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05 December 2012

Maria Carmi

With her aristocratic air, her severe looks but also with her sweet undertones, Italian silent film star and stage actress Maria Carmi (1880-1957) was the cinematic translation of the 19th century Primadonna. Later she became Princess Norina Matchabelli and was co-founder of the perfume company Prince Matchabelli.

Maria Carmi
German postcard in the Film Sterne series by Rotophot., no. 90/5. Photo: Karl Schenker.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Photochemie, no. K. 1498.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K.1499. Photo: Hugo Erfurt, Dresden.

The Miracle


Maria Carmi was born Norina Gilli in Firenze (Florence), Italy, in 1880.

When she married German comedy writer Karl Volmöller she moved to Berlin, where she attended Max Reinhardt's acting school at the Deutsches Theater. She belonged to his company from 1907 to 1909 and used the stage name Maria Carmi.

In 1911, Reinhardt asked her for the pantomime play Das Mirakel/The Miracle written by her husband, Karl Vollmöller. The religious pantomime was originally produced in Germany in 1911 and opened in London on 23 December 1911. Over the years she would give over 1,000 performances of the play.

The next year it was turned into a film, Das Mirakel/The Miracle (Cherry Kearton, Max Reinhardt, 1912). She also appeared in Reinhardts film Eine Venezianische Nacht/A Venetian Night (Max Reinhardt, 1914) with Alfred Abel.

When she returned to Italy, the Cines company asked her for the psychodrama Retaggio d'odio/A Legacy of Hate (Nino Oxilia, 1914) with Bruto Castellani, followed by La mia vita per la tua/My Life for Yours (Emilio Ghione, 1914), after a story by Matilde Serao.

She also appeared in two mythical precursors of neorealism: Sperduti nel buio/Lost in Darkness (Nino Martoglio, 1914) and Teresa Raquin/There Raquin (Nino Martoglio, 1915). Both films are (partially) lost.

Maria Carmi in Das Mirakel
German postcard by Verleih Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, no. 8594. Photo: Becker & Maass.

Maria Carmi
British postcard by Rotary Photo, no. 7701 C. Photo: Hoppe, London. Publicity still of the London stage production of Das Mirakel/The Miracle (Max Reinhardt, 1912) with Maria Carmi as the Madonna. Here she has just cured the lame.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm, no. 7267. Photo: publicity still for Das Mirakel/The Miracle (1912), in which Carmi played the Madonna.

Expressively Waving Hands


When Italy joined the Allied forces in the First World War, Maria Carmi followed her husband to Germany. Till the end of the war she made some 20 films there, often directed by Robert Reinert.

Almost all her German films are lost, including a memorable adaptation of Hedda Gabler (1915) and two parts of the popular horror serial Homunculus (Otto Rippert, 1916) featuring Olaf Fönss.

The German public went mad for Carmi's amorous beauty and charm, and for her long, always expressively waving hands. Carmi divorced  Karl Vollmöller due to his affair with the actress Lena Amsel.

Maria returned to Italy, where her by now older German films were re-released in Italianized versions in order to bypass the boycot of German product and fared pretty well.

Carmi, however, encountered ferocious opposition towards her film Forse che sí, forse che no/Maybe Yes, Maybe No (Gaston Ravel, 1922) based on a novel by Gabriele D'Annunzio. According to film historian Vittorio Martinelli, Carmi was so disappointed and bitter about this that she withdrew from the cinema and returned to the stage, interpreting Pirandello, Marinetti and other playwrights for Bragaglia's Teatro degli Independenti.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm, no. 5198. Photo: Becker & Maass.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Herm. Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 3054.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Meisenbach Riffarth & Co, Berlin-Schöneberg. Photo: Schenker / Deutsche Bioscop.

Princess Norina


In the spring of 1917, Maria Carmi had married Prince Georges V. Matchabelli in Stockholm, Sweden. The Georgian prince and diplomat had been ambassador to Italy.

After the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia,&, he and his wife immigrated to the United States. Maria became known as Princess Norina Matchabelli.

In 1924, she and her husband, who was also an amateur chemist, co-founded the now-famous perfume company Prince Matchabelli. Norina designed the perfume bottle after the family crown that became the brand's trademark. In 1933 they divorced.

Georges died in 1935 and a year later Norina sold the company to Saul Ganz for $250,000. Norina settled in New York, where she opened with well-known set designer Frederic Kiesler an acting school, American Laboratory Theatre, concentrating on mime.

In 1931 she dedicated herself to esotericism and found spiritual guidance from the Indian guru Meher Baba. She also founded the periodical Meher Baba Journal in 1938.

Norina Matchabelli died in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 1957, at the age of 77.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Meisenbach Riffarth & Co, Berlin-Schöneberg. Photo: Schenker / Deutsche Bioscop.

Maria Carmi
German postcard by Meisenbach Riffarth & Co, Berlin-Schöneberg. Photo: Schenker / Deutsche Bioscop.


Part 2 of Sperduti nel buio/Lost in Darkness (1914). Source: Inpenombra (YouTube).

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

5 comments:

Avtar Meher Baba said...

Jai Baba!!!

Avtar Meher Baba said...

Jai Baba!!!

Jenny said...

Wonderful! Nice to have information about Maria Carmi's early career. Thank you for your good research.

Anonymous said...

FYI: One little correction. According to the biography by Frederik Tunnat, "Karl Vollmoeller", Norina Vollmoeller divorced Karl due to his affair with the actress Lena Amsel. According to her marriage certificate from Stockholm, Sweden, she married Prince Georges Matchabelli in the spring of 1917.

Paul van Yperen said...

Thanks for your correction. We've updated the post.