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03 August 2012

Lil Dagover

German, Dutch born film actress Lil Dagover (1887 - 1980) was an exotic, dark beauty, who featured prominently during the golden age of the German silent cinema. She had her breakthrough as the prey of Dr. Caligari's monster in the classic expressionist film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920). Gradually her fine and evanescent beauty changed and she turned into a ´Salondame´, a lady of the screen. Her career would span nearly six decades.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 392/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Atelier Rembrandt, Berlin.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 905/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 5424/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Lola - Kreutzberg - Film.

Victimized heroine
Lil Dagover was born as Maria Antonia Siegelinde Martha Lilitt Seubert in Madiun on the island of Java in the Dutch West Indies (now Indonesia) in 1887 (some sources say 1894 or 1897). She was the daughter of a forest ranger in the service of the Dutch colonial authorities. From the age of 10, she was educated in Baden-Baden, Germany. She made her film debut in 1913 as a snake dancer in Schlangentanz/Snake Dance, a documentary by Louis Held. Although she never got acting lessons she played parts in Die Retterin/The Saviour (1916, Christa Christensen), Lebendig tot/Living Dead (1918, Alwin Neuss) and Die Maske/The Mask (1919, Ewald André Dupont). In 1917 she married actor Fritz Daghofer, who was 25 years her senior. He introduced her to the directors Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang. The couple would divorce in 1919 and the union produced a daughter, Eva Marie, born the year of the divorce. Lil kept her husband's surname, but slightly changed it to Dagover. Her career gathered speed with Die Spinnen/The Spiders (1919-1920, Fritz Lang) and Harakiri (1919, Fritz Lang). In the latter film she already impersonated the fine lady which she usually played in her future films. Next she appeared in the classic expressionist film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene). In this film, her jet-black hair, parted in the middle and flattened to the shape of her head, her long, white face, and her huge, expressive eyes all served to create the archetypical, victimized heroine of the expressionist melodramas. For Fritz Lang she played in two more masterpieces, Der müde Tod/Between Two Worlds (1921, Fritz Lang), as a woman begging Death to hand her lover back, and Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler - Ein Bild der Zeit/Dr. Mabuse: the Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang). She also appeared in two silent classics by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Phantom/The Phantom (1922, F.W. Murnau) with Alfred Abel, and Tartüff/Tartuffe (1925, F.W. Murnau), with Emil Jannings, and in Zur Chronik von Grieshuus/At the Grey House (1925, Arthur von Gerlach).

Lil Dagover
Spanish postcard by La Novela Semanal Cinematografica, no. 353.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 392/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Atelier Rembrandt.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 890/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Decla-Ufa-Film.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 2007/2, 1927-1928.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1470/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Angelo Photos.

Salondame
In 1925 Lil Dagover made her stage debut under the direction of Max Reinhardt. In the following years she played in Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theater in Berlin and also at the Salzburg Festival. Apart from trips to Sweden, France and Hollywood, most of her career and fate was linked to that of the German cinema. Initially her role was that of the frail, menaced heroine, but gradually her fine and evanescent beauty changed over time. Film historian Vittorio Martinelli describes in Cinegrafie that "her face became calmer, her figure acquired a harmonious and restful opulence which, together with the natural elegance of her bearing and the constant accuracy of her style of dressing, turned her into a ´Salondame´, a lady of the screen." In 1926 she married producer Georg Witt, who produced many of her following films. Roles in Die Brüder Schellenberg/The Brothers Schellenberg (1926, Karl Grune) opposite Conrad Veidt, Der geheime Kurier/The Secret Courier (1928, Gennaro Righelli) with Ivan Mozzhukhin and Ungarische Rhapsodie/Hungarian Rhapsody (1928, Hanns Schwarz) with Willy Fritsch, were well suited to her new allure. With her theatre experience, she easily survived the coming of sound. Her deep voice went down well in such films as the popular operetta Der Kongreß tanzt/The Congress Dances (1931, Erik Charell). She also visited Hollywood where she appeared in The Woman from Monte Carlo (1931, Michael Curtiz).

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 4027/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Mahrenholz, Berlin.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5706/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 5249/2, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Binder.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 6777/1, 1931-1932 . Photo: Atelier Schenker, Berlin. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 6312/1, 1931-1932 . Photo: Elmer Fry.

War Merits Cross
Reportedly Lil Dagover was a close friend of Adolph Hitler. She avoided overt political involvement and generally appeared in popular costume musicals and comedies during World War II. However, she acted at forces shows and at war theatres and in 1944 she received the War Merits Cross. During the Nazi era she starred in films like the Oscar Wilde adaptation Lady Windermeres Fächer/Lady Windermere's Fan (1935, Heinz Hilpert), Der Höhere Befehl/The Higher Command (1935, Gerhard Lamprecht), Schlussakkord/Final Accord (1936, Detlev Sierck (Douglas Sirk)), the first (short) German colour film Das Schönheitsfleckchen/The Little Beauty Mark (1936, Rolf Hansen), Kreutzersonate/The Kreutzer Sonata (1937, Veit Harlan) and Bismarck (1940, Wolfgang Liebeneiner). She easily continued her career in post-war Germany and acted occasionally on stage and television. She played ‘age parts’ in films like Vom Teufel gejagt/Hunted by the Devil (1950, Victor Tourjansky), Rosen im Herbst/Roses in Autumn (1955, Rudolf Jugert), Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull/Confessions of Felix Krull (1957, Kurt Hoffmann) and Buddenbrooks/The Buddenbrooks (1959, Alfred Weidenmann), an adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel with Liselotte Pulver. A great succès d'estime was her role as an eccentric old woman in the Edgar Wallace adaptation Die seltsame Gräfin/The Strange Countess (1961, Josef von Báky). The last highlights of the ‘Grande Dame’ comprised the Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winner for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film of 1974 - Der Fusssgänger/The Pedestrian (1973, Maximilian Schell), Karl May (1974, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg), the crime-drama Der Richter und sein Henker/Getting Away with Murder (1975, Maximilian Schell) with Donald Sutherland, and Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald/Tales from the Vienna Woods (1979, Maximilian Schell). Her film career had lasted over half a century and she won many awards including the Bundesfilmpreis in 1954 and the Filmband in Gold in 1962. She justly titled her memoirs as Ich war die Dame (I was the Lady) in 1979. Lil Dagover died in 1980, in Munich, Germany at the age of 92.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 7084/1, 1932-1933. Photo: Atelier Kiesel, Berlin.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8753/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Atelier Schenker, Berlin.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3427/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3920/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Terra Film.

Lil Dagover
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3735/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Portraits of Ladies in Cinegrafie 12: Divine Apparitions), Hans Michael Bock (Filmportal.de) (German), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Filmreference.com, Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.

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