Episode #62: Carol Heiss Jenkins, Part 2

Part Two of an interview with Carol Heiss Jenkins, the 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist for ladies figure skating, as well as the Silver medalist in the 1956 Olympics, a 5 time World Champion, and of course US National Champion. In Part 2, she takes us through her movie and television career, notably when she made the movie “Snow White and the Three Stooges,” her start as a coach, her thoughts on IJS, and the superstitions that all the coaches have. 59 minutes, 18 seconds.

Thanks to Fiona McQuarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

On who she was most nervous competing against: Probably the German girl, Ina Bauer, because she came in with the Bauer and she had flaming red hair. Of the Austrians, probably Hanna Eigel. She was a strong free skater, and in those days, the politics of the sport, the Austrian federation was very strong. They had a lot of the judges and the officials and the ISU. And then the other skater was the Dutch girl, Joan Haanappel. We Facebook each other. She was so slender and always had a smile and was very outgoing, and a wonderful personality and lots of speed. And that always concerned me — she was very attractive, not only in just looking at her, but she had a very attractive personality. And we were friends, we got along very well and we still do. A skater, especially a female figure skater, has to be everything. There has to be the look, there has to be the personality, there has to be the smile, as well as the good skating, and she had that. Ina Bauer had that as well. With Sjoukje Dijkstra, she was a very strong freeskater, and a powerhouse. I worked so hard on the school figures because I thought that’s how I could get ahead of her, even if I didn’t know what she was going to do in freeskating.

On triple jumps: I worked on the triple loop and was landing it cleanly maybe 60% of the time. Donnie Jackson was there [at her club] and he was working on the triple lutz, and the French boys had triples, and David [Jenkins] had the triple loop and the triple salchow. So I was around triple jumps. I had the double loop in my program where it could be a triple, but when I was so far ahead in school figures it wasn’t worth taking the gamble of falling on it.

On the aftermath of the 1961 plane crash that killed the US figure skating team: I wasn’t asked to come back [to compete or to coach]. Barbara Roles was asked to come back [to compete], but I was already a professional. Barbara Roles was not, and she did tell me quite recently, which I did not know, that she had her bag packed and was ready to go to the [1961] US championships, but it was cancelled.

On starring in the movie Snow White and the Three Stooges: It was wonderful. Really wonderful. It was the most positive experience. And even Hayes [Jenkins, her husband], when he came out for vacation and he met the Stooges, he felt very comfortable leaving me there. The Hollywood scene was just so unreal, and there’s so much money involved and so many people involved – I couldn’t get over the fact that I had a hairdresser, and face makeup, but she couldn’t put makeup on my arms, she could only do my face. And a wardrobe girl, and everybody at your beck and call. I can see how young starlets get spoiled very easily and get caught up in that. Fortunately, I had the Three Stooges, who at that point were all grandparents, and they kept me grounded. My mother-in-law was with me, she knew me, I knew her, and Hayes wanted me to do the movie. When we talked about doing the ice show, I said, I don’t want to be traveling, skating every other night in a different city. And it was a very mercenary decision. I could earn more money in a shorter amount of time doing the movie.

20th Century Fox [the studio] just approached Mr. Brunet and me. They wanted to rejuvenate the Sonja Henie era, they had pipes on the stage set [from the Henie movies], the rink was there, all they had to do was fire them up and the ice was there. Charlie Wick was the producer, he got it all set up, and said that it would be a great idea if I would do it. And so I went out and the William Morris Agency said they would represent me, so we signed with them and they got me a wonderful contract. Hayes said, I think you should do it, I don’t want you in the kitchen having three children in diapers, saying ‘I could have been a star’ [laughs].

