Marika Rökk

Film and musical favourite of Hitler
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The Independent Online

Hailed After the start of her film career as Germany's answer to Eleanor Powell, Marika Rökk was an immensely talented musical performer who could tap with the rhythm and vitality of Powell or Ann Miller, and switch to balletic movements with the conviction of Cyd Charisse or Vera-Ellen.

Maria Karoline Körrer (Marika Rökk), actress, dancer and singer: born Cairo 3 November 1913; married 1940 George Jacoby (died 1964; one daughter), 1968 Fred Raul (died 1985); died Baden, Austria 16 May 2004.

Hailed After the start of her film career as Germany's answer to Eleanor Powell, Marika Rökk was an immensely talented musical performer who could tap with the rhythm and vitality of Powell or Ann Miller, and switch to balletic movements with the conviction of Cyd Charisse or Vera-Ellen.

She was also a trapeze artist, gymnast and bareback rider, and, although gawkier than her Hollywood counterparts, she would surprise viewers by dancing on her hands or turning sudden cartwheels. Her career spanned several decades, and her films were models of escapist cinema, reaching their zenith during the Second World War when they allowed audiences brief respite and access to a carefree world where politics played no role.

A great favourite of Adolf Hitler, who called her "my little Hungarian", Rökk was later shunned by some for her participation in some of the most lavish musicals of the Nazi era. In the early Fifties she was able to resume her career with occasional films and prolific stage work, including a personal triumph as the star of the German version of Hello, Dolly!

Born Maria Karoline Körrer in 1913 in Cairo, where her father, a Hungarian architect, was working, she was raised in Budapest and started dancing lessons as a child. In 1924, her family moved to Paris, and she was barely in her teens when, with her name changed to Marika Rökk, she danced at the Moulin Rouge. At the age of 15 she was a star acrobat at the Berlin Wintergarten.

In 1929 she toured Europe as a dancer, singer and actress, and while in London she appeared in her first two films, Kiss Me, Sergeant and Why Sailors Leave Home, released in 1930. The Hungarian musical Csokolj meg, edes! ( Kiss Me, Darling, 1932) was considered her screen breakthrough.

In 1934 a talent scout for Ufa, Germany's largest production company, signed her to a contract. It was the aim of Ufa, then coming under the control of the Nazi government, to create a new type of German star, one to rival Hollywood's top musical goddesses. A series of modern romantic fairy tales, lightweight operettas and glittering revue-style entertainments quickly made Rökk one of Germany's most popular stars. She had the skill and panache to carry off the often hokey plots and clichéd dialogue, and she wore the glamorously designed wardrobes with flair.

Her first Ufa film was Werner Hochbaum's Leichte Kavallerie ( Light Cavalry, 1935), but her biggest hits were mainly directed by the veteran George Jacoby, who married her in 1940. In 1936 the team started a partnership similar to that between Jessie Matthews and her director husband Sonnie Hale, except that Rökk's vehicles were far more lavish.

An enormously successful adaptation of Karl Millocker's classic operetta of 1882, Der Bettelstudent ( The Beggar Student, 1936) was their first big hit. The fourth of five screen versions, this was the best, its lilting melodies enhanced by a cast of pretty blondes and handsome soldiers, and it was a success worldwide (with Rökk's name often billed as Roekk).

Millocker was a certified Aryan whose works could be performed during the Third Reich, and Jacoby's Gasparone (1937) was another of his operettas, but with its 1820 setting updated. It starts with an apparent group of robbers in a woodland setting turning out to be modern dancing girls, led by Rökk singing " Ja, die Frauen sind gefährliche" ("Yes, women are dangerous").

Eine Nacht im Mai ( A Night in May, 1938) is considered the first German musical modelled totally on the Hollywood style, with several lavish production numbers, and it was followed by Hallo, Janine! ( Hello, Janine!, 1939), in which Rökk danced while the chorus played a mass of glittering pianos. It was the third film in which her handsome co-star was Johannes Heesters, but he refused to make any more films with her, calling her " Kollegenfresser" ("partner eater"). Rökk's fierce ambition, fiery temper and iron determination had become legendary, but did not deter her legion of fans.

Frauen sind doch bessere Diplomaten ( Women Are Better Diplomats, 1941) was the first full-length German film in Agfacolour, and Die Frau meiner Träume ( Dream Woman, 1944), her last film under the Nazis, holds the record as Germany's top-grossing musical.

It was five years before Rökk made another film. Hungary refused to pardon her wartime career, though she denied collaboration with the Nazis, and she settled in Vienna. She returned to the screen with Fregola (1949), and made another string of popular, frivolous musicals, including Sensation in San Remo (1951), as a gym teacher by day who secretly sings and dances in a nightclub at night, and Maske in Blau ( Mask in Blue, 1953), which marked a return to operetta.

In Nachts im grünen Kakadu ( At the Green Cockatoo By Night, 1957), her school of social graces and dance is about to go bankrupt when she inherits a nightclub. She makes it a success, but family pressures are causing a nervous breakdown when a handsome doctor comes to the rescue. The film proved that there was still an audience for such escapism, and the following year she made her final film directed by Jacoby, Bühne frei fur Marika ( Stage Free for Marika, 1958).

After starring as Adele, the maid, in Die Fledermaus (1962), she retired from the cinema. She continued to appear on stage and created the title role in the German version of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! She returned to the screen for a final role in Schloss Königswald ("Kingswood Castle", 1988).

Tom Vallance