Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lilian Harvey (1907–1968)

Actress Lillian Harvey was born Helene Lilian Muriel Pape in England to an English mother and a German father. She spoke 13 languages and made films in four of them, starting in 1924. The next year German producer Richard Eichberg discovered her and made her a leading lady. She was churning out about four films a year and became one of the most popular actresses in Germany. One Hungarian nobleman was so entranced by her that she offered her a castle. The castle later became a tractor factory.

She and popular leading man Willy Fritsch became the Brad and Angelina of Weimar Germany, their romance on and off screen milked for all the publicity it could produce. They starred in 11 films together, the most popular of which was Der Kongreß tanzt ("The Congress Dancers"), a lavish musical comedy released in three different languages. Frisch played Tsar Alexander I, who romances a humble glove seller played by Harvey. This public romance lasted until Frisch actress Dinah Grace in 1937.

In Tarintino's Inglorious Basterds, Gobbels happily sings a duet by Harvey and Fritsch from Glückskinder (a German version of It Happened One Night) called "Ich wollt' ich wär ein Huhn" ("I wish I were a chicken") but he snaps at the mention of Harvey's name. This is a good reflection of the Nazi's love hate relationship with Harvey, which became mostly hate towards the end of the 30s. She was pilloried for a brief attempt to make it in Hollywood but welcomed back with open arms in 1935. The Gestapo kept an eye on her because she consorted with Jews and grilled her choreographer Jens Keith, who was jailed under the Nazi anti-gay law Paragraph 175, promptly fled the country when she posted bail for him. She left the country again herself in 1939 and the Nazis revoked her citizenship in 1943. After making two movies in Vichy France in 1940, her film career was over.

At the end of her life, Harvey retired to the resort town of Antibes on the French Riviera, where she operated a souvenir shop and raised edible snails. She died there at age 61.

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