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 1920s, 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 was born as Mabel May Trezise in 1883 in Moonta, Australia

Credited as Mabel May, she (probably) made her film debut in a South African production (!), the adventure film Allan Quatermain (H. Lisle Lucoque, 1919) featuring Hal Lawrence. In this early silent film version of H. Rider Haggard’s legendary novel King Solomon’s Mines she played the Queen 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.


As May de Yong, she appeared in two German silent films, Um die Liebe des Dompteurs/For the love of the trainer (Karl Heiland, 1918) about a drama in circus Sarasani, and Der Diplomatensäugling/The diplomat's infant (Erich Schönfelder, 1919) starring Paul Heidemann. If she made these films before or after the South African production is unclear.

In 1920 Mabel May-Yong played in ten (yes, 10!) German films and in 1921 in another seven, according to Filmportal.de. According to IMDb she made a still impressive 8 films in 1920 and 7 films in 1921.

Among these productions were Indische Rache/Indian Revenge (Georg Jacoby, Leo Lasko, 1920) with Harry Liedtke, the crime film Das schwarze Boot/The Black Boat (Max Neye, 1920) with Ludwig Trautmann, Fasching/Carnival (Frederic Zelnik, 1921) starring Lya Mara, and Das Haus der Qualen/The house of the tortures (Carl Wilhelm, 1921) 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 (Siegfried Dessauer, 1921) 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 (Bruno Eichgrün, 1921) opposite 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 (Bruno Eichgrün, 1922).

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 (Bruno Eichgrün, 1925) again with Fritz Kampers.

 During her brief film career, Mabel May-Yong had appeared in 24 films. According to IMDb, Mabel May Yong died in 1945 at the age of 62.

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

Sources: Jessica Amanda Salmonson (The H. Rider Haggard Filmography), Stephanie D'heil (Steefi-line - German),  Filmportal.de, The Cabinet Card GalleryWikipedia and IMDb.

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