Movie Star Favorites From Someone Else’s Past

Lilian Harvey and John Boles in Fox's 1933 film "My Lips Betray"

When my husband was cleaning out his parents’ apartment in Santiago, Chile, after their deaths last year, one of the things he found was a well-worn leather satchel, crammed full of postcards and dinner menus from his mother’s 1938 ocean journey on the Hamburg-Amerika steamer Rhakotis when she and her family fled Germany for a new life in Chile.  She was a teenager then, and among the cards and mementos of the trip were a selection of movie star postcards which she had obviously collected, faces and autographs of personalities probably unfamiliar to most of us, but the stuff of a young fraulein’s dreams.  There were several photos of stars we would recognize — a couple of Shirley Temples, a Greer Garson, a Gary Cooper — but it was those other stars who caught my eye.  Who were these intriguing unknown celebrities?  John Boles I know, but who was, for instance, Lilian Harvey?

Lilian Harvey, UFA Star

Lilian Harvey, I found out, was a beautiful and talented actress/singer who was born in London but achieved her fame as an audience favorite in German films.  Fluent in several languages, Lilian was able to work in different versions of her movies for various markets, and in the early 1930s was under contract to 20th Century Fox, where she made the film My Lips Betray in 1933, the one with John Boles.  Lilian’s heart belonged in Berlin, however, and she continued to work there even as the Nazis came to power.  She was no fan of Hitler;  her loyalty to her friends, some of whom were targeted by the Nazi government, kept her under the Gestapo’s scrutiny.  Despite the unwanted attention she was still able to aid friends in their escape from Germany to freedom, but it was not without a toll on Harvey’s life.  Her real estate holdings were confiscated, and she fled to France, eventually ending up in Hollywood where she joined many of her German friends and spent the rest of WWII as a volunteer nurse.  Despite her heroism and selfless acts, the taint of working under the Nazis kept her from reigniting a film career.  Lilian did continue her singing career in various tour throughout Europe.  She died in France in 1968 at the age of 62.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR47az1N02M]

 

The Classically Beautiful Camilla Horn

There was another postcard, of the classy beauty Camilla Horn.  Aficionados of silent film may know her name from her starring role in Murnau’s 1926 masterpiece Faust, a part she inherited from Lillian Gish after Murnau wouldn’t hire Gish’s preferred cinematographer.  Camilla came to Hollywood and made several films at the time when movies were making the transition to sound, and she could have made that transition with them — she had a good speaking voice and was a talented singer — but she wanted to return to Germany where she had a husband waiting for her.  Even though she’d starred with John Barrymore in America, it was back to Berlin for her, where she resumed her career.  She was a great favorite and like many artists was in defiance of the Nazis, but continued to work under and around their auspices.  Despite being harassed and prosecuted by the Gestapo for a financial misdeed, she was a favorite of Goerring and obtained a personal pardon from him (while skillfully evading having to engage in an affair with him for it.)  Camilla actually spent several months in prison after being convicted by the British post-War tribunals, but it did not hurt her standing as a favorite European movie actress.  Much-married, rumored to be the mistress of producer Joseph Schenck, the victim of several financial frauds, and immensely talented, Camilla Horn was a survivor.  At the age of 84 she made a movie comeback and died at the age of 93 in 1996.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug1PVJrhpVc]

The Pert and Lovely Anny Ondra

And then there is the photo of the pert and luscious Anny Ondra.  A beautful actress with a strong Czech accent (and born in Poland), Anny was a favorite of European silent movie audiences and also worked in English films, including the early sound movie Blackmail with director Alfred Hitchcock from 1929.   Her accent kept her from going forward in English-language films after sound was established, but it didn’t stop her from making nearly 100 films over her long and successful career, and from branching out into acting as producer for over a dozen of her films.   In the early 1930s she set up residence in Germany, and quickly became beloved for her comedic roles as well as her dramatic prowess.  In 1933 she married the personable World Heavyweight Champion Max Schmeling who famously knocked out U.S. boxer Joe Louis in 1936.  (The situation was reversed in 1938 when Louis even more famously defeated Schmeling.  The two became fast friends, in fact, and Schmeling paid for Louis’ funeral in 1981 as well as giving other financial support when Louis fell on hard times).   Anny and Max starred in a movie together in 1935 called Knockout, a showcase for his fisticuffs and her comedy cuteness, but Max soon went back into the ring to do what he did best and Anny continued her successful career.  Despite being touted as a Nazi superman and used as a propaganda symbol for Germany, Schmeling was not a Nazi and worked privately against them. After WWII service (where the rebuffed Hitler put him into extra-hazardous service),  he kept fighting and ultimately ended up as the Coca Cola king of Europe once he left boxing.   Anny Ondra and Max Schmeling were happily married until her death in 1987, and Max died in 2005. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl6SMOSXa7A]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TYpCO7Ul1c&feature=related]

