Documentary film puts spotlight on turbulent life of Czech actress Lída Baarová

A documentary is now screening in Czech cinemas on the life of the actress Lída Baarová, sometimes described as the first Czech international movie star. For its tragic twists and roller coaster ride, Baarová’s own life story, including a tempestuous love affair with the Nazi propaganda boss Joseph Goebbels, surpassed any of her film roles. The young star ended her life in exile, a controversial, if not despised personality in her homeland.

‘Doomed Beauty’
Lída Baarová said that she left Nazi leader Adolf Hitler dumbstruck when they first met. Hitler said that he had a picture of her on his bedside table. Some historians though reckon that picture was more likely that of Hitler’s half niece, Geli Raubel who committed suicide in 1931 after a likely relationship with the Führer. Raubel, with whom Hitler was obsessed, bore a more than passing likeness to Baarová.

But it was with the then married Joseph Goebbels that Baarová embarked on a very public affair between 1936 and 1938. Then, an enraged Hitler called his propaganda boss back to order. Sharing the bed of an actress from a country, Czechoslovakia, which you were denouncing daily and preparing to invade was regarded as a step too far, even by the lax moral standards of the Nazi elite.

Czech filmmaker Helena Třeštíková’s 90 minute documentary ‘Zkáza Krásou’ translated as ‘Doomed Beauty’ puts the spotlight on the calamitous consequences of the Goebbels affairs on Baarová’s subsequent life and career.

Joseph Goebbels,  photo: Bundesarchiv
Her relationship with top Nazi figures meant she was often despised in her now Nazi occupied homeland, but some also sought favours because of her connections. And Baarová was far from alone as regards collaboration in the Czech film world.

Hitler ordered that she be banned on appearing in German films. The ban was later relaxed slightly so that she could have be offered roles in films made in Prague and screened in Germany and she also, controversially, appeared on stage at the Czech National Theatre.

At the end of WWII Baarová spent 18 months in prison. She escaped Czechoslovakia to Vienna in April 1948, weeks after the Communist takeover of power and was later sentenced in her absence to six months in prison and a massive fine of 750,000 crowns.

The rest of Baarová’s life was spent in exile, occasionally appearing in Italian and Spanish films though never getting the big Hollywood break that she was offered at the height of her career in the 1930s.

Lída Baarová in ‘Zkáza Krásou’,  photo: Aerofilms
Třeštíková’s interviews were conducted in Vienna in 1995, with the aged actress reportedly veering between deep depression and euphoria. Baarová died in Salzburg in 2000 at the age of 86.

The previous unscreened documentary, which also draws on archives from the time, can be seen as a sort of curtain raiser to a feature film, given the title ‘’Devil’s Mistress’ about Baarová’s life by the Czech filmmaker Filip Renc. The Czech blockbuster is due to be screened locally at the end of this month before going on international release.