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Thea von Harbou

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Years active  1905–1954
Name  Thea Harbou

Role  Screenwriter
Marriage location  Germany
Thea von Harbou Thea von Harbou Women Film Pioneers Project

Full Name  Thea Gabriele von Harbou
Born  27 December 1888 (1888-12-27) Tauperlitz, Germany
Occupation  Filmmaker/Actress/Author
Died  July 1, 1954, Berlin, Germany
Spouse  Fritz Lang (m. 1922–1933), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (m. 1914–1920)
Books  The Rocket to the Moon, The Indian Tomb, Metropolis, Gartenstrasse 64, Spies
Movies  Metropolis, M, Dr Mabuse the Gambler, Woman in the Moon, The Testament of Dr Ma
Similar People  Fritz Lang, Rudolf Klein‑Rogge, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich

Metropolis fritz lang thea von harbou 1926 schicht

Thea Gabriele von Harbou (27 December 1888 – 1 July 1954) was a German screenwriter, novelist, film director, and actress. She is especially known as the screenwriter of the science fiction film classic Metropolis and the story on which it was based. Harbou collaborated as a screenwriter with film director Fritz Lang, her husband, during the period of transition from silent to sound films.


Thea von Harbou 13 Thea Von Harbou amp Metropolis SF Women of the 20th

ARTINQUIRY Metropolis the 75th Anniversary with Forrest Ackerman and Bill Widder

Early life, family, and education

Thea von Harbou httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

Thea von Harbou was born in Tauperlitz, Bavaria, in 1888, into a family of minor nobility and government officials, which gave her a level of sophisticated comfort. As a child she was educated in a convent by private tutors who taught her several languages as well as piano and violin. She was a child prodigy. Her first works, a short story published in a magazine and a volume of poems published privately, focused on perceptions of art, subjects considered unusual for a girl of thirteen. Despite her privileged childhood, Harbou wanted to earn a living on her own, which led her to become an actress despite her father's disapproval.

From novelist to screenwriter

Thea von Harbou Thea von Harbou filmportalde

After her debut in 1906, Harbou met Rudolf Klein-Rogge and married him during World War I. By 1917, she and Klein-Rogge had moved to Berlin where Harbou devoted herself to building her career as a writer. She was drawn to writing epic myths and legends with an overtly nationalistic tone. In one historian's estimation, "Her novels became patriotic and morale-boosting, urging women to sacrifice and duty while promoting the eternal glory of the fatherland".

Thea von Harbou Metropolis page 5 of 6

Her first close interaction with cinema came when German director Joe May decided to adapt a piece of her fiction, Die heilige Simplizia. From that moment forward, "Her fiction output slowed down. In short order she would become one of Germany's most celebrated film writers, not only because of her partnership with Fritz Lang, but also for writing scripts for F. W. Murnau, Carl Dreyer, E. A. Dupont, and other German luminaries".

Thea von Harbou Thea von Harbou filmportalde

Her brother, Horst von Harbou, went to work for UFA as a photographer and began to work closely with Thea and Fritz Lang on many of their most famous productions.

Partnership with Lang

Thea von Harbou's first collaboration with Fritz Lang was marked by a common interest in exotic India. As Harbou worked on an adaptation of her 1918 novel Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb), Joe May assigned Lang to help her write the screenplay and work out production details. Praising Thea's skills, Erich Kettelhut recalled, "She was not only well-liked by her colleagues, but also as much a creative force, as highly motivated and smoothly efficient, as her husband. Her loving personality was crucial to the professional teamwork. Harbou's ability to reach out to people and find compromise in the worst situations was a vital resource".

Harbou and Lang began an affair during this time, and she divorced Klein-Rogge in 1920. Following the success of Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler) and the death of Lang's first wife, they were married in 1922. They went to work on a script that would reflect their pride in their German heritage, Die Nibelungen, and enhance Harbou's reputation as a writer for the screen. She became known for her unique habit of wearing the same dress throughout filming, even as she cooked hot meals for the crew during late nights. During this time of poverty in 1920s Germany, Harbou became active in acquiring food for her film crew, as one friend recalled, "She was even able to talk the UFA into carrying the costs so the crew could get their meals for free ... she stood there on the rough floor of that drafty shed for hours and didn't mind peeling potatoes or cleaning vegetables with the other women. Such was the spirit of sacrifice".

Harbou often developed her screenplays into full-length novels, with their publication scheduled to coincide with the release of the film, though this was not the case with Metropolis (1927), one of her most famous works. Harbou was a central player in producing Metropolis, and this epic film became not only one of Fritz Lang's best known films, but one of significance to German cinema. Besides writing the novel and the screenplay, and developing the distinct moral ending of Metropolis, she discovered Gustav Fröhlich, who played the lead role of Freder Fredersen.

