ON THIS DATE in 1928, fifteen-year-old Sonja Henie of Norway won the first of three gold medals in Olympic figure skating. After her first gold-medal performance in St. Moritz, Switzerland, she earned a second gold in 1932 and a third in 1936. Henie also won 10 straight world championships from 1927 to 1936, conquered Hollywood from 1936 to 1948, operated a number of profitable ice revues, and amassed a personal fortune that made her one of the world’s 10 richest women at the time of her death.
Before Henie, figure skating had lacked the glamor and grace that has made it one of the world’s most popular winter sports. Henie studied Russian dancer Anna Pavlova’s moves and rejected long, stark skating skirts in favor of short velvet dress. In the process, she introduced style and artistry to a once-lackluster sport.
Henie also courted controversy by allegedly earning heaps of money, despite her amateur status, and posing willingly and frequently with Adolph Hitler during the 1936 Winter Olympics. Her 1940 autobiography, Wings on my Feet, included a picture of her receiving congratulations from Hitler, which didn’t play well in her native Norway, which was overrun by Germany in the spring of 1940.
After her competitive skating career, Henie starred in 11 Hollywood films, ranking in the top 10 of Quigley’s box-office stars in 1937 (8th), 1938 (3rd), and 1939 (10th). She then organized and appeared in a series of highly profitable ice shows, contributing to a personal fortune estimated at $47 million at the time of her death in a 1969 airplane crash.