It was fifty years ago today…

AW in 1961
…that AW died at the home of his old friend, actress Hansi Burg, in Garatshausen, Bavaria, where he had been convalescing from a heart attack he had suffered on stage at the Kleine-Komödie in Munich at the end of March. I have written about this in more detail on previous anniversaries (see here and here.)

It had been my intention to mark this year’s special anniversary with the publication of my biography of the actor, but for various reasons this has not been possible. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the text is complete – watch this space for further news!

The website has been undergoing some behind-the-scenes transformations which have prevented me from uploading any new material in recent weeks, and again, I hope normal service will be resumed very soon. Thank you for continuing to visit the blog.

During my last visit to Vienna I spent some time in a second hand shop near the Sigmund Freud Museum, and while browsing there came across a set of the collected works of Gottfried Keller. It was a lovely little set of small octavo volumes, in decorated green cloth bindings, and I was sorely tempted when I saw that the story ‘Regine’ was included. After some internal arguments, however, I had to put the books back – I was flying with hand luggage only and my bag was already bursting with books. As consolation, I found a copy of Alfred Ibach’s biography of Paula Wessely – Die Wessely: skizze ihres Werdens (1943), which I picked up for only 1 Euro. I will write about Wessely below, but first I am going to turn to the two actresses who co-starred with AW in Regine: Luise Ullrich and Olga Tschechowa.

Luise Ullrich (1910-85)


Starred with AW in Regine (1935)


The film Regine is based upon a novella written by Swiss-German author Gottfried Keller, and published in his story-cycle Das Sinngedicht (The Epigram) in 1881. The movie is more sentimental than the novella and makes a number of changes, but the story of an eminent engineer who falls in love with a lowly maid is essentially the same.

Luise Ullrich had a fresh-faced innocent beauty that made her ideally suited for the role of Regine. Born in Vienna on 31 October 1911 to a count and major in the Austro-Hungarian army, she studied at the Academy of Music and Performing arts in Vienna before making her stage debut in the city in 1926. After some five years she moved to Berlin, where she was spotted on stage at the Lessing Theater by actor-director Luis Trenker, who cast her opposite himself in the film Der Rebell (1932) about a Tyrolean hero fighting Napoleon’s forces. Her real breakthrough came the following year, however, when she appeared opposite Olga Tschechowa in Liebelei (1933), directed by Max Ophuls. 

In this film, based on a story by Arthur Schnitzler, she played the part of Mizzi who, with her friend Christine (Magda Schneider), makes the acquaintance of two cavalry officers Lobheimer (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and Kaiser (Willi Eichberger, whom AW encouraged to go to Hollywood where he changed his name to Carl Esmond.) They meet at a concert in Vienna when the mischievous Mizzi drops her opera glasses from the balcony onto the officers below. While Mizzi pairs off with Kaiser, Lobheimer falls for Christine, having already decided to break off his affair with Baroness Eggerdorff (Tschechowa.) Unfortunately, Baron Eggersdorff (Gustaf Grundgens) has discovered his wife’s adultery, and events take a tragic turn….

The film displays some beautiful cinematography by Franz Planer, who would make similar use of his talents filming AW and Tschechowa in Maskerade.  Both films are brilliant evocations of the mythical ‘old Vienna’ to which Ophuls returned with La Ronde (1950), again adapted from a Schnitzler play but this time with AW centre-stage. Liebelei shares some similarities with Maskerade, such as the lush background of Viennese music plus the themes of aristocratic adultery and the etiquette of dishonour. Its success brought Ullrich further lead roles, including that of Regine.

Regine tells the story of Frank, an engineer returning to his native Germany for the first time in ten years after working in America. On the ship home he meets actress Floris Bell (Olga Tschechowa), whose advances he rejects. As Frank has no family, he goes to stay at his uncle’s house in southern Germany (there are wonderful location shots filmed in Bavaria and the Rhineland), where he falls in love with – and marries – his uncle’s housemaid, the humble Regine. 

Regine’s social awkwardness creates some scenes that are alternately comical and touching. Inevitably, there is tension and difficulties, and a misunderstanding – caused in part by Floris – leads Frank to suspect Regine of seeing another man while he is away. Distraught, Regine tries to take her own life…but in a film like this, matters are – of course – resolved happily.

Regine was released in Germany a few weeks before Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will – a fact that demonstrates the diversity of films available to cinema goers under the Nazis. Furthermore, it was Regine, rather than any overt propaganda, which Germany submitted as its entry to the Venice Film Festival that year. Clearly, it was held in high regard.


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Gazing at a photo of AW – doubtless a popular activity for young women in the 1930s

Ullrich remained in Germany during the war, receiving great acclaim for her portrayal of a heroic German mother in Annelie: Die Geschichte eines Lebens (1941.) The film follows a woman named Annelie from her birth in 1871 (the year of German reunification) through to her 70th birthday, during which she accepts the loss of her husband in World War One and possibly her three sons (in World War Two) for the good of the Fatherland. Written by Nazi Party member Thea von Harbou, the screenplay fitted in well with the Nazi cult of motherhood which was then at its peak, and Ullrich’s fine performance won her the Volpi Cup for best actress at the 1941 Venice Film Festival. The following year she married Count Wulf Dietrich zu Castell, whom she had met in South America. Now a mature woman, she continued to play character roles after the war ended and – like AW – appeared in several TV movies during the 1960s. She was honoured in 1979 for her lifetime contribution to German film and died in Munich on 21 January 1985, aged 74.

Olga Tschechowa (1897-1980)

Starred with AW in Maskerade (1934) and Regine (1935)

The actress was born Olga Knipper in 1897 in what is now Armenia. Tschechowa is the tortuous German version of Chekhova (Russian Чехова), and was the name she took after her marriage in 1915 to Michael Chekhov, nephew of the playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. She was already related to the great writer, as he was married to her aunt, also named Olga Knipper. 
She separated from Michael Chekhov just after the Russian Revolution, appearing in three silent films before leaving Russia and travelling to Vienna with her second husband, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. She arrived in Berlin in 1920 and found that the Chekhov name opened doors for her. After obtaining an introduction to UFA executive Erich Pommer, she was given a leading role in F W Murnau’s Schloß Vogelöd (1921.) 
This silent who-dunnit is set in a castle where a group of aristocratic guests await the arrival of Baroness Safferstätt (Tschechowa, above). In the meantime, an uninvited and unwelcome guest arrives – Count Oetsch (Lotar Mehnert), whom everyone believes murdered the baroness’s first husband, his brother Peter (Paul Hartmann). Tension rises after the baroness arrives with her second husband (Paul Bildt), accusations are made, and the pious friar Father Faramünd mysteriously disappears from a locked room….

Although the film is a pale shadow of Murnau’s later work, Tschechowa gives a mesmerising performance as the Baroness, and further work quickly came her way. She made around forty silent films before migrating to talkies with Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930), a hugely popular musical comedy that inspired several imitations, including Drei von der Stempelstelle (1932) starring AW. The success of the film encouraged Tschechowa to sail to Hollywood later that year. Although she partied with Garbo, Fairbanks, Lloyd and Chaplin,  her Hollywood career was short-lived as American audiences found her Russo-German accent too thick. She returned to Germany and continued making films.


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Early publicity pictures of the actress suggest a natural, sensual beauty that was much less apparent in her performances by the late 1930s.


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Nor was she averse to a little bit of risque suggestiveness

In both Maskerade and Regine she plays one of the ‘grande dame’ characters at which she excelled, almost to the point of getting typecast. From Schloß Vogelöd onwards she was asked to play ladies of status and power, blending cold beauty with a certain hauteur and a hard edge that (to me) lessens her attractiveness. Willi Forst, the director of Maskerade, directed her in some of her best films such as Burgtheater (1936) and Bel Ami (1939.) 

