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Ilka Grüning

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Title: Ilka Grüning  
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Subject: Hello Caesar!, Human Desire, Friendly Enemies, Catherine the Great (1920 film), Actresses from Vienna
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Ilka Grüning

Ilka Grüning (September 4, 1876 – November 11, 1964) Born in Vienna in the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire. She was one of many Jewish actors and actresses that were forced to flee Europe when the Nazis came to power in 1933.


Ilka Grüning as Mrs. Leuchtag in Casablanca
Grüning's first film, at age 43, was a German silent movie called Todesurteil in 1919. Next, she starred with Conrad Veidt in Peer Gynt. Later that year, she and Veidt appeared in Die sich verkaufen.

She continued making silent movies in Germany into the 1920s. In 1920, she appeared in the film Die Bestie im Menschen based on a Émile Zola novel. This were two of 11 films she appeared in that year alone. Grüning appeared in a couple of Veidt's "Christian Wahnschaffe" movies; Weltbrand in 1920 and Die Flucht aus dem goldenen Kerker in 1921. In 1922, she had a small part as a landlady in Lady Hamilton starring Veidt as Lord Horatio Nelson. This was one of four movies that she and Hans Twardowski appeared in together; F.W. Murnau's drama Phantom, Es leuchtet meine Liebe and Der Falsche Dimitri.

In 1923, she portrayed Frau Gött in Max Mack's Das Schöne Mädel. Later that year, she portrayed the wife of Johann Friedrich Schiller in Friedrich Schiller - Eine Dichterjugend. Next she played Rosalindes' mother in Max Mack's Die Fledermaus (this was the 5th film she did with the German director). In 1924, she appeared in F.W. Murnau's drama Die Finanzen des Großherzogs; (this was the third film she made with Murnau, the legendary German director).

In 1925, Grüning appeared in the silent Greta Garbo. Marlene Dietrich was also in the film, uncredited as "Maria's friend", making this the only film featuring both Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. Dietrich is the dark-haired friend of Maria's who actually catches Garbo when she collapses from hunger in the Vienna butcher shop line. The following year, Grüning appeared in her third Pabst' movie Geheimnisse einer Seele. In 1927, Grüning appeared in Halloh - Caesar! which S.Z. Sakall helped write. Later that year, she and Sakall appeared together in Familientag im Hause Prellstein.

In 1929, Grüning appeared in her first 'talkie', Melodie des Herzens. It would be three years before she appeared in another film. In 1932, she received a part in Max Neufeld's Hasenklein kann nichts dafür, which would be her last movie in Germany.

Grüning, had played Strindberg and Ibsen for legendary German director Max Reinhardt and had run the second most important drama school in Berlin, left Germany after Hitler and the Nazis came to power. After arriving in America, she received help from the European Film Fund in resettling to America. It would be nine years before she appeared in another movie.

With the outbreak of World War II and the need for older German women for war movies, Grüning started receiving parts. Her first Hollywood movie was in 1941 as Erwin Kalser's husband in Warner Bros.' war drama Underground starring Philip Dorn and Martin Kosleck (as the evil Nazi Colonel Heller) and Ludwig Stössel (who would play her husband in Casablanca).

Grüning was busy in 1942. First, Grüning (playing Anna) and Stössel appeared in the Oscar-nominated Kings Row starring Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Claude Rains. She then played Christian Rub's wife in the spy thriller Dangerously They Live starring Nancy Coleman and Raymond Massey. This was followed by playing the wife of Karl Pfeiffer, a German millionaire living in America (played by Charles Winninger) in Friendly Enemies. Grüning (playing Aunt Sophie) and Stössel appeared together again in a Sonja Henie film Iceland. Next, playing a Gestapo impostor, she appeared in Desperate Journey with Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn.

Also in 1942, at the age of 66, the oldest actor in the movie, Grüning received the role of Mrs. Leuchtag, who along with her husband (played by Ludwig Stössel) are leaving Europe for America in Casablanca. She has only one scene (a total of 30 words) in the movie when she and her husband are having a drink in Rick's Cafe with their good friend Carl the waiter (S.Z. Sakall) and struggling a bit with their English. Her husband (Ludwig Stössel) asks her for the time, "Liebchen - sweetnessheart, what watch?" She answers, "Ten watch" and he replies, "Such watch?" Carl assures them they will get along beautifully in America.

In 1943, Grüning received a bit part as This Is the Army. Next she appeared in The Strange Death of Adolph Hitler with Stössel and Twardowski. Grüning received bit parts in Madame Curie starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (as the Curies). Grünig appeared in only one movie in 1944 as Mrs. Vronsky in the drama An American Romance starring Brian Donlevy, Ann Richards, and John Qualen. Grüning would not get another part until 1946 when she received a bit part in the mystery Murder in the Music Hall. She received a couple of other small parts that year; the first as Herman Bing's wife in Rendezvous 24.

Next Grüning and Stössel got to play husband and wife again. Instead of being the Leuchtags, they were now the Muellers in Paul Lukas. The following year, she played Paul E. Burns's wife in the film-noir Desperate which featured Raymond Burr. Playing Mattie, she appeared next in Repeat Performance. In 1948 appeared in Letter from an Unknown Woman starring Joan Fontaine. Later she played a German woman in Billy Wilder's comedy romance A Foreign Affair starring Marlene Dietrich. She also had a small part in the M-G-M musical Words and Music.

The following year, she played a grandmother in the film-noir Caught starring James Mason and Barbara Bel Geddes. Later that year, Grüning and Stössel appeared in their last film together when they received roles in the drama [[The

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