Biography

Sonja Henie: Fire on Ice (11 Mar. 1997)

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Title: Sonja Henie: Fire on Ice (11 Mar 1997)

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Himself (archive footage)
Lynn Bari ...
Herself (archive footage)
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Himself
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Herself (archive footage)
Frederick De Cordova ...
Himself
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Herself (archive footage)
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Himself (archive footage)
Winthrop Gardner ...
Himself (archive footage)
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Himself - Host
Richard Greene ...
Himself (archive footage)
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Herself
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Herself (archive footage)
Wilhelm Henie ...
Himself (archive footage)
Heinrich Himmler ...
Himself (archive footage)
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Himself (archive footage)
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11 March 1997 (USA)  »

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Sonja Henie and Her Dynamic Presence
28 June 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Peter Graves narrates this account of the life and career of Norwegian figure skater and American actress Sonja Henie, from her 1912 birth, in Oslo (then Kristiania), second child of Selma and Wilhelm Henie, who, with brother, Leif, encourage Sonja to skate at age four, and to go on to become the most decorated female figure skater in history.

In 1921, at age nine, Sonja wins her first skating competition, the Norwegian championships, but at 1924 Winter Olympics, she places eighth, and fifth at World Championships, thus vowing never to lose again. She pioneers a new look, wearing white skates and above-the-knee costumes, created by Selma, Wilhelm managing her career.

At the next three Winter Olympic games, of 1928, '32 and '36, Sonja Henie wins the gold medal, plus a record ten consecutive gold medals at World Championships (1927-36), and six first place wins at European Championships (1931-36), becoming a major celebrity in Norway.

And now she plans to conquer Hollywood to earn great wealth and world-wide fame.

In 1936, fresh from her string of skating wins, Sonja and family board Île-de-France to sail to NYC, where Wilhelm hires Producer Arthur Wirtz to manage her career, a partnership lasting for thirteen years although Wilhelm Henie unfortunately passes suddenly in 1937.

Arthur Wirtz travels with the Henie family, to book Sonja at Hollywood Polar Palace, while hoping that a talent scout from 20th Century Fox Studios would attend her skating show, after Sonja and Wilhelm decide that 20th would offer Sonja ideal productions to showcase her amazing skating talent. Plus, they hear that the studio chief has that certain weakness for blonde ingénues.

20th Studio Head Darryl F. Zanuck attends Sonja's Hollywood Polar Palace production and soon signs her to a film contract, casting her into her first American film, for a December 1936 release, receiving public accolades.

Around the studio, Sonja quickly becomes known for her dynamic business acumen and bargaining power, as her star continues to rise, and she becomes the number-three box-office draw in America within two years even though most of her roles demand little in the way of acting talents, but rather technical dexterity, at this point in her career.

In 1939, when her native Norway is attacked by German troop occupation, her nation requests Sonja's financial assistance, but she claims her new U.S. citizenship, deciding to remain neutral so as not to alienate fans outside of Norway because she values world-wide box-office receipts for her bargaining and earning power, thus alienating many in her native land for the next several years.

Romancing leading men in Hollywood, as Tyrone Power and Van Johnson, behind her, Sonja settles into posh Beverly Hills and marries wealthy NYC scion Daniel Topping although this doesn't last once he allegedly begins to squander Sonja's money, and the same goes for second husband, Winthrop Gardner, another wealthy NYC scion, who mishandles Sonja's income, as well.

One husband reportedly launches into an altercation with Errol Flynn over Sonja, but Flynn knocks him unconscious.

On the set at 20th, Sonja is known for her shrewd bargaining power, as evidenced on the next to the last day of shooting "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941), when Sonja prematurely bids cast and crew farewell. When Zanuck learns of this behavior, he approaches Miss Henie, to be told that her contract expires today, and if he wants her to work on the final day of filming, then her participation to complete the film will cost the studio an extra $225,000.

But times begin to grow difficult for Sonja once brother Leif takes charge of managing her career after she no longer receives film offers. Arthur Wirtz has the professional touch to book her on skating show tours, but Leif hasn't the expertise to place Sonja before audiences, and so her tours begin to flounder.

So, Sonja returns to Norway, reportedly apprehensive about the reception which she may receive, but is warmly welcomed by audiences, before she meets the wealthy Niels Onstad, to share a happy marriage of equals at long last.

Sonja's marriages are with Daniel Topping (1940-46), Winthrop Gardner (1949-56) and Niels Onstad (whom she marries in 1956).

Interview Guests for this episode consist of Ann Miller (Actress), Dorothy Hamill (Olympic Skater), Milton Berle (Entertainer), Frederick De Cordova (Director), Michael Kirby (Skating partner), Roddy McDowall (Actor), and James R. Parish (Biographer), with Peter Graves (Host and Narrator).

Still Photographs include Sonja Henie, Selma Henie, Wilhelm Henie, Leif Henie, Arthur Wirtz, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Merle Oberon, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Van Johnson and the Henie-Onstad Art Centre.

Archive film footage includes Sonja Henie (Self), Selma Henie (Mother), Wilhelm Henie (Father), Leif Henie (Brother), Daniel Topping (former Husband), Winthrop Gardner (former Husband), Niels Onstad (Husband), Arthur Wirtz (Producer), Johan Nygaardsvold (Prime Minister of Norway), Heinrich Himmler (German officer), Darryl F. Zanuck (20th Century Fox Chief), Glenn Miller (Band leader), Actresses Lynn Bari, Dorothy Dandridge, Ann Doran and Carole Landis, Actors Don Ameche, Robert Cummings, Buddy Ebsen, Richard Greene, Jack Hayley, Jean Hersholt, Van Johnson, Adolphe Menjou, Fayard Nicholas, Harold Nicholas, Jack Oakie, John Payne, Tyrone Power and Cornel Wilde.

Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Sonja Henie in scenes from One in a Million (1936), Thin Ice (1937), Happy Landing (1938), Second Fiddle (1939), Everything Happens at Night (1939), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Iceland (1942), Wintertime (1943) (all at 20th), It's a Pleasure (1945) (RKO Technicolor), and The Countess of Monte Cristo (1948) (Universal).

Newsreel Clips include Sonja's figure skating performances at 1921 Norwegian Nationals, 1928 Winter Olympics, 1930 Madison Square Garden, 1932 Winter Olympics, 1936 Winter Olympics, and her 1936 signing with 20th Century Fox, "Stars on Ice" (the first commercial figure skating show), Sonja's receiving the Order of Saint Olaf award, plus Sonja's return to Oslo and WWII era footage.


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