Witt May Be Allowed to Turn Pro : U.S. Ice Show Has Begun Negotiations With East Germany

Times Staff Writer

East German government officials have entered into negotiations that could enable 1984 Olympic champion Katarina Witt to become the first communist bloc figure skater to tour with a professional ice show, an Ice Capades official said Tuesday.

"It would be a first, a major first," said Thomas Scallen, Ice Capades president, who is meeting with the East Germans here during the Winter Olympics.

Scallen said an agreement also would include a starring role for Witt in a movie produced by Century Park Pictures of Hollywood and a television special for a major U.S. network.

"We have a high degree of interest," Scallen said. "We have presented proposals to the appropriate authorities. But negotiations are just beginning so it's hard to even wax optimistic.

"I'm here to convince the East German government that this would be good for them, good for her and good for everyone. I'm hoping the East German government will give the North American public the opportunity to see her."

Scallen called rumors that Witt already has signed a contract with Ice Capades "overly optimistic."

East German officials here were unavailable for comment, but it is considered significant that they have agreed to negotiate with Ice Capades. In past years, communist bloc countries have refused to even consider allowing their athletes to participate in commercial enterprises.

There are indications of a change in that stance within the Soviet Union. Former Soviet ice hockey goaltender Vladislav Tretiak is featured in deodorant commercials with Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers and also has been appearing in bookstores here to sign copies of his autobiography.

Witt, who begins her bid today in the compulsory figures to repeat as the Olympic champion, could not be reached Tuesday, but in a news conference last week she did not rule out the possibility of continuing her figure skating career in an ice show.

"I haven't really given it much thought," said Witt, 24. "At this moment, I am only thinking about my amateur career--the Olympics and the World Championships (next month in Budapest). Later on, we can start talking about that."

Scallen would not reveal details of his negotiations with the East Germans, but it is believed that Witt could command a seven-figure contract for the Ice Capades tour alone.

"Everything is negotiable," Scallen said. "We want her for any period of time that we can get her, but we have to stay flexible because the East German government wants to present her to their people at home as well."

One source within figure skating, who did not want to be identified, said another ice show, Holiday on Ice, has discussed with the East Germans the possibility of adding East German cities to its European tour if it can use Witt as a featured performer. Holiday on Ice officials could not be reached for comment.

Scallen said he believes Witt would be as popular with North American crowds as other former Olympic champions who have appeared with the Ice Capades such as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton of the United States and 1984 ice dancing champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Great Britain.

"In past times, European competitors, even Canadians, haven't been totally interesting to American audiences," he said. "But Torvill and Dean transcended that. Katarina could do the same thing."

Scallen said there will be no negotiations with a U.S. network to televise a Witt special until she is under contract, but he said a starring role in a movie already has been written with her in mind for Century Park Pictures. Like Ice Capades, Century Park Pictures is a subsidiary of the International Broadcasting Corp.

Witt, who began taking acting classes in East Berlin in 1986, has said she wants to become a professional actress upon her retirement from skating.

"The film would be a love story involving skating, maybe Olympic competition," Scallen said.

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