02 January 2014

Viveca Lindfors

Tall, dark, Swedish-American actress Viveca Lindfors (1920-1995) had a film and stage career in Sweden and Hollywood which spanned more than half a century. Though as talented and beautiful as her compatriots Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, she never achieved their superstar status.

Viveca Lindfors
Italian postcard by Bromofoto. Photo: Warner Bros.

Sweden's Leading Film Attraction

Elsa Viveca Torstensdotter Lindfors was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1920. Her father, Axel Torsten Lindfors, was a publisher of art books; her mother, Karin Emilia Therese (née Dymling), a painter. 

Viveca trained at the Royal Dramatic Theatre School, Stockholm, for three years. While still a student she began her career on the Swedish stage, and in 1940 she started to make films.

She was featured in such films as The Snurriga Familjen/Spinning Family (Ivar Johansson, 1940), Paradis/In Paradise (Per Lindberg, 1941), Anna Lans/The Sin of Anna Lans (Rune Carlsten, 1943), and Svarta rosor/Black Roses (Rune Carlsten, 1945). Lindfors was considered Sweden's leading film attraction and also appeared in many plays.

In 1946, she starred in the sentimental drama I Dodens Vantrum/Interlude (Hasse Ekman, 1946). Set in a Swiss hospital, the film deals with the romance between a terminal patient and a doctor, filmed in the Swiss Alps. When Lindfors gained fame in America, I Dodens Vantrum was released stateside .

Another film which was shown in the US was Appassionata (Olof Molander, 1944-1946). Writer/director Olof Molander was the younger brother of director Gustav Molander. Like Gustav's Intermezzo (1936), starring the young Ingrid Bergman, Olof's Appassionata in set in the world of musicians and concert tours. Brilliant pianist Georg Rydeberg falls madly in love with the much-younger Viveca Lindfors but he has a rival in up-and-coming young musician Alf Kjellin.

British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. W 740. Photo: Warner Bros.

Viveca Lindfors
Dutch postcard. Photo: Warner Bros.

Viveca Lindfors
Dutch postcard.

Elegant Features

In 1946, Viveca Lindfors was brought to Hollywood by Warner Brothers. Her auburn hair and elegant features led more than one observer to proclaim her an 'actress of Garboesque beauty'.

Her American screen debut was in Night Unto Night (Don Siegel, 1949) with Ronald Reagan in his first starring role. The film was shot in 1947, but was not released until 1949. Director Don Siegel would become Lindfors' third husband.

Lindfors played Queen Margaret opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Don Juan (Vincent Sherman, 1948) and went on to co-star with Charlton Heston in the Film Noir Dark City (William Dieterle, 1950) and with Virginia Mayo and Gordon MacRae in another Noir, Backfire (Vincent Sherman, 1950).

In 1949, she made her first French film, Singoalla (Christian-Jacque, 1949). Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "Lindfors plays the title character, a wild-eyed gypsy lass who falls in love with a nobleman (Michel Auclair) The plot thickens when the nobleman's son (Johnny Chambot) likewise lusts for Singoalla. Director Christian-Jacque exhibits his customary lack of restraint, which in this instance is a plus rather than a minus."

She became a naturalized US citizen around 1951. Her 1955 Broadway debut in the title role of Anastasia, a drama about a woman claiming to be the missing daughter of Czar Nicholas II, won her immediate acclaim from critics and an award from the Drama League.

Other memorable stage roles include Miss Julie (1955), Brecht on Brecht (1961), and I Am Woman (1973), a one-woman show.

In 1966, she was a founder and artistic director of the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, Mass.

Later she appeared with her son Kristoffer Tabori in My Mother, My Son. She also appeared on television, including the series Life Goes On (1989) for which she won an Emmy.

Viveca Lindfors
Vintage postcard, no. 559. Photo: Warner Bros.

Viveca Lindfors
Dutch postcard.

Dutch postcard by 't Sticht, Utrecht. Photo: Warner Bros.

