Monday, January 14, 2013

The Story Of The Blackhawks And Irene Castle

The excuse for this post is the beginning (finally) of the NHL season. But what possible connection could my favorite hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks, have with classic Hollywood cinema?

The Blackhawks were founded in 1926 by Major Frederic McLaughlin, a coffee tycoon. McLaughlin served in the 85th Division of the U.S. Army during WWI. Members of this division called themselves the "Black Hawks", after the Sauk Indian chief who fought Illinois troops in the 1830s. The Major named his new team after his war-time Division.

Irene Castle
Major McLaughlin's wife at the time was Irene Castle. Castle had been a huge success as a dancer on the stage with her first husband, Vernon Castle (who ironically died after serving in WWI). The couple achieved world-wide fame and even made some silent films.

The 1926-27 uniform of the Chicago Blackhawks
The design of the Chicago Blackhawks first uniforms--and their first logo--is credited to Irene Castle. I have to admit I have always thought that this was probably apocryphal--but Irene Castle was a fashion icon of her day, so it's certainly possible. Besides, the idea of a celebrity designing the team's duds sounds a lot better than some person whose name is lost to history.

The Blackhawks uniform and logo has changed a bit over the years, but the "Indian Head" remains the team's most recognizable symbol. It's one of the most popular and famous team images in all of sports.

In 1939, RKO released THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE, a biography of the famed dance team, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the couple. Of course, the Blackhawks are not mentioned in the movie (the story ends after Vernon dies), but what if they were? The climax could have been something like this:

As Fred Astaire dances away in Heaven, and the background music swells up, we cut to a proudly determined Ginger Rogers, creating one of the most iconic looks in professional sports history.

Now THAT'S an ending.

Original Blackhawk Dick Irvin

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