Nine Notable Norwegians

Sonja Henie

May 17 is Norwegian Constitution Day, the biggest national holiday in Norway. In celebration, I thought I would pay tribute to nine Norwegians who have left their respective marks in world history and culture. This list isn't as random as it may seem – one of the main characters in Foreign Correspondents is Norwegian, and in fact a good deal of the film was shot inside an actual Norwegian's home: my father's.

  1. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). One of the greatest playwrights in history, Ibsen is known for the still-performed classics A Doll's House, Hedda Gabler, An Enemy of the People, and The Wild Duck, just to name a few.
  2. Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Norway's most famous classical composer is remembered for his Peer Gynt Suite, which gave us the very familiar melodies behind "Morning Mood" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King".
  3. Sonja Henie (1912-1969). Forget about Katarina Witt or Kristi Yamaguchi or Dorothy Hamill. No figure skater's career can touch the enormous success of Sonja Henie's – three-time Olympic gold medalist, World's Champion skater for 10 consecutive years, Hollywood star, patron of the arts... What a gal.
  4. Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Norway's finest expressionist artist is synonymous with a painting – actually, a number of painted and drawn variations on the same image – that has earned a huge appreciation in recent times: The Scream.
  5. Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002). [Yes, I added his death date four years after writing this list.] Tireless explorer and seaman. In 1947, to prove his theory that prehistoric South American and Polynesian cultures had made physical contact with each other, he sailed across the Pacific in a hand-made boat (the Kon-Tiki) that ancient peoples of both cultures could have made. He made similar expeditions across the Atlantic in 1969 and 1970 to prove a connection between Egyptian and South American cultures. He also unraveled the secrets behind the famed Easter Island statues.
  6. Liv Ullman (1939-). Film actress and, recently, director. She has starred in over 40 movies, including the Ingmar Bergman classics Persona, Shame, and Cries and Whispers.
  7. Roald Amundsen (1872-1928). The first person to reach the South Pole (in 1911), Amundsen raced English explorer Robert Falcon Scott to get there, and beat the English party by over a month. Sadly, Scott and his party died in Antarctica. Clever Amundsen survived by eating his sled dogs. New evidence suggests that Amundsen even beat out Richard E. Byrd to be the first person to reach the North Pole as well (in 1926).
  8. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930). This famed explorer/scientist/politician/humanitarian remains one of Norway's biggest heroes. He played an important role in establishing Norway's independence, saved millions of war refugees across the world, and gave us much of our knowledge of the North Pole and its seas. Not a household name in the US, but a great man.
  9. Johan Vaaler (1866-1910). In 1899, this fellow invented the paper clip. So Norwegians are good for something after all.