Müller, Renate (1907–1937)

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Müller, Renate (1907–1937)

German stage and screen actress who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances during the Nazi era. Name variations: Renate Muller or Mueller. Born on April 26, 1907, in Munich, Germany; died after a fall from a third-story window on October 10, 1937; daughter of the editor-in-chief of the Münchener Zeitung and a painter.

Studied with Max Reinhardt (1924–25); appeared on the Berlin stage (1926); cast in first film (1928).

Selected filmography:

Peter der Matrose (Peter the Sailor, 1929); Liebling der Götter (Darling of the Gods, 1930); Das Flötenkonzert von Sanssouci (1930); Die Blumenfrau von Lidenau (1931); Die Privatsekretärin (Office Girl, remade in an English version as Sunshine Susie, 1931); Mädchen zum Heiraten (Marry Me, 1932); Walzerkrieg (War of the Waltzes, also known as Waltz Time in Vienna, 1933); Viktor und Viktoria (1933); Saison in Kairo (1934); Die englische Heirat (1934); Lisolette von der Pfalz (1935); Liebesleute (1935); Eskapade (For Her Country's Sake, 1936); Togger (1937).

Renate Müller's career in film began with the dawn of the sound-picture era in the late 1920s and came to an untimely end with the rise of the Nazi Party less than a decade later. Müller was born in 1907 into an affluent, intellectual family in Munich. Her mother was a painter, and her father was a historian, philosopher, and editor-in-chief of one of the most prominent newspapers in Munich. Müller grew up in that city as well as at a family home in the country in Emmering, Bavaria. An avid reader as a child, the gifted Müller also considered a career in opera, and when her family moved to Berlin in 1924 she was accepted for study at the prestigious Academy of Dramatic Art. The school was under the helm of Max Reinhardt, then a stellar figure in the German theater, and Müller's instructors were equally celebrated; one was the film director G.W. Pabst. After a year of study, she began appearing in Berlin at the well-known Lessing Theater, where one of her first roles was that of Fanny Elssler in Edmond Rostand's L'Aiglon.

Over the next few years, she gained experience in numerous roles, usually cast as a comedic actress. She also appeared with the Berlin Stadttheater before signing a film contract in 1928. Müller's first film appearance was in Peter der Matrose (Peter the Sailor), released in 1929. One year and a few films later, she was appearing opposite Germany's biggest star, Emil Jannings, in Liebling der Götter (Darling of the Gods). Her best-known role, however, came with 1931's Die Privatsekretärin (Office Girl). The film was an enormous box-office success, its simplistic, rags-to-riches tale seeming to appeal to German audiences at a dire time in their country's history. In the title role, Müller played a naive but ambitious young woman from the country who manages to get a job at a Berlin bank, primarily on the basis of her attractive legs. The comedy of errors involves a dinner date with a manager at the bank whom the typist believes to be someone else; in the end, he proposes. Die Privatsekretärin was made into both French and English versions—the English version, Sunshine Susie, also starred Müller—and after its success she was in great demand as an actress. She usually worked under contract to UFA, the famed cinematic production center in Germany during this era, and made numerous other well-received films. One in particular was 1934's Viktor und Viktoria (a 1980s remake that starred Julie Andrews was again a hit), in which Müller played a nightclub singer who, as a favor for a co-worker, takes his place on stage one evening; the co-worker, however, is a man who impersonates women, and the resulting turmoil surrounding her new stage role and a confused suitor drive the plot to its conclusion.

Such slightly risqué films were soon to be a thing of the past, however, with the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. After it came to power in 1933, one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates, Joseph Goebbels, became the country's Propaganda Minister. Goebbels initially approved of Müller and her work, and she was considered "Aryan" enough—that is, fitting into the Nazis' concept of Germanic appearance, with blonde hair and blue eyes. But Müller, one of the country's most well-known stars, consistently avoided meeting Hitler despite formal invitations to the Chancellory (Goebbels reportedly wanted to set her up with the Führer), and as a result she came under suspicion for her political beliefs. Even more dangerous for the actress was the fact that the secret police, after following her, became aware that she was dating a man of Jewish heritage. He then emigrated to England. She had to travel to London to see him, but it became increasingly difficult for her to leave the country.

Goebbels and the Ministry of Propaganda had been pressuring Müller to make one propaganda film a year, as other German film stars were also enjoined to do. Although she avoided complying for several years, she finally agreed to play a journalist in the 1937 film Togger. In it, Müller and a colleague battle against a plot by Jewish-Bolshevik agitators to rob Germany of freedom of the press. The irony of Togger's plot in light of the situation in Germany surely was not lost on Müller. Later that same year she was beset by knee problems, and checked into a clinic for a two-week stay. On October 10, 1937, she died after a fall from a third-story window, apparently a suicide. Immediately after her death, the Ministry of Propaganda disseminated a series of rumors calculated to slander her name. She was buried in Berlin.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: HarperCollins, 1994.

Romani, Cinzia. Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich. NY: Sarpedon, 1992.

Ellen Dennis French , freelance writer, Murietta, California

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