23 February 2013

Photo: Georg Michalke

German-born Georg Michalke (1909 – 1982) photographed countless European stars and starlets in Rome during the 1950’s and 1960’s. These were the times of 'La dolce vita' - the heydays of the Italian film industry. His sizzling pictures of La Loren, BB, CC and other love goddesses were used for postcards, that are now popular at Flickr and here at EFSP. But who was the man behind the camera? Grandson Thomas Stein gave us a peek into Michalke's eventful life.

Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren. German postcard printed by Krüger, no. 902/304. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot. German postcard by UFA (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK 142. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Michalke / UFA.

Claudia Cardinale
Claudia Cardinale. German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/164. Photo: Georg Michalke / UFA.

Death Penalty
George Michalke was born in Eberswalde near Berlin in 1909. He was the son of medical officer Dr. Alfons Michalke and his wife Emma Michalke née Kliegel. From 1931 to 1933, Georg studied Philology (classic languages) at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Univertsität in Berlin, and also studied at the universities of Paris (Sorbonne), London, Rome and Halle. He graduated at the United Friedrichs-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in 1935. From 1935 to 1940 he worked at the research office of the Air Ministry of the Third Reich. In 1941 Michalke emigrated to Rome, Italy where he worked as an editor for the German news agency Transocean. In 1943 he was suddenly called to join the German Wehrmacht. While he did not react, the German military court in Rome sentenced him to death on 28 October 1943. A few days later, he was transferred by truck to Munich. After a request for clemency and a review of his case, he was pardoned and sentenced to 5 years in prison on 24 December 1943. He spent nine months in the concentration camp Aschendorfer Moor, and in December 1944 he was moved to a Strafbattalion (a penal unit) in Torgau. From there he was transferred on 12 February 1945 to Strafbattalion 500 near Brno. On 25 March Michalke and a mate knew to escape southwards. They were arrested again and brought to the Wehrmacht prison in Vienna-Floridsdorf. Happily they were not executed. Early April 1945, George Michalke was liberated there by the Russian military and transported.

Karin Baal
Karin Baal. German postcard by UFA (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK 392. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Michalke / UFA.

Margaret Lee
Margaret Lee. German postcard by Kruger, no. 902/356. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Michèle Mercier
Michèle Mercier. German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/295. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Dominique Boschero
Dominique Boschero. German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/357. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Betsy Bell
Betsy Bell. German postcard by Krüger. Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1965. Photo: Georg Michalke.

'Trading in Pornography'
After the war, Georg Michalke returned to Rome where he worked again as journalist and photographer. The booming Italian film industry gave him lots of opportunities as a photographer. he sold his pictures mainly in Germany. Michalke proved to be an excellent glamour photographer. Many of the most gorgeous Italian, French and German divas and starlets of the 1950’s and 1960’s posed for his camera. The results are still stunning. When was Sophia Loren sexier than in Michalke’s publicity shot for La donna del fiume/The Woman of the River (1955, Mario Soldati)? Some of his other pictures of Loren must have been so daring that he was accused of 'trading in pornography'. According to a 1959 article in the German magazine Der Spiegel, a Roman court even sentenced him to six months prison for this. During the trial, La Loren was not present. According to her legal representative, she was making a film abroad. Quite daring was also Michalke's portrait of BB – Brigitte Bardot - in a white corset. And how about Michalke’s photo of CC – Claudia Cardinale – in bikini? Deliciously sexy but not sleazy. All these photos were picked up by Krüger, UFA and other German postcard publishers. Thomas Stein wrote us that his grandfather kept working as a journalist and photographer both in Germany (in Hamburg, Münster and other places) and in Rome, until his death in 1982. Georg Michalke was married twice and had two daughters, Monika and Inez. Thomas is the son of Monika Stein née Michalke. Thank you, Thomas - and your mother, for sharing the information, and the portraits from your private collection with us. Elsewhere on the web, there is virtually no information on the man and his work. Why? As one of the major glamour photographers of the 20th Century, with an interesting connection to the European film industry, George Michalke deserves a large, lavishly produced monography. With lots and lots of his pictures, please.

Georg Michalke
Georg Michalke, circa 1949, picture from an Italian ID card. Photo: collection Thomas Stein.

Fotograf Georg Michalke
Georg Michalke, circa 1970, picture from a German ID card. Photo: collection Thomas Stein.

Georg Michalke, Prague, 1973. Photo: collection Thomas Stein.

Sources: Der Spiegel (German) and Thomas Stein.

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