Today, few Americans know who Marion Michael was.
Those who do are mostly aficionados of vintage men’s magazines or old cult movies. (I qualify on both counts.)
But there was a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Marion achieved celebrity status in Europe and was billed as “Germany’s answer to Brigitte Bardot” in the United States.
She was born in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) on October 17, 1940 as Marion Ilonka Michaela Delonge. After World War II ended, her family moved to Berlin.
For a while, Marion studied ballet. Then in 1965, she heard that the Berlin-based Arca film production company was looking for an unknown young woman to play the lead character in a film based on the popular German novel, Liane, das Mädchen aus dem Urwald (Liane, the Girl from the Jungle), written by Anne Day-Helveg (sister of philosopher Karl Popper).
The story is partly a female variation on Tarzan combined with elements of old “white Jungle Goddess” characters that were popular in comic books and movies in the 1930s and 1940s, like Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
Arca publicists claimed that nearly 12,000 girls competed for the role of Liane.
Marion, who did indeed look something like a young Brigitte Bardot, auditioned for and won the part. As things turned out, it became her major claim to fame.
The film was first released in West Germany in October 1956, using the same title as the book, Liane, das Mädchen aus dem Urwald,
It became a huge hit and made Marion Michael an instant star in that country. In 1957 and 1958, it was released in other European countries, where it was also popular.
Finally, in February 1959, a version dubbed in English was released in the United States under the title Liane, Jungle Goddess.
It wasn’t quite as big a hit in the US as in Europe. But publicity photos of Marion playing Liane were published in many men’s adventure magazines and pinup mags, making her known to many male readers of those periodicals even if they didn’t catch the movie.
An obvious reason for the popularity of Liane, Jungle Goddess among men is that Marion appears topless in much of the first half of the film. In some scenes her bare breasts are clearly showing through the strands of her long blonde hair.
According to the storyline of the book and movie, Liane was the lone survivor of a plane that crashed deep in the African jungle when she was two years old.
Local natives found the toddler and raised her. She learns their language and customs and, like them, grows up wearing little but a loincloth and necklaces.
Viewers find out about this backstory part way into the film, after a white wildlife photographer named Thoren, played by the eventually more famous actor Hardy Kruger, gets captured by the natives that raised Liane.
Before they have a chance to cut off his head, Liane intervenes and saves him.
The natives call her Chia-Hee, but Thoren eventually discovers that she is the long-lost granddaughter of a wealthy German shipping magnate and that her original name is Liane.
The scenes that take place in Africa showcase Marion Michael walking, swimming and swinging on vines topless. They’re the best part of the movie. Naturally, Thoren falls in love with her and she with him.
He takes her back to Germany. She doesn’t go around topless there, but does have occasion to wear a skimpy bikini.
Liane survives the machinations of a greedy cousin who wants to steal the family inheritance. His scheme fails.
Liane ends up getting Grandpa’s fortune. Then she and Thoren go back to Africa together.
Marion Michael, sans Kruger, went on to more adventures as Liane in the sequel, Liane, die Weisse Sklavin (Liane, the White Slave, aka Jungle Girl and the Slaver).
The Arco company had originally planned a series of Liane films and signed Marion to an exclusive seven film contract. Alas, the second was the last.
In 1960, Marion was in a terrible car accident that left her scarred and unable to work for months.
That accident, and the contract with Arco that kept her from working for other movie studios in Europe or the US, stifled her once-promising career.
After appearing in several more obscure Arco films in the ’60s, she moved to Communist East Germany.
She lived there until her death from heart failure in 2007, shortly before her 67th birthday.
In Germany, Marion maintained some celebrity status throughout her life. She appeared in several TV shows and stage plays in the 1970s.
In 1996, a TV movie musical about her life was produced and aired in Germany.
It was fittingly titled Liane, in honor of the role that made her – at least for a while – the star who was supposed to be “Germany’s answer to Brigitte Bardot.”
Marion Michael is now almost forgotten in the US.
However, the movie Liane, Jungle Goddess is now available to anyone who wants to seek it out and there are some good articles about it and Marion on various websites, like Richard Beland’s excellent Jungle Frolics blog.
You can also view a German language version of the second Liane movie on YouTube. It’s actually worth watching if you become a Marion Michael fan after seeing the first one.
You’ll be able to figure out what’s going on in the second one without knowing German. You’ll also see some more alluring footage of Marion in her native state of undress.
Marion Michael’s legacy also lives on in the vintage men’s magazines, celebrity magazines, movie posters, publicity photos, and German postcards and collector’s cards featuring her that are sold on eBay.
I’ve photo spreads featuring Marion in quite a few men’s adventure magazines. That’s the genre I collect, write about on my MensPulpMags.com blog and feature in the anthologies of men’s adventure mag stories and artwork I co-edit for the Men’s Adventure Library book series published by New Texture.
Men’s adventure magazines that feature Marion include: Rage for Men, December 1957; Man’s Conquest, June 1958; Sir!, March 1959; For Men Only, December 1959; and South Sea Stories, July 1960.
I’ve also found photo features about her and Liane in several men’s bachelor magazines published in the late ‘50s, such as Modern Man, July 1958 and Caper, January 1959.
The article in South Sea Stories is one of the most interesting. It provides more biographical info about Marion than most and compares her to both Bardot and “MM” (Marilyn Monroe).
“Although Brigitte Bardot refuses to come to the U.S., don’t despair. You’re going to see a lot of her biggest rival, this luscious blonde 17-year-old — Marion Michael. Marion is the star of Germany’s big money-maker, ‘Liane — the Jungle Girl’ and many connoisseurs swear that Europe’s MM is even sexier than BB.
The producers wanted an unknown for the role and they say Marion, then a precocious and beautifully-equipped 15-year-old (36½-19-35) with long golden hair, was just made to play Liane, a young girl who grows up among the animals of the jungle after her parents are killed.
A low-budget picture like our own ‘I Was a Teen-age Werewolf,’ ‘Liane—the Jungle Girl’ is already the second highest money-maker of any German movie since the war.
So far it has been shown in thirteen countries and Marion’s charms are well-known to avid movie-goers.
The producers, who knew a sexpot when they saw one, signed Marion to a 7-year contract and plan to star her in a series of Liane movies. Marion, who is also an accomplished ballerina, lived in East Berlin under the Reds. She escaped, with her mother, to the West. Her father is still working as a surgeon in an East Berlin hospital.
The pictures on these pages were taken in a tropical park near Naples, Italy, which served as the location for the African jungle setting of the movie. During the filming Marion’s mother was with her every second-and the Italian wolves didn’t have a chance.
Since then Marion has been to an exclusive German finishing school-and now she’s all set to put the Hollywood jungle under her spell.”
Unfortunately, Hollywood was not in the cards for Marion. I, for one, think that’s unfortunate, but I can and do rewatch Liane, Jungle Goddess every once in a while and think about what might have been.