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Sonja Henie

Film Stardom

The year 1937 held some of Henie's greatest accomplishments and one of her greatest losses. Hans Henie died that year, at a time when his daughter's career had reached amazing heights. She was made a Knight First Class of the Order of St. Olaf by King Haakon of Norway, becoming the youngest person to receive this honor. She appeared in the film Thin Ice and was rated in a Motion Picture Herald poll as the eighth most popular film star of the year. As the first and only ice-skating film star, Henie is a show business phenomenon comparable only to the swimmer Esther Williams, who appeared in romantic comedies in the late 1940s. Following the success of Thin Ice, Henie showed her growing business savvy by getting Twentieth Century-Fox to renegotiate her contract. Surely she exceeded nearly everyone's expectations when she was rated as the third most popular film star of 1938, surpassed by only Shirley Temple and Clark Gable. As a result, her 1939 salary was more than $250,000. Another measure of her worth is that in 1940 her legs were insured by Lloyds of London for $5,000 per week.

Henie would make eleven films in Hollywood, with the first six being the most successful. The best paired her with some of the biggest male stars of the time, including Tyrone Power in Thin Ice and Second Fiddle (1939), Don Ameche (for the second time) and Cesar Romero in Happy Landing (1938), and Ray Milland and Robert Cummings in Everything Happens at Night (1939). Sun Valley Serenade (1941), in which Henie appeared with John Payne and Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, is memorable for its Academy Award nominations for best cinematography, best music, and best song. During the 1940s, Henie's popularity with movie audiences began to falter and her contract with Twentieth Century-Fox was not renewed. She made one film each with RKO and Universal in the following years, and in 1958 appeared in Hello London, which was only released in England.

Awards and Accomplishments

1921 Norwegian junior-level national championship
1923 Norwegian National Championship
1927 Women's World Figure Skating Championship
1928 Olympic figure skating championship
1928-36 Women's World Figure Skating Championship
1932 Olympic figure skating championship
1936 Olympic figure skating championship
1937 Made Knight First Class of the Order of St. Olaf


Second Fiddle displays Sonja [Henie] as Trudi Hovland, a schoolmarm of Bergen, Minn. who is called to Hollywood because her local swain has sent her photograph to Consolidated Pictures Corp., which has been looking high & low for just such a heroine. Jimmy Sutton (Tyrone Power), the press agent sent to Bergen to fetch her, at first treats her merely as Entry No. 436. He agrees that she has no chance for the part but talks her into flying to Hollywood for the trip, with her Aunt Phoebe (Edna May Oliver). After a twirl on the ice with her pupils, Trudi consents. Although Trudi does no skating in her screen test, she makes the grade. Jimmy believes that, as the new star, she can be used to bolster the publicity value of Roger Maxwell (Rudy Vallee), a crooner on the studio pay roll whose self-esteem is more impressive than his newsworthiness. Touched by Roger's mash notes, which are really written by Jimmy, Trudi moons over him all during production of Girl of the North. Only when she learns the real author of the notes does Trudi realize that her heart has been bent, not broken.

Source: Time, 34 (July 17, 1939): 51-54.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsFigure SkatingSonja Henie Biography - Early Advantages, Youthful Champion, Chronology, Turning Professional, Film Stardom, Awards And Accomplishments - SELECTED WRITINGS BY HENIE: