(Reuters) - Oslo’s shock April snowfall of 1912 is remembered as one of the city’s more memorable events of the last century, but it pales in comparison to the emergence of Sonja Henie, the precocious figure-skater who went on to become a hugely successful Hollywood movie star and performer, in its wake.
Henie’s combination of grace, style and hard-headed business acumen saw her build a glittering sporting legacy before embarking on a career as a performer that saw her earn millions from movies and live performances, with each acting as a marketing vehicle for the other.
“Winter had given way to spring. Then came the worst blizzard Oslo ever suffered — and me,” she wrote in her 1938 Norwegian memoir “Mitt livs eventyr”, which was later translated and published in English as “Wings On My Feet”.
Born to a wealthy family in Oslo, Heine’s athletic acumen revealed itself early in life and she quickly focused on figure-skating, becoming Norway’s national champion at just 10 years old.
Her first appearance at the Olympics in 1924 ended in sporting failure as she came eighth out of eight competitors, but pictures of the slender, graceful blonde child performing won the hearts of fans around the world.
Aged 14, she went on a stunning run of 10 world championships from 1927 to 1936, and she added three Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
Not even an enthusiastic salute of Adolf Hitler at a performance in Berlin in 1936 could derail her popularity, and following her final world championship win she changed course, abandoning her amateur status to embark on a career as a professional entertainer.
“I’m tired of keeping in condition all the time,” she said in March 1936. “After all, I’ve won 10 world championships and three Olympic titles. What more is there for me to do?”
Orchestrated by her father Wilhelm, Henie staged an ice-skating show in Los Angeles to impress the movie moguls of Hollywood. The gamble paid off and Henie signed a lucrative deal with Twentieth Century Fox, who showcased her breathtaking skating skills in a series of highly-successful musical comedies that acted as marketing vehicles for her live shows.
The Norwegian starlet was instrumental in popularising figure-skating shows as entertainment, and she toured extensively in North America and Europe, lending her name to brands of skates, clothing and jewellery as her fortune grew.
She became an American citizen in September 1941 and was one of the first inductees to the Ice Skating Hall of Fame when it was established in 1963, and her death in 1969 from leukaemia on board a flight from Paris to Oslo was mourned on both sides of the Atlantic.
Still revered as one of the greatest and most iconic figure-skaters of all time, Henie’s legacy is founded on her glittering sporting career and as a businesswoman who knew her value as both an athlete and a performer.
“The world never puts a price on you higher than the one you put on yourself,” she once said.
Editing by Christian Radnedge