Hildegard Knef: Chronology of her life 1950 – 1959
The author is not responsible for the correctness of the following information.
April 14, 1950:
Takes the oath and becomes a
citizen of the
Actor-producer Glenn Ford plans to cast Hildegard Knef for the leading role in the film “The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By”, but, in 1952, the movie is realised by other producers and actors.
August 1, 1950:
Returns to Europe, to take up work
on the German film Die Sünderin (working title: “Monologue”),
directed by Willi Forst, and shot in Bendestorf (near
While continuing her work on Die Sünderin, she begins shooting for US movie Decision Before Dawn (in several German cities and – in early 1951 – in Paris); it’s her first film for Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Fox after signing a 7-year-contract with the studio; her affair with the movie’s director Anatole Litvak accelerates her parting from Kurt Hirsch.
Advertises motor company Opel’s “
January 18, 1951:
The film Die Sünderin premieres
in Frankfurt and
February 21, 1951:
Roman catholic officials in the
Catholic youths – spurred on by prominent priest Karl Klinkhammer – throw stink bombs at screenings of the film in Düsseldorf and Cologne; their protest banners read: “The people’s wholesomeness is more important than profit!”, “The Sinner – not with us!”; riots occur and Klinkhammer is summoned to court, but in November 1951 is acquitted of all charges (he personally meets Hildegard Knef for the first time in a TV programme in June 1993); despite more boycott calls and temporary bans (in Cologne for “endangerment of public safety” – not for the contents of the film), Die Sünderin is seen by over 7 million people.
Shooting of the film Nachts auf den Straßen in day and night shifts in
Release of her first music recording, the 7” single Ein Herz ist zu verschenken / Jeden Abend stehe ich am Hafen.
October 30, 1951:
Returns to Los Angeles for work on Fox studio’s Diplomatic Courier; affair with co-star Tyrone Power; is being interviewed by Hollywood’s top gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons; gets acquainted with Marilyn Monroe.
Applies for divorce from Kurt Hirsch; a Californian court grants it on 15 January 1952 (effective as of November 1952).
December 13, 1951:
Hand and foot prints in front of
“Grauman’s Chinese Theatre” in
December 21, 1951:
Decision Before Dawn – her first Hollywood production to be released in the
January 15, 1952:
Première of the film Nachts auf den Straßen at
April 2, 1952:
Her stepfather Wilhelm Wulfestieg dies, aged 60, in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
In a survey by the Munster Institute for Journalism (published in “Der Spiegel”) the public is asked: Which performers would you prefer not to see on the movie screen? – Hildegard Knef is voted number 3; her film Die Sünderin finishes first when asked: Which film displeased you most?
June 7, 1952:
Guest stars in the
June 13, 1952:
Diplomatic Courier opens in US theatres.
In Munich filming of the movie Alraune, co-starring Eric von Stroheim.
August 18, 1952:
The Snows of
Kilimanjaro opens in the
September 15, 1952:
Shoots the film Illusion in Moll – it is her seventh one within 12 months.
September 26, 1952:
Opening night of her last
October 23, 1952:
Alraune opens in German cinemas and gets mostly negative press reviews.
November 5, 1952:
The magazine “Film Revue” calls
Hildegard Knef “THE major star in German cinema” and adds: “Her appearance
and her acting either evoke opposition or ovation, but never just a lukewarm
response.” It quotes Hollywood gossipist Hedda Hopper: “Hildegarde Neff is a
December 18, 1952:
Cinema release of the movie Illusion in Moll – a flop at the box-office.
February (until July) 1953:
Shoots her first British production The Man Between, starring James Mason, in Berlin and London; fans gather in front of her Berlin hotel, shouting: “Hilde, Hilde!”; Knef look-a-like contests are being held.
March 13, 1953:
German première of The Snows of Kilimanjaro; “Der Spiegel” writes: “Hilde, dressed in unfavourable hose-like frocks has to sing against two ladies of glamour, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward”; Gregory Peck tells the press, Hildegard Knef may be a good actress, “but she isn’t a star yet [in the US]”; many years later, Knef described the film as “gruesome” and “superficial”.
Early summer 1953:
Rents a house in Hamburg-Poppenbüttel, Kritenbarg 38 c, because of shooting work for her last film with producer Erich Pommer, Carl Zuckmayer’s Eine Liebesgeschichte; while in Hamburg, she makes friends with “Stern” editor Henri Nannen (who fell in love with her and even considered divorcing his wife), and gets her appendix removed.
