Friday, December 18, 2020

Helmut Lange: "The Leather Stocking made my life difficult ..."

 Winnetou Romania

November 25, 2020

Hunter Nathaniel (Nat) Bumpo, nicknamed St. John's Wort, Hawkeye, Long Carabiner and Leather Stocking, was not just a famous tracker, but the best friend of the Indian Chingachgook Indian! This added to him even more credibility in the eyes of Soviet boys, who floated through cinemas and houses of culture in search of films "about Indians."

Shown here in 1972 black and white "Adventures on the Shores of Ontario" / "Adventures in Ontario" and "Prairie", presented as films jointly produced by Romania and France, deservedly occupied their niche in popularity after films "about Winneta" and "Indian series "DEFA.

In reality, these were two parts of a COLORED four-part television epic "The Story of Leather Stocking" based on the novels of Fenimore Cooper, in which Germany and Austria also participated.

It was almost impossible to find out anything about the performers of the main roles, and even more so about the filming, in those days in our country. And now, more than fifty years later, by popular demand, we will tell you about the performers and the filming. Let's start with the German actor Helmut Lange, who will be remembered as Nat Bumpo (or Bumpo, as he was dubbed in the dubbed version at the M. Gorky film studio).

[In our box-office, two films about Leather Stocking were shown in black and white / still from the film “Adventures pm the Shores of Quebec”]

It was almost impossible to find out anything about the performers of the main roles, and even more so about the filming, in those days in our country. And now, more than fifty years later, by popular demand, we will tell you about the performers and the filming. Let's start with the German actor Helmut Lange, who will be remembered as Nat Bumpo (or Bumpo, as he was dubbed in the dubbed version at the M. Gorky film studio).

Germans Helmut Lange remembered primarily as a pathfinder Nat Cooper Bumpo in “History of the Leather Socks” / The Die Lederstrumpferzählungen, first shown in Christmas week 1969 on ZDF television. This German version from Walter Ulbrich, producer of DEROPA-Film, was a four-part series.

For the French TV, there are two options: the same four-part version and remount 13-episode alternative (approximately 25 minutes for each series) titled “The Legend of the Leather-Stocking Tales” / La Légende de Bas-de-Cuir. This was the decision of the producer of the Franco-London Film Company, Henry Deutschmeister. The TV premiere in France took place six months later than the German one.

In the Soviet Union, films were purchased from a third-party co-production. Enterprising Romanians gave us two episodes as full-length films to be shown in cinemas. By the way, not only to us, but also to other countries of the socialist camp. Due to the shortage of color film, our copies were stamped on black and white, knowing that the box office in a large country would be collected anyway. But more on that another time.

In the meantime, let's see what Helmut Lange himself said about the films and about himself in an interview.

- Did you read Cooper as a child?

Yes of course. When the director of synchronized filming Konrad von Molo approached me with an offer, I was just happy and definitely wanted to play this role. These "Leather Stocking Stories" fascinated me. With the same childish sense of three or four years before I was shot in the television production “The Adventures of John Klings” / the John Klings Abenteuer . It was the homebrew James Bond, the one about whom the mountains of cheap books are written, stacked under the counters of second-hand booksellers.

[Helmut Lange in Serenade für zwei Spione (1965)]

What is the significance of the "Leather Stocking Stories" in your life?

This is a special topic. I am a man of television, it is to him that I am grateful for a certain popularity, the highest point of which arose, of course, after the "Leather Stocking". The film was decorated with magnificent costumes and sets, created with the utmost care by the Romanian side. Filming on location lasted four months without interruption. To be honest, I would not really like to repeat all this. The whirlwind began when we were filming in the same clothes as in summer closer to winter at a temperature of -15 °.

[Filming in icy November 1968 on the Arges River in Romania]

All the extras were jealous of me when, according to the plot, a fire was lit at my feet. I was the only one who felt warm. Warmth despite wet feet. This leather shoe absorbs water like a sponge and lives with it forever. I wonder how Nathaniel's Leather Stocking would have withstood this! When the producer visited the shooting location, the actors were ready to kill him.

And one day I fell off my horse. Feelings are as if a knife was stuck in the back - the displacement of the intervertebral disc! Later, I was either replaced with a stunt double, or the camera focused more on Chingachgook, Pierre Massimi. This happened during the filming of the third part - when the river, along which we sailed in a canoe just a week ago, was covered with a thick layer of ice 20 centimeters thick. By the way, in Romania the film was shown in cinemas!

- In the first part, in St. John's Wort, there is a memorable scene with a tomahawk. On the fly, you grab a flying hatchet to throw it back at your opponent. How was it filmed?

