|Born||Rasmus Karl Therkelsen Gottlieb
12 October 1886
|Died||14 April 1934
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide|
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Carla Dagmar Hagen (m. 1910–19)
Helen Benson (m. 1921–23)
Emma Awilda Peabody (m. 1924–24)
Karl Dane (12 October 1886 – 14 April 1934) was a Danish comedian and actor known for his work in American films, mainly of the silent film era. He worked alongside Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, and King Vidor. In 1926, he teamed up with George K. Arthur to form the successful comedy duo Dane & Arthur. At the peak of his career, he was making $1500 a week.
In the 1930s, Dane was forced to quit his film career due to a nervous breakdown and trouble with his heavy accent. Unable to find work in the film industry, he eventually killed himself in 1934. His career decline and death have been cited as an example of the fate that befell many silent film stars who were unable to make the transition to sound films.
Dane was born Rasmus Karl Therkelsen Gottlieb in Turesensgade 23 in central Copenhagen, Denmark to Rasmus Carl Marius Gottlieb and Anne Cathrine Simonsen Gottlieb. He had two brothers: Reinald Marius and Viggo Eiler. His parents’ marriage was apparently stormy; with his father having trouble with alcohol and money management. In 1903 Dane's parents divorced, leaving him in the custody of his mother. His father was a glove maker by trade but enjoyed the theatre. Around the start of the 20th century, he built a toy theatre which people began to pay to see; during this time, Dane and his brother Reinald would perform for the crowds. His father also worked as a curtain puller at the local theatre, to which his two sons accompanied him. Dane later said this would inspire him to act.
In 1900, Dane and his brother apprenticed as machinists, a job he would perform on and off throughout his life. In 1907, he began compulsory military service in the First Artillery Battalion. He was promoted to lance corporal. After being discharged from the military, he married dressmaker Carla Dagmar Hagen on 10 September 1910. The marriage produced two children: Ejlert Carl (born 1911) and Ingeborg Helene (1912). With the outbreak of World War I, Dane was called back to duty. He was eventually promoted to corporal before being discharged in 1915.
In Denmark, as well as the rest of Europe, employment prospects looked grim. On 25 January 1916, Dane headed for the United States alone. He intended to send for his family later. He boarded the SS Oscar II with $25 in his pocket and speaking no English. The ship arrived in February at Ellis Island. Dane passed immigrant inspection and moved to 345 Court Street in Brooklyn with a friend named Charles Lindgren. The same day, he found work in a foundry. Sometime in 1916 he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he worked as an auto mechanic. By summer 1917, he returned to New York where he again worked as a mechanic.
In late 1917, Dane appeared in his first picture. It was a bit part in a Vitagraph Studios short filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He made $3 a day (as a mechanic he had been making $3 a week) for his part. However, his scenes were cut and the name of this film is not known. Any footage is presumed lost. Dane then appeared in Warner Brothers anti-German sentiment film My Four Years in Germany as Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg. This would be the first of many such roles for Dane in his early career. The film was released 29 April 1918 and was a success, making $430,000 at the box office (the film had a budget of $50,000).
His next film was Wolves of Kultur which contained '15 chapters' (running about three hours total). The film was released chapter by chapter between 1918 and 1919. He then followed that with the June Mathis-penned film To Hell with the Kaiser, reprising his role as Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg. Before his move to Hollywood, Dane completed three more films; all in the anti-German propaganda style and all released in 1919.
In early 1921, Dane met a Swedish immigrant named Helen Benson. He then quit films, and together the pair moved to Van Nuys, California, where they opened a chicken farm. They married on June 15, 1921. On August 9, 1923, Helen died in childbirth as did the couple's baby girl. In December 1923, Dane ran into old friend Charles Hutchison who convinced him to appear in a serial he was then producing.
In December 1924, Robert McIntyre (who had first cast Dane back at Vitagraph), the casting director at MGM recommended Dane for a role in King Vidor's latest project. Dane was cast as Slim in The Big Parade alongside John Gilbert and Renée Adorée. The movie was a major success, becoming the second highest grossing silent film of all time making almost $6.5 million (not adjusted for inflation).
He worked with Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Bánky in Son of the Sheik as Ramadan. The film was a success and after Valentino's death it was re-released several more times well into the late 1930s. After working on Son of the Sheik, Dane signed a contract with MGM in June 1926. He began to appear as comic relief in several films, including The Scarlet Letter (directed by Victor Sjöström and starring Lillian Gish), La Bohème (again directed by Vidor, and starring Gish, Gilbert and Adorée), and Alias Jimmy Valentine with William Haines and Leila Hyams.
