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Is That Who I Think It Is?...

Is That Who I Think It Is?...



     Yes indeed, that is Marilyn Monroe lacing up her figure skates!
     The year was 1952, and the fact that twenty-six-year-old Monroe, the movie industry's fastest rising star, was donning a pair of skates (the boots do not look like they were made by Stanzione), indicates how popular the sport, even in these pre-Internet, pre-social media days, had become.

     Dick Button had won his record-shattering second Olympic Gold medal that year, along with his fifth World and seventh U.S. championship, and had pioneered in introducing new elements into the world of figure skating.  Tenley Albright was the American skating world's Golden Girl, poised to win the World title the following year (her Olympic Gold medal would be won in 1956).

     Sonya Klopfer (later Sonya Dunfield) was another of America's exciting, premiere figure skaters, a U.S. champion, and twelve-year-old Carol Heiss, from Ozone Park, New York, before the end of the decade, would dominate the world of women's figure skating.
     A skating star that movie fan Marilyn was very familiar with, the skater that was responsible, via her movies, for popularizing the sport of figure skating throughout the world – the inimitable Sonja Henie – had turned forty in 1952.  She was, however, still in the game, front-and-center as an in-person attraction in her renowned ice show.  Only four years earlier, her competitive spirit never flagging, former three-time Olympic champion Sonja had challenged newly crowned Olympic champion, twenty-year-old Canadian Barbara Ann Scott, to compete in what would be the world's first professional figure skating championship (which never took place).
     Marilyn told skating friends a Sonja story she'd heard from co-workers at Fox: "She had a strict rule that there were to be no blondes in the chorus of skaters in her films," Monroe recalled.  "And no blonde actresses, either.  She was to be the only blonde!  I guess I wouldn't have been a welcome addition to any of her films!"
     Marilyn would have first-hand experience in getting to know the world of skating.  At the time, New York's famed 5800-seat "100-percent Air Cooled" Roxy Theatre, second only to Radio City Music Hall as a premiere film-and-live stage show showcase, had successfully introduced an ice show into their stage presentation: "Colorama-on-Ice," which, for maximum stage impact in presenting the skaters, featured ever-changing, multi-colored neon lights embedded in the ice.  The show headlined top stars from the professional skating world, and was accessible to the public seven days a week, five shows a day.
     The Roxy was Fox's first-run showcase for their "A" films (many of Sonja Henie's films had played there), and Marilyn had been a regular visitor to the Roxy early-on, appearing on stage to publicize her own films, and backstage she had befriended many of the skaters. 
     In researching my book, "Frank and Marilyn," it was interesting to discover that her respect for accomplishment included the world of skating;  it was not only an artistic sport, but one which she could safely admire without, to her relief, longing to be a part of it.  In her quest for respect and self-improvement, within three years she'd be joining The Actors Studio in New York, where, to quote noted film director George Cukor, "she'd be doing a lot of [expletive deleted] studying."
     There was a roller skating sequence in a film she'd made in '52, "Monkey Business," with Cary Grant (it played the Roxy).  For plot purposes, she and Cary went skating at a public rink, and Grant later wryly noted: "Neither Marilyn nor I will give any professional skater anything to worry about."
     Marilyn's foray into the world of ice skating faded with changing times; the Roxy would face the wrecking ball by the end of the decade, and Monroe would go to war with her studio for better roles.  Her personal life would take many explosive twists and turns; there would be no more appearances on stage to publicize her films, or joining "the kids" from Ice Colorama for a quick bite at a nearby "hamburger joint."
     No stranger to the world of dance, however, Marilyn was fortunate to have the brilliant Jack Cole and Gwen Verdon to guide her through the complexities of the musical numbers she'd be required to perform on screen."Marilyn always had the greatest respect for women of accomplishment in the creative world," noted Verdon, "she was acutely aware of the obstacles that had to be overcome in achieving their goals."
     One can safely assume that ITNY would have won Marilyn's enthusiastic approval, especially since it had been founded, nurtured and successfully guided by a woman.  Moira North happily notes that the organization will soon be celebrating a milestone event: "ITNY will be turning forty!" she exclaims, and plans are already underway for what promises to be a memorable occasion.
     And what, one wonders, was Marilyn's ultimate goal?  She expressed it succinctly, in three words: "to be wonderful…"




Edward Z. Epstein's latest book is "FRANK & MARILYN:  The Lives, The Loves, and the Fascinating Relationship of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe," published by Post Hill Press.

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