Marilyn Monroe was out there, and Clark Gable, and I met all these movie stars. Elvis Presley came by. All these stars visited because the rink on the stage set was such an unusual thing. I have an autographed picture of me and him and Colonel Parker. The movie just came out on DVD and they had Three Stooges Night in Cleveland, so they wanted me to come out. They showed the movie, and one of my grandsons came with me because he’s a huge Three Stooges fan. I gave a speech about what they were like, and I said, you’re going to be thrilled because they were the nicest people. They were wonderful to me.

On how her movie career ended: They did have another movie for me, called Love in a Cool Climate, and they had a script ready and a great director, Walter Lang, who had just come from doing a movie with Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra. And they kept saying, oh, you’re always on time, because they were used to people being late. In sports, there’s no time for being uppity or for being a star, because if you were, they called you spoiled. And usually what happens is you don’t win the game or you don’t skate well or you don’t perform well. So when something would happen, we’d do it again, because I wanted it to be good too. The cameraman said, oh, you never get excited, and I said, I’m an Olympic athlete, we don’t do that [laughs].

So they wanted me to do this other movie, and my new roommate was going to be a new young ingénue called Jane Fonda. And she was going to be the bad roommate that always gets in trouble, and I was going to be the good roommate, and it was going to be in Sun Valley. And I was going to take care of her and show her the right ropes. But I didn’t really want to be in Hollywood. When I came home, I said to Hayes, it’s been wonderful, but let’s take the money and save it, and use some of it to pay back Mr. Brunet for lessons, because he had been giving me free lessons the last couple of years so I could stay in skating. And I helped out my dad, I paid for my brother’s skating and some of my sister’s schooling. And I said to Hayes, I just want to enter into wedded bliss. So I turned down that movie, to Mr. Brunet’s horror, he really wanted me to do another movie. And I said, no, I just want to do some commercial things, for Swanson’s frozen food, and I was the spokeswoman. I earned money for 20 years doing that sort of thing, but I really just wanted to stay home with my family. We had our family young, and I really just wanted to volunteer, and absolutely loved it.

On the name Frank Carroll used when acting in movies: I don’t know it. The one stage name of a skater that I do know is Tab Hunter, his real name was Arthur Kelm. Frank and I have never talked about Hollywood, and our paths never crossed while we were in Hollywood, isn’t that interesting? We’re always talking about skating and general things that go on, we’re very good friends. I texted Evan [Lysacek] and Frank when Evan won [at the 2010 Olympics], and I was so thrilled to hear back from them. I said, Hayes and I welcome you into the gold medal club. And Frank said it meant so much to him to hear from us. All those years of coaching, it’s his life. I was as thrilled for Frank as I was for Evan.

On leaving skating in 1962 when her first son was born: [Hayes and I] never really talked that much about skating. I think we talk more about skating now, but when we were all together with our family, there was a lot of laughter and we would be talking about some of the trips and some of the wonderful people we knew, but it was never really about skating or winning. Now we may talk about the way the sport’s going, or the new judging system, which none of us like and which none of the 13 [US] Olympic gold medalists [in skating] care for. We may not care about what we say as we get older, and we’ve decided that we really don’t like it. And why isn’t skating in the forefront like it used to be? But for us, we talked about the wonderful people and the humorous aspect of competing, like in Vienna in the rain and the wind.

On being one of the 13 US Olympic gold medalists in skating: I think now we say how wonderful it is to have the gold medal. As time passes by, you realize that there are only 13 of us. Before, there was me and Hayes and David and Dick Button and Peggy [Fleming] and it seemed more regular. But as time goes by, you realize from 1948, wow, there’s only 13. It was special the first time we all got together, it’s always special, but now we look at the ages, with more of us in our 70s and 80s. We look at each other and say, we’re healthy, but how much longer are we going to be around? And we’re very appreciative of it.

