Another Olympic ice skater in the movies? Sonja Henie wasn’t alone. Republic had Vera Hruba Ralston and Monogram had — Belita.
Hello, everybody. Mr. Joe Morella and Mr. Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again with musings about Ice Skaters in Films. Mrs. Norman Maine is over at the rink working on her counterclockwise jumps.
By the mid 40s, Sonja Henie, who pioneered the genre, was in a film career slump. Her last film at 20th Century Fox, Wintertime (1943), hadn’t been as successful as her previous films. Her contract hadn’t been renewed, and she was now freelancing.
In 1945 she appeared in It’s a Pleasure, for the new independent company International Pictures. Then she was off the screen for 3 years.
But fans of ice skaters as movie stars had other choices. The minor studios for some reason picked up the ball. In 1946, Republic released Murder at The Music Hall starring the Czech skater/actress Vera Hruba Ralston.
Over at Monogram in the same year, they pulled out all the stops, producing their most expensive film EVER, Suspense, budgeted at over $1,000,000. A hefty sum for the time.
It was a strange combo — film noir and ice skating production numbers. But it works. (The plot involves an ice skating promoter eyeing an ex-peanut-vendor who is eyeing the promoter’s figure-skater wife.)
The studio signed a British skater, Belita (pictured above), who like Ralston had competed in the Olympics. But Belita also had ballet training, and was a much more accomplished skater.
Although she didn’t have the charisma of Henie, she was a decent actress, and Monogram paired her with some top talent. Suspense co-starred Barry Sullivan, Albert Dekker, Bonita Granville and Eugene Pallette. It was directed by Frank Tuttle.
Born Maria Belita Jepson-Turner, the star skater was known by fans as “Belita, the Ice Maiden.” In Suspense, she had several big scale skating production numbers, and had to jump through a circle of knives (See below. Ouch!) . Of course, the bad guy would attempt to kill her by rigging the prop.
The next year Monogram teamed Belita and Sullivan again in The Gangster. But more about that one in a later blog. Vera Ralston (she dropped Hruba), pictured below. had a longer career. But Belita had a better one.