Thea von Harbou

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Thea von Harbou
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 actress, author and film director of Prussian aristocratic origin. She was born in Tauperlitz in the Kingdom of Bavaria.

Early life, family, and education[edit]

Thea von Harbou was born to a Prussian family of minor nobility and government officials, thus granting her a level of sophisticated comfort. Her childhood education took place in a convent by private tutors who taught her several languages and how to play piano and violin. In many ways von Harbou was a classic child prodigy.[1] Her first works, a short story published in a magazine and a volume of poems privately published, were focused on perceptions of art, which were recognized as abnormal for a young girl of thirteen.[2] Despite her privileged childhood, von Harbou had the desire to earn a living on her own, thus driving her to become an actress, regardless of disapproval from her father.[3] After her debut in 1906, von Harbou met Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and later married him during World War I. By 1917, von Harbou and Klein-Rogge moved to Berlin and von Harbou was devoted, full-time, to building her career as a writer; she was drawn to writing epic myths and legends with an overtly nationalistic tone.[4] In the words of Patrick McGilligan, Fritz Lang historian, "Her novels became patriotic and morale-boosting, urging women to sacrifice and duty while promoting the eternal glory of the fatherland".[5] Her first close interaction with cinema came when German director Joe May chose to adapt one of von Harbou's writings, titled 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".[6] In addition to Thea's success through film, 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.[7] Thea von Harbou's marriage to Fritz Lang came in 1922 with the success of Dr. Mabuse der Spieler and the death of Lang's first wife, finally the two cemented their husband-wife partnership.[8]

Career[edit]

Thea Gabriele von Harbou's first collaboration with Fritz Lang was marked by a common interest in the exotic foreign land of India. As von Harbou worked on an adaptation of her 1917 novel Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb), Joe May assigned Fritz Lang to aid her in the writing of the screenplay and the details regarding production.[9] Praising Thea's skills, Erich Kettelhut recalls, "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] After her marriage to Fritz Lang, the two went to work on a script that would echo pride for German nationality, Die Nibelungen and further raise von Harbou's esteem as a writer for the screen. Thea 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.[11] During this time of poverty in 1920s Germany, von Harbou became active in acquiring food for her film crew, as one friend recalls, "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".[12] Often Thea von Harbou would take her screenplays and make them into full length novels to coincide with the release of the film, however this was not the case with Metropolis, one of her most famous works.[13] Thea von Harbou was an incredibly active 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, the screenplay, and developing the distinct moral ending of Metropolis, she is credited with discovering Gustav Fröhlich, who plays the lead role of Freder Fredersen.[14] Her next big production with Fritz Lang would be M, a film about a child murderer, and would be written with incredible attention to accuracy. Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou had been enthralled with news coverage of Peter Kürten, known as the Monster of Düsseldorf, during the late 1920s. Not only did von Harbou use newspaper articles for the script, but she "maintained regular contact with the police headquarters on Alexanderplatz and was permitted access to the communications and secret publications of Berlin's force".[15] Recalling the script, von Harbou's secretary, Hilde Guttmann, claims, "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".[16] Unfortunately, she is uncredited as the script writer for M.[17] Thea von Harbou's ability to write for the screen propelled silent German cinema into the spot light. Furthermore, behind the most well-known German directors sat Thea von Harbou writing the action.

As Adolf Hitler rose to power, the German film industry became more influenced by propaganda-based ideology. Thea von Harbou remained loyal to the new political power. Around 1934, a year after the Nazi Party began leading the nation, she took the initiative to write and direct two films, Hanneles Himmelfahrt[18] and Elisabeth und der Narr.[19] However, von Harbou did not find the experience of directing to be satisfactory. She did remain 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".[20]

Interests[edit]

While Thea von Harbou is renowned for her active role in German cinema, she is also remembered for a campaign against paragraph 218 in Germany, which made abortion illegal.[21] In 1931 at a mass rally, she is quoted saying, "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".[22]

Life with Fritz Lang[edit]

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

The home of Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou would have seemed like a small museum of exotic art for the common citizen.[23] The memory of visitors to the Lang-von Harbou home remember von Harbou as taking charge of all the domestic and social responsibilities. In addition, it was von Harbou who perfected the method of keeping Lang and the crew aptly nourished during long production meetings.[24] Unfortunately, shortly after Lang and von Harbou were married, Lang fell into the habit of pursuing younger women in the open eyes of the public.

Thea 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. In addition, Thea von Harbou had broken from her commitment to Lang with an affair of her own. It was during the production of Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse when Lang discovered von Harbou in bed with her new lover, Ayi Tendulkar.[25] The divorce would be finalized on April 20, 1933 and the cinematic duo would drift apart.[26] Shortly after her divorce from Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou and Ayi Tendulkar got secretly married in Germany. At the time the state could not permit a lady of her renown to marry a dark-skinned Indian.[27]

Life After World War II[edit]

From July to October 1945, Thea 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 Indians in Germany. Furthermore, "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".[28] In prison she directed a performance of Faust and when released she worked as a Trümmerfrau (rubble woman) from 1945 until 1946; to earn a living, von Harbou was reduced to separating rubble for the rebuilding of Germany.

Death[edit]

At the end of Thea von Harbou's life, pain from high blood pressure, migraines, and neuralgia had made her weak; however, she continued to write or dictate from her bed.[29] While exiting a showing of Der müde Tod as a guest of honor in 1954, von Harbou fell to the ground and developed a hip injury; on July 1, 1954 she died in the hospital at the age of sixty-five.[30]

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

Filmography[31][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
  • 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. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (62-63)
  2. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (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 (62)
  8. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (87)
  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 (97)
  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 (109)
  14. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (113)
  15. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (150)
  16. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (152)
  17. ^ Stevens, Dana. "Writing, Scratching, and Politics from M to Mabuse." Qui Parle 7.1 1993 (63)
  18. ^ Hanneles Himmelfahrt at the Internet Movie Database.
  19. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023981/
  20. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (185)
  21. ^ Petro, Patrice. Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation in Weimar Germany. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1989 (26)
  22. ^ Petro, Patrice. Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation in Weimar Germany. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1989 (26)
  23. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (90-91)
  24. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (91)
  25. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (168)
  26. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (181)
  27. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (184)
  28. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (330)
  29. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (413)
  30. ^ McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martins, 1997 (414)
  31. ^ AFI/Film Index: Thea von Harbou

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]