22 June 2017

Maureen Swanson

Scottish actress Maureen Swanson (1932-2011) was a pretty, elegant, brunette leading lady in British films of the 1950s. After her marriage in 1961, she retired and in 1969 she became Countess of Dudley.

Maureen Swanson
Mexican Collectors card, no. 353. Photo: Rank.

Maureen Swanson
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 3682. Photo: Rank Organisation. Publicity still for Robbery Under Arms (Jack Lee, 1957).

A much-publicised Kiss

Maureen Swanson was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1932. Her father James Swanson was a businessman.

When her parents immigrated to South Africa, she decided to stay behind in Great Britain. She was educated at schools and convents in Scotland, before she went to Paris to study ballet.

She soon won a place at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School and then the company itself, for which she had a featured role in The Haunted Ballroom, choreographed by Ninette de Valois. This gave her the chance, aged 19, to take over the important dancing role of Louise in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1951.

She made her film debut in John Huston’s drama Moulin Rouge (1952) which was shot at Shepperton Studios in England. She played the aristocratic girl who rejects a proposal of marriage from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (José Ferrer), telling him no woman will ever love him, which prompts him to leave his childhood home in despair to begin a new life as a painter in Paris.

In 1952 Errol Flynn gave her a much-publicised kiss at the London airport and there was talk of Flynn giving her a contract, but she said no. She appeared in MGM's first CinemaScope feature, the spectacular Knights of the Round Table (Richard Thorpe, 1953) starring Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner.

Swanson appeared in memorable films like The Valley of Song (Gilbert Gunn, 1953), and the British Film Noir Third Party Risk (Daniel Birt, 1954) opposite Lloyd Bridges. In 1955 she made her TV debut in Great Britain, although she had already acted and danced in a series of six films made for the American television.

Maureen Swanson
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. 2092. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Film. Publicity still for The Spanish Gardener (Philip Leacock, 1956).

Maureen Swanson
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. D 457. Photo: Romulus.

Up in the World

In 1956 Maureen Swanson appeared in four films. Her first film under contract to Rank, A Town Like Alice (Jack Lee, 1956) with Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna, was her best by far. It covers how a small group of women and children were force-marched through Malaysia by the Japanese during the second world war. In the film, Swanson, the youngest and prettiest of the women, flirts with any available man and even goes off with a Japanese officer.

She starred opposite Norman Wisdom in the comedy Up in the World (John Paddy Carstairs, 1956). She had a secondary role in Jacqueline (Roy Ward Baker, 1956). And in The Spanish Gardener (Philip Leacock, 1956) she appeared as the girlfriend Dirk Bogarde.

In 1956 she was also introduced to the Queen at the Royal Film Performance of The Battle at the River Plate at the Empire Theatre in London. Along with her were Marilyn Monroe, Victor Mature, Anthony Quayle, and others.

The following year she received good reviews for her role in the in Australia situated adventure film Robbery Under Arms (Jack Lee, 1957) starring Peter Finch, but it was to be her last feature film.

The following year, she only appeared further in a TV production of The Importance of Being Earnest (1958).

Maureen Swanson
Dutch postcard, sent by mail in 1960. Photo: Rank. Publicity picture for Robbery Under Arms (Jack Lee, 1957).

Maureen Swanson
British postcard in the Celebrity Autograph Series by Celebrity Publishers LTD., London, no. 266. Photo: Rank Organisation. Publicity still for Robbery Under Arms (Jack Lee, 1957).

Libel Cases

In 1961 Maureen Swanson married William Ward, who in 1969 became the 4th Earl of Dudley. Their first child, a son named William, was stillborn in 1961. Later, they had six children, including documentary filmmaker Leander Ward (1971). Actress Rachel Ward is their niece.

As the Countess of Dudley, she managed the couple's homes in Cottesmore Gardens, Kensington, London and Devon. She also served as a lady in waiting to Princess Michael of Kent.

A few heavily publicised libel cases made sure she was not entirely out of the public eye. First, in 1987, the countess won £5,000 in libel damages from the Literary Review for a review of a book about ladies-in-waiting which, she claimed, had made her out to be a greedy and vulgar woman.

In 1989, she won again 'substantial' damages from the publishers of Honeytrap: the Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward by Anthony Summer and Stephen Dorril. The authors suggested that Swanson had been one of the 'popsies' whom Stephen Ward had procured for his influential friends.

Lady Dudley testified that she and Ward had an affair in the early 1950s. She became friends with the osteopath and artist when he was commissioned to draw her portrait in 1953, This was 10 years before he became one of the central figures in the notorious affair around former war minister John Profumo.

