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08 February 2015

Zanny Petersen

Zanny Petersen (1892-1976) was a Danish stage actress, who also starred in the Danish silent cinema. Between 1912 and 1917, she appeared in 40 films for Nordisk Film.

Zanny Petersen
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K.1768. Photo: Nordisk Film.

A Trip to Mars


Zanny Christiane Petersen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1892. She was the daughter of master painter Herman Petersen and Minna Petersen.

From 1911 Zanny Petersen studied at Det kongelige Teaters elevskole (the Royal Theatre School) and debuted at Det kongelige Teater (the Royal Theatre) in 1913 as Agnes in Johan Ludvig Heiberg’s comedy Elverhøj/The Elves’ Hill, considered the first Danish national play. In 1913-1914, she joined Det ny Teater (the New Theatre), and continued to act on stage until 1922, when she married and quitted her career.

During her theatre education, Petersen also worked as an extra at Nordisk Film and thus developed her film career. Probably her first substantial role was in Haevnen er sød/Revenge is Sweet (William Augustinus, 1911).

From 1911 to 1917, Zanny Petersen performed in over 40 films for Nordisk, including big productions such as Pax Aeterna/Peace on Earth (Holger-Madsen, 1917) and Himmelskibet/A Trip to Mars (Holger-Madsen, 1918) starring Gunnar Tolnaes.

She first worked under direction of directors like August Blom and Eduard Schnedder-Sørensen, and later on mainly with Holger-Madsen.

Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K.2152. Publicity still for the science-fiction film Himmelskibet/ Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918). From left to right Alf Blütecher as Dr. Krafft, Zanny Petersen as Corona Planetaros, Lilly Jacobson as Marya, Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros, and Nicolai Neiiendam as professor Planetaros, father of Corona and Avanti.

Gunnar Tolnaes, Zanny Petersen and Nicolai Neiiendam in Himmelskibet/ Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2156. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for the science-fiction film Himmelskibet/ Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918). This card shows Gunnar Tolnaes as captian Avanti Planetaros, Zanny Petersen as his sister Corona, and Nicolai Neiiendam as their father, the astronomer professor Planetaros.

The Opium Smoker


When starting to act at Nordisk, Zanny Petersen was only 17. So she often played the innocent young girls and daughters of the protagonists. She appeared opposite male stars like Carlo Wieth in Ekspeditricen/Saleslady (August Blom, 1911) and Valdemar Psilander in Lydia (Holger-Madsen, 1918).

Sometimes she was the female protagonist herself as in Opiumsdrømmen/The Opium Smoker (Holger-Madsen, 1917).

In September 1917 the worsening economic situation caused by the First World War forced Nordisk to end their contract with some 50 actors, including Zanny Petersen.

Together with actors Philip Bech and Alf Blütecher she went to court and won on the basis of unfair dismissal. Nordisk had to pay her indemnities at the height of her salary for the remaining years of the contract.

In addition to Nordisk, Petersen also acted at Kinografen and Filmfabriken Danmark. New films for Nordisk she had made before her break continued to be released in 1918 and even 1919, the last one being Hendes Helt/Completely for her (Holger-Madsen, 1919).

In 1922 Petersen married doctor Poul Jacob Ernst. In the mid-1930s amidst a Christian revival, they focused on helping their fellow men, including prisoners. Because of this calling Petersen completely stopped her career: "Movie Time, fame and all that went along with it, well, it was just theatre, menial theatre."

Zanny Petersen died in 1976 in Copenhagen and lies buried at the Old Cemetery in Frederiksberg.

Gunnar Tolnaes, Zanny Petersen
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 1662. Photo: Nordisk. With Gunnar Tolnaes. Publicity still for Pjerrot/Pierrot (Hjalmar Davidsen, 1917).

Source: Danish Film Institute, Wikipedia (Danish) and IMDb.

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