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21 August 2016

Gunnar Tolnaes

Norwegian-born actor Gunnar Tolnaes (1879-1940) conquered the Danish film market in the middle of the 1910s. His most famous performance was an Indian prince in the Danish Orientalist melodrama Maharadjahens Yndlingshustru/The Maharaja's Favourite Wife (1917). It was so popular that it had a Danish sequel in 1919, and a German sequel in 1921. During the 1920s Tolnaes alternated acting in Danish films with roles in German productions, until the end of the silent era.

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Verlag W.J. Mörlins, Berlin / Vertrieb Ross-Verlag, Berlin, no. 9001/3. Photo: Karl Schenker.

Gunnar Tolnaes
Vintage postcard by ABC, no. 375/1.

Gunnar Tolnaes
Vintage postcard by ABC, no. 375/3.

Gunnar Tolnaes
Vintage postcard by ABC, no. 375/4.

Gunnar Tolnaess
German postcard in the Film Sterne series by Rotophot. Photo: Nordisk. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Super Power


Gunnar Tolnaes (Tolnæs) was born in Christiana (now Oslo), Norway, in 1879. His parents were Ole Gundersen Tolnæs and Helene Andresen (Braathu).

He studied law and later medicine. He made his stage début in 1906, and was an company member of the Nationaltheatret in Oslo between 1908 and 1916.

In 1913, he started his film career for the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern AB in Stockholm and worked there with legendary director Victor Sjöström. They made the silent dramas Halvblod/Half Breed (Victor Sjöström, 1915) with Karin Molander, Gatans barn/Children of the Streets (Victor Sjöström, 1914) starring Lili Beck, and En av de många/One of the Many (Victor Sjöström, 1915).

He also worked with the other great director of the silent Swedish cinema, Mauritz Stiller. They made Bröderna/Brothers (Mauritz Stiller, 1914) with Carlo Wieth, and När konstnärer älska/When Artists Love (1915, Mauritz Stiller), with Lili Beck.

Then Tolnaes moved to Denmark, where he was offered a contract at the Nordisk studio. He was immediately successful with Doktor X/Doctor X (1915) directed by Robert Dinesen.

Gunnar Tolnaes in Der Narr seiner Liebe
German postcard by Photochemie, no. K. 1913. Photo: Nordisk Films. Gunnar Tolnaes in Pjerrot (Hjalmar Davidsen, 1917), with Ulla Nielsen as The Child.

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 1920. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Pjerrot (Hjalmar Davidsen, 1917).

Gunnar Tolnaes in Der Mann ohne Gnade
German postcard by Photochemie, no. K.2372. Photo: Nordisk Films. Gunnar Tolnaes in Den Retfærdiges Hustru (A.W. Sandberg, 1917), co-starring Else Frölich.

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2995. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Maharadjahens Yndlingshustru/The Maharajah's Favourite Wife (1917).

Gunnar Tolnaes, Lilly Jacobson
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Maharadjahens Yndlingshustru/The Maharajah's Favourite Wife (1917) with Lilly Jacobson.

Indian Prince


The studio heads at Nordisk hoped that Gunnar Tolnaes would become as popular as their biggest star, Valdemar Psilander.

Tolnaes had his most famous performance for Nordisk in the Orientalist melodrama Maharadjahens Yndlingshustru I/The Maharajah's Favourite Wife I (Robert Dinesen, 1917). He starred as an Indian prince and Lilly Jacobson was his love interest.

The film was so popular that it had a sequel in 1919, directed by August Blom and again starring Tolnaes and Jacobson. In 1921 the German studio PAGU would produce another sequel Die Lieblingsfrau des Maharadschas - 3. Teil/The Maharajah's Favourite Wife III (Max Mack, 1921) in which Aud Egede Nissen replaced Jacobson.

The Danish film industry was an international superpower in the 1910s and the Nordisk productions were the most successful of them all - especially in Germany. Among Tolnaes' successes were Den retfærdiges hustru/The Righteous Wife (A.W. Sandberg, 1917) with Else Frölich, Den mystiske tjener/The mysterious servant (A.W. Sandberg, 1917) and the science-fiction film Himmelskibet/400 Million Miles from Earth (Holger Madsen, 1918).

Gunnar Tolnaes and Lilly Jacobson in Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2149. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Lilly Jacobson as Marya, the Martian leader's daughter, and Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros.

Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet (1918)
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2160. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros.

Clara Wieth and Gunnar Tolnaes in Stodderprinsessen (1920)
Latvian postcard, no. 14. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Stodderprinsessen/The Rags Princess (A.W. Sandberg, 1920) with Clara Wieth.

Gunnar Tolnaes in Little Dorrit
Finnish postcard, no. 433. The postcard carries a stamp of the Finnish film inspection office. Photo: publicity still for the Charles Dickens adaptation Lille Dorritt/Little Dorrit (A.W. Sandberg, 1924), starring Karina Bell as Little Dorrit and Gunnar Tolnaes as Arthur Clennam.

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K 1931. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Kærlighedsøen/Love Lake (A.W. Sandberg, 1924).

Less Success


In the 1920s, Gunnar Tolnaes worked often with famous Danish director A.W. Sandberg.

He appeared among others in his Stodderprinsessen/The Rags Princess (A.W. Sandberg, 1920) with Clara Pontoppidan aka Clara Wieth, Kan disse ojne lyve?/Can these eyes lie? (A.W. Sandberg, 1921), Min ven privatdetektiven/My Friend the Private Detective (A.W. Sandberg, 1924), and the Charles Dickens adaptation Lille Dorrit/Little Dorrit (A.W. Sandberg, 1924) with Karina Bell.

The Danish film industry gradually lost its supremacy in Europe, and Gunnar Tolnaes' films also had less success. He alternated acting in Danish films with roles in German films, and continued to do so until the end of the silent era.

His first German film had been Die Lieblingsfrau des Maharadschas - 3. Teil/The Maharajah's Favourite Wife III (Max Mack, 1921). After this success he appeared in productions like Sturmflut des Lebens/Storm Surge of Life (Paul L. Stein, 1921) with Charlotte Ander, Die Flucht in die Ehe/The Flight Into Marriage (Artur Retzbach, 1922), and Wilhelm (later: William) Dieterle's Geschlecht in Fesseln/Sex in Chains (1928).

His last film was Der Narr seiner Liebe/Fool For Love (1929), directed by actress Olga Tschechova. Gunnar Tolnaes would never make a sound film. He died in 1940 in Oslo, aged 60. He is buried with his family at Vestre gravlund.

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 1474. Photo: Nordisk.

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K 1567. Photo: Nordisk.

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

Gunnar Tolnaes
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K 1668. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Pjerrot/Pierrot (Hjalmar Davidsen, 1917).

Gunnar Tolnaes in Die Lieblingsfrau des Maharadscha (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1277/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Deutsch-Nordische Film Union. Publicity still for Maharadjahens yndlingshustru III/The Maharaja's Favourite Wife (A.W. Sandberg, 1926).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia (English, Danish and German) and IMDb.

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