At the onset of the 20th century, Oliver Perry-Smith was a rock climbing legend. A beast of a man, he extended the limits the sport, claiming 32 first ascents of the 90-plus climbs he did in Saxon, Switzerland. He is considered a pioneer of free climbing.
As his great-granddaughter, I lifted his adventurous spirit from his personal climbing journal and planted it in my feature-length film script. However, I leave out details too incredible to believe onscreen.
He climbed one of the world’s deadliest mountains, the Matterhorn, 13 times – once in the dark. He free climbed the Eiffel Tower. During winters in Europe, he picked up skiing and became the first American international ski champion, winning the Austrian ski-jumping and cross-country titles in 1914.
Besides that, he owned a Bugatti race car and used it to raise hell across Europe. He was a lionhearted man, imperfect and inspiring, but always entertaining. My story distills and embellishes the truths of his past into this film, currently open to option.
It distills the blood-pumping power of rock climbing, human resilience and the price we pay for our obsessions.
Oliver doing a headstand atop the Barbarine after being the first to ascend. September 19, 1905.
Oliver behind the wheel of his Bugatti. His climbing partner Rudolf Fehrmann sits beside him.
Hedy and the Secret Shoes
This children’s story was born on a trip to Stavanger, Norway, where I met a ballerina who moved to an island off the coast to teach children’s ballet. All I could picture was an island full of tiny ballerinas running amok.
The story set anchor in my head, and as I searched for a protagonist, my grandma Hedy Stenuf came to mind. She was born in Vienna, Austria in 1922 and quickly rose to fame. She was a gifted ballerina, passing the arduous Vienna Opera Ballet test at age ten.
At 12, Hedy traded her slippers for ice skates and traveled the world, skating alongside the legendary Karl Schäfer as his protégé. She made international headlines as the tiny girl in a jaunty hat who was the first to incorporate graceful ballet moves into figure skating. She won the Austrian Figure Skating Championship at age 14, and placed sixth in the 1936 Olympics. She was considered a serious gold metal contender for the 1940 Olympics.
War forced Hedy to flee to the U.S. In the states, she turned pro and became the star of the Broadway show “It Happened on Ice.” She appeared on Ripley’s Believe It or Not, performing 476 consecutive spins on ice skates. When they stopped her at five minutes, she responded: “But I wasn’t finished.”
I poured Hedy’s confidence into the character of Hedy, who has a bit more sass and a little less grace, but undeniable spirit. Set in Norway’s striking landscape, Hedy encounters adventures and obstacles with enthusiasm.
The story is brought to life by a greatly talented illustrator and close friend, Chloe Heglin, who I met in high school art class. Learn more about her at www.applecorehardcore.com.
Cheers to the women whose fire inspired this dreamy little book. I hope it encourages others to take heart and find their footing.