21 February 2017

André Mattoni

André Mattoni (1900-1985) was an Austrian stage and film actor, performing mainly in the German, Austrian and Italian cinema. He worked with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau on Tartüff (1925), but his dream role in another classic of the German silent cinema fell through.

Walter Slezak and André Mattoni in Die gefundene Braut (1925)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1027/1, 1926-1927. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Die gefundene Braut/The Found Bride (1925) with Walter Slezak.

André Mattoni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3064/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Freundlich.

André Mattoni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3745/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Willinger, Berlin.

Karlsbad mineral water dynasty

André Mattoni was born Andreas Leo Heinrich Edler von Mattoni in Karlsbad, Austria-Hungary (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic) in 1900. He stemmed from the Karlsbad mineral water dynasty Mattoni.

Andreas visited the Theresianum in Vienna and had an acting training from the Burgtheater actor Franz Herterich. In the 1922-1923 season he had his stage début at the Burgtheater, the most prestigious theatre of Vienna. Subsequently he acted with the Wiener Kammerspiele, and then toured around Austria.

In 1924 Mattoni went to Berlin to pursue a stage career there. Right away he started to appear in films as well. He played Lysander in the William Shakespeare adaptation Ein Sommernachtstraum/A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hans Neumann, 1925) and soon he had leads in films like Die gefundene Braut/The Found Bride (Rochus Gliese, 1925) opposite Xenia Desni, and Das Fräulein von Amt/Love and Telephone (Hanns Schwarz, 1925).

Then followed a major part in Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s masterly modernisation of Molière’s Tartüff/Tartuffe (F.W. Murnau, 1925), as the grandson in the modern section of the film. And then Mattoni was preselected as the protagonist Freder for Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis (1927). However after some weeks of shooting, Lang was unsatisfied and the part went to Gustav Fröhlich. (IMDb indicates that it was Mattoni himself who decided "- for whatever reason - to leave the production for good".)

In 1927 Mattoni stayed in Hollywood for a while, where he played a small part in The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg (Ernst Lubitsch, 1927), starring Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer.

André Mattoni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1013/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder.

André Mattoni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1121/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa.

André Mattoni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1121/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa.

Gallant lover

After embodying the gallant lover in some twenty silent German and Austrian films André Mattoni seemed to make the passage from silent to sound cinema relatively easy.

In the course of the early 1930s his film career slowed down though. In 1933 he returned to Austria and performed at the Theater in der Josefstadt. He appeared in the cinema in the operetta Hoheit tanzt Walzer/Majesty Dances Waltzes (Max Neufeld, 1935), shot in Prague, and in the Austrian production Immer wenn ich glucklich bin/Waltz Melodies (Carl Lamac, 1938) with Marta Eggerth.

Then Mattoni followed director Max Neufeld to Italy, and later performed in his Taverna Rossa/Red Tavern (Max Neufeld, 1940), starring Alida Valli. he was billed in Italy as Andrea Mattoni. From 1938 on, he lived in Rome, and worked in Italian films and in German films shot in Roman film studios (often directed by Ernst Marischka).

In 1942 Mattoni returned to Vienna, which became his homestead henceforth. In the postwar era he became production manager for films. He had one last film part in Willi Forst’s Wiener Mädeln/Viennese Girls (1949).

Between 1957 and 1964 Mattoni was an important collaborator of the Wiener Staatsoper under Herbert von Karajan. In 1978 he performed as the older Lord in the opera Der junge Lord.

André Mattoni died in Vienna in 1985. He was 84.

Alida Valli and Andrea Mattoni
Romanian postcard. Photo: Ciolfi. Publicity still for Taverna Rossa/Red Tavern (Max Neufeld, 1940) with Alida Valli.

Comple version of Tartuffe (1925). Photo: iconauta (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia (German), and IMDb.

20 February 2017

Greta Nissen

Norwegian-American Greta Nissen (1906–1988) was a blonde bombshell, who appeared in more than 30 films in Denmark, the United States and England. Unfortunately she is now most famous for a role which was re-shot with another actress.

