22 August 2017

Evelyn Künneke

German singer, dancer and actress Evelyn Künneke (1921-2001) was the last survivor of the Lili Marleen generation. Although the Nazis did not like it, she brought tap dance and swing to Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Thirty years later she made a come-back in the films of Rosa von Praunheim and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard by Odeon.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard. Photo: Peter J. Fellinge.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard by Foto-Rauch, Bad Schwalbach.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard, no. 172. Photo: Real Film / Lilo.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard by Netter's Star Verlag, Berlin, no. A 470. Photo: Gaza Studio, Berlin.

Knock-kneed, Short-sighted, Far Too Tall

Eva-Susanne Künneke was born in Berlin in 1921. She was the daughter of famous operetta composer Eduard Künneke and his wife, the opera singer Katarina Garden (born as Katarina Krapotkin), and she spent her youth very much in the shadow of her father's fame.

Despite the fact that he thought little of his daughter’s artistic talents and despite her being, in her own opinion, "knock-kneed, short-sighted, far too tall, and unable to escape my father's shadow", her ambitions proved irrepressible. She was a swimming champion at 14. She had ballet classes from the Russian choreograph Victor Gsovsky, acting classes from Ilka Grüning, Lucie Höflich and Leslie Howard, and singing lessons from Maria Ivogün. Meanwhile she worked as a photo model.

In Stepstudio Edmont Leslie, she learned to tap dance. In 1935 she acquired the O-level at the Fleckschen private school in Berlin. After completing her education, she became second solo dancer of the Berlin Staatsoper (State Opera), but she made a splash as the tap dancer Evelyn King in Berlin cabarets and variety shows. Only seventeen year old, she toured through Europe as the star of the Scala revue Etwas verrückt (Something Crazy), and that same year she founded together with Horst Matthiesen her own dance studio in Berlin.

A year later, her performances were forbidden by the Nazi regime. After this Berufsverbot she began a career as a singer under the name of Evelyn Künneke. She worked with renowned composers such as Peter Igelhoff and Michael Jary. She also became a starlet at the film studios of the Ufa, where she had her breakthrough in Auf Wiedersehn, Franziska/Goodbye, Franziska (Helmut Käutner, 1941) featuring Marianne Hoppe. In this film she sang Sing, nachtigall, sing (Sing, nightingale, sing), the second most popular hit of wartime Germany after Lale Andersen's Lili Marleen.

Two years later followed an appearance in the film musical Karneval der Liebe/Carnival of Love (Paul Martin, 1943) starring Johannes Heesters. She made frequent tours during the war to support the troops. From 1942 to 1944, she appeared on the eastern front, and in early 1944 also at the western front.

Evelyn Künneke’s hits such as Haben Sie schon mal im Dunkeln geküßt? (Have you ever kissed in the dark?) were unmistakably influenced by the Swing. The American swing music was politically frowned upon in Nazi-Germany and at the time, no other German singer dared to sing Künneke’s kind of songs.

In 1944 she was arrested and accused of defeatism because of her unfavourable observations of the progress of the war and in January 1945 she was put in jail in the Berlin-Tegel prison. It was only the reported intercession of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl - a personal friend of Adolf Hitler and perhaps the most influential artistic figure in his circle of acquaintances - that prevented worse from happening to her and her family.

Shortly before the end of the war, she was released to sing anti-American Swing songs together with the secret propaganda band Charlie and His Orchestra. The end of the war was the reason she did not have to do this.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag. Photo: Gundlach / Union Film.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel.

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard. Photo: Union Film.

Evelyn Künneke in Tanzende Sterne (1952)
German postcard by Schumann-Verlag, Berlin. Photo: Lilo. Text and music Mäcki-Boogie: Bruno Balz and Michael Jary. From the film Tanzende Sterne/Dancing Stars (Géza von Cziffra, 1952).