 

I’ll have more photos and stories next time.  Until then, here’s a menu from February 6, 1938, on the Rhakotis:

Menu from the Hamburg-Amerika Steamer Rhakotis Feb. 1938

0 Response Movie Star Favorites From Someone Else’s Past
Posted By rhsmith : March 27, 2009 8:03 pm

Wow, what an incredible find! These postcards are AMAZING. Thanks for the history lesson, too. And, boy, does anything whet the appetite quite like the Swastika on a menu?!

Posted By rhsmith : March 27, 2009 8:03 pm

Wow, what an incredible find! These postcards are AMAZING. Thanks for the history lesson, too. And, boy, does anything whet the appetite quite like the Swastika on a menu?!

Posted By Rick : March 28, 2009 12:29 am

Great pictures. I really enjoy movies and related pictures of the 1920′s, 1930′s, and 1940′s. Waiting to see more. Thanks.

Posted By Rick : March 28, 2009 12:29 am

Great pictures. I really enjoy movies and related pictures of the 1920′s, 1930′s, and 1940′s. Waiting to see more. Thanks.

Posted By Lynn : March 28, 2009 1:07 am

Excellent writing! What a unique find,and I have been an antiques dealer for years and know how exciting something like this is. It is extra exciting when it includes you in the past of someone you have loved and lost. I don’t think anything could have given you such a nice glimpse into what her experiences were at a time of great turmoil, much like today. It must have been hard moving so far from her home. What a wonderful escape she must have had while collecting and day dreaming over all these wonderful items. Isn’t it awesome that she held onto all of them for so long! Aren’t you so blessed to get to experience them too!
Aren’t movies the best escape even now!

Posted By Lynn : March 28, 2009 1:07 am

Excellent writing! What a unique find,and I have been an antiques dealer for years and know how exciting something like this is. It is extra exciting when it includes you in the past of someone you have loved and lost. I don’t think anything could have given you such a nice glimpse into what her experiences were at a time of great turmoil, much like today. It must have been hard moving so far from her home. What a wonderful escape she must have had while collecting and day dreaming over all these wonderful items. Isn’t it awesome that she held onto all of them for so long! Aren’t you so blessed to get to experience them too!
Aren’t movies the best escape even now!

Posted By Suzi Doll : March 28, 2009 12:18 pm

Wow! What a treasure. When my Mom moved into her current house in 1997, I found a card like that for an actor whom I had never heard of. I researched him and may write something in the future. But, it’s like opening a window into the past in many ways. Excellent post.

Posted By Suzi Doll : March 28, 2009 12:18 pm

Wow! What a treasure. When my Mom moved into her current house in 1997, I found a card like that for an actor whom I had never heard of. I researched him and may write something in the future. But, it’s like opening a window into the past in many ways. Excellent post.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 28, 2009 1:32 pm

This is so interesting and I enjoyed the clip of Lilian Harvey singing very much. I’d seen that clip of Hitch being creepy with Miss Ondra before–I really wonder how much English she understood?

I hope that when you write about this again you’ll mention whether or not your husband had any memories of his mother’s mentioning her interest in any of these actors. I too am fascinated by many of the actors and performers who lived through this period in German history and the hard choices many of them made. Thanks for writing this fine blog post.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 28, 2009 1:32 pm

This is so interesting and I enjoyed the clip of Lilian Harvey singing very much. I’d seen that clip of Hitch being creepy with Miss Ondra before–I really wonder how much English she understood?

