Olympics to Hollywood: Vera Ralston

Vera Hrubá Ralston

At the start of World War II, Olympic athlete Vera Ralston found herself without a country. The Nazis invaded her home country of Czechoslovakia while she was touring in the United States with ice skating shows. The United States became her home, and she turned to acting as her ice skating contemporaries Sonja Henie and Belita had.

Born Vera Hrubá, Vera studied ballet as a child and turned to ice skating when she was 10 years old, according to her 2003 Los Angeles Times obituary.

She competed for Czechoslovakia in the women’s figure skating singles in the 1936 Winter Olympics, which are now famous because of Adolf Hitler’s attendance. Vera came in 17th place at the Olympics.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie

She was the youngest athlete in the first Winter Olympics, the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals, and one of Hollywood’s top-grossing stars.

Norwegian athlete turned actress Sonja Henie skated across the silver screen in 12 films, bringing a novelty to movies and helping popularize figure skating in the United States.

“People would go out and buy skates, costumes and take lessons because of her. Ice skating developed in the United States because of her,” Henie’s former skating partner Geary Steffen said in the documentary “Sonja Henie: Queen of the Ice” (1995).

Born in Norway in 1912, Henie’s father, Wilhelm, was the track cycling World Champion of 1894, setting two world records, and he was a speed skater. Because of his athletic interest, Wilhelm encouraged his children Leif and Sonja to become involved with sports, according to the documentary.

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Musical Monday: It’s a Pleasure (1945)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
It’s a Pleasure (1945) – Musical #312

Studio:
International Pictures

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Sonja Henie, Michael O’Shea, Marie McDonald, Iris Adrian, Bill Johnson, Gus Schilling, Cheryl Walker, Arthur Loft, Dave Willock (uncredited), David Janssen (uncredited)

Plot:
Don Martin (O’Shea) is a star hockey player but gets barred from the game after hitting a referee. Chris Linden (Henie) is the lead in the ice-capades and gets Don a job with the show. The show, produced by Buzz Fletcher (Johnson), is a success and Don and Chris fall in love and marry. Buzz’s wife, Gale (Fletcher), causes trouble for the couple.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Belita

Belita Jepson-Turner, known simply as “Belita,” in a publicity photo in 1947.

When it comes to ice skating in films, we all mainly think of Norwegian Olympian turned actress Sonja Henie. With her doll-like features, Henie starred in musical comedy films from 1936 to 1948.

But there is another ice skater who graced the screen on skates: Belita Jepson-Turner. Known simply as Belita, she skated, ballet danced and also acted in dramatic roles from 1944 until 1968.

Similar to Henie, Belita competed for United Kingdom in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Belita, who was 12 years old, placed 16th in the women’s singles figure skating competition. Henie won her third Olympic gold medal.

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Musical Monday: Lady, Let’s Dance (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Lady, Let’s Dance (1944) – Musical #584

Studio:
Monogram Pictures

Director:
Frank Woodruff

Starring:
Belita, James Ellison, Walter Catlett, Lucien Littlefield, Maurice St. Clair, Barbara Woodell, Emmett Vogan, Harry Harvey, Jack Rice
Specialty performances: Skating team Frick and Frack (Werner Groebli and Hans Mauch), Henry Busse and His Orchestra, Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, Myrtle Godfrey, Lou Bring and His Orchestra

Plot:
Belita (Belita) is a refugee from Holland due to World War II working as a waitress at a Californian resort. When the hotel’s star dancer Dolores (Woodell) quits to get married, the hotel’s entertainment manager Jerry Gibson (Ellison) hires Belita to take her place. Belita becomes a great success while Jerry gets fired from his job and then is drafted into the Army.

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Olympic Stars that Didn’t Soar in Hollywood

During the past two weeks, Comet Over Hollywood has looked at Olympic athletes who found Hollywood fame after exhibiting their athletic prowess. Some Olympians were scouted for Hollywood but their stars didn’t rise has high as others.

Eleanor Holm
Eleanor Holm was an Olympic swimmer who competed for the United States in 1928 summer Olympics in Amsterdam where she finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Holm won a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke.

Eleanor Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Eleanor Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Between the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, producer Florenz Ziegfeld hired her to perform in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway in 1930. She left the show to train for the 1932 Olympics. After the 1932 Olympics, she was placed under contract to Warner Bros. for $500 a week, but despite studio-hired acting coaches, she declared herself a spectacular flop as an actress, according to her 2004 obituary.

Holm was to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and where she would be the first woman to compete on the United States Olympic team three times.

Holm boarded the ship to sail for Berlin for the 1936 games and when she got to Berlin, she was no longer on the team. Olympic president Avery Brundage expelled Holm for breaking curfew and drinking while traveling to Berlin.

“All I did was drink a couple of glasses of champagne,” she told People magazine in 1996. “I was married, singing in a nightclub with my husband’s band. I was not exactly a child.”

In 1938, Holm starred aside fellow Olympian Glenn Morris in “Tarzan’s Revenge.” This was the only film she was in. After this she married producer Billy Rose from 1939 to 1954. She starred in Rose’s New York World’s Fair Aquacades, swimming with fellow Olympian gold medalists Johnny Weissmuller in the 1939 show and Buster Crabbe in 1940.

