Mimi Pollak (SE)

Actor and director. Born in Karlstad in 1903. Deceased in 1999. Mimi Pollak was the first female director at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre.

1903 - 1999

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Mimi Pollak would often be referred, if not reduced, to eccentric and/or enigmatic supporting roles on the film screen. She never became a headline poster name, though she did direct a few films in the 1950s. On stage, however, she made herself quite a distinguished career, both as a durable actor and especially as a highly appreciated teacher at the acting school of The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm between 1942 and 1964 and as a director of some 60 productions at the same theatre between 1948 and 1975. Her directorial debut also meant that this, the national Swedish stage, had now experienced its first female director.

After her own education at The Royal Dramatic Theatre acting school between 1922 and 1925, in the same class as future Cannes-winner director Alf Sjöberg and Greta Garbo (with whom she would become a life-long friend), she worked on a number of different theatre stages until she in 1942 returned to her alma mater playhouse, this time to remain there for decades to come. Her screen career is at best sporadic and although at times quite prolific, her contributions will usually be found in the margins of the story with her name way down in the credits, if at all. She has two sizeable parts during the 1940s, when she turned up in some 15 titles, with few exceptions unseen internationally. The first is in Mannen som alla ville mörda (The Man Everyone Wanted to Kill, dir: Arne Bornebusch, 1940), where she plays the title character’s secretary – who also happens to be one of the suspects. The second, and more poignant, is as the historical equal rights activist Fredrika Bremer in the feminist history film Den långa vägen (The Long Road, Torsten Bergström, 1947), a co-production by The Fredrika Bremer Association and The Swedish Trade Union Confederation. Her other parts include “a fashion house employee” (in En, men ett lejon!/One, but a Lion!, Gustaf Molander, 1940); “a ballet teacher” (in Spökskeppet/The Ghost Ship, Schamyl Bauman, 1941) or simply “a woman” (in Sjätte budet/The Sixth Bid, Stig Järrel, 1947). She did get a named part in her old school mate Alf Sjöberg’s Bara en mor (Only a Mother, 1949), as one of the exploited contract farmhand workers, Erika Rost, in this acclaimed adaptation of Ivar Lo-Johansson’s very political novel.

Cinemagoers would remember her from distinguished, sometimes temperamental supporting parts, such as baroness Réenchrona in Vi hemslavinnor (We, the Domestic Bondswomen, Schamyl Bauman, 1942) or as the fashion house boss in The Dress (Vilgot Sjöman, 1964) or as the highly disagreeable old woman in Nattmara (Nightmare, Arne Mattsson, 1965), all of them urban characters, a long way from her aforementioned farm woman in Only a Mother. She also increasingly appears as secretive and mysterious old ladies, like her dark and death-foreboding character in Ingmar Bergman’s Sommarlek (Summer Interlude, 1951), her psychic mental patient in Marianne Ahrne’s Långt borta och nära (Near and Far Away, 1976), a grandmother in Lars Lennart Forsberg’s Kristoffers hus (Christopher’s House, 1979), a great grandmother in Anders Grönros’ Agnes Cecilia (1991), or a “space woman” in Britta Öhman’s television mini series I staden bor en ängel (An Angel Lives in This City, 1995).

Her strong feminist commitment is evident in her two short films and sole long feature film as director. The short film Mamma gör revolution (Mom starts a revolution, 1950), produced by the Swedish federation of consumer co-operatives, KF, and based on a script by Elsa Appelquist, depicts how a mother (Anna Lindahl) leaves her oppressive family, who only then realize the value of her work and her love. It was later reworked by Schamyl Bauman into the rather anodyne feature film Mamma tar semester (Mom Takes a Vacation, 1957), to the author’s great and vocal dismay. KF also produced Pollak’s second short film, Malin går hem (Malin Goes Home, 1953), in which the title character (Naima Wifstrand) is placed in an old people’s home, but refuses to accept the condescending treatment and flees to her old cottage. Europa Film produced the feature film Rätten att älska (The Right to Love, 1956), where Pollak tackled the then controversial theme of sexual education. The film’s contentious advocate on the subject, associate professor and physician Bernhard Borg (Stig Järrel), was based on the then-renowned lecturer Torsten Wickbom in Katrineholm. Pollak’s film is one of a total of two Swedish feature films directed by a woman during the 1950s. The second was Barbro Boman’s relationship drama Det är aldrig för sent (It’s never too late, 1956), which opened a week earlier in that same year.

