Thursday, 2 September 2010

Remembered: Marianne Hoppe

Marianne Hoppe in 1986

During her lifetime Marianne Hoppe was considered to be one of Germany's greatest living actresses. Her enormous presence, not to mention that deep, expressive voice of hers, spelled star quality. But to call her merely a star, would not do her justice, for she took acting far too seriously to contend herself with just being a star. She was what she wanted to be - a great actress. But her vita is not unproblematic, as everybody who is somewhat familiar with the cinema of the Third Reich no doubt knows.

Marianne Hoppe in 1937

Marianne Hoppe was married to Gustav Gruendgens, who was made the Director of the Prussian State Theatre in 1933 by Hermann Goering. To this day, historians are at odds with each other regarding Gruendgens' role in the Third Reich. Klaus Mann's book, Mephisto, first published in 1936 at Querido in Amsterdam, is a thinly veiled biography of Gruendgens, suggests that Gruendgens sold his soul to the devil - read: the Nazis - in order to further his career, and that Gruendgens was nothing but a shrewd opportunist who didn't care about anything else, least of all the Jews. In recent years, however, the examination of Gruendgens and his life has become more differentiated. While it goes without saying that the fact of anyone working for the Nazi regime can never just be dismissed, Gruendgens biographer Peter Michalzik paints a somewhat more ambiguous picture, citing various examples of Gruendgens using his influence to help several Jews working in the film industry. Moreover, after the double suicide of actor Joachim Gottschalk and his Jewish wife in 1941, Gruendgens, for instance, was one of only a handful of people to attend their funeral, thus ignoring an order by Goebbels himself which prohibited attendance.

Marianne Hoppe and Gustav Gruendgens in the 1930s

Needless to say, that Hoppe was married to Gruendgens between 1936 and 1946, also tainted her reputation, particularly in the immediate years following WWII. However, it has been suggested that both got married to cover up their homosexuality. Although Gruendgens had been married once before - to Klaus Mann's sister Erica - it was a well known fact that he was gay. Gruendgens even confessed it to Goering in 1933, who subsequently made him Director of the Prussian State Theatre, primarily for his protection and because he admired Gruendgens' work as actor and director and didn't want to lose him. Neither Gruendgens nor Hoppe ever remarried. In fact, while Gruendgens eventually found a partner in Peter Gorski - whom he would later adopt for legal purposes - Marianne Hoppe shared her life with fellow actress Anni Mewes.

Kaeutner's Romanze in Moll (Germany 1944): Marianne Hoppe and her co-star Ferdinand Marian

Although Hoppe certainly was a popular actress in the Third Reich, her popularity was never on a par with that of Zarah Leander, Marika Roekk or Kristina Soederbarum. Ironically, none of them were German, a fact that did not seem to have bothered Goebbels, who was otherwise so obsessed with the 'Aryan' origins of his UFA stars. Moreover, Hoppe never participated in an outright propaganda film, even though some film historians - Eric Rentschler among them - claim that all films made during the Nazi reign are by necessity propaganda of some sort. But how about a film like Romanze in Moll (Romance in Minor Key, Helmut Kaeutner, Germany 1944)? In it, Marianne Hoppe plays a woman who kills herself for being blackmailed by her husband's boss for having an affair with another man. Helmut Kaeutner's dense, psychological melodrama, based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant - Les bijoux - owes a lot to the poetic realism of pre-war French cinema. Marianne Hoppe's portrayal of Madeleine is remarkable as she manages to convey both her devotion to her husband as well as her love for her lover, played by Ferdinand Marian. According to the late Karsten Witte and film historian Erica Carter, Romanze in Moll was the best German film made between 1933 and 1945 and probably one of the best German films of all time. And later, even French film critic Georges Sadoul praised the film as a masterpiece.

Marianne Hoppe in Romanze in Moll

After the war, Hoppe focused on the theatre rather than film. Among her most memorable performances are her Blanche DuBois in Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire as well as a number of parts in Shakespeare plays. Hoppe also frequently collaborated with the Austrian writer and playwright Thomas Bernhard - whom she befriended - and whose work focused on his country's involvement in the Holocaust.

Marianne Hoppe as Blanche DuBois in 1950

In 1986, director Helmut Dietl landed a major coup when casting Hoppe alongside Curt Bois in episode 3 of his cult series Kir Royal. Modelled on Marlene Dietrich, Hoppe's part, Claire Maetzig, an actress who after having fled Germany in 1933 pledges to never again set foot on German soil, is an ironic statement on Hoppe's own life. For she, unlike Maetzig, chose to stay rather than emigrate. This is highlighted by the casting of Curt Bois, who in real life was a returning emigre. In the film however, the roles were reversed, for it was Curt Bois' Friedrich Danziger - a part modelled on composer Friedrich Hollaender - who stayed.

Marianne Hoppe in 1976 at the Schiller Theater in Berlin

Perhaps, Marianne Hoppe was too passionate an actress to leave Nazi Germany as she probably had a vague idea about the fate that would await her in exile: That of an actress who is nothing without her native tongue and who finds herself begging for roles she would never have considered in her home country. To be a foreigner and yet be offered leading roles was a privilege reserved for a select few - Garbo, Dietrich, Lamarr, Bergman - who were groomed for stardom by their respetcive studiod. Nevertheless, all of them were usually cast in exotic parts in order to justify their foreign accent. Having researched the difficulties emigre actors and actresses faced during their exile has made me more forgiving towards those who stayed, like Hoppe. To me, the benchmark tends to be their involvement - or rather their non-involvement - in anything that would have aided the Nazi state. And of that, Hoppe can certainly be acquitted. Besides, if Elli Silman - a returning emigre - who was a close friend of Hoppe's, can overlook the fact that Hoppe stayed, so can I.

10 years ago, in his documentary on Marianne Hoppe, the late Werner Schroeter called Hoppe The Queen.

Aptly put!

Marianne Hoppe in 1995