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A scene from ‘Maskerade’

PictureLove triangle: with AW in ‘Maskerade’, next to a painting of Leopoldine Dur (Paula Wessely) on the easel


She moved in high circles during the 1930s and two years after Maskerade was awarded the status of Staatsschauspielerin.  However, at the same time as this ‘State Actress of the Third Reich’ was wining and dining with Goebbels and Hitler, she was passing information about them to Soviet officials. Although there is no doubt that she was working as a Russian agent during the war, there is no indication that she contributed much of value. The Russians appreciated having a contact who enjoyed access to the private company of Hitler and Goebbels; there were also plans for her brother Lev Knipper to assassinate the Führer if she could get him close enough. After the war Tschechowa was rewarded for her work with financial support and an apartment in the Russian sector of Berlin.

Olga and Lev were very fortunate to survive throughout this period, but her ability to flit effortlessly between regimes – Tsarist, Bolshevik, Nazi and Stalinist – suggests that her allegiance remained primarily to herself rather than to the world around her. Tschechowa’s clandestine activities and unreliable memoirs make it hard to gain any real sense of her personality. She moved to Munich in 1950, launched a range of cosmetics and gradually retired from acting, although her daughter Ada (1916-66) and grand-daughter Vera (1940-) both became successful actresses and Olga herself made something of a comeback in the 1970s. She died in Munich on 9 March 1980, sipping champagne and murmuring ‘Life is beautiful.’

Paula Wessely (1907-2000)
Starred with AW in Maskerade (1934.)

Paula Wessely’s early life and career followed a similar path to that of Luise Ullrich. Born in Vienna, she studied at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts before taking to the stage at the Volkstheater and Max Reinhardt Seminar. Although she came from slightly humbler origins – her father was a butcher – she overtook Ullrich in popularity and went on to become probably the best loved actress in Austria. Part of this success was due to her insistence on getting lead roles from the earliest part of her career. Demanding parts such as that of Rose in Rose Bernd, Gretchen in Faust and Joan of Arc in Shaw’s Saint Joan made people sit up and take note of her name, and so it was only natural that in her first film – Maskerade – she was given the star role. (She had been considered for the part of Christi in Liebelei but lost out to Magda Schneider – otherwise I could have had a photograph showing all three actresses together.)

Like so many of AW’s comedies of this period, Maskerade revolves around a misunderstanding over identities. The painter Heideneck (AW) has a reputation as a womaniser but has broken off with his former lover Anita Keller (Tschechowa) now that she is engaged to music director Paul Harrandt (Walter Janssen). Her fiance’s brother, surgeon Dr Carl Harrandt (Peter Petersen), is married to Gerda (Hilde von Stolz), who slips away from the carnival celebrations to be painted wearing only a mask and a chinchilla muff that she has borrowed from Anita.


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Artist and sitter: AW and Hilde von Stolz

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A mix-up results in the picture being sent to the printers and its appearance in the next day’s newspaper threatens a scandal when the distinctive muff indicates the nude sitter was Anita. Dr Harrandt insists that his brother confront Heideneck, who invents a name – Fraulein Dur – only for Harrandt to consult the Vienna directory and locate a young secretary named Leopoldine Dur (Wessely). This lowly, but morally upright young woman is unwittingly drawn into the confusion, and matters get more complicated when Heideneck finds himself falling in love with her. Set in Vienna in 1905, the film is a nostalgic evocation of the pre-war city, filled with splendid ballroom scenes, lively music and a sumptuous atmosphere of pleasure. However, as the saying goes, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,’ and the jealous Anita decides to get her revenge…


In both films Tschechowa really plays the same role – that of the glamorous but decadent ‘grande dame’ who is rejected in favour of a plainer and humbler woman of greater virtue. Leopoldine’s character may have looked plain by comparison with Anita’s vampish elegance, but Wessely had a natural loveliness about her, as well as being a superbly talented actress.
The year after Maskerade‘s release she married fellow actor Attila Hörbiger, whose older brother Paul had co-starred with AW in Walzerkrieg (1933.) They had three daughters – Elisabeth, Christiane and Maresa, all of whom became actresses. Wessely had another reason to celebrate in 1935, as she was awarded the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice Film Festival, in recognition for her performance as Valerie Gärtner in Episode, which was written by Masquerade’s screenwriter Walter Reisch. When the Nazis tried to force Reisch out of work because he was Jewish, Wessely and her husband fought his case – much to the irritation of Goebbels, who complained in his diary about the actress having ‘too many Jewish friendships.’ Reisch eventually left Austria, working in London before emigrating to Hollywood where he wrote the original screenplay for the 1944 MGM remake of AW’s Gaslight (1940.) Both Wessely and Hörbiger remained in Austria during the war, regrettably appearing – alongside Peter Petersen from Maskerade – in the unpleasant propaganda film Heimkehr (Homecoming, 1941), which attempted to justify the German invasion of Poland and maltreatment of the Polish people. After the war, Wessely’s participation in the film caused her to be blacklisted by the Allies, but she emerged from this shadow and continued acting on both stage and screen for another forty years.

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Paula Wessely in her dressing room

Premature burial is no laughing matter. In fact many people found the idea of being buried alive so terrifying that they went to great lengths to ensure it couldn’t happen to them. Before his death in 1912 Archdeacon Thomas Colley specified in his will that his body was to be sent to a hospital for dissection in the aid of medical science, ensuring that any signs of life would be noticed by doctors in the event that he was still alive. A few years earlier, the  Third Marquess of Bute requested that doctors wait for unmistakable signs of decay before removing his heart, which was then sent for burial in Jerusalem. (See Rosemary Hannah, The Grand Designer: Third Marquess of Bute (Birlinn, 2012) p. 354. ) Aware of these and many other instances, I was intrigued to find the concept treated with great lightheartedness in the postcard below, which I purchased last week from an antique shop.
My hopes that a closer look at the card would make more sense have since been dashed. Is there any significance in the name on the gravestone? While pondering the images on the card, I was reminded of Harry Clarke’s chilling illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s tale The Premature Burial (below.)
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“The Premature Burial” (1919) by Harry Clarke (1889-1931)

Dublin-born Clarke was a leading light of the Irish arts & crafts movement and provided the illustrations for a posthumous edition of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: George Harrap & Co. 1919.) This was later adapted for the cinema as the third in Roger Corman’s ‘Poe Cycle.’
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Poster for ‘The Premature Burial’ (Roger Corman, 1962)

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Poster for ‘The Oblong Box’ (Gordon Hessler, 1969), based very loosely on Poe’s tale of the same name.

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This poster for the first of Corman’s Poe adaptations – ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1960) echoes of Clarke’s drawing, with the vertical orientation and the sinister tree.

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Although this poster shifts the layout, the premature burial is still placed in the foreground. The screenplay for the movie was written by Richard Matheson.

I’ve just been teaching Poe’s Corman cycle to film adaptation students which is why these images were so much in my mind, and why the comic postcard seemed so incongruous. It took on a slightly different hue when I realised that the words ‘I would’nt leave my little wooden hut for you-oo’ are actually the refrain from a popular song, written in 1905 by Londoners Tom Mellor (1880-1926) and Charles Collins (1874–1923.) 
Although Mellor and Collins are almost totally forgotten now, they were both prolific songwriters whose comic ditties were hugely popular in Edwardian music halls.  Their work received recognition in the film I’ll be Your Sweetheart (Val Guest, 1945), starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Rennie – who appeared together the same year in The Wicked Lady. The film opens with the words ‘This film is dedicated to those grand old song writers of yesterday whose melodies are the folk songs of today. Their battle against the music pirates who robbed them of their just rewards, is the inspiration for this story.’ This is a reference to the absence of proper copyright protection for songwriters at the time ‘I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut for You’ was written. 
As you can see from the lyrics, the song is about an unsuccessful courtship on a desert island and has absolutely nothing to do with premature burial. However, the association of ‘wooden box’ with ‘coffin’ was clearly suggestive, and my postcard was not the only one to use the phrase with in a macabre context:
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Although this was clearly the work of a different artist, the idea is similar.