Greta Nissen
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 878. Photo: Paramount-Film.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3071/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Paramount / FaNaMet.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3081/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Max Munn Autrey / Fox.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3173/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Max Munn Autrey / Fox.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3575/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Fox.

Greta Nissen
Dutch Postcard, no. 458. Photo: Hal Payfe / Fox Film.

Pat & Patachon

Grethe Rüzt-Nissen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1906 (some sources say 1905). She was the daughter of Carl Andreas Frantz Nissen and Agnes Magdalene Larsen. After her parents divorced, her mother took her to Copenhagen, Denmark,

In 1911, her mother managed to get Grethe as a student at the Det Kongelige Teater's (Royal Theater) student school, after having 'made' her a year older. Grethe made her stage début as a member of the corps de ballet at the Royal Theater.

Some years later, when the famous choreographer and dancer Mikhail Fokin (or Michel Fokine) came to Denmark after the Russian Revolution, he invited her to come to Paris and she studied with him from 1918 to 1919. In 1922 she performed a series of acclaimed Fokine evenings in Norway.

Grethe made her screen début in the Danish comedies Daarskab, Dyd og Driverter/Folly, Virtue and Idler (Lau Lauritzen, 1924) followed by Lille Lise let-paa-taa/The Little Dancer (Lau Lauritzen, 1924), two vehicles for the comedy team of Fy og Bi (aka Pat & Patachon). These two comedies would be her only films in Scandinavia.

In 1924 she went to New York with a Danish ballet troupe, and there the blonde looker received an offer to appear on Broadway in George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly's lavish revue Beggar on Horseback. She changed her name to Greta Nissen. Later she worked for the famed Flo Ziegfield in the 1926 production of No Foolin'.

Only 19 years old, she was discovered by Jesse L. Lasky of Paramount Pictures, who signed her to a contract. Making her American screen debut as Greta Nissen in In the Name of Love (Howard Higgin, 1925) with Ricardo Cortez and Wallace Beery, Nissen was singled out by critic Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times, who found her 'an appealing and clever actress with a striking personality'.

Greta Nissen
Swedish postcard by Eneret Mittet & Co, no. 13.Collection: Didier Hanson.

Greta Nissen in Lost: A Wife (1925)
Italian postcard, no. 452. Photo: Films Paramount. Publicity still for Lost: A Wife (William C. de Mille, 1925).

Greta Nissen and William Collier in The Wanderer (1925)
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze (Florence), no. 458. Photo: SAI Filmo Paramount, Roma. Publicity still for The Wanderer (Raoul Walsh, 1925). Collection: Didier Hanson.

Greta Nissen
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze (Florence), no. 740. Photo: SAI Filmo Paramount, Roma. Publicity still for The Wanderer (Raoul Walsh, 1925).

Greta Nissen
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 358/1. Photo: Paramount-Film.

Hell's Angels

Greta Nissen played in several sophisticated comedies with Adolphe Menjou like The Wanderer (Raoul Walsh, 1925) also with William Collier and Blonde or Brunette (Richard Rosson, 1927).

She became an exotic seductress in such costume extravaganzas as The Lady of the Harem (Raoul Walsh, 1926) and Fazil (Howard Hawks, 1928) opposite Charles Farrell.

MGM, meanwhile, borrowed her for The Love Thief (John McDermott, 1926), to replace Greta Garbo. Among her other successful potboilers were Lost: A Wife (William C. de Mille, 1925), The Lucky Lady (Raoul Walsh, 1926) and The Popular Sin (Malcolm St. Clair, 1926).

In 1927 Nissen was the original choice as the leading lady of Hell's Angels (1930), Howard Hughes’ stunt-flying extravaganza set during World War I. This epic film could have made her a major contender.

Filming was well under way when it was decided that the film would be remade with sound. Unfortunately Greta was replaced because of her heavy Norwegian accent. Nissen had made $2500 a week when filming Hell's Angels and her replacement, Jean Harlow, worked for only $250. The film shot Harlow to stardom and Nissen lost much work due to the advent of sound films.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1760/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Parufamet.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1829/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Parufamet.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3575/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Autrey / Fox.

