Asta Nielsen

Asta Nielsen
Asta Nielsen
Born Asta Sofie Amalie Nielsen
11 September 1881(1881-09-11)
Vesterbro, Denmark
Died 24 May 1972(1972-05-24) (aged 90)
Frederiksberg, Denmark
  • Urban Gad (1912–1918)
  • Ferdinand Wingårdh (1919–1923)
  • Anders Christian Theede (1970–1972)

Asta Nielsen (11 September 1881 – 24 May 1972), was a Danish silent film actress who was one of the most popular leading ladies of the 1910s and one of the first international movie stars.[1] Seventy of Nielsen's 74 films were made in Germany where she was known simply as Die Asta (The Asta). Noted for her large dark eyes, mask-like face and boyish figure, Nielsen most often portrayed strong-willed passionate women trapped by tragic consequences. Due to the erotic nature of her performances, Nielsen's films were heavily censored in the United States and her work remained relatively obscure to American audiences. She is credited with transforming movie acting from overt theatricality to a more subtle naturalistic style.[1] Nielsen founded her own film studio in Berlin during the 1920s, but returned to Denmark in 1937 after the rise of Nazism in Germany. A private figure in her later years, Nielsen became a collage artist and an author.


Early life

Asta Sofie Amalie Nielsen was born in the Vesterbro section of Copenhagen, Denmark, the daughter of an often unemployed blacksmith and a washerwoman. Nielsen's family moved several times during her childhood while her father sought employment. They lived for several years in Malmö, Sweden where her father worked in a corn millery and then a factory. After he lost those jobs, they returned to live in the Nørrebro section of Copenhagen.[2] Nielsen's father died when she was fourteen years old. At the age of eighteen, Nielsen was accepted into the acting school of the Royal Danish Theatre. During her time there, she studied closely with the Royal Danish Actor, Peter Jerndorff.[3] In 1901, twenty-year-old Nielsen became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter, Jesta. Nielsen never revealed the identity of the father, and chose to raise her child alone with the help of her mother and older sister.[4]

Nielsen graduated from the Theater school in 1902. For the next three years she worked at the Dagmar Theatre, then toured in Norway and Sweden from 1905 to 1907 with De Otte and the Peter Fjelstrup companies. Returning to Denmark, she was employed at Det Ny Theater from 1907 to 1910. Although she worked steadily as a stage actress, her performances remained unremarkable.[5] Danish historian Robert Neiiedam wrote that Nielsen's unique physical attraction, which was of great value on the screen, was limited on stage by her deep and uneven speaking voice.[5]

Film career

Nielsen began her film career in 1909, starring in director Urban Gad's 1910 tragedy Afgrunden ("The Abyss"). Nielsen's minimalist acting style was evidenced in her successful portrayal of a naive young woman lured into a tragic life. Her overt sexuality in the film's "gaucho dance" scene established the erotic quality for which Nielsen became known. The film's success encouraged her to continue making silent films. Nielsen and Gad married and, after making several films, they moved to Germany because her talent was not understood by the Danish film industry. 

In 1911 she was contracted to German producer Paul Davidson for $80,000 a year, then the highest salary for a film star. Nielsen is called the first international movie star, challenged only by French comic Max Linder, also famous throughout Europe and in America by that time. In a Russian popularity poll of 1911 Nielsen was voted the world's top female movie star, behind Linder and ahead of her Danish compatriot Valdemar Psilander. She remained popular on both sides through World War I and in 1915 (before the United States' entry into it) she visited New York City to study American film techniques.

In 1924 she was famously co-starred with that other great Scandinavian diva, Greta Garbo, months before Garbo left for Hollywood and MGM. Nielsen continued as a legend of the screen in Germany. After the Nazis came to power she was offered her own studio by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Understanding the implications well, she instead fled the country home to Denmark.

She worked in film until start of sound movies. Nielsen made only one feature movie with sound, but was unable to adapt and retired from the screen. Thereafter, Nielsen acted only on stage. Nielsen left Germany in 1936 after the rise of Nazism, returning to Denmark where she wrote articles on art and politics and a two-volume autobiography.

She is considered to be a great movie actress because of her talent of adapting her performing style in accordance with the demands of the film media avoiding theatrical manners. Besides, she was able to play women of extremely various social positions as well as of different psychology.

Assistance to Jews during World War II

During the Second World War she provided money for Allan O. Hagedorff, a young Dane living in Germany, to assist Jews. Using money provided by Nielsen, Hagedorff sent so many food parcels to the Theresienstadt concentration camp that he was warned by the Gestapo. Among others, Victor Klemperer, the diarist and philologist, was offered money by Hagedorff.[6]

She was married three times. She died in 1972.

Quotes about Asta Nielsen

"Asta Nielsen" means the power to speak of pathos, to see pain, and to find the middle path between Baudelaire's flower of evil and the sick rose of which Blake sang.
— M. S. Fonseca , The International Dictionary of Films And Filmmakers: Actors and Actresses[7]

Selected films

See also



External links

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  • Nielsen — ist ein patronymisch gebildeter dänischer Familienname mit der Bedeutung „Sohn des Niels“. Bekannte Namensträger Inhaltsverzeichnis A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nielsen, Asta — • НИ ЛЬСЕН (Nielsen) Аста (11.9.1881 25.5.1972)    дат. актриса. С 1902 в т ре. Дебютировала в кино в 1910 в ф. Бездна реж. П. У. Гада, к рый поставил ок. 30 ф. с её участием. В 1911 снялась в ф. Чёрная мечта и Балерина . Играла в осн. роли… …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • Nielsen — Not to be confused with Nielson, Neilson (disambiguation), or Nilsen. Nielsen Danish pronunciation: [ˈnelsn], is a Danish patronymic surname, literally meaning son of Niels, Niels being the Danish version of the Greek male given name… …   Wikipedia

  • Nielsen — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Nielsen Company, une entreprise de marketing Nielsen est un nom de famille notamment porté par : Allan Nielsen (1971 ), ancien footballeur… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Asta — nordische Kurzform von Namen wie → Anastasia (Bedeutung: die Auferstandene) und → Astrid (Bedeutungszusammensetzung aus: »Gottheit« und »schön«). Namensträgerin: Asta Nielsen, dänische Schauspielerin …   Deutsch namen

  • Nielsen — Nielsen,   1) [ niːlsn], Arthur Charles, amerikanischer Marktforscher, * Chicago (Illinois) 5. 9. 1897, ✝ ebenda 1. 6. 1980; zunächst als Ingenieur tätig, gründete 1923 in Chicago das Marktforschungsunternehmen A. C. Nielsen Company, das er zu… …   Universal-Lexikon