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This early 1900s postcard comments upon current fears about badly-preserved foods, due to an ongoing scandal about malpractice in the American meatpacking industry.

If anyone knows of other examples of old postcards using this song title, or can cast further light on the graveyard humour of the first image, I’d be very pleased to hear of it. 

Continuing on the Scottish theme, this week’s cdv comes from the Edinburgh studios of James Ross (1815-95) and Thomas Pringle (died 1895), who were in partnership from 1867 until 1883. 

Pringle –   an assistant in the firm for many years – became Ross’s business partner following the retiral of John Thomson (born 1808/9) – not to be confused with another Edinburgh photographer named John Thomson (1837-1921) who became famous for his views of China and London street life.

James Ross was working with the calotype process when he went into partnership in 1848 with Thomson, a skilled daguerreotypist. They were appointed photographers to Queen Victoria in 1849, and later switched to using glass negatives following the introduction of collodion in the early 1850s. 

James Ross has been in the news recently because of the hypothesis – advanced by American researcher Patrick Feaster – that he may have been the first photographer to produce a sequence of moving images, preceding the man usually accorded that honour – Eadweard Muybridge – by two years. Feaster’s theory is based on a reference in The British Journal of Photography, 14 July 1876, which describes a sequence of three photographs taken:

by Mr. Ross, of Edinburgh, in one of which a girl on a swing is caught just at the instant when the rope had reached the highest elevation; in another a girl is skipping, the picture showing the rope passing under her feet; while a third is that of a boy jumping over a large stone. The last is peculiarly interesting, as it was stated to be taken with a camera fitted with a number of medallion lenses, placed in threes, one above another. The exposures were made by causing a sheet of metal with a hole in it to fall so that the aperture was for an instant brought successively in front of each lens. To the lower end of the sheet was attached a heavy weight, and it was held up in such a position that the three lenses were all covered. At the proper moment the suspending thread was severed, and, although the time between the passing of the opening in the sheet from one lens to another must have been almost inappreciable, the plate showed the three pictures in very different positions.

It would appear from this passage that Ross used a single camera, but one that was specially-constructed with three lenses, allowing him to take three photographs of a moving person, animal or object in rapid succession. Muybridge used a line-up of twelve cameras to photograph a running horse in California in June 1878, with each camera activated by a trip wire as the horse passed by. His experiment was carried out to settle debate over whether a galloping horse ever had all four hooves in the air at the same time. He was able to carry out a series of trials using an array of equipment thanks to the financial support of Leland Stanford, a wealthy horse-owner and businessman.  James Ross appears to have funded his own, more modest, experiments himself. For a fuller version of Feaster’s theory, see his article here.

This attractive little family group sat for their portrait around the time that Ross was working on his motion photographs, as a handwritten note on the back gives the date as July 1875 – shortly before Ross and Pringle moved from 114 George Street to 103 Princes Street. The studio was at the west end of George Street, close to Charlotte Square. The mother and her young children may have lived in the west end, but studios with a good reputation such as Ross and Pringle could attract clients from quite a distance. The only clue to their identity lies in the scribbled names and initials at the foot of the card.

During my last visit to Vienna I spent some time in a second hand shop near the Sigmund Freud Museum, and while browsing there came across a set of the collected works of Gottfried Keller. It was a lovely little set of small octavo volumes, in decorated green cloth bindings, and I was sorely tempted when I saw that the story ‘Regine’ was included. After some internal arguments, however, I had to put the books back – I was flying with hand luggage only and my bag was already bursting with books. As consolation, I found a copy of Alfred Ibach’s biography of Paula Wessely – Die Wessely: skizze ihres Werdens (1943), which I picked up for only 1 Euro. I will write about Wessely below, but first I am going to turn to the two actresses who co-starred with AW in Regine: Luise Ullrich and Olga Tschechowa.

Luise Ullrich (1910-85)


Starred with AW in Regine (1935)


The film Regine is based upon a novella written by Swiss-German author Gottfried Keller, and published in his story-cycle Das Sinngedicht (The Epigram) in 1881. The movie is more sentimental than the novella and makes a number of changes, but the story of an eminent engineer who falls in love with a lowly maid is essentially the same.

Luise Ullrich had a fresh-faced innocent beauty that made her ideally suited for the role of Regine. Born in Vienna on 31 October 1911 to a count and major in the Austro-Hungarian army, she studied at the Academy of Music and Performing arts in Vienna before making her stage debut in the city in 1926. After some five years she moved to Berlin, where she was spotted on stage at the Lessing Theater by actor-director Luis Trenker, who cast her opposite himself in the film Der Rebell (1932) about a Tyrolean hero fighting Napoleon’s forces. Her real breakthrough came the following year, however, when she appeared opposite Olga Tschechowa in Liebelei (1933), directed by Max Ophuls. 

In this film, based on a story by Arthur Schnitzler, she played the part of Mizzi who, with her friend Christine (Magda Schneider), makes the acquaintance of two cavalry officers Lobheimer (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and Kaiser (Willi Eichberger, whom AW encouraged to go to Hollywood where he changed his name to Carl Esmond.) They meet at a concert in Vienna when the mischievous Mizzi drops her opera glasses from the balcony onto the officers below. While Mizzi pairs off with Kaiser, Lobheimer falls for Christine, having already decided to break off his affair with Baroness Eggerdorff (Tschechowa.) Unfortunately, Baron Eggersdorff (Gustaf Grundgens) has discovered his wife’s adultery, and events take a tragic turn….

The film displays some beautiful cinematography by Franz Planer, who would make similar use of his talents filming AW and Tschechowa in Maskerade.  Both films are brilliant evocations of the mythical ‘old Vienna’ to which Ophuls returned with La Ronde (1950), again adapted from a Schnitzler play but this time with AW centre-stage. Liebelei shares some similarities with Maskerade, such as the lush background of Viennese music plus the themes of aristocratic adultery and the etiquette of dishonour. Its success brought Ullrich further lead roles, including that of Regine.

Regine tells the story of Frank, an engineer returning to his native Germany for the first time in ten years after working in America. On the ship home he meets actress Floris Bell (Olga Tschechowa), whose advances he rejects. As Frank has no family, he goes to stay at his uncle’s house in southern Germany (there are wonderful location shots filmed in Bavaria and the Rhineland), where he falls in love with – and marries – his uncle’s housemaid, the humble Regine. 

Regine’s social awkwardness creates some scenes that are alternately comical and touching. Inevitably, there is tension and difficulties, and a misunderstanding – caused in part by Floris – leads Frank to suspect Regine of seeing another man while he is away. Distraught, Regine tries to take her own life…but in a film like this, matters are – of course – resolved happily.

Regine was released in Germany a few weeks before Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will – a fact that demonstrates the diversity of films available to cinema goers under the Nazis. Furthermore, it was Regine, rather than any overt propaganda, which Germany submitted as its entry to the Venice Film Festival that year. Clearly, it was held in high regard.


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Gazing at a photo of AW – doubtless a popular activity for young women in the 1930s

Ullrich remained in Germany during the war, receiving great acclaim for her portrayal of a heroic German mother in Annelie: Die Geschichte eines Lebens (1941.) The film follows a woman named Annelie from her birth in 1871 (the year of German reunification) through to her 70th birthday, during which she accepts the loss of her husband in World War One and possibly her three sons (in World War Two) for the good of the Fatherland. Written by Nazi Party member Thea von Harbou, the screenplay fitted in well with the Nazi cult of motherhood which was then at its peak, and Ullrich’s fine performance won her the Volpi Cup for best actress at the 1941 Venice Film Festival. The following year she married Count Wulf Dietrich zu Castell, whom she had met in South America. Now a mature woman, she continued to play character roles after the war ended and – like AW – appeared in several TV movies during the 1960s. She was honoured in 1979 for her lifetime contribution to German film and died in Munich on 21 January 1985, aged 74.

