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Late in her life, when Truus van Aalten was asked how many films she'd been in, she added it up to a staggering fifty two. Her early days at the Ufa were filled with uncredited appearances in any films being shot at the time - Truus was tireless and her bosses wanted to get full value from the salary they were paying her. She turned up in short subjects and adverts, Ufa loaned her out to other companies - she could even be seen in foreign movies, when versions of German films were shot on the same sets in French and other languages.
Some of her films are lost forever, even their names erased from history - victims of neglect, contractual confusion or war. Talkies arrived in a flurry of technical innovation - this month's premiere was next month's embarrassment, and negatives and prints of many early sound films were simply junked. Russian soldiers seizied the Ufa studios as they advanced on Berlin in 1945, and were ordered to remove and transport anything useful back to Moscow - including thousands of cans of film and the paperwork that made sense of them.
Can any of her films be seen now? Yes, several - look at the list on the See Truus! page of this site.
Production Company: Isepa/Ufa.
Director: Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius.
The first film in which Truus appeared, aged just 16 (the title translates as “Mrs Gyurkovics' Seven Daughters”) doesn't seem to exist any more. While most of Truus' part was cut out, and her name didn't appear in the credits, her mischievous character and vibrant screen presence so impressed the Ufa bosses that they offered her a three-year contract.
The Dutch were immensely proud of Truus, and she received a great deal of publicity from the start.
Production Company: Ufa.
Directors: Alfred Licho, Wilhelm Thiele.
The title translates as “His Holy Lordship”.
Playing the Comtesse Delinine was an actress who was to become Truus' mentor in her new career, Olga Tschechowa (or Chekhova). She knew everybody and was invited to the very best dinners and openings. Born in 1897, Olga grew up in Russia, where her aunt (wife of author Anton Chekhov) was a leading light in the progressve Moscow Art Theatre. Olga wanted to be an actress too, but her father forbade it.
Olga knew that everyone loves a story. Her mother (she claimed) was a confidante of Tolstoy and Rachmaninov, and bosom budies with the Tsarina. When Olga was a baby a jackal (supposedly) entered the garden and carried her away. Surviving that, she (alledgedly) met Rasputin, joined the Moscow Art Academy (at twelve), and was taught by Rodin and Bakst.
Olga married when she was seventeen. By the time her daughter Ada was born a year later, Olga realized that her husband was a self-obsessed drunk, and she had to leave him. 1918 brought the Russian revolution, a terrifying upheaval followed by horribly violent civil war. Despite acting in her first film, "Anya Craeva", Olga decided to escape. Leaving Ada with her mother, Olga took a train to Berlin. She arrived knowing almost no German at all, but was helped by Berlin's growing Russian community.
Olga had hardly ever seen a movie when she was introduced to Erich Pommer (one of Ufa's top producers) in a restaurant. She soon found herself acting in "Schloss Vogelöd", an adaptation of a popular novel, and became instantly well-known. Playing up to preconceptions about her exotic life (though she was still penniless), she learned to play the publicity game with great skill. Working very hard, shooting films by day and acting in plays in the evenings, Olga was determined to be self-sufficient.
Truus met Olga in 1927, and they soon became close - but one thing Olga didn't mention was that four years earlier she'd been recruited into the Soviet secret intelligence service by her own brother. Lev was a composer, but his frequent visits to his sister were ordered by Moscow, using his musical studies as a cover. Olga, possibly on the promise that her mother and daughter would be allowed out of the USSR, was instructed to help him gather information on important Russians now living in Berlin.
Six years in the future, Hitler was to come to power. He was a movie fan, and he'd make sure that Olga would be invited to many important social functions. She would be named Staatsschauspielerin ("Actress Of The State"), in 1935, and while never involved in political matters, she would mix with Germany's elite - very interesting for her superiors in Moscow. Secretly sickened by the Nazis, Olga would look after herself and her family come what may.
After the war, she would supply Moscow with information while continuing her acting career. By the time she died, Olga would also have founded a cosmetics company, written a (wildly inaccurate) autobiography and skated on thin ice longer than most people could have managed.
Also starring in this film was cabaret comedian Max Hansen. A playboy as well-known in Berlin for his many extra-marital love affairs as his hilarious songs, Hansen's future would be rosy - sound movies would bring him musicals and sharp comedies to star in (and starlets to seduce) - but even his instincts for survival would soon be strained to the limit. During 1932 he'd put out a very popular record called "Warst Du schon mal in mich verliebt?" ("Weren't You Ever In Love With Me?") which would ridicule Adolf Hitler and claim that he was homosexual. Peeved, the Nazi leader would set his boys on the half-Jewish Hansen's trail, causing him to make a sharp exit and eventually settle in Denmark, where he would die in 1961.
