Volume 3: Biographies

 

VALKYRIEN, Valda **

(Baroness DeWitz)

Actress (1915-1917)

 

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Valkyrien, a well-known Danish beauty, received much publicity in connection with her work as a Thanhouser actress. She came to New Rochelle in September 1915 and was seen in Thanhouser films through 1917, although she worked with other companies in the meantime.

Biographical Notes: Valkyrien, Danish for "Valkyrie," was the stage name of Baroness DeWitz. Valkyrien was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on September 30, 1897 (some accounts say 1887, 1894, or 1895). She followed a stage career and was with the Royal Danish Ballet, after which she had her own private company of dancers. She was usually known only as Valkyrien, but sometimes her name was given as Valda Valkyrien (which translates to "Valda, the Valkyrie").

The New York Dramatic Mirror, March 11, 1916, carried this item: "Valkyrien, the movie queen of Denmark, who is now in Florida with the Thanhouser Film Corporation, has offered a prize of $25 in cash to the first person who sends to her by mail a correct euphonic spelling of her name. The contest closes March 7. Valkyrien, who scorns the usual prefixes of Miss or Mlle. has had a great deal of trouble with her name in this country, where people persist in mispronouncing it. Literally translated, Valkyrien means the Valkyrie, who was a martial maiden of the Viking Age, who lead the warriors into battle riding the clouds with her lance. There are several ways in which the name may be pronounced, but there is only one correct pronunciation, and the person who is the first to write it out in euphonic spelling will be $25 richer in the form of a check signed 'Valkyrien von DeWitz.' This is the marital name of the young lady, who is the wife of the Baron Hrolf von DeWitz, of Denmark."

A gushing description of her physique appeared in the September 1916 issue of The Photoplay Magazine: "Behold a Danish girl, Valkyrien, whose yellow, gold-tipped hair reaches to her knees; her eyes are the deep blue of the Norse sea; her skin is like young ivory faint-flushed with rose-petal pink.... In stature she is a mean between Psyche and Venus; she has the solid, rounded outline of limb and figure of the ancients, combined with natural grace and nimbleness."

A somewhat less adulatory commentary appeared in Photoplay Journal, May 1918, which stated, among other things, that she had "a very composite nature, half child and half woman, with a dash of the devil; a product of nature corseted and booted by civilization, and ill at ease in our little social world, which she does not understand.... She does not understand people and things, and she cares not a tittle.... She is not a scholar, and hates study in any form. She is keenly musical and fond of art - all the fine arts - in so far as they mirror nature. She has no intellectual assets, as such, but she is naturally alert and quick-witted, though ignorant generally...."

Valkyrien's early screen career included work with Great Northern Film Co. (of Copenhagen) and Danish Biograph, after which she came to America in June 1914.

The New York Dramatic Mirror, August 26, 1914, told of her initial activities in the United States: "Mlle. Valkyrien, who during the past year has appeared in the productions of Danish and German manufacturers, has been acquired by David Horsley for the Centaur Film Company of Bayonne, New Jersey. The signing of the European player is a bit of good fortune which Mr. Horsley owes to the tying up of foreign activity owing to the war. At the height of her career, Mlle. Valkyrien, who is but 20 years old, gave up her professional work to become the wife of Baron Hrolf von DeWitz, a lieutenant in the Danish navy. She accompanied her husband to New York last June on what was intended to be solely a honeymoon trip. With the outbreak of hostilities, however, Baron von DeWitz joined the staff of a New York daily as war expert, and as his duties required long hours of toil, Mlle. Valkyrien found herself very much 'alone in a strange land.'

"In order to occupy her time and stall off a threatening attack of homesickness, the young star resolved to return to active work in the studio. David Horsley had attempted to secure her services while abroad last summer, and had again repeated his offer on her arrival in this country. On both occasions it was refused, but when the decision to 'come back' was reached, Mr. Horsley was the first producer to be considered, and he snapped at the opportunity."