Callas of the Subculture

After the war Evelyn Künneke had a few more successful years as a pop singer, first in 1945 with the Show-Orchestra Walter Jenson in Hamburg. Among her hits were Winke-winke (Bye-bye), Allerdings – sprach die Sphinx (However – said the Sphinx) and Egon.

As a singer she appeared in such films as Heimliches Rendezvous/Secret rendezvous (Kurt Hoffmann, 1949) with Hertha Feiler, Die Dritte von rechts/Third from the Right (Géza von Cziffra, 1950) and Die verschleierte Maja/The Veiled Lady (Géza von Cziffra, 1951) with Maria Litto. She played her biggest role till then in Verlorene Melodie/Vanished Melody (Eduard von Borsody, 1952) as an American jazz singer.

She appeared with real swing music in jazz clubs all over Europe. In 1953 she did a tour through the US. Three years later, she celebrated her only hit in the German hit parade, which was only just introduced in 1955: her German-language version of Hernando's Hideaway which reached the 8th place. In 1958 she appeared in the German preliminaries of the Eurovision Song Contest.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, her star faded, and several attempts to establish herself again, failed. In the mid-1970s, Künneke celebrated her big comeback as an actress in the films by the new wave of German directors.

She first appeared with Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1 Berlin-Harlem (Lothar Lambert, Wolfram Zobus, 1974). For Rosa von Praunheim she appeared in the TV film Axel von Auersperg (Rosa von Praunheim, 1974) and Monolog eines Stars/Monologue of a Star (Rosa von Praunheim, 1975). Fassbinder then directed her in Faustrecht der Freiheit/Fox and his Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975) with Peter Chatel and Karlheinz Böhm.

Künneke could also be seen with David Bowie in Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo/Just a Gigolo (David Hemmings, 1978). In total the ‘Callas of the subculture’ would appear in 45 films. Among her later films are the Thomas Mann adaptation Der Zauberberg/The Magic Mountain (Hans W. Geissendörfer, 1982) with Rod Steiger, Neurosia - 50 Jahre pervers/Neurosia (Rosa von Praunheim, 1995) - the autobiography of the director, and the horror comedy Kondom des Grauens/Killer Condom (Martin Walz, 1996), based on the comic book by Ralph König.

She also recorded the albums Sensationell (1975, Sensational), Evelyn II (1976) and Sing, Evelyn, sing! – Das Beste von Evelyn Künneke (1978, Sing, Evelyn, sing! - The Best of Evelyn Künneke).

Till at a very old age, she popped us as a chanteuse in the Berlin scene, often together with Brigitte Mira and Helen Vita as Drei Alte Schachteln (Three old hags). In their popular revue ‘the three last survivors of the Lili Marleen generation’ promoted themselves saying: “Was wollt ihr mit drei knödelnden Tenören, hier habt ihr drei echte Berliner Gören” (What do you need three dumpling tenors for, here you have three real Berlin gals). The three singers had a combined age of just about 240 years, they gleefully informed the public at their sell-out performances.

In 2001, Evelyn Künneke died of lung cancer in her hometown Berlin. She was 79. Künneke had first been married to an Englishman, the father of her daughter. Her second husband was the business school graduate Reinhard Thomanek from 1963 to 1972. Her third marriage was in 1979 with her manager Dieter Hatje. In 2000 she was honoured with the Goldenen Kamera for her long career.

Evelyn Künneke
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, no. 70/469, 1957. Photo: DEFA. Publicity still for Meine Frau macht musik/My Wife Wants to Sing (Hans Heinrich, 1958).

Evelyn Künneke in Meine Frau macht Musik (1958)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, no. 71/400. Photo: DEFA / Neufeld. Publicity still for Meine Frau macht Musik/My Wife Wants to Sing (Hans Heinrich, 1958).

Evelyn Künneke
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg. Photo: Claus Zeunert.

