Giehse, Therese

(Therese Gift, 1898-1975)
   Actress. Giehse rose to the top ranks of German actresses without career triumphs in Berlin; she indeed came fully into prominence while in exile. Giehse began her career with a fruitless search for work in Berlin and later brief engagements in Siegen, Gleiwicz, and Landshut before she began playing small roles at the Bavarian State Theater in her native Munich. At the Lobe Theater in Breslau, she began to play bigger roles, attracting the attention of Otto Falckenberg, then head of the Munich Kammerspiele. Giehse returned to Munich to work with Falckenberg, and from 1925 to 1933 she did a series of outstanding performances for Falckenberg, among the best of which was Mother Wolff in Falckenberg's production of Der Biberpelz (The Beaver Coat). On the side, with Erika and Klaus Mann, she formed a cabaret act in Munich called Die Pfeffermühle (The Pepper Mill).
   After the National Socialist takeover in 1933, Giehse could no longer work in Munich because she was Jewish. She therefore emigrated to Zurich, where she and the Manns played their cabaret act steadily at the Hotel Hirsch and on tour in The Netherlands, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and briefly the United States. In 1937 Giehse returned to Zurich as a regular member of the Schauspielhaus company, and in 1941 she played the title role in the production that established her career for the rest of her life: the world premiere of Bertolt Brecht's Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children). She also appeared in the Schauspielhaus premieres of Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (The Good Person of Set-zuan) in 1943 and of Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (Mr. Pun-tila and His Servant Matti) in 1948.
   In 1949 Giehse returned to Munich, but she also spent time with Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, playing the title role in their 1949 production of Vassa Zhelesnova and in 1952 directing Heinrich von Kleist's Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug) in Berlin. For the most part, however, she remained in Munich or Zurich for the rest of her career. She had two enormous successes in Zurich, and many observers have held that her performances in them matched her 1941 work as Mother Courage: In early 1956 Giehse played Claire Zachanassian (the title role ) in the world premiere of Friedrich Dür-renmatt's Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit) at the Schauspielhaus, and in 1962 she played villainous Dr. Mathilde von Zahnd in the world premiere of Die Physiker (The Physicists).
   Few other actresses matched the heights Giehse attained or created the leading roles in plays that later became famous worldwide. Her career is some ways resembles that of Fritz Kortner, as both experienced the losses of exile and the triumphs of contributing in major ways to the renascence of the German theater after the havoc of National Socialism.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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