Saturday, 28 April 2012

Do you remember.. ..Henny Porten?

These days I am watching a lot of old German films - and today I had a little private Henny Porten film marathon.. 

Starting with the silent classic ANNA BOLEYN (1920) by one of my favourite directors ever: Ernst Lubitsch - in this film Emil Jannings was the male lead - and going on with the 2-films-series FAMILIE BUCHHOLZ (1944) (= Buchholz family)  and NEIGUNGSEHE (1944) (= love-match) - both directed by Carl Froelich. Actually these are all films of hers I own on DVD - which is of course not too much.. And after doing this quite short marathon I decided to do a post for my Do you remember series

So - here we go with some bits about Henny Porten (you might pronounce her first name like "Hanny") - one of the first German film stars ever:

Henny Porten was born as Henny Frieda Ulricke Porten on January 7, 1890 in Magdeburg, Germany. By now Magdeburg is the capital city of German Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt. It's also the biggest city of Saxony-Anhalt. According to an article she (? I am not sure about that..) wrote she was born in 1891.

~ Magdeburg in 1890's.
(source of photo: Volksstimme )~

When in the same year her father Franz Porten (who was quite a famous actor, opera singer and director - and later became a pioneer of film in Germany) assumed control of Stadttheater (= city theater) in Dortmund  the whole family moved with him, of course.

In 1896 she had her first performance on a stage in a play called DIE WAISE VON LOWOOD (= the orphon of Lowood. It's actually JANE EYRE..) In the same year the family moved again - this time to Berlin where Henny also went to school.

~ Henny's older sister Rosa Porten ~

In 1906 Henny Porten had - together with her older sister Rosa her first appearances on short films her father directed. Of great influence for those films was the friendship between Franz Porten and film producer Oskar Messter

~ Pioneer of German film: Oskar Messter, November 22, 1866 -  December 6, 1943 ~

As her father came from an opera background most of those films they did were based on opera arias. According to Henny Porten the first "movie" they made together in 1907 was based on an aria from LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner. These films were actually kind of early talkies: While Henny and her father were acting a record was played - so their acting had to fit the music and of course also had to be just the lenght of those. Afterwards the films were shown simultaneous to the replayed records. 

~ Henny Porten, ca. 1910 ~

In 1911 Rosa and Henny Porten were the stars in their first film with a self-contained plot: LIEBESGLÜCK EINER BLINDEN / DIE BLINDE. (lit. translation: love bliss of a blind woman / The blind woman) The story was written by Rosa Porten - and it's said that the idea came to Henny after she and Rosa saw some blind children on a walk. Henny Porten was finally chosen to play the lead in this film. It was produced by Messter's projection GmbH. 

~ Henny Porten in LIEBESGLÜCK EINER BLINDEN (1911) - source: ~
The film became a big success. Back then actors weren't always named in credits - mostly because film wasn't anything to take serious. But after the showing of LIEBESGLÜCK EINER BLINDEN the audience kept asking who the blind girl was - a star was born. Well.. that's what the press said - and what Henny Porten herself liked to tell about the beginning of her career. It might have been a bit different and less "magical" - but what actually was born was one myth of stardom. 

On October 10, 1912 she married Curt A. Stark - an actor and director - who would direct many of her films with her as the female lead. 

~ Lotte Müller, Curt A. Stark & Henny Porten in EIN LEBEN (= a life) (1911/12) - source : ~

Excuse this short leap, please: Actually Curt A. Stark was born at castle Saupark Springe. I grew up just a few miles/kilometres away from that place.. See: I am practically part of Henny Porten's family.. 

~ Jagdschloss Springe (= hunting castle Springe) - Kaiser Wilhelm II. and his court very often had hunting parties there - some of them were quite.. ..uhm.. ..scandalous.. ending with some pornographic pictures of various guests - and some blackmail, too..~

.. and now back to our star: 

By now Henny Porten already was one of the two big female stars of German films - the other star was Asta Nielsen. Henny was actully that popular that a magazine suggested her (as a joke of course) to be the next president in Reichstag of Weimar Republic.