Greta Nissen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5824/2, 1930-1931. Photo: Fox.

Greta Nissen and Charles Farrell in Fazil (1928)
British postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3917/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Fox. Publicity still for Fazil (Howard Hawks, 1928).

B-films and Quota Quickies

Rebounding somewhat with a contract from Fox, Greta Nissen eventually proved that her accent could easily have been turned into an asset, but the fall-out from the Hell's Angels debacle followed her for the remainder of her film career.

She starred or co-starred in a series of B-films which included the lame Women of All Nations (Raoul Walsh, 1931), the Will Rogers comedy Ambassador Bill (Sam Taylor, 1931), the mystery drama The Circus Queen Murder (Roy William Neill, 1933) again opposite Adolphe Menjou, and the George O'Brien western Life in the Raw (Louis King, 1933).

In 1933 she moved to England where she appeared in a few ‘quota quickies’, including On Secret Service (Arthur B. Woods, 1933) and Honours Easy (Herbert Brenon, 1935) with Margaret Lockwood.

In 1934 she also appeared at the Palace Theatre in London in the original version of Agnes de Mille's ballet Three Virgins and a Devil, performed in the revue Why Not Tonight? After the spy film Cafe Colette (Paul L. Stein, 1937) she retired, and returned to the US.

Divorced from former Fox contract star Weldon Heyburn, Nissen married in 1941 industrialist Stuart Eckert and she lived quietly in California. Greta Nissen died at home in Montecito, California of Parkinson's disease in 1988. She was 82. Her husband said she still received fan letters. Greta had one son, Tor Bruce Nissen Eckert, who in 2005 gave his large collection of Greta Nissen Memorabilia to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad, Norway.

Greta Nissen
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5035. Photo: Autrey / Fox.

Greta Nissen
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5037. Photo: Autrey / Fox.

Greta Nissen
British postcard in the Colourgraph Series, London, no. C 184. Photo: Fox.

Greta Nissen
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 264.

Greta Nissen
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 264b.

Sources: Hans Otto Christian Arent (Store Norske Lexikon - Norwegian), Hans J. Wollstein (AllMovie), Denny Jackson (IMDb), Allure, Pat M. Ryan (Dance Chronicle), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia and IMDb.

19 February 2017

Imported from the USA: Baby Peggy

Diana Serra Cary (1918), best known as Baby Peggy, was one of the three major American child stars of the Hollywood silent movie era along with Jackie Coogan and Baby Marie. However, by the age of 8, her career was finished. She is now the last living star of the silent film era.

Baby Peggy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 550/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Unifilman.

Baby Peggy
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 161.

Baby Peggy
French postcard in Les Vedettes de Cinema series by A.N., Paris, no. 47. Photo: Universal Film.

The Million Dollar Baby

Diana Serra Cary was born in 1918, in San Diego, California, as Peggy-Jean Montgomery, She was the second daughter of Marian (née Baxter) and Jack Montgomery. Her family soon moved to Los Angeles so that her father, Jack, an aspiring cowboy, could find stunt work in Western pictures. He supported himself as Tom Mix's double, but never achieved the rugged stardom he yearned for himself.

Baby Peggy was 'discovered' at the age of 19 months, when she visited Century Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with her mother and a film-extra friend. Peggy had an unusually expressive face, matched with a distinctive bob haircut with short bangs.

Impressed by Peggy's well-behaved demeanour and willingness to follow directions from her father, director Fred Fishback (a.k.a. Fred Hibbard) hired her to appear in a series of short films with Century's canine star, the terrier Brownie the Wonder Dog.

The first film, Playmates (Fred Hibbard, 1921), was a success, and Peggy was signed to a long-term contract with Century Studios. Between 1921 and 1923 she made over 150 short comedies for Century. She appeared in film adaptations of novels and fairy tales, such as Hansel and Gretel (Alfred J. Goulding, 1923) and Jack and the Beanstalk (Alfred J. Goulding, 1924), contemporary comedies, and a few full-length films.