In 2002, the Countess of Dudley again accepted substantial libel damages from the publishers of Christine Keeler: The Truth At Last, Keeler's own account of the events surrounding her affair with John Profumo, in which she referred to Lady Dudley as having been 'one of Stephen’s girls'.

Lady Dudley died by cancer in 2011, aged 78.

Trailer Up In The World (1956). Source: rockinkid58 (YouTube).

Norman Wisdom and Maureen Swanson in Up In The World (1956). Source: 0swproductions0 (YouTube).

Sources: Ronald Bergan (The Guardian), Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, Wikipedia and IMDb.

21 June 2017

Vele ammainate (1931)

Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (Anton Giulio Bragaglia, 1931) is an early Italian sound film, produced by Cines-Pittaluga. Dria Paola starred in this melodrama, which lacked a good script but had excellent cinematography and art direction as can be seen on the postcards.

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 4. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 64. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 71. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 83. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

An infamous harbour tavern in the Tropes

Dria Paola (1909-1993) was an Italian film actress of the 1930s and 1940s. Her name is attached to the first Italian sound film La canzone dell’amore/The Song of Love (1930) by Gennaro Righelli.

In Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails, Paola plays Aurora, the daughter of the keeper of an infamous harbour tavern in the Tropes. Her lurid and vulgar father (Umberto Guarracino) mistreats her all the time, which attracts the attention of a dashing young captain (Carlo Fontana), who is stuck in the harbour town because he has lost his ship in a storm and he is penniless. The captain defends the girl against the brutal father and a cheeky rival. In the end after he has regained income and paid for a new ship, he takes the girl with him on his new ship.

The Cinema Illustrazione reported in 1931 that the cinematography and scenography of the film were excellent, such as can be seen in the storm scene, or in the buoyant atmosphere in the tavern. However, the magazine condemned the poor script, the editing and the direction. Dria Paola did not get much space to develop her character, which was deplored in general as well, not only for this film.

The cinematography of Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails was done by Massimo Terzano and Domenico Scala, and the sets were designed by art directors Gastone Medin and Ivo Perilli. Indoor shooting was done at the Cines studios, outdoor shooting in Savona. Vele ammainate premiered around 21 December 1931 in Rome.

For both director Anton Giulio Bragaglia and Dria's co-star Umberto Guarracino Vele ammainate was their last film.The strongman Umberto Guarracino already played bad guys in the silent era, starting as the Monster in Il mostro di Frankenstein (1921) with Luciano Albertini as Dr. Frankenstein, followed by parts in Luciano Albertini's earliest German films, directed by Joseph Delmont in 1921, and a few other German films. In 1922-1923 he returned to Italy, to act in the Maciste films of the 1920s, in which he was called Cimaste. Dria Paola's other co-star Carlo Fontana was a little known actor, who only did four feature films, between 1929 and 1937.

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 91. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 104. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

Vele ammainate (1931)
Italian postcard, no. 108. Photo: Cines-Pittaluga. Publicity still for Vele ammainate/Lowered Sails (1931).

Dria Paola in La canzone dell'amore
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci, Milano, no. 887. Photo: Cines Pittaluga, Roma. Publicity still of Dria Paola in La canzone dell’amore (1930).

Source: Roberto Chiti/Enrico Lancia (I film, vol. I: Tutti i film italiani dal 1930 al 1944), Wikipedia and IMDb.

20 June 2017

Marika Rökk

Egyptian-born singer, dancer and actress of Hungarian descent Marika Rökk (1913-2004) was the last film diva of the Ufa. She was an immensely talented musical performer who could tap with the rhythm and vitality of her Hollywood counterpart Eleanor Powell, and switch to balletic movements with the conviction of Cyd Charisse. Her trademark was her Hungarian accent.

Marika Rökk
French postcard by SERP, Paris, no. 65. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 179, 1941-1944. Photo: Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Verlag und Druckerei Erwin Preuss, Dresden-Freital, serie 1, no. 11. Photo: Charlott Serda.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin-Charlottenburg, no. B 1547. Photo: Real / Europa / Gabriele.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by UFA, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK-167, retail price 30 Pfg. Photo: Joe Niczky / UFA.

Revue Dancer

Marie Karoline Rökk was born in 1913 in Cairo, Egypt, as the daughter of Hungarian architect and contractor Eduard Rökk and his wife Maria Karoline Charlotte née Karoly.

Marika spent her childhood in Budapest, but in 1924 her family moved to Paris. Here she learned to dance and joined at 13 the Hoffman Ballet Company. With the Hoffmann Girls she appeared even in the Moulin Rouge and on Broadway. After a tour through the US, the Hoffman Ballet Company disbanded.