I trained during the two-hour midday break. One person from the film crew stood in front of me and threw a tomahawk. I was catching, he was throwing, I was catching again ... So we tried for a long time, until I finally succeeded, and I said that everything was under control and I would catch for sure. There was no trick, I was catching the ax for real.

[Helmut Lange in the movie "St. John's Wort" / "Deer Hunter"]

Much more unpleasant for me was one scene at the end of the episode, when I was standing by a tree, bound by mohawks. At some point, everyone left for a break, and they left me at the trunk. At that time there weren't any "Polaroids" for instant photography. “Helmut, if we take off the ropes now, we won't be able to tie you up the same way! You will have to stand tied up . So I stood by the giant oak tree with numb hands. Thank God, being in the shadows, I held out for almost two hours until the film crew returned.

Like many TV films of that time, Leather Stocking was remembered for its amazing exteriors. Where did the shooting take place?

Indeed, the exteriors and decorations were absolutely amazing! To build a fort, a hundred thick oak trees were piled. And they put it right there, on the spot. However, in fact there were two forts, which were slightly rebuilt as needed. The scenery with the towers and the main gate always had one open corner.

[The scenery of the fort / still from the film "Adventures on the Shores of Ontario"]

I also had to work hard on Indian dances. And with what love they built Indian tents, with what incredible accuracy and precision! They were made from real leather and painted beautifully. No synthetics. Yes, the team did not have it, only skin! Worked for weeks on end. Hundreds of horses stood in constant readiness. They felled real oaks, making a beautiful "beaver hut" out of them right on the reservoir, which became our first natural motive. This house was floating on the water on a hundred empty gasoline barrels.

["Cowboy City" was used the same as in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", filmed a year earlier] 

We filmed mainly 20 kilometers from Bucharest on the territory of the Buftea film studio, which is on the Colentina River, and, of course, in the Carpathians. All objects were not very far from each other.

I remember how on the third day of filming we learned that Soviet troops had entered Prague. For me, the moment came when I said: “So, friends, I'm folding, it's getting too risky. I will not stay here! " We thought that the events in Prague could spill over to Romania. I even sent a telegram to my manager to terminate the contract. However, Lufthansa continued flights to Bucharest, and they announced the impossibility of termination.

- Did you somehow specially train for this role? Was there any unusual skill required?

Hmm ... First I was told that I had to drive a canoe. Well, okay, I could guarantee that. 10 days before filming, a telegram came that it was necessary to take obligatory riding lessons, because I had to ride even without a saddle. And I didn't know how to ride a horse at all. What was to be done? I showed up at the Munich English Garden and said: “Listen, you need to make me a rider in a week, holding tight to the saddle. But, at the same time, on a bareback horse! " The result was as follows: I suffered for two hours, erased everything I could, but still rode on horseback. And then, with a diaper and cream, in two days he raced in my car from Munich to Bucharest.

[Leather Stocking holds in the saddle as well as Chingachgook]

Have you watched your films? Feeling satisfied?

I have watched Leather Stocking several times. The story told there is real. This is not an "action" and not a plot that has been sucked from the finger, this is not "Winnetu". The story of a man standing between Indians and whites. The film contains a message - beyond time and space - about mutual understanding of peoples and about the openness of cultures. The hero looks at the setting sun exactly as he learned from the Indians. It's great!

In general, I was satisfied, but the newspaper "Bild" responded as follows: "This is not a Leather Stocking, but a Silk Sock.It made me very angry. They expected a tough western, but Nat Bumpo is not one of those who shoot at enemies for no reason. He always first tries to resolve the issue peacefully, to agree. He never scalped and was always against it, considered it a crime. He is not a daredevil, but a messenger between whites and reds. Redskins lived in harmony with nature. They have their own culture. However, the western genre develops according to its own canons. Round carriages, obligatory slaughter ... I saw our products not as a Western, but as a colossal story about a great friend of the Indians. Here we were with the director Pierre Gaspard-Huit on the same wavelength. He said:“Helmut, think first! You are not a hero!"


[Eternal Peacemaker Leather Stocking / still from the movie "The Last of the Mohicans"]

Which of the four parts is your favorite?

I can only say which one I dislike. The first episode did not give me much pleasure due to our disagreements with French-Canadian Patrick Peuvion, who plays Harry March. Besides, something was done in an openly amateurish way. We had to sail against the wind, and the sail swelled in the opposite direction. Note that the vessel was dragged by a motor boat. But who will believe that we are sailing forward when the sail is bent backward in the wind? As always, the reason is the same: filmmakers have neither the time nor the opportunity to expect different weather.

- Did success and audience sympathy help you in any way in your future career?

