31 December 2012

Lina Cavalieri

Around 1900, Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri (1874 - 1944) was considered the most beautiful woman on earth and one of the queens of the Belle Époque. In the 1910's, she became a popular film star in Italian, French and American films.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 1188. Sent by mail in 1906. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 1188. Sent by mail in 1905. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard, no. 1188. Sent by mail in 1906. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Hour-glass Figure
Lina Cavalieri was born Natalina Cavalieri into poverty in a slum in Viterbo, Italy, in 1875. She first sold flowers on the streets of Rome, then packed copies of one of the local newspapers. At the age of thirteen she made her first appearances in a café chantant in Rome's Piazza Navona, where, after her performances, she took round a hat for donations. She lost her parents at the age of fifteen and became a ward of the state, sent to live in a Roman Catholic orphanage. Unhappy under the strict raising of the nuns, she ran from the orphanage with a theatre group. Blessed with a good singing voice and stunning good looks, she made a career as a vaudeville singer. At the Folies Bergère in Paris, she came to rank with Cécile Sorel and Caroline Otero as one of the queens of the Belle Époque, and the management quickly renewed her contact. In 1897 she triumphed at London's Empire Theatre, and later also in St. Petersburg.In 1900, she made her opera debut in Lisbon, Portugal, as Nedda in Pagliacci. That same year she married her first husband, the Russian Prince Alexandre Bariatinsky. In 1904, she sang at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. A year later, Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso in Fedora at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris. From there, she and Caruso took the opera to New York City, debuting with it at the Metropolitan Opera on 5 December 1906. According to IMDb, Cavalieri became so carried away with Caruso that she once kissed him passionately on stage. Cavalieri remained with the Metropolitan Opera for the next two seasons, performing again with Caruso in 1907, in Puccini's Manon Lescaut. She became one of the most photographed stars of her time, and was frequently referred to as the 'world's most beautiful woman'. Cavalieri was famous for her hour-glass figure, visible in photographs and portraits by Cesare Tallone , Giovanni Boldini and Reutlinger. During the 1909–1910 season she sang with Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company. Her first marriage long over, she had a whirlwind romance and marriage with Robert Winthrop Chanler, a member of New York's prominent Astor family. However, this marriage lasted only a very short time

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 180/1. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by S.I.P., 50th series, no. 4. Sent by mail in 1908. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 188/9. Sent by mail in 1906. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by S.I.P., 50th series [?]. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris. Signed 30 January 1906.

Presumed Lost
Back in Europe, Lina Cavalieri married French tenor Lucien Muratore in 1913. She withdrew from the stage and started a career in the cinema. In Greta Britain she appeared in Manon Lescaut (1914, Herbert Hall Winslow) opposite her husband. It was the first feature-length (four reels) adaptation of Abbe Prevosts tragic novel Manon Lescaut. From 1915 on, she appeared in Italy in the films La sposa della morte/The Bride of Death (1915) and La rosa di Granada/The Rose of Granada (1916), both directed by Emilio Ghione. She returned to the United States, where she appeared in the melodrama The Eternal Tempress (1917, Emile Chautard), Love's Conquest (1918, Edward José), A Woman of Impulse (1918, Edward José), and The Two Brides (1919, Edward José) for Famous Players-Lasky. In these films Cavalieri was already in her forties. Hans J. Wollstein comments at AllMovie: "Unlike (opera diva Geraldine) Farrar, Cavalieri proved rather too theatrical for what really was an intimate medium." Most of her films are presumed lost now, but her recorded voice remains. La Cavalieri's discography is slim though. In 1910, for Columbia, she recorded famous arias, as well as the song, Maria, Marì! In 1917, for Pathé, the soprano recorded Le rêve passé (The Dream Passed), with Lucien Muratore. Married for the fourth time to Paolo d’Arvanni, Cavalieri returned to live with her husband in Italy. During the Second World War, she worked as a volunteer nurse. In 1944, she was killed in an Allied bombing raid which destroyed her home near Florence. Lina Cavalieri was immortalised in an Italian biopic dedicated to her life: La donna più bella del mondo/The Most Beautiful Woman in the World (1955) starring Gina Lollobrigida. In 2004, a book was published, Lina Cavalieri: The Life of Opera’s Greatest Beauty, 1874–1944, written by Paul Fryer and Olga Usova.