~ Asta Nielsen in 1912 - quite daring.. ~
In 1913 Messter's film company starts a film series starring Henny Porten. Her big and almost mesmerising eyes made her performances quite impressive. Though she was able to act in quite a burlesque kind of comedy - she mostly appeared in kind of a soulful madonna like parts. Quietly suffering.. According to my great-grandfather (who was a more or less successful pianist) Henny Porten who appeared on screen merely as an "eternal virgin" was in real life "less prudish - but always a real lady."

In 1914 WWI was declared and Curt A. Stark was drafted. There is actually a rumour that Henny Porten herself revived German film industry in 1915 almost on her own - as most males were drafted - or like Oskar Messter enlisted themselves. She was the star in a film written by herself: DAS ENDE VOM LIED (lit. translated: The end of the song).

In 1916 Curt A. Stark was "killed in action".

~ a really beautiful publicity still ~

In 1917 Henny Porten acted in an advertisement film for war bonds which was frequently shown at the movies - which is noteable because it shows how much stardom now could be used to sell things. She made several films during this period and had a big fan base. 

Actually several teenage girls used to write her letters and waited in front of her house for her to come out - one of them adored her that much that she not only waited for Henny Porten so that said little fan could hand her over a self-coloured postcard: No, she also sewed a cushion for her crush - and was more than just happy when she visited a film premiere of a Henny Porten film - and saw her cushion on the screen.. 

This young girl who was intent to become a violonist and reportedly also played the violin for her target of affection later actually had to deal with some fans herself - but by then she wasn't called Marie Magdalene anymore - the world would know her as Marlene Dietrich.

~  romanticising Henny Porten and wearing the biggest bow - of course.. :
Marlene Dietrich
- in 1917 yet to become a Hollywood star.. ~

In 1919 a project which was long anticipated by Henny Porten finally saw the light of day: ROSE BERND based on the play of Gerhart Hauptmann was made into a film - of course with her as the female lead.

In 1920 Henny Porten made two films with director Ernst Lubitsch which both became very successful: The comedy KOHLHIESELS TÖCHTER (KOHLHIESEL'S DAUGHTERS) - which is actually based on a successful droll story. It has it's origins in Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and was remade several times. Also in 1930 - again with Henny Porten in a double leading role..

~ Henny Porten as both KOHLHIESEL'S DAUGHTERS (1920)~

The other Lubitsch film she did in 1920 was ANNA BOLEYN - and like in KOHLHIESEL'S DAUGHTERS - the male lead was given to Emil Jannings

~ with Emil Jannings in ANNA BOLEYN (1920)~
After that Henny Porten founded her own production company and married Wilhelm Ritter von Kaufmann-Asser (The shorter version is more widely known - it spares his title Ritter = knight : Wilhelm von Kaufmann)

~ a postcard saying:  Henny Porten's wedding - July 24, 1921 - to the civil registry office ~
Wilhelm von Kaufmann was a successful doctor - but he gave up his career to support his wife's career in her production firm. Henny Porten still was one of the most engaged film actresses who worked with several famous directors as E. A. Dupont or Carl Froelich. In 1924 Carl Froelich joined her production company with his own company. Now it was called Henny-Porten-Froelich-Gesellschaft.

In 1927 she suffered from artrithis and had to rest for several weeks to recover. 

In 1930 she appeared in her first real talkie: SKANDAL UM EVA (SCANDAL ABOUT EVA) directed by G.W. Pabst. It was quite a success - though she was not convinced about the success of talkies at all - even in 1932 she still stated that silent movies would have a come back and talkies would not survive for long. Apparently she did not believe in their quality when it came to acting - which to me seems to reflect the attitude of theather actors towards (silent) films.. But Henny Porten always was true to silent films - when years before the talkies became common she was asked to appear on stage she prefered working in the (silent) movies.

~ "Henny Porten in her home" ~

When in 1933 the Nazis took over in Germany Henny Porten suddenly had to face that her stardom could not completely protect her and her husband who was jewish. 

Though she had not to face a kind of persecution like others did because standing to her husband and not agreeing in having a divorce her life wasn't as easy as before anymore. She was practically banned from filming - that she did not have to face concentration camp was mostly based on the fact that Hermann Göring's younger brother Albert spoke out for her. Though Hermann Göring was leader of German air force and quite a high ranked politician in Nazi-Germany Albert Göring was actually against the National socialistic party and helped several potential victims to escape.

