Saturday, August 18, 2007

Scandinavian Film Stars: Anna Q. Nilsson

The first Swedish actor to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Anna Q. Nilsson was one of the earliest film actresses to achieve fame. Sadly today, her name is mostly unknown to young and old audiences alike. I had heard of her, probably because I've already seen some of her films, but didn't realize the extent of her popularity.

Born in 1888 Sweden, she emigrated to the United States in the first decade of the 20th century. At 5'7," blonde and blue-eyed, she modelled before breaking into motion pictures. Her modelling led to a role in the 1911 two-reeler film, Molly Pitcher at Kalem studio.
She worked for many studios including Paramount, First National, and Goldwyn. Her popularity continued until the advent of talkies despite a 2-year hiatus after being paralyzed from a horse accident. She went through therapy in order to walk again.

During the sound era, she appeared in many classic films but as a bit player, sometimes uncredited. Her sound films include The Farmer's Daughter, Cynthia, The Boy With Green Hair, Adam's Rib, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Scandinavian Film Stars: Nils Asther

I had heard of Nils Asther since childhood but never saw any of his films. It isn't until now that I realize how attractive he was.

Danish-born but of Swedish parentage, he grew up in Sweden and attended the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Stockholm. His career began in Swedish silent films with Garbo's mentor Mauritz Stiller (with whom he reportedly had an affair) in the early 1920s. He came to Hollywood in the final years of silent films.

By 1928, he was a popular romantic lead, labelled "the male Greta Garbo." His films include the silent classics, "Our Dancing Daughters" with Joan Crawford, and "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" with Lon Chaney.

Pola Negri, Marion Davies, and Greta Garbo (supposedly he proposed marriage) were some of his leading ladies.

He had a less successful career when talkies began. The role of General Yen in the classic, "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" starring Barbara Stanwyck, is his most memorable sound film.

After blacklisted in the mid-30s he sought work in Britain. Returning to Hollywood in the early 40s, he made forgettable films. In the late 50s, he returned to Sweden making occasional television and stage appearances.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Scandinavian Film Stars: Warner Oland

Finally a male tribute! Swedish-born Warner Oland is best known for his role in the Charlie Chan films of the 1930s.

He was born Johan Verner Ă–lund in 1879. His family emigrated to the US at age 13. He began his career in theatre including broadway. He entered silents in the film, Pilgrim's Progress. Often he played villians and ethnic roles. He appeared in many silents and then The Jazz Singer, the first talkie.

Due to the racial climate of the time, there were very few Asian actors and hardly any in principal roles. Often whites portrayed Asian characters in "yellowface." Oland needed very little makeup to play Asian roles.

He first portrayed the evil Dr. Fu Manchu in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. It was a box office success and he portrayed Dr. Fu Manchu 3 more times. Then he was cast as Charlie Chan in 1931 starring in over 10 Charlie Chan films. He also played a Chinese in the Marlene Dietrich classic, Shanghai Express, also starring Asian-American sex symbol Anna May Wong.

Oland's talents were not only in acting. He and his wife of 30 years, both of whom spoke Swedish translated some of the plays of August Stringberg, one of the fathers of modern theatre. They jointly published his plays in book form in 1912.

He died in Stockholm.

Scandinavian Film Stars: May Britt

Swedish May Britt (pronounced "my"), born Maybritt Wilkens made a small dent in Hollywood mainly through her interracial marriage to Sammy Davis Jr. in 1960 when miscegenation laws against such unions were in place in 31 out of 50 states. She was discovered by Italian filmmakers Carlo Ponti and Mario Soldati. She moved to Rome and worked in ten Cinecitta (the center of Italian cinema) productions. Her most memorable film is War and Peace starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

In the late 50s, she was signed by 20th century Fox starring in a few forgettable films including The Young Lions with Marlon Brando and the Marlene Dietrich remake, The Blue Angel.

After she married Sammy Davis Jr., she quit films to raise her family. Possibly race played a role in this decision. May's and Sammy's marriage may have influenced Inger Stevens and Ike Jones to keep their marriage a secret. After her divorce from Davis, she made occasional TV appearances.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Scandinavian Film Stars: Inger Stevens

Okay , it's time to leave Norway for now and venture to Sweden. So far we've read about seemingly content Hollywood stars, now it's time for tragedy.

Inger Stevens born Inger Stensland was born in Stockholm Sweden in 1934. In 1944, she came to live with her father in the United States. As a teen, she ran away from home finding work as a showgirl in New York City. She eventually studied at The Actor's Studio.

She started in commercials and summer stock. Inger made her film debut in Man on Fire with Bing Crosby. Other notable films include The Buccaneer, A Guide for the Married Man, Madigan, and House of Cards. She was awarded a Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated for her role as the Swedish governess in the TV series "The Farmer's Daughter." She was also in the highly memorable Twilight Zone eposide playing a female driver who keeps passing the same hitchhiker. The hitchhiker represented death and that she had been killed in a car accident.

Her affairs included Bing Crosby, Anthony Quinn, Dean Martin, and Burt Reynolds, whom she dated shortly before her suicide.

Her first suicide attempt was swallowing sleeping pills and ammonia. She finally died of an overdose of barbiturates in 1970.

Her last marriage to Ike Jones, an African-American was kept secret until the time of her death for fears their interracial marriage would affect her career. They were long estranged by the time she died but he was named administrator of her estate giving the money to children's charities and mental health organizations.