Lina Cavalieri
Italian postcard and photo by Alterocca, Terni, no. 1750. Virgilio Alterocca (1853 - 1910) founded the first company for illustrated and photographic cards in Italy. He already founded a typographic company in 1877 working for newspapers and producing posters, but around 1896, thanks to modernising techniques in phototypography from Germany and Switzerland, he was able to make a booming business with photographic cards.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by RPH, Paris, no. 5001. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Lina Cavalieri
French postcard by F.C. & Cie, no. 21. Photo: A. Bert. Signed 22-3-1912.

Lina Cavalieri by Cesare Tallone
Ritratto di Lina Cavallieri, 1905. Painting by Cesare Tallone. Courtesy Gigliola Tallone.


Hear Lina sing the song Maria, Marì! (1910). Source: peppopb (YouTube).

Sources: Michael E. Henstock (Opera Quarterly), Hans J. Wollstein (AllMovie), Wikipedia, Terniweb.it and IMDb.

30 December 2012

Carola Höhn

German actress Carola Höhn (1910 - 2005) had a 60 years lasting film career. She began as the elegant star of many Ufa productions and later became the acclaimed Grande Dame of the German post-war cinema.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 174, ca. 1941-1944. Photo: Ciolfi, Rome.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A 3956/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Haenchen.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. 9941/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Hämmerer / Ufa.

Sissi
Carola Höhn was born as Karoline Minna Höhn in Geestemünde (now Bremerhaven), Germany, in 1910. At the end of the 1920’s she went to Berlin, where she received acting lessons from Julia Serda and Hans Junkermann. In 1933 she made her stage debut at the Berlin Schlosstheater. Five years earlier she already had had her first contacts with the film business when she played minor parts in silent films like Die Wochenendbraut/The Weekend Bride (1928, Georg Jacoby), Aus dem Tagebuch eines Junggesellen/From the Diary of a Bachelor (1928, Erich Schönfelder) starring Reinhold Schünzel, and the Russian-German divorce drama Zhivoy trup/The Living Corpse (1929, Fyodor Otsep). Her film career really took off with the romance Ferien vom Ich/Holiday Drom Myself (1934, Hans Deppe). She became a popular Ufa star with roles in films like Einmal eine grosse Dame sein/Once a Great Lady (1934, Gerhard Lamprecht), Charleys Tante/Charley's Aunt (1934, Robert A. Stemmle), and Der alte und der junge König/The Old and the Young King (1935, Hans Steinhoff). In Königswalzer/The Royal Waltz (1935, Herbert Maisch) she played Sissi, the iconic Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Next she was seen in the operetta Der Bettelstudent/The Beggar Student (1936, Georg Jacoby) and the Zarah Leander melodrama Zu neuen Ufern/To New Shores (1937, Detlev Sierck a.k.a. Douglas Sirk). Opposite Heinz Rühmann she starred in the comedy Hurra, ich bin Papa!/Hurrah! I am a Papa (1939, Kurt Hoffmann). During wartime, she continued her film career in light entertainment like Die lustigen Vagabunden/The Funny Vagrants (1940, Jürgen von Alten) with Johannes Heesters, Sonntagskinder/Sunday Children (1941, Jürgen von Alten), Mamma (1941, Guido Brignone) with Beniamino Gigli, and Warum lügst Du, Elisabeth?/Why Do You Lie, Elisabeth? (1944, Fritz Kirchhoff). In 1941 she married a major of the Luftwaffe, Arved Krüger. He was shot during action above Malta in 1942. Their son Arved-Michael was born later that year.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3880/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3880/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A 3370/2, 1941-1944. Photo: K.L. Haenchen.

