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Taina Elg

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Taina Elg at the Finnish Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä (2012)

Taina Elisabeth Elg (born March 9, 1930 in Impilahti) is a Finnish-American dancer and actress.[1]

Biography

Education and success in Hollywood

Taina Elg was born in 1930 in Impilahti[2] and grew up in Helsinki and Turku.[3] She took on sporadic extra roles in Finnish films in her youth. Elg graduated from the Finnish National Opera Ballet School(Kansallisooppera) in her hometown in 1946 and worked in Swedish theatres from 1946. A year later she received a scholarship from Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in London where she also performed with the company. From 1949 to 1953 she was a member of the Monte Carlo Ballet.[4] In the wake of the success of Sweden’s Anita Ekberg, Elg made her way to Hollywood in 1954 through screen tests, where she was signed by the American production company MGM.[3] She made her film debut in 1955 with a supporting role in Richard Thorpe’s historical film Temple of Temptation alongside Lana Turner, after which MGM used her in other film productions. In 1956, she followed with another supporting role in the Lana Turner vehicle Diane – Courtesan of France. That same year, Elg received initial praise for playing the sober Elsa in Curtis Bernhardt’s Gaby.[5] In the remake of Robert E. Sherwood’s popular Broadway hit Waterloo Bridge, Leslie Caron was her screen partner and title character, a Catholic ballet dancer in wartime London who refuses her lover.

Her breakthrough as a film actress came in 1957 in Elg’s fourth film for MGM, in which she was able to use her experience as a dancer. In George Cukor’s musical The Girls, with whom she would remain lifelong friends,[3] …she joined Kay Kendall and Mitzi Gaynor as three dancers in a libel suit over their past with the head of a revue company (played by Gene Kelly). The part of the flighty Frenchwoman Angèle, who takes refuge in marriage to a well-behaved French baron, was praised as “brilliantly comic”by film critic Bosley Crowther in the New York Times[6] and a year later, along with fellow filmmaker Kay Kendall, the Finn won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. A year earlier, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had given Elg the award for Best Foreign Newcomer.

The end of the film career

After The Girls, Elg was seen as a French peasant girl alongside Glenn Ford and Red Buttons in George Marshall’s war drama Imitation General (1958). Although the role again found critical acclaim,[7][8] she was unable to match her previous success with either this film or the female leads in Ralph Thomas’ Hitchcock remake The 39 Steps or Kurt Neumann’s adventure film Watusi (both 1959). In these films, Kenneth More and George Montgomery, respectively, had been her screen partners. At the end of the 1950s Elg’s career in Hollywood came to an end as one of the last contract actresses of the old studio system.[3]

After the Italian-French historical film The Bacchantes (1961) with Pierre Brice, Elg appeared only sporadically as a film actress, such as Nemesis in the 1970 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Hercules in New York. She devoted more time to television work(Love, Lies, Passion, 1980-1981; Murder is Her Hobby, 1987) and appearances in the theater. One of her greatest successes was the revival of the musical Where’s Charley? on Broadway in New York (1974/75), in which she appeared alongside Raúl Juliá, among others. The role of Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez earned her a nomination for the prestigious Tony Award in 1975. Elg has also appeared in a Finnish version of West Side Story at the National Opera in Helsinki[3] and received a Barrymore Award in 1996 for her role of Fraulein Schneider in the Philadelphia production of the musical Cabaret.[9][10] She most recently toured the American provinces in 1999 with the play Titanic, in which she starred as Ida Strauss. She had previously auditioned for the role in the Broadway production three times without success.[3] Her last film appearance to date was in 2006 with a supporting role in the Finnish comedy Kummelin jackpot by Pekka Karjalainen.

