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So, Who Was This Sonja Henie, Anyway?

Norwegians young and old know the story of one of their most legendary public figures, Sonja Henie (1912-69). In America, however, only the older generation might be able to identify this former figure skater and movie actress who won gold medals for figure skating at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Winter Olympics.

Henie was born in Oslo, the daughter of a furrier. Having learned skating and dancing as a child, she became the youngest Olympic skating champion when she won her first gold medal at age 15. She became a professional in 1936 on her tour of the United States, performing in ice shows as late as the 1950s. The bright-eyed, bubbly blonde managed to parlay her championships into an effervescent but short motion-picture career.

Twentieth Century Fox ordered writers to tailor film properties for her, to keep the comedy and romance light, and to get her on those skates as much as possible. Often she was teamed with top-rate stars, such as Ray Milland and Robert Cummings in Everything Happens at Night in 1939, or Don Ameche, Ethel Merman, and Cesar Romero in the 1938 film Happy Landing. The year 1939 also saw her teamed opposite Rudy Valee and Tyrone Power in Second Fiddle. Only Shirley Temple and Clark Gable outranked her at the box office that year.

In 1940, when Hitler invaded Norway, she published her autobiography, Wings on My Feet, which included a picture of her receiving congratulations from Hitler, surrounded by Nazi officials at the 1936 Olympics. The associations with the Nazis tarnished her reputation during the war, but the outcry against her died down after the war.

In 1960, Henie retired with her third husband, Niels Onstad, a wealthy Norwegian businessman and art patron. In 1968, they founded the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, near Oslo, as a showcase for Henie's extensive collection of modern art. The next year, at the relatively early age of 57, Norway's most famous daughter died. She was aboard an aircraft carrying her from Paris to Oslo for medical treatment. At the time of her death, she was one of the ten wealthiest women on earth.

A Royal Pair: The Un-Fairy Tale Romance

Prince Haakon of Norway may be a direct descendant of Queen Victoria, but he shares little in common with this staunch monarch. Instead of going to Balliol College in Oxford, as did his father, King Garald V, Haakon was a fun-loving young man on campus at the University of California at Berkeley.

When it came to taking a bride, as he did in Oslo on August 25, 2001, he shocked conservative Norway, challenging one of the world's most tolerant and enlightened societies. Crown Prince Haakon married Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby (whom he called "the love of my life"), an unconventional royal pairing. The prince had never been married before, but the princess and future queen of Norway was a divorcée and mother. The couple lived together before marriage in the palace with her 3-year-old son by a previous marriage to a convicted cocaine supplier.

Before marrying the prince, Mette-Marit had a "well-known past in Oslo's dance-and-drugs house-party scene," as the Oslo press so delicately phrased it. It was rumored that pressure was brought on the young prince by conservative elements to give up a claim to the throne, eerily evocative of Edward VII's decision to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Warfield Simpson in the 1930s. It is said that Haakon considered renouncing the throne but decided to maintain his status as the heir apparent. "I think this is where I'm supposed to be," he finally said to the press, ending months of speculation.

King Harald was supportive of his son's decision. The future king himself spent a decade trying to persuade his own father, Olav V, to sanction his marriage to his commoner childhood sweetheart. (The present Queen Sonja was born a shopkeeper's daughter.) Olav himself had also intervened when his daughter, Princess Märtha Louise, was cited as a correspondent in a divorce proceeding in London.

The wedding has come and gone, and there is no more talk of revolution at this "scandal." As Ine Marie Eriksen, a law student from Tromsø, explained, "Why should Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit live by rules of the 18th century? That would take away the very thing that the Norwegian people like about our monarchy."

Since their marriage, the royal couple have had two children -- Princess Ingrid, born January 21, 2004, and Prince Sverre Magnus, born December 3, 2005. In 1990, the Norwegian constitution was altered, meaning that the eldest child, regardless of gender, takes precedence in the line of succession. The law is not retroactive, however. That means that Crown Prince Haakon is in line for the Norwegian throne, not his sister, Princess Märtha Louise (born 1971). Haakon was born on July 20, 1973.

The Man Behind The Scream

Scandinavia's greatest artist, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), was a pioneer in the expressionist movement. The Scream, painted in 1893, is his best-known painting. There are four known versions of this painting, one of which was stolen from the Munch Museum in August of 2004. The painting, along with another Munch masterpiece, Madonna, were recovered by Norwegian police in August of 2006 and returned to the museum. He grew up in Oslo (then called Christiania) and was often ill. Early memories of illness, death, and grief in his family had a tremendous impact on his later works. His father's death may have contributed to the loneliness and melancholy of one of his most famous works, Night (1890).

By the early 1890s, Munch had achieved fame (though slight in comparison with his renown today). He was at the center of a succés de scandale in Munich in 1892 when his art was interpreted as "anarchistic provocation."

Munch went to Berlin to escape, entering a world of literati, artists, and intellectuals. He met August Strindberg and they discussed the philosophy of Nietzsche, symbolism, psychology, and occultism. The discussions clearly influenced his work. His growing outlook was revealed to the world in an 1893 show in Berlin, where several paintings had death as their theme. His Death in a Sickroom particularly created quite a stir.

In 1896, Munch moved to Paris, where he made exquisite color lithographs and his first woodcuts. By the turn of the 20th century, he was painting in a larger format and incorporating some of the Art Nouveau aesthetics of the time. Red Virginia Creeper and Melancholy reflect the new influences. Prominent people also asked Munch to paint their portraits, and he obliged. His 1904 group portrait of Dr. Linde's sons is a masterpiece of modern portraiture.

A nervous disorder soon sent him to a sanitarium, and he had a turbulent love affair with a wealthy bohemian nicknamed "Tulla." The affair ended in 1902 when a revolver permanently injured a finger on Munch's left hand. He became obsessed with the shooting incident and poured out his contempt for Tulla in such works as Death of Murat (1907). Munch also became increasingly alcoholic, and, in 1906, he painted Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine.

From 1909 until his death, Munch lived in Norway. In his later years, he retreated into isolation, surrounded only by his paintings, which he called "my children." The older Munch placed more emphasis on the monumental and the picturesque, as in landscapes or people in harmony with nature.

In 1940, he decided to leave his huge collection of paintings to the city of Oslo upon his death. Today the Edvard Munch Museum provides the best introduction to this strange and enigmatic artist.

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