Her next big production with Lang was M (1931), a film about a child murderer. It was written with exquisite attention to accuracy. Lang and Harbou had been enthralled with news coverage of Peter Kürten, known as the Monster of Düsseldorf, during the late 1920s. She used newspaper articles in developing the script and "maintained regular contact with the police headquarters on Alexanderplatz and was permitted access to the communications and secret publications of Berlin's force". Recalling the script, Harbou's secretary Hilde Guttmann later said, "I saw many other film manuscripts, but never one which could compare with the manuscript for M. Two typewriter ribbons were stuck together to give us three colors: one black and red, and the other blue. The camera work and the action were typed in black, the dialogue blue, and the sound, where synchronized, was typed in red". Harbou received no credit as the script writer for M.

She was also involved in politics, joining the campaign against Germany's paragraph 218, which made abortion a crime. At a mass rally in 1931, she said:

Our main goal is to find a new form of preventing pregnancy and therefore to make the entire 218 unnecessary. Immediately, however, the paragraph must fall because it is no longer morally recognized by women. It is no longer a law. We need a new sexual code because the old was created by men and no man is in a position to understand the agony of a woman who is carrying a child she knows she cannot feed. This law derived from male psychology, which forces a woman into having a child, creates, even if not deliberately, constitutional inferiority of women in relation to men which serves as a bulwark against women's activity in economic and political life.


Shortly after Harbou married Lang, he developed the habit of openly pursuing younger women, but they nevertheless presented themselves as a happy couple with a contented home that would have seemed like a small museum of exotic art for the common citizen. Visitors remembered Harbou taking charge of all the domestic and social responsibilities, keeping Lang and the crew well fed during long production meetings. Then, during the production of Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, Lang discovered Harbou in bed with Ayi Tendulkar, an Indian journalist and student 17 years younger than her.

After Lang and Harbou's divorce became final on 20 April 1933, the couple slowly lost contact with each other. Shortly after the divorce, Harbou and Ayi Tendulkar contracted a secret marriage, because the Nazi state did not permit someone of her public stature to marry a dark-skinned Indian.

Under Nazi rule

With Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the German film industry became more influenced by propaganda-based ideology. Harbou remained loyal to the new regime. Around 1934, a year after the Nazi Party came to power, on her own initiative she wrote and directed two films, Elisabeth und der Narr and Hanneles Himmelfahrt. However, she did not find the experience of directing satisfactory and remained a prolific scenarist during this time. "Under a regime where every film was a 'state film,' Thea von Harbou amassed writing credits on some twenty-six films, while giving uncredited assistance on countless others-including a handful with an indisputable National Socialist worldview". Harbou's decision to remain loyal to Germany during and after the rise of the Nazis ostensibly became one of the reasons for Lang's divorce.

Life after World War II

From July to October 1945, Thea von Harbou was held in Staumühle, a British prison camp. Though many claim she had significant Nazi sympathies, Harbou claimed she only joined the Nazi Party to help Indian immigrants in Germany, like her husband. "Her direct work on behalf of the government consisted, she claimed, entirely of volunteer welding, making hearing aids, and emergency medical care. In fact, she received a medal of merit for saving people in two air raids". In prison she directed a performance of Faust and when released she worked as a Trümmerfrau (rubble woman) in 1945 and 1946.


Toward the end of Harbou's life, pain from high blood pressure, migraines, and neuralgia weakened her, although she continued to write or dictate from her bed. After attending a showing of Der müde Tod as a guest of honor in 1954, she fell and suffered a hip injury. On 1 July 1954 she died in hospital at the age of sixty-five.

Several years after her death, Lang directed the film The Indian Tomb, based upon one of Harbou's novels.