The New York Morning Telegraph, August 23, 1914, reported that Horsley had become interested in hiring Mlle. Valkyrien the summer before, during a visit to Denmark, where he heard of her reputation and saw her work before a camera. "It is his intention to create a special brand of refined comedy featuring Mlle. Valkyrien, to be known as the 'Baroness Films,'' the same account related. The same paper, on March 19, 1915, carried this notice: "Baroness Valkyrien von DeWitz became the mother on Sunday night [March 14] of a bouncing 'Viking' boy at the Lying-In Hospital. Her marriage to the Baron Hrolf DeWitz took place last May. The baby will be named Hamlet in commemoration of the fact that the baron met his future wife at the tomb of Hamlet in Elsinore. The Baroness DeWitz is known here in the theatrical world as Mlle. Valkyrien."

In 1915 the actress was seen in a Vitagraph production (Youth, an autumn 1915 Vitagraph Broadway Star Feature) and a Pluragraph film (Diana at the Bath). Valkyrien subsequently appeared in Diana (Unity Sales, July 1916).

The New York Dramatic Mirror, November 20, 1915, printed this piece of pressagentry: "Mlle. Valkyrien represents a type of classic Norse beauty, exceedingly rare these days. The national beauty prize of Denmark was awarded [in 1914] to Mlle. Valkyrien for perfection of feature and figure. She possesses youth, temperament and emotion, which has played no small part in her professional public appearance. She was first noted as a solo danseuse in the Corps de Ballet of the Royal Danish Theatre. Then followed engagement with the noted motion picture manufacturers, the Great Northern Film Company, and the Danish Biograph Company. With these organizations she appeared as the leading ingenue and comedienne. She was a baroness, being the wife of the Danish Baron Hrolf DeWitz, who himself has done notable work in Europe as a consulting director of motion picture plays.

"Mlle. Valkyrien has already appeared with some of the noted American film manufacturers. Her versatility embraces classic, heroic, and idealistic types, and her repertoire abroad comprehensively covered a broad range of successful film leads. In the American field she has received the strong endorsement of the New York press. Her ambition leads her to the production of only the biggest feature pictures, and it will probably not be long before plans will be announced in her appearance in a series of big feature productions by one of the best known manufacturers. Mlle. Valkyrien plays in only the best in her art. She is giving her youth, beauty and versatility as an actress and demands in return a setting which can only be furnished by the big picture producer and a capable director."

Valkyrien appeared in Thanhouser films from 1915 to 1917 and was widely featured in publicity concerning them. In the early part of 1916 she was among the players at the Jacksonville studio.

A 1916 Interview: The following article, by "Phillipina," appeared in the Jacksonville Sunday Times-Union, February 6, 1916: "I had long wished to know what a real baroness was like, but was rather timid about inviting myself to interview with Mlle. Valkyrien (Baroness DeWitz), of the Thanhouser Company, so when W. Ray Johnston, one of the local officers [at Thanhouser's Jacksonville studio], listened to my story and agreed to introduce me to the this noted star, I was more pleased than I can tell. Calling at the Eighth Street studio one day last week, I was taken at once to the commodious dressing room which the company had fitted up with every convenience possible for the Baroness, on the main dressing room floor.

"'Come in,' I heard a pleasant voice say in broken English, as my escort tapped on the door and announced me. As I entered she greeted me with outstretched hands. 'I am always pleased to meet American newspaper folks. They're always so nice to me. Will you be seated,' she suggested. 'We can talk while I make up for the picture. Director Warde has a big day's work ahead of him and I would not keep him waiting for the world, he's so kind to me.' I admit I was so taken back at the cordial welcome that I could not think of many questions I had intended asking. Not having mingled with nobility I had expected a stately, rather severe and cold person instead of the sweet, beautiful young girl.

"But first, let me tell the few things she told me and which I managed to make note of while I sat and gazed at her in silent admiration. She was born in Denmark, and the golden-haired baroness is certainly of the Norse type at its best. Because her middle name was Valkyrien, she is called Mlle. Valkyrien. Denmark recently crowned her as its most beautiful girl. She thrilled me with her romantic tale of her first meeting with her husband, the Baron. It was in Denmark, near the ancient Kronberg Castle, where the forest of Elsinore lends true romantic background for romance. They call the place Hamlet's Grave, and there is a bronze statue of the melancholy Dane for tourists to gaze upon.

