Karl dane

Karl Dane (October 12 1886, Copenhagen, DenmarkApril 15 1934, Los Angeles, California) was a comedian and actor mainly of the silent film era. At the peak of his career he was working alongside stars such as Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, and King Vidor.[1] In 1926 he teamed up with George K. Arthur to form the successful comedy duo Dane & Arthur. At the peak of his career he was making $1500 a week.[2] In the 1930s Dane was forced to quit his film career due to a nervous breakdown and trouble with his heavy accent.[3] Unable to find successful work he eventually killed himself in 1934. His death has been recounted in countless books; usually as one of the sadder tales of failing to transition to talkies.[4][5]

Early LifeEdit

Rasmus Karl Therkelsen Gottlieb was born in Turesensgade 23 in central Copenhagen, Denmark to Rasmus Carl Marius Gottlieb and Anne Cathrine Simonsen Gottlieb. He had 3 brothers: Georg Valdemar Johan, Reinald Marius, Viggo Eiler. His parents’ marriage was apparently stormy; with his father having trouble with alcohol and money management. [6] In 1903 Dane's parents divorced; leaving him in the custody of his mother.[7]

His father was a glove maker by trade but enjoyed the theatre. At the turn of the century he built a toy theatre which people began to pay to see; during which time Dane and his brother Reinald would perform for the crowds.[8] His father also worked as a curtain puller at the local theatre; which his two sons would accompany him to. Dane later said this would inspire him to act.[9]

In 1900 Dane and his brother apprenticed as machinists. It would be a job he'd perform on and off throughout his life.[10]

In 1907 he began compulsory military service in the First Artillery Battalion. He would be promoted to Lance Corporal.[11]

After being discharged from the military he married dressmaker Carla Dagmar Hagen on September 10, 1910. The marriage produced two children: Ejlert Carl (born 1911), Ingeborg Helene (1912).[12]

With the outbreak of World War 1 Dane was called back to duty. He was eventually promoted to Corporal before being discharged in 1915.[13]

In Denmark as well as the rest of Europe employment prospects looked grim.[14] On January 25, 1916 Dane headed for the United States alone. He intended to send for his family later.[15] He boarded the SS Oscar II.[16] He had $25 in his pocket and spoke no English.[17] The ship arrived in February at Ellis Island. Dane passed immigrant inspection and moved to 345 Court Street in [[Brooklyn] with a friend named Charles Lindgren.[18] The same day he found work in a foundry. Sometime in 1916 he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he worked as an auto mechanic. By summer 1917 he returned to New York where he again worked as a mechanic.[19]

Early Film Career and German RolesEdit

In late 1917 Dane appeared in his first picture. It was a bit part in a Vitagraph Studios short, filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He made $3 a day (as a mechanic he had been making $3 a week) for his part.[20] However his scenes were cut and the name of this film is not known. Any footage is presumed lost.[21]

Dane then appeared in Warner Brothers Anti-German sentiment film, "My Four Years in Germany" as 'Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg'. This would be the first of many such roles for Dane in his early career.[22]

The film was released April 29, 1918 and was a success making $430,000 at the box office (the film had a budget of $50,000).[23]

His next film was Wolves of Kultur which contained '15 chapters' (running about 3 hours total). The film was released chapter by chapter between 1918-1919.[24] The film still survives but has not been released on DVD.

He then followed that with the June Mathis penned film, "To Hell with the Kaiser" reprising his role as Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg. Before his move to Hollywood Dane completed 3 more films; all in the Anti-German propaganda style and all released in 1919.

Film HiatusEdit

In early 1921 Dane met Swedish immigrant Helen Benson. He then quit films, and together the pair moved to Van Nuys, California where they opened a chicken farm. They married June 15, 1921.[25]

On August 9, 1923 Helen died in childbirth as did the couple's baby girl.[26]

In December 1923 Dane ran into old friend Charles Hutchison who convinced him to appear in a serial he is producing.[27]


In December 1924 Robert McIntyre (who had first cast Dane back at Vitagraph), the casting director at MGM recommended Dane for a role in King Vidor's latest project.[28] Dane was cast as Slim in "The Big Parade" alongside John Gilbert, and Renée Adorée. The movie was a major success, becoming the second highest grossing silent film of all time making almost $6.5 million (not adjusted for inflation).[29]

He worked alongside Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky in Son of the Sheik as 'Ramadan'.[30] The film was a success and after Valentino's death it was re-released several more times well into the late 30s.[31]

After working on Son of the Sheik Dane signed a contract with MGM in June 1926. He began to appear as comic relief in several films including The Scarlet Letter (directed by Victor Sjöström and starring Lillian Gish), La Boheme (again directed by Vidor, and starring Gish, Gilbert and Adorée), and Alias Jimmy Valentine with William Haines and Leila Hyams.[32]

Dane & ArthurEdit

Soon after signing his MGM contract Dane began work on the Vidor film, "Bardelys the Magnificent" (in which a young John Wayne appeared). It was on this film that MGM executive Harry Rapf decided to team Dane with George K. Arthur as a comedic duo. Together they were dubbed Dane & Arthur.[33]

In May 1927 the duo's first film, Rookies opened and was an instant success.[34] By June 1927 MGM signed Dane to a long term contract. The duo continued their success making such films as "Detectives", "Circus Rookies", and "The Trail of '98".[35] In April 1928 Dane broke his shoulder on set. He contracted bronchial pneumonia and is in serious condition.[36] He eventually recovered and went back to work on the duos films.

