History of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club
by Josephine Lawless, Club Historian
This article, written by Virginia Vale, first appeared in the April 1982 Bulletin. Virginia has long been part of our History. She has judged for more than 60 years, served on our board of directors, and chaired numerous committees. Her life in the movies and skating was featured in the 2002 US Nationals Program
Profound changes in figure skating have taken place since the founding of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club in 1933. There changes did not always deal with startling advances in technique such as triple jumps. Think about clothing!
By the 1930s, ladies’ ankle-length dresses of the Victorian age had faded into history thanks to Sonja Henie’s daring use of dresses that ended just above the knee. Skating skirts and dresses were either full circles, gored or pleated. Spandex would not arrive on the scene for many decades, so a variety of sewing construction methods were required to make dresses fit, but still give ladies room to move. These included underarm gussets and various darts and tuck across the back of the dress so a skater could swing her arms. Pants were separate from dresses and were roomy enough to qualify as bloomers. ending a few inches down the leg. No lady would ever be caught without a handkerchief tucked into her bloomers. Knitted dresses were popular because of the flexibility of the finished product. Many skating mothers spent their time at the rink knitting and exchanging favorite patterns while their children skated. Shorts were acceptable for figure practice, but dresses and skirts were mandatory for free skating and dance. For competition or exhibition wear, some sort of hat or he address was necessary. I suspect this custom was a leftover from days when all skating was outside in cold weather and a hat was necessary for warmth, plus the fashion fact that ladies wore hats whenever they dressed to go shopping or to dinner until the late 50s.
LAFSC’s Linda Fratianne made her own contribution to the style of competition dresses in the late 1970s when Hollywood designer, Bob Mackie, designed beautifully cut, colorful beaded dresses for her. Her innovation is still popular today.
Men, in the 30s. had it a little easier, but they didn’t look any better. For practice, knickers were popular along with a sweater. Sweaters were belted and the really fashionable young man on the east coast wore a scarf around his throat. Some rinks made, the wearing of coats while skating compulsory! Dark blue or black tights were mandatory for competition. A short tight-fitting jacket completed this ensemble. A few very conservative dancers wore tights for practice and competition into the early 1950s. The 50s and 60s saw the emergence of the one-piece monkey suit for competition. The only color was black. These suits were extremely hot, uncomfortable and cumbersome. The arrival of spandex. plus a more liberal attitude toward skating clothing, gave men as well as ladies more freedom of movement and choice in fashion design.
Whoever heard of a small figure skating club in the west/In California? And in Los Angeles where all they did was grow angels and make movies? No one, not until Eugene Turner burst upon the scene. Some of us remember Gene when he competed, but most of us know him for his fine work as a professional.
He came from an athletic family. His mother Kathleen won trophies in rowing, tennis and golf and played basketball in college. She was also a figure skating judge. His sister, also named Kathleen, won cups in tennis and is still (in 1982) considered a fine tennis player.
Turner first put on skates when he was 12 and had an immediate natural skating talent, learning most from watching and imitating the fine skaters who were skating in Los Angeles. With few formal lessons, two years later he won the then California Junior Title and in his fourth year of competition won the Senior Pacific Coast. In 1939 lessons began in earnest (one a week) and in 1940 and 1941 the National Senior Title was his. In addition to singles. Turner decided to try his one and only pair competition and found a thoroughly qualified partner in Donna Atwood of the old Mercury Figure Skating Club. They won National Senior pairs with first from all the judges.
That year he also entered National Dance with Elizabeth Kennedy, Placing Second. A little story to go with this is that after Nationals he went to Lake Placid for their com petition and he and Donna beat the National Champions in Dance. Eugene Turner seem to have been the skater who “discovered” music in skating. His programs were dramatic while containing the difficulty and variety required to win. Every nuance of mood and rhythm were artistically expressed. In the 1941 Nationals one judge gave him one of the perfect marks because he had considered the performance a perfectly executed work of art.
Turner’s school figures were near perfection. He had round circles, correctly placed turns, all with the grace and proper speed. A writer of the time said that “Turner is the best figure skater this country has yet produced”. In 1939 he did the almost unbelievable, passing the seventh test in one day and the eighth the next. This was the year he placed third in Nationals and fifth in North Americans. He was the first Gold Medallist in our club and west of the Mississippi. A judge at age 15 and the youngest national judge in the country at age 18. (A judge was needed for some tests and the authorities promoted him on the spot. Never can such a thing happen nowadays).
Time out from skating to serve in the Air Force during World War II. He enlisted in 1943 and flew 69 missions over Germany, strafing in a P-47. Gene was asked if he had any close calls over Germany. He said the only exciting time was when a farmer took pot shots at his airplane. After his service, when he re turned home, he wasn’t sure that he would continue a skating career. What a loss that would have been.
In 1941 Gene turned professional to teach at the Polar Palace in Hollywood and later in the year became Sonja Henie’s partner for her touring show,lending his great interpretive ability to Henie’s magnificent showmanship. He was the only partner allowed to have a solo in her shows. Their popular number was always the tango, very dramatically performed. When the tour finished Henie returned to Hollywood for her annual movie and Gene partnered her in Iceland. He also doubled for Cary Grant and Patrick Knowles in two pictures. The great Belita’s partner in Silver Skates was Turner.
Turner was called upon by top competitors to help with their programs. Perhaps the most memorable was Tenley Albright. Setting one program. Gene asked Tenley how many jumps she had. She replied that, with variations, she had 51 or 52.
When asked how many she would like in her program, she answered, “all of them”. Gene says it is fortunate that Albright heard the same music that he heard, and with her originality and his fine tuned ability to lay out a spectacular program, Tenley won gold after gold medal. Richard Dwyer; was Gene’s pupil from the second through the Gold test, winning many championships under Gene’s tutelage both hearing the same music. Another fine talent was Allen Schramm, whose stylistic programs were enjoyed in ice shows. These are but a few who have reaped great benefits from Gene’s uncommon guidance.
Since the 1950s Gene has made the bay area his home and continued his teaching career there. During the early 80s he stopped teaching to enter the Real Estate field, but has since returned to his first love, coaching skating.
From 1979 to 1981 he issued the “Turner Skating Newsletter” more or less monthly Each issue was fascinating reading. The column led to articles for Skating magazine called “Turner’s Turn”. This is another side of the thinking man. Long considered an icon in American Skating he was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1983, A handsome, modest man, Eugene Turner spreads his charm among all. The Los Angeles Figure Skating Club is proud to claim him as our own.