Thimig, Helene (1889–1974)
Thimig, Helene (1889–1974)
Austrian actress, member of a great theatrical family and one of the leading actresses of Central Europe for half a century, whose career was closely linked for several decades to the achievements of her second husband Max Reinhardt. Name variations: Helene Thimig-Reinhardt; "Helene Werner." Born Ottilie Helene Thimig in Vienna, Austria, on June 5, 1889; died in Vienna on November 6, 1974; daughter of Hugo Thimig and Fanny (Hummel) Thimig; had brothers Fritz, Hans, and Hermann; married Paul Kalbeck; became second wife of Max Reinhardt (1873–1943, actor, manager, and stage director), in 1935; married Anton Edthofer. Max Reinhardt's first wife was Else Heims .
Made English-language movies while in exile in the U.S.: The Hitler Gang (1944); None But the Lonely Heart (1944); Cloak and Dagger (1946); The Locket (1947).
An acclaimed theatrical star and a member of one of Central Europe's great acting families, Helene Thimig had a career that lasted more than six decades. She was born in 1889 in Vienna, the daughter of Hugo Thimig and Fanny Hummel Thimig . Hugo was not only a renowned actor but the director of Vienna's Burgtheater, the leading theater in Germanspeaking Central Europe. After studying with Hedwig Bleibtreu , Helene Thimig made her debut in Baden bei Wien in 1907 and for the next several years was apprenticed with Germany's Meiningen Players, a troupe whose innovative naturalistic style of acting was seen by Constantin Stanislavski who then went on to found the Moscow Arts Theater. By 1911, Thimig had moved to Berlin, where she caught the eye of the brilliant director and fellow Austrian Max Reinhardt. Soon, their relationship was much more than professional, but it would be many years before they married. In 1917, Thimig became one of the stars of Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater, Berlin's most innovative stage.
By the early 1920s, German critics were unanimous in their praise of Thimig in such roles as Gretchen in Goethe's Faust, Solveig in Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and Elisabeth in Schiller's Maria Stuart. From 1920 onward, she worked for Reinhardt at the Salzburg Festival, most memorably in the morality play Jedermann (Everyman), the annual festival production which she was to perform in until the early 1930s, and then help revive and once more star in for many years after World War II. Among the most exciting productions were those in which Thimig appeared on stage with members of her family. These included Schiller's Kabale und Liebe (Conspiracy and Love), in which her father Hugo appeared as stage father to her Luisa. In 1926, the Thimigs made stage history at Vienna's
Theater in der Josefstadt, one of Max Reinhardt's newest theaters, when she appeared in a Nestroy farce with three members of her family: her father Hugo, as well as her brothers Hans and Hermann. This combination was to recur several times, most notably in a celebrated revival of Goldoni's A Servant of Two Masters, in which she shined as Smeralda. She and the other Thimigs also toured the United States during the 1927–28 season.
Along with Max Reinhardt, Helene Thimig was at the center of a circle of intellectuals and artists in interwar Berlin and Vienna. She created many roles in world premieres of plays, and among those written with her in mind were such important works as Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Der Schwierige and Max Mell's Das Apostelspiel. At the same time, Thimig insisted on continuing her appearances in the standard repertory, particularly in Shakespeare.
From 1933 through 1937, Thimig and Reinhardt lived in Austria; her close ties to Reinhardt, who was Jewish (she was not), had terminated her career in a now-Nazified Germany. Besides being featured on Viennese stages and at the Salzburg Festival, Thimig appeared in theaters in Prague. In 1935, while on an extended visit to the United States, Thimig and Reinhardt married in Nevada. In 1937, they immigrated to California. In 1939, she received special permission from Nazi leader Hermann Göring to make a brief visit to her aged father in Vienna. Although highly respected in America, Max was unable to earn the income to which he had been accustomed in Europe. Helene helped support him and herself by teaching at his Hollywood "Max Reinhardt Workshop for Stage, Screen and Radio," an actors' studio which was as luminous artistically as it was dismal financially. To pay bills, she appeared in many small roles in B-films, including The Hitler Gang (1944), in which she portrayed Adolf Hitler's half-sister Angela Raubal . Many of Thimig's California friends were Jewish refugee artists, among them Salka Viertel , whose salon was a reminder of Central Europe in the alien world of southern California. Thimig appeared at several refugee benefits, including some sponsored by the Los Angeles refugee organization, the "Jewish Club of 1933."
Max Reinhardt died in New York City in October 1943. Three years later, Helene Thimig returned to Austria, where she immediately resumed her career both in Vienna's Burgtheater and at the revived Salzburg Festival, which the Nazi occupation had "Aryanized." She also taught acting both at Vienna's renowned Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (Academy of Music and Performing Arts) and at a revived version of the famous "Reinhardt Seminar" for aspiring actors in Salzburg's Schloss Leopoldskron that her late husband had founded and led half a century before. Profoundly respected, Helene Thimig died in Vienna on November 6, 1974.
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John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia