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28 June 2012

Olaf Fönss

Il cinema Ritrovata 2012

Since 2003 Il Cinema Ritrovato screens each year films from exactly one hundred years ago – an experimental project that offers a new history of early cinema, a period as dynamic as it is unknown. From 1912 the festival shows several great ‘rediscovered’ gems. Maybe Bryggerens datter/The Brewer's Daughter (1912, Rasmus Ottesen) is included in the program. This Danish production was written by Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Olaf Fönss (1882 - 1949), one of Denmark and Germany's biggest stars of the silent film era. He also worked as a film director, producer and censor.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9667. Photo: Deutsche Bioscop Geselsschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9668. Photo: Deutsche Bioscop Geselsschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9182. Photo: Deutsche Bioscop Geselsschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Olaf Fönss in Homunculus
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9184. Photo: Deutsche Bioscop Geselsschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9185. Photo: Deutsche Bioscop Geselsschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Olaf Fönss as Homunculus
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9186. Photo: Deutsche Bioscop Geselsschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Olaf Fönss as Homunculus
German postcard by Verleih Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 9151. Photo Deutsche Bioscop Gesellschaft. Publicity still for Homunculus, 1. Teil/Homunculus (1916).

Homunculus
Olaf Holger Axel Fønss was born in Århus, Denmark in 1882. He was the son of school administrator and organist William Lars Clement Fønss and wife Henriette Volffine Mathea Fønss-Zimmermann, and he was the older brother of actors Johannes and Aage Fønss. At 17, Olaf Fönss ran away from home and moved to Copenhagen become an actor. He had his stage debut in 1903 at the Dagmarteatretin Cogenhagen. He started his film career in 1912 with the short silent films Dødsridtet/The Leap to Death (1912, Rasmus Ottesen) and Bryggerens datter/The Brewer's Daughter (1912, Rasmus Ottesen), both written by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Denmark was a world power in the international film business in the 1919's and the most important studio was Nordisk Film. In the spring of 1913 Fönss came to Nordisk, where he would play the lead role in 30 films. His leading role in the Nordisk production Atlantis (1913, August Blom) made his face recognizable to international film fans. The story, influenced by the Titanic tale, was filmed off the coast of New Zealand, and with its 1 hour and 53 minute running time it was one of the first full-length films ever made. At IMDb, Trent Bolden writes: "The film was hailed as an impressive achievement for the cinema of 1913, especially for the sinking liner sequence that was influenced by the Titanic disaster. It was also one of the most popular films of the silent decades, and a worldwide smash hit". He also worked with director A.W. Sandberg at Cowboymillionæren/The Cowboy Millionair (1915) with Else Frölich. In 1915 Fönss tried his luck in Germany. There he was offered the role of the mad-scientist/monster in the Homunculus film series, written by Robert Reinert and directed by Otto Rippert. Homunculus is an artificial creature made in a lab. After discovering he has no soul, he takes his revenge on mankind. The first part was released in 1916, with enormous success. The series earned Fönss the status of a top matinee idol in Europe. However, in spite of the serial's success, Fönss did not stay in Berlin.

Olaf Fønss
 German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 5348. Unclear is for which film this picture was made. Probably it is a publicity still for a stage production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 1884.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 3088.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 5303.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 404/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 404/5, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Olaf Fönss
 German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4079/1, 1929-1930.

Called Back
Olaf Fönss was called back to Copenhagen after Danish star Valdemar Psilander had committed suicide. He was engaged as the new artistic director of the Psilander-Film company. He also reunited with August Blom for the Sci-Fi drama Verdens undergang/The End of the World (1916, August Blom). Other films were Du skal ære/Thou Shall Honour (1918, Fritz Magnussen) with Gudrun Brun, Hævneren (1918) - also his first film as a director, Lægen/The Plague (1918, Fritz Magnussen) and Bajadser/Bajazzo (1919, Fritz Magnussen). During the early 1920's he returned to Germany and starred in such box office hits as Das Indische Grabmal/The Indian Tomb (1921, Joe May) opposite Mia May and Conrad Veidt. He also worked with famous director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau at Der Gang in die Nacht/Journey Into the Night (1921, F.W. Murnau) starring Erna Morena. In 1925 he starred opposite Evelyn Holt in the Jane Eyre adaptation Die Waise von Lowood/The Orphan of Lowood (1926, Kurt aka Curtis Bernhardt). In his later years, Fønss became politically active by directing two films for Denmark's Socialdemokratiske Parti (Social Democratic Party). He was president of the Dansk Skuespillerforbund (Danish Actor's Union) from 1933 till 1947 and was a censor for Statens Filmcensur (the National Film Censor of Denmark) for 14 years. Olaf Fönss died in 1949 in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the age of 66. He was married twice, to actress Thilda Elisabeth Lilja Johnsen and to Else Dorthea Bast. He was the father of author Pallet Fønss (1915 - 1962) and actress Tove Fønss (1920 - 1941).

Olaf Fønss, Johanne Dybwad and Rasmus Christiansen in Der Weibsteufel
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 3127.

Olaf Fønss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 3128. Olaf Fønss in the Danish film Praesten fra havet (1918, Fritz Magnussen), released in Germany as Der Pfarrer am Meer (The Priest at the Sea).

Olaf Fönss in Der Pfarrer am Meere
German postcard by Verleih Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 5018. Olaf Fønss and Gudrun Brunn in the Danish film Praesten fra havet (1918, Fritz Magnussen), released in Germany as Der Pfarrer am Meer (The Priest at the Sea).

Olaf Fønss
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 3134. Photo: probably a publicity still for the Danish film Du skal aere (1918, Fritz Magnussen). The German title on the postcard, Die Ehre seiner Schwestern, translates as The Honour of his Sister. The Danish title means: Thou Shall Honour.

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Verlag Herm. Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 5406. Photo: publicity still for Laegen/Die Seuche/The Plague (1918, Fritz Magnussen).

Olaf Fönss in Die Seuche
German postcard by Verlag Herm. Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 5000. Photo: publicity still for Laegen/Die Seuche/The Plague (1918, Fritz Magnussen).

Olaf Fönss
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 595/6, 1919-1924. Photo: publicity stll for Bajadser/Armer Bajazzo/Bajazzo (1919, Fritz Magnussen).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Trent Bolden (IMDb), Danskefilm.dk (Danish), Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Idol lash said...

Olaf Fönss (1882 – 1949) was one of Denmark and Germany's biggest stars of the silent film era. He also worked as a film director, producer and censor.