Scandinavian Film Stars: Natassia Malthe

My blog is mostly about actors from the old Hollywood studio days but from time to time I'll have a surprise entry. Today I'd like to highlight the beautiful Norwegian actress Natassia Malthe whose also been credited under the names, Natasha Malthe and Lina Teal.

This gorgeous Nordic brunette eats lutefisk and states Kate Winslet inspires her. She was born in the late 1970s in Oslo. She studied ballet at the Royal Winnepeg Ballet, Norwegian Opera house and the Goh Ballet Academy.

She is so breathtaking that she has modelled including Maxim magazine which may be hindering her from being taken seriously as an actress. Her major breakthrough was in the Jennifer Garner vechicle Elektra where they locked lips in a kissing scene. Some of her other films include Lake Placid, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and A Guy Thing. While not a household name, I wish her luck in her career. She is beautiful, sexy, talented, and Norwegian.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Scandinavian Film Stars: Sigrid Gurie

Sigrid Gurie is another Norwegian-American actress of many talents. Born Sigrid Guri Haukelid, she was born in Brooklyn, the twin sister of Knut Haukelid, a celebrated war hero leading the Norwegian Resistance in World War II whose leadership was depicted in the 1965 movie, "The Heroes of Telemark."

Her family returned to Norway when she was under a year old. Sigrid was educated in Norway, Sweden, and Belgium. While studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, she was spotted by an agent for Samuel Goldwyn at an art show. Goldwyn billed her as "The Siren of the Fjords." Yet this Nordic Siren's first roles were a Chinese in The Adventures of Marco Polo and an Algerian in Algiers.

Even though she had returned to Norway as an infant, Gurie's star waned when the press leaked she was born in Brooklyn. She continued to make films until 1948. That year she attended Kann Institute of Art studying oils and portraiture. A portrait of Sigrid's step-daughter, Lynda Abbott, once hung in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

While living in the cobblestoned colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, throughout the 1960s until her death, she continued painting and designing jewelry for the Royal Copenhagen in Denmark. She died in Mexico.

Scandinavian Film Stars: Vera Zorina

Vera Zorina is another Norwegian who studied ballet but she was a serious dancer and choreographer who showcased her talents in a few Hollywood films. Before Hollywood she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where she changed her name to Zorina from her birthname of Eva Brigitta Hartwig.

She signed with Samuel Goldwyn making her official film debut in the musical Goldwyn Follies starring Adolph Menjou and the Ritz Brothers. That same year she married George Balanchine. She continued making films co-starring with the likes of Bob Hope, George Raft, Lucille Ball, Peter Lorre, and Alan Hale. After her divorce from Balanchine, she married the head of Colombia Records, Goddard Lieberson.

In the 1970s, she was appointed director of the Norwegian Opera. Although born in Berlin, Zorina's mother was Norwegian and Zorina too identified Norwegian. A woman after my own heart.

Scandinavian Stars: Greta Nissen

I have a special place in my heart for Greta Nissen after creating a database for her collection held at the Emigrant Museum near Hamar, Norway. It's a small collection consisting of photographs, her painting and drawings, amusing letters from her WWII soldier brother, and other miscellaneous items.

Nissen is most famous in Hollywood for a role she hardly seen. She starred in the silent version of Howard Hughes film, Hell's Angels. When talkies came, Hughes reshot the film using then-unknown Jean Harlow.

Like Sonja Henie, she too studied ballet reportedly having performed for Norway's Queen Maud at age 6.

She made her American film debut in 1925. Her silent films were usually successful. She starred with Adolph Menjou and worked with director Raoul Walsh. Hell's Angel's could have made her a bigger star but with the advent of sound, her Norwegian accent was considered a liablity.

Greta would begin studying English to improve her accent. She made talkies and the quick British films but never found that breakthrough role. Nevertheless she continued to have fans from all over the States, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, Britain, and Norway, her birth country.
After her retirement, she lived with her industrialist husband in California until her death.

Scandinavian Film Stars: Sonja Henie

As a young girl, I learned about Sonja Henie from a book titled "Whatever Became Of......? In honor of her I pretended some of my stuffed animals were Norwegian.

Brown-eyed Sonja Henie was born in Kristiania (Oslo) Norway in 1912. She was a 3-time Olympic figure skating champion (1928, 1932, and 1936). Yet what endeared me to her is that she was also a movie actress. My initiation into old Hollywood movies began with Betty Grable and Alice Faye musicals. Sonja's figure skating films were somewhat similiar to those musicals albeit skating. Even her co-stars were similiar to Grable's and Faye's eg. Tyrone Power, John Payne, Don Amerche, and Cesear Romero.

Henie had studied ballet. She helped popularize figure skating in part by her showmanship combining dance, leaps and costumes which is standard in today's figures skating whereas it previously was a mundane sport.

Henie was a diminutive woman at only 5'3' but a sharp businesswoman. Top Hollywood executives wanted to sign her but her asking price of $75,000 was deemed outrageous at the time.

She was eventually signed by Fox after renting an ice rink, producing and starring in her own Hollywood Ice Revue which sold out to standing-room-only crowds.

Her films showcased her skating talents. Naturally they were often at winter lodges. Henie began to demand contract revisions making her the highest paid star in Hollywood. After World War II, her popularity waned and she concentrated on ice revues. She became one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Sonja Henie founded the Henie-Onstad Centre in Norway. The collection includes artwork by Picasso, Matisse, Leger, Ernst, Miro, and Klee along with Sonja's skating trophies and photographs. It also includes prizes won by Sonja skiing, tennis, motor racing competitions.