision to decline the invitation to skate in two clubs there. His refusal was complicated by the fact that he had accepted an engagement on his daughter's behalf at the New York Skating Club. His reasoning was that, unlike Montreal, the New York performance followed long enough after the Lake Placid Games to give Sonja a chance to rest. Newspapers, however, made a point of noting that Wilhelm had made such exorbitant demands for expense money that the Canadian clubs would have had to renege on their invitations anyway. In subsequent performances in New York, Paris, and Oslo, Sonja was greeted warmly by the audience, which soothed her mind and spirit, but in the summer following her second Olympic gold medal, she considered retiring for the first time.
Henie ended such considerations after entering an automobile race for amateur drivers in Stockholm. Taking second place, she once again felt the adrenalin rising. With renewed vigor, she, therefore, made plans for performances in Paris and Milan where she made her debut in the Swan dance, her ice version of Pavlova's solo. The Italians loved it, and Sonja felt that a new career of dancing on ice was opening up to her.
And yet, she was not quite ready to embrace the challenges of that envisioned future. She felt she had one more Olympic medal in her and one more World Championship. She consequently exerted the utmost pressure upon herself by announcing that she would retire from competition after the 1936 World Championship which would follow one week after the Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany. Henie won her gold medal, only 3.6 points ahead of young Cecilia Colledge of Great Britain, who had soared from eighth place four years earlier. A week later, Henie won her tenth straight World Championship.
After winning 1,473 cups, medals, and trophies, Sonja Henie decided to go professional. In March 1936, she signed a contract with Arthur Wirtz to give four exhibitions in New York and four in Chicago. After that, she would go to Los Angeles. She was convinced that the cinema would be the perfect medium for projecting dancing on ice.
Henie arrived in Hollywood after giving seventeen appearances in nine cities between March 24 and April 15 of 1936. When the Henies learned that the city had an ice rink - "The Polar Ice Palace" - Wilhelm Henie arranged to rent it for several days and planned two exhibitions. Realizing that Hollywood was not "ice conscious," they sent out a deluge of invitations and advertised the shows in the newspapers. It was to their great advantage that reporters with the major papers had heard of Sonja Henie's work abroad and wrote helpful promotional pieces. The two performances went beyond anyone's expectations. Hollywood's glitterati came to see Sonja Henie, and many returned on the second night. In the audience was Darryl Zanuck, the man for whom this whole extravaganza had been performed. The Henies had heard of his reputation for welcoming new ideas and possessing the persistence to realize them. But Zanuck was hesitant when he asked her what she wanted in a film and Henie replied, "the title role." She was not interested in a supporting part that would sell a movie on her reputation. After lengthy negotiations, she was offered the lead in One in a Million. Her performance put Zanuck's doubts to rest. Million was a huge popular success, and nine films would follow.
Living and performing in Hollywood, Henie learned to transform herself from a skating champion to a businesswoman. At first, she had the steady guidance of her father who saw her through the writing of the initial contract as well as the filmmaking. Her mother's presence, from their rising at five o'clock in the morning through the grueling day on the set, offered further comfort and stability in a world that held little of either. But when she lost her father in May of 1937, Henie felt the responsibility for her future falling on her own shoulders. But as it turned out, she had inherited a good share of his business acumen.
Film followed film interspersed with tours. Miss Sonja Henie with her Hollywood Ice Revue, which hit the road after her third film Happy Landing, was finally dancing on ice, just as she had imagined it: a spectacle of lights, costumes, music and dance-like motions, with numbers ranging from Liszt to the Susi-Q. Finally in 1940, skating to Les Sylphides, she felt that ballet had arrived on the ice.
