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BETTY BIRD – A TALENT TO BE (RE)DISCOVERED

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Known for her grace, fresh beauty and cheerfulness, in the course of her short career Betty Bird played all sorts of film roles, taking part in about forty films. But who, in fact, was our Betty Bird?

A too short career

One of the great talents of Austrian cinema of the past, who, however, was neither properly recognised nor appreciated in her time, is undoubtedly actress Betty Bird. Known for her grace, her fresh beauty and her cheerfulness, in the course of her short career Betty Bird played all sorts of film roles, taking part in around forty films. But who, in fact, was our Betty Bird?

Hilde Elisabeth Ptak (this was her real name) was born on June 18, 1901 in Vienna. Her father, Ludwig Ptak, was the personal secretary of Count Alexander ‘Sascha’ Kolowrat-Krakowsky, founder of the legendary Sascha-Film, one of Austria’s first and most important film production companies. For this reason, young Hilde became interested in the film world from a very young age, taking part in a number of short films produced by Sascha-Film after winning the Viennese film beauty queen competition.

Married to cameraman and later also director Gustav Ucicky (1899 – 1961), young Betty Bird got her first important role in 1927, when she took part in Hans Otto Löwenstein’s feature film Madame dares an Escapade. Initially, the young woman chose the stage name Hilde Bird (‘bird’ was, in fact, the English translation of her Czech surname Ptak), but she soon decided to change her first name as well, becoming the talented Betty Bird that many people knew.

In the course of her career, as already mentioned, young Betty Bird took part not only in romances, as could easily happen to a performer with her charm and physicality, but also in thrillers, detective stories and even comedy films. With her husband Gustav Ucicky, she soon moved to Germany, first to Munich, then to Berlin, where she attempted an international career. Among the numerous feature films she took part in were Waterloo (Karl Grune, 1929), The Opera Ball (Max Neufeld, 1931), The Emperor’s Waltz (Friedrich Zelnik, 1933) and even The Great Love (1931), the only film directed in Austria by the great Otto Preminger.

Critics were always enthusiastic about the performances of elegant Betty Bird, who, for her part, unlike many of her colleagues, did not even find it difficult to adapt to a new way of acting at a time when sound films became definitively popular. And yet, for the last part of her career, which lasted only eight years, the actress, despite her constant desire for constantly challenging roles, which allowed her to be funny without ever being grotesque, almost always only obtained minor parts. The last film she took part in was the comedy Hero for a Night, directed by Martin Fric in 1935. From then on, his life changed radically.

Having returned to Austria, the actress divorced Ucicky in August 1936 and, now retired from the film industry, she married the Czech-born dentist Hilde Hruska on December 23, 1937 in Rome, with whom she moved permanently to the Italian capital, where she remained until her death on March 4, 1998, at the age of ninety-six, almost forgotten by all. It is a pity, therefore, that the talent of this likeable and versatile actress was never really recognised in her time. Certainly, our Betty Bird could have given us many more satisfactions. And yet, even today, when we happen to watch some old films in which she took part, we realise how she has never ceased to make us laugh, to move us, to thrill us.

Info: the page of Betty Bird on iMDb