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118 11 The Girl in theWater The best-known Swedish films of the 1930s—the only ones still in circulation outside Sweden—are Gustaf Molander’s melodramas starring Ingrid Bergman. They hold up well, and it is understandable that they attracted the attention of both UFA’s and David O. Selznick’s talent scouts, with Valborgsässafton (Walpurgis night, 1935) and En kvinnas ansikte (A woman ’s face, 1938) being vastly superior to their greatest success, the sentimental Intermezzo (1936). Though Bergman had no reason to complain about being underused, she nevertheless went to Berlin in 1938 to shoot Die vier Gesellen (The four companions) under Carl Froelich’s direction and intended to stay with UFA to play French Revolution figure Charlotte Corday even after succeeding in Hollywood.1 Another Swede contacted by UFA, Zarah Leander, had made her name chiefly with her stage work: a celebrated merry widow in the play of that title in 1931 and a Garbo parody /homage in Axel an der Himmelstür (Axel at heaven’s gate) in 1936. For the latter, she shared the Vienna stage with Jewish refugees Max Hansen, Otto Wallburg, and Paul Morgan, clearly an act of solidarity in view of a gray list against Jews in Austria. She could have ruined her chances of becoming a star in Nazi Germany by openly attacking that nation’s antiSemitism with the song “I skuggan av en stövel” (In the shadow of a boot), with its explicit mention of refugees Max Reinhardt and Elisabeth Bergner, and by joining a delegation of Swedish leftists to the Kremlin in autumn 1935, but after the initial shock of a Deutschfeindin (enemy of Germany) being signed as UFA’s female top diva, Goebbels forgave her political activities in view of her popularity. The case of Kristina Söderbaum was different. She had not even tried to make it in her homeland, Sweden. From early on, her dream was to become a star of German cinema, where her favorite directors were active: Ernst Lubitsch, Carl Froelich, and G. W. Pabst. Born on September 5, 1912, The Girl in the Water 119 in Stockholm, she came from a privileged background: her father, Dr. Henrik Gustav Söderbaum, was president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and chairman of the committee that bestowed the Nobel Prizes. One surviving photograph shows him standing close to award winner Thomas Mann. Unlike her favorite sibling, Ulla, who took ballet lessons and became a dancer, Kristina had some “gender trouble.” She did not want to be a girl, developed into a tomboy, and at the age of twelve took riding lessons. In Harlan’s film Opfergang, she would occasionally appear in male drag, and one can only speculate whether this was primarily his or herfantasy.ThefactthatherfavoriteactresswastheandrogynousElisabeth Bergner appears only logical in this context. Both women would work almost exclusively under the direction of their Pygmalion-like husbands. Both appeared waiflike, and in Söderbaum’s case that appearance was authentic. Like Harlan, Söderbaum had lost her parents, but whereas he had been thirty when that happened to him, she was barely twenty when she had no one to care for her. Her parents’ death must in some ways have been liberating, for in September 1934 Kristina went to Berlin. She took speech lessons with Margarethe Wellhoener and met two young men who for the next nine years would be her closest friends. Victor von Zitzewitz and his cousin Friedrich Karl von Puttkamer. About the former she wrote in her memoirs , “I liked Victor, and he certainly liked me too, in his way. Only much later did I realize why we remained like brother and sister to each other. For me it was fine that way,”2 which was her way of saying he was gay, as was Friedrich. Following her speech lessons, Kristina took acting lessons with Lilly Ackermann and by chance got her first film role. Victor went to audition for Erich Waschneck’s rural comedy Onkel Bräsig (Uncle Bräsig, 1936), starring Otto Wernicke, so Kristina accompanied him, and by chance Waschneck needed two young girls to play sisters, so she was cast along with Hildegard Barko at a daily fee of 60 RM, getting the opportunity to play love scenes with Veit Harlan look-alike Hans Brausewetter. Though well received, the film proved inconsequential for everyone concerned , and realizing she was no second Garbo, Kristina decided to go back to Sweden. Victor persuaded her to stay...


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