1930’s Hollywood was always on the lookout for “the next Garbo.”
She wasn’t it.
But Franciska Gaal (nee Franciska Silberspitz) was a talented cabaret songstress in Europe in the 1930’s, something that producer Joseph Pasternak noticed and developed, encouraging her to push on into movies in Germany and in the U.S.
Her basic girlish charm was her ability to spark up light romantic fluff coming out of studios in her native Hungary and in Germany. In this respect her brief Hollywood career is somewhat similar to that of the far more successful Canadian-born star, Deanna Durbin. (The “next Garbo” stuff came later.)
Born to a large Budapest family in 1904, Gaal gradually parlayed her in-person performances to roles onstage and then movies in Germany, Austria and Hungary. By the mid 1930’s she had made the somewhat awkward transition to Hollywood where, she said, suitable roles eluded her.
Her Hollywood output essentially boils down to just three pictures. (Gaal’s total career output covers just 18 films over 25 years.) American movie audiences glimpsed Gaal in…
… Cecil B. Demille’s 1938 adventure outing The Buccaneer starring Fredric March. Then came a comedy…..
...The Girl Downstairs, in which Gaal won equal billing with costar Franchot Tone. And then…
.. A 1939 musical opposite Bing Crosby.
For reasons hard to fathom — considering Gaal’s Jewish ancestry — the actress departed Hollywood and returned to Europe in 1940, just as World War II was kicking into high gear. One possible reason: her mother’s illness.
In any case the move proved difficult (her family lost much during the war) and effectively ended her movie career. Gaal returned to the U.S. over the ensuing years but mostly to act on the stage. She died at age 68 in New York City in 1973.
She and Hollywood; ships passing in the night.