May 14, 1953:
German theatre release of the French production La fête à Henriette, for which she is awarded a best-actress-prize by the French film critics’ association.
The German edition of “Reader’s Digest” features an advert by Hildegard Knef for “Ergee” panty hoses.
Back in London for the première of the English version of the film Die Sünderin (“The Sinner”); its famous nude scene was deleted; she is accompanied by Henri Nannen, whom a London tabloid calls “her SS bodyguard” the next day, much to Knef’s chagrin; the film sees a US release, too (December 1954).
September 30, v:
“Der Spiegel” writes: “Hildegard Knef’s version of ‘The
Sinner’ continues to create uproar in Europe – the electricity company in the
East Belgian town of
German cinemas release the
February 25, 1954:
In Hanover’s Theater am Aegi cinema, the film Eine Liebesgeschichte premieres; the shooting took place in Hamburg, Celle and environs; the press reviews in Germany are bad, while the New York Times gives it a good review after being released in the US in March 1958; it is the first German feature film in an aspect ratio of 1:1,85 and with stereo sound.
Shoots the British film Svengali; renowned opera singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf dubs her singing voice.
Early July 1954:
On invitation by the magazine “Neue Illustrierte”, several internationally known actors/actresses and directors meet in Waldeck am Edersee to “get better acquainted to each other”; participants include Knef, Bernhard Wicki, André Michel, Barbara Rütting, Ivan Desny, Michel Auclair.
July 14, 1954:
In a reader’s survey by “Der Spiegel” only 10 % of respondents declare to be interested in “the life story of Hilde Knef” – much to the surprise of the magazine’s editors.
An extensive trip through the Alps (dubbed by the press “her farewell to Europe”) brings her to Salzburg, Bad Ischl, Bad Wiessee and Fuschl; she meets her new manageress, Ilse Alexander (wife of composer Charly Niessen), and Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, who tries to convince her to take on a leading role – alongside Ingrid Bergman – in his first German film (“La Paura” / “Angst”), but Knef declines due to her Broadway contract.
September 5, 1954:
September 15, 1954:
Première of the film Geständnis
unter vier Augen (“Der Spiegel”: “rather a dull movie”); the shooting
took place during the summer, in Göttingen and
November 22, 1954:
The new Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings begins its out-of-town trials in Philadelphia (5 weeks), Boston (4 weeks) and Detroit (3 weeks) – the longest such trials in Broadway history (Knef got Porter’s attention after she sang two of his songs in the film The Snows of Kilimanjaro); during the trials in Philadelphia, Knef falls sick with measles, which the company hides from the press; this condition leads to shortsightedness and torn vocal chords (she kept two lumps on her vocal chords for the rest of her life).
• Advertises the lipstick “VL – der Volks-Lippenstift” in newspapers and magazines.
February 24, 1955:
After several postponements and with Knef’s mother present, Silk Stockings premieres at the Imperial theatre in New York City; the show co-stars Don Ameche and Gretchen Wyler; the New York Times writes: “She gives an immensely skilful performance”; according to Knef, Ella Fitzgerald calls her “the greatest singer without voice”; including the try-outs, she appears 576 times on stage as Ninotchka, 3 ½ hours per show, 8 times a week; during the show’s year-and-a-half long run she lives in a penthouse above the Grosvenor Hotel on Fifth Avenue; 2 years later, the film version is done without Knef, for contract-juridical reasons (instead starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse).
The LP to the musical Silk Stockings appears in the
• During the stay in New York friendship with Cole Porter, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward and the editor in chief of the magazine “Aufbau” in New York, Manfred George.
A party at Hildegard Knef's
apartment is attended by Henri Nannen, Rudolf Augstein (publisher of “Der
Spiegel”), Manfred George and
July 29, 1955:
German film start of the British film Svengali; the magazine “Revue” writes: “Hildegard Knef’s theatrical achievement will allow the film to enter film history.”
Several German newspapers claim that Silk Stockings is a flop.