Production Company: Reinhold Schünzel-Film-Prod. GmbH.
Directors: Reinhold Schünzel.
The title translates as "Gustav Mond... You Walk So Softly”.
The film's Kurier magazine doesn't mention Truus at all - probably (as a very young and inexperienced player) she received no credit.
After the disaster of "Metropolis" almost ruining the company, new Ufa managers brought in much tighter controls of scripts, budgets and staff. "Gustav Mond" director Reinhold Schünzel started shooting before his script had been officially approved, and was sternly told that he personally would be held responsible if this caused any overspending later.
Production Company: Aafa-Film AG.
Directors: Max Obal, Rudolf Walther-Fein.
The title translates as “The Modern Casanova”. Truus' co-star Lia Eibenschütz had started in films in 1920 and would work very successfully until 1932, when Nazi rules deemed her to be "half Jewish". She devoted her time to her husband, actor Kurt Vespermann, and her son, and was able to revive her career after the war.
Truus had wanted a film star's lifestyle when she was little - and she got it! Here she is at a "Moderne Casanova" bash, surrounded by (1) star Harry Liedtke, (2) producer Gabriel Levy, (4) director Rudolf Walther-Fein and (10) actress Lia Eibenschütz. Also there are (5) actress Vivian Gibson, (7) publisher of "Der Film" magazine Max Mattisson and (6) his wife, (9) Aafa executive Rudolf Meyer, (11) actor Kurt Vespermann - Lia Eibenschütz's husband, (12) Aafa's Frau Dworsky, (13) actress Elizza La Porta, (14) "Der Film" Chief Editor Betz and (15) his wife. (3) is apparently a Mr Herbst from Aachen. Who on earth was he?
Production Company: Max Glass Film.
Director: Robert Wiene.
The title translates as “Leontine’s Husbands”.
Leontine (Claire Rommer), a high-spirited French dancer, has found a simple solution to her financial problems - whenever she runs out of money she just gets married. Her latest conquest is the Marquis Versac, but she soon gets bored of life in his castle, supervised by his disapproving aunt (Adele Sandrock). Her reputation is dented when she forgets herself and performs a scandalous Charlston at a village dance. She continues to impulsively seduce men in all directions, determined to live as she chooses.
Oskar Sima, Truus, Claire Rommer, Adele Sandrock, Georg Alexander (?).
"Leontine..." (adapted from a 1900 play, "Les Maris de Leontine" by Alfred Capus) wasn't very well received - Claire Rommer and Adele Sandrock were praised for their acting, but the film simply wasn't very good, and director Robert Wiene got the blame for that.
Production Company: Olympia Film GmbH.
Director: Hans Steinhoff.
Also known as "Wenn die Garde Marschiert" ("When The Guards March"), the title translates as “The Girl From The Spree Forest". In 1928, people from the Spreewald traditionally had thick accents and country ways, and were regarded as bumpkins.
Production Company: Fellner & Somio-Film GmbH.
Director: Hans Behrendt.
The title translates as “Six Girls Seek Sleeping Quarters”.
Production Company: Ufa.
Director: Erich Waschneck.
English title: "Secret Power".
Production Company: Aafa-Film AG.
Director: Rudolf Walther-Fein.
The title translates as “The Jolly Stag Party”. The film was also known as "Herren unter Sich".
Production Company: Boston-Films-Co GmbH.
Directors: Carlo Campogalliani, Domenico Gambino.
The title translates as “I Lost My Heart On A Bus”, which doesn't mean anything today, but it's a parody of a then-well-known song "Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelburg verloren". The film was also known as "Sensationskomödie".
Truus was delighted to go on location for "Ich hab' mein Herz..." - not to the German countryside this time, but Tivoli in Italy, where she shot several scenes disguised as a man.
Production Company: Terra-Film.
Director: Jaap Speyer.
The title translates as “Jenny’s Stroll Through The Men”.
Scenes for "Jenny's Bummel..." were shot in the Spa area of Belgium and in the seaside town of Scheveningen in the Netherlands. During 2009 the Dutch company Tijdsbeeld Media issued "1929 - uw geboortejaar in beeld", a compilation DVD of silent movie news stories. It's a delightful picture of a lost world - Holland in 1929. One of the items shows Truus and a film crew shooting a scene for "Jenny's Bummel..." on a sunny day on Scheveningen pier. It's only a couple of minutes long, but it's incredibly rare footage of Truus at work (when she's not grinning at the news camera).
