Helen Crlenkovich

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Helen Crlenkovich Morgan
Helen Crlenkovich, a female diver, featured on the cover of a magazine
Helen Crlenkovich - El Gráfico
Personal information
Birth nameHelen Crlenkovich
Born(1921-01-14)January 14, 1921
Akron, Ohio
DiedJuly 19, 1955(1955-07-19) (aged 34)
Los Angeles, California
Height5 ft 4 in (163 cm)
Weight121 lb (55 kg)
Spouse(s)Robert Drew "Bob" Morgan
(m.1943–55, her death)
Updated on 7 July 2017.

Helen Crlenkovich (Croatian: Crljenković[1]) (Akron, Ohio, January 14, 1921 - Los Angeles, California, July 19, 1955) was one of the most successful athletes in America and the world on the three-meter springboard and the ten-meter platform. She was an American-born Croatian lovingly known as "Klinky." Both of her parents are from Croatia: mother Anka Tomin is from Petrijevci,[1][2] and father Adam from Banićevac[1] near Cernik.


Crlenkovich's mother moved to San Francisco in the early 1930s to help Helen realize her dreams to become a swimmer, leaving Helen's sister Kay behind in a New York boarding school.[1] Crlenkovich began participating on the "Fairmont Plunge" swim team at the Fairmont Hotel under the tutelage of Phil Patterson, alongside future swimming and diving stars Ann Curtis, Barbara Jensen, and Patsy Elsener.[1][3]

Her best sports years began in the late 1930s. In 1937, she was the national junior diving champion.[4] She not only became the best American, but also the world springboard and platform diving champion. She was the first female to perform a full-twisting 1½ somersault, also the 2½ tuck, back 1½ layout, inward 1½ pike and reverse 1½ tuck,[5] dives that were previously only performed by men. In July 1939, Crlenkovich won the national three-meter springboard championship in Des Moines.[6] At the Des Moines meet, Marjorie Gestring won the ten-meter platform diving championship, and Esther Williams, who Crlenkovich would later serve as a stunt double for, won the 100-meter swimming title.[6]

Helen was chosen to represent America in the 1940 Olympic Games. All concerned felt that Helen would achieve two gold medals as a minimum. However, because of the onset of the Second World War, the games were cancelled. During this period her dominance of the U.S. women's diving nationals was overwhelming. After defeating Hall of Famer Marjorie Gestring in both indoor and outdoor 3m springboard in 1940, Helen went on to win all for 3 years. She declined an offer to turn professional for US$250 (equivalent to $4,470 in 2018) per week in 1940 to dive for Billy Rose's Aquacade at the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition.[7] Esther Williams, who accepted Rose's offer, went on to be discovered by an MGM scout while swimming in the Aquacade.[8] Crlenkovich won National Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.) diving championships each year between 1939 and 1941,[9] declining to defend her title in 1942.[10]

During a World War II retirement "Klinky", as she was affectionately known, swam in the Aqua Follies at the Minneapolis Aquatennial (held July 18–26, 1942),[11] and was married in 1943, becoming Helen Morgan. She came back to competitive diving in 1945 to win both springboard and tower, and later won the National A.A.U. title for the three-meter springboard again in 1946 and 1947.[12] She also turned pro to dive in Larry Crosby's Aqua Follies[13] and Buster Crabbe's well traveled Aqua Parade from 1945 to 1950.


Crlenkovich appears twice as a twisting diver above San Francisco Bay in Diego Rivera's 1940 mural Pan American Unity.[14] She was honored by being inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1981,[5] the Helms Diving Hall of Fame[15] and the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame.[16] She won more consistently and by greater margins than any woman diver.[5] Along with Georgia Coleman, Pat McCormick and Micki King, all Hall of Famers, she has been closer to the men's standards of diving excellence than any of the other great women in history.[5] In September 2008, Helen received post-mortem recognition by the World Acrobatic Congress held in Las Vegas for her life achievements in swimming and diving.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Crlenkovich attended San Francisco Junior College with a major in physical education (previously pre-law) while working nights as a hotel accountant and practicing dives for two hours a day.[17] In her spare time, she obtained a pilot's license on January 20, 1941[18] after signing up for pilot training in 1939.[19] She married Ensign Robert "Bob" Morgan on February 13, 1943 in Coronado, California.[20] Together they had a daughter, Bari Lee (born 1947).

Crlenkovich died of cancer in 1955 after a long illness.[9] Bob Morgan, then working as an actor and stuntman, would go on to marry Yvonne De Carlo after Crlenkovich's death.[21] Bari Lee is a noted photographer who has also been responsible for directing the Santa Cruz Follies.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Čuvalo, Ante (13 October 2008). "Helen Crlenkovich renowned Croatian - American springboard diver". Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "Matching passenger records Anka Tomin". Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  3. ^ Chapin, Dwight (26 July 2005). "When Plunge Was a Splash". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  4. ^ "Swim star hurt". San Bernardino Sun. 31 August 1937. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "HELEN CRLENKOVICH (USA) 1981 Honor Diver". Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Pretty girls set records at national swimming meet". Life. Time, Inc. 14 August 1939. p. 59. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Prefers $9.12 Weekly". San Bernardino Sun. 5 May 1940. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  8. ^ Corliss, Richard (13 June 2013). "Bathing Beauty: The Wet and Wild Life of Esther Williams". Time. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Helen Morgan, Former Diving Champion, Dies". San Bernardino Sun. UP. 20 July 1955. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Diving Championship: Anne Ross wins U.S. Title at Neenah, Wis. meet". Life. Time, Inc. 31 August 1942. p. 32. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Minn. Aquaten Is Heavy Draw". The Billboard. 1 August 1942. p. 37. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  12. ^ "Still Queen". San Bernardino Sun. 15 June 1947. Retrieved 9 July 2017. Shapely, lovely Helen Crlenkovich of San Francisco is still on the throne of American women's divers after successfully defending her 3-meter crown in the National A.A.U. championships in her home city.
  13. ^ "Water Show Review: Aqua Follies, Olympic Swim Stadium, Los Angeles". The Billboard. 20 July 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 10 July 2017. Demonstrating the best in diving, Helen Morgan executed a raft of difficult dives from various heights, climaxed by a thrilling leap from the 30-foot board.
  14. ^ "Diego Rivera: His amazing new mural depicts Pan-American unity". Life. Vol. 10 no. 9. Time, Inc. 3 March 1941. pp. 52–56. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  15. ^ Davis, Bruce. "NEWSLETTER". Archived from the original on July 7, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  16. ^ "San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame Members" (PDF). Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  17. ^ "Here's Helen Crlenkovich Doing Her 2½ Forward Somersault". San Bernardino Sun. Associated Press. 22 August 1941. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Diver Takes to Air". San Bernardino Sun. United Press. 21 January 1941. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Diver to Fly". Madera Tribune. United Press. 20 November 1939. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  20. ^ "Miss Helen Crlenkovich Weds Navy Ensign, Feb. 13 In Lovely Ceremony". Coronado Eagle and Jornal. 18 February 1943. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  21. ^ Shearer, Lloyd (23 December 1962). "'People are Good': The amazing experience of a stunt man who died three times". Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram. Retrieved 10 July 2017.(subscription required)
  22. ^ Cree, Christina Morgan. "The Photographers". Christina Morgan Cree. Retrieved 10 July 2017.

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