True Trouper
After the war Carola Höhn first gained a foothold at the theater and gave guest performances in Berlin, Vienna, Munich and Bremen. She also dubbed films and lent her voice to stars like Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Danielle Darrieux. Her first post-war film was the drama Du bist nicht allein/You're Not Alone (1949, Paul Verhoeven). Another popular film was Toxi (1952, Robert A. Stemmle). She was seen in successful Heimatfilms like Heideschulmeister Uwe Karsten/Eternal Love (1954, Hans Deppe) as the mother of Barbara Rütting, and Johannisnacht/Midsummer Night (1956, Harald Reinl). During the following demise of the popular German cinema the elegant Grande Dame played on as a true trouper in brainless and increasingly tasteless comedies, including a remake of the transvestite comedy Viktor und Viktoria/Viktor and Viktoria (1957, Karl Anton), the Rex Gildo vehicle Appartementzauber/Apartment Enchantment (1963, Helmuth M. Backhaus), Pepe, der Paukerschreck/Pepe: His Teacher's Fright (1969, Harald Reinl) and the softcore sexfilm Graf Porno und die liebesdurstigen Töchter/Count Porn and His Love Thirsty Daughters (1969, Günther Hendel). Her activities dropped off in the 1970's. She played parts in the popular TV-krimi Derrick (1977-1980) and in the Hollywood production Nightcrossing (1981, Delbert Mann). The comedy Schloss Königswald/Castle Königswald (1988, Peter Schamoni) was a tribute to her and colleague stars of the Ufa like Marianne Hoppe, Camilla Horn and Marika Rökk. Together, the actresses were awarded the Bavarian Film Prize for Best Actress. In 1990, Carola Höhn was also honored with the Filmband in Gold for her contributions to the German film over the years, and in 1999 she received the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (Germany's Cross of Merit). Beside her acting jobs, she ran a fashion store and wrote articles for Film und Frau magazine. Carola Höhn died in 2005 at the age of 95 years in a nursing home in Grünwald near Munich. Her second marriage was to Gerd Lange from 1966 till his death in 1991.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 174, 1941-1944. Photo: Ciolfi, Rome.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3735/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Ciolfi.

Carola Höhn
German postcard by Ross Verlag. Photo: Tobis / Lindner.

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

29 December 2012

Gerry Anderson (1929 - 2012)

Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson passed away on 26 December 2012. His puppet adventures thrilled millions of children across the world.

Gerry Anderson (1929 - 2012)
Thunderbirds, Jeff Tracy. Dutch postcard by Vita Nova, Schiedam, no. B/10/41. Photo: A.P. Films, London / Coliseum, London, 1965. Caption: Startplaats Thunderbird 1 met Jeff Tracy (Launch bay Thunderbird 1, with Jeff Tracy).

Gerry Anderson (1929 - 2012)
Thunderbird 3, Alan. Dutch postcard by Vita Nova, Schiedam, no. B/10/41. Sent by mail in 1967. Photo: A.P. Films, London / Coliseum, London, 1965. Caption: Thunderbird 3 met piloot Alan Tracy (Thunderbird 3, with pilot Alan Tracy).

Strings Attached
British producer and writer Gerry Anderson(1929 - 2012) was responsible for some of the most instantly recognisable characters and series ever made for television. Never mind that most of his creations came with strings attached (quite literally), shows like Thunderbirds (1965-1966; 2004), Stingray (1964-1965; ) and Captain Scarlet (1967-1968; 2005) remain timeless, delighting and inspiring generation upon generation of children. Anderson once received a thank you letter from a scientist working for Nasa whose imagination was fired as a child watching one of his shows.

Gerry Anderson (1929 - 2012)
Thunderbird 2, Virgil. Dutch postcard by Vita Nova, Schiedam, no. B/10/41. Sent by mail in 1966. Photo: A.P. Films, London / Coliseum, London, 1965. Caption: Thunderbird 2 met piloot Virgil Tracy (Thunderbird 2, with pilot Virgil Tracy).

Gerry Anderson (1929 - 2012)
Thunderbird 5, John. Dutch postcard by Vita Nova, Schiedam, no. B/10/41. Sent by mail in 1967. Photo: A.P. Films, London / Coliseum, London.

Daring Rescues
Thunderbirds tells about the adventures of millionaire Jeff Tracey’s sons – Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John (all named after American astronauts) and their daring rescues of people in peril. The TV series was an instant phenomenon. Sold to 66 countries the show earned Anderson the Royal Television Society silver medal for outstanding artistic achievement. As for its enduring cult appeal, winning over successive generations of fans, Anderson was clear: “Thunderbirds gives kids what they want – death and destruction – and yet the underlying story is about saving life, not destroying it.” In 1966 a feature film, Thunderbirds Are GO (1966, David Lane) reached the cinemas. It was followed up by Thunderbirds 6 (1968, David Lane). Anderson and his wife Sylvia Anderson were the writers and producers of these films.

Gerry Anderson (1929 - 2012)
Captain Scarlet. Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam. Photo: Century 21 Ltd, 1968.

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons - Captain Black and the Spectrum
Captain Black and the Spectrum. Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam. Sent by mail in 1976. Photo: Century 21Ltd., 1968. Publicity picture for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Pictured here are Captain Black and the Spectrum.

