The following is a preview, in the form of a letter, to one of the early chapters of my forthcoming book SKATING ON AIR: THE BROADCAST HISTORY OF AN OLYMPIC MARQUEE SPORT. Although my publisher has requested that I refrain from including any text excerpts until the book is actually released (sorry about that), I think you’ll get a good sense of what at least a fraction of the book is about. I’ll be posting more “previews” in weeks to come. Hope you enjoy!
Dear Sonja Henie,
When I set out to write about the broadcast history of figure skating a couple of years ago, I knew I’d be getting much more familiar with you and your myriad of contributions to the sport. After all, you passed away the year after I was born… I didn’t grow up with your films playing at my local cinema, or your famed Ice Revue coming to my neck of the woods to put on a show. My first awareness of you came in poring over a book about films put out by LIFE magazine—it showed lists of the most popular film stars of the 1930s and ‘40s, and had you listed as the #3 box-office draw of 1938. Wow, cool, I thought… surely not realizing what a unique figure you’d carved into Hollywood, much less the rest of the world, with your presence.
But oh, the things I’ve learned! Not just about your unstoppable drive, but your ability to draw a crowd to figure skating. Not just about the films you made, but the way said films laid the groundwork for “camera blocking” and other aspects of modern-day televised skating coverage. Not just about your extravagant show tours, but how those tours (along with the Ice Capades, Ice Follies, and others) helped sustain American interest in this sport when World War II denied nearly a decade of Olympic experience, and kept would-be rising stars at bay.
And then there was the other stuff that made you what you were; a fiercely demanding side of you with which I can’t really identify at all. There are already books that cover that aspect of your “contributions”… and rest assured, Skating on Air isn’t one of them.
So fear not, Miss Henie… I did my best to do you justice. (You might decide to haunt me if I’d done otherwise, anyway.)