"She told me she was picking flowers when the Baron Hrolf von DeWitz reprimanded her severely, for the flowers that she had picked were from Hamlet's Grave. But evidently the scolding did not take root, for an acquaintance was formed, and now Mlle. Valkyrien is the Baroness von DeWitz. But the baroness still dreamed romance, and upon their first visit to American she became enraptured with a desire to act for the screen, with the result of her securing it offer of a handsome contract, to be featured in Diana at the Bath.

"Her wonderful adaptability to such delicate and picturesque roles attracted the attention of Edwin Thanhouser, who immediately opened negotiations to secure this alluring beauty to pose before the Thanhouser cameras, and now we find the charming Mlle. Valkyrien being starred in similar big roles at the Thanhouser studios. Her first picture under the Thanhouser banner was The Valkyrie, produced under the direction of Eugene Nowland; then came The Cruise of Fate, a five-reel Mutual Masterpicture, under the direction of Mr. Warde, which brought her company to Jacksonville.

"Next week Director Warde will start on a Masterpicture, DeLuxe Edition, Hidden Valley, in which Mlle. Valkyrien will be starred. As she was finishing her interesting story, the call boy tapped at the door and announced that Mr. Warde was ready to 'take.' 'Won't you come down on the stage and watch us take a few scenes,' the baroness asked me, and I accepted with great pleasure. On the stage she introduced me to her leading man, Thomas A. Curran, and the heavy, Boyd Marshall, both handsome chaps. Screen drama they say is really work, but one would never think there was anything in the dramatic expressions of Valkyrien that even remotely suggested difficulty. She was born to be looked at, yet in person she is completely frank and unconscious as if she never had detected a seeing eye. For the screen, no quality aside from sheer dramatic ability itself is more valuable than this. I was really sad when the scenes were finished and I was forced to leave so noted, yet charming and interesting a personage as Mlle. Valkyrien."

The First "Woman of Title" in Films: The following article, "First Woman of Title for Movies," appeared in The New Rochelle Pioneer, April 29, 1916: "There are the traditions of a century and a half of fine old Danish histrionism in the dancing and the pantomime and acting of Mlle. Valkyrien, the charming little Danish actress, of the Thanhouser studios, who, off the stage is the Baroness DeWitz. Mile. Valkyrien became a member of the Royal Danish Ballet when she was a mere girl, receiving instructions in pantomime, toe and classical dancing under the masters attached to the ballet, which is under the personal patronage and supervision of Her Majesty, the Queen of Denmark.

"In this ballet, Valkyrien (as she prefers to be known), advanced to the position of junior solo danseuse in half the time usually required. She became instantly popular. She had not only youth and charm in her favor, but a classic type of beauty which is highly prized in Denmark. His Royal Highness, Prince Hage, of Denmark, became enthusiastic over the young artist's dancing, and persuaded his father, the late King Frederick VIII, to give her a 'command performance' at the palace. After seeing her dance, the King exclaimed, 'She is surely the most beautiful girl in my kingdom.'

"When she was only 17 she presented herself, at the instance of Prince Hage, as a candidate for the great national beauty contest, which the government of Denmark holds every five years to maintain the classic ideal of Norse beauty. The conditions are stringent. The candidates must appear in person, and are judged by a committee of officially appointed experts. No artificial make up of any kind is allowed. Not only is beauty of face taken into consideration, but the beauty and lines of the body, the bearing, gestures, mannerisms and expressions also count largely for or against the competitors.

"The much coveted prize of an 'honor laurel' placed upon the winner's brow by a royal prince, was awarded to the beautiful little Valkyrien. Instantly the charming dancer was the idol of the Danish people. The largest art lithographing house in Berlin made an offer to Valkyrien to pose for a series of 6,500 negatives. For this work she received the highest salary ever paid - 70 marks per hour for no less than three hours a day for a period of two months. Then she went home to Denmark for a vacation. She was sitting in the Royal Theatre with her mother when an elderly gentleman came up, introduced himself as the general manager of a large film corporation and offered her a position in his company. When Valkyrien presented herself at the studio, and the manager became aware of her identity, he not only engaged her but made a contract with her to star her in a feature.