On how she started coaching: It was the farthest thing from my mind, but I did a lot of volunteering in the Akron area. And these two men just started building a rink, and they started talking about having me coach out there. And I said, oh, I don’t teach, I’m not a coach, but I’ll be glad to help you with my knowledge if I can. And Hayes and I were out for dinner with friends and we ran into these men, and they invited us out to see the ice go in, with firehoses and everything, and they said they were going to open in a couple of days. So we looked at it, and we got back into the car and we said, they have no idea how to run a rink [laughs]. I had said to them, do you have a schedule? They said, no, we’ll just put an announcement in the paper. They knew nothing about figure skating or hockey or anything. Hayes said to me, you’ve been so involved in tennis — I had put together a tournament in the area for a couple of years — why don’t you volunteer your services, just in any way that they need you. So I said, OK, and the next day after I had packed the kids off to school, I went out there and said, why don’t I help you put a schedule together. And I had a friend who had also skated and was very well-organized, and I asked her if she’d like to help out, and she said, sure.

So we put a schedule together, and then I said to the men, why don’t you offer clinics for the next six to eight weeks, whatever you want, and I’ll run the clinics and teach the kids, free of charge. And they said, that’s great, and put an ad in the paper. And over 300 kids arrived at the rink, some with new skates, some with old skates, some who knew how to skate, some who didn’t. I called Hayes and said, I don’t know what to do [laughs]. And he said, oh honey, you’ll think of something. And I said, well, just take me to dinner tonight. And he did, and at dinner I said, Hayes, I just loved my day. I got somebody to skate across the width of the rink. I was hooked [laughs]. I absolutely loved it. And then some people called me and said, we have a son that’s working on his seventh test and on his double jumps, and we were wondering if you could give him some advice. And I said, well, I’m not coaching, but I’ll meet you at the rink. And on Monday they came out, and that’s how I started. That was 1978.

On her best moment as a coach: When they first get their axel, and when they get their double axel. Tonia Kwiatkowski came to me from learn-to-skate, and she was one of my first pupils. I was so thrilled when she landed her first axel, I just was jumping for joy, I was so excited for her. I said, oh my gosh, this is so great. I remember Tonia and Jenny [Meno] because they were the very first pupils. And Timmy Goebel, when he landed his first quad salchow. I just stood there and went ‘wow’. Four feet away from me, and it was just beautiful. I was so thrilled for him. And when Tonia skated so well at Worlds and came in sixth. That was the year when she was the first alternate, when Tara Lipinski and Nicole Bobek decided not to go onto Worlds from the Olympics. And they couldn’t find the second alternate, Angela Nikodinov, she had gone home to Bulgaria to visit her family and they couldn’t get in touch with her. So it was just Michelle [Kwan] and Tonia. And Nicole had not skated well at the Olympics. Tonia just stepped out on that first practice, and she got a standing ovation. And I thought for Tonia, how fabulous, because she was so disappointed that she hadn’t made the Olympic team.

On her worst moment as a coach: The hardest moment for me as a coach was when Tonia made the World team but did not make the cut [in the qualifying round], when I had Tonia and Lisa Ervin at Worlds in Prague. It never entered my mind that Tonia would not make the cut, because she had a beautiful triple lutz and triple flip. Lisa had the triple loop and triple salchow and triple toe, but Tonia had all the triples. And that was the year that Nancy Kerrigan, Tonia and Lisa were one-two-three at [US] nationals, and then I was worried for Lisa. Tonia had a great warmup and then I just don’t know what happened. I was sick for her.

On whether it’s harder to compete as a skater or to watch as a coach: Much worse as a coach. I get so nervous. I’m better now but oh, I’m superstitious too. If I stand in a spot and someone hasn’t skated well, I move. And I know I’m not the only one, Frank does it too [laughs]. I remember one nationals when we were all there, and one of them — I won’t say who, but Ron Ludington, Richard Callaghan, John Nicks, and Frank Carroll were all there — said, I’m going to move to this spot, no, this spot, and another said, I’m moving to this spot, and I started to laugh because I thought it was only me [laughs]. If it starts out good, you stay there, like it’s going to make a big difference [laughs].

