Movie Stars: Henie, Sonja–Ice Skating Star in Fox’s Films

Born in 1912, Sonja Henie was a Norwegian figure skater and film star.

Sonja Henie on the cover of Time magazine, July 17, 1939

She was a three-time Olympic Champion (1928, 1932, 1936) in women’s Singles, a ten-time World Champion (1927–1936) and a six-time European Champion (1931–1936).

Henie won more Olympic and World titles than any other women’s figure skater.

At the height of her acting career, she was one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, a result of making a series of box-office hits, including Thin Ice (1937), Happy Landing, My Lucky Star (1938), Second Fiddle (1939) and Sun Valley Serenade (1941).

After the 1936 World Figure Skating Championships, Henie took up a career as a professional performer in acting and live shows. While still a girl, Henie had decided that she wanted to move to California and become a movie star when her competitive days were over.

In 1936, following a successful ice show in Los Angeles orchestrated by her father to launch her film career, studio chief Darryl Zanuck signed her to a long term contract at Twentieth Century Fox, which made her one of the highest-paid actresses of the time.

After the success of her first film, One in a Million (1936), Henie became increasingly demanding, insisted on having total control of the skating numbers in her films such as Second Fiddle (1939).

Henie tried to break the musical comedy mold with the anti-Nazi film Everything Happens at Night (1939).

She appeared in It’s a Pleasure (1945), a skating variation of the often-told A Star Is Born tale about alcoholic-star-in-decline-helps-newcomer-up. It was her only film shot in Technicolor, but it was not a box office hit as her other films, also proving her limitations as dramatic actress.

Zanuck then cast her in musical comedies: Sun Valley Serenade (1941) with Glenn Miller, John Payne, The Nicholas Brothers, with hit songs, such as “In the Mood,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “It Happened in Sun Valley,”  and “I Know Why (And So Do You).

She then appeared in Iceland (1942) with Jack Oakie, Payne, and the hit song “There Will Never Be Another You.”

She made Wintertime (1943) with Cesar Romero, Carole Landis, Cornel Wilde, and Oakie.

Sonja had by now developed a comedy flair and these films were all among the top box-office hits for 20th Century-Fox the respective years.

Eight Sonja Henie movies crossed the magical $100 million gross mark, topped by Happy Landing (1938), her biggest box-office hit.