I was lucky enough to bump into the European Film Star Postcards blog a few years ago. I was astounded by the quality and quantity of articles focusing on European Film Stars, many of whom I only knew from their photos on old trading cards and, of course, postcards.
It wasn't until about a year ago that I had the pleasure of making Paul van Yperen's acquaintance online when he was introduced to me via contact by frequent Immortal Ephemera contributor Amit Benyovits. Paul helped Amit and I on our quest towards identifying Amit's Massilia postcard collection.
During our correspondence I mentioned to Paul how much I would love to get him to contribute an article to Immortal Ephemera about some European film stars or the collectibles he used to illustrate each of the beautifully presented articles at European Film Star Postcards.
Well, here it is! And thank you, Paul, it's wonderful! Thank you to Paul's partners, Meiter and Jan, for their help with this piece as well and also to Didier Hanson who contributed images. Paul's article follows:
Exploring Terra Incognita with European Film Star Postcards
When you visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam you can see the postcards of forgotten European film stars Anne had pinned on the walls of her bedroom. In Germany, France, and all over Europe, thousands of film fans like Anne collected postcards prior to the outbreak of World War II.
Today collectors buy these sepia tinted postcards at fairs, flea markets and on the internet. It is a wonderful, typical European phenomenon.
Five years ago I began to collect vintage postcards of European film actors. With some friends I started to research the stars pictured on these postcards.
Film history books tell mostly about the auteurs of the European cinema, but seldom about the stars of these well regarded films. Their life stories reveal a lot about not only Europe’s film industry but its political and social history as well. Sometimes their tales are uplifting, funny even, but more often tragic.
Revolutions, wars and the holocaust destroyed many glittering careers.
We are also interested in the people behind the postcards: the photographers, the publishers, the collectors. We decided to create a blog about their work which also functions as an elementary database for their biographies: European Film Star Postcards.
A Lost World
There is more than Hollywood.
A century ago the international film industry was much more diverse than it is today. Film industries bloomed across Europe in nations as diverse as Italy, France, Britain, Denmark, Russia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. Even in my own small country, the Netherlands, there were several film studios and stars that were known all over the world.
Since 1913 Europe was in a political turmoil: the First World War, Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis in Germany and, consequently, another World War. Economic crises affected the European film industries. Talents had to move abroad to find work or sometimes just to save their skin. Some were lucky enough to reach Hollywood, but most of them traveled through Europe and made films wherever they found the opportunity.
And the public, they flocked to cinemas across Europe to forget their countless problems. They loved their stars and collected the exquisitely beautiful postcards that pictured them. Thousands of fans kept these cards like icons on walls or in albums. In this age of social media nobody does that anymore, but this lost world is fascinating stuff.
Do you know Fern Andra?
In her silent films she mastered the tightrope, bareback horse riding, driving cars and motorcycles, bobsleighing and even boxing. She was one of the most popular film stars of the German cinema in the 1910s and early 1920s.
Andra was actually born Vernal Edna Andrews in Watseka, Illinois, USA in 1893.
After a tour as a circus dancer through Europe she became a student of famed director-teacher Max Reinhardt and film director Charles Decroix, who convinced her to start a career in film.
She competed with the leading German stars of those days: Asta Nielsen and Henny Porten. Equipped with an aquiline nose, tiny body and malicious eyes, Fern left audiences breathless with her stunts.
She started her own company and even directed her own films. During the First World War Fern made one film after another, always about women who were victims of cruel events but who were determined to rise above them. Unfortunately most of these films were never exported because of the war and most are now lost.
But her postcards are still here, and some of the most beautiful were published by Ross Verlag.
Ross was a German publishing company that produced thousands of star postcards from the late 1910s through the early 1940s. Ross Verlag can be translated as Ross Publishers. It was named after founder Heinrich Ross.
Sometime around 1905-1907 Ross worked for the Rotophot postcard publishing company in Berlin. In 1919 he started the postcard company that bore his name, Ross Verlag.
When Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933 the persecution of the Jews in Germany began. By 1937, Ross Verlag was no longer under control of Jewish founder Ross, who had been forced out by the National Socialists through their Arisierung (Aryanization) program that said that no Jews could own a business. But the Nazis did retain the Ross Verlag name until 1941.
I found this information at an interesting website about the publisher and his postcards, Ross Verlag Movie Star Postcards.
On this site Mark Goffee relates the history of the Ross company and has created checklists of the Ross postcards to date and catalogue them.
But there is much more to discover on the Ross site.
Mark presents many great postcards from his own collection and includes several bits of trivia about the cards themselves. For example, there were heart shaped photos on certain Ross cards. Opera stars appeared on cards in roles they were famous for. The website also presents bloopers: a few mistakes that were made on the postcards and it shows that some of the typically photographic cards were actually drawings.