But it’s like a parent. You know you can’t be a parent, you’re a coach, but there’s nothing you can do. If you’re a skater, and you start out and you don’t quite feel right — I tried to be pretty consistent, I put myself in that kind of training mode every day, and I can honestly say except for 1957 worlds, I felt extremely well prepared, because Mr. Brunet was that kind of coach. You had your program way ahead of time, you practiced in your costume, there was a comfort zone that you had and you were well prepared. And it was muscle memory, I could almost get to the point where I could enjoy the performance. I was always nervous before, always, but as soon as the music started then I felt great. If I didn’t feel quite comfortable, then I would talk to myself and say, get down into the ice, you know you can do it, that kind of thing. But as a coach, no, it’s the skater that’s doing the thinking. As a skater you can do something about it, you can turn it around.

I was so proud of a pupil I have, she was just taking her novice freestyle test, and she started out and fell on the first combination. And you need the combination to pass the test. She’s not always been good at turning things around, but I was so proud of her — we had put in another combination, and she was, oh, I don’t know if I need another, but I said, this is the way it’s going to go, and I had her prepare the other combination. And she did an absolutely gorgeous program, the best I’d ever seen her skate. She smiled, she had her head up, she skated to the music — I wish she had done that in competition [laughs]. And she had missed the first jump. I told her, this is such an important lesson for you, because you could skate a perfect program, but it wouldn’t have the passion, or the emotion, or the speed that you had in this program. There are times when you go out and you skate and it’s perfect, but it’s not a performance. I said, this is a performance. And of course, she had glowing remarks from the judges. Nobody mentioned the fall [laughs]. And that’s hard to always convey to the young people. David once said to me when I was coaching Lisa at nationals, and she was in second place, what does it feel like to have a 13-year-old be responsible for your entire coaching career? [laughs] But I’ve told the kids — when they are lamenting how the day’s going, or how their practice is going, and it’s a hard job and how things are, and they want me to feel sorry for them, I’ll say, I don’t feel sorry for you. I understand your frustration and your impatience, but you should feel sorry for me. You know what the world thinks of teenagers, and my whole career, my whole job of coaching, depends on you teenagers. And they all laugh, because they know what the world says about teenagers [laughs]. Anybody who teaches skating, teenagers are the crux of your coaching job.

But I also tell them, you’re very special. Anyone who is attracted to the sport of figure skating, it’s the most difficult sport. The more I am around skating, and the more I coach it, and the more I understand it — it incorporates so many different life lessons. A lot of sports do, but you have to be an artist for skating with your blades, it has to look effortless, you have to have height, you have to have power and speed, but you can’t look powerful and bulky. You have to look lithe, you have to be flexible, you have to be balletic, you have to be a gymnast. You have to be musical because you skate to music, you have to know yourself, what kind of music you like to skate to. You have to be a choreographer — a choreographer can give you footwork, but now they want you to be very expressive. So there’s a lot that a skater has to be and do. It’s a very interesting sport. And I think anybody who’s attracted to it and stays with it is a very special person. I tell the kids, don’t let it go to your head, but I think you’re very special, and that’s why I’m willing to spend a lot of time with you and why I want you to stay in the sport. Because you don’t realize that until you’re out of it and you look back on it. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Olympic champion or if you’ve passed your senior free test, or you’ve passed your dance test — any level you achieve is special. You’ve learned the lesson because you’ve gone as far as you can go. The ice is very unforgiving, and these kids take the worst falls trying to do triple jumps. And it takes a special person to get up and get back out on the ice.

On watching Tim Goebel develop the quad jump: I know exactly where he first landed it on the rink at Winterhurst, and he was so thrilled. I said to him, you just did a quad salchow, and we could see it on the ice, it was clean and it was so beautiful. Timmy also had the quad toe, and I saw him land a quad loop. And once he got it, it was so effortless. And with the quad salchow, I remember at one nationals, one of the judges said to me, I wondered why he didn’t do the quad salchow, and one of the other judges down the line said, well, he did it, right in front of you, and it looked like a triple because it looked so easy. My husband would come in and watch Timmy do the quad salchow and the quad toe, and he would say, that was a nice triple salchow, has he warmed up yet to do the quad? And it was the quad. And he’d say, oh, Carol, that was so beautiful.

