22 February 2024

Tamara Desni

Exotic, brunette actress Tamara Desni (1910–2008) was the daughter of Ukrainian-born film star Xenia Desni. Tamara started her stage and film career as a child in Berlin and appeared in several British films during the 1930s and 1940s.

Tamara Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 6125/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Ufa. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Tamara Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5767/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Becker & Maas, Berlin.

Tamara Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6346/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Becker & Maas, Berlin.

Tamara Desni
British postcard for Coliseum Theatre, London. Photo: publicity still for the play 'Casanova'.

Tamara Desni
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 795. Photo: Gaumont.

Tamara Desni
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 795a. Photo: Sound Films.

Fire Over England


Tamara Desni was born Tamara Brodsky, in Berlin in 1910 (some sources say 1913). She was the daughter of Ukrainian-born film star Xenia Desni. She took her mother's surname as her stage name. Her father, James Brodsky, left his family to settle in the United States. Tamara studied ballet as a child and appeared on stage.

In 1929, while a teenager, she married Hans Wilhelm, a dentist, but they divorced a year later. She also played in German films like the comedy Der Schrecken der Garnison/Terror of the Garrison (Carl Boese, 1931) with Felix Bressart, and Im Geheimdienst/In the Employ of the Secret Service (Gustav Ucicky, 1931) starring Brigitte Helm.

That same year she came with her mother to London for a stage role in the operetta 'White Horse Inn' (1931). For this spectacular production, credited with saving the Coliseum, which was faltering as a music hall, the entire theatre was transformed into the Tyrol. The production was based on the German operetta 'Im weissen Roessl', which had been a great success in her then home town, Berlin, the year before. 'White Horse Inn' was a smash hit and ran for 500 performances at the Coliseum Theatre. She followed this up with another leading role at the Coliseum in a German import, the musical 'Casanova', featuring music by Johann Strauss, Jr. His music was adapted by Ralph Benatsky, who had done much the same kind of thing for 'White Horse Inn' with music from various Viennese composers, including Robert Stolz.

Desni's British film career took off with the comedy Falling for You (Robert Stevenson, Jack Hulbert, 1933), supporting the popular musical comedy team of Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. Her next films were the thriller Forbidden Territory (Phil Rosen, 1934) starring Gregory Ratoff, another Jack Hulbert comedy Jack Ahoy (Walter Forde, 1935) and the musical romance Bypass to Happiness/The Diplomatic Lover (Anthony Kimmins, 1934) starring Harold French. She played the lead in Dark World (Bernard Vorhaus, 1935), but the film, released by Fox Film Corporation, is now considered lost.

Desni played a supporting part in the historical drama Fire Over England (William K. Howard, 1937), notable for providing the first pairing of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Leigh's performance in the film helped to convince David O. Selznick to cast her as Scarlett O'Hara in his production of Gone with the Wind. Mike Cummings at AllMovie: "But what really sets the film apart is the outstanding performance of Flora Robson as a stout-hearted, quick-tongued Queen Elizabeth I. Robson delivers barbs at court as sharp as the crossed swords on the field of battle. In private, though, she exhibits a gentle side, even spoon-feeding broth to her ailing counsellor, Baron Burleigh, portrayed with grandfatherly benignity by Morton Selten. The plot moves swiftly, depicting battles, captures, narrow escapes, and wooing on the fly -- all enhanced by the stunning black-and-white cinematography of James Wong Howe. Richard Addinsell serves up a rousing music score, and two of early filmdom's exquisite beauties -- Tamara Desni (Elena) and Vivien Leigh (Cynthia) -- turn strait-laced Elizabethan gowns into fashion statements."

Tamara Desni
Vintage photo, ca. 1920. A gift from Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
German postcard. Photo: Otto Kurt Vogelsang Lichtbildner, Berlin. From Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
British photo by Vivienne / 20th Century Studios Ltd, London. From Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin. Photo: Otto Kurt Vogelsang, Berlin. From Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
Vintage postcard. From Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
British postcard by Lewis Repro, Charing Cross. From Tatiana.