Source: Robert Sellers (The Independent) and IMDb.

27 December 2012

Suzy Vernon

Suzy Vernon (1901 - 1997) was a popular leading lady in French and German films of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The French film star worked with some of her era's best directors.

Suzy Vernon
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4442/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Manuel Frères, Paris.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 1028. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Miche (1932).

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by Europe, no. 1105. Photo: Paramount.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 109. Photo: Paramount.

Napoleon
Suzy Vernon was born as Appollinie Paris in Nice, France, in 1901. She made her film debut in La Conquête des Gaules/The Conquest of the Gauls (1922, Marcel Jonnet, Jan B. Dyl) based on the book Commentaries on the Gallic War by Gaius Julius Caesar. Famous Belgian director Jacques Feyder gave her a part in his film Das Bildnis/L’image (1923, Jacques Feyder). She also appeared as the mother of Jean Forest in Feyder’s realistic mountain drama Visages d'enfants/Children’s Faces (1925, Jacques Feyder). In 1988, the Belgian Film Archive released a restored print of this classic film. Feyder had a considerable influence on European filmmaking. His films were noteworthy for their introduction of Poetic Realism, a style which eventually became a cinematic movement. Suzy Vernon next appeared in Napoléon (1927, Abel Gance), a silent, historical epic of 235 minutes. It was the chef d'oeuvre of legendary French filmmaker Abel Gance, who intended it as the first installment in a multipart film study of the French military hero. Napoléon was largely designed as a showcase for the revolutionary Polyvision process, which utilized multiple images for dramatic effect. In Germany, Vernon appeared with Nils Asther in Gauner in Frack/Crooks in Tails (1927, Manfred Noa) and next to Willy Fritsch in Der Letzte Walzer/The Last Waltz (1927, Arthur Robison), based on the same-named operetta by Oscar Strauss - minus the musical score. She costarred with celebrated Russian actor Ivan Mozzhukhin in the melodrama Der Präsident/The President (1928, Gennaro Righelli), and she costarred with the Italian diva Francesca Bertini in Tu M'Appartiens/You Belong to Me (1929, Maurice Gleize). Her last silent production was the German detective film Das grüne Monokel/The Green Monocle (1929, Rudolf Meinert) with Ralph Cancy (sometimes written as Clancy) as detective Stuart Webbs.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 54. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 905. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 47.

Alternative Language Versions in Hollywood
After the sound film arrived, Suzy Vernon went to the USA. There she appeared in some French language versions of Hollywood productions. For First National she played in Le masque d'Hollywood/Woman Hunter (1930, Clarence G. Badger, John (Jean) Daumery), an alternative language version of Show Girl in Hollywood (1930). She also played the female lead opposite Daniel Mendaille in Contre-Enquete/Cross Investigation (1930, Jean (John) Daumery). This was one of three different versions of the George Kibbe Turner gangster novel Those Who Dance, each filmed in a different language. The English version starred Monte Blue and Lila Lee; and the German version, Der Tanz Geht Weiter top-billed Wilhelm (William) Dieterle and Lissi Arna. Vernon also appeared in the English language white slavery melodrama Girls for Sale! (1930, Bud Pollard) with Vivian Gibson. Another early talkie was Le Chanteur de Seville (1930, Yvan Noé, Ramon Novarro), the French-language version of the Technicolor MGM musical drama Call of the Flesh. Silent Superstar Ramon Novarro repeated his role as Juan, a young aspiring singer who is advised that he will never achieve greatness until his heart is broken. Though the original Call of the Flesh was directed by Charles J. Brabin, the French version was helmed by Novarro, who, according to Hal Erickson at AllMovie “did a commendable job”.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by Editions Chantal, Paris, no. 36.

Suzy Vernon
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3291/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Ufa.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 614. Photo: Paramount.

