Hildegard Knef


  1. Cornell Borchers, The Big Lift, 1949.   Gone With the Wind producer David O Selznickl invited Marlene Dietrich’s close a actress friend to Hollywood  but she refused to change her name to Gilda Christian and her roots from German to Austrian. Darryl F Zanuck said much the same at Fox, but still prepared her US debut– in Montgomery Clift’s fourth film.   And  sacked  her  on hearing  of her  affair with an SS officer during WWII. As if there was anything untoward about two Germans (neither one called Hitler) having a romance. So, suddenly, Borchers, her German replacement was Lithuanian!  Knef stayed home for a further scandal – being the  first nude in a German film, Die Sünderin (UK/US: The Sinner), 1950.  The Roman Catholic Church was furious. So was Hildegard: “I can’t understand all that tumult – five years after Auschwitz!”

  2. Gloria Grahame, Man on a Tightrope, 1952.   Marlene Dietrich refused Elia Kazan’s invitation to join the German circus escaping, bit by bit, from East Germany to the West, based on Neil Paterson’s 1952 magazine story about the real Circus Brumbach. Because Marlene said nein, so did her close friend, Knef.  And Gloria became Fredric March’s wife.

  3. Cyd Charisse, Silk Stockings, 1956.  Next she was asked to repeat her Broadway triumph  in the musical version of Garbo’s Ninotchka, 1938, when she was replaced  by  Charisse.  A far better dancer to be sure, but the role wasn’t just song ’n’ dance.

  4. Mai Zetterling, Seven Waves Away (US : Abandon Ship), 1956.   Refusing Tyrone Power’s first and only Copa Production led to Sweden’s Zetterling inheriting her role – as  Fox shredded Knef’s contract. She never made another American film. She had befriended Marilyn Monroe during their Fox days. Mai was the UK’s favourite Swedish star. And Power’s… They had a two year affair and for Christmas that year, they  shot a UK TVersion of Strindberg’s Miss Julie.

  5. Cyd Charisse, Silk Stockings, 1956. Knef had the role in the Broadway version of Garbo’s 1939 Ninotchka. But the (much better) film was a musical – tailored for  Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse after their 1952 Band Wagon triumph. Cyd’s singing was dubbed by Carol Richards while Ella Fitzgerald called Knef “the best singer without a voice”! (Same could have been said of Marlene).

  6. Nadja Tiller, Du rififi chez les femmes (US: Riff Raff Girls), France-Italy, 1959.  She was interested when the veteran ace, Marcel Carné, was due to direct. The female gangster Vicky de Berlin was rather younger when realisateur Alex Joffé took over.

  7. Barbara Jefford, The Ninth Gate, 1998.   Hildegard had to give up  Baroness Kessler in  the satanic thriller due to ill-health. Her intended co-star Johnny Depp cut his usual; $10m fee in order to work with director Roman Polanski. 

  8. Ingrid van Bergen, Wie angfwlt man sich einen Müllmann? (How do you get a rubbish man?), Germany, TV, 2001.   A lung infectipn prevented  Knef from making the tele-film. And so, alas, her 64th and final film had been the less than auspicious Austro-German comedy, Eine fast perfekte Hochzelf (An Almost Perfect Wedding) In 1999.

 Birth year: 1925Death year: 2002Other name: Casting Calls:  5