Lithe steps and high-kicks


Tamara Desni’s film career continued through 1950. She played the lover of a small-time crook in Edgar Wallace's mystery The Squeaker (William K. Howard, 1937), with Robert Newton, Edmund Lowe and Ann Todd. Tom Valance in his obituary in The Independent: "Playing a cabaret performer named Tamara in The Squeaker, she sang two songs, 'He's Gone' and 'I Don't Get Along Without You', in a light, sub-Dietrich voice, and performed some lithe steps and high-kicks wearing a see-through evening gown."

In the wartime thriller Traitor Spy (Walter Summers, 1939) she co-starred with Bruce Cabot. Other film credits include the musical comedy Flight from Folly (Herbert Mason, 1945), the crime film Send for Paul Temple (John Argyle, 1946) featuring Anthony Hulme, and her final film, Dick Barton Strikes Back (Godfrey Grayson, 1950) about special agent Dick Barton (Don Stannard).

Tom Vallance: "The radio show Dick Barton – Special Agent (1946) had built an audience of 15 million within a year and was the third most popular radio show of its time after Radio Forfeits and Woman's Hour, but the investigator's screen adventures were lamentably low-budget, poorly written and weakly acted. Desni was second-billed to its star Don Stannard in Dick Barton at Bay, but as Madame Anna, one of the leaders of a gang out to steal a death ray, she had little to do but accept compliments for her beauty and make observations about her cohorts (‘You're getting jumpy, Fingers’)." Dick Barton Strikes Back was the second of three films Hammer Film Productions made about the British agent, although it was the last released. A fourth Barton film was scheduled, Dick Barton in Africa, but Don Stannard was killed in a car crash driving back from the wrap party and Hammer elected not to continue the series.

At the time, Tamara Desni was separating from her fourth husband. Her second husband had been actor Bruce Seton, whom she had met on the set of the forgettable film Blue Smoke (Ralph Ince, 1935) in 1934. They married in 1936 and divorced in 1940. Husband three was film producer Bill Gillet, who served in WWII as a naval flyer. The strains of that ended the marriage in 1945. Husband four was Canadian-born actor Raymond Lovell. They married in 1947, and separated in 1951. Her stepdaughter during this short marriage was the actress Simone Lovell.

After her divorce, Desni moved to the South of France, where she became romantically involved with Albert Lavagna, a builder. Given her track record, she did not wish to marry him initially, but when she became pregnant Albert insisted due to his strong religious faith. It was his first marriage and it would last for half a century. They built 'L'Auberge Chez Tamara', a restaurant and bar which became a popular attraction around Grasse in the Alpes Maritimes. The couple had two daughters. While in her late eighties, Tamara Desni’s health began declining. Aged 97 and a widow, she died in Valence d'Agen, France in 2008.

Tamara and Xenia Desni
Tamara and Xenia Desni. Photo. Collection: Didier Hanson. Given to Didier by Madeleine, Tamara's daughter.

Xenia and Tamara Desni
Tamara Desni, Xenia Desni. Vintage photo. From Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
Vintage photo, ca. 1930. A gift from Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
German postcard. Photo: Becker & Maass, Berlin. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Tamara Desni
German postcard by Verlag Harlip, no. 611. Photo: Harlip.

Tamara Desni, Xenia Desni
Vintage photo. From Tatiana.

Tamara Desni
Photo. Collection: Didier Hanson. Tamara Desni and Raymond Lovell's wedding in 1946. Given to Didier by her daughter.

Tamara Desni, Raymond Lovell
Vintage photo of Tamara Desni and Raymond Lovell. Collection: Didier Hanson. Given to Didier by Tamara's daughter.

Tamara Desni
British card. Photo: B.I.P. Publicity still for McGlusky the Sea Rover (Walter Summers, 1935).

Tamara Desni and Edgar K. Bruce in For husbands only (1949)
British flyer by Ludo Press Ltd. for Palace Pier Theatre, Brighton, 1949. Photos: publicity stills for the play 'For Husbands Only' by John Sibley, starring Edgar K. Bruce and Tamara Desni. A gift from Tatiana.

Thank you, Tatiana and Didier, for sharing your postcards and photos with us!

