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25 August 2016

Heli Finkenzeller

German stage and film actress Heli Finkenzeller (1914-1991) had her greatest successes in popular Ufa comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. After the war she often played mother roles.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 125, Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 216, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. K 1417. Photo: Tobis / Star-Foto-Atelier.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3648/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Terra.

Box-office Hits


Helene Finkenzeller was born in München (Munich), Germany in 1914 (according to some sources in 1911). She grew up in Munich where her parents ran a family business which sold office furniture. As a kid she was already interested in everything connected to the theatre and she wanted to become an opera singer.

After finishing school she attended a conservatory, but she soon realised that her voice was too weak for the opera stage. Instead she took acting classes from Otto Falkenberg at his newly established drama school in Munich. In 1934 she joined the Münchner Kammerspielen (Munich Chamber Plays) and for the next two years she performed there with such actors as Ferdinand Marian, Elizabeth Flickenschild, and her later husband Will Dohm.

In 1935 she made her first film appearance in a supporting part in the Ufa comedy Ehestreik/Matrimonial Strike (Georg Jacoby, 1935) with Paul Richter. She played her first lead for the Ufa in the comedy Weiberregiment/Petticoat Government (Karl Ritter, 1936).

Finkenzeller appeared with star comedian Heinz Rühmann in Der Mustergatte/Model Husband (Wolfgang Liebeneiner, 1937).

The box office hits Opernball/Opera Ball (Wolfgang Liebeneiner, 1939) with Paul Hörbiger, Kohlhiesels Töchter/Kohlhiesels daughters (Kurt Hoffmann, 1943) in which she played the double roles of Veronika and Annamirl Kohlhöfer, and especially Das Bad auf der Tenne/The bathroom in the barn (Volker von Collande, 1943) with her husband Will Dohm made her known to a large audience and she became one of Germany’s most popular film stars.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9490/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Atelier Anton Sahm, München.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Das Programm von Heute für Film und Theater G.m.b.H., Berlin. Photo: Bieber, Berlin / Ross Verlag.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Das Programm von Heute für Film und Theater G.m.b.H., Berlin. Photo: Bavaria / Ross Verlag.

Heli Finkenzeller and Willy Fritsch in Boccaccio (1936)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9677/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Boccaccio (Herbert Maisch, 1936) with Willy Fritsch.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3434/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Tobis / Haenchen.

Big World Allure


After the Second World War, Heli Finkenzeller continued her film career, often in mother roles. Thus she played the wife of Heinz Rühmann in Briefträger Müller/Postman Müller (John Reinhardt, 1953) and Emil’s mother in Emil und die Detektive/Emil and the Detectives (Robert A. Stemmle, 1954) based on the classic children’s book by Erich Kästner.

In the German-Dutch coproduction Ciske - Ein Kind braucht Liebe/Ciske – A Child Needs Love (Wolfgang Staudte, 1955) with Kees Brusse, she was the aunt of the title figure. She was also seen in another Dutch-German coproduction Jenny (Alfred Bittins, Willy van Hemert, 1959) featuring Ellen van Hemert.

On stage, she appeared in the musical Gigi at the Theater des Westens (Theatre of the West) in Berlin, and in many plays. She also can be heard on records with songs and texts.

From the early 1960s on, the former Ufa star played mainly on stage and in many TV films and series, such as Unser Pauker/Our Crammer (Otto Meyer, 1965) with Georg Thomalla, the comedy Meine Schwiegersöhne und ich/My sons-in-law and I (Rudolf Jugert, 1969) opposite Hans Söhnker, the Krimi Der Kommissar/The Commissioner (1974) starring Erik Ode, Das Traumschiff/The Dream Boat (Fritz Umgelter, 1981), Der Gerichtsvollzieher/The Bailiff (Peter Weck, 1981) and finally, three years before her death in Lorentz & Söhne/Lorentz and Sons (Claus Peter Witt, 1988).

In between, she played in one final film, the black comedy Satansbraten/Satan’s Brew (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1976). Heli Finkenzeller and Will Dohm had a daughter, actress Gaby Dohm (1943) who is well known in the German language countries. After Will Dohm’s death in 1948, Heli remarried in 1950 to film producer Alfred Bittin. They stayed together till his death in 1971.

Heli Finkenzeller died from cancer in 1991 in her hometown Munich. She was 76. The German weekly Der Spiegel wrote in an obituary: “Her type was much in demand at the UFA: charm with distance, elegance without any wickedness. She even had big world allure, but on a small Pan-German scale. It made Heli Finkenzeller in the middle of the thirties a star in light entertainment films.”

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3958/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3746/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Star-Foto-Atelier / Tobis.

Heli Finkenzeller in Briefträger Müller (1953)
German postcard by Film und Bild, Berlin, no. A 916. Photo: Berolina / Herzog-Film / Wesel. Publicity still for Briefträger Müller/Mailman Mueller (John Reinhardt, 1953).

Heli Finkenzeller and Wolfgang Lukschy
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 1235. Photo: Berolina / Herzog-Film / Wesel. Publicity still for Emil und die Detektive/Emil and the Detectives (Robert A. Stemmle, 1954) with Wolfgang Lukschy.

Heli Finkenzeller
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg. Photo: Christian Pantel, Hamburg.


Heli Finkenzeller sings Heute möchte ich, with Theo Lingen and Marte Harell in Opernball/Opera Ball (1939). Source: BD 130 (YouTube).

Sources: Stephanie D’Heil (Steffi-Line) (German), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Der Spiegel (German), Wikipedia (German), and IMDb.

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