Ulla Jacobsson became a global film star thanks to a single role. In the early 1950s she also became an unwilling symbol of what became known as ‘the Swedish sin’.
Ulla Jacobsson was born in Gothenburg in 1929. She grew up in Mölndal. She was the daughter of Gunnar Jakobsson, who had initially been an ironworker but then became an insurance salesman, and his wife Sigrid. Ulla Jacobsson was her parents’ third child, and her siblings were her sister Gun as well as a brother who died in infancy.
Ulla Jacobsson began her education at a girls’ school and subsequently worked at a Gothenburg lawyer’s office. She had dreamt of being in the theatre since she was young, and loved to dress up, sing, and recite, and was keen on amateur dramatics both at school and in Unga Örnar (a youth branch of the workers’ movement), as well as other societies. When Ulla Jacobsson was accepted into the Gothenburg city theatre school in 1948 her dreams finally became reality. By 1950 she was the top student, and the following year she became a fulltime actor, and remained at that theatre until 1953. She acted a total of 20 different roles.
Ulla Jacobsson’s theatrical debut came in 1949 when she played Blenda in Hans nåds testamente. That same year she also played Astrid in Hjalmar Bergman’s Sagan, and the head of the women’s chorus in Lysistrate. In 1951 she played Electrical Girl in Kvartetten som sprängdes, and the following year she was Puck in William Shakespeare’s En midsommarnattsdröm, and also acted the part of Isabelle in Jean Anouilh’s Dans under stjärnorna. Further roles included parts in Jag älskar dig, markatta at the Liseberg theatre in the summer of 1950 and in Sture Lagerwall’s 1951 touring production of Boboll, as well as the title role in Gigi at the Intima theatre at Odenplan in Stockholm, in 1957. She also played the title role in Fröken Julie opposite Gunnar Hellström as Jean at the Riks theatre in 1966. Throughout the years she also guest-starred at several German theatres.
Ulla Jacobsson made her silver screen debut in 1951 when she was 22 years old with a part in the film Bärande hav. Later that year she made her breakthrough performance – both nationally and internationally – as the peasant-girl Kerstin in Hon dansade en sommar (She only danced one summer), opposite Folke Sundquist. Both of these films were directed by Arne Mattsson. It was in the latter film that Ulla Jacobsson appeared in the well-known nude scene which became a global sensation. The scene in which the young loving couple innocently bathed nakedly in a lake and then lay down together in the summer grass gave rise to a notorious success. This sequence had not been in the original manuscript and Ulla Jacobsson had initially rejected the idea of filming a nude scene. She eventually relented when it became clear that the scene would be filmed even if this meant using a stand-in for her. This was the first Swedish film to be awarded a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film festival in 1952. The global impression that Ulla Jacobsson made in that film stayed with her for the rest of her career. Attempts were made, in Germany and elsewhere, to coast on that film’s success by creating similar films and roles but the magic of the original was never successfully recreated. Ulla Jacobsson was never allowed to forget the brief scene which became indelibly etched on the surrounding world’s memory.
Ulla Jacobsson exuded warmth and a depth of expression, which was fresh and soft. Her acting conveyed a vibrant innocence with a hint of underlying sadness, while she could also be timid and shy. Although she was sensitive and complex she was also ambitious and resolute, a person of high ideals who was able to transmit her own searching, depth and pain in her performances.
Ulla Jacobsson’s next film roles included those of the peasant-girl Lisbet in the 1953 film All jordens fröjd, the title-role in Karin Månsdotter and Elsalill in Her Arnes penningar, both from 1954, the innocent child-bride Anne Egerman in Sommarnattens leende, in 1955, and Elli the maid in Sången om den eldröda blomman from 1956. After that she mainly appeared in German, French, and British productions. Ulla Jacobsson had already acted in her first German films in 1954, namely Den heliga lögnen (Die heilige Lüge) and Evig är kärleken (…und ewig bleibt die Liebe), both directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner. She now and again acted in Swedish films, including Arne Mattson’s new 1958 adaptation of Körkarlen, Nattmara from 1965, and Bamse from 1968, the latter two of which were directed by the same man.
Ulla Jacobsson’s international roles included a part in the British 1964 war-film Zulu in which she played the missionary’s daughter Margareta Witt, opposite the likes of Michael Caine and Jack Hawkins. Similarly, she played the part of Anna Pedersen in Hjältarna från Telemarken (The heroes of Telemark) from 1965, where she acted opposite Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris, and Michael Redgrave. Some of her other films included För en kvinnas skull (Die Letzten werden die Ersten sein, 1957), En skandalös historia (Und das am Montagmorgen, 1959), Alle Jahre wieder, 1967, Adolphe, ou l'âge tendre, 1968, La servante, 1970, Einer von uns beiden, 1974, och Frihetens nävrätt (Faustrecht der Freiheit, 1975) in which she played the part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s mother.
In 1973 Ulla Jacobsson played the role of Thorborg in the Swedish drama series Ett köpmanshus i skärgården, which was based on a novel by Emilie Flygare-Carlén and directed by Åke Falck. Her final acting part was in the German mini-series Das Ding in 1979. However, her last theatrical role was as late as 1980, at which time she was already suffering from the cancer that would eventually end her life.
Ulla Jacobsson was awarded the Bambi prize in 1956, in the category of best international actor, and in 1967 she received a German film prize for best supporting character for the part she played in the West German drama Alle Jahre wieder, directed by Ulrich Schamoni.
Ulla Jacobsson was initially married to the director Josef Kornfeld, and subsequently to the Dutch artist Frank Lodeizen, and finally to the Austrian ethnologist and professor Hans Winfried Rohsmann. Her daughter Ditte was born during her first marriage, whilst her son Martin was born during her second marriage.
Ulla Jacobsson died in Vienna in 1982. She is buried at the Zentralfriedhof Wien cemetery.