Gösta Ekman (1890 – 1938) was the first real star of the Swedish theater. His boyish good looks attracted both sexes, helping to create a massive cult following, and elevating him to the status of a living legend. Combined with a beautiful voice, and a powerful stage and screen presence, Ekman was able to captivate his audiences.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 62/5. Photo: ParUfaMet / Ufa. Gösta Ekman in Faust (1926).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1274/5, 1927-1928. Photo: H. Natge / Ufa.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1623/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Nordisk.
Master of Disguise
Gösta Ekman was born as Frans Gösta Viktor Ekman in Stockholm in 1890. He first entered the stage as an extra in 1906, but made his professional stage debut in the renowned Selander Company in 1911. During his short life he enjoyed a prolific stage career, becoming a star of the Swedish theatre. He won acclaim for his classic portrayals, such as Lionel in Friedrich Schiller’s Maid of Orleans (1914), Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing (1916), and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (1919). Known as a self-taught master of disguise with theatre make-up and costumes, Gösta Ekman was equally convincing as a farmer's son, an 18th Century middle-aged aristocrat, or an 80-year old lunatic. Furthermore, he played in comedies, tragedies, dramas, and operettas. As a result, it was believed that he was capable of being convincing in all genres and as all types of characters. At different times, he also ran and supervised several private theatres in Stockholm, including the Oscarsteatern, the Vasateatern, and the Konserthusteatern. He was also head of the Göteburg City Theatre in the 1930's. At the Vasateatern, which he ran from 1931 to 1935, he both directed and played the lead in several plays, while also producing a large number of productions. As a result, his time at the Vasateatern is considered to be the peak of his stage career.
Swedish postcard by Axel Eliassons Konstförlag, Stockholm, no. 413, mailed in 1916. Photo: Uno Falkengren, Göteborg.
Swedish postcard by Axel Eliassons Konstförlag, Stockholm, no. 21. Photo: Uno Falkengren, Nordiska Kompaniet, 1918.
Austrian postcard. by Iris-Verlag, no. 5355. Photo: Pan-Film A.G.
German postcard. by Ross Verlag, no. 4034/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Aafa Film.
Gösta Ekman started to appear in films at the dawn of the Swedish film industry, and played an important role in its development. One of his first film roles was in Victor Sjöström's experimental film Trädgårdsmästaren/The Broken Springrose (1912, Victor Sjöström). He also appeared in Den Okända/The Unknown Woman (1913, Mauritz Stiller), Vem dömer/Love's Crucible (1922, Victor Sjöström), Karl XII/Charles XII (in two parts, 1924-1925, John W. Brunius), and in Nordisk Studio's most lucrative release of the 1920’s, Klovnen/The Clown (1926), directed and co-written by A.W. Sandberg. This was a remake of a 1917 film with the same title, also written and directed by Sandberg. Later, Ekman played the lead in the first Swedish talkie, För hennes skull/For Her Sake (1930, Paul Merzbach).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 2038/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Jensen.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4462/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Jaeger (?).
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 968. Photo: Nordisk Film / Lux Film Verleih.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3746/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Terra Film.
Gösta Ekman starred in two films that would gain international recognition: F.W. Murnau's silent film classic Faust (1926, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau), where he played the title character opposite Emil Jannings as Mephisto, and in the original version of Intermezzo (1936, Gustaf Molander), where he played a world famous violinist opposite Ingrid Bergman in her breakout role. They had already acted opposite each other in Swedenhielms/Swedenhielms Family (1935, Gustaf Molander). They share a couple of wonderful scenes alone together as their characters have a heart-to-heart conversation on life and love, which are among the most memorable moments in the film. His best on-screen credit is his double-role in the comedy Kungen kommer/The King Is Coming (1936, Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius), where Ekman masterfully plays first the king and then also the king's look-a-like; an actor who is hired by members of the Royal Court to impersonate His Majesty at a private party. Naturally the real king later arrives at the party causing a number of confusions and comic mix-ups. Ekman co-directed himself in the film En Perfekt gentleman/A Perfect Gentleman (1927, Vilhelm Bryde), in which he also starred opposite exotic star La Jana.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 62/3. Photo: Parufamet. Publicity still for Faust (1926).
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 66/2. Photo: Ufa. Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings and Camilla Horn in Faust (1926). Collection: Didier Hanson.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 62/6. Photo: ParUfaMet / Ufa. Gösta Ekman in Faust (1926). Collection: Didier Hanson.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 62/4. Photo: ParUfaMet / Ufa. Gösta Ekman and Emil Jannings in Faust (1926). Collection: Didier Hanson.
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 66/6. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Faust (1926).
Early on, Gösta Ekman was labeled as a workaholic, sacrificing himself for his art and for his love of the theatre. Later, as his fame increased, his workload increased likewise. During the day, he would rehearse and direct plays. In the evening, he played leading roles in stage plays. Later at night, he would film. This busy schedule left him with relatively little free time. Furthermore, the free time he did have was spent carrying out his duties as the administrative director of the theatres he ran. In 1926, while filming Faust in Berlin, he was introduced to cocaine by two Scandinavians, who told him that the drug would help him to cope better with his work schedule. Sadly, this began a long-term drug addiction that slowly deteriorated his health and eventually caused his death 12 years later at the age of 47. In 1914, Gösta Ekman had married Greta Sundström. Their son Hasse Ekman became one of Sweden's most successful film directors in the 1940's and early 1950's. Gösta Ekman's grandson, Gösta Ekman Jr., is today one of Sweden's very finest actors.
The famous flight scene in Faust with Gösta Ekman and Emil Jannings. Source: Andrewfingers (YouTube).
Scene from Klovnen/The Clown (1926). Source: Vintagezelle (YouTube).
Scene from Intermezzo (1936). Source: CinematicSwede (YouTube).
Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and IMDb.