Dane & Arthur
Soon after signing his MGM contract, Dane began work on the Vidor film, Bardelys the Magnificent. It was on this film that MGM executive Harry Rapf decided to team Dane with George K. Arthur as a comedic duo. Together they were dubbed Dane & Arthur. In May 1927, the duo's first film, Rookies opened and was an instant success. By June 1927, MGM signed Dane to a long term contract, making such films as Detectives, Circus Rookies, and The Trail of '98. In April 1928, Dane broke his shoulder on set. He contracted bronchial pneumonia and was in serious condition. He eventually recovered and went back to work on the duo's films.
Talkies and decline
Dane & Arthur's last silent short was Detectives in 1928. On 23 December 1928 their first talkie, Brotherly Love was released. Arthur was a Scotsman who had a distinct but acceptable British accent. Dane had a thick guttural Danish accent which did not record well and made his English hard to understand. The duo made only six more talkies, ending with China Bound in 1929.
Five films later, in 1930 Dane lost his contract with MGM. He would later claim this was due to a nervous breakdown, for which he needed a rest. However by December, Paramount offered Dane & Arthur a 23 week 'Publix Theatre' vaudeville tour. The pair had made a few shorts for Paramount and RKO as well. The partnership ended with the end of the vaudeville tour.
In November 1931, after the tour, Dane along with some friends formed a mining corporation named Avelina Mines. The venture failed. By February 1932, Dane had turned back to vaudeville, this time as a solo comedic act. His act was panned by critics and apparently short-lived. In December 1932, Dane's last film, The Whispering Shadow starring Bela Lugosi, was released.
By the summer of 1933, Dane had given up on films and turned desperately to mining. He spent three months driving up and down the West Coast trying to find a good mining deal. However, he ended up losing $1,100 in September 1933 and the venture never took off. Deeply depressed and broken down, Dane took on several jobs, including as a mechanic, a waiter, and carpenter. He was unable to hold any of these jobs.
Dane was very active during his life. He loved all sports, swimming, horse riding, and bicycling. He loved to play practical jokes and was a daredevil as a child. Dane was an animal lover, rescuing two of the dogs who needed homes after Trail of '98. Dane did not participate much in the Hollywood social scene. He enjoyed carpentry and built his own home in Malibu. He had a home in Beverly Hills as well. Dane officially became an American citizen in 1919. At the same, time he also officially legally changed his name to, "Karl Dane."
Later marriages and relationships
Dane's first marriage was to Carla Dagmar Hagen. The couple married 10 September 1910 at Saint Paul’s Church in Copenhagen. Dane's only living children were born during this union; son Ejlert Carl, in 1911 and daughter Ingeborg Helene in 1912. When Dane immigrated to the US, in 1916, he intended to send for his family later. However by his success, in 1918, Dane had begun to lose touch with his family. Carla no longer wanted to join him, as she was suffering from ill health. The pair separated that year.
In early 1921, Dane met Swedish immigrant Helen Benson. It was then he quit films and moved to Van Nuys. The couple married June 15, 1921. Helen died in childbirth 9 August 1923, as did the couple's baby girl. Unable to cope with the loss of his wife and daughter, Dane rushed into a marriage with telephone operator supervisor Emma Awilda Peabody Sawyer, seven years his senior. The couple married on 8 March 1924, and separated on 30 September 1924. After his success, in May 1926, Emma brought suit against Dane for support. It is not clear if she received it or not.
In June 1928, Dane reportedly fell in love with a Russian dancer, Thais Valdemar. The couple began dating and eventually claimed to be married though they indeed never were (many sources incorrectly state that she was his legal wife). The couple lived together at Dane's Beverly Hills home, until November 1928, when Valdemar moved out. By December, she filed a breach of promise suit against Dane for $75,000, but the case was ultimately dropped in early 1929.
By the end of 1933, Dane had purchased a stake in a hot dog stand outside MGM Studios. The business failed, as it was shunned by his former friends. Dane then tried to find work with his former studio as an extra or carpenter but was turned away. He had been seeking a job that would pay $5 a day.
On April 13, Dane was pickpocketed of all the money he had: $18. On 14 April, he was to meet with a young woman named Frances Leake, supposedly to see a movie and cheer him up. However, he never showed and Leake became worried. She immediately arrived at his apartment (at 626 South Burnside Avenue) and with the assistance of the landlady, they were able to open the door. There they found Dane, clad in a shirt, trousers and slippers. He was slumped in his chair with a revolver at his feet. Leake fainted at the scene. When she was revived, Leake found Dane's final note on a nearby table, next to a scrapbook he had always kept, filled with his old studio contracts and rave reviews. The short note read, "To Frances and all my friends-goodbye." Dane had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He was 47 years old.
