Acting And Axels: The Thornton Coolidge Story


The son of Dr. Algernon and Amy (Lothrop Peabody) Coolidge, Jr. and Amy (Lothrop) Peabody Coolidge, Thornton Kirkland Lothrop Coolidge was born October 11, 1906 in Boston, Massachusetts.
His father was a highly respected laryngologist who served as the Dean of Harvard University's Graduate School Of Medicine and the Chief of the Department Of Laryngology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Thornton and his two older siblings in a Victorian brownstone home on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, in the affluent Back Bay neighborhood. The family's needs were attended to by a live-in cook, waitress and chambermaid. The Coolidge's were devout Episcopals and parishioners at Boston's historic Trinity Church.

Thornton's father, Dr. Algernon Coolidge

Educated privately at Milton Academy, Thornton was first encouraged to pursue figure skating seriously by George Henry Browne, the headmaster at Browne and Nichols School. He joined both the Skating Club Of Boston and Cambridge Skating Club and began taking lessons from Willie Frick. In the mid twenties, Mr. Frick paired Thornton with Maribel Vinson, a talented skater five years younger than him. Thornton was Maribel's first partner... and his only pairs partner.

Together, the talented duo won the Cambridge Skating Club's pairs title and U.S. junior pairs title in 1927. The following two years, they were America's senior pairs champions and in 1929, Maribel and Thornton claimed the bronze medal at the North American Championships ahead of Dorothy Weld and Richard L. Hapgood, losing out to Canadian siblings Constance and Bud Wilson and their training mates, Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles. When Thornton and Maribel won their second U.S. title that same winter, one Associated Press reporter wrote, "This pair, repeating their victory of last year, excelled in speed, executed their figures in perfect unison and then produced a number of rhythmic movements that were judged [to be the best]."

Unlike Maribel, who of course went on to dedicate her entire life to figure skating, Thornton hung up his skates "for good" in 1929. He'd graduated with a Bachelor Of Arts from Harvard University the previous year, devoting much of his free time to the  Pierian Sodality, Harvard Glee Club and Harvard Musical Club while attending the ivy league school. His true aspirations centered around acting and singing, and he went to Europe to study theater abroad. He happened to be in London in 1931 when Maribel came over to visit the Richmond and Park Lane rinks. She wrote in "Skating" magazine, "Unfortunately he had to be out of town during most of my time here, but we skated at Park Lane one day and gave an impromptu exhibition of our old pair, which we had not skated for two years. We were so amazed at our nerve that we nearly perished of laughter, but outside of that and a couple of complete lapses of memory, it really wasn't so bad, considering! Thornton seems to be skating quite well and certainly is amazingly adaptable. I hope to see him at St. Moritz for a week, unless his singing duties are too pressing."

Thornton ultimately returned to America and began acting in a series of plays at the Henry Street Theatre and Carmel Summer Theatre in New York. In 1933, he appeared at The Rockridge Indoor Theatre, acting alongside a then up-and-coming Tyrone Power. In 1934, he played Beau Brummell in the play "Mad Lover", based on the life of Lord Byron, at the Punch and Judy Theatre in Chicago. In 1935, he acted alongside Noël Coward in the Millbrook Theatre's presentation of "The Vortex", a controversial three-act play about sex and drugs in England during World War I. His final effort, in January 1936, was an English adaptation of Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil's French play "Mon crime".

Photo courtesy Boston Public Library

Less than three months later, Thornton returned to Boston, where he passed away on April 8, 1936 at his parents home at the age of twenty nine after a three week illness. His older brother had died in his twenties as well, and we can only speculate as to what the future might have held for this ambitious and talented young man whose life was cut short.

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