03 November 2011

Mabel May-Yong

Bellydancer Mabel May-Yong was popular for her daring Mata Hari-like costumes. With her exotic roles in numerous German films of the early 1920’s, she became the German equivalent of Theda Bara. But soon her star faded.

Mabel May-Yong
German postcard. Photo: Alex Binder. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Postcard collector Didier Hanson sent us these postcards of Mabel May-Yong (thanks, mr. le baron!) and immediately we were fascinated. Who was this creature and where did she come from? You can find other pictures on the net that suggest she was a belly dancer. She appeared on these pictures in exotic and quite revealing costumes, like Salome or Mata Hari. But any details about her whereabouts are absent. Thanks to IMDb we know that she made her film debut in 1919 credited as Mabel May in a South African production (!), the adventure film Allan Quatermain (1919, H. Lisle Lucoque). In this early silent film version of H. Rider Haggard’s legendary novel King Solomon’s Mines she played a character called Nylephtha. Rider was present for a private screening on All Hallow's Even in 1919 and wrote of it in his diary: "It is not at all bad, but it might be a great deal better." No print is known to survive but stills are preserved in a South African film archive. Mabel May’s appearance must have been a success. She probably added then the more exotic sounding ‘Yong’ to her name and continued her cinema career in the metropolis of the European film industry at that time, Berlin.

Mabel May-Yong
German postcard. Photo: Alex Binder. Collection: Didier Hanson.

In 1920 Mabel May-Yong appeared in ten (yes, 10) German and in 1921 in another seven, according to Among these productions were Indische Rache/Indian Revenge (1920, Georg Jacoby, Leo Lasko) with Harry Liedtke, the crime film Das schwarze Boot/The Black Boat (1920, Max Neye) with Ludwig Trautmann, Fasching/Carnival (1921, Frederic Zelnik) starring Lya Mara, and Das Haus der Qualen/The house of the tortures (1921, Carl Wilhelm) with Fritz Kortner. In these films she often played Russian or Oriental women as a German Theda Bara. In Die goldene Mauer/The Golden Wall (1921, Siegfried Dessauer) she co-starred again with Ludwig Trautmann, one of Germany’s first real film stars, who's now sadly forgotten. She also had the lead in the vampire film Was der Totenkopf erzählt/What the skull tells (1921, Bruno Eichgrün) opposie Fritz Kampers. The following year she played parts in four films, including another exotic character called Pula Sibierska in the Nick Carter detective film Frauen, die die Ehe brechen/Women Who Break Marriages (1922, Bruno Eichgrün). After these three busy years, her star quickly faded. In 1923 she made only one more film, Das Kabinett des Dr. Segato/The Cabinet of Dr. Segato (1923, ?) with Theodor Loos, and two years later she had her last film appearance in Entsiegelte Lippen/Unsealed lips (1925, Bruno Eichgrün) again with Fritz Kampers. That's all we could find about her. During her brief film career, Mabel May-Yong had appeared in 24 films.

Do you have more information about Mabel May-Yong? Please share it with us.

Ludwig Trautmann
Ludwig Trautmann. German postcard by Photochemie, no. K. 1594. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Sources: Jessica Amanda Salmonson (The H. Rider Haggard Filmography), and IMDb.

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