1920 The first cinema production of Johanna Spyri’s book was a silent film starring New York child model Madge Evans (1909-1981), pictured on the right. Evans appeared in several other films, including the musical Pennies From Heaven (1936) with Bing Crosby, but left Hollywood after getting married in 1939. (ne.jp) ne.jp
1937 A musical film starring Shirley Temple (1928-2014) and Jean Hersholt as Grandfather was a commercial success and reinforced Switzerland’s image in American eyes as a mountain paradise. However, none of the film was actually shot in Switzerland – the Alpine scenes were filmed at Lake Arrowhead, California. Temple retired from films at 21, raising a family and later becoming active in politics. She held several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations. (Keystone/The Granger Collection, New York) Keystone/The Granger Collection, New York
1952 The first German-language production, in Swiss German, starring Elsbeth Sigmund (b. 1942) from Winterthur. After making three Heidi films, Sigmund gave up acting and became a teacher. (akg images) akg-images
1958 A Gift For Heidi, a US film starring Sandy Descher (b. 1945) as the "priceless childhood legend". Descher turned to television the same year and gave up acting in 1966. She was reportedly interviewed by the FBI after one obsessed woman stalker became convinced she was her long-lost daughter. (Keystone/ Everett Collection / Everett Collection) Keystone/ Everett Collection / Everett Collection
1965 An Austrian film production starring Eva Maria Singhammer (b. 1956), whose parents ran a mountain inn in Bavaria, near the Austrian border. She once featured in a Munich newspaper for being “Germany’s highest pupil”, since she had to take the cable car down into the valley every day. She now lives on Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands, where she has run a restaurant for almost 25 years. (picture alliance) picture alliance
1968 American made-for-television film starring Jennifer Edwards (b.1957), daughter of director Blake “Pink Panther” Edwards and stepdaughter of Julie “Sound of Music” Andrews. Michael Redgrave played Grandfather and Maximilian Schell played Klara’s father. The film became infamous for being broadcast over the end of an American Football match which is now known as the "Heidi Game". (Keystone/INTERFOTO/Alois) Keystone/INTERFOTO/Alois
1974 Heidi, Girl of the Alps, a 52-episode Japanese anime television series by Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki. This was later dubbed into many languages around the world. (RDB) RDB
1978 Austrian Katia Polletin (b. 1967) was the star of this popular 26-episode German/Swiss/Australian (yes, Australian!) television series. Polletin was born in Beirut (her father worked for the UN) but moved to Vienna in 1975. She later studied architecture and now helps her husband run a hotel in the Austrian Alps. This version was shown on the BBC and elsewhere. (Keystone / Photopress-Archiv) Keystone
1978 Katy Kurtzman (b. 1965) starred in The New Adventure of Heidi, a made-for-television musical set in New York City. The Swiss sequences were shot in Snowmass, Colorado. Kurtzman had previously appeared in Little House on the Prairie and later turned up in Dynasty. (Keystone/Everett collection) Keystone
1990 In Courage Mountain, a loose US adaptation/sequel, Juliette Caton (b. 1975) and Charlie Sheen (!) played Heidi and Peter, a young courting couple during the First World War. Jan Rubes played Grandfather. Caton hasn’t appeared in a film since 2000. (picture alliance) picture alliance
1993 A two-part US television series produced by Walt Disney, starring Noley Thornton (b.1983). It was shot in Salzburg and Tirol in Austria. Thornton also appeared in various 1990s television series, including Quantum Leap and Star Trek (The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) but hasn’t acted since Beverley Hills, 90210. (Keystone/United Archives/IFTN) Keystone/United Archives/IFTN
2001 A Swiss film directed by Markus Imboden radically modernised the story – both the psychology of the characters (stubborn Peter has become cool) and the high-tech accessories (Heidi and Peter communicate via internet and SMS). The film flopped. Heidi was played by German actress Cornelia Gröschel (b. 1987, pictured left), who continues to act. (Vegafilms.com) Vegafilms.com
2005 A big-name British film starring Irish actress Emma Bolger (b.1996) alongside Max Von Sydow, Geraldine Chaplin and Diana Rigg. Bolger’s first role was in the Oscar-nominated In America (2002) alongside her sister Sarah. She hasn’t appeared in a film since 2006. (AFP) AFP
2015 Local newcomer Anuk Steffen (b. 2005) stars as the first Swiss-German speaking Heidi in a film since 1952. Director Alain Gsponer told swissinfo.ch that Steffen beat 500 others to the part “because she had these lively eyes and acted very intelligently. I was looking for someone with energy but who at the same time was fragile and in whose eyes you could see what they had gone through”. (Keystone/Zodiac Pictures/Matthias Fleischer) Keystone/Zodiac Pictures/Matthias Fleischer
It’s not easy being a child actor. The pressure of growing up on screen can be too much for some, while others manage the transition to successful careers in acting or something else. What became of some of the dozens of young girls who played Heidi?
This content was published on December 7, 2015
December 7, 2015
Born in London, Thomas was a journalist at The Independent before moving to Bern in 2005. He speaks three official Swiss languages and enjoys travelling the country and practising them, above all in pubs, restaurants and gelaterias.
The story of the outgoing orphan has appealed to audiences – and therefore producers – for almost 100 years. From Switzerland and Japan to Hollywood and Bollywood, the combination of glorious scenery, cute girl and happy ending have guaranteed box office success (give or take a few miscalculations).
How did author Johanna Spyri see her heroine? She doesn’t give a detailed physical description but writes about “a little maiden, whose cheeks glowed as if a ruddy flame were under her dark brown skin […] she could not have been five years old”. Later on, Klara asks Heidi whether she has always had “such short frizzy hair”.
For practical reasons, producers and directors gave Heidi a few years, with most actresses being around ten. Many of the American Heidis sported blonde pigtails, with the notable exception of Shirley Temple and her trademark corkscrew curls. But perhaps the closest to Spyri’s description is Katia Polletin, although Anuk Steffen in the latest version certainly looks the part once her hair is cropped. How did you picture Heidi when you read the book? (Text: Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch)
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