Taina Elg has lived in New York since 1961 and is married to the sociologist Rocco Caporale.[3] Their marriage, which lasted from 1953 to 1960, to Carl-Gustav Björkenheim produced their son Raoul Björkenheim (b. 1956),[11] himself a well-known musician. In 1991 she published a biography of her childhood memories in Finland under the title Varpailla maailmalle. In 2003, the documentary film Starring – Taina Elg by director Jarmo Heikkinen was made with her participation. The film premiered in Finland in December of the same year and traces the actress’ career. In June 2004, Elg’s achievements as an actress were honoured by Finnish President Tarja Halonen with the Order of the Lion of Finland (1st class).[4] Elg, who is fluent in French, Italian and German in addition to Finnish, Swedish and English, has enjoyed swimming, tennis and skiing in the past and is now an American citizen.[12]

Filmography (selection)

  • 1955: Temple of Temptation (The Prodigal)
  • 1956: Diane – Courtesan of France (Diane)
  • 1956: Gaby
  • 1957: The Girls (Les Girls)
  • 1958: Imitation General
  • 1959: Die 39 Stufen ( The 39 Steps)
  • 1959: Enemy at your back (Mission of Danger)
  • 1959: Watusi
  • 1961: The Bacchantes (Le Baccanti)
  • 1970: Hercules in New York
  • 1980-1981: Love, Lies, Passion(One Life to Live, TV series)
  • 1987: Murder, She Wrote, television series; Episode: A Fashionable Way to Die)
  • 1991: Death Dream – The Last Witness is Silent (Love Dream)
  • 1996: Love Has Two Faces (The Mirror Has Two Faces)
  • 2006: Kummelin jackpot

Plays (selection)

  • 1970: Look to the Lilies
  • 1973: Uncle Vanya
  • 1974-1975: Where’s Charley?
  • 1979: The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall
  • 1979-1980: Strider
  • 1982-1984: Nine
  • 1996: Cabaret
  • 1999: Titanic

Awards

  • 1957: Golden Globe Award (Best Foreign New Actress)
  • 1958: Golden Globe Award for The Girls (Best Actress – Comedy/Musical)
  • 1958: 6th place at the Laurel Awards for The Girls (Best Newcomer Actress)
  • 1975: Tony nomination for Where’s Charley? (Best Supporting Actress in a Musical)

Literature

  • Taina Elg: Varpailla maailmalle. WSOY, Helsinki 1991, ISBN 951-0-17238-3.

Web links

Commons: Taina Elg– Collection of images

Individual references

  1. Keijo Virtamo (ed.): Otavan musiikkitieto. Otava, Helsinki 1997, ISBN 951-1-14518-5, p. 92.
  2. Ephraim Katz: The Macmillan international film encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York, NY 1994, ISBN 0-333-61601-4.
  3. a b c d e f g Jim Seavor: Titanic star Taina Elg still kicking up her heels. In: Providence Journal-Bulletin. (Rhode Island), December 2, 1999, Lifebeat, p. 2G.
  4. a b Actress Taina Elg Decorated. Consulate General, New York, June 16, 2004 (accessed April 7, 2008, finland.org)
  5. New Film About Treachery And Espionage Mr. S. Reynolds’s “Foreign Intrigue.” In: The Times. Issue 53,572, 2 July 1956, p. 5.
  6. Film review by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, October 4, 1957.
  7. Film review by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, August 21, 1958.
  8. A Western That Strays From The Trail. In: The Times. Issue 54.238, 25 August 1958, p. 6.
  9. Clifford A. Ridley: ‘ Cabaret’ With the Show’s Heart out of Balance. In: The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3. May 1996, p. 35.
  10. List of the Barry Award winners of the year 1996.Theatre Philadelphia, retrieved 5 March 2020 (English).
  11. Finlands ridderskaps och adels kalender 1992, pp. 92-93. Esbo 1991. ISBN 951-9417-26-5
  12. Taina Elg. In Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. Volume 1, Gale Research, 1984. (accessed via Biography Resource Center. Gale, Farmington Hills, Mich. 2009)