Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


QUEEN OF ICE, QUEEN OF SHADOWS. The Unsuspected Life of SONJA HENIE. Raymond Strait and Leif Henie. Stein and Day; 1985.

You wouldn't think that a book on the milk-wholesome, Norwegian skating actress Sonja Henie would be so interesting, but the authors have done a thorough job of digging into the often contradictory life of Ms. Henie. Sonja became famous as a skating champion at the Olympics, then made up her mind that she would become an actress, a star, even though her talent for being a thespian didn't match her skill on the ice. This book covers her early days, her career triumphs as a skater, including various competitions and ice shows that she put on across the U.S. and the world. Sonja could be as generous as she was petty at times, and her chief problem seems to be that she was adored too much at too early an age, making her so self-absorbed as to appear monstrous at times. Much of the information in the book comes from her estranged brother, so it must be taken with a grain of salt. It is likely that Sonja was no different from a lot of other egocentric movie stars surrounded by admiring -- and grasping -- sycophants. Sonja was friendly with an admiring Adolph Hitler in pre-WW2 days, but there is no indication that she was close to him or supported his horrendous policies, although apparently she never made any public statements denouncing him, either. To Henie, her career was everything and nothing much else ever mattered. While Henie was not without appeal, her lack of acting skills were on display in such films as Thin Ice and It's a Pleasure. NOTE: A more recent edition of this book is also available.

Verdict: Fascinating look at a self-absorbed skater and unlikely movie star. ***1/2.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - Interesting subject, the only thing I ever knew about Sonja Henie is that she dated Liberace! The Golden Age of movies was delightfully democratic, wasn't it, spawning specialty stars like Henie, Carmen Miranda and Esther Williams, who had entire film careers built around their very specific talents. The old studio system could really build and develop a personality into a bonafide star!

William said...

Yes, and now it's top Hollywood agents and an actor's sheer drive and charisma -- not to mention a lot of luck.

I don't recall if her dating Liberace was in the book, but I'm sure Henie would have dated anyone -- anyone! -- who could have made her a star.

While no one would suggest that Williams and Miranda were necessarily great actors, they looked like Oscar winners next to poor Henie, who should have stuck to skating!