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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

of gangsters."

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

included:

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

prisoners.

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

Mata Hara.

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

result."

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

American tabloids.

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

better nation.

In 1938, Fern attended "Dynamite" in Boston, a play about The Andra's

incredible life.

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

Charming.

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.

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