"Sturdy and blond, she reminded you of the Valkyries and the bronze statues in German town squares," wrote the French critic Georges Sadoul of Henny Porten, the preeminent German screen actress of her generation. The daughter of Franz Porten (1859-1932), a baritone and an actor-director with the Stadtheater of Magdeburg, Porten had come to films without any prior theatrical experience in 1906. By 1910 audiences were clamoring to know the name of the blonde (and blind) girl in Das Liebesgluck der Blinden, a melodrama written for her by her sister Rosa, and by 1912 she had become a true star, millions of moviegoers flocking to the so-called "Henny-Porten-Filme." Although she worked most frequently for the rather mediocre but popular Gustav Frölich, Porten reached the height of her screen career under the gentle guidance of Ernst Lubitsch, who cast her as the title characters in Anne Boleyn (1920; British title Deception) and Kohlhiesel's Daughter (1920), both opposite Emil Jannings. By the late '20s, Porten, still a major star, had become the quintessence of German womanhood, ladylike yet kindhearted and a not a little petit bourgeois. All this, however, was about to change. The Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 brought Henny Porten's career to an almost standstill. The wife of a Jewish doctor, the star had become a thorn in the eye of propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, who not only attempted to ban her from working but denied her an exit visa to join Lubitsch in Hollywood. Yet the public still clamored for her and Porten was permitted to work in such Austrian-made films as the comedy Der Optimist and the crime drama War es der im Dritten Stock (both 1938). Old friend G.W. Pabst hired her to play the duchess in The Comedians (1941) and she was reunited with Frölich for the homey comedy Familie Buchholz (1944). An allied air raid left her homeless for a time (allegedly no one would offer shelter to the wife of a Jew) but she survived the fall of the Third Reich and spent the remainder of her life as a living legend.
by Hans J. Wollstein biography