Thea von Harbou

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Thea von Harbou
WP Thea von Harbou.jpg
Von Harbou in 1935
Born Thea Gabriele von Harbou
(1888-12-27)December 27, 1888
Tauperlitz, Germany
Died July 1, 1954(1954-07-01) (aged 65)
Berlin, Germany
Occupation Filmmaker/Actress/Author
Years active 1905–1954
Spouse(s) Rudolf Klein-Rogge (1914–1920)
Fritz Lang (1922–1933)
Ayi Tendulkar (c.1933-??)

Thea Gabriele von Harbou (December 27, 1888 – July 1, 1954) was a German screenwriter, novelist, film director, and actress. She is especially known as the screenwriter of the science fiction film classic Metropolis and the story on which it was based. Von Harbou collaborated as a screenwriter with film director Fritz Lang, her husband, during the period of transition from silent to sound films.

Early life, family, and education[edit]

Thea von Harbou was born in Tauperlitz, Bavaria, in 1888,[1] into a family of minor nobility and government officials, which gave her a level of sophisticated comfort. As a child she was educated in a convent by private tutors who taught her several languages as well as piano and violin. She was a child prodigy.[2] Her first works, a short story published in a magazine and a volume of poems published privately, focused on perceptions of art, subjects considered unusual for a girl of thirteen.[3] Despite her privileged childhood, von Harbou wanted to earn a living on her own, which led her to become an actress despite her father's disapproval.[4]

From novelist to screenwriter[edit]

After her debut in 1906, von Harbou met Rudolf Klein-Rogge and married him during World War I. By 1917, von Harbou and Klein-Rogge had moved to Berlin where von Harbou devoted herself to building her career as a writer. She was drawn to writing epic myths and legends with an overtly nationalistic tone.[5] In one historian's estimation, "Her novels became patriotic and morale-boosting, urging women to sacrifice and duty while promoting the eternal glory of the fatherland".[6]

Her first close interaction with cinema came when German director Joe May decided to adapt a piece of fiction, Die heilige Simplizia. From that moment forward, "Her fiction output slowed down. In short order she would become one of Germany's most celebrated film writers, not only because of her partnership with Fritz Lang, but also for writing scripts for F. W. Murnau, Carl Dreyer, E. A. Dupont, and other German luminaries".[7]

Her brother, Horst von Harbou, went to work for UFA as a photographer and began to work closely with Thea and Fritz Lang on many of their most famous productions.[8]

Partnership with Lang[edit]

Von Harbou's first collaboration with Fritz Lang was marked by a common interest in exotic India. As von Harbou worked on an adaptation of her 1917 novel Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb, 1921), Joe May assigned Lang to help her write the screenplay and work out production details.[9] Praising Thea's skills, Erich Kettelhut recalled, "She was not only well-liked by her colleagues, but also as much a creative force, as highly motivated and smoothly efficient, as her husband. Her loving personality was crucial to the professional teamwork. Von Harbou's ability to reach out to people and find compromise in the worst situations was a vital resource".[10]

Following the success of Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler) and the death of Lang's first wife, they married in 1922.[11] They went to work on a script that would reflect their pride in their German heritage, Die Nibelungen, and enhance von Harbou's reputation as a writer for the screen. Von Harbou became known for her unique habit of wearing the same dress throughout filming, even as she cooked hot meals for the crew during late nights.[12] During this time of poverty in 1920s Germany, von Harbou became active in acquiring food for her film crew, as one friend recalled, "She was even able to talk the UFA into carrying the costs so the crew could get their meals for free ... she stood there on the rough floor of that drafty shed for hours and didn't mind peeling potatoes or cleaning vegetables with the other women. Such was the spirit of sacrifice".[13]

Von Harbou often developed her screenplays into full length novels, with their publication scheduled to coincide with the release of the film, though this was not the case with Metropolis (1927), one of her most famous works.[14] Von Harbou was a central player in producing Metropolis, and this epic film became not only one of Fritz Lang's best known films, but one of significance to German cinema. Besides writing the novel and the screenplay, and developing the distinct moral ending of Metropolis, she discovered Gustav Fröhlich, who played the lead role of Freder Fredersen.[15]