~ Albert Göring, March 9, 1895 -  December 20, 1966 ~
During 3rd Reich Henny Porten made only nine films - which is really quite a break-in considering that in her whole career she made more than 170 films - and would after WWII only appear in about four other films. 
She and Wilhelm von Kaufmann planned to leave Nazi Germany - but his mother became seriously ill so they stayed with her. Later his application for leave was approved - but hers was not. 

One of those friends who still sticked by her was Carl Froehlich. He took care that she was casted for the 1944 films FAMILIE BUCHHOLZ (= Buchholz family) and NEIGUNGSEHE (= love-match). Both very entertaining films set in 1880's Berlin with Henny Porten in the part of Wilhelmine Buchholz - a famous and very prudish writer who tries to get her beautiful daughters (Käthe Dyckhoff and Marianne Simson) married properly and overdoing it quite terribly. One of the (not really willing) husbands to be is Gustav Fröhlich - one of my favourite German actors ever who you might know from METROPOLIS (1927)..

~ Henny Porten and Gustav Fröhlich - a few seconds from now and her smile will be gone.. ~
Apparently while she was filming FAMILIE BUCHHOLZ which contained several funny scenes and was meant to entertain the no longer sure of victory German public (and it actually is quite a cute mini film series.. ) Wilhelm von Kaufmann was arrested by the Gestapo. It is reported that she immediately went to the SS to free her husband - with success. I guess this might be based on her still not completely faded popularity. 

~ ca. 1931 ~

According to Cinzia Romani's book TAINTED GODDESSES : FEMALE FILM STARS OF THE THIRD REICH which is actually quite incorrect in some aspects - so I am not sure whether this story is true or not - Henny Porten and her husband were bombed out at some night and practically homeless with no help in sight. - Other sources say they had to leave their home in Berlin by order of German Wehrmacht (= unified armed forces of Nazi Germany) and had to flee.

They found a home in Ratzeburg - which still meant a lot of meanderings in their lifestyle. Ernst Lubitsch who sent some care packages to help was reportedly planning to help her also with her career by envisaging some parts in Hollywood films for her but he died before those plans could be realised. There weren't many parts for Henny Porten now - the truth is that she was almost forgotten because of the big leap in her career - besides: Though there were a few offers from Hollywood - they weren't very promising in the whole - and: she did not accept every film that was offered to her. In case she considered the part too small - or not ambitious enough - she would reject it. For most of the time she now helped her husband who was again working as a doctor. 

~ Henny Porten in better times (though looking grave):
Photo card for DER RUF DER LIEBE  (= call of love) (1916) 

Eventually after solely one film she did in 1950 ABSENDER UNBEKANNT (= addresser unknown) she agreed on making two films for DEFA which was the filmstudio owned by German Democratic Republic: CAROLA LAMBERTI - EINE VOM ZIRKUS (circa. = Carola Lamberti - of circus) (1954) and DAS FRÄULEIN VON SCUDERI (circa. = Miss von Scuderi) (1955).

~ with Catja Görna in CAROLA LAMBERTI - EINE VOM ZIRKUS (1954) ~
After that she did not receive another acting part in a film. It is possible that working for DEFA made it impossible for her to receive one in a West German film. On the other hand she did not receive a DEFA contract because she did not agree to move to German Democratic Republic. In 1956 she appeared in a film which featured stars of bygone days of German film - but this was apparently just kind of a cameo. I did not see that one yet - so I sadly can not tell about it and have to believe what I found out through several sources.

In 1957 Henny Porten and Wilhelm von Kaufmann moved back to Berlin. They were completely broke. On October 21, 1959 Wilhelm von Kaufmann died and barely one year later on October 15, 1960 Henny Porten followed him. In May 1960 when she was already seriously ill she was given the Federal Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Thank you all so very much for listening!

Yours very well and truly



  1. Before reading this excellent post I had no idea who Henny Porten was Irene. Thank you for sharing and letting us all know about her. The films you talked about sound very interesting. And she did 170 films...amazing!

  2. Thank you, Monty, for reading this post -and commenting on it with such kind words! More than 170 films is quite impressive - isn't it?

  3. Ganz herzlichen Dank, Susan! :")

  4. Thank you for all of your research, I have an interest in silent film stars and uncovering their lives is as fascinating as the films they starred in


I really appreciate your comments - I'll read them all and if I can think of an answer I'll post it. :")