I’m very proud of what Timmy did. And he had a talent for the sport. I wasn’t talented, I worked very hard. Timmy worked very hard as well, there’s no doubt about it, but he had a special gift. And I warned him the first time we put the quad in, you may not land it. And he didn’t. We went to the tryouts for junior worlds, in Chicago, and he popped it, and then he fell on it, but he’d say, one time I’ll do it. And he did, at the perfect time. The first time he landed it — I knew it was clean, but the ISU had to watch the video to give him full credit for it — was at the Junior Grand Prix in Lausanne. He was in fourth place but he ended up winning it because of the quad salchow. You need that perseverance and determination to put in, to keep doing it.

That’s what’s hard about the IJS system. You put in a triple jump and your chances of landing it the first time are about 50/50, maybe even less in the program under pressure, because it’s so different doing everything under pressure. You’re kind of crucified, because you get a point deduction if you fall, and -3 GOE from each judge, so you’re better off not going for it, and doing a nice double axel or double salchow. There’s no room for gambling, unless you’re doing something that nobody else does. It used to be exciting with the boys at the end of their program, if they missed their triple axel. I remember Timmy at an international, he missed his axel, and as he came down the rink to do his footwork, the combination at the end was going to be a triple toe-double toe, and as he came by, he said, I’m going for it. Any skater that says that, they have the confidence to do it. And he stuck in a triple axel-triple toe, and he nailed it. That’s worth a lot [laughs]. And it was exciting when the boys did that, it was gutsy. But you don’t see that any more.

On the new judging system: I’m not a fan. I think there’s some good things about it. It’s easy to tell the parents, this is the value of everything, so you know what the program is worth. And it’s made them work on spins, and on the choreography, and the footwork sequence. But it’s taken away from the individual side of skating. The personalities don’t come out as much. No one’s ever talked about Yu-na Kim’s individuality. I thought she had gorgeous arms and gorgeous jumps, her arms are like Kristi Yamaguchi’s way of skating. But nobody talks about that any more. We talk about the points. Michelle Kwan’s spiral, you don’t do that any more because the value isn’t there. And that’s a shame, because that was awesome. Or even Toller Cranston, you either loved his skating or you didn’t. Or Kurt Browning interpreting Casablanca. That doesn’t come out any more. Nobody can do that. You have to do all these difficult spins, and the programs are very hard, very hard. The footwork alone — I don’t care if somebody does a gorgeous rocker, like a figure rocker, on the ice, in the footwork. I don’t think it means that much. I remember Yagudin doing his Winter short program — that program was breathtaking, but you can’t do that any more.

About the Author
Yup, I’m a skating fan. But I’m a skater too. I compete nearly every year in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, and am always thrilled to see my other skating buddies there. In my real life I work in marketing for brands that make positive changes in the world, and a mom of two rambunctious boys.

4 comments on “Episode #62: Carol Heiss Jenkins, Part 2

  1. Nick Pilgrim says:

    Another brilliant interview. This one was really like sitting down with a good friend and catching up for several hours.

  2. allison says:

    That’s what it felt like! It’s why I love doing these. I feel like the fans are sitting right next to us listening in. 🙂

  3. Dear Allison Manley,
    I just listened to your 2 interviews with my sister Carol Heiss Jenkins I am so glad I found them. I really enjoyed them and thought you did a wonderful job. I will listen to David Jenkins interview and others, keep up the great job. What a great idea with the interviews online.Much success for you.
    Sincerely, Nancy Heiss Jones

  4. NANCY LANG says:

    These are simply great interviews. I hope it grows and you will get to interview all of the greats. Keep me posted, if you can.

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