Her next big production with Lang was M (1931), a film about a child murderer. It was written with exquisite attention to accuracy. Lang and von Harbou had been enthralled with news coverage of Peter Kürten, known as the Monster of Düsseldorf, during the late 1920s. She used newspaper articles in developing the script and "maintained regular contact with the police headquarters on Alexanderplatz and was permitted access to the communications and secret publications of Berlin's force".[16] Recalling the script, von Harbou's secretary, Hilde Guttmann, said, "I saw many other film manuscripts, but never one which could compare with the manuscript for M. Two typewriter ribbons were stuck together to give us three colors: one black and red, and the other blue. The camera work and the action were typed in black, the dialogue blue, and the sound, where synchronized, was typed in red".[17] Von Harbou received no credit as the script writer for M.[18]

She was also involved in politics, joining the campaign against Germany's paragraph 218 in Germany, which made abortion illegal.[19] At a mass rally in 1931, she said:[20]

Our main goal is to find a new form of preventing pregnancy and therefore to make the entire 218 unnecessary. Immediately, however, the Paragraph must fall because it is no longer morally recognized by women. It is no longer a law. We need a new sexual code because the old was created by men and no man is in a position to understand the agony of a woman who is carrying a child she knows she cannot feed. This law derived from male psychology, which forces a woman into having a child, creates, even if not deliberately, constitutional inferiority of women in relation to men which serves as a bulwark against women's activity in economic and political life.

Divorce[edit]

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in their Berlin flat, 1923 or 1924

Shortly after Lang and von Harbou married, Lang developed the habit of publicly pursuing younger women, but they presented themselves as a happy couple with a contented home that would have seemed like a small museum of exotic art for the common citizen.[21] Visitors remembered von Harbou taking charge of all the domestic and social responsibilities, keeping Lang and the crew well fed during long production meetings.[22] Then, during the production of Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, Lang discovered von Harbou in bed with Ayi Tendulkar, an Indian journalist and student 17 years younger than she.[23]

After Lang and von Harbou's divorce became final on April 20, 1933, the couple slowly lost contact.[24] Shortly after her divorce, von Harbou and Ayi Tendulkar contracted a clandestine marriage because the Nazi state did not permit someone of her public stature to marry a dark-skinned Indian.[25][26][27]

Under Nazi rule[edit]

As Adolf Hitler rose to power, the German film industry became more influenced by propaganda-based ideology. Von Harbou remained loyal to the new regime. Around 1934, a year after the Nazi Party came to power, on her own initiative she wrote and directed two films, Hanneles Himmelfahrt[28] and Elisabeth und der Narr.[29] However, von Harbou did not find the experience of directing satisfactory and remained a prolific scenarist during this time. "Under a regime where every film was a 'state film,' Thea von Harbou amassed writing credits on some twenty-six films, while giving uncredited assistance on countless others-including a handful with an indisputable National Socialist worldview".[30] Von Harbou's decision to remain loyal to Germany during the rise of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) became one of the reasons for Lang's divorce.

Life After World War II[edit]

A monument in her hometown of Tauperlitz.

From July to October 1945, von Harbou was detained in Staumühle, a poorly-run British prison camp. Though many claim she had significant Nazi sympathies, von Harbou claimed she only joined the Nazi Party to help Indian immigrants in Germany like her husband. "Her direct work on behalf of the government consisted, she claimed, entirely of volunteer welding, making hearing aids, and emergency medical care. In fact, she received a medal of merit for saving people in two air raids".[31] In prison she directed a performance of Faust and when released she worked as a Trümmerfrau (rubble woman) in 1945 and 1946.

Death[edit]

Toward the end of von Harbou's life, pain from high blood pressure, migraines, and neuralgia weakened her, though she continued to write or dictate from her bed.[32] After attending a showing of Der müde Tod as a guest of honor in 1954, von Harbou suffered a hip injury in a fall. On July 1, 1954 she died in the hospital at the age of sixty-five.[33]

Several years after her death, Lang directed the film The Indian Tomb, based upon one of her novels.

Filmography[34][edit]

Director

  • Hanneles Himmelfahrt (1934)
  • Elisabeth und der Narr (1934)

