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15 September 2012

Fern Andra

In film history, Hollywood often lured away talent from Europe, but there are also examples of the contrary. Like 'modern' American actress Fern Andra (1893 - 1974) who became one of the most popular film stars of the German cinema in the 1910's and early 1920's. In her films she mastered tightroping, riding horse without a saddle, driving cars and motorcycles, bobsleighing, and even boxing.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Neue Photographische Gesellschaft (NPG), no. 1018/6.

Fern Andra
German postcard by NPG, no. G 1018/3.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Deutsche Gaumont-Gesellschaft, Berlin, no. 15. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by NPG, no. G 1019/4.

Fern Andra
German postcard by NPG, no. G 1019/3.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin, no. 2226.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, no. 7132. Photo: Gerlach.

Fern Andra
French postcard by Ed. Cinémagazine, no. 212.

Circus Dancer
Fern Andra was born as Vernal Edna Andrews in Watseka, Illinois, USA, in 1893. After a tour as a circus dancer in Europe she became an outrageous ballerina at the Ragtime Revue in London. In Vienna she became a student of famed director-teacher Max Reinhardt, and appeared in several of his plays and films. In Berlin, French film director Charles Decroix, convinced her to start a career in film. He launched her as André Fern, competing with the leading German stars of those days: Asta Nielsen and Henny Porten. Equipped with her aquiline nose, ephebic little body and malicious eyes, Fern showed in short films like Das Ave Maria/The Ave Maria (1913, Charles Decroix), and Der Stern/The Star (1914, Charles Decroix), that she possessed a completely 'modern' repertory, mastering tightroping, riding horse without a saddle, driving cars, motorcycles, slalom, bobsleighing, even boxing.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Rotophot, Berlin, in the Film Sterne Series, no. 128/3. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 129/4. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier 28.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 142/1. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 151/1. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 513/4. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier. Still from Ernst ist das Leben/Life is Serious (1916, Fern Andra). The actor is probably Fritz Delius. This card was sent to us by Gill4kleuren (Many thanks, Gill!).

Fern Andra in Ein Blatt im Sturm
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 514/4. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier. Fern Andra and (in the back) Alfred Abel in the film Ein Blatt im Sturm... doch das Schicksal hat es verweht (1917, Fern Andra).

Fern Andra in Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 523/5. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier. Fern Andra in Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht (1915, Fern Andra, Kurt Matull).

Fern Andra in Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 523/6. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier. Publicity still of Fern Andra in Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht (1915, Fern Andra, Kurt Matull).

Fern Andra in Frühlingsstürme im Herbste des Lebens
German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 558/2. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier. Still from Frühlingsstürme im Herbste des Lebens (1918, Fern Andra).

Victims of Cruel Events
After 4 or 5 of these films, André Fern left audiences breathless over so much defiance. She changed her name definitely into Fern Andra and started her own company, even directing her own films. Right during the First World War, Fern made one film after another, always about women who are victims of cruel events but who are also determined to settle matters. These films included Eine Motte floh zum Licht/A Moth Flew To The Light (1915, Fern Andra), and Drohende Wolken am Firmament/Threatening Clouds in the Sky (1918, Fern Andra). Moonlight romance, theaters burning down, and luxurious parties in aristocratic milieux. Unfortunately most of these films were never exported because of the war, and most are lost now.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 185/4. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin. Photo: Fern-Andra-Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 286/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 288/2, 1919-1924. Fern Andra Atelier. Caption: Fern Andra in ihrem Heim (Fern Andra at her home).

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 385/5, 1919-1924. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 430/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 430/5,1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder. Click double for a better view.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 446/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 447/1, 1919-1924. Photo Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 447/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 447/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 530/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Mysterious Priest
In the early 1920's, Fern Andra's films became more sophisticated. She left direction to directors such as Robert Wiene. He directed her in Genuine (1920, Robert Wiene), probably her best interpretation. Her costumes in this film, especially designed for her by painter Cesar Klein, turned her mysterious priest of some cult into one of the most stylized characters of German expressionism. After a role as a femme fatale opposite the Italian apache Za-la-Mort ,Emilio Ghione, in Der Traum der Za-la-Vie/The Dream of Za-la-Vie (1924, Emilio Ghione), she said farewell to the German cinema with Frauen der Leidenschaft/Women of Passion (1926, Rolf Randolf). Fern Andra married a boxer, went to London to do a few more films, and then moved to Hollywood, where she retired after making only two films. She was married four times; the fourth time with film actor Ian Keith.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 530/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Atelier Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 530/5, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 530/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 445/1 gr., 1919-1924 Photo: Alex Binder.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 982/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 985/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Fern Andra
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1288/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Fern Andra
German postcard. Ross Verlag, no. 3721/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Schneider, Berlin.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Le dive del silenzio) (Italian), Wikipedia and IMDb.