An ill-considered refusal to aid Norwegian refugees in Canada during the early years of the Second World War incurred people's censure. Later donations and performances for the troops were mitigating factors, but on the whole the decade of the 1940s proved emotionally challenging. In the mid-1950s, she finally found the happiness and sense of security she sought in her union with Niels Onstad, a distinguished Norwegian shipowner. With his encouragement, she transferred her focus from figure skating to art collecting, a field in which Onstad was a longtime connoisseur. Henie had previously collected old masters, but when her husband introduced her to contemporary painters, she quickly developed an eye for the boldness and balance of abstract art as well. Together they traveled to keep track of what was going on, buying whatever appealed to them. By and by, their collection exceeded their wall space, and they began to contemplate where they might find a "house" for their artists. After careful deliberation about which country most needed a modern art collection - America or Norway - they decided on Norway. At mid-century, modern art was poorly represented in public Norwegian collections, none of which had received private donations. By deeding separate gifts, they, therefore, established the Sonja Henie-Niels Onstad Foundation. The donations comprised 110 paintings by 20th-century masters as well as means to erect a building that would not only house and show this collection but also encompass activities within the other arts, such as music, theater, dance, film and multimedia. Additional means were allotted for the upkeep and running of the art center, which was opened on August 23, 1968, by King Olav V of Norway. It is Norway's largest museum of international modern art. In October 1969, Henie became ill while in France and died onboard an ambulance plane traveling from Paris to Oslo.
(Sonja Henie gives an intimate picture of her life from th...)1940
(The son (Romero) of a department store owner enrolls the ...)1938
(American theatrical manager (Menjou) discovers Henie prep...)1936
(A member of Glenn Miller's band sponsors a Norwegian war ...)1941
(Don Martin is a star hockey player with the Wildcats unti...)1945
(Nora and her uncle get railroaded into spending the night...)1943
(A Swiss hotel's ski instructor falls in love with a man w...)1937
(A studio publicist discovers a Minnesota skating teacher ...)1939
(Bandleader (Romero) and manager (Ameche) discover skater ...)1938
(Marine, James Murfin, is unaware of Icelandic customs. Wh...)1942
During her amateur skating career, Henie performed often in Germany and was a favorite of German audiences and of Hitler personally. She greeted Hitler with a Nazi salute at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and after the Games, she accepted an invitation to lunch with Hitler at his resort home in nearby Berchtesgaden, where Hitler presented Henie with an autographed photo with a lengthy inscription.
During the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, German troops saw Hitler's autographed photo prominently displayed at the piano in the Henie family home and as a result, none of Henie's properties in Norway were confiscated or damaged by the Germans.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when America was no longer neutral, Henie pulled in uniform and visited and gave money to Little Norway. All Norwegians got free tickets to her shows during the war and she paid and held parties for them.
It's also worth noting, that Sonja supported the United States war effort through the United Service Organizations and other activities. After the Japanese attack, she invited the boys from Little Norway to her ice shows, gave the mechanics a plane as well a substantial sum of money to their educational fund.
"Jewelry takes people's minds off your wrinkles."
"I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing."
"I was born in a blizzard, a special out-of-season blizzard, the worst blizzard Oslo ever suffered. Family, home, circumstances, the country I lived in and the weather I was born in all conspired to make a skater of me."
"You can't go to college and develop into an Olympics champion. It takes too much time, too much training."
"The world never puts a price on you higher than the one you put on yourself."
"All my life I have wanted to skate, and all my life I have skated."
"If you are not a skater, you probably can't imagine what I mean. I could try to tell you by saying it's a feeling of ice miles running under your blades, the wind splitting open to let you through, the earth whirling around you. It's a sense of power, of command over distance and gravity, and an illusion of no longer having to move because the movement is carrying you."
"It's a feeling of ice miles running under your blades, the wind splitting open to let you through, the earth whirling around you at the touch of your toe, and speed lifting you off the ice far from all things that can hold you down."
Sonja had innate musicality, which gave her skating numbers a feeling of well-being. She had a lovely, Astaire-like élan on the ice.
Physical Characteristics: Sonja Henie was 1.55 m (5 ft 1 in) tall and weighed 45 kg (99 lbs). She was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in the mid-1960s and died of this disease in 1969 during a flight from Paris to Oslo.
Henie was married three times. Her first two marriages to Dan Topping and Winthrop Gardiner Jr. ended in divorce. In 1956, Sonja married her third husband, the Norwegian shipping magnate and art patron Niels Onstad.
In addition, Jack Dunn was a close friend and lover of Sonja Henie.