More About the Author
"ACTRESSES OF A CERTAIN CHARACTER is a remarkable work and its author, Professor Axel Nissen, is a remarkable man."
Olivia de Havilland
"Is it at all likely that a Scandinavian academic with the bounding, affectionate enthusiasm of a golden Labrador, a mind like a rat trap, a gift for the acid put-down, the persistence of a tax inspector, the patience of a saint, and the looks of a teen age dilettante should decide to take up as a hobby the study of the lives and work of neglected character actresses?"
Siân Phillips CBE
Among the many good fortunes of my life has been the privilege of having two of my favorite actresses write prefaces to my books. That life started "almost yesterday" in Hamburg, where I was born the son of Norwegian diplomats, and I grew up in places as various as New York, Vancouver, and Seoul. Since 1984, I've been living in my native Norway, where I completed my education with a doctorate in American Literature from the University of Oslo in 1996. I've been working at my alma mater since 1997 and was promoted to Professor of American Literature in 2007.
The University of Oslo, founded in 1811, is Norway's oldest, largest, and most prestigious university. My studies and research have also brought me to Oxford, where I spent the 1991-92 academic year at Wadham College, and to many of the major American universities, such as Columbia, Harvard, Yale, UCLA, and Berkeley, where I spent the 1993-94 academic year on a Fulbright fellowship doing research for my dissertation on the western writer Bret Harte. My dissertation was awarded H.M. the King of Norway's Gold Medal in 1997 and in revised form was published as Bret Harte: Prince and Pauper in 2000. I was very happy to publish my first book with the University Press of Mississippi, who did a beautiful job with it. It was even reviewed in the New York Times Book Review and is still in print!
In 2009 I published what I consider my major scholarly work to date, a book on romantic friendship in nineteenth-century American literature called Manly Love, with the University of Chicago Press. I was thrilled to publish the book with what is by many considered the world's leading academic publisher and to work with their legendary editor Doug Mitchell. Again my publishers did themselves proud in producing an elegant volume. A full overview of my books and articles on American literature is available on my homepage at the University of Oslo: http://www.hf.uio.no/ilos/english/people/aca/nilsni/index.html .
In 2003, I discovered Turner Classic Movies and it changed my life. During the next few years, I amassed the largest private collection of old Hollywood films in Norway and began to consider how I might turn this hobby into further publications. My particular interest was in the many talented and largely forgotten character actresses in classic Hollywood films from the early sound era up until about 1960. In 2006, I published the first fruits of this research as Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. The publisher of this attractive, richly illustrated volume was McFarland. They also published the follow-up volume Mothers, Mammies and Old Maids: Twenty-Five Character Actresses of Golden Age Hollywood, which appeared in 2012.
Agnes Moorehead graces the cover of Actresses of a Certain Character and has been a particular scholarly interest of mine for the past ten years. My original plan had been to write the definitive scholarly biography of this actress, but the project grew beyond the bounds of what even the most capacious biography might reasonably hold. A few years ago, then, I decided to write two books about Moorehead. The first of these was published in 2013 by Scarecrow Press and is entitled The Films of Agnes Moorehead. I couldn't be more satisfied with the beautiful design and production of this hardcover book, which contains sixty-three photographs, one for each of the feature films profiled in the volume. I'm sure Moorehead herself would have appreciated that her long and varied film career has now been given serious scholarly consideration based on extensive interviews with her surviving friends and colleagues; a sober, yet I trust entertaining, analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of her film work; and a thorough reexamination of all the available published and unpublished sources relating to her life and career (not least of all the vast collection of papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison).