Zarah Leander was a Swedish actor and singer. Her repertoire of hits, dark alto voice, and performance style resulted in her becoming a performing artist with a cult-like following, who has obtained an iconic status within the gay movement.
Zarah Leander was born in Karlstad in 1907. Her father was a merchant and a real estate agent. She attended school in Karlstad and then received private tuition from Rut Silfverhielm in Riga for three semesters during the 1924–1925 period. Her unofficial stage debut was in the role of the evil step-mother in the 1927 vaudeville performance Snövit. Zarah Leander’s stage career properly began in 1929 when she appeared in Ernst Rolf’s popular theatrical revue productions. Although she came to know Gösta Ekman later it was the revue performer, theatrical director, and writer of vaudeville couplets Karl Gerhard who would have the greatest influence on her career. Several of the revue shows such as Oss greker emellan, which was performed at Folkan in 1934, and Köpmannen i Nordens Venedig, a 1936 production at Folkan, featured Zarah Leander as their primadonna. Karl Gerhard wrote the song I skuggan av en stövel, which was a protest against the anti-Semitism of the era, for Zarah Leander in 1934.
Zarah Leander then went on to perform in a number of films and stage productions in Sweden, but from 1936–1943 she worked abroad, firstly in Vienna and then in Berlin, where she became one of the biggest stars of the German film industry. In 1943, right in the middle of the Second World War Zarah Leander moved back to Sweden. Her film star status in Germany then declined.
After the war ended she was forbidden from performing in Sweden, Austria and Germany until 1948. She appeared in a number of less successful films around this time, however, it was not in the guise of filmstar that she became the last great post-war Swedish diva but rather as a singer and concert performer. She continued her solo career until she retired in 1978 and once again it was Karl Gerhard who was a major factor in her return to the stage in 1948.
Zarah Leander was married three times. Her first marriage was to Nils Leander in 1927 and lasted just five years. Between the years of 1932–1943 she was married to Vidar Forsell, and from 1956 to 1978 she was married to Arne Hülphers. She had two children in her first marriage, both of whom were later adopted by Vidar Forsell.
Zarah Leander died in 1981. She is buried at the Häradshammar cemetery.