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‘Herr Müller wants to talk to you’

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Margot Hielscher, the German TV actress and Eurovision star, died on 20 August, aged 97. A singer and general forces’ sweetheart during the Second World War, she was also probably the last surviving woman to have had an affair with Goebbels. She had been working in the film studio at Babelsberg as a costume designer when she caught the propaganda minister’s eye. Her first role was as a handmaid to Mary Queen of Scots in the anti-English Das Herz der Königin (‘The Queen’s Heart’, 1940); she went on to star in Frauen sind Keine Engel (‘Women are no Angels’, 1943), singing the title song which became her signature tune.

She was still a large-eyed, striking and very well-preserved brunette when I interviewed her in the early 1990s. The Babelsberg studio had been the centre of her world in the early 1940s. ‘It was very glamorous, and it was very very big and being a newcomer in my case, I of course adored every little corner,’ she told me. ‘It was so alive with so many brilliant directors, actors, actresses and cameramen. The atmosphere was hard to describe. It was so alive and so important and so overwhelming.’ She appeared to have had little sense of events beyond the studio walls.

As for Goebbels, ‘he had all the influence you can imagine. He had to say who was getting a part or not. Whenever a director said he would like to have Margot Hielscher, he had to say yes. If he had said no, I wouldn’t have got the part. His influence was just endless.’

‘He was very charming. You very seldom find the possibility to say a man has charm – like Maurice Chevalier or some of the big movie stars who have charm, but he had charm; he was very charming. He knew how to handle a woman.’ The thought of Goebbels as a German Maurice Chevalier made me blink.

When he phoned her up, ‘he called at night, very late – eleven o’clock, sometimes close to midnight, and he always called himself Herr Müller. The telephone was in my father’s room, so he answered the phone, and he came to our room where Anita, my sister, and I were sleeping, and he said: “This Mr Müller wants to talk to you. I have the terrible feeling this is not Mr Müller at all; this sounds like Goebbels.”’

Hielscher claimed she repelled his advances, though Kristina Söderbaum, the star of such films such as Jud Süß and Kolberg, assured me she had proof that Hielscher had succumbed. At any rate she must have fallen from favour fairly speedily, as she didn’t get any further starring roles. Goebbels told Hielscher that her mouth was too big: ‘not a good German mouth’.

After the war she carried on acting but focused on her singing career. In 1957 she was chosen to represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Telefon, Telefon’ (nothing to do with those long ago calls from Herr Müller). In 1978 she was awarded the Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (the German Order of Merit) for her services to cinema. She hosted a long-running chat show on Bavarian TV, and throughout her life she continued to act in film and theatre.

German obituaries proclaimed that ‘the very last big UFA star is dead’ – placing Hielscher in the world of Marlene Dietrich and Brigitte Helm – and spoke of her great popularity. They didn’t mention how she got her first role.


  1. woll says:

    Would the LRB publish this rather tacky blog if it were about an English media star? Hielscher was multi-talented and popular, her career reaching from Babelsberg in the early 1940’s, at a time when, after the progress of the Weimar years German women were struggling to convey an image beyond being merely wives and mothers, through early Eurovision and countless films and TV appearances to becoming the first female German chat-show hostess on the longstanding Zu Gast bei Margot Hielscher. Do English attitudes to Germany have to revolve around the Nazis? The reason that the German press hasn’t mentioned this tittle-tattle – suggested in the blog as being a sinister cover-up – is that is probably not true, and there are anyway better things to say. Why not celebrate the life of a woman whom post-war Germans identified as being a sign of a new and better Germany? As Die Welt wrote in her obiturary http://www.welt.de/kultur/article167893212/Der-allerletzte-grosse-Ufa-Star-ist-tot.html:
    Sie stand nicht für das plane Ausagieren. Sie stand für Klasse. Sie hatte Stil. Und irgendwo war sie auch Preußin geblieben. Ach, wir werden ihresgleichen nicht wieder sehen.

    • IPFreely says:

      That obituary is a typical “Welt” attempt to put a smile on the face of yet another member of the hierarchy, somebody who was prepared to serve the Goebbels propaganda machine and urn a blind eye to the dark side of power.

  2. IPFreely says:

    Tacky? Yes, and its sensationalist rating is high as well. The powers in West Germany always had difficulties with the stars from Ufa, trying to reconcile acting skills with loyalty to the regime. Heinz Ruhmann is a good example and there are many others.

  3. IPFreely says:

    An AfD leader, Gauland, is now saying that Germans have nothing to do with the Nazi era and that it is time to move on – quite what he wants to move on to is another story.

  4. ccmdiva@yahoo.com says:

    I think Herr Goebbels could be very charming but not so charming to those millions he persecuted. What sticks in my craw are the ambitious men and women like Riefenstal and this babe who pretended they didn’t know what was happening..right.

  5. outofdate says:

    They used to call him the tadpole — all head and Schwanz — but did they really? One of them urban legends.

  6. Timothy Rogers says:

    Don’t know about “tadpole”, but the little Nazi gimp with a limp appears to have been a randy bugger. Did he ever have a Jewish girlfriend (like Hitler’s allies Mussolini and King Carol)? He certainly dallied with “non-Aryans” – though I can’t remember her name, there was a beautiful Czech film-actress he was having a fling with, an affair well-known enough that Hitler had to step in to squash it (wanting the Goebbels family to be seen as the exemplar of a happy Aryan marriage producing attractive German offspring – all of of whom were murdered by Mama and Papa down in the last-days bunker). What a crew!

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