Evelyn Künneke step-dances in Karneval der Liebe/Carnival of Love (1943). Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared that this dance sequence was 'Ungerman and not good for moral'. So the scene was cut from the film and and a new sequence with Johannes Heesters and Dorit Kreysler singing Junger Mann was filmed. In the past both film versions were broadcasted on German TV. The last 10 years only the version with Evelyn's dance has been shown. Source: Alparfan (YouTube).

Recording of Sing Nachtigall Sing. Source: MrDeanMartin (YouTube).

Recording of Allerdings, sprach die Sphinx (1949). Source: Annanthrax (YouTube).

Recording of Meine Stadt (1987). Source: Annanthrax (YouTube).

Sources: Bruce Eder (All Music), Philipp Blom (The Independent), Stephanie D'heil (Steffi-line - German), (German), Wikipedia (German) and IMDb.

21 August 2017

Ruth Niehaus

Attractive Ruth Niehaus (1925–1994) was a German stage and film actress, who often played the femme fatale or 'the other woman’. She was dubbed the ‘Rita Hayworth of the German film of the 1950s’ and was regarded as a ‘Fräuleinwunder’.

Ruth Niehaus in Studentin Helen Willfüer (1956)
West-German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. I 452. Photo: CCC-Film / Constantin-Film / Grimm. Publicity still for Studentin Helen Willfüer/Helene Willfüer (Rudolf Jugert, 1956).

Ruth Niehaus
West-German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 4113. Photo: Lilo.

Young, attractive, modern, self-confident and desirable

Ruth Hildegard Rosemarie Niehaus was born in 1925 in Krefeld, Germany. Her parents were Elisabeth Niehaus, born Nettesheim, and the engineer Fritz Niehaus. Her brother was the Munich surgeon Helmut Niehaus.

After completing her high school diploma in Dusseldorf, she attended the drama school there under Peter Esser. Her stage career began at the Stadttheater Krefeld in 1947-1948, followed by engagements at the Deutsche Schauspielhaus in Hamburg (1948-1949), at the Oldenburgische Staatstheater (1949-1950) and in Düsseldorf under the direction of Gustav Gründgens (1952-1954). She played both in classical and modern theatre.

The press called Niehaus a ‘Fräuleinwunder’ a term for young, attractive, modern, self-confident and desirable women of post-war Germany. In 1950 Ruth Niehaus reputedly spurned a marriage proposal from Orson Welles, and with it the chance to work in Hollywood. She did marry Ivar Lissner, a Jewish German journalist and best-selling author, who had been a spy with the German Abwehr during World War II.

Niehaus made her film debut in the West-German comedy Das Haus in Montevideo/The House in Montevideo (1951). It was directed by Curt Goetz and Valérie von Martens who also played the leads, while Niehaus played their daughter. The film is an adaptation of Goetz's 1945 comic play of the same name and Goetz and von Martens had already frequently played their parts on stage.

Niehaus next played a supporting part in Heidelberger Romanze/A Heidelberg Romance (Paul Verhoeven, 1951) starring Liselotte Pulver, O.W. Fischer and Gardy Granass.

She then had the lead in the Heimatfilm Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab/Roses Bloom on the Moorland (Hans H. König, 1952). Wikipedia: “This unusually gloomy Heimatfilm, which clearly stood out from the ‘Kinokonfektion’ of the era, is one of the high points in Niehaus's film career.”

She then co-starred with Ivan Desny and René Deltgen in the drama Weg ohne Umkehr/No Way Back (Victor Vicas, 1953). It was made at the height of the Cold War. In 1945 following the Battle of Berlin, a Red Army officer (Desny) is able to protect a young German woman (Niehaus) he finds living in a cellar. Several years later he returns to the city as a civilian, finds her again and makes plans to flee from East to West Germany under the noses of the KGB. For this role she won in 1954 the Bundesfilmpreis (German Film Award).

Other films followed, such as Rosenmontag/Love's Carnival (Willy Birgel, 1955) with Dietmar Schönherr, and Auferstehung/Resurrection (Rolf Hansen, 1958) starring Horst Buchholz.