Written Work

  • Das Wandernde Bild (The Wandering Image) (1920) - Screenplay
  • Das Indische Grabmal 1 (The Indian Tomb Part 1) (1921) - Screenplay, Story
  • Der Müde Tod (The Weary Death) (1921) - Screenplay
  • Kämpfende Herzen (Fighting Hearts) (1921) - Screenplay
  • Das Indische Grabmal 2. Teil: Der Tiger Von Eschnapur (The Indian Tomb Part 2: The Tiger of Eschnapur) (1921) - Screenplay, Story
  • Phantom (1922) - Screenplay
Phantom
  • Der Brennende Acker (The Burning Acre) (1922) - Screenplay
  • Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler 1. Teil: Der Große Spieler - Ein Bild Unserer Zeit (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler Part 1: The Great Gambler - A Picture of our Time) (1922) - Screenplay
  • Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler 2. Teil: Inferno, Ein Spiel von Menschen Unserer Z (Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler Part 2: Inferno - A Play About People of our Time) (1922) - Screenplay
  • Die Austreibung Die Macht Der Zweiten Frau (Driven From Home) (1923) - Scenario
  • Michael (1924) - Screenplay
Michael (1924)
  • Die Nibelungen 1. Teil: Siegfried's Tod (The Nibelungen Part 1: Siegfried's Death) (1924) - Screenplay
Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (Siegfried's Death) (1924)
  • Die Nibelungen 2. Teil: Kriemhild's Rache (The Nibelungen Part 2: Kriemhild's Revenge) (1924) - Screenplay
Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (Kriemhilde's Revenge) (1924)
  • Die Finanzen Des Großherzogs (The Finances of the Grand Duke)
The Grand Duke's Finances (1924)
  • Metropolis (1927) - Screenplay, Idea
Metropolis (1927)
  • Spione (The Spy) (1928) - Screenplay, Original Story
Spione (Spies) (1928)
  • Frau Im Mond (Woman in the Moon) (1929) - Screenplay, Original Story
Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon), from her novel Die Frau im Mond (1929)
  • M (1931) - Screenplay (uncredited)
M (1931)
  • Das Testament Des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) (1933) - Screenplay
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
  • Der Alte Und Der Junge König (The Old and the Young King) (1935) - Script
  • Die Herrin von Campina (The Mistress of Campina) (1936) - Screenplay
  • The Impossible Woman (1936) - Script
  • The Broken Jug (1937) - Screenplay
  • Don't Promise Me Anything (1937) - Script
  • Jugend (Youth) (1938) - Screenplay
  • Verwehte Spuren (Blown Away Tracks) (1938) - Script
  • The Woman at the Crossroads (1938) - Script
  • Hurrah! I'm a Father (1939)
  • Annelie (1941) - Script
  • Clarissa (1941)
  • Die Gattin (The Wife) (1943) - Script
  • Via Mala (1945) - Screenplay
  • Erzieherin Gesucht (Educator in Request) (1950) - Screenplay
  • Dr. Holl (1951) - Script
Dr. Holl (1951)
  • Tigress of Bengal (1958) - Original Story

Novels[edit]

  • Deutsche Roman-Zeitung, 1905
  • Das Indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb), 1917
  • Das Nibelungenbuch, 1924
  • Metropolis, 1926
  • Die Frau im Mond, 1928

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Thea von Harbou (1888–1954)". Internet Movie Database (in English). Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-08-05. 
  2. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (62-63)
  3. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (63)
  4. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (63)
  5. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (63)
  6. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (63)
  7. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (63)
  8. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (62)
  9. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (64)
  10. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (92)
  11. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (87)
  12. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (97)
  13. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (97)
  14. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (109)
  15. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (113)
  16. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (150)
  17. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (152)
  18. ^ Stevens, Dana. "Writing, Scratching, and Politics from M to Mabuse." Qui Parle 7.1 1993 (63)
  19. ^ Petro, Patrice. Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation in Weimar Germany. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1989 (26)
  20. ^ Petro, Patrice. Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation in Weimar Germany. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1989 (26)
  21. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (90-91)
  22. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (91)
  23. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (168)
  24. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (181)
  25. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (184)
  26. ^ Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul, In the Shadow of Freedom: Three Lives in Hitler's Germany and Gandhi's India, Zubaan Books, 2013
  27. ^ Padgaonkar, Dileep (8 March 2013). "The singular destiny of Ayi Tendulkar". The Times of India. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  28. ^ Hanneles Himmelfahrt at the Internet Movie Database.
  29. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023981/
  30. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (185)
  31. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (330)
  32. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (413)
  33. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (414)
  34. ^ AFI/Film Index: Thea von Harbou

Further reading[edit]

  • Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast by Patrick McGilligan
  • Thea von Harbou - AMC Movie Guide
  • Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representations in Weimar Germany by Patrice Petro
  • Writing, Scratching, and Politics from M to Mabuse in Qui Parle by Dana Stevens
  • In the Shadow of Freedom by Ayi Tendulkar's daughter Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul née Laxmi Thea Tendulkar

External links[edit]