Barbara Beuys

Asta Nielsen - Film Genius and New Woman

With numerous images
(German title: Asta Nielsen)
ca. 500 pages
Barbara Beuys
Foto: Barbara Beuys
© Isolde Ohlbaum

Barbara Beuys, born in 1943, has worked as an editor at German newspapers and magazines such as Stern, Merian and DIE ZEIT (among others) after earning a PhD in history. Today, Barbara Beuys lives in Cologne and works as a freelance author. She has written successful and widely received biographies on Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Hildegard von Bingen, Li Qingzhao, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Sophie Scholl, Helene Schjerfbeck and Maria Sibylla Merian, among others.

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The first comprehensive biography on Asta Nielsen

With numerous hitherto unpublished documents


She is considered one of the greatest movie stars of all times: Asta Nielsen (1881-1972). The Danish actress became the global sensation of the silent film era with her first movie, The Abyss (1910), establishing film as a new art form. She embodied the new, modern woman, enthralling audiences with a brilliant mixture of comedy and eroticism.

Berlin became her home, she lived and worked there for 22 years in total, her close friends included Joachim Ringelnatz and Siegfried Kracauer. She celebrated triumphant successes on screen and on German theatre stages. The Nazis courted her. She was invited for tea with Hitler and Goebbels, but she didn’t let herself be co-opted. In the summer of 1939, she left Germany for good. In Copenhagen, the city of her birth, she made a new start as an author and creator of splendid fabric collages. At the age of 88, she got married for the third time – »my only great and fulfilled love«.

In this first comprehensive biography on Asta Nielsen, Barbara Beuys has unearthed many of the artist’s hitherto unpublished letters and documents from the archives in Copenhagen and Frankfurt, Berlin, Potsdam and Lund. Even letters from Nielsen’s last husband written in the weeks preceding her death were examined for the first time. This biography illuminates the broad panorama of a fascinating and dramatic life that began in a poor working-class neighbourhood in Copenhagen and lead into the glitzy and glamorous world of film of the Golden Twenties.


»Asta Nielsen fits perfectly in this line of strong women. And Beuys does not grow tired of describing her as a pioneer of feminism. But with her meticulous research she does set a few legends Nielsen fabricated straight.« Peter Zander, Berliner Morgenpost

»Beuys‘ narration is gripping and elegant« Thomas Borchert, Weser-Kurier

»A brilliantly researched biography.« Badische Neueste Nachrichten

»an elaborately researched journey into the extensive work of a ›film genius‹ offering many new sources« Alexandra Wach, filmdienst.de

»With Asta Nielsen, Barbara Beuy‘s biography portrays a remarkable woman well ahead of her time. In it, she gently adjusts the falsehoods and half-truths in Nielsen’s self-portrayals without damaging the great actress and her incredible career.« Bärbel Gerdes, aviva-berlin.de