Believe it or not, all this only added to my problems. Imagine, four episodes in a row are shown on TV for the first time on Christmas, on each of the four Sundays for the next Christmas - on the second, and even on the Christmas holidays themselves - on the third. So many hits in a relatively short time. "Ah, Helmut Lange, that same forest tramp!" I just played Leather Stocking, the fictional character of the famous writer. Fenimore Cooper is who the real forest tramp is, really caught between two fronts. My God, how he survived all this! In general, I began a really painful period.

- Did you have other main roles in TV films later?

Almost not, but I didn't really want to. I never thought that this role would completely catapult me ​​from the film industry. All the directors unanimously declared that they did not want to see me anymore. For a whole year after Leather Stocking, I did not receive a single offer. This is a very bad experience in my life. Everything that was filmed later was already through.

- How did you get out of this situation?

The NDR TV and Radio Company offered me to broadcast "Do you know the movie?" He appeared in it once, but then lingered for 10 years ...

[Helmut Lange in the dubbing studio]

You're a native of Berlin, aren't you?

Yes, it all started there. On November 13, 1936, at the radio studio at Mazurenallee, I took part in my first program for schoolchildren.

[Helmut Lange with his brother]

- You were only 13 years old then ...

Yes. It was about Franz Schubert's Trout Quintet. I myself turned to the editorial office of the youth radio and said: "I want to study with youAnd bit the bit! Then everything was done live, because there were no sound carriers.

- Five years later, you turned your back on Berlin. Why?

The war has begun! I passed my high school final exam when I was eighteen. We barely managed to take a general photo of the class, and the next day we were sent to do labor service in Stralsund. In June 1941, I joined the Navy. Two years later, he commanded a minesweeper in the English Channel. Crew of four. During the day we slept, at night we looked for mines. Very scary! Then I was sent to study as a submariner. I still remember how we then learned about the attempt on Hitler's life on July 20, 1944. We were shocked and couldn't believe it. But I never sympathized with the Nazis, and my father was generally an anti-fascist. He even stopped communicating with me after I went to serve in the Navy. But in six months I would have been drafted into the army anyway ... After the war, I did not return to Berlin immediately. Stayed in Lubeck.

- You have starred in dozens of films, worked on radio and in voice acting. From today's perspective, what was the most important job for you?

Film "Waldhausstrasse 20", filmed in 1960. I played a Swedish pastor who hid Jews in his church. This was my first big and favorite TV role. A year later, the Berlin Wall was erected on the spot on Kochstrasse. The tape became the first full-length feature film on German television. From that moment on, somehow my business went well. The next morning I was offered the next main role, three weeks later - another ...

- Do you still have a desire to be in front of the camera again?

No. There are no people my age in the television industry. There are hardly any good roles for them. Alas, we are no longer part of the advertising market. But I continue to record plays on the radio.

[Helmut Lange as Commissioner Hager / TV series Eurogang (1975-1976)] 

[Used materials from the book Oliver Kellner, Ulf Marek: Seewolf & Co. - Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf (2005) , as well as excerpts from interviews for Der Tagesspegel , Der Spiegel and Hör zu magazines.]

Text and translation from German - Big Chief


Helmut Lange, who was born in Berlin in the family of an employee, could have developed a career as a teenager - at the age of 13, he was actively involved in children's programs on Berlin Radio. However, the Second World War canceled all plans. Yesterday's boy Helmut was in the navy. He did not like to remember the war, he considered it a real nightmare and thanked fate for being alive. His brother was less fortunate.

After the war, Helmut was able to return to creativity, finished acting school in Hanover, then worked for some time as a director and radio announcer in Bremen. He got his first role not in cinema, but on television in 1958. In the same year he married a teacher Ingrid, whom he called Josephine and who gave him three children, becoming a reliable assistant in his affairs. Actually, it was on TV that Helmut gained the greatest popularity not only as an actor, but also as an announcer, editor, TV presenter.

He appeared on the movie screen mainly in the 1960s. For the next decade, he hosted the popular TV show "Do You Know the Movie?" and later became editor of CINEMA magazine . Thanks to his recognizable and pleasant voice, he worked a lot on the radio, recording plays, and in dubbing, voicing famous American film stars for the German film distribution, among whom were Paul Newman , Richard Harris , Charlton Heston , Donald Sutherland and others. Periodically appeared in television series and movies.

His long life has not been easy. The public knew Hellmuth as a "man with iron nerves", but in 1965, in his absence in Bavaria, one of his sons drowned while fishing. And at the end of his life Lange himself suffered from senile dementia and died in Berlin, six days before his 88th birthday.


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