20 June 2012

Gisela Uhlen

Charming German film actress Gisela Uhlen (1919-2007) appeared in over 60 films, 80 TV productions and more than 100 stage plays. She was an Ufa diva during the Third Reich, moved to East-Germany during the Cold War, and finally became one of the grande dames of the German stage and television.

Gisela Uhlen
Yugoslavian postcard, no. 1191/B. Photo: Ufa.

Gisela Uhlen
German postcard by Film+Foto+Verlag, no. A 3922/1. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Gisela Uhlen was born Gisela Friedlinde Schreck in 1919 in Leipzig, Germany. She was the fourth child of Luise Frieda Schreck née Richter-Wappler and her husband, distillery owner and former opera singer Augustin Schreck. Her uncle was Max Schreck, the legendary vampire Nosferatu of the silent masterpiece Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens/Nosferatu the Vampire (1922, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau). At the Leipziger Konservatorium Gisela enrolled in a modern dance class by Mary Wigman, and learned classical ballet and acrobatics at the opera school. At 15, she decided to become a theatre actress and chose the stage-name Gisela Uhlen. After her final examination as a dancer and during her training period she married ballet teacher Herbert Freund. At 17, she appeared for the first time at the Schauspielhaus Bochum. In 1938 Heinrich George brought her to the Schiller-Theater in Berlin, where she was active until the end of the war. But even before her first stage appearance, she had made film tests for the Ufa (Universum Film AG), and won the leading actress role in Annemarie (1936, Fritz Peter Buch). Uhlen played a young organist whose lover volunteered to go to the Front and died there. Annemarie was a huge popular success, but after the war the film was prohibited. Till the end of the war she starred in more Nazi propaganda films and entertainment films, including Der Tanz auf dem Vulkan/The Dance on the Volcano (1938, Hans Steinhoff) opposite Gustaf Gründgens, Ohm Krüger/Uncle Kruger (1941, Hans Steinhoff) with Emil Jannings, Rembrandt (1942, Hans Steinhoff) as Hendrickje Stoffels, and Die Zaubergeige/The Magical Violin (1944, Herbert Maisch) with Will Quadflieg.

Gisela Uhlen
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3670/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Gisela Uhlen
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 211, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Despite her roles for the Nazi cinema, Gisela Uhlen did not have to interrupt her career after the war and worked on in the theatre. From 1949 she was seen on the screen again in films like Eine große Liebe/A Great Love (1949, Hans Bertram) for which she also cowrote the scenario, Der Fallende Stern/The Falling Star (1950, Harald Braun) with Werner Krauss and Der schweigende Mund/The Silent Mouth (1951, Karl Hartl) with Oskar Homolka. Uhlen made the three generations drama Eine große Liebe/A Great Love together with her then-husband, writer, director and producer Hans Bertram. They had a daughter, Barbara Bertam (1945), who also played a part in the film. During the Cold War, and following her divorce from Bertram, Uhlen fled into East-Germany to avoid a custody battle over their daughter. This was an unusual move in a time when most people were attempting to escape from East-Germany. In East-Berlin she appeared at the Deutschen Theater, and also became a star at the DEFA studio, where she appeared in such films as Das Traumschiff/The Dream Ship (1956, Herbert Ballmann) and Emilia Galotti (1958, Martin Hellberg).

Gisela Uhlen
East-German card by Presse- und Werbedienst des VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 3794 49. Photo: DEFA-Wunsch.

Gisela Uhlen
East-German card. Photo: Defa / Wunsch.

Edgar Wallace Krimis
In 1960 Gisela Uhlen moved to West-Berlin, and started again to work for the Schiller-Theater. During the following decade, she also appeared in three Edgar Wallace Krimis: Die Tür mit den sieben Schlössern/The Door with Seven Locks (1962, Alfred Vohrer), Das indische Tuch/The Indian Scarf (1963, Alfred Vohrer), and Der Bucklige von Soho/The Hunchback of Soho (1965, Alfred Vohrer). She also appeared in productions like Das Mädchen und der Staatsanwalt/The Girl and the Prosecutor (1962, Jürgen Goslar) starring Elke Sommer, the comedy Ferien mit Piroschka/Holiday With Peruschka (1965, Franz Josef Gottlieb) with Marie Versini, the costume picture Le calde notti di Lady Hamilton/Emma Hamilton (1968, Christian-Jacques) starring Michèle Mercier, the farce Dr. med. Fabian – Lachen ist die beste Medizin/Dr. Fabian-Laughing is the Best Medicine (1969, Harald Reinl), and the Erich Kästner adaptation Drei Männer im Schnee/Three Men in the Snow (1974, Alfred Vohrer) with Klaus Schwarzkopf.

Gisela Uhlen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 3081/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Haenchen / Tobis.

Gisela Uhlen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 2989/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Gisela Uhlen
German postcard bt Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3644/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Excentric Grandmother
Gisela Uhlen appeared in two notable films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the comedy Frauen in New York/Women in New York (1977) and Die Ehe der Maria Braun/The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), as Hanna Schygulla’s mother. For this role she was awarded the Bundesfilmpreis, Filmband in Gold in 1979. Since then she often appeared on TV, like in episodes of such Krimis as Derrick (1978-1990) and Tatort (1975-1999), and as the excentric grandmother in the popular family series Forsthaus Falkenau (1989–2006). In 1978 she published the first of her three autobiographies, Mein Glashaus (My Glass House), followed by Meine Droge ist das Leben (My Drug is Life) (1993) and Umarmungen und Enthüllungen (Embraces and Revelations) (2002). In 1991 she also returned to the screen in the award winning Belgian film Toto le héros/Toto the Hero (1991, Jaco Van Dormael). Her last film was the crime comedy Zürich – Transit (1992, Hilde Bechert). Gisela Uhlen died in 2007 in Cologne, Germany. She was married and divorced six times and had several affairs, which caused a lot of publicity in the media. Among her spouses were Herbert Freund, Hans Bertram, actor Wolfgang Kieling, and DEFA-director Herbert Ballmann. With Kieling she had a daughter, Susanne Uhlen (1955), who is now a successful German actress. Gisela Uhlen is the grandmother of Florian and Christopher Steinberger.

Trailer of Die Tür mit den sieben Schlössern/The Door with Seven Locks (1962). Source: R6DW6C (YouTube).

Trailer of Der Bucklige von Soho/The Hunchback of Soho (1965). Source: R6DW6C (YouTube).

Sources: Stephanie D'heil (Steffi-line), Volker Wachter (DEFA-Sternstunden), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), (German), Wikipedia, and IMDb.