"In rapid succession she played ingenue and light comedy parts, and her youthful classic beauty made her an ideal figure for a wide variety of roles. In 1914 she was married to the Baron DeWitz and came to America. Before becoming a member of the Thanhouser forces, Valkyrien appeared in several pictures produced in America. Her first local appearance was in the three-part feature, The Valkyrie, which incorporated many of the legends and lore of the little actress's native country in a modern setting. Her second starring role was in The Cruise of Fate, a three-act romantic drama. She also appeared in the big seven-act Masterpicture, Silas Marner, a Thanhouser production, featuring Frederick Warde. Mlle. Valkyrien says that she likes America and American ways, although there is no country which can quite take the place of her dear native Denmark. Valkyrien will be seen in the near future in another feature picture, now being screened at the Thanhouser studios in Jacksonville, Florida."

Her Later Life: The Florida Metropolis, May 9, 1916, carried this item: "The Baron and Baroness DeWitz have leased the beautiful home of Mrs. E.P. Stark, at Mayport, and will occupy the same for the summer. The Baroness has christened her new home 'Dukkehuset,' in commemoration of Ibsen's The Doll's House." In June 1916 it was announced the Valkyrien had commenced work on a five-reel Thanhouser film, The Lady From the Sea, based upon Henrik Ibsen's play of the same name. However, it is believed that around this time she left Thanhouser to go to Fox, and the film was never completed.

Her later work included films for Mutual and Fox, including for the latter studio the September 1916 release of The Unwelcome Mother. This particular film resulted in a lawsuit asking $25,000 damages, which Valkyrien filed against Fox. The Danish beauty alleged that the studio promised her great publicity in "one of the greatest roles ever written for a woman on the screen," and would feature her with the same publicity accorded to Theda Bara and Virginia Pearson, but that a relatively unknown actor, Walter Law, received greater recognition than she. Fox's initial misrepresentations caused her to reject an excellent two-year contract offered by Thanhouser, she averred.

In late 1916 she was back at the Thanhouser studio, and in early 1917 she was seen in The Image Maker. The October 1916 Motion Picture News Studio Directory noted Valkyrien was 5'4" tall, weighed 128 pounds, and had a fair complexion, light golden hair and dark blue eyes. She enjoyed ballet dancing, drawing, sculpture, golf, swimming, and yachting in her spare time. Her business address in autumn 1916 was 416 Longacre Building, New York City. In 1916 her husband, Baron DeWitz, was described as a "registeur cinematique," or a consulting technical director for films; a position which involved verifying the technical and historical accuracy of productions. He was affiliated with film companies in Stockholm and Berlin.

In 1917 Valkyrien appeared in Magda, a Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation picture released through Select. The 1918 edition of the Motion Picture Studio Directory gave her business address as care of the Clara Kimball Young Corporation, 729 7th Avenue, New York City. On December 30, 1918 the Arrow Film Corporation released to states rights buyers the six-reel film, The Commercial Pirates, starring Valkyrien and Derwent Hall Caine. Huns Within Our Gates, later re-edited and retitled The Hearts of Men, also starring Valkyrien and Caine, was first released in October 1918.

On a trip to Hollywood, Valkyrien met Robert Stuart Otto, was enchanted with him, and soon divorced Baron DeWitz to marry Otto. (One account says she was married to Henry W. Otto, a film personality, who preceded her in death on August 2, 1952.) She died on October 22, 1956 in Los Angeles, at which time she lived under the name of Adele Stuart Otto at 2400 Canyon Drive, Los Angeles. Services were conducted at Forest Lawn Memorial Park three days later. She was survived by Robert Stuart Otto, a merchant in the import-export trade, a son, Arden Otto, a commercial artist, and a daughter, Miss Christopher Scott, a radio and television personality. Nothing was mentioned in obituaries of her first son, Hamlet DeWitz.

Thanhouser Filmography:

1915: The Valkyrie (11-27-1915)

1916: Silas Marner (2-19-1916), The Cruise of Fate (3-8-1916), Hidden Valley (11-5-1916)

1917: The Image Maker (1-21-1917)

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Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.