If you say the name of Natasa Gollova to those who are in their 60s and 70s today, their eyes will light up. Natasa was one of those film stars between the wars, that one can never forget. And she's the subject of today's Czechs in History.
Natasa Gollova was born in 1912, and she came from a very posh family. Her real surname was Hodacova, but Natasa's father was a respected economist and an MP, too, and he simply did not wish his name to be associated with his daughter's acting ambitions, so Natasa started using the surname of her beloved grandfather, Professor Goll.
Ales Cibulka wrote a book on Natasa Gollova recently, and so it was my pleasure just to sit back and listen to his narration about this popular theatre and film actress:
"Natasa had an older brother Ivan and she was quite influenced by the situation in her family: on the one hand, she never had problems concerning money, her family was rich. But on the other hand, she was a bit annoyed by this very fact, and started doing things to spite her father. When, at the age of 20, she arrived in Paris with a renowned girl dance ensemble, she was invited to the studio of a famous Czech painter Josef Sima, and there she got to know Tristan Tzara, a charismatic Spanish journalist and writer. A big love affair began and Natasa was firmly resolved never to come back."
She sent a portrait of herself painted by Sima to her former boy-friend in Prague, and a letter to her parents saying she was deeply in love and was going with Tzara to the Pyrenees; she told them she was not coming home. She did return in the end, but only after a couple of years. During her life, she met Tzara several times and some of those who knew Natasa, think that he was the greatest love of her life. Natasa Gollova attended Charles University in Prague and spoke several languages fluently, including French, German, English and Russian; back then it was quite impossible to enter the world of theatre and film without such language skills.
"Natasa's first main interest was theatre, that's why she started acting in theatres - first in Olomouc, then in the Slovak capital of Bratislava and after that back in Prague. Her first film role, a real bit part, was in a film called 'Ideal Teacher', where she played one girl from a whole class who adored their young teacher. Further film roles came after 1935, but she was not yet a film star - she was more successful in theatre, and as an elderly lady she used to say that she always loved theatre more than cinema. It's a real pity that we have no records of Natasa playing countless roles in all genres, including Shakespeare."
Then came the year 1939. Although very sad for the Czech nation, as in March Germany occupied the Czech Lands and created the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia under 'the Reich', 1939 was a very happy year for Natasa. She did not escape the attention of a renowned Czech film director, Martin Fric, who was just about to shoot a film about a flamboyant young girl, called 'Eva Plays the Fool'. He chose Natasa for the leading role, although his colleagues tried to talk him out of the idea. But Fric was adamant, the film was made and Natasa became a huge film star overnight.
"From 1939, Natasa Gollova went from film to film, but if we speak about the most famous ones - 'Kristian', 'Eva Plays the Fool' or 'Hotel Blue Star' - all of them were made in the years 1939, 1940 and 1941. In the next two years she shot one or two films a year, but in 1944, she was banned from appearing in films and she had to leave the Vinohrady Theatre, and her most fruitful, most famous and happiest part of life ended. From then on slander and suspicions dogged her all her life till 1988, when Natasa Gollova died."
So what had actually happened? Critics often say that Czech films made in the 1930s and 1940s were very naive, just superstitious love stories, mainly comedies. But actors who still remember those times say people simply wanted to see such films, because for those 90 minutes in the cinema they could forget that there was a war on, that they lived in a German-occupied country. They also loved to watch their idols - since then we have never had such film stars, Mr. Cibulka says. In addition to comedies, historical films depicting the bravery of the Czech nation were very popular. But first and foremost, they had to be the kind of films that could pass through German censors.
"A man named Wilhelm Zehnel looked after Czech cinematography during WWII and tried to keep the Czech film industry above water. He originally came from the north Moravian city of Ostrava, but after the German occupation he obtained German nationality - and this man became Natasa Gollova's boy-friend for two years. Paradoxically, all those who remember him praised him highly, and for a long time no one knew that he was German, as he spoke perfect Czech. Germans back then made their films in the Barrandov studios in Prague, and when any material was left over, Zehnel arranged for it to be used to make Czech films."
Because she had an acquaintance with a German, Natasa had to leave the world of film after the war - this was also due to the fact that she played in one or two German films. All her Czech colleagues abandoned her and she lived alone. In 1945 she went to the just-liberated concentration camp of Terezin, to care for people suffering from typhus and she herself contracted the disease.
Her next film offer came from actor Jan Werich in 1951, for a historic comedy called 'Emperor's Baker and Baker's Emperor', where Natasa played two roles. This was after Natasa married theatre director Karel Konstantin and the two had moved to the south Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice. The role in Werich's film returned Natasa to Prague, and it was a new lease of life for her. She started to play at Werich's theatre, now the ABC Theatre in the centre of Prague, and remained there till 1971.
"Although she played in several more films, no role resembled her era as a star in the 1930s and 40s. In 1962 Karel Konstantin died; soon afterwards, Natasa's mother, on whom she had been greatly dependent, also passed away. Her nephew - whom she loved like her own child - emigrated, and all those blows came within just a couple of years. Natasa suffered from serious osteoporosis and walked badly, so in 1971 she took disability retirement."
She started to live in an old folks' home, and started drinking heavily out of loneliness.
As an old lady, she played in a musical comedy called 'Dear Aunts and Me', but in 1988, she died in the old folks' home, abandoned by all except for the closest relatives. Those who knew her say she was not unhappy there, but Gollova's sister-in-law says she had no strength or will to live longer.
Natasa Gollova must have been a real phenomenon, judging from the long queues when Ales Cibulka's book about her hit the bookstores. Ales told me although it was a lot of work to gather all the facts and make a book of them, he enjoyed doing it because he had loved that outstanding Czech actress since the very first time he saw her.