Sometimes you can also find British Ross cards but it was mainly a German phenomenon. Photos by Ross Verlag were also used in Germany for Sammelbilder, collector cards offered as gifts or as promotional material accompanying products.
Many cigarette labels in Germany like Altona and Orami used Ross pictures for their movie star tobacco card albums. Kivou Chocolates did the same in Belgium. In France Loriot and the affiliated label Massilia also used Film Star Photos to promote their chocolates.
Other subjects of Ross Verlag postcards included ballet dancers, animals, sports people, flags, or - when the NSDAP took the power in Germany - martial subjects.
The largest European photo studio in the late 1920s and 1930s was Atelier Binder. The beautiful star photos from this Berlin studio can be found on countless Ross postcards.
The founder of Atelier Binder was Alexander ‘Alex’ Binder (1888 – 1929), born in Alexandria. Binder was Jewish and probably had Swiss roots.
He originally studied engineering but interrupted his studies prematurely to attend the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie, Chemie, Lichtdruck und Gravüre (an early photography school) in Munich between 1908 and 1910 before settling in Berlin. In 1913 he opened his first photo studio in a room in the Motzstraße but just two years later he moved his studio to Kurfürstendamm 225 in Berlin’s posh shopping and entertainment area. He soon became one of Germany’s leading photographers.
Binder created advertising and portrait photography but primarily focused on celebrity and fashion photography. His lighting is exquisite, giving his photos a remarkable depth. He knew how to light and dress his female stars, who were never lovelier than on his pictures.
Berlin was the Mecca of the European film industry at that time and so Binder had access to stars like Conrad Veidt, Lilian Harvey, Leni Riefenstahl, Carmen Boni of Italy, Dutch star Truus van Aalten, Lya de Putti of Hungary and all of the other stars of the German silent cinema for his lens. During the filming of Die Freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street (1925, G.W. Pabst) he was able to photograph the young Greta Garbo.
Binder's photographs appeared in the monthly photo and film magazine Die Linse (The Lens) and in many other magazines as well.
And his work also appeared on thousands of postcards and other memorabilia. You can recognize them through imprints such as Alex Binder Photogr. Atelier, Alex Binder, Berlin or Phot. A. Binder, Berlin.
Alex Binder suddenly died in February 1929 in Berlin. Mark Goffee finds that date interesting, wondering how Ross cards continued to appear with photos from Atelier Binder until 1937.
After Binder’s death his studio was moved to the Kurfürstendamm 205. The business name was changed into Atelier Binder and new photographs were published under that name. The photographer was probably Hubs Floeter (1910-1974), who was employed at the studio as first operator until 1938.
The owners of the studio were now Binder's widow, Mrs. Binder-Allemann, and their two daughters. The manager was Elisabeth Baroness von Stengel, who was also Jewish. In 1938, the Nazi Labour Inspectorate closed the studio.
Aryan photographer Karl Ludwig Haenchen then moved in and continued to make celebrity portraits which also were published on star postcards by publishers as Film-Foto-Verlag.
Elisabeth Baroness von Stengel was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. She survived the ordeal and died in 1978 in Ascona.
You can read many stories like that of Elisabeth Baroness von Stengel at European Film Star Postcards.
The site is filled with forgotten stories of Jewish actors, directors, photographers and publishers whose careers were broken by the Nazis. But European Film Star Postcards also includes the life stories of many stars of the Third Reich whose careers ended after 1945. We try to cover White Russian stars but also the actors of the Soviet cinema. We present American movie stars who had substantial careers in the European cinema and also European film actors who are mainly known for their Hollywood careers.
Yes, we are easy at European Film Star Postcards. Our only condition for a blog post: there has to be be a vintage postcard.
Would you like to share scans of your vintage postcards or maybe send along your choice of 10 Favourite European Film Star Postcards? E-mail us and join our exploration.
Thanks to Didier Hanson, whose cards and ideas I could use for this article; to Meiter and Jan, who pre-read this text; and special thanks to Clifford Aliperti who invited me for this guest post. It was a pleasure! (Cliff's note: Mutual pleasure, my friend!)
Finally, I have a question for collectors and readers of Immortal Ephemera.
Some years ago I visited California and looked around for vintage film star postcards. I went to film book shops, garage sales and flea markets, but could not find them anywhere. Does anybody know why so few film star postcards were produced in the US as compared to Europe?
By Paul van Yperen, European Film Star Postcards
Cliff's note: If you have any interest in European cinema I highly recommend visiting European Film Star Postcards. It offers an incredible trove of otherwise almost impossible to find biographical information about the forgotten stars of the European cinema, plus some more familiar names as well.
Thanks again to Paul van Yperen for this amazing article.