April 14, 1956:
Last performance in Silk Stockings, after a run of
15 months (Don Ameche already dropped out in mid-January after suffering a
nervous breakdown; he was replaced by Lawrence Brooks); Hildegard Knef and
her mother return to
Enters a recuperative vacation
until year’s end in the “Berghüsli” near
January 22, 1957:
Returns to Berlin; the press receives her at the border crossing Dreilinden where she drives up in her Bel Air Chevrolet which is steered by her new manager Henry Lester (contact to his predecessor Elli Silman now only by lawyer); an official reception by the governing mayor Otto Suhr follows; she moves, together with her mother, to a 3-room apartment in Berlin’s West End, Oldenburgallee 1 a (first floor); they later relocate to a villa in Berlin-Dahlem, Finkenstraße 11.
May 28, 1957:
Hildegard Knef is a guest of honor at the
inauguration of the Zoo-Palast cinema in
One of the stars at the
September 9, 1957:
Beginning of the shooting in Berlin to the film Madeleine und der Legionär, the first film of the re-founded UfA; the location shots take place in Cuxhaven, North Africa (Tangier, Algiers among other places), France and Italy; the work is finished at the end of October.
Hildegard Knef experiences several months of unemployment.
January 21, 1958:
Lukewarm applause greets the first night of Madeleine und der Legionär at Berlin’s Zoo-Palast (announced before as “Sold Life – Destinies in the Foreign Legion”); the film is torn to pieces by most of the press (“Star Revue”: “[Knef] gave her part blocked, nervously and statuesque”); in later years, she called the film “rubbish, absolute rubbish”; UfA, who beforehand had proclaimed her its “star number one” (much frowned upon by the press), immediately dissolves the contract, “by mutual consent”.
Hildegard Knef is cast for the
leading role in a
German magazine “Frankfurter Illustrierte” gives its first award for artistic achievement (“Oscar of Frankfurt”) to Hildegard Knef.
East German movie magazine “Filmspiegel” (No. 21) publishes an article, titled “She Chose the Wrong Way: The Fate of Hildegard Knef”, whose author blames her for not having made a single good film since the (Soviet zone) DEFA production Die Mörder sind unter uns; he also accuses her of having turned herself in to greedy managers who force her to shoot bad and unsuccessful films abroad; he deems her role in Silk Stockings as participation in an “anti-Soviet” comedy; Hildegard Knef remains almost taboo in the GDR, with hardly a film or record of hers released.
July 2, 1958:
“Der Spiegel” writes, Hildegard Knef has managed to have left “the category of medium paid stars and has entered the elite of actors who make 100,000 D-marks [per film]”.
Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis is impressed by Hildegard Knef’s voice and he collaborates with her to produce Bal de Vienne, an Extended Player with lyrics by Boris Vian; the record’s sales are poor, though.
October 3, 1958:
German première of her second French film production, La fille de Hambourg; during the shooting in spring she befriends co-star Daniel Gélin; the movie does not catch on with the German press, though.
• Advertises “Lux” soap (“Lux – Beauty Can Be Yours, Too”).
• Attends, together with Romy
February 13, 1959:
Participates on the fund-raising
campaign for the city of
February 18, 1959:
“Der Spiegel” quotes writer Erich Kuby on her singing qualities: “I was astonished for her to be able to sing great Jazz with hardly a voice, with less than a voice, to sing Jazz in a low, lower, the lowest voice, and smoky, smokier, the smokiest voice.”
First record release in the
March 12, 1959:
May 8, 1959:
In Brighton, England, Hildegard Knef meets her future husband David “Tonio” Cameron on the set of the British TV production International Detective: The Carrington Case; Cameron is 7 years younger and still married at the time; he later prefers to call himself David Anthony Palastanga – the name of his Greek ancestors on this father’s side.
At the Berlin film festival, Hildegard Knef receives the Bundesfilmpreis (Federal Film Award) in silver, for the best performance by a supporting actress in Der Mann, der sich verkaufte; her appearance together with English actor David Cameron does not remain unnoticed – German newspaper “Bild” titles: “The Sinner Now Adulteress, Too”; this controversy results in her films being indexed in 64 German towns and cities.
August 23, 1959
The BBC airs the Hildegarde
Neff Show; for this programme, she took ballet lessons with Danish
choreographer Jan Borall in
• Stars in the British TV production The Violent Years.
Late summer 1959:
David Cameron moves in with
Hildegard Knef to her new villa in
October 23, 1959:
German première of the British movie Subway in the Sky.
At Cinecittà in