A very popular part of the ballyhoo for a film's release was the Personal Appearance. Cinema patrons in towns all over Germany could suddenly find a real movie star in their midst, and would shower him or her with adoring hospitality. This advertisement for Frankfurt am Main's Hotel Excelsior alerts the passer-by to the fact that "Today - the charming, uninhibited, wild young Truus van Aalten will be attending all performances of her latest film in person" in the hotel's own cinema. Also mentioned are the first-class support programme and the cinema's comfy seats.
This item is from Truus' own collection - she documented her career carefully, keeping even the smallest of clippings. In later years she gave some items of which she had duplicates to her friend Kathinka Dittrich, and this is one of those. Feared lost for ten years, her archive was donated to the Dutch Film Museum in Amsterdam during 2009.
Production Company: Union-Film GmbH.
Director: Walter Jerven.
Friedrich Kuhn (Ferdinand Martin) runs a busy tailor shop with his wife (Liesl Karlstadt) and his niece, Anni (Truus). One day a stringbean of a man (Karl Valentin) turns up, and when they discover that he's an out-of-work fabric cutter, they offer him a job. Karl is intense, accident-prone and obsessive - his greatest desire is to own a "Black Einser", a rare stamp to add to his prized collection.
Anni is a sparkly, mischievous girl, bored with working for her grumpy old uncle. She has two admirers - snooty Lechner (Heinz Koennecke) and Toni (Gustl Stark Gstettenbauer), a teenager. Karl dislikes Lechner on sight - he's much too dull for Anni.
Mrs Kuhn, tired of her husband's bad temper, falls for Karl. They take a trip on a lake, but when they land on the bank the boat floats off, leading everyone to believe that they've drowned. After they turn up, Mr Kuhn jumps to the wrong conclusion about them.
Karl finds a 100 Mark note in a suit of Lechner's, but overcomes temptation and puts it back - in the wrong jacket. When Lechner hears that a local stamp shop has just sold a "Black Einser", he brings in the police to search Karl's room. They find the stamp in Karl's album - nobody knows that Mrs Kuhn had bought it as a surprise for him. Devastated, he's tossed in jail.
Young Toni asks Anni out, then starts spending suspiciously huge amounts of money from a 100 Mark note he's just found in his pocket... The mystery solved, Karl is released, but he's sure that his reputation has been destroyed. He tries to kill himself in a variety of ways, but with no success, and when he's offered a trip on a motorbike by Mrs Kuhn (the world's worst driver) his nerves give way completely and he dashes off over the horizon at top speed.
Der Sonderling ("The Oddball") is a sweet comedy, gentle and affectionate. It has its moments of Chaplinesque comedy (Karl takes his hat off, can't find a hatstand, so hangs it on his own shoulder; Mrs Kuhn gets on a motorbike which runs away with her and causes havoc), but as the story progresses, the viewer forgets Valentin's enormous false nose and starts to care for the gangling, fragile obsessive. Just as sympathetic is Liesl Karlstadt's love-starved Mrs Kuhn. Playing Anni, the sparkly spirit of mischief, was obviously fun for Truus. She's clever, funny and likeable, particularly in her scenes with Karl Valentin and during the shoot at the funfair, where she and Gustl Stark Gstettenbauer giggle their way through death-defying rides and drink beer with their hats on sideways.
One critic recently named "Der Sonderling" as "definitely the greatest German comedy of the silent era".
Production Company: Hegewald Film.
Directors: Jacob Fleck, Luise Fleck.
The title translates as "The Merry Tramps”.
Production Company: Lothar Stark-Film.
Director: Max Mack.
"Nur am Rhein", full of (as a later reviewer put it) "handsome young Germans lifting their voices and beer steins in song, and pretty blonde fraüleins giggling appreciatively before going into their dance", tells the story of Lt Barrymore (Igo Sym), a British Army officer in the occupied Rheinland just after World War 1. Hanna, the Burgomeister's daughter (Daisy D'Ora) catches his eye, but Lehmann, Barrymore's interpreter (Julius Falkenstein) takes against the couple and spreads malicious rumours about them. Hanna's brother Karl (Carl Bauhaus) tries to get revenge by putting Lehmann through a College fraternity hazing, but he's arrested - by Barrymore - much to Hanna's annoyance. The British are suddenly ordered to leave the country (saving Karl from prison), and Barrymore and Hanna make up and get married.