Marika returned to Europe and her stage career continued to flourish. At the age of 15 she was a star acrobat at the Berlin Wintergarten. She appeared as a revue dancer on the stages of Monte Carlo, Cannes, London, Paris and Budapest.

In England she played in her first film, Why Sailors Leave Home (Monty Banks, 1930) starring Leslie Fuller. It was followed by Kiss Me Sergeant (Monty Banks, 1932).

The Hungarian musical Csokolj meg, edes!/Kiss Me, Darling (Béla Gaál, 1932) was considered her screen breakthrough. After this she made another fine film in Hungary, Kisertetek Vonata/Ghost Train (Lajos Lázár, 1933).

In 1934, when she had a great success in Vienna with the revue Stern der Manege/Stars of the Circus Ring, a talent scout for Universum Film AG (Ufa), Germany's largest production company, offered her a contract, and Marika moved on to Nazi-Germany.

Marika Rökk
German postcard in the series Berühmte Tänzerinnen und Tänzer for Sachenstern Zigarette by Mauritius. Photo: Schneider.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A 3330/3, 1941-1944. Photo: Quick / Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3478/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Ufa / Quick.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3476/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3891/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Ufa.

A New Type of German Star

The Ufa aimed to create a new type of German star, one to rival Hollywood's top musical goddesses. Marika Rökk’s German film debut was Leichte Kavallerie/Light Cavalry (Werner Hochbaum, 1935) with Heinz von Cleve, Ufa’s ‘handsome leading man’.

The film made her a star overnight. It was the first of a series of modern romantic fairy tales, lightweight operettas and glittering revue-style entertainments which quickly made Rökk one of Germany's most popular stars. She had the skill and panache to carry off the often hokey plots and cliched dialogue, and she wore the glamorously designed wardrobes with flair.

Her second German film was an enormously successful adaptation of Karl Millocker's classic operetta of 1882, Der Bettelstudent/The Beggar Student (1936), directed by her husband-to-be, veteran director Georg Jacoby. Handsome Dutch star Johannes Heesters was her co-star and this proved the start of a lucrative onscreen pairing.

Over the next decades, the Traumpaar (Dream pair) would frequently appear together in such efforts as Hallo Janine!/Hello, Janine! (Carl Boese, 1939), Die Czardasfürstin/The Csardas Princess (Georg Jacoby, 1951) and Die Geschiedene Frau/The Divorced Woman (Georg Jacoby, 1953).

However, Heesters called her a Kollegenfresser (partner eater), because of her fierce ambition, fiery temper and iron determination.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3707/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3707/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3620/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Quick / Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3620/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Quick / Ufa.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. K 1422. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Germany's Top-grossing Musical

Marika Rökk soon became a leading star of the National Socialist cinema, but her films were also popular in other countries (with Rökk's name often billed as Roekk).

She could count on an experienced team with which she shot most of her musicals and operettas: director Georg Jacoby, cinematographer Konstantin Irmen-Tschet, composers Franz Grothe and Peter Kreuder, and choreographer Sabine Ress.

Her most popular films include Gasparone (Georg Jacoby, 1937) a film adaptation of the famous Franz Lehar operetta, Eine Nacht im Mai/A Night in May (Georg Jacoby, 1938) the first German musical modelled with several lavish production numbers totally in the Hollywood style, and Hallo Janine/Hello, Janine! (Carl Boese, 1939).

In Es war eine rauschende Ballnacht (Georg Jacoby, 1939), she co-starred with that other superstar of the Nazi cinema Zarah Leander.

In another hit, Kora Terry (Georg Jacoby, 1940), she did several dance interludes which were quite revealing at that time.

Marika Rökk
Dutch postcard, no. 41.

Marika Rökk
Dutch postcard, no. A x 549.

Marika Rökk
Dutch postcard no. 3466.

Marika Rökk
Dutch postcard no. 3468.

Marika Rökk
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 221, 1941-1944. Photo: Ufa.

Marika Rökk
Big German card by Film-Foto-Verlag. Photo: Hämmerer / Ufa.

My Little Hungarian

Again and again Marika Rökk impersonated the at first unrecognised talent, who enforced against all odds and who at the end celebrated her triumphs on stage in a grand final.

Her films were models of escapist cinema, reaching their zenith during the Second World War when they allowed audiences brief respite and access to a carefree world where politics played no role.

