Barbara Ann Scott
By Alexandra Stevenson
Barbara Ann Scott was born on May 9, 1928 in Ottawa, Canada, the
daughter of an army colonel and began skating at the age of six to
become one of the most famous skaters of the 20th
Century. She died of natural causes at the age of 84, on September
30, 2012 with her husband of 56 years, Tom King, at her side.
This interview was taken with
Barbara Ann Scott in 2008.
It’s hard to believe
the tiny, vivacious blonde standing in the pitiless glare of the
noon-time Florida sun is really Canada’s sweetheart. Surely this
must be a celebrity look-alike. (Barbara
Ann Scott turned 80 on May 9). This smiling, upbeat person
appeared to be, at most, in her fifties. What 92-pound octogenarian
could still fit into the skating outfits she wore posing for the
covers of Life and
Time magazines over sixty
Scott smiles when she
looks at these photos. Those outfits were considered the height of
fashion then but they were so subdued compared to today’s flamboyant
“We didn’t have the
stretch materials they have today,” she says. “We had to be so
careful to make sure there was enough material to cover properly
with our arms and legs pulling this way and that. It took an expert
seamstress make them look pretty. Today, of course, in comparison,
they look bulky and ugly. But we had to work with what we had.
“And it had to be
long-sleeved and warm because we competed outdoors. There wasn’t
much glitter because you weren’t supposed to look like a show
skater. It took an expert seamstress to make them look pretty.
Today, of course, in comparison, they look bulky, but we had to work
with what fabrics we had – mostly wool.”
Minus their boots and
blades, skaters always look smaller off the ice but, even so, isn’t
this person too short to be the fabled Scott?
Scott laughs and
shrugs, as if life is playing a joke on her, “I am shrinking. You do
when you grow old. I was 5’3” and now I’m only 5’1½.”
That shrinkage is
usually accompanied by a dowager’s hump but her back is ramrod
straight. What is her secret?
“I don’t have one.
Jane Powell (the movie star)
gave me the best advice I ever had. She told me that every time I
reach a stop light while driving I should pull in my abdominal
muscles, sit up straight and hold my breath till the light changed.
And I still do.”
(Powell, starred in many musical comedies including
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.)
It is difficult to
describe the extent of Scott’s fame. Today, celebrities are made
overnight courtesy of television, and there appears to be a
never-ending stream of people who are “famous for 15-minutes”.
A Far Different Era
Scott’s position was
not only the product of talent, poise and great charisma. These
attributes, of course, were essential. But, in addition, the country
was looking to forget the atrocities, deprivation and honor of the
war and celebrate youthful achievement and prospects of a far better
competition had ceased at the beginning of World War II. The World
Figure Skating Championships resumed in 1947 after 7 years. The
Olympics in 1948 were the first since 1936.
suspension, Sonja Henie’s very popular movies had sparked an
enormous public interest in the sport. And the focus of the fans
became this new star who dominated the scene in 1947-48, Barbara
girl” became the first North American woman ever to win the world
figure skating title, which she did twice. She remains the only
Canadian to win a figure skating Olympic gold in singles.
Scott will always be
the only woman to sweep all four of the only international
championships available in 1948 - North American, European, Olympic
and World. (Non-Europeans were subsequently barred from that championship. The North
American meet between the US and Canada
died in 1971 and was succeeded eventually by the Four Continents
championships which began in 1999.)
Scott still remembers
all the details of those long ago contests. “In Davos, (Switzerland
-Europeans), it was 20 below and the ice was as hard as cement! And
in Stockholm, (Sweden, Worlds) it was bitter cold and the wind made
my eyes water, which made it hard to see the tracings in the
(compulsory) figures. You had to be able to read the wind and choose
your bit of ice for the figures wisely so it didn’t bring you to a
Her Freeskate was set
to music by Delibes from the ballet
Coppelia. She received one
6.0 in Davos and two in Stockholm. After Worlds she did some
exhibitions. There were vestiges of the war everywhere.
“I was taken to a
radio station at one point and to get to the studio I had to go
along a corridor that was pock-marked with bullet holes. And you saw
many ruined buildings. The people had rationing for food and
everyone looked exhausted.”
In Prague, she ended
up with frostbite fingers after signing too many autographs after an
exhibition. And she got used to strange questions.
“Not many people in
Europe had met a Canadian before. One asked, what it was like to
live in an ice house. I realized they thought Canada was made up
only of Eskimos living in igloos.