Dignified Beauty

At AllMovie, Sandra Brennan notes: "Viveca Lindfors never achieved superstar status due in large part to working in movies that inadequately displayed the full extent of her ability and charismatic personality. "

One of her best films was Die Vier im Jeep/Four in a Jeep (Leopold Lindtberg, Elizabeth Montagu, 1951). The scene is post-war Vienna, a city sliced up into four United Nations sectors. Lindfors plays a recent escapee from a Soviet prison camp, who tries to win freedom for her husband. American MP Ralph Meeker attempts to help Lindfors, and to avoid falling in love with her himself. For her role in this film, Viveca Lindfors won her first Best Actress Award from the Berlin Film Festival in 1951.

Her second Berlin Film Festival Best Actress Award was for her role in No Exit (Tad Danielewski, 1962), an adaptation of Jean Paul Sartre’s short drama Huis Clos. She also won the Special Award at the Venice Film Festival for her role as a model in Weddings and Babies (1959, Morris Engel), an independent, location-filmed romance set amongst the denizens of the Manhattan 'glamour' industry.

She gave another great performance in the British production The Damned/These Are the Damned  (Joseph Losey, 1962),  a powerful, bleak science fiction film with a fervent cult following.

Unlike many actresses for whom the aging process marks the death of their careers, Lindfors grew gracefully into her latter years, gaining a dignified beauty and an even more commanding presence in such films as The Way We Were (Sydney Pollack, 1973), Welcome to L.A. (Alan Rudolph, 1976), the Swedish production Tabu/Taboo (Vilgot Sjöman, 1977), and A Wedding (Robert Altman, 1978), Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 1978).

Other films include Creepshow (George A. Romero, 1981) and Rob Reiner's comedy The Sure Thing (1985) where she had a supporting role as a professor of John Cusack.

In 1987, she made her debut as a screenwriter and director with Unfinished Business, a highly personal, autobiographical drama.

In 1990 she appeared in the British-Dutch-Spanish co-production Luba (Alejandro Agresti, 1990), as a down-to-earth madam of a fancy brothel, where writer Roberto (Elio Marchi) is hiding out from the Gestapo.

Viveca Lindfors
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, offered by Les Carbones Korès, Carboplane. Photo: Paramount Pictures, 1953.

Viveca Lindfors
Dutch postcard. Photo: Warner Bros.

Shocking Behaviour

Viveca Lindfors played a scientist in the Science Fiction opus Stargate (Roland Emmerich, 1994) starring Kurt Russell. Despite mixed reviews, the film gained a cult following and became a commercial success worldwide.

Her final film was Henry Jaglom's Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995), a Chekhovian-inspired comedy-drama in which she played a grande dame actress spending time with her family. According to Judd Blaise at AllMovie, she is "giving a career-capping performance that addresses the problems of older actresses and looks back fondly on the star's own history."

In her personal life, she was renowned for her numerous romantic liaisons - this in a decade when such behaviour was considered shocking. She was married four times; to Swedish cinematographer Harry Hasso,  Swedish attorney Folke Rogard, director Don Siegel, and Hungarian writer, producer and director George Tabori.

She had three children: two sons (John Tabori with Hasso, and the actor Kristoffer Tabori, with Siegel) and a daughter (Lena Tabori, with Rogard).

In 1990, she was attacked by a man who slashed her face with a razor as she walked in Greenwich Village. Her wounds required 28 stitches.

She returned to Sweden in August 1995 to tour with the stage play In Search of Strindberg. She died there of complications from rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 74, and was buried in her birth town Uppsala.

In New York, a service was held at the Actors Studio where Gene Frankel spoke to an audience about his respect and affection for this talented and unique poetic performer.

A scene from Journey Into Light (1951) starring Sterling Hayden, Viveca Lindfors and Thomas Mitchell. Source: DVanDeusen (YouTube).

Trailer for Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995). Source: RainbowReleasing (YouTube).

Sources: David Stout (The New York Times), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Judd Blaise (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.