Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Norwegian skating legend Sonja Henie’s birth, and plans are afoot for both a TV series and a film on her life. Henie was the world’s undisputed “Queen of the Ice” for years, and went on to become the most highly paid performer in Hollywood.
It was the stuff dreams are made of, but Henie’s life was also filled with drama and controversy. Her amazing skating as a child and teenager, followed by her Olympic championships and business acumen were extraordinary at a time when few women were so athletic or independent. Her success, though, also made her a target of envy and, some suggest, Norway’s so-called janteloven, which decrees that no one should think they’re any better than another.
Norway was also a poor country at the time, so the riches Henie earned in Hollywood were beyond the comprehension of most of her fellow Norwegians. They also poured in as Norway fell under German occupation, and some grumbled that Henie didn’t do enough to help the troops.
Her biggest controversy came when she saluted Hitler at the 1936 Olympics, but her defenders say she was, if anything, naive about the dangers of the Nazis, much like others have defended then-Crown Prince Olav after news emerged last week that he had urged negotiations with Hitler in the mid-1930s and didn’t want to leave Norway when Hitler’s forces invaded.
Anna Bache-Wiig, who’s been hired to write the script for a television drama series on Henie’s remarkable life, told NRK she’s been doing research on Henie for the past three years and has found no evidence of Henie holding any Nazi sympathies. She does note that her own grandmother, who was a neighbor of Henie’s family in Oslo, was among those envious of Henie.
“This was a time when women in Norway didn’t have professional athletic careers, or become famous and absolutely not in Hollywood,” Bache-Wiig told NRK. “And they were absolutely not financially independent of a man!”
Yet Henie achieved all those things, before eventually returning to Norway, marrying shipowner Nils Onstad and together with him, founding the Henie-Onstad Art Center west of Oslo at Høvik. She was friends with the royal family and among the most famous Norwegians ever, along with explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
Bache-Wiig has secured funding from NRK and the Norwegian Film Institute to write the script and plans call for the series to start taping in 2013, with more financing needed from other sources. “It’s a very big and ambitious project,” she said, declining to speculate on who might win the role of Sonja Henie.
Newspaper VG reported that acclaimed Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky is also working on a film about Sonja Henie. Sewitsky and producer Synnøve Hørsdal envision an epic biographical film stretching over 50 years and including grand locations both in and outside Norway.
Henie had already claimed many Olympic gold medals and world championships when she moved to Hollywood at the age of 24 with her father in 1936. There she won major film roles and mounted her famous “Holiday on Ice” show that glamourized skating for the American public.
Sewitsky, whose film Happy Happy is Norway’s candidate for best foreign film at the Academy Awards next year, wants a Norwegian actress to play Sonja Henie but internationally known stars to hold other roles in her dramatic life.
“Her entire life involved lots of show, lots of spectacle,” said Hørsdal. She and Sewitsky already have presented their project to North American producers, and had no need to explain who Sonja Henie was.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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