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Zarah Leander

Zarah Leander

Zarah Leander was a famous European actress and singer of Swedish nationality. She was born as Zarah Stina Hedberg March 15, 1907, in Karlstad, and died June 23, 1981, in Stockholm.

Although Zarah Leander studied piano and violin already as a small child, and sung on stage for the first time at the age of 6 years, she did a serious attempt for an ordinary life. As a teenager she lived two years 1922–1924 in Riga, learned the then most important international language, German, took up work as a secretary, married Nils Leander (1926), and got two children (1927 & 1929). However, in 1929 she was engaged, as amateur, in a touring cabaret by Ernst Rolf and sung for the first time the tune Vill ni se en stjärna, that soon would become her signature.

In 1930, she participated in four cabarets in the capital, Stockholm, made her first records, including a cover of Marlene Dietrich's Falling in love again, and played a part in a film. It was however as operetta artist, as Anna Glavari in Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow, she had her definitive break-through (1931). By then she'd divorsed Nils Leander. In the following years, she made a splendid career and could make a decent living as a popular artist on stage and film in Scandinavia. Her fame rendered her proposals also from the European continent and from Hollywood, where a couple of Swedish actors and directors worked.

Zarah Leander opted for an international career on the European continent. As a mother of two school-age children, she ruled out a move to America. It was, in her view, most of all, too insecure. What if she brought her children with her, and then at some time she would find herself without employment. A mother couldn't divorse from her children, and she couldn't put them at such a risk. Austria and (Nazi) Germany were much closer. And she knew the language!

A second break-through, by contemporary measures her international debut, was in the world premier (1936) of Axel an der Himmelstür at Theater an der Wien in Vienna, directed by Max Hansen. It was a parody on Hollywood and not the least a parody of the German Marlene Dietrich, who had fled a Europe marked by Mussolini's, Stalin's and Hitler's raising stars. It was followed by the film Premiere, in which she played the role of a successful cabaret star.

At the same time, she lands a contract with UFA-film in Berlin, and gets known as an extraordinarily tough negotiator, demanding influence, high salaries and half of it paid in Swedish currency. A stupefied Propaganda Minister Goebbels dubbed her Enemy Of Germany, but as a leading film star by UFA, she participates in ten films, most of them great successes, and great contributions to the Third Reich's propaganda, as a counterweight to the international isolation and criticism that not the least Swedish news papers demonstrated. She played roles with, basically, the same personality in all her German films; some said she played herself. Her was the role of a femme fatal, independently minded, beautiful, passionate and self-confident. Many of her songs had a frivolous undertext, or could at least be interpreted that way.

Zarah Leander's last film in Nazi Germany went up at the theaters on March 3, 1943. Her villa in the fashionable Berlin suburb Grunewald was hit in an airstrike, the increasingly desperate Nazis pressured her to apply for German citizenship, and she decided to break the contract with Ufa, leave Germany, and retreat to Sweden were she'd bought the mansion at Lönö, not far from Stockholm. After the Wehrmacht's defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad, Nazi-criticism and pro-Americanism came to dominate totally in Sweden. Zarah Leander had been far too much associated with the Nazi propaganda; and was shunned. Step by step she would get engagements on Swedish stages and in Swedish films, but she would never regain the popularity she'd enjoyed before and in the first years of World War II.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Zarah Leander Facts

Birth Name Zarah Hedberg
BirthdayMarch 15, 1907
BirthplaceKarlstad, Sweden
Date of deathJune 23, 1981 (age 74)

Selected Filmography

La Habanera
Die große Liebe
Zu neuen Ufern
Der Weg ins Freie
Der Blaufuchs
The Desert Song
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