Coming home to
Canada, Scott was immediately its most famous person. Her hometown
of Ottawa closed all the schools for half a day so children could
attend the parade where she was escorted by 16 Royal Canadian Police
and a 32-piece band playing,
Let Me Call You Sweetheart. The mayor,
Stanley Lewis, presented Scott with the keys to the cream-colored
Buick convertible in which she had been riding.
This action elicited
the ire of Avery Brundage, head of the US Olympic Committee who
alerted the head of the International Olympic Committee, Sigried
Edstrom, who, in turn contacted the head of the Canadian Figure
Skating Association, and threatened her amateur status and her
Olympic opportunity if she did not give back the car. Such was her
popularity in North America, that Brundage was then saddled with the
epitaph of “The Most Hated American.”
Scott returned it to
the mayor immediately suggesting it be auctioned off for charity.
(Instead, they put it on display and it was returned to her a year
The 1948 Olympic
Games were held in St. Moritz and Scott was the clear favorite to
“There was a thaw,”
she recalled. “After the first two figures the ice was so soft and
mushy from the alternating melting sleet and strong sun that the
other figures had to be postponed until the next day. She won the
Figures event as well as the Freeskate to claim Olympic gold.
Her fame was so
pervasive that Barbara Ann became the most popular name for a
generation of new born girls all over Canada.
A Princess Meets Her Prince
Photo by Kathy Goedeken
professional after her Olympic win and began touring across the US
and Canada. Her first professional appearance was at the Roxy
theatre in New York.
“It was exhausting,”
she recalled. “We did five shows a day and six on Saturday and we
had to work on a small ice surface.”
After that show she
embarked on a 10,000 mile 20-week tour of Canada with her own show,
Skating Sensations of 1949. Then she toured with Ice
Capades. She flew to London, where with perfect casting, she
appeared in the lovely operetta
Rose Marie on Ice, which
was so popular, it continued for a second season.
Returning to North
America, she replaced Sonja Henie in Arthur Wirtz’s
Hollywood Ice Review from
1951-54. Wirtz owned the
Chicago Stadium. While starring in the show, Scott worked with
Thomas King, the publicist for Wirtz. He was a handsome former MVP
college basketball forward, who had also played professionally.
Their romance blossomed over several years of working together and
they married in 1955 in Toronto
King left the Wirtz
organization to work for Joseph P. Kennedy, the granddaddy of the
Kennedy clan in Massachusetts, and was the president of Chicago’s
Merchandise Mart for 12 years, after which King built up his own
business in security and real estate.
After living in
Chicago for many years, she and King, retired to their Amelia
Island, Fla., home.
Scott’s Fame Lives On
career earned her a number of honors, including the Lou Marsh Trophy
(Canada's Outstanding Athlete of the Year) in 1945, 1947 and 1948.
She was the first female athlete to receive the honor. In addition,
Scott was inducted into the Canadian Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in
1949, the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, the World Figure
Skating Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum
Scott became an
honored member of the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1991,
and was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada (O.C.) that same
year. She was also inducted into the International Women's Sports
Hall of Fame in 1997, and was named to Canada's Walk of Fame in
She remains in demand
for public appearances at charity events. In 2008, an addition to a
rink was named after her in Ottawa, the home town of her youth; the
building which houses the organization which governs skating in
Canada was officially named after her.
At another event this
year in Canada, the Viennese Charity Ball hosted by the Austrian
ambassador at the Canadian National Gallery, Scott and other
Canadian Olympic medalists, Frances Dafoe, Debbi Wilkes and Liz
Manley were presented with special pins.
They had donated
various items. Scott had provided one of her famous bonnets (worn
during competition to keep her ears from suffering frost bite during
bitter outdoor conditions).
Manley had given the
famous white Stetson hat which she donned after it was thrown on the
ice after her silver medal winning performance at the Saddledome in
the Olympics in 1988 Games.
The Barbara Ann Scott
doll remains a highly prized collector’s item. “I was taken aback at
one point when a fan put a leg in front of me to sign. But she
explained she had found one in a poor state and she was spending a
lot of time renovating it, so, of course, I did sign.”
To mark the
50th anniversary of her Olympic gold, a television documentary was
aired on CBC of Scott’s life. Last year, for the 60th
anniversary, it was reshown. Scott explains that, now, she
concentrates, “on the present, not what has gone. I like to take
each day as it comes and not worry about the past. I’ve been very
fortunate in my life.”