Olga Tschechowa (1897-1980)

Starred with AW in Maskerade (1934) and Regine (1935)

The actress was born Olga Knipper in 1897 in what is now Armenia. Tschechowa is the tortuous German version of Chekhova (Russian Чехова), and was the name she took after her marriage in 1915 to Michael Chekhov, nephew of the playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. She was already related to the great writer, as he was married to her aunt, also named Olga Knipper. 
She separated from Michael Chekhov just after the Russian Revolution, appearing in three silent films before leaving Russia and travelling to Vienna with her second husband, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. She arrived in Berlin in 1920 and found that the Chekhov name opened doors for her. After obtaining an introduction to UFA executive Erich Pommer, she was given a leading role in F W Murnau’s Schloß Vogelöd (1921.) 
This silent who-dunnit is set in a castle where a group of aristocratic guests await the arrival of Baroness Safferstätt (Tschechowa, above). In the meantime, an uninvited and unwelcome guest arrives – Count Oetsch (Lotar Mehnert), whom everyone believes murdered the baroness’s first husband, his brother Peter (Paul Hartmann). Tension rises after the baroness arrives with her second husband (Paul Bildt), accusations are made, and the pious friar Father Faramünd mysteriously disappears from a locked room….

Although the film is a pale shadow of Murnau’s later work, Tschechowa gives a mesmerising performance as the Baroness, and further work quickly came her way. She made around forty silent films before migrating to talkies with Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930), a hugely popular musical comedy that inspired several imitations, including Drei von der Stempelstelle (1932) starring AW. The success of the film encouraged Tschechowa to sail to Hollywood later that year. Although she partied with Garbo, Fairbanks, Lloyd and Chaplin,  her Hollywood career was short-lived as American audiences found her Russo-German accent too thick. She returned to Germany and continued making films.


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Early publicity pictures of the actress suggest a natural, sensual beauty that was much less apparent in her performances by the late 1930s.


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Nor was she averse to a little bit of risque suggestiveness

In both Maskerade and Regine she plays one of the ‘grande dame’ characters at which she excelled, almost to the point of getting typecast. From Schloß Vogelöd onwards she was asked to play ladies of status and power, blending cold beauty with a certain hauteur and a hard edge that (to me) lessens her attractiveness. Willi Forst, the director of Maskerade, directed her in some of her best films such as Burgtheater (1936) and Bel Ami (1939.) 

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A scene from ‘Maskerade’

PictureLove triangle: with AW in ‘Maskerade’, next to a painting of Leopoldine Dur (Paula Wessely) on the easel


She moved in high circles during the 1930s and two years after Maskerade was awarded the status of Staatsschauspielerin.  However, at the same time as this ‘State Actress of the Third Reich’ was wining and dining with Goebbels and Hitler, she was passing information about them to Soviet officials. Although there is no doubt that she was working as a Russian agent during the war, there is no indication that she contributed much of value. The Russians appreciated having a contact who enjoyed access to the private company of Hitler and Goebbels; there were also plans for her brother Lev Knipper to assassinate the Führer if she could get him close enough. After the war Tschechowa was rewarded for her work with financial support and an apartment in the Russian sector of Berlin.

Olga and Lev were very fortunate to survive throughout this period, but her ability to flit effortlessly between regimes – Tsarist, Bolshevik, Nazi and Stalinist – suggests that her allegiance remained primarily to herself rather than to the world around her. Tschechowa’s clandestine activities and unreliable memoirs make it hard to gain any real sense of her personality. She moved to Munich in 1950, launched a range of cosmetics and gradually retired from acting, although her daughter Ada (1916-66) and grand-daughter Vera (1940-) both became successful actresses and Olga herself made something of a comeback in the 1970s. She died in Munich on 9 March 1980, sipping champagne and murmuring ‘Life is beautiful.’

Paula Wessely (1907-2000)
Starred with AW in Maskerade (1934.)

Paula Wessely’s early life and career followed a similar path to that of Luise Ullrich. Born in Vienna, she studied at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts before taking to the stage at the Volkstheater and Max Reinhardt Seminar. Although she came from slightly humbler origins – her father was a butcher – she overtook Ullrich in popularity and went on to become probably the best loved actress in Austria. Part of this success was due to her insistence on getting lead roles from the earliest part of her career. Demanding parts such as that of Rose in Rose Bernd, Gretchen in Faust and Joan of Arc in Shaw’s Saint Joan made people sit up and take note of her name, and so it was only natural that in her first film – Maskerade – she was given the star role. (She had been considered for the part of Christi in Liebelei but lost out to Magda Schneider – otherwise I could have had a photograph showing all three actresses together.)

Like so many of AW’s comedies of this period, Maskerade revolves around a misunderstanding over identities. The painter Heideneck (AW) has a reputation as a womaniser but has broken off with his former lover Anita Keller (Tschechowa) now that she is engaged to music director Paul Harrandt (Walter Janssen). Her fiance’s brother, surgeon Dr Carl Harrandt (Peter Petersen), is married to Gerda (Hilde von Stolz), who slips away from the carnival celebrations to be painted wearing only a mask and a chinchilla muff that she has borrowed from Anita.


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Artist and sitter: AW and Hilde von Stolz

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A mix-up results in the picture being sent to the printers and its appearance in the next day’s newspaper threatens a scandal when the distinctive muff indicates the nude sitter was Anita. Dr Harrandt insists that his brother confront Heideneck, who invents a name – Fraulein Dur – only for Harrandt to consult the Vienna directory and locate a young secretary named Leopoldine Dur (Wessely). This lowly, but morally upright young woman is unwittingly drawn into the confusion, and matters get more complicated when Heideneck finds himself falling in love with her. Set in Vienna in 1905, the film is a nostalgic evocation of the pre-war city, filled with splendid ballroom scenes, lively music and a sumptuous atmosphere of pleasure. However, as the saying goes, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,’ and the jealous Anita decides to get her revenge…


In both films Tschechowa really plays the same role – that of the glamorous but decadent ‘grande dame’ who is rejected in favour of a plainer and humbler woman of greater virtue. Leopoldine’s character may have looked plain by comparison with Anita’s vampish elegance, but Wessely had a natural loveliness about her, as well as being a superbly talented actress.
The year after Maskerade‘s release she married fellow actor Attila Hörbiger, whose older brother Paul had co-starred with AW in Walzerkrieg (1933.) They had three daughters – Elisabeth, Christiane and Maresa, all of whom became actresses. Wessely had another reason to celebrate in 1935, as she was awarded the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice Film Festival, in recognition for her performance as Valerie Gärtner in Episode, which was written by Masquerade’s screenwriter Walter Reisch. When the Nazis tried to force Reisch out of work because he was Jewish, Wessely and her husband fought his case – much to the irritation of Goebbels, who complained in his diary about the actress having ‘too many Jewish friendships.’ Reisch eventually left Austria, working in London before emigrating to Hollywood where he wrote the original screenplay for the 1944 MGM remake of AW’s Gaslight (1940.) Both Wessely and Hörbiger remained in Austria during the war, regrettably appearing – alongside Peter Petersen from Maskerade – in the unpleasant propaganda film Heimkehr (Homecoming, 1941), which attempted to justify the German invasion of Poland and maltreatment of the Polish people. After the war, Wessely’s participation in the film caused her to be blacklisted by the Allies, but she emerged from this shadow and continued acting on both stage and screen for another forty years.