No one came forward to claim his body. Police tagged his body with the note, "May have relatives in Denmark. Hold for awhile". For the next few days, authorities attempted to find his family, even placing ads in major Copenhagen newspapers. However, the Gottliebs did not find out about Dane's death until weeks later. Fellow Danish actor Jean Hersholt stepped forward and insisted MGM pay for a funeral and burial. MGM agreed, and on 18 April a funeral was held open to the public. There were around 50 attendees. Hersholt was a pallbearer, as well as Tom O'Brien. Dane was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Many of Dane's films still exist today and a few are available on DVD including Son of the Sheik, The Big Parade, and The Whispering Shadow. Bardelys the Magnificent was thought lost but around 30 minutes of the film has been found. Many of the Dane & Arthur shorts still exist, including Brotherly Love, but have yet to see a DVD release.
Dane was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to film located at 6140 Hollywood Blvd (located in front of the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater).
Renewed interest has been shown in Dane's career, especially in his native Denmark. On October 12, 2006, Danish weekly paper FOKUS published an article on Dane to commemorate what would have been his 120th birthday. In February 2007, an issue of the monthly Classic Images (#380) included an article on Dane. In the July 2007 biannual publication The Bridge (Volume 30 Number 1 2007), published by the Danish American Heritage Society, featured an article on Dane. In December 2007, the Danish Film Festival Kosmorama published an article about Dane in their newsletter.
On 28 January 2008, the Danish Film Institute held a 'Karl Dane Retrospective' in Copenhagen, Denmark. A speech was given by Laura Petersen Balogh and featured clips from Dane's films followed by a screening of one of his features. The event was attended by some of Dane's descendants. In 2009, a biography about Dane written by Balogh was released through McFarland & Company.
|1918||My Four Years in Germany||Chancellor von Bethmana-Hollweg|
|1918||The Triumph of Venus||Mars|
|1918||To Hell with the Kaiser!||Von Hollweg|
|1919||The Fall of the Hohenzollerns||Von Bethmann Hollweg|
|1919||Daring Hearts||Lieutenant Von Bergheim|
|1919||The Whirlwind||The Wolf|
|1925||The Big Parade||Slim|
|1925||Lights of Old Broadway||Roosevelt's Father||Alternative title: Little Old New York|
|1926||The Scarlet Letter||Master Giles|
|1926||Bardelys the Magnificent||Rodenard|
|1927||The Red Mill||Captain Jacop Van Goop|
|1927||Slide, Kelly, Slide||Swede Hansen|
|1928||Baby Mine||Oswald Hardy|
|1928||The Trail of '98||Lars Petersen|
|1928||Alias Jimmy Valentine||Swede|
|1929||The Duke Steps Out||Barney, Duke's Chauffeur|
|1929||China Bound||Sharkey Nye|
|1929||Navy Blues||Sven Swanson|
|1930||The Big House||Olsen|
|1930||Billy the Kid||Swenson||Alternative title: The Highwayman Rides|
|1931||A Put Up Job|
|1931||Dumbbells in Derbies|
|1931||Lime Juice Nights|
|1933||The Whispering Shadow||Sparks (dispatcher)|
- Hans J. Wollstein (1994). Strangers in Hollywood: the history of Scandinavian actors in American films from 1910 to World War II. Scarecrow Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-8108-2938-1. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- Karl Dane – Timeline
- Classic Images (printable version)
- Karl Dane – Biography
- My Four Years in Germany 1918
- Wolves of Kultur (1918) at the Internet Movie Database
- Biggest Money Pictures
- Son of the Sheik feature
- The Son of the Sheik (1926) at the Internet Movie Database
- Classic Images, ibid.
- Karl Dane's films
- Karl Dane – FOKUS Article, Original English Version
- Danish American Heritage Society
- Kulturmøder – Kosmorama #240
- DFI Presentation – January 29, 2008
- Karl Dane – My Research
- McFarland & Company website
- Karl Dane by Laura Petersen Balogh (2009) ISBN 978-0-7864-4207-2
- Karl Dane at the Internet Movie Database
- Karl Dane at AllRovi
- Karl Dane at Forever Studios
- Karl Dane at Find a Grave
- Karl Dane at Virtual History