Hello, everyone. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again. Behind the Candelabra, the recent HBO TV film about Liberace — which starred Michael Douglas and Matt Damon (above right, as Lee’s lover Scott Thorsen) — inspired us to dig out that old photo of Lee and his lady friends (below).
So, who was our star of the week? That woman to the left?
None other than that skating queen, Sonja Henie.
Only 10 months after she turned professional, the world’s most famous non-Hollywood movie star — she was born in 1912 in Oslo, Norway — was on the precipice of becoming, well, a Hollywood movie star.
Henie’s amateur figure skating career boasting of an unheard of three consecutive Olympic gold medals plus 10 consecutive world championships had electrified the sporting world. By the mid-1930’s Hollywood took notice.
For her part, Sonja was more than ready to begin the movie career she had long coveted. Enter 20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had been dazzled by her performances in one of Sonja’s ice-capades. “I’ve signed Miss Henie and her skates,” he announced. “Even if she couldn’t skate, I’d have signed her anyway, but not for so much money.”
In fact, the skating phenomenon passed studio muster without having to take the usual screen test. Her abbreviated (only 11 movies) but commercially hyper-successful Hollywood movie career soon began.
Henie made her screen debut in 1936’s romantic musical comedy One In A Million, playing an Olympic skating aspirant discovered by a theatrical manager (Adolphe Menjou), who brings his find to Madison Square Garden. Observing all this is a young Paris-based newspaper reporter (Don Ameche).
From a strictly commercial standpoint, her signing was one of Zanuck’s best talent moves.
By the way, Liberace’s one major film was Warner Brothers’ 1955 melodrama, Sincerely Yours, with our man Lee portraying a popular and rich pianist who has everything including a choice between costars Joanne Dru and Dorothy Malone.
The movie was recently released on DVD by Warner’s Archive Collection. Dave Kehr, who reviews video releases for The New York Times, wrote: The issue of Liberace’s conspicuously ambiguous sexuality is quickly and cleverly elided by projecting his character into a supernatural realm, beyond the reach of mere human relationships.