Gloria Nord, a theatrical skating sensation of the 1940s and '50s who captivated audiences with her balletic agility on roller skates and later on ice, died Dec. 30 in Mission Viejo. She was 87.
Nord had been in declining health in recent months from a series of ailments, said her nephew Jerry Nordskog.
Called the Sonja Henie of roller skating, Nord first came to prominence in the early 1940s as the star of a roller revue called "Skating Vanities." She toured the country with the show's 100-skater troupe, jumping, waltzing, fox-trotting and tangoing across the stage with wheels on her feet.
Her prowess earned her a roller-skating number in the 1944 Betty Grable movie "Pin Up Girl," which made the petite, curvaceous Nord a real pin-up popular with American GIs in World War II.
In the 1950s, Nord hung up her wheels to perform in ice-skating productions at London's Wembley Arena. She quickly became a favorite of English audiences and in 1953 gave a command performance before Queen Elizabeth II.
"She had such charisma on stage. You just knew you were in the presence of a star each time she came out," said former Holiday on Ice dancer Roy Blakey, who knew Nord and saw her perform many times. "All of her moves were based on dance. She had beautiful arm movements and high extensions . . . when she would do the spiral, skating on one leg with the other in the air. She did beautiful split jumps. Everything was very graceful and elegant."
The youngest of five children, Nord was born Aug. 2, 1922, in Santa Monica and grew up there and in Hollywood. Her father, Andrae B. Nordskog, was a pioneer of the music recording business who brought some of the first concerts to the Hollywood Bowl.
Nord studied ballet as a child but enjoyed skating as a hobby. When she was in her early teens, her brother, Bob, made her a pair of roller skates, which she tried out at Sid Grauman's Hollywood Rollerbowl. Grauman cast her in an intermission show, and soon she was performing in exhibitions around the country sponsored by the magazine Skating Review.
According to Blakey, who runs a skating archive in Minneapolis, boxing promoter Harold Steinman caught one of Nord's performances in Chicago in 1938 and, inspired by three-time Olympic champion Henie's skating films and lavish touring ice shows, came up with the idea for a roller-skating extravaganza.
The result was "Skating Vanities," which opened in 1942 with Nord as the star. It played at major venues across the country, from New York's Madison Square Garden to Los Angeles' Pan Pacific Auditorium, and eventually in Europe.
Nord talked Steinman into dropping the show's original name, "Roller Follies," because she thought it misled the public into thinking they were paying to see a roller derby, the contact sport featuring roughhousing skaters jamming around a track. "The derby is terrible," she told the Saturday Evening Post in 1988.
The popularity of roller derby may have helped nudge Nord into ice skating in the early 1950s, when British sports promoter Sir Arthur Elvin made her an ice show star at his Wembley Arena. She performed regularly in England until 1958, followed by a short period in Australia, where she skated in "Ecstasy on Ice" and "Robinson Crusoe on Ice." She gave her last performances in the early 1960s in Los Angeles, Blakey said.
Her daring leaps and splits took a toll, as did her occasional falls, "particularly when they tossed me from one boy skater to another and the guy missed the catch," she told the Orange County Register in 1993. "I had a marvelous life, but I could hardly walk after skating a show." She retired to Orange County and eventually had both hips replaced.
Twice married and divorced, Nord had no children. She is survived by two nieces, Carla Wales and Dorice Mabus, and two nephews, Jerry Nordskog and Brian Whiteside.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 13 at Presbyterian Church of the Master, 26051 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo.