Pages

07 December 2016

I promessi sposi (1922)

Alessandro Manzoni's historical novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), first published in 1817, is one of the most famous and widely read novels of the Italian language. It was many times adapted for the cinema in Italy. In the fifth silent film version, I promessi sposi (Mario Bonnard, 1922), Emilia Vidali played the female lead of Lucia, Domenico Serra played her beloved Renzo and Mario Parpagnoli was the evil don Rodrigo.

Emilia Vidali in I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna, no. 181. Photo: U.C.I. Emilia Vidali in I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922).

Emilia Vidali in I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Emilia Vidali in I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922).

A love story jeapordised


I promessi sposi is set in northern Italy in 1628, during the oppressive years of direct Spanish rule. The two betrothed are Renzo Tramaglino and Lucia Mondella. Their love story is jeopardised by Don Rodrigo, the lord of the domain, who is infatuated with Lucia. His 'bravi' menace the local priest Don Abbondio to refuse Renzo and Luciana to marry, with some legal excuse.

On behalf of the couple, the monk Father Cristoforo visits Don Rodrigo to mediate in the affair but is brutally kicked out. When Rodrigo plots to assault the young couple, they flee over Lake Como. Lucia hides in a convent where, however, the scheming nun of Monza plots with Don Rodrigo.

Renzo searches for Lucia and while in Milan visits the fraudulent lawyer doctor Azzeccagarbugli to get his papers right. The police try to arrest him but he manages to flee again. Meanwhile Father Cristoforo is banned from the convent and the village on instigation of don Rodrigo.

A robber baron called l'Innominato or 'the unnamed' is sent by Don Rodrigo to abduct the girl and give her once and for all to Don Rodrigo. Yet, in a startling change of heart, inspired by a visit of Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the Innominato undergoes a religious conversion and does the right thing by liberating Lucia.

This starts the downfall of the culprits. The Great Plague of Milan (1630) breaks out, imported by German mercenaries during the Thirty Years War. In Milan Renzo meets again Don Cristoforo who helps the dying masses and discovers Don Rodrigo is one of the victims. Renzo forgives him, Rodrigo dies, the Plague stops.

Father Cristoforo frees Lucia also from her vow of chastity she had made in the hope of being relinquished from the clutches of the Innominato. Renzo and Lucia return to their village, where they can finally marry, blessed by don Abbondio, who has bettered his life.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Don Abbondio (Umberto Scalpellini) is afraid Don Rodrigo's bravi may kill him, so he prevents the mariage between Renzo and Lucia. Right of the men stands Perpetua (Olga Capri), don Abbondio's maid. Caption: Do you want me dead?

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922), starring Domenico Serra as Renzo and Emilia Vidali as Lucia, here also Umberto Scalpellini as don Abbondio. Caption: Curate, in presence of these two witnesses, this is my wife...

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Domenico Serra as Renzo, Emilia Vidali as Lucia, and Ida Carloni Talli as Agnese, Lucia's mother. Caption: Rascal! Damned one! Murderer!, Renzo shouted.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Enzo Biliotti as Father Cristoforo. Caption: Father Cristoforo left his convent in Pescarenico, to ascend to the little house.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922), starring Domenico Serra as Renzo and Emilia Vidali as Lucia, on this card also with Ida Carloni Talli as Agnese and Enzo Biliotti as Father Cristoforo. Caption: Father, what do you say of such a rascal?

Emilia Vidali and Ida Carloni Talli in I promessi sposi
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922), starring Emilia Vidali, here with Ida Carloni Talli as her mother Agnese.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922), starring Domenico SerraEmilia Vidali and with Enzo Biliotti as father Cristoforo and Ida Carloni Talli as Agnese, Luciana's mother. Caption: Listen, my dear children, father Cristoforo said, today I will visit that man.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Here we see father Cristoforo (Enzo Biliotti). Caption: The warden shows him to be obedient. It is a fierce blow to the poor monk.

Grand spectacle and richness of details


Italian filmmakers have many times adapted Alessandro Manzoni's novel I promessi sposi. The first film version was already made in 1908 by the company Comerio. In 1911 followed another short silent film adaptation by Film d'Arte Italiana.

In 1913, even two silent versions were directed by Eleuterio Rodolfi and by Eugenio Perego. About Rodolfi's version, which he filmed for the Ambrosio studio, see our blogpost I promessi sposi (1913). For the 1941 sound version, which was made by Mario Camerini, see our blogpost I promessi sposi (1941).

In 1922 former actor turned director Mario Bonnard shot his version of I promessi sposi. Bonnard had been Lyda Borelli's film partner in her sensational debut Ma l'amor mio non muore/Love Everlasting (Mario Caserini, 1913). Since that huge success he had spread his wings in the Italian silent cinema, both as an actor and a director.

Bonnard's film was produced by his own company Bonnard Film but distributed by the trust UCI (Unione Cinematografica Italiana) which company is credited for the photos at the postcards. Sets were by the renowned Italian painter Camillo Innocenti, who had specialised in set design for historical films. Cinematography was by Giuseppe-Paolo Vitrotti, the younger brother of the better known Italian cinematographer Giovanni Vitrotti. He already worked for Ambrosio since 1908 as a camera operator, but became director of cinematography around the time of I promessi sposi.

Star of the film is Italian silent film actress and opera singer Emilia Vidali. As an opera singer, she performed in international opera houses all over the world and was very popular in South America. Her co-star Domenico Serra was an Italian actor who starred in the Italian silent cinema and continued to play in Italian films for well over four decades. At the set of I promessi sposi, Vidali met her future husband Mario Parpagnoli, who played the evil Don Rodrigo. After one more film, Amore e destino (1923), directed by Parpagnoli, she left the Italian screen. Because of the crisis in the Italian cinema, the couple moved to Argentine.

I promessi sposi was censured in November 1922 but the film only had its first night in Rome more than a year after, on 27 December 1923, so just after Christmas. While Italian film critics complained about the lack of fidelity to the concept and the historical details in the novel, they also had to admit that the cinema audiences loved it, and took the deviations and historically incorrect details for granted. La vita cinematografica wrote that the cinema audience wanted to be emotionally involved by dramatic and comic scenes, grand spectacle, and the richness of details, and got it all. The film was awarded a golden medal at a film festival in Turin in 1923. I promessi sposi remained so popular in the following decade that a sound version of the film was released in 1934.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Lucia (Emilia Vidali) and fra Canziano. Caption: Lucia reappeared with her apron full of nuts (Ch. III).

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Renzo has no clue a police spy is sitting next to him, dealing with the innkeeper to have him arrested. Caption: What shall I do?, the innkeeper asks, looking at that stranger who was not really one to him...

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Renzo at the lying and cheating lawyer Azzeccagarbugli. Caption: To the lawyer we need to set things straight, so that we can mess them up.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Renzo (Domenico Serra) is sent away by the corrupt lawyer Azzeccagarbugli (actor unknown). On the left stands Luciana's mother Agnese (Ida Carloni Talli). Caption: Go, go; you don't know what you are talking about: I don't mess with children...

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Rodolfo Badaloni as L'Innominato kisses the hand of the Cardinal Federico Borromeo (actor unknown). Caption: As soon as the Innominato was introduced, Federico came forward to him.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Lucia's kidnapping by Nibbio, the bravo of the Innominato, with the help of Gertrude, the nun of Monza (Niní Dinelli). Caption: Come, my child, come with me, as I have orders to treat you well and give you courage.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). L'Innominato (Rodolfo Badaloni) and his aid Nibbio (actor unknown), who repents his kidnapping of Lucia. Caption: Compassion! What do you know of compassion? What is compassion? (Ch. XXI).

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). During the Milan plague corpses are collected. Caption: She descended from the threshold of one of those exits and came towards the convoy.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Renzo in the plague ridden Milan. Caption: He did a step back, lifting a knotty stick.

Mario Parpagnoli as Don Rodrigo in I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Caption: "Let me kill that infamous traitor!" Milan is in the grip of the plague. After Don Rodrigo (Mario Parpagnoli) has confessed his aid Griso (Raimondo Van Riel) he is ill, the latter betrays him, He calls for the 'monatti' who will carry his master away to the 'Lazzaretto' and robs the wealth of Don Rodrigo. He won't enjoy his riches for long, as he too will be struck by the plague.

I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Renzo (Domenico Serra) and padre Cristoforo (Enzo Biliotti) in plague ridden Milan. Caption: You ask for a living person at a lazaret!...

