01 December 2013

Lili Beck

Danish actress Lili Beck or Lili Bech (1883-1939) was the leading lady of many early Swedish films directed by Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström.

Lili Beck
Swedish postcard by Svenska Biografteatern. Photo: Ferd Flodin, Stockholm.

Snake Enchantress

Lili Bech was born Lili Beck in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1883.

She started as a stage actress in 1905. Her debut in the Danish cinema was in the film Morfinisten/The Morphine Takers (1911), directed by Louis Von Kohl and produced by Det Skandinavisk-Russiske Handelshus.

Already in her next film, Taifun/The Typhoon (Louis Von Kohl, 1911) she played the lead.

After that Lili would play in four more films by the same company, including Alfred Lind's circus films Den flyvende Cirkus/The Flying Circus (1912) and Bjornetaemmern/The Bear Tamer (1912), in which she played a snake enchantress.

In 1913 she moved to the Nordisk Film Kompagni where she played in three films by Robert Dinesen (all 1913) and one by August Blom (1914).

In 1913 it was rumoured Beck would go and work for American film company Vitagraph. Instead she started to work for the Swedish company Svenska Biograftheatren.

Gösta Ekman
Gösta Ekman. Swedish postcard by Axel Eliassons Konstförlag, Stockholm, no. 413, mailed in 1916. Photo: Uno Falkengren, Göteborg.

Lars Hanson
Lars Hanson. Swedish postcard by Förlag Nordisk Konst, Stocholm, no. 1286. Photo: Goodwin, 1924.

Sjöström and Stiller

Lili Beck was married shortly to Erik Magnusson in 1912. She remarried Swedish film director Victor Sjöström, in whose debut Trädgardsmästeren/The Gardener (1912) she played opposite Sjöström himself and Gösta Ekman.

It was her first Swedish film and Beck would henceforth pursue her career there. Between 1912 and 1916, Lili Beck played in nine films by Sjöström.

Beck also performed in eleven films by director Mauritz Stiller, the discoverer of Greta Garbo. These films include Vampyren/The Vampire (1913) and Vingarne/The Wings (1916), based on Herman Bang's 1902 novel Mikaël.

Vingarne was a very early gay-themed film. The story is that of a conniving countess (played by Lili Beck) coming between a gay sculptor, Claude Zoret (Egil Eide), and his bisexual model and lover, Mikaël (Lars Hanson). The film is also notable for its innovative use of a framing story and telling the plot primarily through the use of flashbacks.

In 1916 she divorced Victor Sjöström. IMDb stops her filmography then, but the site of the Danish Film Institute informs us that Lili returned to Denmark. She remarried for the third time to Danish stage and film actor Hakon Ahnfelt-Ronne and a fourth time to a certain mr. Lundquist.

In 1920 she had her comeback as a film actress at the Nordisk company, where she would play in three films by Holger Madsen between 1920 and 1925, and after that in three films by August Blom.

Lili Beck died in 1939, aged 55.

In 1941, a fire in the archives of the Svenski Filmindustri destroyed the negatives and other related material of many of the Swedish films in which Lili Beck starred. Vingarne was one of the destroyed films.

With a script and frame prints on paper film historian Gösta Werner reconstructed the shape of the film and when in 1987 a copy of the central part of the film was found in Oslo, it was possible to reconstruct the film. This version was premiered at the Swedish Film Institute in 1987.

Victor Sjöström
Victor Sjöström. French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 146.

Source: Det Danske Filminstitut (Danish), Richard Dyer/Julianne Pidduck (Now You See It), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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