Ingeborg Wells: Actress and singer who was a star in Hitler's Germany before continuing her career in postwar Britain
Wednesday 14 May 2014
Ingeborg von Kusserow was a star of stage and screen in Germany in the 1930s and the war years, after which she contined her career as Ingeborg Wells in Britain. In conversation she would say little about her childhood and early life. She tended to make light of her films of the 1930s but was prouder of her stage work, which is unfortunately less well documented.
She was born in 1919 in Wollstein, Posen, Germany (now Wolsztyn in Poland) and embarked on her stage career in Berlin in her teens. She first danced and sang in operetta (records of her singing survive) but also played straight roles such as Eliza in Pygmalion. Her first film was Das Hofkonzert (1936), directed by Detlef Sierck, who as Douglas Sirk would perfect the art of the Hollywood melodrama in the 1950s. It was the first of around 30 features and shorts she made in Germany.
In 1940 she married Percy von Welsburg, a Hungarian national born in England. They hoped to get to Britain via Switzerland but this proved impossible and they spent the war in Berlin, experiencing all its deprivations and terrors. She described these experiences in a 1948 memoir, Enough, no More.
In 1947 they were finally able to move to England. As Ingeborg Wells she had a modest role in Raoul Walsh's Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), with Gregory Peck in the title role, followed over the next 10 years by around a dozen more films and many television appearances. One of her last films was Women of Twilight, directed by Gordon Parry in 1952, which has its place in cinema history as the first film to receive the new "X" certificate.
She and Percy divorced and in 1968 she married Kenneth Slingsby-Fahn, a retired RAF officer; they continued to live in her garden flat in St John's Wood. In 1968 she was invited back to West Berlin to star in a German version of an American play, You Know I Can't Hear You When The Water's Running by Robert Anderson. She found she was still well remembered there and was approached by many old fans.
In 1979, seeking a country life, they moved to a cottage in Houghton, West Sussex. After Kenneth's death in 2007 Ingeborg lived on alone but in late 2013 she was obliged to enter a care home. Recently she had a fall, breaking a femur, and although she survived the operation to set it this was followed by an inevitable decline.
She had had a tough early life, and she was strong-minded, even at times controlling. This had made her life with Percy stormy; Kenneth, however, was happy to go along with everything she proposed and so harmony prevailed during their 40 years together.
Ingeborg von Kusserow (Ingeborg Wells), actress: born Wollstein, Posen, Germany (now Wolsztyn, Poland) 28 January 1919; married 1940 Percy von Welsburg (divorced 1965; one son), 1968 Kenneth Slingsby-Fahn (died 2007); died Hove, Sussex 14 April 2014.
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