Ruth Landshoff

Germany's First It Girl

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Ruth Landshoff at the height of her celebrity in 1929.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Ruth Landshoff was one of Germany’s few celebrated Jewish stars in the 1920s, but later fled Berlin to escape Nazi oppression.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Landshoff was born into a middle-class and well-connected Jewish family in Berlin in 1904.
    • She became an actress, appearing in the famous Nosferatu vampire film in 1922, and later a popular society writer.
    • She fled to the United States via France in 1937 and became a playwright in New York.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Few writers or actresses could dream about calling on the sort of life experiences gained by Ruth Landshoff-Yorck.

An “It Girl” in booming 1920s Berlin; a friend to actress Marlene Dietrich, writer Thomas Mann and painter Oskar Kokoschka; a star of the 1922 vampire horror film Nosferatu; marriage to a dashing but treacherous German count; a writer of hugely popular columns, poetry and novels; escape from Nazi Germany to the United States; and finally, a bohemian New York playwright before her death on stage in 1966.

Yet, Ruth Landshoff, as she was known in her youth, is little known in her home city of Berlin.

Born in 1904 into a middle-class Jewish family in Schöneberg, now part of southwest Berlin, Landshoff started off as an actress. At 16 she was awarded a spot in the acting school at the Deutsches Theater. The fact that she got an audition with the powerful theater director Max Reinhardt had more to do with the fact that she was the niece of Samuel Fischer, an influential publisher, than her talent.

“It turned out that I did not have the slightest bit of talent for acting,” she would later say. Nevertheless, she played an aristocrat’s daughter in Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s “Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror,” and remained on stage in Berlin, Munich and Vienna until the end of the 1920s.

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