Ruth Niehaus and Armin Dahlen in Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab (1952)
West-German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, no. 693. Photo: Panorama-Film / Königfilm / Hochreiter. Publicity still for Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab/Roses Bloom on the Moorland (Hans H. König, 1952) with Armin Dahlen.

Horst Buchholz, Myriam Bru, Ruth Niehaus and Günther Lüders in Auferstehung (1958)
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. M 2482. Photo: Ringpress / Vogelmann / Bavaria. Publicity stills for Auferstehung/Resurrection (Rolf Hansen, 1958) with Horst Buchholz, Myriam Bru, Ruth Niehaus and Günther Lüders.

Das deutsche Gretchen 1959

In 1959, Ruth Niehaus co-starred with Helmuth Schneider in the Argentine film Cavalcade (Albert Arliss, Richard von Schenk, 1960). At the beginning of the 1960s Niehaus largely withdrew from the film business and only sporadically took on roles in film and television productions.

In 1980, she played a supporting part in the West German drama Fabian (Wolf Gremm, 1980), based on the novel by Erich Kästner. On television she played guest roles in Krimi series like Der Alte/The Old Fox (1978) and Tatort (1983).

Her main focus was on the theatre. At the Festival in Bad Hersfeld, she was celebrated as ‘Das deutsche Gretchen 1959’ in Goethe's Faust under the direction of William Dieterle. In 1961 and 1962, she also played Titania in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Dieterle.

From 1964 to 1968 she worked under the direction of Oscar Fritz Schuh at the Deutsche Schauspielhaus Hamburg. In Hamburg, she brought the present author Jean Cocteau to tears with her depiction of Eurydice in his play Orpheus. These years at the Deutsche Schauspielhaus in Hamburg were her most successful stage period.

In 1968, she left the house together with Oscar Fritz Schuh and performed further roles in his productions. Until his death in 1984, Schuh was one of her closest friends.

In 1987, Ruth Niehaus was able to celebrate her 40th stage jubilee. That year she also directed Rebecca at the Münchner Kammerspielen. She remained on stage until 1992.

She incidentally played in films, such as in Hard Days, Hard Nights (Horst Königstein, 1989) with Al Corley. Her last film role was in Wir können auch anders/We can also differently (Detlev Buck, 1992).

In 1994 she and Christa Auch-Schwelk were honoured for their documentary Jeffrey – Zwischen Leben und Tod/Jeffrey – Between Life and Death with the media award of the AIDS-Stiftung (German AIDS Foundation).

Ruth Niehaus died in 1994 in Hamburg. She was 69. She and her husband Ivar Lissner, who passed away in 1965, had a daughter Imogen (now Imogen Jochem).

Ruth Niehaus
West-German postcard by Ufa, no. FK 2177. Photo: Joe Niczky / Ufa.

Ruth Niehaus
West-German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. 1297. Photo: Lilo.

Sources: Wikipedia (English and German) and IMDb.

20 August 2017

Harry Hardt

Austrian actor Harry Hardt (1899-1980) had a long career both in films and on television. He was a popular and extremely busy character player, who was generally cast as authority figures: police inspectors, officers and aristocrats.

Harry Hardt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1355/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Karl Schenker.

Harry Hardt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8406/1, 1933-1934. Atelier Badekow, Bertlin.

Officer and a Gentleman

Harry Hardt was born Hermann Karl Viktor Klimbacher Edler von Reichswahr in Pola, Küstenland, Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Istria, Croatia) in 1899. Hardt came from an aristocratic family with a strong military tradition. His father was an officer.

Deferring to his father's wishes, Harry dropped out of art history studies to undergo officer training at a military academy. During the First World War, he concluded that a military career was useless and he chose for acting.

After drama lessons in Graz and Berlin, he made his stage debut in 1919 at the Theater in Olmütz (now Czech Republic). From 1920 he played at the Trianon-Theater in Berlin. In the same year, the handsome actor made his first film appearance in the silent production Die Frauen vom Gnadenstein/The Women of Gnadenstein (Robert Dinesen, Joe May, 1920), for which Thea von Harbau had written the script.

