Filled Under: Belita
Maria Belita Gladys Olive Lyne Jepson-Turner known professionally as Belita and hailed by her adoring fans as “Belita, the Ice Maiden”, was a British Olympic figure skater, dancer, and film actress.
Belita was born October 25, 1923 at Nether Wallop, Hampshire, England. Trained in dance not long after learning how to walk, she went on to study ballet with Sir Anton Dolin. Belita’s father was a military officer and mother the daughter of a royal physician to King Edward VII. Her mother was protective and controlling when it came to Belita and immediately turned her daughter towards becoming a star ballerina. Using skating to build up her overall strength, poise, and endurance, ice soon took over Belita’s life completely. Her classical Russian ballet training carried over into her skating, and she was considered far superior to others skating at that time. Remarkably agile and graceful, she appeared in the Olympic games of 1936 at the age of twelve and turned professional two years later. Multitalented, Belita also played the violin and spoke four languages.
Belita made her minor film debut as an ice dancer in the Republic Pictures movie “Ice-Capades” (1941). Her next role was in “Silver Skates” (1943). The movie itself was a mediocre drama but Belita shined in her her role and her star began to rise. She followed this with a top-billed role in the lowbudget Monogram Pictures film “Lady, Let’s Dance” (1944). The film was unique as an ice skating musical and was nominated for two Oscars. Determined to become a more dramatic actress, she appeared in the suspense film “Suspense” (1946) which also starred heavyweights Barry Sullivan and Albert Dekker. She appeared with Sullivan again in The “Gangster” (1947), with Preston Foster in “The Hunted” (1948), and enjoyed secondary roles in the classic mystery “The Man on the Eiffel Tower” (1949) starring Charles Laughton, and the rugged adventure drama “Never Let Me Go” (1953) with Clark Gable. She later went on to appear in theater productions of “Twelfth Night,” “Ulysses in Nighttown” and “Damn Yankees!”
Belita’s overall career started to wane in the 1950s. All during this time, however, Belita still popular on ice, performing in capades, shows and extravaganzas all over the world, particularly in London. In 1956 she abruptly retired her skates and soon after bid Hollywood farewell as well. She had appearances in the second segment of Gene Kelly’s three part film “Invitation to the Dance” (1956) and had a minor unbilled part in “Silk Stockings” (1957) before she retired. Belita came out of retirement to star in the Argentinian film “The Terrace” (1963) but then was gone again. She appeared briefly on the ice at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1981 in a short production based on “Solitude” by Duke Ellington.
Belita married actor Joel McGinnis in 1946. The marriage lasted ten years and ended in divorce in 1956. She later married Irish-born actor James Berwick (aka James Kenny) in 1967. They remained married until his death in 2000. She opened a garden centre in West London, and subsequently retired for the most part to the south of France where she remained out of the public eye. She had no children by either husband and passed away in Montpeyroux, France on December 18, 2005, at age 82.