29 May 2016

Eva von Berne

At 17, Austrian actress Eva von Berne (1910-2010) was spotted in Vienna by MGM's second in command Irving Thalberg and introduced in Hollywood as 'the next Garbo'. However, she was not. After playing the ingenue in the apparently lost silent drama The Masks of the Devil (1928) directed by Victor Sjöström, she returned to Europe. Here she made a few more films. At 20, Eva von Berne was dead for Hollywood, but she lived happily on for 80 more years.

Eva von Berne
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3859/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Actress Eva Von Berne (1910-2010)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4348/1/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Collection: Dutchfan33 (Flickr).

The Quest for Another Garbo

Eva von Berne was born Genofeva Plentzner von Scharneck in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) in 1910. Eva fled with her family to Vienna following the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

In Vienna she worked as a teenage model. In the quest to discover 'another Garbo,' M.G.M. production chief Irving Thalberg and his actress wife, Norma Shearer, saw a picture in a newspaper of Eva while on a belated honeymoon to Europe, specifically Vienna in late 1927 - early 1928.

The 17-year-old Plentzner was signed to a contract and arrived in New York in July 1928. She spoke only a couple of words of English, but was the beneficiary of extra publicity by the studio's press department who feared a repeat of their overlooking a potential star in the way they had done with Garbo.

She was renamed Eva von Berne. Unfortunately, the completely untrained Miss von Berne was not prepared for the requirements and pressures of movie stardom. Her greatest fault was being 20 pounds overweight, causing her debut movie opposite M.G.M.'s top male star, John Gilbert, to be delayed while considering whether to replace the 17 year old actress or not.

The cast and crew liked Miss von Berne and vowed to help her during a forced recess in the filming, and have her underweight and skilled enough to resume her ingenue role. She completed Masks of the Devil (Victor Sjöström, 1928) but the damage had already been done.

Eva von Berne with Raquel Torres (front) and Josephine Dunn (right). Sourve: Amy Jeanne (Flickr).

Picture of John Gilbert and Eva von Berne in The Masks of the Devil (1928). Source: Alice Japan (Flickr).

Tragedy was no stranger

Her reviews for Masks of the Devil were respectable, but after no more than six months in the USA, Eva von Berne was sent back to Europe. As 'an American movie star', she was cast in a number of German films.

In Somnambul/The Somnambulist (Adolf Trotz, 1929), she appeared opposite Fritz Kortner and Veit Harlan. Other films were Flucht in die Fremdenlegion/The Legionaire (Louis Ralph, 1929) with Hans Stüwe, the mountain film Der Ruf des Nordens/The Call of the North (Nunzio Malasomma, Mario Bonnard, 1929) with Luis Trenker, and Trust der Diebe/Trust of Thieves (Erich Schönfelder, 1929).

Von Berne gave up on film when the switch to sound was about to take place. In 1930, Hubert Voight, a publicist with M.G.M. erroneously released news of Von Berne's death. This notice was picked up in a number of American newspapers. In a 1980s article in the magazine Sight and Sound, Hubert Voight repeated his belief that Eva von Berne had passed, when in fact, she was very much alive.

After 1930, Von Berne returned to Vienna, where she attended an art school. Eva later worked as an executive in window display for a Vienna department store. During World War II, she fled to Salzburg to be with her family. Eva married Helmut Krauss, a former major of the Austrian army, and became a sculptress. Her work was shown in galleries in several Austrian cities. In a telephone interview with German film journalist Toni Schieck in 2006, Von Berne said she believed it was fortunate that the world thought she was dead because she didn't have to deal with autograph hunters.

Radkins at IMDb: "It is impossible to determine the quality of Miss von Berne's acting skills as Masks of the Devil is a lost film. Tragedy was no stranger to its cast though, as it included John Gilbert who was (one way or another) a casualty of sound and Alma Rubens, an actress reputed to have health issues emanating from a drug dependency."

Eva von Berne died of natural causes in 2010 in Hédervár, Hungary. She was 100.

Tribute to Eva von Berne. Music: The Blue Morris 6 - The Blonde On My Tail. Source: SpyMomentsBack (YouTube).

Sources: Radkins (IMDb), Andre Soares (Alt Film Guide), and IMDb.

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