Sources: Tom Vallance (The Independent), Mike Cummings (AllMovie), The Telegraph, AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

21 February 2024

Xenia Desni

Ukrainian actress Xenia Desni (1894-1962) was a star of the German silent cinema. She appeared in many films by Johannes Guter for Ufa. A highlight in her career was the silent Operetta Ein Walzertraum/A Waltz Dream (1925) by Ludwig Berger.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3738/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Balázs, Berlin.

Xenia Desni and Willy Fritsch in Ein Walzertraum
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 48/6. Photo: Ufa. Xenia Desni and Willy Fritsch in Ein Walzertraum/The Waltz Dream (Ludwig Berger, 1925), adapted from the Oscar Straus operetta.

Xenia Desni in Die gefundene Braut
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1026/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa. Xenia Desni in Die gefundene Braut/The Found Bride (Rochus Gliese, 1925).

Xenia Desni and Livio Pavanelli in Küssen ist keine Sünd'
Austrian photo by Willinger, Wien. Xenia Desni and Livio Pavanelli in the German silent film Die letzte Einquartierung aka Küssen ist keine Sünd'/Kissing is no sin (Rudolf Walther-Fein, Rudolf Dworsky, 1926). A gift from their niece Tatiana.

Xenia Desni in Nixchen (1926)
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 669/1. Photo: Naxos-Film / Verleih E. Weil & Co. Xenia Desni in the comedy Nixchen (Curt Blachnitzky, 1926).

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3760/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

A successful but short film career in Berlin


Xenia Desni (Ukrainian: Ксенія Десні) was born Ksenia Desnytska in 1894 in the town of Oster near Kyiv, then part of the Russian Empire and now Ukraine. Her artistic talent was evident from an early age, and her passion for dance in particular was supported and encouraged by her parents. In 1911 she gave birth to her daughter, the future stage and film actress of the 1930s and 1950s, Tamara Desni. During the turmoil of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Desni and her family fled to Constantinople (now Istanbul) where she worked as a variety dancer.

She travelled to Berlin where she had a successful but short film career in the 1920s. Several sources claim that she made her film debut with Sappho (Dimitri Buchowetzki, 1921) starring Pola Negri, but there is no evidence of this. Desni's name first appeared in 1921 in the credits of Weib und Palette/The Call of Fate (1921), directed by Johannes Guter, who later cast her in many of his films.

Their next film was Die Schwarze Pantherin/The Black Panther (Johannes Guter, 1921) starring Yelena Polevitskaya and produced by Erich Pommer. The film was produced by Russo Film, a small production outfit associated with Decla-Bioscop, which had been set up to produce films based on literature. Die Schwarze Pantherin/The Black Panther was adapted from a play by Volodymyr Vynnychenko, a Ukrainian statesman, political activist, writer, playwright and artist who served as the first prime minister of the Ukrainian People's Republic. Xenia signed a contract with the Ufa.

With Guter she worked on such films as Bardame/Barmaid (1922) with Paul Hartmann, Der Ruf des Schicksals/The Call of Destiny (Johannes Guter, 1922) with Fritz Kortner and Ernst Hofmann, Die Prinzessin Suwarin/Princess Suwarin (Johannes Guter, 1923) starring Lil Dagover and based on the novel by Ludwig Wolff, which had previously appeared in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung. She played Hedwig Tell the wife of the title figure in Wilhelm Tell (Rudolf Dworsky, Rudolf Walther-Fein, 1923). The film portrays the story of the legendary Swiss national hero William Tell. Other successful productions were Die Andere/The Other Woman (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1924), Der Sprung ins Leben (Johannes Guter, 1924) and the German-British costume film Dekameron-Nächte/Decameron Nights (Herbert Wilcox, 1924) based on two stories from the 'Decameron' by Giovanni Boccaccio with Lionel Barrymore as Prince Saladin. It was followed by Der Turm des Schweigens/The Tower of Silence (Johannes Guter, 1925) based on the play 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare. Many films by Johannes Guter are considered lost, but this film was restored by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in 2006 and was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007.