In 1941 propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gave Rökk the leading role in his prestige project, the first Agfacolor motion picture Frauen sind doch bessere Diplomaten/Women Are Better Diplomats (Georg Jacoby, 1941-1943), together with Willy Fritsch.

Her last film under the Nazis was the funny musical Die Frau meiner Träume/Dream Woman (Georg Jacoby, 1944) which holds the record as Germany's top-grossing musical.

After the war she got an Auftrittsverbot (profession ban), but she was rehabilitated in 1947 and could continue her film career. She had been a great favourite of Adolf Hitler, who called her "my little Hungarian". Rökk was even suspected of espionage, but she was rehabilitated. Her husband Georg Jacoby was not allowed to work again till 1950.

Marika Rökk in Die Casardasfürstin (1951)
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 478. Photo: Herzog-Film / Junge Film-Union / Lindner. Publicity still for Die Casardasfürstin/The Csardas Princess (Georg Jacoby, 1951).

Marika Rökk and Johannes Heesters in Die geschiedene Frau (1953)
German collectors card. Photo: Cine-Allianz / Gloria / Film Ewald. Publicity still for Die geschiedene Frau/The Divorcée (George Jacoby, 1953) with Johannes Heesters.

Marika Rökk in Bühne frei für Marika (1958)
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. M 2484. Photo: Real / Europa / Lantin. Publicity still for Bühne frei für Marika/Stage free for Marika (Georg Jacoby, 1958).

Marika Rökk
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1747. Photo: publicity still for Bühne frei für Marika/Stage Free for Marika (Georg Jacoby, 1958).

Marika Rökk and Boy Gobert in Die Fledermaus (1962)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1849, 1963. Photo: publicity still for Die Fledermaus (Géza von Cziffra, 1962) with Boy Gobert.

School of Social Graces

After the Second World War Marika Rökk kept dancing. Hungary refused to pardon her wartime career, though she denied collaboration with the Nazis, and she settled in Vienna. During her absence from the screen she entertained the US troops stationed in Germany.

She returned to the cinema with Fregola (Harald Röbbeling, 1949) opposite Rudolf Prack, and made another string of popular, frivolous musicals, including Sensation in San Remo (Georg Jacoby, 1951), as a gym teacher by day who secretly sings and dances in a nightclub at night, and Maske in Blau/Mask in Blue (Georg Jacoby, 1953).

In Nachts im grunen Kakadu/At the Green Cockatoo By Night (Georg Jacoby, 1957) with Dieter Borsche, her school of social graces and dance is about to go bankrupt when she inherits a nightclub. The film proved that there was still an audience for such escapism.

The following year she made her final musical with Jacoby, Buhne frei fur Marika/Stage Free for Marika (Georg Jacoby, 1958). After starring as Adele, the maid, in Die Fledermaus/The Bat (Géza von Cziffra, 1962), she retired from the cinema.

Rökk continued to appear on stage in the theatres in Vienna, Hamburg, Munich and especially Berlin. She performed in revues, musicals and operettas like Die Blume von Hawaii/Flowers From Hawaii.

Among her later successes were the leads in the musical Hello, Dolly! (1968) and in the comedy Die Gräfin vom Naschmarkt/The Countess From The Naschmarkt (1978). Till 1986 she was tirelessly active as an actress, operetta singer and dancer. She played her last leading part in the boulevard comedy Das Kuckucksei/The Cuckoo's Egg (1986-1987).

Marika Rökk was married to Georg Jacoby from 1940 until his death in 1964, and then to Hungarian actor Fred Raul from 1968 until he died in 1985. She was the mother of actress Gaby Jacoby.

During her life she was awarded several times. She was the first recipient of a Bambi Award ever (1948). In 1981 she was honoured with the Filmband in Gold for her longtime and outstanding contributions to the German cinema.

In 1987 she returned to the screen for a final role in Schloss Konigswald/Kingswood Castle (Peter Schamoni. 1987), for which she won the Bayerischer Filmpreis (Bavarian Film Award) as Best Actress. Her last TV appearance was in 1998, when she was already 85.

Marika Rökk died of a heart attack in 2004 in Baden near Vienna, Austria.

Musical number from Hallo Janine! (1939). Source: atqui (YouTube).

Scene from Frau meiner Träume/The Woman Of My Dreams (1944). Source: Kanal von hargo1962 (YouTube).

Scene from Die Csardasfürstin (1951). Source: Octopussy05 (YouTube).

Scene from Maske in Blau/Blue Mask (1953). Source: Kanal von hargo1962 (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Jason Buchanan (AllMovie), Rudi Polt (IMDb), Tom Vallance (The Independent), Wikipedia and IMDb.