International Shooting Locations
For her next films, Suzy Vernon traveled to other international locations. La Femme de Mes Reves/My Dream Woman (1931, Jean Bertin) with Roland Toutain was filmed in Berlin. It was also simultaneously filmed in a German-language version, Eine Nacht im Grandhotel (1931). Miraculously, both versions came in for a combined cost of only $100,000. Filmed in North Africa was the Foreign Legion melodrama Le Sergent X (1932, Vladimir Strizhevsky), in which she again costarred with Ivan Mozzhukhin. The romantic comedy Miche (1932, Jean de Marguenat) was purportedly set in Switzerland, but filmed at Paramount's French studios in Joinville. She starred for director Jacques Tourneur in the romantic comedy Pour être aimé/For Being Loved (1933) with Pierre Richard-Willm. One of her last major films was the anecdotal seriocomedy Un homme en or/A Man and His Wife (1934, Jean Dréville) with Harry Baur. In 1940 after some incidental smaller roles in the late 1930’s she retired from the film business. She was married to Ralph de Leon. After their divorce, she married a Lebanese doctor. In 1958 she followed her husband to Lebanon, and nobody, not even her family got any news from her. Suzy Vernon seemed to have disappeared, but it is known that she died in 1997 in Moulins, France.

Suzy Vernon
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1914/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Suzy Vernon
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7428/1, 1932-1933. Photo: Studio Piaz, Paris.

Suzy Vernon
French postcard by Europe, no. 62. Photo: Paramount.

Sources: Céline Colassin (CinéArtistes) (French), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, AllMovie and IMDb.

25 December 2012

Asta Nielsen

Danish actress Asta Nielsen (1881-1972) was one of first superstars of the silent screen. Of her 74 films between 1910 and 1932, seventy were made in Germany where she was known simply as Die Asta. Noted for her large dark eyes, mask-like face and boyish figure, Nielsen most often portrayed strong-willed, passionate women trapped by tragic consequences.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Verlag Herm. Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 3047.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 470/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Becker & Maass, Berlin.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 406/4. 1919-1924. Photo: Becker & Maass.

Unique Physical Attraction
Asta Sofie Amalie Nielsen was born in the Copenhagen suburb of Vesterbro, Denmark, in 1881. She was the daughter of an often unemployed blacksmith and a washerwoman. Nielsen's family moved several times during her childhood while her father sought employment. When she was fourteen years old, her father died. Asta's stage debut came as a child in the chorus of the Kongelige Teater's production of Boito's opera Mephistopheles. At the age of eighteen, Nielsen was accepted into the drama school of the Royal Danish Theatre. During her time there, she studied with the Royal Danish actor Peter Jerndorff. In 1901, twenty years old, she became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter, Jesta. Nielsen never revealed the identity of the father, and chose to raise her child alone with the help of her mother and older sister. In 1902 she graduated from drama school. For the next three years she worked at the Dagmar Theatre, then toured in Norway and Sweden from 1905 to 1907 with De Otte and the Peter Fjelstrup companies. Returning to Denmark, she was employed at Det Ny Theater (The New Theatre) from 1907 to 1910. Although she worked steadily as a stage actress, her performances remained unremarkable. Danish historian Robert Neiiedam wrote that Nielsen's unique physical attraction, which was of great value on the screen, was limited on stage by her deep and uneven speaking voice.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K 1309. Photo: Freddy Wingärdh.

Asta Nielsen in Das Eskimo-Baby
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K 1422. Photo: Neutral Film. Publicity still for Das Eskimo-Baby (1916, Walter Schmidthaessler).

Asta Nielsen
German postcard, no. 3009. Photo: Herm. Leisen, Berlin-Wilm.

Key Components of Her Legend
In 1909, set designer and director Urban Gad encouraged Asta Nielsen to become a film actress and she starred in his Danish silent film Afgrunden/The Abyss (1910, Urban Gad). Gary Morris observes in Bright Lights Film Journal: "this film established from the beginning key components of her legend: scandalous eroticism and a uniquely minimalist acting style." Asta plays a music teacher lured away from her stolid fiancee (Robert Dinesen) by a sexy but faithless circus cowboy (Poul Reumert). In a startling sequence of sexual intensity, she lassos her boyfriend and does a lewd dance, bumping and grinding against him. Morris: "This vulgar ‘gaucho-dance’ was what most viewers remembered, but critics of the time also applauded Asta's naturalistic acting." The film was a huge success so she was encouraged to continue. The following year Balletdanserinden/The Ballet Dancer (1911, August Blom) proved to be another success. Nielsen and Gad soon married. A German distributor, Paul Davidson, invited Nielsen to Germany, where he was building a new studio. Eventually this would become Europe's largest film studio - the Universum Film Union A.-G. (or Ufa). Asta signed a contract for $80,000 a year, then the highest salary for a film actress. In 1911, she moved to Berlin with Urban Gad. In a Russian popularity poll of that year she was voted world's top female film star, behind French comedian Max Linder and ahead of her Danish compatriot Valdemar Psilander.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 379/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Becker & Maass.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 379/4, ca. 1919-1924. Photo: Becker & Maass phot.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 380/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Becker & Maass.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 380/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Becker & Maass.