Ida Carloni Talli, Domenico Serra and Emilia Vidali in I promessi sposi (1922)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna. Photo: U.C.I. Publicity still for I promessi sposi/The Bethrothed (Mario Bonnard, 1922). Caption: If you want me to marry you, I'm here. The scene depicts the final scene of the story with Ida Carloni Talli (Agnese), Domenico Serra (Renzo), Emilia Vidali (Lucia) and Umberto Scalpellini (Don Abbondio).

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano, 1921-1922), Wikipedia and IMDb.

06 December 2016

Lucy Doraine

In spite of her French name, Lucy Doraine (1898-1989) was a Hungarian actress and a major star of the Austrian and German cinema in the 1920s. When she moved to Hollywood, the revolution of the sound film finished her career.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 572/2, 1919-1924. Publicity still for Sodom und Gomorrha/Queen of Sin and the Spectacle of Sodom and Gomorrah (Michael Curtiz a.k.a. Mihály Kertész, 1922).

Lucy Doraine in Sodom und Gomorrha (1922)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 572/1, 1919-1924. Publicity still for Sodom und Gomorrha/Queen of Sin and the Spectacle of Sodom and Gomorrah (Michael Curtiz a.k.a. Mihály Kertész, 1922).

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 542/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder / Foreign Pictures.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 720/3, 1925-1926. Photo: Manassé, Wien / Lucy Doraine Film Ges. m.b.H.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1546/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1548/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Double Name


Lucy Doraine was born Ilonka Kovacs Perenyi in Budapest, Hungary in 1898.

Italian film historian Vittorio Martinelli wrote in Le dive del silenzio (2001) that she was the daughter of a highly placed civil servant, baron Perenyi, but IMDb and Wikipedia state that she had the more common name of Kovacs. Filmportal.de indicates her double name.

In her teens, Ilonka showed her skills as a piano player, and she attended the actors school Association of Hungarian Actors.

When she was 18, Ilonka started to play small roles in films like A napraforgós hölgy/The Sunflower Woman (Mihaly Kertesz, 1918).

Like most of her early films it was directed by her future husband, Mihaly Kertesz. Eventually he would become the famous Hollywood director Michael Curtiz, the maker of such classics as Casablanca (1942) and Mildred Pierce (1945).

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 503/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Atelier Adèle, Wien / Foreign Pictures.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 853/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Attelier Balasz, Berlin / Lucie Doraine Film Gmbh.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1391/1, 1927-1928. Photo H. Gärtner / Eichberg-Film. Doraine only made one film for Eichberg Film, Der Prinz und die Tänzerin (1926).

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1391/2, 1927-1928. Photo: H. Gärtner / Eichberg Film GmbH. Doraine only made one film for Eichberg Film, so this card must be for Der Prinz und die Tänzerin (1926). Her name and the name of her film company are often misspelled as Dorraine.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1391/4, 1927-1928. Photo: Gärtner / Eichberg Film GmbH.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1397/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder.

Lucy Doraine
Austrian postcard. Photo: Franz Löwy, Wien (Vienna), 1921. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Risque Image


After the fall of Bela Kun’s Republic and because of the turmoils of 1918-1919, Mihaly and Ilonka Kertesz fled Hungary and took up refuge in Vienna. There they both got a contract by count Kolowrat, the owner of Sascha Film.

Their first film in Vienna was Der Dame mit den schwarzen Handschuh/The Lady with the Black Gloves (Mihaly Kertesz, 1919). This was a fruitful period for the Austrian cinema, enforced by the contributions of another Hungarian refugee, Alexander Korda.

Ilonka took the stage name of Lucy Doraine and played in witty comedies by her husband, one even more brilliant than the other. These comedies include Miss Tutti Frutti (Mihaly Kertesz, 1921) and Herzogin Satanella/Cherchez la femme! (Mihaly Kertesz, 1921), in which she always starred opposite the Austrian actor Alphons Fryland.

Kertesz excelled in demonstrating his wife’s comic talents, but she also showed she was able to play serious, dramatic roles in Der Stern von Damaskus/The Star of Damascus (Mihaly Kertesz, 1920) and in particular in his monumental super-production Sodom und Gomorrha/Queen of Sin and the Spectacle of Sodom and Gomorrah (Mihaly Kertesz, 1922).

