Oh! Asta, you hot thing!

'Oh! Asta!',
Oh! Asta!‘, by Herre De Vos, published by De Nieuwe Muziekhandel (Amsterdam, 1917) and illustrated by H. Meyn.

Asta Nielsen is the first actress who became an international star. It’s true. The Deutsches Filminstitut hosted the 2011 conference Importing Asta Nielsen – Cinema-going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, at the Film Museum in Frankfurt. A result of this international gathering is the Importing Asta Nielsen Database accessible for cultural researchers all over the world.

Photographic portrait of Asta Nielsen, s.d.
Portrait of Asta Nielsen (German postcard, s.d.).

According to this database ‘Asta Nielsen was the first international film star who made her name a brand, nearly unrivalled in many countries in the years 1911 and 1912’.

The sheet music cover we started with (Oh! Asta!) is from 1917. It tells, no it sings about a young man who –in the darkness of a cinema– falls for the wild charms of Asta. And who wouldn’t? Look at how charming and natural Asta is in the 30-seconds opening scene of the 1910 silent film The Abyss (Afgrunden in Danish) filmed by Urban Gad, who she would marry two years later.

Nielsen was born in 1881 in Copenhagen. At eighteen she followed classes at the Royal Danish Theatre and… got pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, Jesta, who would in the 1960’s, when her mother was already 83 years old, commit suicide. Asta Nielsen never revealed the identity of the father. She graduated when she was twenty-two, and became a stage actress in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In 1909 she started her film career with ‘Afgrunden’, in which she wisely adapted her acting to the demands of the film media: she performed naturally and avoided theatrical dramatization.

But above all her undisguised and shameless sexuality must have propelled her films and her career. Oh my! She’s really hot in what must have been the first ‘Gaucho Dance’ in cinematography (it heralds the craze of the Argentine tango that would offend Europe right before WWI). Look how she wriggles in her tightly stretched dress. See her wiggling her hips and pushing her bottom against that poor cowboy. Please, stop the torture!

We have added the music of the great Martha Argerich playing the Danza Del Gaucho Matrero by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. For the unedited, 37-minute silent movie Abgrunden, click here. While researching we found a different iconographic representation of the Gaucho dance, somewhat less erotic, uh…

Liebig chromo 'La danse des Gauchos'
‘La danse des Gauchos’ – Dans la République argentine, Liebig chromo, s.d. (source www.alamy.com).

The dancing Argentine cowboys and girls conquered the covers of many European sheet music. Here are two examples from our collection.

The Argentinian cowboys and girls conquered many sheet music covers.
Left: ‘El Gauchito‘ by Emile Köhler, illustrated by Clérice frères (published by Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1915). Right: ‘Gaucha flor‘ by Pedro Palau, unknown illustrator (published by Ildefonso Alier, Madrid, s.d.).

Asta Nielsen developed most of her film career in Germany until the mid-Thirties, when sound took over the silent era. The success of what was known as ‘Asta Nielsen films’ was immense, from Russia to the United States, where her films were heavily censored. Called the first international movie star, Nielsen earned a staggering salary. In 1925 she co-starred in the Pabst film Die freudlose Gasse with the next Scandinavian diva, Greta Garbo. Nielsen was portrayed on many film posters by artists (such as Ernst Deutsch-Dryden and Robert Leonard) who we also know as designers of sheet music covers.

Poster by Ernst Deutsch-Dryden
Poster by Ernst Deutsch-Dryden for the Asta Nielsen film ‘Komödianten’ (1913).
Poster illustrated by Leonard
Poster illustrated by Robert L. Leonard for the Asta Nielsen film ‘Hamlet’ (1921).

In 1935 Nielsen returned to Denmark where she continued acting on stage, wrote her biography, had a creative hand in visual arts, and travelled a lot with her third husband. She died in 1972.

Oh, Asta! You’re still hot and beautiful.

Photo of Asta Nielsen in 1966.
Asta Nielsen in 1966 (photography Tage Nielsen-Scanpix).

4 thoughts on “Oh! Asta, you hot thing!”

  1. Gezien mijn belangstelling voor films (ik werkte 9 jaar bij een filmverhuurkantoor) is deze aflevering weer een prachtige bijdrage !

  2. Hoera! Weer zo’n leuke mail van I.M. Die Asta kan er inderdaad, ook seksueel gezien, alleszins mee door. Maar dit keer extra vreugde omdat ik eindelijk weer een bescheiden bijdrage kan leveren aan de Muzikale Omslag-kunde. De maker van die ‘Oh Asta’ omslag is Hendrik ‘Henk’ Meyer (1884-1970), een Groninger met een heuse kunstenaars-opleiding (Minerva) en later ook docent in die branche, die echter af en toe wat bijkluste met illustraties en boekbanden e.d. Weet niet of hij nog meer bladmuziek omslagen gemaakt heeft, maar ik vind deze wel erg geslaagd. Beter in ieder geval dan de dichtkunst van Herre de Vos: “Asta, Asta, mijn hart wordt week als pasta!…”.
    Deze stond ook op mijn (steeds kleiner wordende} lijstje van omslagen die ik niet in jullie collectie had aangetroffen en waarvan ik ooit nog eens een foto wilde opsturen. Hoeft nu ook niet meer. Waar vinden jullie al dat moois toch? Gaarne mee door gaan, ik geniet er erg van!
    Rein Maliepaard, Schiedam

  3. P.M.
    Fantastisch stuk van Ginastera! Past er goed bij. En wat een mooie rol van die veldwachter op de achtergrond.

  4. I’ve never seen that Asta Nielsen poster “Oh Asta” before. I think it’s very good and would like to know if it can be bought as a reproduction. Asta Nielsen has a special importance to me as she was a friend of my family. She was really an great personality also in 1966 (see the picture above) when I knew her. I hope to hear from you.

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