February 1, 2002 – Hildegard Frieda Albertine Knef was born December 28, 1925 in the city of Ulm, Germany. (The German PEGGY LEE)
In 1940, she began studying acting. Even before the fall of the Third Reich, she appeared in several films, but most of them were only released after the war. To avoid being raped by Soviet soldiers, she dressed like a young man and was sent to a camp for prisoners of war. She escaped and returned to war-shattered Berlin where she played her first parts on stage. The first German movie after World War II, Murderers Among Us (1946), made her a star. David O. Selznick invited her to Hollywood and offered her a contract – with two conditions: Hildegard Knef should change her name into Gilda Christian and should pretend to be Austrian instead of German. In America she appeared on Broadway as “Ninotchka” in the Cole Porter musical, Silk Stockings.
She refused both of Selznick’s conditions and returned to Germany. In 1951, she provoked one of the greatest scandals in German film history when she appeared naked on the screen in the movie Sunderin (1951). The Roman Catholic Church protested vehemently against that film, but Hildegard just commented: “I can’t understand all that tumult – five years after Auschwitz!”
With the support of her first husband, the American Kurt Hirsch, she tried a second time to launch a Hollywood career, changed her family name from Knef to Neff (because Americans could not pronounce Knef), but the only worthwhile part she got was a supporting role in the Hemingway adaptation of The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). She became a leading lady in German, French and British films. Finally, America offered her another chance, this time on the stage. She achieved a kind of stardom as Ninotchka in the very popular Broadway play, “Silk Stockings”. In 1963, she began a new career as a singer and surprised the audience with her typical, deep, smoky voice and the fact that many lyrics of her songs were written by herself.
In 1970 she wrote her bestselling autobiography “Der geschenkte Gaul – Bericht aus meinem Leben” (“The Gift Horse – Report from my life”) in 1970. She got sympathy from all over the world for her fight against cancer, which she defeated several times. Hildegard is fondly remembered for the song “Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen”/”It shall rain red roses for me”, she is also well known for her version of the song “Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin” /”I’ve got a suitcase left in Berlin”), of which she sold more than three million records in total. My personal favorite Knef chanson has always been “Ich Brauch Tapeten Wechsel” (I need a change of wallpaper).
After the German reunification in 1991, Hildegarde Knef moved back to Berlin and died at age 76 of a lung infection on February 1, 2002, just ten days after her American counterpart Peggy Lee, with whom she was often compared in Europe.