Friday, December 16, 2005

Otto Lang

Reached many a peak on skis

Otto Lang left a voice mail seeking my help in finding actress Stefanie Powers. She was in Seattle to star in "The King and I," and had left word with him that his free tickets would be at the door. But he was fuzzy on the details and wondered if I knew where she was staying.

I certainly didn't know, but I was curious how Seattle ski legend Otto Lang, who turns 98 next month, got on her comp list.

"Oh, we are dear old friends," he said with his Austrian accent. "She went to Hollywood High School with my son. I saw her in a school production of 'Oklahoma' and identified her as a coming talent and cast her in a TV series."

Lang is so synonymous with skiing in these parts and across the country that you forget his full life involved producing, directing and acting in film and television, from high-brow documentaries such as "Beethoven: Ordeal and Triumph" to the All-American diet of "Daktari," "Cheyenne" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

He traveled the world and wrote two thick books. One, "Around the World in 90 Years," features his beautiful photographs. "A Bird of Passage" chronicles his life, from coming to America to his career in Hollywood and hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

These days, Lang walks with creaky knees. It takes him a bit to tilt back to erect, but he seems as sharp and engaging as ever. He owes it all, he says from his West Seattle home, to skiing.

Emigrating from Austria in 1935, Lang soon decided to head west to Mount Rainier, where he established his own ski school at Paradise Lodge. Skiing in the U.S. was in its infancy, but Lang was a tireless promoter of it. He was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.

Frustrated with bamboo poles, Lang went to the golf industry to design one with a steel shaft. The 1937 prototype was strong yet flexible, but manufacturing and marketing got shelved when World War II put deep demands on steel production.

Of course, that wasn't the end of it.

Now, three of his early films are part of a four-DVD set featuring classic ski films developed and marketed by Topics Entertainment of Renton. One is the first theatrical movie about skiing filmed on Rainier and Mount Baker, which premiered at Radio City Music Hall in 1938.

It all goes back to skiing.

"I know it is a broad statement, but it is true. Skiing is responsible for everything in my life. It connected everything."

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