Gilda Langer – Caligari’s Muse


Gilda was born Hermengild Langer on 16 May, 1896 in Oderfurt (now Prívoz), a section of the city of Ostrava in the now Czech Republic.  Like many girls who grew up in the suburbs, Gilda dreamt of one day moving to the big city and becoming an actress.  So, at the age of 18, she set out for Vienna. It was there that she met Carl Mayer, an aspiring writer with a gift for telling wild tales.  Carl was enchanted by Gilda and took her to Berlin with him. Berlin was the theater and film center of Germany. Much like Hollywood, girls came from far and wide hoping to be discovered and become the next Pola Negri.

In 1917, Carl and Gilda set up shop at the Residence Theater in Berlin, he as a cashier, extra and assistant director and she as a supporting actress.  They slowly started to make contacts in the theatrical and motion picture scene, then Carl had a great idea. He figured that publicity was what really made you a movie star. Talent took a backseat to truly good PR. In 1917, Carl published photos in the trade press called, “The Gilda Langer Series”.  It wasn’t long before she was noticed and landed a role opposite Harry Liedtke and Conrad Veidt in the exotic adventure movie, Das Rätsel von Bangalor (1918).

The beginning of 1919 started out with a role working alongside action star Carl de Vogt and dancer Sadjah Gezza in the erotic thriller, Der Herr der Liebe, the second film directed by 28-year-old screenwriter Fritz Lang. The film was banned due to the erotic nature of the material, including a very sheer robe worn by Gilda. It was however shown to the press and Gilda became the new sensation.  She appeared in two other Fritz Lang films, Halbblut and Die Spinnen – Teil 2 aka The Spiders – Part 2.

It was around this time that Carl was introduced to a young man named Hans Janowitz. Hans too was an aspiring writer and it was at Gilda’s behest that the two of them collaborate on a story. In the winter of 1919, they wrote The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They envisioned a film version with Gilda in the part that Lil Dagover eventually played.

Gilda never lived to see the premiere. On January 31, 1920, she succumbed to the Spanish flu. As with many actors and actresses who die young, rumors surrounded her death. Some thought she had had a nervous breakdown, still others speculated that she’d overdosed on drugs. None of this seems to be founded in any reality. Just a few weeks before her death she had accepted a marriage proposal from director Paul Czinner.

Like most of Gilda’s films, her grave marker too was long lost and thought to be destroyed. Carl had paid to inscribe notes from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” on the stone. It wasn’t until 1995 when  a local film historian discovered her gravesite in a neglected section of Stahnsdorf’s Südwestfriedhof in Brandenburg, Germany.


On This Day – January 20th

Aileen Manning

Aileen Manning was born Aileen Casey on this day in Boulder, Colorado in 1886 to Robert Casey and Eliza Edgar. She only had one sibling, Leota, who died before Aileen was born at the age of 1 year 8 months.

In 1900, Aileen and her mother were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She married around 1905. I can’t find any information about this marriage. By 1919, she and her mother were living in Los Angeles.  Her father had passed away and Aileen was divorced.

Aileen began acting in films in the late teens. Her paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Manning. I suspect this is where she got her stage name, a name she would officially keep for the rest of her life. Although she appeared in a number of films, her career never really took off. She was always cast in a supporting role, never the lead. She made a few talkies, but retired from the screen in 1931.

The 1930 US Census has Aileen living alone in Los Angeles and widowed. I don’t know if this is a mistake or if she married again and he passed away. There is little to no biographical information about her out there (at least that I can find).

By 1935, Aileen moved back to Colorado. She still listed her occupation as that of actress.  The 1940 census shows her living as a lodger in Colorado Springs and divorced.

She died on March 25, 1946 in Los Angeles. She was 60 years old.

On This Day – January 16th

Jessalyn Van Trump

Jessalyn Van Trump was born in Ohio on this day in 1887.  Her mother,  Mary E. Hardin (1862-1945), was a native of Ohio. Her father was Dr. A.P. Van Trump (1849-1905). Born in Virginia, he was a well respected doctor working out of St. John’s, Ohio. Jessalyn had only one sibling, an elder sister named Clo, born in Ohio on October 1, 1883.

In 1905, the Van Trump family relocated to Los Angeles, California. That same year, Jessalyn’s father passed away at the age of 56.

Jessalyn began acting in theatre in the early 1900s. She made the transition to motion pictures in 1911.  Her film debut is believed to have been in a Lubin production called Alice’s Sacrifice, in which she played Alice.

She left Lubin and went over to the American Film Manufacturing Company to play alongside western actor, J. Warren Kerrigan. She made numerous shorts with American, most of them directed by Allan Dwan and costarring Kerrigan.

When Kerrigan and Allan Dwan decided to abandon the American Film Manufacturing Company in 1913 in favor of Bison Film Company, Rex Motion Picture Company and Victor Film Company, Jessalyn went with them. She and Kerrigan continued to star in shorts together, but it was at Rex that she got to star opposite a new leading man, Wallace Reid.

In 1914, Jessalyn joined the Majestic Film Company. She made several shorts with Majestic, but the roles seemed to be dwindling. Between 1915 and 1920 she only appeared in a handful of pictures. Newspapers touted The Girl in the Rain (1920) as her comeback. Unfortunately, it was not. She only made a couple more shorts before retiring from films in 1928.

On another note, Jessalyn’s sister Clo also appeared in silent movies. It is unknown how many exactly, but she was credited in at least two and had a bit part in a third. She appeared in Judy of Rogue’s Harbor (1920) a Mary Miles Minter film, directed by the ill-fated William Desmond Taylor.

Clo married Edward Fryer King (1886-1961). He was a car salesman. From what I can surmise, Jessalyn never married and neither sister ever had children. In 1910, both Jessalyn and their mother Mary lived with Clo and her husband. Mary appeared to have gotten her own place after that, but Jessalyn continued to live with them until at least 1930 and I suspect up until her death on May 2, 1939. Clo passed away in Los Angeles on Mar. 14, 1958.

Jessalyn, Clo and their parents are interred in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

The Wandering Gypsy

The Wandering Gypsy (1912)

The Romance

The Romance (1913) J. Warren Kerrigan and Jessalyn Van Trump