Hello, everybody, Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your Classic Movie guys, here to wind up our Sonja Henie series with a look at her World War II bond-selling activities, which in retrospect contain rich historical irony.
Almost all of the top film stars of the 1940s did their bit helping the war effort. World War II was the last U.S. military effort which had the full-throated, unambiguous support of the big studios and their talent. (Can you imagine the Hollywood of today similarly supporting, say, the Afghanistan conflict?)
Back then, many stars toured to entertain the troops. Many more participated in what were called “Bond Drives.” That is to say, they would show up at big cities rallies to hawk War Bonds in person.
Dorothy Lamour, for example, was renowned for being one of the most successful of Hollywood’s pitch women. And who can forget that 33-year-old Carole Lombard, returning to California from a 1942 war bond rally in her native state of Indiana, was killed when her plane crashed near Las Vegas.
Our friend, Pat Williamson, as we’ve noted in earlier blogs, was a member of a select group of young women sponsored by The Standard Oil Company of California who were dubbed “The Chevronettes.” Pat was also a talented musician, put in a stint in Phil Spitalny’s All-Girl Orchestra, and once had a bit speaking part in an Abbott and Costello movie.
In any event, when she heard we were doing several blogs on the ice skating star Sonja Henie she went to her scrapbook and found the clipping above. (Pat looks rather serious in the shot while Sonja flashes one of her trademark dippled grins.)
Sonja’s participation in the War Bond drive was a smart move at the time by her and her studio, Twentieth Century Fox.
Seems that in the 1936 Olympic Games hosted by Germany in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Henie, representing Norway, was one of the gold medalists (it was her third Olympic gold medal win.) She was photographed shaking hands with Adolph Hitler, leader of the host nation. In Sonja’s case, the Fuhrer autographed the picture.
It didn’t help her movie career any when that ceremonial picture of the ice skating superstar with Hitler got into general circulation.
Henie lore has it that she later made good use of that photo with Adolph.
After Nazi Germany began its five-year occupation of Norway in April 1940, Henie — then in Hollywood — feared her house would be confiscated by the Wehrmacht. She supposedly instructed her Norwegian domestic staff to haul out the picture with Hitler, and position it in a conspicuous spot. The upshot was that despite (or because of) several visits, the Nazis decided against taking over her house.
By the time World War II was well underway, Henie was a U.S. citizen and one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses. She and Fox had a lot to protect.
So it’s easy to imagine Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck barking the order: Sonja, get out there and sell those War Bonds! As you can see from the photo above, she did just that.