After making a hundred films in Germany from 1915 to 1930, Fern Andra,
Europe's reigning silent film queen, whose parents had lived in both Hammond
and Gary, went to England in 1928 to make "Spangles" and
"Introspection." She followed this up by coming to the United
States in 1930 to make "Eyes of the World" and "Lotus Lady."
By working both sides of the Atlantic, Fern was hedging her bet against a
group of Nazis she called thugs. The problem climaxed in 1937, when, after one
of her trips to the United States, Fern returned to Germany to find she had to
deal with someone she remembered as a mousy tutor among "a laughable minority
But she underestimated Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels. A peasant who had been
educated at eight universities, Goebbels converted to Nazism in 1925 and
quickly proved to be a clever writer, one of the party's best orators, a
consummate rabble rouser, and a master of psychological warfare.
After Adolph Hitler was named chancellor in 1933, Goebbels became Minister
of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda and gauleiter, or governor, of Berlin.
After beginning his reign by burning all books he disapproved of, Goebbels,
who by then controlled German stage, screen, and radio, began to drive from
Germany all writers, artists, and entertainers who displeased the Nazis.
One day he summoned Fern.
"Baroness, you are a one-woman cartel," he shouted in a diatribe blue with
expletives. "You are an actress, director and producer for your Fern Andra Film
and Distributing Company, and you own theaters. Choose one and only one."
Not unacquainted with vivid maledictions, Fern returned the verbal fusillade
in kind, shrieking at Goebbels that he was nothing but a strutting, little
sawed-off braggart who was about as imposing as a wart. Dr. Goebbels matched
Fern's shrieking and raised her with a bill of particulars about her that
1. She had testified in Washington before a congressional committee on
immigration that Americans, especially actors, were being discriminated against
in Nazi Germany.
2. She had aided and abetted enemies of the Third Reich, having helped an
Englishman escape from a German prison camp and being dubbed by him the "Angel
of Berlin," an unseemly appellation.
3. She had also, in a variety of ways, helped French and other English
4. When German citizens in one of her theaters had mobbed a floral display
featuring an American flag, she defended it with a fury that brought her
loyalty to Germany into question.
5. Not only was she a convicted World War I American spy, she had associated
with Margaretha Gertrude Zelle, a belly-dancing double agent better known as
Still matching Goebbels shriek for shriek, Fern responded to Dr. Goebbels'
charges by declaring in high notes that she was still an American and
brandishing her American passport in his face.
At that point, Goebbels turned down the volume and became matter-of-fact.
"Passport or no passport, Baroness, you will not easily leave Germany
again," he said in a calm tone that was as convincing as death. "All will be
completely legal. I am starting an investigation today that can have only one
Having had some passing experience with German courts, which, even before
Hitler, could make cannibalism appear legal, Fern took the hint.
She tried in vain to persuade her longtime manager, Georg Bluen, to
accompany her, but the German-Jew declined, saying he loved his country too
much to flee and preferred to ride out the Nazi aberration.
With that, Fern transferred her studios over to Bluen and sought out a
friend who had been, since 1916, in what was now the Luftwaffe.
The aviator flew Fern to Romania. When Dr. Goebbels learned of the escape,
he became practically incoherent.
When he recovered his equilibrium, the master of The Big Lie claimed Fern
was not an American at all but actually a Hungarian who was wanted for murder.
The charge not only made big news in "Der Spiegel" but in the ever-receptive
Not overly concerned about consistency, Dr. Goebbels also planted in the
fertile soil of the American press, a story that implicated Fern in a scheme to
flood Germany with counterfeit U.S. dollars and British pounds. But the adroit
actress had slipped the noose again.
Safely back in the United States, The Andra took to shortwave radio,
broadcasting to Germany through the Office of War Information.
Speaking to Germans in German as someone who had lived with them and loved
them, she repeatedly told them that the Nazi gangsters had deceived even the
most loyal among them and had even slaughtered their innocent neighbors.
Privately, she said she hoped her words would hasten peace and a day when
victorious Allies would not be retributive, but help Germans build a new and
In 1938, Fern attended "Dynamite" in Boston, a play about The Andra's
Shocked by it, she sought out the producer of the play, Brigadier General
Sam Dockrell, and threatened to sue him.
Gen. Dockrell, a lifelong fan of Fern, not only turned away the diva's
extravagant wrath but charmed her so thoroughly that they married.
"That day was the happiest day of my life," she later said of her Prince
Fern, who retired to the life of a military spouse, and the general stayed
married 35 years. They died four months apart, he in October 1973, she on Feb.
8, 1974. The Andra was 80 years old.