  • Elisabeth und der Narr (1934)
  • Hanneles Himmelfahrt (1934)
  • Screenplays

  • Die Legende von der heiligen Simplicia (The legend of Blessed Simplicia) (1920) - Screenplay (May)
  • Das Wandernde Bild (The Wandering Image) (1920) - Screenplay (Lang)
  • Das Indische Grabmal 1 (The Indian Tomb Part 1) (1921) - Screenplay, Story (May)
  • Der Müde Tod (The Weary Death/ Destiny) (1921) - Screenplay (Lang)
  • Kämpfende Herzen (Fighting Hearts/ Four Around the Woman) (1921) - Screenplay (Lang)
  • Das Indische Grabmal 2. Teil: Der Tiger Von Eschnapur (The Indian Tomb Part 2: The Tiger of Eschnapur) (1921) - Screenplay, Story (May)
  • Phantom (1922) - Screenplay Phantom (Murnau)
  • Der Brennende Acker (The Burning Acre) (1922) - Screenplay (Murnau)
  • Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler 1. Teil: Der Große Spieler - Ein Bild Unserer Zeit (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler Part 1: The Great Gambler - A Picture of our Time) (1922) - Screenplay (Lang)
  • Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler 2. Teil: Inferno, Ein Spiel von Menschen Unserer Z (Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler Part 2: Inferno - A Play About People of our Time) (1922) - Screenplay (Lang)
  • Die Austreibung. Die Macht Der Zweiten Frau (Driven From Home) (1923) - Scenario (Murnau)
  • Mikaël (1924) - Screenplay Michael (1924) (Dreyer)
  • Die Nibelungen 1. Teil: Siegfried's Tod (The Nibelungen Part 1: Siegfried's Death) (1924) - Screenplay Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (Siegfried's Death) (1924) (Lang)
  • Die Nibelungen 2. Teil: Kriemhild's Rache (The Nibelungen Part 2: Kriemhild's Revenge) (1924) - Screenplay Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (Kriemhilde's Revenge) (1924) (Lang)
  • Die Finanzen Des Großherzogs (The Finances of the Grand Duke) The Grand Duke's Finances (1924) (Murnau)
  • Metropolis (1927) - Screenplay, Idea Metropolis (1927) (Lang)
  • Spione (The Spy) (1928) - Screenplay, Original Story Spione (Spies) (1928) (Lang)
  • Frau Im Mond (Woman in the Moon) (1929) - Screenplay, Original Story Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon), from her novel Die Frau im Mond (1929) (Lang)
  • M (1931) - Screenplay (uncredited) M (1931) (Lang)
  • Das Testament Des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) (1933) - Screenplay The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) (Lang)
  • Der Alte Und Der Junge König (The Old and the Young King) (1935) - Script
  • Die Herrin von Campina (The Mistress of Campina) (1936) - Screenplay
  • Die Unmögliche Frau The Impossible Woman (1936) - Script (Meyer)
  • Escapade (1936)
  • A Woman of No Importance (1936)
  • The Broken Jug (1937) - Screenplay (Ucicky)
  • Don't Promise Me Anything (1937) - Script
  • Jugend (1938) - Screenplay (Harlan)
  • Verwehte Spuren (Covered Tracks) (1938) - Script, based on the story, So Long at the Fair (Harlan)
  • The Woman at the Crossroads (1938) - Script
  • Hurra! Ich bin papa! (Hurrah! I'm a Father) (1939) - script (Hoffmann)
  • Annelie (1941) - Script
  • Clarissa (1941)
  • Die Gattin (The Wife) (1943) - Script
  • Via Mala (1945) - Screenplay (von Báky)
  • Erzieherin Gesucht (Educator in Request) (1950) - Screenplay
  • A Day Will Come (1950)
  • Dr. Holl, screenplay (1951) (Hansen)
  • Your Heart Is My Homeland (1953)
  • Tigress of Bengal (1958) - Original Story
  • Books

  • Wenn's Morgen wird, 1905
  • Weimar: Ein Sommertagstraum, verse stories 1908
  • Die nach uns kommen, Ein Dorfroman, novel, 1910
  • Von Englen und Teufelschen, ten stories, 1913
  • Deutsche Frauen. Bilder stillen Hendentums, five stories, 1914
  • Der Unsterbliche Acker, ein Kriegsroman, 1915
  • Gold im Feuer, novel, 1915
  • Der Krieg und die Frauen, eight stories, 1915
  • Die Masken des Todes. Sieben Geschichten in einer, 1915
  • Die Flucht der Beate Hoyermann, 1916
  • Die Deutsche Frau im Weltkrieg, essays, 1916
  • Aus Abend und Morgen ein neuer Tag, 1916
  • Du junge Wacht am Rhein!, 1917
  • Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb), 1918
  • Der belagerte Tempel, 1917
  • Die Nach uns kommen, 1918
  • Legenden, five stories (including Heiligen Simplicia), 1919
  • Sonderbare Heilige, Zehn Novellen, 1919
  • Die Unheilige Dreifaltigkeit, 1920
  • Das Haus ohne Tür und Fenster, 1920
  • Gute Kameraden, 1920
  • Gedichte, 1920
  • Das Niebelungenbuch, 1924
  • Mondscheinprinzeßchen, 1925
  • Metropolis, 1926
  • Der Insel Der Unsterblichen, 1926
  • Mann Zwischen Frauen, 1927
  • Frau im Mond, 1928
  • Spione, 1929
  • Du Bist Unmöglich, Jo!, novel, 1931
  • Liebesbriefe aus St. Florin; Novelle, 1935
  • Adrian Drost und sein Land, 1937
  • Aufblühender Lotos, 1941
  • Der Dieb von Bagdad, 1949
  • Gartenstraße 64, 1952
  • References

    Thea von Harbou Wikipedia