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11 December 2014

Nils Asther

Good looking Swedish actor Nils Asther (1897-1981) was an intense star of the silent European cinema. He was labelled ‘the male Greta Garbo’. In Hollywood he played the leading man to divas like Pola Negri, Joan Crawford, and Marion Davies.

Nils Asther
British postcard, no. 1139/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder.

Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1283/1, 1927-1928. Photo: H. Natze / Ufa.

Nils Asther
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 341.

Nils Asther
British postcard in the Colourgraph Series, London, no. C 47.

Nils Asther
Dutch postcard, no. 69.

Darkly Handsome


Nils Anton Alfhild Asther was born in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark (some sources say Hellerup, Denmark), in 1897, but he was raised in Malmö, Sweden, by his wealthy Swedish parents.

After attending the Kungliga Dramatiska Teaterns Elevskola (Royal Dramatic Theater School) in Stockholm, the darkly handsome Asther began his stage career in Copenhagen.

In 1916 legendary director - and the later mentor of Greta Garbo - Mauritz Stiller discovered him. Reportedly they also began an affair.

Stiller cast him in the leading role (as an aspiring actor, appropriately enough) in the Swedish film Vingarne/The Wings (Mauritz Stiller, 1916). In the following years Asther acted on the Swedish stage and in a few films.

In 1922 he worked with another acclaimed Swedish director, Victor Sjöström in Vem dömer/Love's Crucible (1922) with Gösta Ekman. Then he starred in German productions like Briefe, die ihn nicht erreichten/Letters, Which Never Reached Him (Friedrich Zelnik/Frederic Zelnik, 1925), Der Goldene Schmetterling/The Golden Butterfly (Mihály Kertész/Michael Curtiz, 1926) opposite Lily Damita, and Hotelratten/Hotel Rats (Jaap Speyer, 1927).

Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2161. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros, Philip Bech as the Martian leader, Lilly Jacobsson as Marya, the Martian leader's daughter, Alf Blütecher (kneeling) as his friend Dr. Krafft and Nils Asther as the fallen Martian.

Nils Asther
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 722. Photo: Sascha Film. Nils Asther in the German silent film Die versunkene Flotte (Manfred Noa, 1926), released in the US in 1929 as The Wrath of the Seas.

Nils Asther
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 956. Photo: Verleih Engel & Walter. Probably publicity still for Sorrell & Son (Herbert Brenon, 1927).

Pola Negri, Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3616/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Loves of an Actress (Rowland V. Lee, 1928) with Pola Negri.

Nils Asther and Joan Crawford
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4260/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Dream of Love (Fred Niblo, 1928).

Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4512/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Thin Moustache


In 1927 Nils Asther moved to Hollywood. His first American films were Topsy and Eva (Del Lord, 1927), based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the popular comedy Sorrell and Son (Herbert Brenon, 1927), in which he played Sorrell jr.

Another successful film directed by Herbert Brenon was Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) starring Lon Chaney. Asther’s foreign, exotic looks made him a popular actor, and he soon grew a thin moustache which amplified his suave appearance.

His good looks landed him romantic roles with such co-stars as Pola Negri in Loves of an Actress (Rowland V. Lee, 1928), Marion Davies in The Cardboard Lover (Robert Z. Leonard, 1928), and Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters (Harry Beaumont, 1928).

Hans Wollstein writes at AllMovie: "Almost impossibly handsome, (...) Asther had the misfortune to be tagged the 'male Greta Garbo. He did two films with his famous counterpart: The Single Standard (John S. Robertson, 1929) and Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929), and what an exotically handsome couple they made."

Asther was bisexual, and for a while, he was smitten with Garbo. Like John Gilbert, he unsuccessfully proposed in 1929 while they were filming The Single Standard (John S. Robertson, 1929).

In the early 1930s he was briefly married to vaudeville actress Vivian Duncan, his co-star in Topsy and Eva (1927).

Although his foreign accent was a hindrance in the sound film, he starred opposite Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton (Clarence Brown, 1932), and opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Frank Capra, 1933). He also starred in James Whale’s charming romantic comedy By Candlelight (1933) with Elissa Landi.

Nils Asther
Postcard of unknown nationality or editor.

Nils Asther
French postcard. in the Europe series, no. 559. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Nils Asther
French postcard in the Europe series, no. 583. Photo: Erko-Prodisco. Publicity still for Moonlight on the Danube (Paul Sloane, 1928).

Nils Asther
French postcard in the Europe Series, no. 558. Photo: MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Publicity still for the late silent film The Single Standard (John S. Robertson, 1929), starring Greta Garbo. The safety buoy reads: All Alone....

Nils Asther
French postcard in the Europe series, no. 909. Photo: MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Publicity still for The Single Standard (John S. Robertson, 1929).

Greta Garbo and Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4258/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Greta Garbo and Nils Asther in the late silent film Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929).

Greta Garbo and Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4258/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Greta Garbo and Nils Asther in Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929).

Greta Garbo, Nils Asther in Wild Orchids
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4557/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929) with Greta Garbo.

Blacklisted


Nils Asther's Hollywood career continued until 1934 when he was blacklisted for breaking a contract. In 1935, he moved to Britain for four years.

His British films included the spectacle Abdul the Damned (Karl Grune, 1935) with Fritz Kortner, and the historical romance The Marriage of Corbal (Karl Grune, 1936).

Although he was allowed back in 1941, his Hollywood career declined. He played supporting parts in B-films like The Night Before the Divorce (Robert Siodmak, 1942), Night Monster (Ford Beebe, 1942), and the film-noir Jealousy (Gustav Machaty,1945) starring John Loder.

But according to Hans J. Wollstein at AllMovie "whatever the setting, Asther always delivered a carefully modulated performance."

By 1949 he was driving a truck.

In 1958, he returned to Sweden, where he made occasional appearances in films like När mörkret faller/When Darkness Falls (Arne Mattsson, 1960), and Vita frun/Lady in White (Arne Mattsson, 1962) opposite Anita Björk. He also worked for Swedish television and on stage.

Nils Asther died in 1981 in Stockholm. A very honest autobiography, Narren's Väg (The Road of the Jester), was published posthumously in Sweden in 1988.

Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4905/1, 1929-1930. Photo: MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6237/1, 1931-1932. Photo: MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Nils Asther
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7236/1, 1932-1933. Photo: MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Kay Francis, Walter Huston and Nils Asther in Storm at Daybreak
British postcard in the Filmshot Series, by Film Weekly. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Storm at Daybreak (Richard Boleslawski, 1933) with Kay Francis and Walter Huston.

Nils Asther and Kay Francis in Storm at Daybreak
British postcard in the Filmshot Series, by Film Weekly. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Storm at Daybreak (Richard Boleslawski, 1933).

Nils Asther, Kay Francis and Walter Huston in Storm at Daybreak
British postcard in the Filmshot Series, by Film Weekly. Photo: MGM. Publicity still for Storm at Daybreak (Richard Boleslawski, 1933).


Nils Asther with Greta Garbo and Lewis Stone in a scene from Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929). Source: "I'm old fashioned" (YouTube).

Sources: Peter Rivendell (Gay For Today), Hans J. Wollstein (AllMovie), Lyn Hammond (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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