Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fern Andra

The fact that you've never heard of Fern Andra is proof positive of a concerted conspiracy to suppress all that vital and vibrant in this world.

Fern's real name was Vernal Andrews and she was born in Watseka, Illinois, on November 24, 1893. She got into showbiz as a toddler via her stepfather Frank St. Clair, who did a slackwire/tightrope act in circuses and outdoor vaudeville shows. Fern did tightrope performing, plays, musicals, and operettas, including a prestigious performance at the Globe Theatre in Chicago, all before reaching puberty.

At the age of 16, Fern joined Bird Millman's Trio, another tightrope/vaudeville troupe, and went on to even greater heights including performing for President Theodore Roosevelt. Fern moved to Europe in 1911 and became a full-time actress on stage and in film. She was beloved in England and especially in Germany, where she made many films, such as Das Ave Maria and Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire. In the latter, she appeared nearly nude in a body-painted outfit. In Vienna she became a student of the great Max Reinhardt and appeared in many of his plays and films.

Fern's personal life was one of complications and intrigue. She was accused by the German government of being a spy for the USA, but she was cleared of all charges thanks to a defense by the esteemed Baron Friedrich von Weichs, who she went on to marry. She miraculously survived a plane crash in 1924, one which killed The Red Baron's brother.

During the 1930s, further scandal occurred when Joseph Goebbels came to power in the Nazi party, and it was learned by the public that he and Fern had been close. Prior to his Nazi career, Goebbels was a theatre tutor and a playwright. (According to Wikipedia, "Goebbels was embittered by the frustration of his literary career; his novel did not find a publisher until 1929 and his plays were never staged.") According to Erin Taylor's tribute to Fern:

Fern closed her studios and production company in Germany and, to show her allegiance to the United States, broadcasted anti-Nazi messages in German to Europe. By this time, Fern's career was over, but she recovered her reputation in Hollywood's social circles.

Fern fled Nazi Germany and returned to America in 1938, settling down with a producer/playwright named Samuel Edge Dockrell, and led a quiet life until her death in Aiken, South Carolina on February 8, 1974.

Unfortunately, very little of Fern's film work survived World War II, and we mostly have only fragments and pieces of her appearances. It's tragic, because Fern was a pioneer not only in acting, but in writing, directing, and production. The IMDB lists 52 films in which she acted, but also 18 that she wrote the script for, 14 that she produced, and 11 that she directed. It's likely that still more existed, records of which are now forever missing.

Among the lost jewels of her directorial oeuvre: 1915's Gesprengte Ketten ("Exploded Chains"), 1918's Drohende Wolken am Firmament ("Threatening Clouds at the Firmament"), and 1919's Der Todessprung ("The Leap Into Death").

1 comment:

  1. I like how you give coverage to people who probably haven't had any in 50 years, keep up the good work