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Paula Wessely in her dressing room

Premature burial is no laughing matter. In fact many people found the idea of being buried alive so terrifying that they went to great lengths to ensure it couldn’t happen to them. Before his death in 1912 Archdeacon Thomas Colley specified in his will that his body was to be sent to a hospital for dissection in the aid of medical science, ensuring that any signs of life would be noticed by doctors in the event that he was still alive. A few years earlier, the  Third Marquess of Bute requested that doctors wait for unmistakable signs of decay before removing his heart, which was then sent for burial in Jerusalem. (See Rosemary Hannah, The Grand Designer: Third Marquess of Bute (Birlinn, 2012) p. 354. ) Aware of these and many other instances, I was intrigued to find the concept treated with great lightheartedness in the postcard below, which I purchased last week from an antique shop.
My hopes that a closer look at the card would make more sense have since been dashed. Is there any significance in the name on the gravestone? While pondering the images on the card, I was reminded of Harry Clarke’s chilling illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s tale The Premature Burial (below.)
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“The Premature Burial” (1919) by Harry Clarke (1889-1931)

Dublin-born Clarke was a leading light of the Irish arts & crafts movement and provided the illustrations for a posthumous edition of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: George Harrap & Co. 1919.) This was later adapted for the cinema as the third in Roger Corman’s ‘Poe Cycle.’
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Poster for ‘The Premature Burial’ (Roger Corman, 1962)

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Poster for ‘The Oblong Box’ (Gordon Hessler, 1969), based very loosely on Poe’s tale of the same name.

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This poster for the first of Corman’s Poe adaptations – ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1960) echoes of Clarke’s drawing, with the vertical orientation and the sinister tree.

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Although this poster shifts the layout, the premature burial is still placed in the foreground. The screenplay for the movie was written by Richard Matheson.

I’ve just been teaching Poe’s Corman cycle to film adaptation students which is why these images were so much in my mind, and why the comic postcard seemed so incongruous. It took on a slightly different hue when I realised that the words ‘I would’nt leave my little wooden hut for you-oo’ are actually the refrain from a popular song, written in 1905 by Londoners Tom Mellor (1880-1926) and Charles Collins (1874–1923.) 
Although Mellor and Collins are almost totally forgotten now, they were both prolific songwriters whose comic ditties were hugely popular in Edwardian music halls.  Their work received recognition in the film I’ll be Your Sweetheart (Val Guest, 1945), starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Rennie – who appeared together the same year in The Wicked Lady. The film opens with the words ‘This film is dedicated to those grand old song writers of yesterday whose melodies are the folk songs of today. Their battle against the music pirates who robbed them of their just rewards, is the inspiration for this story.’ This is a reference to the absence of proper copyright protection for songwriters at the time ‘I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut for You’ was written. 
As you can see from the lyrics, the song is about an unsuccessful courtship on a desert island and has absolutely nothing to do with premature burial. However, the association of ‘wooden box’ with ‘coffin’ was clearly suggestive, and my postcard was not the only one to use the phrase with in a macabre context:
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Although this was clearly the work of a different artist, the idea is similar.

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This early 1900s postcard comments upon current fears about badly-preserved foods, due to an ongoing scandal about malpractice in the American meatpacking industry.

If anyone knows of other examples of old postcards using this song title, or can cast further light on the graveyard humour of the first image, I’d be very pleased to hear of it. 

Continuing on the Scottish theme, this week’s cdv comes from the Edinburgh studios of James Ross (1815-95) and Thomas Pringle (died 1895), who were in partnership from 1867 until 1883. 

Pringle –   an assistant in the firm for many years – became Ross’s business partner following the retiral of John Thomson (born 1808/9) – not to be confused with another Edinburgh photographer named John Thomson (1837-1921) who became famous for his views of China and London street life.

James Ross was working with the calotype process when he went into partnership in 1848 with Thomson, a skilled daguerreotypist. They were appointed photographers to Queen Victoria in 1849, and later switched to using glass negatives following the introduction of collodion in the early 1850s. 

James Ross has been in the news recently because of the hypothesis – advanced by American researcher Patrick Feaster – that he may have been the first photographer to produce a sequence of moving images, preceding the man usually accorded that honour – Eadweard Muybridge – by two years. Feaster’s theory is based on a reference in The British Journal of Photography, 14 July 1876, which describes a sequence of three photographs taken:

by Mr. Ross, of Edinburgh, in one of which a girl on a swing is caught just at the instant when the rope had reached the highest elevation; in another a girl is skipping, the picture showing the rope passing under her feet; while a third is that of a boy jumping over a large stone. The last is peculiarly interesting, as it was stated to be taken with a camera fitted with a number of medallion lenses, placed in threes, one above another. The exposures were made by causing a sheet of metal with a hole in it to fall so that the aperture was for an instant brought successively in front of each lens. To the lower end of the sheet was attached a heavy weight, and it was held up in such a position that the three lenses were all covered. At the proper moment the suspending thread was severed, and, although the time between the passing of the opening in the sheet from one lens to another must have been almost inappreciable, the plate showed the three pictures in very different positions.

It would appear from this passage that Ross used a single camera, but one that was specially-constructed with three lenses, allowing him to take three photographs of a moving person, animal or object in rapid succession. Muybridge used a line-up of twelve cameras to photograph a running horse in California in June 1878, with each camera activated by a trip wire as the horse passed by. His experiment was carried out to settle debate over whether a galloping horse ever had all four hooves in the air at the same time. He was able to carry out a series of trials using an array of equipment thanks to the financial support of Leland Stanford, a wealthy horse-owner and businessman.  James Ross appears to have funded his own, more modest, experiments himself. For a fuller version of Feaster’s theory, see his article here.

This attractive little family group sat for their portrait around the time that Ross was working on his motion photographs, as a handwritten note on the back gives the date as July 1875 – shortly before Ross and Pringle moved from 114 George Street to 103 Princes Street. The studio was at the west end of George Street, close to Charlotte Square. The mother and her young children may have lived in the west end, but studios with a good reputation such as Ross and Pringle could attract clients from quite a distance. The only clue to their identity lies in the scribbled names and initials at the foot of the card.

During my last visit to Vienna I spent some time in a second hand shop near the Sigmund Freud Museum, and while browsing there came across a set of the collected works of Gottfried Keller. It was a lovely little set of small octavo volumes, in decorated green cloth bindings, and I was sorely tempted when I saw that the story ‘Regine’ was included. After some internal arguments, however, I had to put the books back – I was flying with hand luggage only and my bag was already bursting with books. As consolation, I found a copy of Alfred Ibach’s biography of Paula Wessely – Die Wessely: skizze ihres Werdens (1943), which I picked up for only 1 Euro. I will write about Wessely below, but first I am going to turn to the two actresses who co-starred with AW in Regine: Luise Ullrich and Olga Tschechowa.

Luise Ullrich (1910-85)


Starred with AW in Regine (1935)


The film Regine is based upon a novella written by Swiss-German author Gottfried Keller, and published in his story-cycle Das Sinngedicht (The Epigram) in 1881. The movie is more sentimental than the novella and makes a number of changes, but the story of an eminent engineer who falls in love with a lowly maid is essentially the same.

Luise Ullrich had a fresh-faced innocent beauty that made her ideally suited for the role of Regine. Born in Vienna on 31 October 1911 to a count and major in the Austro-Hungarian army, she studied at the Academy of Music and Performing arts in Vienna before making her stage debut in the city in 1926. After some five years she moved to Berlin, where she was spotted on stage at the Lessing Theater by actor-director Luis Trenker, who cast her opposite himself in the film Der Rebell (1932) about a Tyrolean hero fighting Napoleon’s forces. Her real breakthrough came the following year, however, when she appeared opposite Olga Tschechowa in Liebelei (1933), directed by Max Ophuls. 

In this film, based on a story by Arthur Schnitzler, she played the part of Mizzi who, with her friend Christine (Magda Schneider), makes the acquaintance of two cavalry officers Lobheimer (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and Kaiser (Willi Eichberger, whom AW encouraged to go to Hollywood where he changed his name to Carl Esmond.) They meet at a concert in Vienna when the mischievous Mizzi drops her opera glasses from the balcony onto the officers below. While Mizzi pairs off with Kaiser, Lobheimer falls for Christine, having already decided to break off his affair with Baroness Eggerdorff (Tschechowa.) Unfortunately, Baron Eggersdorff (Gustaf Grundgens) has discovered his wife’s adultery, and events take a tragic turn….