In Der Stern von Damaskus, Doraine played opposite the Hungarian star Iván Petrovich. In Sodom und Gomorrah she played a triple role: Mary Conway, Lot's wife and the Queen of Syria. Her co-stars were Richard Berczeller, Victor Varconi and Walter Slezak.

Lucy Doraine made 10 films with her husband between 1918 and 1923. She became known for her enticing, ‘risqué’ image. Though in the early 1920s Austria had a hard time exporting to the countries that had won the First World War, Vittorio Martinelli indicates that Doraine’s films were ‘Frenched’ to avoid Italian boycots: film titles were made French, if they did not already sound so, like Cherchez la femme!

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 592/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Lucy Doraine Film Ges. m.b.H.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1677/1, 1927-1928.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1129/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1212/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3165/1, 1928-1929. Photo: C.O. Hoppé, London.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3295/1, 1928-1929. Photo: C.O. Hoppé, London.

From Munich to Hollywood


After Lucy Doraine divorced Kertesz in 1923, she moved to Munich. There she worked for the Emelka studio in Opfer der Liebe/Sacrifice for Love (Martin Hartwig, 1923) and for Messter-Ostermayr in Um ein Weibes Ehre/A Wife's Honour (Rudolf Biebrach, 1923) and Gehetzte Menschen/Hunted Men (Erich Schönfelder, 1924) with Johannes Riemann.

Around 1923 she founded in Munich her own company, Lucy Doraine-Film GmbH, for which she produced one film by Rudolf Biebrach, Die suchende Seele/The Searching Soul (1923) and three films directed by Felix Basch: Schicksal/Fate (1924), Finale der Liebe/Love's Finale (1925), Der Mann seiner Frau/His Wife's Husband (1925).

In the meantime, she continued to play in films by other companies such as Messter-Ostermayr, or Eichberg-Film in Der Prinz und die Tänzerin/The Prince and the Dancer (Richard Eichberg, 1926) opposite Hans Albers.

Like so many European actors, Doraine was invited to come to Hollywood, in this case by First National in 1927. German First National had been the distributor of her last two German films Eheskandal im Hause Fromont jun. und Risler sen./Mariage Scandal in the Fromont jr. and Risler Sr. Homes (A.W. Sandberg, 1927) and Alpentragödie/Alp Tragedy (Robert Land, 1927).

However, her American career dwindled down soon when sound film arrived. After supporting roles in the Billy Dove vehicle Adoration (Frank Lloyd, 1928) and the Janet Gaynor vehicle Christina (William K. Howard, 1929), Lucy only was allowed a bit part in Hell’s Angels (Howard Hughes, 1930).

Her last part was a supporting role in Mordprozeß Mary Dugan (Arthur Robison, 1931), the German version of The Trial of Mary Dugan (1931). Hereafter she withdrew from the film business, at the age of 33.

Lucy Doraine  died at the high age of 91 in Los Angeles, in 1989.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 853/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Atelier Balazs, Berlin / Lucy Doraine Film GmbH. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 994/3, 1925-1926. Photo: d'Ora, Vienna.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1212/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1546/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3054/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Balazs, Berlin.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3438/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3438/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Alex Binder.

Lucy Doraine
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4168/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Paramount.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Le dive del silenzio - Italian), IMDb, Wikipedia and Filmportal.de.

05 December 2016

Gisela May (1924-2016)

Last weekend, German actress and singer Gisela May (1924) passed away. May was the first lady of the political song and a German national treasure, famous for her work at Bertolt Brecht's theatre group, the Berliner Ensemble. She was a diseuse (singing actress) in the tradition established by Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich, and expert interpreter of the work of Brecht, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Kurt Tucholsky, and Jacques Brel. She appeared in several DEFA productions and a few international films. Gisela May was 92.

Gisela May
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 1684 1962. Photo: Georg Meyer-Hanno.

Gisela May
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 3318, 1968. Photo: Winkler.


A Hidden Gem


Gisela May was born, in Wetzlar, Germany, in 1924. She was the daughter of author Ferdinand May and actress Käte May. Between 1942 and 1944, May studied at the drama school in Leipzig.

