Leni Stengel: Berlinese Beauty, Foil to Funnymen

German-American beauty Leni Stengel (1901-1982) was born in Berlin on this day, a great niece of the opera composer Friedrich von Flotow. She appeared in two Broadway plays, Princess Turandot (1926) and These Few Ashes (1928), before being cast in her first film, the American-produced German-language film Die Königsloge, an adaptation of Dumas’s biography of Edmund Kean, shot at Vitaphone Studios in Astoria, Queens and directed by Bryan Foy.

Following this, she is best remembered for playing sexy parts in some classic comedies, including Wheeler and Woolsey’s Half Shot at Sunrise (1930) and Cracked Nuts (1931), the German-language version of Buster Keaton’s Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931), and the shorts Kickin’ the Clown Around (1933, with Clark and McCullough), Henry the Ache (1934, with Bert Lahr), and Art Trouble (1934, with Harry Gribbon and Shemp Howard). During these same years she was also cast in many melodramas, often as “the other woman”, as well as exotic action and adventure stories. The best known of these is Beau Ideal (1931), a sequel to Beau Geste in which she plays a Mata Hari like character who drives men wild with a seductive belly dance.

In 1936 Stengel returned to Broadway to appear in Tovarich, which played for nearly a year. After this, she has no stage or screen credits for nearly a decade. She was married to producer-screenwriter-director Boris Ingster through 1944; it is likely he supported her through these years, for it is after their divorce that she returns to Broadway in 1946, in the play Swan Song. From 1949 through 1953 she worked in television, on shows Lights Out and Lux Video Theatre.

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