I hope that when you write about this again you’ll mention whether or not your husband had any memories of his mother’s mentioning her interest in any of these actors. I too am fascinated by many of the actors and performers who lived through this period in German history and the hard choices many of them made. Thanks for writing this fine blog post.

Posted By Vincent : March 28, 2009 3:44 pm

Here’s an entry I wrote on the subject of film-star postcards in November 2007:

http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/52279.html

Posted By Vincent : March 28, 2009 3:44 pm

Here’s an entry I wrote on the subject of film-star postcards in November 2007:

http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/52279.html

Posted By medusamorlock : March 28, 2009 5:46 pm

Thanks for all the nice comments! I have another great batch coming up! I found looking into these personalities incredibly addicting and it’s especially nice that clips are showing up on YouTube so we can get a taste of what dynamic performers they were.

And Vincent, thanks for the link to your extremely informative post, and all the info about the company who published the cards. The link to the project to catalog all the various Ross Verlag photos is fascinating!

Thanks again!

Posted By medusamorlock : March 28, 2009 5:46 pm

Thanks for all the nice comments! I have another great batch coming up! I found looking into these personalities incredibly addicting and it’s especially nice that clips are showing up on YouTube so we can get a taste of what dynamic performers they were.

And Vincent, thanks for the link to your extremely informative post, and all the info about the company who published the cards. The link to the project to catalog all the various Ross Verlag photos is fascinating!

Thanks again!

Posted By Jenni : March 28, 2009 6:38 pm

What an interesting article. I was especially intrigued about the history of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Their stories, leading to their two matches, and their friendship over the years, in my opinion, needs to be made into a movie! A screenwriter could explore their childhoods, how they got into the sport of boxing, show how Max dealt with what the Nazis did to his country, how Joe dealt with racism in America circa 1930s, and of course highlight their matches, especially the one in 1938. Historical movies, aka, based on a true story are some of my faves, and I think the friendship and loyalty that developed between these two men from such different parts of the world and cultures should be portrayed.

Posted By Jenni : March 28, 2009 6:38 pm

What an interesting article. I was especially intrigued about the history of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Their stories, leading to their two matches, and their friendship over the years, in my opinion, needs to be made into a movie! A screenwriter could explore their childhoods, how they got into the sport of boxing, show how Max dealt with what the Nazis did to his country, how Joe dealt with racism in America circa 1930s, and of course highlight their matches, especially the one in 1938. Historical movies, aka, based on a true story are some of my faves, and I think the friendship and loyalty that developed between these two men from such different parts of the world and cultures should be portrayed.

Posted By medusamorlock : March 30, 2009 8:54 am

Jenni, there was actually a TV Movie in 2002 called “Joe and Max” about their relationship over the years. I believe it was made for the Starz/Encore movie channels, and starred Peta Wilson as Anny Ondra. I sure haven’t seen it anywhere lately, but it’s supposed to be pretty good for a TVM. We should keep our eyes peeled for it — I’d also like to see it now.

Posted By medusamorlock : March 30, 2009 8:54 am

Jenni, there was actually a TV Movie in 2002 called “Joe and Max” about their relationship over the years. I believe it was made for the Starz/Encore movie channels, and starred Peta Wilson as Anny Ondra. I sure haven’t seen it anywhere lately, but it’s supposed to be pretty good for a TVM. We should keep our eyes peeled for it — I’d also like to see it now.

Posted By Jeff : March 30, 2009 3:45 pm

I’m amazed that you were able to find any film clips on some of these performers too! Thanks for a fascinating, offbeat post.

Posted By Jeff : March 30, 2009 3:45 pm

I’m amazed that you were able to find any film clips on some of these performers too! Thanks for a fascinating, offbeat post.

Posted By TCM’s Classic Movie Blog : April 10, 2009 8:39 pm

[...] Rediscovered Postcards, Part 2 Posted by medusamorlock on April 10, 2009 In my earlier post from two weeks ago, we got to know several European actresses through old postcards that belonged to my [...]

Posted By TCM’s Classic Movie Blog : April 10, 2009 8:39 pm

[...] Rediscovered Postcards, Part 2 Posted by medusamorlock on April 10, 2009 In my earlier post from two weeks ago, we got to know several European actresses through old postcards that belonged to my [...]

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