The film displays some beautiful cinematography by Franz Planer, who would make similar use of his talents filming AW and Tschechowa in Maskerade.  Both films are brilliant evocations of the mythical ‘old Vienna’ to which Ophuls returned with La Ronde (1950), again adapted from a Schnitzler play but this time with AW centre-stage. Liebelei shares some similarities with Maskerade, such as the lush background of Viennese music plus the themes of aristocratic adultery and the etiquette of dishonour. Its success brought Ullrich further lead roles, including that of Regine.

Regine tells the story of Frank, an engineer returning to his native Germany for the first time in ten years after working in America. On the ship home he meets actress Floris Bell (Olga Tschechowa), whose advances he rejects. As Frank has no family, he goes to stay at his uncle’s house in southern Germany (there are wonderful location shots filmed in Bavaria and the Rhineland), where he falls in love with – and marries – his uncle’s housemaid, the humble Regine. 

Regine’s social awkwardness creates some scenes that are alternately comical and touching. Inevitably, there is tension and difficulties, and a misunderstanding – caused in part by Floris – leads Frank to suspect Regine of seeing another man while he is away. Distraught, Regine tries to take her own life…but in a film like this, matters are – of course – resolved happily.

Regine was released in Germany a few weeks before Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will – a fact that demonstrates the diversity of films available to cinema goers under the Nazis. Furthermore, it was Regine, rather than any overt propaganda, which Germany submitted as its entry to the Venice Film Festival that year. Clearly, it was held in high regard.


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Gazing at a photo of AW – doubtless a popular activity for young women in the 1930s

Ullrich remained in Germany during the war, receiving great acclaim for her portrayal of a heroic German mother in Annelie: Die Geschichte eines Lebens (1941.) The film follows a woman named Annelie from her birth in 1871 (the year of German reunification) through to her 70th birthday, during which she accepts the loss of her husband in World War One and possibly her three sons (in World War Two) for the good of the Fatherland. Written by Nazi Party member Thea von Harbou, the screenplay fitted in well with the Nazi cult of motherhood which was then at its peak, and Ullrich’s fine performance won her the Volpi Cup for best actress at the 1941 Venice Film Festival. The following year she married Count Wulf Dietrich zu Castell, whom she had met in South America. Now a mature woman, she continued to play character roles after the war ended and – like AW – appeared in several TV movies during the 1960s. She was honoured in 1979 for her lifetime contribution to German film and died in Munich on 21 January 1985, aged 74.

Olga Tschechowa (1897-1980)

Starred with AW in Maskerade (1934) and Regine (1935)

The actress was born Olga Knipper in 1897 in what is now Armenia. Tschechowa is the tortuous German version of Chekhova (Russian Чехова), and was the name she took after her marriage in 1915 to Michael Chekhov, nephew of the playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. She was already related to the great writer, as he was married to her aunt, also named Olga Knipper. 
She separated from Michael Chekhov just after the Russian Revolution, appearing in three silent films before leaving Russia and travelling to Vienna with her second husband, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. She arrived in Berlin in 1920 and found that the Chekhov name opened doors for her. After obtaining an introduction to UFA executive Erich Pommer, she was given a leading role in F W Murnau’s Schloß Vogelöd (1921.) 
This silent who-dunnit is set in a castle where a group of aristocratic guests await the arrival of Baroness Safferstätt (Tschechowa, above). In the meantime, an uninvited and unwelcome guest arrives – Count Oetsch (Lotar Mehnert), whom everyone believes murdered the baroness’s first husband, his brother Peter (Paul Hartmann). Tension rises after the baroness arrives with her second husband (Paul Bildt), accusations are made, and the pious friar Father Faramünd mysteriously disappears from a locked room….

Although the film is a pale shadow of Murnau’s later work, Tschechowa gives a mesmerising performance as the Baroness, and further work quickly came her way. She made around forty silent films before migrating to talkies with Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930), a hugely popular musical comedy that inspired several imitations, including Drei von der Stempelstelle (1932) starring AW. The success of the film encouraged Tschechowa to sail to Hollywood later that year. Although she partied with Garbo, Fairbanks, Lloyd and Chaplin,  her Hollywood career was short-lived as American audiences found her Russo-German accent too thick. She returned to Germany and continued making films.


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Early publicity pictures of the actress suggest a natural, sensual beauty that was much less apparent in her performances by the late 1930s.


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Nor was she averse to a little bit of risque suggestiveness

In both Maskerade and Regine she plays one of the ‘grande dame’ characters at which she excelled, almost to the point of getting typecast. From Schloß Vogelöd onwards she was asked to play ladies of status and power, blending cold beauty with a certain hauteur and a hard edge that (to me) lessens her attractiveness. Willi Forst, the director of Maskerade, directed her in some of her best films such as Burgtheater (1936) and Bel Ami (1939.) 

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A scene from ‘Maskerade’

PictureLove triangle: with AW in ‘Maskerade’, next to a painting of Leopoldine Dur (Paula Wessely) on the easel


She moved in high circles during the 1930s and two years after Maskerade was awarded the status of Staatsschauspielerin.  However, at the same time as this ‘State Actress of the Third Reich’ was wining and dining with Goebbels and Hitler, she was passing information about them to Soviet officials. Although there is no doubt that she was working as a Russian agent during the war, there is no indication that she contributed much of value. The Russians appreciated having a contact who enjoyed access to the private company of Hitler and Goebbels; there were also plans for her brother Lev Knipper to assassinate the Führer if she could get him close enough. After the war Tschechowa was rewarded for her work with financial support and an apartment in the Russian sector of Berlin.

Olga and Lev were very fortunate to survive throughout this period, but her ability to flit effortlessly between regimes – Tsarist, Bolshevik, Nazi and Stalinist – suggests that her allegiance remained primarily to herself rather than to the world around her. Tschechowa’s clandestine activities and unreliable memoirs make it hard to gain any real sense of her personality. She moved to Munich in 1950, launched a range of cosmetics and gradually retired from acting, although her daughter Ada (1916-66) and grand-daughter Vera (1940-) both became successful actresses and Olga herself made something of a comeback in the 1970s. She died in Munich on 9 March 1980, sipping champagne and murmuring ‘Life is beautiful.’

Paula Wessely (1907-2000)
Starred with AW in Maskerade (1934.)

Paula Wessely’s early life and career followed a similar path to that of Luise Ullrich. Born in Vienna, she studied at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts before taking to the stage at the Volkstheater and Max Reinhardt Seminar. Although she came from slightly humbler origins – her father was a butcher – she overtook Ullrich in popularity and went on to become probably the best loved actress in Austria. Part of this success was due to her insistence on getting lead roles from the earliest part of her career. Demanding parts such as that of Rose in Rose Bernd, Gretchen in Faust and Joan of Arc in Shaw’s Saint Joan made people sit up and take note of her name, and so it was only natural that in her first film – Maskerade – she was given the star role. (She had been considered for the part of Christi in Liebelei but lost out to Magda Schneider – otherwise I could have had a photograph showing all three actresses together.)

Like so many of AW’s comedies of this period, Maskerade revolves around a misunderstanding over identities. The painter Heideneck (AW) has a reputation as a womaniser but has broken off with his former lover Anita Keller (Tschechowa) now that she is engaged to music director Paul Harrandt (Walter Janssen). Her fiance’s brother, surgeon Dr Carl Harrandt (Peter Petersen), is married to Gerda (Hilde von Stolz), who slips away from the carnival celebrations to be painted wearing only a mask and a chinchilla muff that she has borrowed from Anita.