Talkies and DeclineEdit

Dane & Arthur's last silent short was "Detectives" in 1928. On December 23, 1928 their first talkie, "Brotherly Love" was released. Arthur was a Scotsman who had a distinct but acceptable British accent. Dane had a thick guttural Danish accent; which did not record well and made his English hard to understand. The duo lasted only 6 more talkies ending with "China Bound" in 1929.[37]

5 films later, in 1930 Dane lost his contract with MGM. He would later claim this was due to a nervous breakdown on his behalf and he needed a rest.[38] However by December Paramount offered Dane & Arthur a 23 week 'Publix Theatre' vaudeville tour.[39] The pair had made a few shorts for Paramount and RKO as well. The pair ended with the end of the vaudeville tour.

In November 1931, after the tour Dane along with some friends formed a mining corporation named, 'Avelina Mines'. The venture failed.[40] By February 1932 Dane had turned back to vaudeville this time as a solo comedic act. It was panned by critics and apparently short lived.[41]

In December 1932 Dane's last film, "The Whispering Shadow" starring Bela Lugosi was released.[42]

By the summer of 1933 Dane had given up on films and turned desperately to mining. He spent 3 months driving up and down the West Coast trying to find a good mining deal.[43] However he ended up losing $1,100 in September 1933 and the venture never took off. [44] Deeply depressed and broken down Dane took on several jobs including a mechanic, a waiter, and carpenter. He was unable to hold any of these jobs.


By the end of 1933 Dane had purchased a stake in a hot dog stand outside MGM Studios. The business failed as it was shunned by his former friends.[45] Dane then tried to find work with his former studio as an extra or carpenter but was turned away. He had been seeking a job that would pay $5 a day.[46]

On April 13th Dane was pick pocketed of all the money he had: $18.[47] On April 14th he was supposed met with a young woman named Frances Leake, supposedly to see a movie and cheer him up.[48] However he never showed and Leake became worried. She immediately arrived at his apartment (located at 626 South Burnside Avenue) and with the assistance of the landlady they were able to open the door. There they found Dane, clad in shirt, pants, and slippers. He was slumped in his chair, with a revolver at his feet.[49] Leake fainted at the scene. When she was revived, Leake found Dane's final note on a nearby table, next to a scrapbook he had always kept, filled with his old studio contracts and rave reviews. The short note read, "To Frances and all my friends-goodbye."[50]

Dane had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a revolver.[51]

No one came forward to claim his body. Police tagged his body with the note, "May have relatives in Denmark. Hold for awhile". For the next few days authorities attempted to find his family, even placing ads in major Copenhagen newspapers. However, the Gottliebs did not find out about Dane's death until weeks later.[52]

Fellow Danish actor Jean Hersholt stepped forward and insisted MGM pay for a funeral and burial.[53] MGM agreed and on April 18 a funeral was held open to the public. Among the fifty attendees, mostly those of Scandinavian descent, Hersholt was a pallbearer, as well as Tom O'Brien.[54] Dane was interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery with a modest headstone.[55]

Personal LifeEdit

Dane was very active during his life. He loved all sports, swimming, horse riding, and bicycling.[56] He loved to play practical jokes; and was a daredevil as a child. Dane was a big animal lover, rescuing two of the dogs who needed homes after Trail of '98.[57]

Dane was not big into the Hollywood social scene. He enjoyed carpentry and built his own home in Malibu.[58] He had a home in Beverly Hills as well. Dane officially became an American citizen in 1919. At the same time he also officially legally changed his name to 'Karl Dane'.[59]

Dane was said to be a direct, funny, sincere, and bit a naive. He was a shy and solitary person; as he felt he didn’t fit in due to his grasp of English. Dane understood English perfectly; but had trouble finding the words to explain himself thus sometimes giving the wrong impression.[60]

Dane adored women and was known as a flirt. For him a usual greeting with a woman consisted of a close hug and a kiss on the lips.[61] Due to his sincerity most women found this more charming then forward.[62]

Marriages and RelationshipsEdit

Carla HagenEdit

Dane's first marriage was to Carla Dagmar Hagen. The couple married September 10, 1910 at Saint Paul’s Church in Copenhagen.[63] Dane's only living children were born during this union; a son Ejlert Carl, in 1911. And a daughter, Ingeborg Helene in 1912. [64] When Dane immigrated to the US in 1916 he intended to send for his family later. However by his success in 1918 Dane had begun to loose touch with his family.[65] Carla no longer wanted to join him, as she was suffering from ill health. The pair separated that year.

