Hildegarde Neff

Active - 1946 - 1993  |   Born - Dec 28, 1925   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Action, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

German actress Hildegarde Neff was enrolled right out of high school with UFA Studios' Training Program in preparation for a film career. After a brief period as an artist in an animation firm, she commenced her movie acting with 1945's Fahrt ins Gluck. One year later, Hildegarde attained fame beyond the boundaries of Germany for her role in Murderers Among Us (1946). An actress first and star second, Ms. Neff divided her time between films and stage work for the Deutsches Theatre. A potential 1948 contract with American producer David O. Selznick (prompted by the actress' appearance on a Life magazine cover) came to nothing, but the publicity attending her nude scene in the 1950 German film The Sinner won the actress a pact with 20th Century-Fox. In 1951, Hildegarde appeared in Decision Before Dawn, a Fox picture shot primarily in Germany. The studio changed the spelling of her name for marquee purposes - it had been "Knef" on her birth certificate and in her German appearances - and cast her in such "alluring European" roles as the depraved Countess Liz in Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). Disturbed that she was perceived as a mere foreign "type" by American producers, Hildegarde returned to Europe in 1952. Her next significant success was back in the USA in the 1955 Broadway musical Silk Stockings, which made her a favorite in New York but failed to convince Hollywood that she was anything more than a pretty commodity. As "Hildegarde Knef" again, the actress spent the '60s performing in her nightclub act both in the US and the Continent, and acting occasionally in second-rate films; these were years blighted by poverty and the loss of fair-weather friends. She made a major dramatic comeback in 1970 with a European TV production of Jean Cocteau's La Voix Humaine, and the next year published her best-selling autobiography, The Gift Horse. Hildegarde Neff/Knef's second book came out in 1975: The Verdict was a no-nonsense account of her ongoing struggles with cancer.

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