Michael Tapper (2012, edited in 2020)
(translated by Jan Lumholdt)

 

Mimi Pollak was the daughter of Austrian emigrants who came to Sweden and both had a considerable artistic interest. Already at the age of seven, she performed at a charity event at Karlstad’s municipal theatre in The Merry Widow. Her mother made sure that she got private theatre lessons and in 1922 she got a role in Gustaf Molander’s amateur project Pärlorna (The Pearls) through a competition in the Filmjournalen magazine. In the same year she was admitted at the acting school of The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm and became classmates with, among others, Greta Gustafson, later Garbo. Her first stage role was in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. After a short interlude in 1925 at Helsingborg Municipal Theater she was 1925-1931 at Komediteatern in Stockholm and then at various stages such as Blanche, Stockholm 1932-1933, the Gothenburg Municipal Theatre 1934-1935, Djurgårdsteatern and Oscarsteatern in Stockholm 1935-1942 and from 1942 The Royal Dramatic Theatre, where she also between 1942 and 1964 came to function as a highly appreciated teacher in stage performance.

It was also when theatre head Ludvig Josephson saw her student exercises that he realized that she would fit in well as a director. Thus, in 1948, she began directing at the national stage with an acclaimed debut with Genet’s The Maids, and until 1975 she was responsible for 63 productions. She also directed a few films. In 1990 she returned to the stage with one last appearance in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, after which she continued to act in supporting roles for television – which makes her career one of the longest ever in Swedish acting history. Initially, she was often cast as shrew or frivolous woman types. Later on, she portrayed an assortment of mysterious old ladies. In Bergman’s Summer Interlude (1951) she depicts a symbol of death. The acting career ended with the children’s television mini series I staden bor en ängel (An Angel Lives in This City, 1995). Here, once more and with fine efficiency, she creates a fairly scary figure.

In 1976, she published her memoirs entitled Teaterlek/Theatre Games. She was also the subject of a television biography, Mimi Pollak – ett vänporträtt/Mimi Pollak – An Homage Portrait (1989). She was married to actor Nils Lundell from 1927 to 1938.

P O Qvist (2004, edited 2020)
(translated by Jan Lumholdt)

Basic info

Main profession: Director
Born: 1903
Died: 1999
Active: 1922-1995

Filmography

Regi:
Rätten att älska (1956)
Malin går hem (1953)
Mamma gör revolution (1950)

Roll:
Agnes Cecilia – en sällsam historia (1991)
Midsommar (1991)
Hemligheten (1990)
Kajsa Kavat (1989)
Kronvittnet (1989)
Amorosa (1986)
På liv och död (1986)
August Strindberg ett liv (1985)
Sömnen (1984)
Avskedet (1982)
Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd (1982)
I frid och värdighet (1979)
Kristoffers hus (1979)
Höstsonaten (1978)
Långt borta och nära (1976)
Emil i Lönneberga (1971)
Sandrews journal 1967 (1967)
Nattmara (1965)
Klänningen (1964)
Mord, lilla vän (1955)
Sommarlek (1951)
Bara en mor (1949)
Gatan (1949)
Skolka skolan (1949)
Den långa vägen (1947)
Sjätte budet (1947)
Supé för två (1947)
Bröder emellan (1946)
Kajan går till sjöss (1943)
Lågor i dunklet (1942)
Vi hemslavinnor (1942)
Spökreportern (1941)
En, men ett lejon! (1940)
Gentleman att hyra (1940)
Juninatten (1940)
Mannen som alla ville mörda (1940)
Med dej i mina armar (1940)
Den stora kärleken (1938)
Sven Klingas levnadsöde (1926)
Andersson, Pettersson och Lundström (1923)
Amatörfilmen (1922)

Read more about the films at Svensk Filmdatabas (SE)

Awards

Belönades 1970 med den kungliga medaljen Litteris et artibus.

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