It took until his fame in 1925 with 'The Big Parade' for his family in Denmark to recognize and write Dane. They were unaware of his fame or his name change yet his brother and his now 15 year old daughter both recognized him on screen.[66] After receiving a letter from his brother asking if he was Karl Gottlieb Dane excitedly replied, "Dear Big Brother! I have received your letter, and confess that I am Karl Dane!" He then remained in contact with his family in Denmark.[67]

Helen BensonEdit

In early 1921 Dane met Swedish immigrant Helen Benson. It was then he quit films and moved to Van Nuys. The couple married June 15, 1921. Tragically on August 9, 1923 Helen died in childbirth as did the couple's baby girl.[68]

Emma SawyerEdit

Unable to cope with the loss of his wife and daughter Dane rushed into a marriage with telephone operator supervisor Emma Awilda Peabody Sawyer, 7 years his senior.[69] The couple married on March 8, 1924 and separated on September 30, 1924. After his success in May 1926 Emma brought suit against Dane for support.[70] It is not clear if she received it or not.

Thais ValdemarEdit

In June 1928 Dane fell hard for Russian dancer Thais Valdemar. The couple began dating and eventually claimed to be married though they indeed never were (many sources incorrectly state that she was his legal wife).[71] The couple lived together at Dane's Beverly Hills home until November 1928 when Valdemar moved out. By December she filed a Breach of Promise suit against Dane for $75,000, but the case was ultimately dropped in early 1929. [72]


Many of Dane's films still exist today and a few are available on DVD including, 'Son of the Sheik', 'The Big Parade', 'The Whispering Shadow'. 'Bardelys the Magnificent' was thought lost but around 30 minutes of the film has been found. Many of the Dane & Arthur shorts still exist but have yet to see a release including, 'Brotherly Love'.[73]

Dane was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to film located at 6140 Hollywood Blvd (located in front of the 'Henry Fonda Music Box Theater')

Dane's talkie downfall was covered in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon II.[74]

Lately there has been a renewed interest in Dane's career especially in his native Denmark.[75] On October 12, 2006 Danish weekly paper "FOKUS" published an article on Dane to commemorate what would be his 120th birthday.[76] In February 2007 an issue of the monthly "Classic Images" (#380) included an article on Dane.[77] In July 2007 biannual publication "The Bridge" (Volume 30 Number 1 2007), published by the "Danish American Heritage Society" featured an article on Dane.[78] In December 2007 the Danish Film Festival "Kosmorama" published an article about Dane in their newsletter.[79]

On January 28, 2008 The Danish Film Institute held a 'Karl Dane Retrospective' in Copenhagen, Denmark.[80] A speech was given by Laura Petersen Balogh and featured clips from Dane's films followed by a screening of one of his features.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag. Balogh is currently researching and writing a biography on Dane.[81]


  • The Whispering Shadow (1933)
  • Fast Life (1932)
  • Lime Juice Nights (1931)
  • Dumbbells in Derbies (1931)
  • A Put Up Job (1931)
  • New Moon (1930)
  • Knights Before Christmas (1930)
  • A Lady's Morals (1930)
  • Dizzy Dates (1930)
  • Billy the Kid (1930)
  • Broken Wedding Bells (1930)
  • Men Without Skirts (1930)
  • The Big House (1930)
  • Montana Moon (1930)
  • Navy Blues (1929)
  • The Mysterious Island (1929)
  • Speedway (1929)
  • China Bound (1929)
  • The Duke Steps Out (1929)
  • All at Sea (1929)
  • The Voice of the Storm (1929)
  • Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928)
  • Brotherly Love (1928)
  • Detectives (1928)
  • Circus Rookies (1928)
  • The Trail of '98 (1928)
  • Baby Mine (1928)
  • The Enemy (1927)
  • Rookies (1927)
  • Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927)
  • The Red Mill (1927)
  • War Paint (1926)
  • Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)
  • The Scarlet Letter (1926)
  • The Son of the Sheik (1926)
  • Monte Carlo (1926)
  • La Bohème (1926)
  • His Secretary
  • Lights of Old Broadway (1925)
  • The Big Parade (1925)
  • The Everlasting Whisper
  • The Whirlwind (1919)
  • Daring Hearts (1919)
  • The Great Victory, Wilson or the Kaiser? The Fall of the Hohenzollerns (1919)
  • Wolves of Kultur
  • To Hell with the Kaiser! (1918)
  • Her Final Reckoning (1918)
  • The Triumph of Venus (1918)
  • My Four Years in Germany (1918)

As himself:

  • Crazy House (1930)
  • Screen Snapshots Series 9, No. 23 (1930)
  • Free and Easy (1930)
  • The March of Time (1930)
  • The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)




External linksEdit