Many of Baby Peggy's popular comedies were parodies of films that grown-up stars had made, and she imitated such legends as Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Mary Pickford and Mae Murray. Film historian David Robinson, cited in the Hollywood Reporter: "She wasn't the first child star, (that would be the infant in Louis Lumiere's Repas de bébé/Baby's Dinner (1895)), but she was a naturally gifted comic, a very effective mimic, with a very distinctive personality and a great sense of grown-up mannerisms and affectations."

In 1922, the 4-year-old Baby Peggy received 1.2 million fan letters and by 1924 she had been dubbed 'The Million Dollar Baby' for her $1.5 million a year salary. She was an obsession for millions of Americans who bought Baby Peggy dolls, jewelry, sheet music, even brands of milk.

In 1923, Peggy began working for Universal Studios, appearing in full-length dramatic films. Among her works from this era were The Darling of New York (King Baggot, 1923), and the first screen adaptation of Captain January (Edward F. Cline, 1924). In line with her status as a star, Peggy's Universal films were produced and marketed as Universal Jewels, the studio's most prestigious and most expensive classification. During this time she also played in Helen's Babies (William A. Seiter, 1924) which featured a young Clara Bow.

Baby Peggy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin no. 967/2 Photo: Filmhaus Bruckmann.

Baby Peggy
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 235.

Baby Peggy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin no. 967/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Filmhaus Bruckmann.

A Poor Extra

Baby Peggy's film career abruptly ended in 1925 when her father had a falling out with producer Sol Lesser over her salary and cancelled her contract. She found herself essentially blacklisted and was able to land only one more part in silent films, a minor role in the April Fool (Nat Ross, 1926). She was forced to turn to the vaudeville circuit for survival.

Despite her childhood fame and wealth, she found herself poor and working as an extra by the 1930s. Her parents had handled all of the finances; and money was spent on expensive cars, homes, and clothing. Nothing was set aside for the welfare or education of Peggy or her sister. Through reckless spending and corrupt business partners of her father, her entire fortune was gone before she hit puberty.

A Hollywood comeback in the early 1930s as Peggy Montgomery was short-lived. She loathed screen work and retired after appearing as an extra in the Ginger Rodgers comedy Having Wonderful Time (Alfred Santell, 1938). Peggy married bar tender Gordon Ayres whom she met on the set of Ah, Wilderness! (Clarence Brown, 1935). A few years later, she adopted the name Diana Ayres in an effort to distance herself from the Baby Peggy image. The couple divorced in 1948. In 1954, she married graphic artist Robert 'Bob' Cary and they had one son, Mark (1961).

Having an interest in both writing and history since her youth, Peggy found a second career as an author and silent film historian in her later years under the name Diana Serra Cary. She wrote an autobiography of her life as a child star, What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star, and a biography of her contemporary and rival, Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star.

Only a handful of Baby Peggy shorts, including Playmates (Fred Hibbard, 1921), Miles of Smiles (Alfred J. Goulding, 1923) and Sweetie (Alfred J. Goulding, 1923) have been discovered and preserved in film archives around the world. Century Studios burned down in 1926. Only the full-length films The Family Secret (William A. Seiter, 1924),  Captain January (Edward F. Cline, 1924), Helen's Babies (William A. Seiter, 1924) with Edward Everett Horton, and April Fool (Nat Ross, 1926) have survived. In 2016, it was announced that her lost film Our Pet (Herman C. Raymaker, 1924) was found in Japan by silent film collector Ichiro Kataoka.

Diana Serra Cary herself is one of the few surviving actors of the silent film era. In 2015, she returned to the screen in the short Western Broncho Billy and the Bandit's Secret (David Kiehn, 2015), a tribute to Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson, the first cowboy star, who made Westerns for the Essanay Film Company. Cary played 'the Movie Star'.

Baby Peggy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin no. 560/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Ivans Studio, Los Angeles / Unfilman.

Baby Peggy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin no. 550/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Unfilman.

Sources: Chris Gardner (The Hollywood Reporter), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.