Desni played the beautiful violinist/conductor Franzi Steingruber alongside Mady Christians (Princess Alix von Flausenthurn) and Willy Fritsch (Prince Consort Nikolaus Count Preyn) in Ein Walzertraum/A Waltz Dream (Ludwig Berger, 1925). Ein Walzertraum was based on the 1907 operetta 'Ein Walzertraum' composed by Oscar Straus. At first, Berger had not wanted to film Straus' operetta because an operetta as a silent film seemed an absurd idea to him. Stephanie D'heil at Steffi-Line: "But then he realised: 'Here is new territory! Silent film from the spirit of music. Melody in every face, rhythm in every movement and shot. This is the only way to artistically realise the banal story of a puritanically educated princess who learns from a violinist how to make her husband happy. With actors who first have to be "renovated". Berger becomes an obsessive, a tamer. He transforms the elegiac Russian Xenia Desny into a lively personality." Ein Walzertraum/A Waltz Dream became a worldwide success. Unlike many of Ufa's ambitious productions of the 1920s, Ein Walzertraum managed to recover its production cost in the domestic market alone and was influential in the development of later Viennese operetta films.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 571/1, 1919-1924. Photo: A. Eberth, Berlin.

Xenia Desni in Die gefundene Braut (1924-25)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1026/4, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa. Xenia Desni in Die gefundene Braut/The Found Bride (Rochus Gliese, 1925). From Tatiana.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1028/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa. From Tatiana.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1788/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3151/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Managing her daughter


Xenia Desni's film career flourished in the years 1926-1927. She made one film after another, including Der rosa Diamant/The Pink Diamond (Rochus Gliese, 1926) with Rudolf Klein-Rogge, the comedy Familie Schimeck/The Schimeck Family (Alfred Halm, Rudolf Dworsky, 1926) with Livio Pavanelli and Max Hansen, and Madame wagt einen Seitensprung (Hans Otto, 1927). With Harry Liedtke and Hans Albers, she co-starred in the cheerful Nixchen (1926) based on the novel by Helene Keßler alias Hans von Kahlenberg. She reunited with Willy Fritsch for Die Boxerbraut/The Boxer's Bride (Johannes Guter, 1926).

In France, she appeared with Louise Lagrange and Ricardo Cortez in the silent drama La danseuse Orchidée/The Orchid Dancer (Léonce Perret, 1928). It was shot at the Victorine Studios in Nice. Her last silent film was the Austrian historical drama Erzherzog Johann/Archduke John (Max Neufeld, 1929) starring Igo Sym as Archduke John of Austria, a nineteenth-century member of the Habsburg Dynasty. After the advent of sound film, Xenia Desni's screen career came to an end, probably due to a lack of voice technique.

Between 1924 and 1926, Xenia Desni had a summer residence built in Bansin, which she lived in with her daughter for several years until the house became the property of the industrial magnate Gerdes. According to IMDb and English Wikipedia, she appeared in one more film, the German crime film Kriminalkommissar Eyck (Milo Harbich, 1940) starring Anneliese Uhlig and Paul Klinger.

Her daughter Tamara Desni (1911-2008) acted in a half dozen German sound films. In 1931, Xenia and Tamara settled in London. There Tamara worked for decades as an actress in the British film industry. She was married to Canadian actor Raymond Lovell (1900-1953).

In 1950, Tamara moved with Lovell to France. In 1956, she and her fifth husband, Albert Lavagna, opened a successful hotel and restaurant, L'Auberge Chez Tamara, on the Cote d'Azur in Grasse. Xenia eventually moved in with them. Xenia Desni died in 1962 in Roquefort-les-Pins on the Côte d'Azur. She was 68.

Xenia Desni
German photo by Ufa.

Xenia and Tamara Desni
Vintage photo. Xenia Desni and her daughter Tamara having fun at the beach, in the early 1920s. From Tatiana.

Xenia Desni in Ein Walzertraum (1925)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 48/4. Photo: Ufa. Xenia Desni in Ein Walzertraum/The Waltz Dream (Ludwig Berger, 1925), based on the Oscar Straus operetta.

Xenia Desni
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 513/1. Photo: Sascha.

Hans Albers and Xenia Desni
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 670/1. Photo: Naxos-Film / Austrian distr. E. Weil. Hans Albers and Xenia Desni in Nixchen (Kurt Blachnitzky, 1926).