Hamlet
In the next six years, Asta Nielsen played every conceivable kind of character in both tragedies and comedies. In Die Suffragette/The Militant Suffragette (1913, Urban Gad), she is an English female liberationist whose beliefs force her to become violent, placing a bomb in Parliament. In Zapatas Bande/Zapata's Gang (1916, Urban Gad) she plays a highway robber. In the comedy Das Liebes-ABC/The ABCs of Love (1916, Magnus Stifter) she pretends to be a man and takes her wimpy boyfriend out on the town in order to "bring out the man in him." Nielsen was so famous that the name Asta became a trademark for cigarettes and perfumes. In the Dutch city The Hague a cinema was named after her. Her beauty was praised by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire as "the drunkard's vision and the lonely man's dream". One of Asta's most interesting productions was Hamlet (1921, Sven Gade, Heinz Schall). Gary Morris: "Asta brings a subtle twist to her version not by playing a man, but by playing a woman disguised as a man, adding another level of gender complexity. Hamlet was based less on William Shakespeare than on a popular book of the time that said Hamlet was actually a girl forcibly raised as a boy in order to provide an heir to the Danish throne. At first the effect is more puzzling than effective, but the actress's strategy becomes evident in sexually charged scenes between Asta/Hamlet and Horatio, who caress and coddle each other in what surely appeared to viewers of the time (as it does to modern audiences) as a gay tryst. Asta brilliantly imparts the gender-unstable nature of the character in these scenes with Horatio and others with Fortinbras, whose encounters with Hamlet are also clearly coded as gay. The actress's effortless creation of these subtle, sympathetic homosexual tableaux gives a tremendous vitality to this production. The fact that the film was truly hers — being the first film she made with her own production company — shows just how daring and modern she was."

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet (1921)
Spanish postcard. Photo: Asta Nielsen in Hamlet (1921).

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Verl. Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 7282.

Asta Nielsen
French postcard, no. 200. Photo: publicity still for Hedda Gabler (1925, Franz Eckstein).

Die Freudlose Gasse
Nowadays Asta Nielsen is best known for Die Freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street (1925, G.W. Pabst). Asta plays in this film an impoverished woman who resorts to prostitution and murder. In the original prints there were two equal-time female leads: Nielsen and a young actress from Sweden, Greta Garbo. Ruthlessly cut for American release, the film suddenly became a Garbo vehicle. Fortunately, the print has been restored recently and Asta triumphs in it as the increasingly unbalanced Marie. Nielsen continued to be a screen legend in Germany, and appeared in films like Dirnentragödie/Tragedy of the Street (1927, Bruno Rahn) and in her only sound film Unmögliche Liebe/Crown of Thorns (1932, Erich Waschneck). After the Nazis came to power she was rumoured to be offered her own studio by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Understanding the implications well, she left Germany for good in 1936, settling in Denmark where she returned to stage acting and became a private figure.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 580/3, ca. 1919-1924. Photo: Art Film.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1140/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1140/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Asta Nielsen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3084/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Wulson, Berlin.

A Director at 86
In her later years, Asta Nielsen wrote articles on art and politics and a two-volume autobiography, Den tiende Muse (The Silent Muse) in 1946. She also became an acclaimed collage artist. In 1964, Nielsen had to come to terms with the most severe blow of her life: her daughter Jesta committed suicide following the death of her husband. At 86, Asta directed her first film. Luise F. Pusch writes in FemBio: "After a film about her life did not meet with her approval, she set to work on the project herself. The result was a work of art." At 88, Asta Nielsen married her third husband, Christian Theede, an art dealer 18 years her junior and the great love of her life. The two enjoyed their travels together so much that they decided to leave their fortune to a foundation to fund trips for the elderly. In 1972, Asta Nielsen died in Copenhagen after a leg fracture. She was 90.


The erotic Gaucho Dance from Afgrunden/The Abyss (1910). Source: Filmmuseum Amsterdam (YouTube).


Asta Nielsen in Zapatas Bande (1914). Source: Unknown Cinema (YouTube).

Sources: Gary Morris (Bright Lights Film Journal), Luise F. Pusch (FemBio), Jim Beaver (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.