‘Herr Müller wants to talk to you’

Read the orginal post in the London Review of Books.

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.

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