Xenia Desni in Nixchen (1926)
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 669/2. Photo: Naxos-Film / distr. E. Weil & Co. Probably also a postcard for the German silent film comedy Nixchen (Curt Blachnitzky, 1926), as this was Naxos' only production with Desni.

Xenia Desni
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 963. Photo: National Film. / Distr. Mondial A.G. Probably a card for the National Film production Die Bräutigame der Babette Bomberling/The Grooms of Babette Bomberling (Viktor Janson, 1927).

Xenia Desni in Die Bräutigame der Babette Bomberling
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5014. Photo: National Film / Verleih Mondial-Film. Xenia Desni in the National Film production Die Bräutigame der Babette Bomberling/The Grooms of Babette Bomberling (Vikor Janson, 1927). N.B. Walter Rilla does not act in this film so the actor is probably Egon von Jordan.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1069/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag. Berlin, no. 1567/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Aafa.

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1661/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Willinger, Wien.

Xenia Desni and Harry Liedtke in Ein Mädel aus dem Volke (1927)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1975/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Aafa. Xenia Desni and Harry Liedtke in Ein Mädel aus dem Volke/A girl from the people (Jacob Fleck, Luise Fleck, 1927).

Xenia Desni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4454/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Balázs, Berlin.

Tamara Desni, Xenia Desni
Vintage photo of Tamara and Xenia Desni. From Tatiana.

Source: Stephanie D'heil (Steffi-Line - German), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Find A Grave, Wikipedia (English, Ukranian and German) and IMDb.

20 February 2024

Terra-Color

Film stars and pin-pups were popular subjects of the Terra-Color postcards. These cards were published in West Germany during the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the photos were hand-coloured, a style that was already quite old-fashioned after World War II. Sometimes the result is beautiful, but more often it gives the Terra-Color cards a trashy look.

The film stars


Mara Corday
German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 8. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.

American actress Mara Corday (1930) was also a popular showgirl, model and Playboy Playmate of the 1950s.

Heidi Brühl
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 123.

Blonde, blue-eyed schlager singer and film star Heidi Brühl (1942-1991) was called 'the Doris Day of Germany'. In 1963 she was a German participant in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Gina Lollobrigida
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 130. Photo: Morris, Rome.

Gorgeous Italian actress and photojournalist Gina Lollobrigida (1927-2023) was one of the first European sex symbols of the post-war years. ‘La Lollo’ paved the way into Hollywood for her younger colleagues Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale.

Sabine Sinjen
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 150. Photo: private.
German Stage and film actress Sabine Sinjen (1942-1995) was a teenage star of the 1950s, who became a protagonist of the Neue Deutsche Film in the 1960s.

Fred Bertelmann (1925-2014)
German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 170. Photo: Electrola / Melodie / Gloria / Sascha / Appelt.

German singer and actor Fred Bertelmann's biggest hit was the song 'Der lachende Vagabund', which he also sang in the Schlager film Der lachende Vagabund/The Laughing Rover (Thomas Engel, 1958).

Corny Collins
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 173. Photo: Omega.

Delicate German stage and film actress Corny Collins (1933) was a popular teenage star in entertainment films of the late 1950s.

Sabine Sinjen
German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 183.

German Stage and film actress Sabine Sinjen (1942-1995) was a teenage star of the 1950s, who became a protagonist of the Neue Deutsche Film in the 1960s.

Rocco Granata
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 188.

Rocco Granata (1938) is a Belgian-Italian singer and an occasional actor. He was born in Italy and his parents emigrated to Belgium when he was 10. His father was a coal miner, but Rocco pursued music instead.


Sophia Loren
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. F 190. Sent by mail in 1962.

Academy Award-winning film actress Sophia Loren (1934) rose to fame in post-war Italy as a voluptuous sex goddess. She became one of the most successful international stars of the 20th Century and is still a major sex symbol.

The pin-ups


The Only Girl
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 1.

The Gorgeous Hussy
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 2.

Catch Me If You Can
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 11.

Now You See Me
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 14.

Cabin in the Sky
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 19.

Then She Found Me
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 30.

The Girl in the Green Velvet Bikini
West German postcard by Terra-Color, no. PU 31.