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Artist and sitter: AW and Hilde von Stolz

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A mix-up results in the picture being sent to the printers and its appearance in the next day’s newspaper threatens a scandal when the distinctive muff indicates the nude sitter was Anita. Dr Harrandt insists that his brother confront Heideneck, who invents a name – Fraulein Dur – only for Harrandt to consult the Vienna directory and locate a young secretary named Leopoldine Dur (Wessely). This lowly, but morally upright young woman is unwittingly drawn into the confusion, and matters get more complicated when Heideneck finds himself falling in love with her. Set in Vienna in 1905, the film is a nostalgic evocation of the pre-war city, filled with splendid ballroom scenes, lively music and a sumptuous atmosphere of pleasure. However, as the saying goes, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,’ and the jealous Anita decides to get her revenge…


In both films Tschechowa really plays the same role – that of the glamorous but decadent ‘grande dame’ who is rejected in favour of a plainer and humbler woman of greater virtue. Leopoldine’s character may have looked plain by comparison with Anita’s vampish elegance, but Wessely had a natural loveliness about her, as well as being a superbly talented actress.
The year after Maskerade‘s release she married fellow actor Attila Hörbiger, whose older brother Paul had co-starred with AW in Walzerkrieg (1933.) They had three daughters – Elisabeth, Christiane and Maresa, all of whom became actresses. Wessely had another reason to celebrate in 1935, as she was awarded the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice Film Festival, in recognition for her performance as Valerie Gärtner in Episode, which was written by Masquerade’s screenwriter Walter Reisch. When the Nazis tried to force Reisch out of work because he was Jewish, Wessely and her husband fought his case – much to the irritation of Goebbels, who complained in his diary about the actress having ‘too many Jewish friendships.’ Reisch eventually left Austria, working in London before emigrating to Hollywood where he wrote the original screenplay for the 1944 MGM remake of AW’s Gaslight (1940.) Both Wessely and Hörbiger remained in Austria during the war, regrettably appearing – alongside Peter Petersen from Maskerade – in the unpleasant propaganda film Heimkehr (Homecoming, 1941), which attempted to justify the German invasion of Poland and maltreatment of the Polish people. After the war, Wessely’s participation in the film caused her to be blacklisted by the Allies, but she emerged from this shadow and continued acting on both stage and screen for another forty years.

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Paula Wessely in her dressing room

‘A grim study of the morbid’ – Gaslight and Gothic

Tonight, as part of their Gothic season, the BFI are screening their newly remastered print of Thorold Dickinson’s neo-Victorian thriller Gaslight (1940), and to mark the occasion I thought I would post a few notes about the film and its Gothic elements – including, of course, Walbrook’s portrayal of the villainous Paul Mallen. All the images below are of items in my own collection, as usual.

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This is the cover of the first edition of William Drummond’s novel, published in the Paperback Library Gothic series in September 1966. The notes on the back cover hammer home the publisher’s belief in the story’s Gothic credentials: “The Greatest Gothic Thriller of All Time!” a “nerve-shattering novelization of that modern masterpiece of Gothic terror and suspense” and “a genuine candidate for honors in the Gothic field.” The lurid plot synopsis emphasises the classic Gothic themes of a beautiful damsel in distress, an evil house, incarceration and madness – 

Bella was trapped in the evil mansion on Angel Street – a helpless victim whose safety and sanity was as uncertain as the flickering gaslight that filled her with horror!

Lying in drugged terror in her bedroom, beautiful Bella suspects that her own husband, sinister Mr. Manningham, is driving her mad. But can she be sure? As she fights the whirlpool of insanity, again and again Mr. Manningham threatens to put her into an asylum. 

This picture of Bella shows her looking thoughtful rather than terrified, and it should be noted that Drummond’s characterisation of Bella differs considerably from that seen in the film: in the novel she has received a classical education and has a much more vigorous and inquiring mind. Diana Wynyard’s performance is an exquisite portrait of innocence and vulnerability, which makes her humilation at Mallen’s hands all the more painful to watch. 


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The following year saw the publication in Britain of this paperback, issued by Arrow Books. Most of the text on the back cover repeats the blurb from the American edition. 

The cover picture, like the one above, consists of three key images – the female victim, the male villain, and the fog-shrouded gaslight; it is around this trilogy that the entire story revolves. Although subtitled ‘A Victorian Thriller in Three Acts’, Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play lacks the complex plot twists and revelations that are typically found in 19th century crime mysteries. The suspense is psychological rather than plot-driven, and the film therefore depends heavily upon strong performances from the actors: Walbrook as Mallen, Diana Wynyard as Bella, with support from Frank Pettingell as Sergeant Rough, Catherine Cordell as the vixenish maid Nancy, and Robert Newton as Bella’s cousin, Viscount Ullswater. 

Gaslight‘s atmosphere of threat and menace is made more disturbing by the carefully crafted domestic setting, highlighting the contrast between the genteel Victorian household and the murder and insanity that lurk within. In a moment of appalling hypocrisy, Mallen leads the household in family prayers, picking up the Bible to read the opening line of Psalm 127: ‘Except the Lord builds the house…’ It is in fact the dark and violent history of the house that is disturbing both husband and wife; such a troubled relationship between a house’s past and present is another classic trope of the Gothic tradition. 

There are many other literary echoes in Hamilton’s Victorian pastiche. The name of Sergeant Rough is probably meant to recall that of Wilkie Collins’ character Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone (1868) – one of the first detectives in fiction, and an archetypal figure for subsequent detective heroes.  Similarities exist between the plot of Gaslight and that of Collins’ earlier novel The Woman in White (1859) – a wicked and avaricious husband exercising despotic control over his wife, concealed identities, falsified family histories, and the incarceration of a healthy married woman in an asylum for “delusions” that are in fact true. Parallels can also be made to Jane Eyre (1847), with Mrs Mallen’s virtual imprisonment in her Westminster townhouse echoing the incarceration of Mrs Rochester’s in the attic at Thornfield.  Gaslight shows the absolute power that could be wielded by a Victorian husband over his wife, and it is worth remembering that, until the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, women like Bella Mallen had no control over their money and property, which were the legal possession of her husband. It is rather ironic that Walbrook was fresh from triumphant performances as wholesome Prince Albert Albert in Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938), before participating in Hamilton’s attack on the dark side of Victorian masculinity. 

Viewers of the film were impressed by Walbrook’s performance, which proved – as one letter-writer in The Picturegoer put it – thathe can be as good a villain as hero.’  Lionel Collier, in the same magazine, called Gaslight ‘a piece of Grand Guignol’ and added, ‘Anton Walbrook is brilliant as the merciless, calculating murderer. It is a grim study of the morbid.’

Although we never see Mallen striking Bella, the presence of domestic violence is symbolised by the Punch and Judy show taking place beneath their window in Pimlico Square.  The archetypal tale of such domestic cruelty is of course Bluebeard, a legend explicitly cited in the 1944 MGM remake of Gaslight, where Bella (renamed Paula Alquist in the Hollywood version) falls into a conversation on a train with an old lady who is reading a Gothic novel based on the Bluebeard story, and then moves on to relate this to the murder of Paula’s aunt in London. Although there is no ‘forbidden chamber’ at No. 12 Pimlico Square, Bella’s discovery of secret objects – such as the the letters locked away inside Mallen’s bureau – reveal the truth about her husband’s real identity and murderous past, thus placing her life in further danger. As with Bluebeard, she does not save herself but relies on male intervention from outside the house. However, there is a clever twist at the end of the play, when Bella locks herself and Mallen inside the bedroom alone, and throws away the key; now the villain is unprotected, the police are on the other side of a locked door, and he is alone with a madwoman who has fully realised the extent of her husband’s evil…..


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Patrick Hamilton got the central idea for his play – the image of dimming gas lights – from a crime novel written by his brother Bruce Hamilton, To Be Hanged (1930.)

Written during 1937 it was first performed at the Richmond Theatre in Surrey on 5 December 1938, produced by Gardner Davies. It soon transferred to the west end, opening at the Apollo Theatre on 31 January 1939. George VI and Queen Elizabeth were among those who saw the play. 

The part of the villainous husband was played by Denis Arundell, who had a small role alongside Walbrook in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp four years later. On 19 March 1939 Arundell and the rest of the cast performed the play before BBC cameras at Alexandra Palace, enabling it to be broadcast live for television audiences (then numbering well under 100,000 households in the UK.) 