Truus’ first talkie, "Nur Am Rhein" was a musical. It was what's known as a "Heimat" movie - a story filled with sentimental images of an idealised rural Germany. The film brought Truus into contact with veteran movie-maker Max Mack. He’d been writing, acting and directing since the impossibly primitive days of 1911, and was a human dynamo, endlessly creative. He’d been a main force in making the despised medium of the movies respectable.
The New York Times printed a lukewarm review in September 1931: “Measured against the high standard of excellence set by the German cinema in New York, "Nur Am Rhein" is pleasant rather than distinguished. Its melodies and humors are charming and rather meagre. But for the German visitor its scenes along the beautiful Rhine will have a sharp nostalgic effect, and for the New Yorker a sense of loveliness. Rolling green hills, white blossoms, the gables and church steeples of a tiny German village nestling in a crook of the river, the steep cobble-stoned streets - the camera catches these admirably. The story of the English Lieutenant and his German sweetheart unrolls in a leisurely fashion. Her boat has drifted from a little island in the Rhine and he goes out and brings her back. They talk of love while the university students gambol about the town. One of the students, the girl's brother, is caught in a nocturnal escapade and it is the Lieutenant's painful duty to make the arrest. The girl pouts and will not understand, the Lieutenant is sad and misunderstood. Just in time comes the news that the English are evacuating the territory and the boy can be freed. No more than that.”
Production Company: Ufa.
Director: Hanns Schwarz.
Albert Winkelman (Emil Jannings) is a popular opera star, but disaster strikes during a tour of South America when his voice suddenly gives out during a performance. Fleeing the audiences' ridicule, he returns to Europe. Though nobody there seems to know about his disgrace, he decides to retire. Later, goaded back in front of an audience, he finds that his voice has returned.
Also in the film (as the wonderfully-named Olga von Dagomirska), was Truus’ old friend Olga Tschechowa, but even she couldn't prevent the New York Times' reviewer from finding the film distinctly disappointing. Technical and artistic standards had been rising for sound films (known as "talkers"), but despite the fact that the movie had been produced by Ufa’s top man, Erich Pommer, "this is pretty musty stuff. The story of the tenor who loses his voice is really due to be packed away with a healthy supply of mothballs." Lamenting that while the film was well cast, many of the scenes were "dogeared", the writer also had to admit that the ex-pat audience had enjoyed the film enormously (it was running at the Gloria Palast on 86th St, built above a very popular restaurant in what was known as the German Boulevard, the centre of German New York life). "I shall have to be frank and admit that the German audience does not at all agree with my estimate," he wrote sadly. "They roared their enthusiasm for Jannings, and "Darling of the Gods" will run along indefinitely. However much the audiences and the critics may cry for something new and original, they are not willing to make the slightest concessions for it."
Truus only appears in a few scenes, but she really knows how to make an impression - chased around a room at one point, she whirls into a bewildering series of funny poses, all elbows and pirouettes, packing eccentric ballet moves and daft expressions into what could have been a very straightforward scene. Her German had improved by now, too - one interviewer quipped that “she occasionally mixes up ‘mir’ and ‘mich’’’, but felt that this was excusable since “that happens to even the best linguists.”
Production Company: Hegewald Film.
Director: Georg Jacoby.
Two Berlin boys-about-town (Jakob Tiedke as Philip and Kurt Vespermann as his pal Ernst) live a relaxed life among the eccentric lodgers of the Schöller boarding house. One day they realise that their lifestyle is in danger - they’ve spent all their money. They hatch a plot and write to Philip's uncle Alfred (Paul Heidemann) for some cash, claiming that Philip needs it for his education. Uncle surprises them by turning up in person, so they quickly come up with a desperate plan - they must disguise the boarding house as a lunatic asylum, convince Uncle that Philip is trying to buy it, and - somehow - pass the boarders off as maniacs.
Another early sound comedy, “Pension Schöller” (an adaptation of a well-known German stage farce dating from 1890), introduced Truus to director Georg Jacoby, who would use her in films several times in the future. The film was well-received, and was reviewed by the New York Times when it showed in America. Though “Pension Schöller”’s sound quality wasn’t perfect, the Times called it “a happy-go-lucky comedy” and praised “an excellent cast”.
Director George Jacoby was the son of one of the authors of the original play and remade "Pension Schöller" twice more, in 1952 and 1960. He’d cast Marlene Dietrich in her first film, married actress Marika Rökk, and would work through the Nazi era to make his last film in 1960.
(Click on filmstrips to enlarge.)