07 December 2014

Inge Meysel

From the early 1960s until her death, Inge Meysel (1910-2004) was one of Germany's most popular actresses. She had a successful stage career and played more than 100 roles in films and on television. Her nickname was 'Mutter der Nation' (Mother of the Nation).

Inge Meysel
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1525, 1961.

Her Most Beautiful Day

Inge Meysel was born Ingeborg Charlotte Hansen in Rixdorf (now Berlin-Neukölln) in 1910. She was the daughter of the Danish mother Anna Hansen and the German Jew Julius Meysel. Inge attended drama schools in Berlin from 1928 until 1930, thereafter she was on stage in Zwickau, Leipzig and Berlin.

During Nazi Germany, Meysel was banned from performing from 1935 until 1945 because of her Jewish father. In Danzig, she worked as a telephone operator and a technical illustrator. In 1945 she married actor Helmuth Rudolph and restarted her stage career in Hamburg.

One of her first film appearances was a small part in the drama Liebe 47/Love '47 (Wolfgang Liebeneiner, 1949). A young man and a woman about to commit suicide by jumping into a river, recount to each other their experiences of the Second World War and the struggles of the immediate post-war situation. Eventually they convince each other that life is worth living after all. Liebe 47 was part of the cycle of rubble films made in post-war Germany.

More small parts followed in films like the musical Sensation in San Remo (Georg Jacoby, 1951) with Marika Rökk and Peter Pasetti, the war drama Des Teufels General/The Devil's General (Helmut Käutner, 1955) with Curd Jürgens, the Heimatfilm Das Mädchen vom Moorhof/The Girl from the Marsh Croft (Gustav Ucicky, 1958) starring Maria Emo, and Rosen für den Staatsanwalt/Roses for the Prosecutor (Wolfgang Staudte, 1959).

In 1959, she had her breakthrough in the Berlin folk play Fenster zum Flur (Window to the hall) with Rudolf Platte as her husband. Originally Grethe Weiser was to play concierge Anni Wiesner, but the play and Meysels role were such a success that it was filmed for TV, Das Fenster zum Flur (Erik Ode, 1960). Soon it was remade for the cinema as Ihr schönster Tag/Her Most Beautiful Day (Paul Verhoeven, 1962) with the same leads. Meysel was now called ‘Mutter der Nation’ (Mother of the Nation), a nickname which stuck but which she did not like.

Inge Meysel
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg. Photo: Peter Schommertz, London.

The diehards

Since the early 1960s Inge Meysel mainly acted in made-for-TV films. She worked with her second husband, Austrian producer and director John F. Olden in such TV films as Der Biberpelz/The Beaver Coat (John Olden, 1962) and Der rote Hahn/The Red Rooster (John Olden, 1962).

Very popular was the series Die Unverbesserlichen/The diehards (Claus Peter Witt, 1965-1971). Another popular series was Gertrud Stranitzki (Georg Tressler, 1965).

Incidentally she played in feature films such as in Ein Frauenarzt klagt an/A woman doctor to complain (Falk Harnack, 1964) with Dieter Borsche.

She won numerous German actor awards including a lifetime achievement award from the German Television Awards, but in 1981 she refused to accept the Bundesverdienstkreuz because "Einen Orden dafür, daß man anständig gelebt hat, brauche ich nicht" (I don't need an order of merit just for having lived decently).

From 1925 on, when the 15-years-old did a speech against the death penalty and until shortly before her death, Meysel was outspoken on many - often controversial - social and political issues. Despite her decidedly leftist and feminist views, this did not harm her popularity as an actress. In 1992, she came out as bisexual.

In 2004, aged 94, she died of heart failure at her home in Bullenhausen near Hamburg. She was cremated and her ashes were buried near her second husband John Olden at Ohlsdorf Main Cemetery, Hamburg. Shortly before, she had also made her last screen appearance in the TV series Polizeiruf 110/Police Call 110 (Ulrich Stark, 2004).

Inge Meysel
German postcard by Hörzu.

Inge Meysel
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg, no. CH-6645. Photo: Inge Winkler-Fleischmann.

Sources: Wikipedia (German and English), and IMDb.

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