The play later moved to Broadway, where it opened under the title of Angel Street on 5 December 1941 – two days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Manningham’s role was played by Vincent Price and the production ran for four years, bringing Hamilton considerable wealth.  When the MGM film starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman was released in Britain it went under the title of Angel Street to avoid confusion with the British original. 


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This is an early promotional poster for Gaslight, issued with Kinematograph Weekly magazine in January 1940. The director’s name is given here as Anthony Asquith; within a few days he would be replaced by Thorold Dickinson. 

Although I am a huge admirer of Dickinson’s work, I remain curious as to what Asquith would have done with Gaslight. He proved himself a skilled director of theatrical adaptations, but the atmospheric power of some of his early silent films – especially A Cottage on Dartmoor – suggests he could have made something quite special out of Hamilton’s play. In the same year that Hollywood remade Gaslight, Asquith produced a costume drama for Gainsborough Studios – Fanny by Gaslight – which is also set in late Victorian London and features another black-caped villain, this time played by James Mason.


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The poor condition of this glass plate is due to its having been discovered on a rubbish dump in Scotland. Someone once suggested to me that it was a beer mat, but the plate is in fact a lantern slide, hand made for the purpose of advertising Gaslight to cinema audiences: the image would have been projected onto the cinema screen prior to another film being shown, in the same way that trailers are now shown. The use of such slides persisted into the 1950s, and even later in some places. 


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On the left is a Spanish handbill advertising Gaslight at the ‘Cine Victoria’ in Silla. The reverse of the bill promises that the film will deliver ‘Gran emocion!’ and ‘Intenso dramatismo!’, although the promoters obviously thought a picture of can-can dancers would widen the film’s appeal. The image of Walbrook and Wynyard is clearly based on the film still on the right, which was issued as a postcard by Picturegoer magazine. 

The two actors had already proved their ability to work well together in Noel Coward’s comedy Design for Living, which opened in the West End in January 1939 and ran – at various venues  – for twelve months, allowing the two stars only a short break before they began filming Gaslight. 


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The relationship between Otto (Walbrook) and Gilda (Wynyard) in Design for Living is utterly different from the tortured married life of the Mallens; Coward’s play revolved around a Bohemian menage-a-trois shared with Rex Harrison. Cathleen Cordell, who played Nancy in Gaslight, was another cast member – she played a young newly wed named Helen Carver, seen here on the sofa in a scene from Act III.

Nancy is shown below, greeting the Mallens on their arrival at No.12 Pimlico Square, on this French publicity sheet about Gaslight. Mallen’s flirting with the maid is just another means of tormenting Bella, but it also signifies the power that he holds over the women in his house. His dark, Byronic magnetism is revealed by Nancy’s confession to her master, ‘I always wanted you, ever since I clapped eyes on you.’  Walbrook played very few villains in his career, and the crimes of Captain Suvorin (Queen of Spades, 1949) and Major Esterhazy (I Accuse, 1959) pale alongside the impenitent cruelty of Mallen. It is only at the end, when we see him unkempt and hysterical, oblivious to those around him as he claws at the rubies, that it becomes apparent how much his mind has been damaged by this twenty year obsession. Is the revelation of insanity a punishment for his crimes or a plea for mitigation? In the dark heart of Gothic, such questions are often easier to ask than to answer.


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heavitree’s hispanic corner: Richard Ford, calotypes and ‘the annals of the artists of spain’

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Richard Ford’s grave in Heavitree. Photograph by the author.

Tucked away under a tree in the churchyard of St Michael’s, Heavitreee, by the edge of a path I once walked on a near-daily basis, lies the resting place of Richard Ford (1796-1858), Hispanicist, writer, art collector and historian. After spending several long sojourns in Spain in the early 1830s he moved to Exeter to be near his brother James Ford (1797-1877), later a Canon of Exeter Cathedral. After Richard bought Heavitree House in the summer of 1834, he filled it with books, antiques and artwork that he had brought back from Spain, and laid the gardens out using Moorish designs and artefacts. 
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The house, sad to say, was demolished by the council after WWII and the site is now occupied by a housing estate. Photograph by the author.

In 1840 Richard Ford met the Scottish writer and art historian Sir William Stirling (later Stirling-Maxwell, and 9th Baronet of Pollok (1818-78), who had also travelled in Spain and shared Ford’s deep interest in Spanish art and artists. The two men began corresponding on the topic. Ford’s Handbook for Travellers in Spain (1845) proved highly popular, and was reprinted in 1847, the year before Sir William’s four volume Annals of the Artists of Spain was published. This was the first scholarly history of Spanish art in English, and was chiefly responsible for making known the works of  El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Ribera and Murillo. It was, moreover, the first book on art to be illustrated with photographs. The first three volumes featured texts by Stirling Maxwell, whilst the fourth was a supplement of illustrations printed in a limited edition of 50 copies for his circle of friends and family. Sir William had taken a camera lucida on his first trip to Spain and used this as a drawing aid, but it is possible that his inspiration for using the calotype process to illustrate his book came from seeing Talbot’s Sun Pictures of Scotland (1845) or the earlier Pencil of Nature (1844.) Hill & Adamson were also commissioned to produce calotype images for the volume, but – for various reasons – their work was not included. 
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One of the images from the fourth volume of ‘Annals of the Artists of Spain’ (London: John Ollivier, 1848)

There were 68 photographs in all, taken by Nicholas Henneman using Talbot’s calotype process. Henneman had entered Talbot’s service in 1826 but was later trained by him as a photographer and placed in charge of the printing establishment at Reading. Many of the Spanish photographs were made from the original paintings, which had to be photographed outdoors in the sunshine due to the long exposure times required. When this was impossible, existing engravings were used. Several artworks were borrowed from Richard Ford, who died of Bright’s Disease ten years later at Heavitree House on 31 August 1858.
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Ford’s headstone, with the inscription ‘Rerum Hispaniae indagator acerrimus’ – Most keen investigator of all things Spanish. Photograph taken by author, in very bright sunshine!

A set of the Annals of the Artists of Spain was retained at Pollok House, Sir William’s mansion in Glasgow, and a place very familiar from my childhood: in addition to regular visits to the parkland surrounding the house, my parents often went to dinner dances there, and I got to see inside the house from time to time. I still have distinct memories of seeing prints by Goya and Piranesi around the walls. When I began working in the Special Collections Department of Glasgow University Library, the Stirling Maxwell collection of emblem books became a favourite haunt, second only to the early photographic collections. Sir William’s fascination with emblem literature led him to collaborate with Richard’s brother, Canon James Ford, on the book ‘Ut Pictura poesis,’ or An attempt to explain, in verse, the Emblemata Horatiana of Otho Vaenius (London, 1875.) The preface and epigrams were written by Ford, while Stirling-Maxwell provided bibliographical notes.
​The Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid is currently running an exhibition about Sir William’s volume – but Copied by the Sun/Copiado por el sol: Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain closes tomorrow, so you’ll need to hurry if you want to catch it! Otherwise, there’s a massive catalogue published to accompany the exhibition, and the following are also well worth reading if anyone wishes to learn more:

Hilary Macartney, ‘William Stirling and the Talbotype volume of the Annals of the Artists of Spain.‘  
         History of Photography 30:4 (2006) pp.291-308 
 
‘The Reproduction of Spanish Art: Hill and Adamson’s calotypes and Sir William Stirling-Maxwell’s Annals of the Artists of Spain.’  
          Studies in Photography (2005), pp. 16-23. 

 Gilbert, E.W. ‘Richard Ford and His Hand-Book for Travellers in Spain
          The Geographical Journal Vol. 106, No. 3/4 (Sep-Oct 1945), pp. 144-15

Radford, Cecily. ‘Richard Ford (1796-1858) and his Handbook for Travellers in Spain.’  
           Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol. 90, (1958) pp.146-166