Soon he became a frequently used character actor in such melodramas as Die Opiumhölle/The opium hell (Siegfried Dessauer, 1921), Paganini (Heinz Goldberg, 1923) with Conrad Veidt, and Der Klabautermann (Paul Merzbach, 1924) with Evi Eva. At first Hardt played gallant young lovers, and later he turned to distinguished gentlemen with his Adolphe Menjou-like moustache.

His standard repertoire included noblemen like the Count in the romance Zopf und Schwert - Eine tolle Prinzessin/Braid and Sword - A great princess (Victor Janson, Rudolf Dworsky, 1926) starring Mady Christians, or the Prince in the drama Hochverrat/Treason (Johannes Meyer, 1929), smart lieutenants like the ones in Das edle Blut/The noble blood (Carl Boese, 1927), Ungarische Rhapsodie/Hungarian Rhapsody (Hanns Schwarz, 1928) with Willy Fritsch, and Es flüstert die Nacht/It whispers the night (Victor Janson, 1929), starring Lil Dagover.

Harry Hardt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1554/1, 1927-1928.

Harry Hardt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3235/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Hanni Schwarz, Berlin.


Harry Hardt was much in demand by directors and producers, but nevertheless he never became a big star. In the early sound years, he acted in Der Greifer/The Copper (Richard Eichberg, 1930) at Hans Albers' side, and in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Mary/Murder (1931).

Both films were shot concurrently in German- and English-language versions. After the introduction of sound film this was a fairly common practice both in Hollywood and in the European cinema when it was not yet common practice to overdub dialogues.

In the following years Hardt played a hotel director in Zigeunerblut/Gypsy Blood (Charles Klein, 1934) starring Adele Sandrock, a captain in both Abenteuer eines jungen Herrn in Polen/Love and Alarm (Gustav Fröhlich, 1934) and Schwarzer Jäger Johanna/Black Fighter Johanna (Johannes Meyer, 1934) featuring Marianne Hoppe, and a hotel porter in Barcarole (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1935).

In the mystery comedy Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war/The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes (Karl Hartl, 1937), he played a gambler, who is impressed by a detective (Hans Albers) who masquerades as Sherlock Holmes. During the war years he played small roles in Austrian and German films, including the colour spectacle Münchhausen (Josef von Báky, 1943), again starring Hans Albers.

After the war he kept appearing in supporting parts as aristocrats or professors in historical films like Kaiserwalzer/The Emperor Waltz (Franz Antel, 1953) with Maria Holst as Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich, Ewiger Walzer/The Eternal Waltz (Paul Verhoeven, 1954), with Bernhard Wicki as composer Johann Strauss II, and Um Thron und Liebe/Sarajevo (Fritz Kortner, 1955), which portrays the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914.

During the 1960s and 1970s he often appeared on television in such series as the Krimi Derrick (1978). Incidentally he appeared in films, e.g. in the sex comedy Komm nach Wien, ich zeig dir was!/Come to Vienna, I'll show you something! (Rolf Thiele, 1970), and the ethereal, three-hour biopic Karl May (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1974), with Helmut Käutner as the author of Winnetou. His final film was Egon Schiele - Exzesse (Herbert Vesely, 1981) with Mathieu Carrière as the cursed painter Egon Schiele.

In total Harry Hardt appeared in 180 feature films, and also in numerous television productions. In the series Königlich Bayerisches Amtsgericht he appeared several times as Count von Haunsperg. At the end of his career, he again intensified his theatrical work. In 1980, Harry Hardt died in Vienna, Austria. He was 81.

Harry Hardt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3323/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Low & Co., Berlin.

Harry Hardt
German postcard. Ross Verlag, no. 4035/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa. It could be a still for the film Ungarische Rhapsodie (Hanns Schwarz, 1928).

Sources: Stephanie D’heil (Steffi-Line – German), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos),, Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.