Here, exclusively at klausharmony.com, you can read Porno Sonatas, Godfrey Gilliam's sensitive and insightful biography of the man, his wives, his cars and his music.
ONE THE EARLY YEARS 1941-59
IN THE 1920’s AND 30’s Lotte Schmitt enjoyed star status of a kind. Born in 1902, she was later to become a celebrated German movie star and entertainer/performer. Often greeted affectionately with ironic cries of ‘awful maiden’, she was well known by sight rather than name in the bierkellers and movie houses of Berlin, and indeed wherever else she happened to go. By the early 1930’s she had become involved with an older leading man named Hans Orff, then famous for his socio-political satire, a ventriloquist dummy act called ‘Hans Orff und das Saugenmädchen’.
In time Orff became increasingly fascinated by what seemed to him to be the more powerful world behind the camera. He became a film mogul and producer, faithfully casting Lotte in the leading role of every one of his two releases. It was during the making of Eingaben des Seils und des Schlammes (1941) that a daring attempt at a one-shot acrobatic love sequence went horrendously and almost disastrously wrong. Despite the arduous twenty-five minutes of intensive rehearsal put in by Lotte and her co-stars, she collided heavily with a stray boom only seconds into the first take and had to be nursed by fellow performers while crew members tried to remember the name of the nearest hospital.
Despite the accident, Lotte was mostly unhurt and took leave to rest for the three remaining weeks of her pregnancy. Orff rented his Baden apartment to Lotte for her recuperation and on January 21st 1941 she gave birth to a baby boy perfect in every detail apart from slight blindness in his left eye – which, along with her films, served as a permanent reminder of her film career.
In 1948 with a child to support, with Orff having departed from the film circuit to open a chain of stores selling sex toy vent dummies, Lotte embarked on new creative ventures. Influenced by her earlier incarnation as a supporting artiste in the clubs of 1930’s Berlin, she created a new form of cabaret, breathtaking for its daring employment of street theatre as a medium from which to comment on events in post-war Berlin. Dressed only in a negligée, she would stand in the windows of shop fronts singing her songs accompanied by the young Klaus on accordion. These songs soon became well known, and ballads such as Der Nun und das Pferd and vaudevillian foot-tappers like Wo Läßt Meinen Kleinen Sturzhelm Gehen? have become standard repertoire in certain German circles. During the early-fifties a new aspect of her ‘Vaudeville Nouveau’ developed whereby she would wait for a man to approach her and together they would retreat upstairs enigmatically, leaving Klaus to carry the act and learn his trade alone.
Ailing health and an utterly rampant drinking problem beset Lotte over the ensuing years and eventually Klaus had to become a solo artiste. His tender age notwithstanding, he knew the songs intimately and, with his accordion, performed them with an uncanny likeness to Lotte’s own delivery – moves and all. The part of the act that involved disappearing upstairs he found difficult however, preferring to simply kiss the men on the cheeks. [He later noted, that they seemed to be just as happy with this, sometimes making favorable remarks about his underdeveloped pubescent moustache.] Often in tattered clothing and exhausted, he would return to his mother’s one-room apartment after nineteen-hour days, his fingertips aching from accordion playing, and dream of success as a musician. He had been saving the money he had earned on the streets and by the age of eighteen had enough to make a journey to England to study music - once he had paid his mother’s liquor store debts. Owing to an old financial arrangement, Lotte had remained in contact with Hans Orff, now a London nightclub owner. Hans agreed to give the young Klaus work at Soho’s ‘Club Nefertiti’ in return for which he would pay for his tuition. In March 1959 Klaus bade a tearful farewell to a, by now, mostly bedridden Lotte and sailed from Hamburg to London via Dover.