She was employed for nine years at various theatres, including the State Theatre of Schwerin and the State Theatre in Halle. Starting in 1951, she performed at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, Max Reinhardt's former workplace, where she played a variety of roles.

In 1962, May moved to Bertolt Brecht's theatre group, the Berliner Ensemble, and stayed for 30 years. While there she played a variety of roles in Brecht’s plays, including Madame Cabet in Die Tage der Commune/The Days of the Commune, Mrs Peachum in Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera, Mrs Kopecka in Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg/Schweik in the Second World War, and as Mother Courage in Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder/Mother Courage in Mother Courage and Her Children, her most famous role, which she played for 13 years.

She also worked as a ‘diseuse’ with Austrian composer Hanns Eisler on a programme with chansons, political songs and poems. Later she appeared on the Berlin stage in the musicals Hallo Dolly!/Hello Dolly and Cabaret.

Since 1951, Gisela May appeared in dozens of East-German films and TV productions. She made her film debut in the drama Das Beil von Wandsbek/The Axe of Wandsbek (Falk Harnack, 1951), starring Erwin Geschonneck and Käthe Braun. At IMDb, all the reviewers consider this film as a hidden gem. Reviewer Hasosch: “I consider Dr. Falk Harnack's "Das Beil Von Wandsbek", together with "Obchod Na Korze/The Shop On Main Street" by Jan Kadar, and "Der Verlorene" by and with Peter Lorre as a Triptychon of the best World War II movies. (...) This movie belongs without doubt to the greatest rediscoveries in film history. After having watched it, you will not be the same anymore.”

Other interesting DEFA productions with May are the crime film Treffpunkt Aimée/Meeting Point Aimée (Horst Reinecke, 1956), the forbidden film Die Schönste/The Most Beautiful (Walter Beck, 1957/2002) with Manfred Krug, and Eine alte Liebe/An Old Love (Frank Beyer, 1959), in which she played her first leading part in the cinema.

Gisela May
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 329/182, 1956. Photo: DEFA / Kroiss.

Gisela May
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 214/56, 1956. Photo: Georg Meyer-Hanno.


The times are changing


During the 1960s and and 1970s, Gisela May mostly worked for television and the stage. Among her few film appearances was Fleur Lafontaine (Horst Seemann, 1978), in which she played the mother of the title figure played by Angelica Domröse. She also appeared in the Hungarian film Csak egy mozi/Just a movie (Pal Sandor, 1985) with Jean-Pierre Léaud.

Gisela May won many awards for her work during the GDR period, but also afterwards. In 1991 she got the Deutscher Filmpreis in Gold (major German Film Award) for her role as Maika in the film Die Hallo-Sisters (Ottokar Runze, 1990). She shared the award with her co-stars in the film, Harald Juhnke and Ilse Werner. They play a run-down former radio producer and two quarrelsome 1950s stars who try their comeback on nationwide television.

Later films include the Greek production O Tzonys Keln, kyria mou/Johnny Keln, Madam (Thanassis Scroubelos, 1991) and the French-German drama Le silence du Coeur/The silence of the heart (Pierre Aknine, 1994) with Claude Piéplu.

Since 1992, May has free-lanced, often working at Berlin's Renaissance Theatre. May was able to pursue her career as a diseuse on an international basis, touring through Europe, Australia and the United States. She also appeared in 65 episodes of the TV Krimi-comedy Adelheid und ihre Mörder (1993-2007) featuring Evelyn Hamman. Since 2000, she regularly performs the show Gisela May singt und spricht Kurt Weill at the Berliner Ensemble.

In 2002 she was awarded with the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit), the only federal decoration of Germany. That year, she also published her memoir Es wechseln die Zeiten (The times are changing). She also held master classes and workshops in German on Brechtian theatre and cabaret performance. From 1956 till 1965 Gisela May was married to journalist Georg Honigmann and later she lived together with Wolfgang Harich. She passed away on 2 December 2016 in her hometown Berlin.

Gisela May
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 1777, 1962. Photo: Georg Meyer-Hanno.


Gisela May sings Seeräuberjenny/Pirate Jenny from Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera. Source: Vaimusic (YouTube).

Sources: Uncle Dave Lewis (AllMusic), Gisela May homepage (German), Akademie der Künste (German), Marian Buijs (De Volkskrant - Dutch), Wikipedia (German and English), and IMDb.