Olympians Eleanor Holm and Glenn Morris in "Tarzan's Revenge" (1938)

Olympians Eleanor Holm and Glenn Morris in “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938)

 

Glenn Morris at the 1936 Olympics

Glenn Morris at the 1936 Olympics

Glenn Morris
Glenn Morris competed on the United States team at the 1936 Berlin summer Olympics and won a gold medal for the decathlon. After the Olympics, Morris had a brief Hollywood career.

His film career started with an uncredited role in “She Married an Artist” (1937) at Columbian Pictures, and he was the fourth Olympian to play Tarzan.

Distributed through 20th Century Fox, Morris starred in a low budget Tarzan film, “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938) which co-starred with Olympic swimmer Eleanor Holm.

After the Tarzan film, Morris acted in one more film, “Hold That Co-Ed” (1938) before leaving Hollywood.

Murray Rose
Murray Rose is an Australian swimmer who won six Olympic medals at the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics. All three of the medals at the Melbourne Olympics were gold and he won a gold medal in Rome as well as one silver and one bronze.

Murray Rose (center) at the 1960 Olympics with his gold medal

Murray Rose (center) at the 1960 Olympics with his gold medal

After graduating from college at the University of California, Rose entered a brief Hollywood career. His first film was the beach movie “Ride the Wild Surf” (1964) with Tab Hunter, Peter Brown, Shelley Fabares and Fabian. Columbia called him “one of the best bets for stardom in a long time,” according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti.

Murray Rose in "Ice Station Zebra" (1968)

Murray Rose in “Ice Station Zebra” (1968)

From 1964 to 2008, Rose made a total of 10 film and TV appearances including an appearance on the TV shows “Dr. Kildare” and “Patty Duke.” He also had a role in the 1968 film “Ice Station Zebra” with Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.

However, he was not passionate enough about acting to continue perusing it, according to his 2012 obituary.

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Olympics to Hollywood: Harold Sakata

Harold Sakata in the 1948 Olympics

Harold Sakata in the 1948 Olympics

You probably know him best as a James Bond henchman with a lethal bowler hat. But Harold Sakata’s career started as an Olympian.

Born in Hawaii, Sakata competed on the United States team in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. Sakata won a silver medal for lifting 380 pounds in the men’s weightlifting portion in the light-heavyweight division.

After the Olympics, he was a professional wrestler under the name of Tosh Togo in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

But despite his silver medal winning, Sakata’s athletics aren’t what he’s best known for.

Noticed for his muscular build, James Bond producers hired Sakata to play Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger’s personal bodyguard in the film “Goldfinger” (1964). Oddjob wore a steel-rimmed bowler hat that he would toss at enemies.

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Esther Williams and the Canceled Olympics

What do you do when you’re an athlete and the Olympics are canceled? Become one of Hollywood’s top stars.

At least, that’s what Esther Williams did.

esther1

17-year-old Esther Williams (third from left) with the Los Angeles Athletic Swim Club team in 1939.

In 1939, 17-year-old Esther Williams was the United States women’s 100 meter freestyle national champion at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championship. She represented the Los Angeles Athletic Club with the winning time of 1:09, which was better than all but one of the swimmers for the next six years, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

The AAU formerly worked closely with the United States Olympic Committee.

Williams was assured a spot on the United States team for the 1940 Summer Olympics which were going to be held in Tokyo, Japan. But the games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

She felt her career as a swimmer was over when the Olympics were canceled and she didn’t receive a swimming scholarship to the University of Southern California, she wrote in her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”

She said stardom was her consolation prize.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Bruce Bennett/Herman Brix

Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix? He went by either name

You may know him as actor Bruce Bennett who played Joan Crawford’s ex-husband in Mildred Pierce (1945) or perhaps as yet another actor who played Tarzan. Others know him by his birth name Herman Brix, which he was using when he won an Olympic silver medalist.

Before the Olympics and Hollywood, Bennett played football for the University of Washington when they competed in 1926 Rose Bowl Game against the University of Alabama. In that game he played against future actor Johnny Mack Brown, who was half back for Alabama. Alabama won the game 20-19.

In 1928, Herman Brix competed on the United States team in the Summer Olympic games in Amsterdam—also attended by Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe—and won a silver medal for men’s shot put in the track and field portion of the games. Brix threw the shot put 15.75 meters, breaking the world shot put record with his toss. But  then his teammate John Kuck followed with a throw that set a new world record. Kuck won the gold.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Buster Crabbe

Johnny Weissmuller wasn’t the only swimming Olympian to play Tarzan. There was also Clarence “Buster” Crabbe.

Crabbe and Weissmuller knew each other before their Hollywood days and were competitive.

Crabbe developed his swimming (and surfing) prowess while growing up on a pineapple plantation in Hawaii. His athleticism didn’t stop there. He was even the light-heavyweight boxing champion at the University of Hawaii, according to his Los Angeles Times 1983 obituary.

Buster Crabbe at the 1932 Olympics

Buster Crabbe at the 1932 Olympics

Crabbed competed on the United States Olympic team with Weissmuller at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.  Crabbe won a bronze medal for the men’s 1500 meter freestyle.

But in 1932 Crabbe’s luck changed. He competed again at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and this time won a gold medal for the men’s 400 meter freestyle.

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