The Cinema Manager

In 1952, when Carl Th. Dreyer took over from Hilmar Clausen as manager of the Dagmar Teateret cinema on Jernbanegade, Copenhagen, he also got his chief assistant, Mrs Inga Jørgensen. They worked closely together for the next 16 years. Claus Kjær and Birgit Granhøj from The Danish Film Institute visited Mrs. Jørgensen.

On 19 March 2010, Claus Kjær and Birgit Granhøj visited Mrs Jørgensen, now 88, in her home for an interview. Mrs Jørgensen was Dreyer’s secretary at Dagmar from 1952-1968. One of the first things she said was,
"Dreyer was two people. One Dreyer was very reserved, polite and modest (but always got his way!). The other could be violently temperamental and unreasonably perfectionistic." 
The cinema’s superintendent once told Mrs Jørgensen after a meeting with Dreyer, "Why ask for the difficult, when you can ask for the impossible?"

Dreyer as manager

A cinema manager’s job above all consisted of programming the repertoire and overseeing the finances. Dreyer usually went to work from 11 to 4 o’clock and watched films, often with Mrs Jørgensen and the film distributor in question. Then he had lunch with distributors he liked. He never asked Mrs Jørgensen what she thought about the films. No film was ever shown at Dagmar without Dreyer seeing it first. On the other hand, he never went to any of the other cinemas in town.

"Why ask for the difficult, when you can ask for the impossible?"

Dreyer took over a staff of 29, from coat-check ladies and washroom attendants to the head usher and theatre superintendent Tage Hertel. The superintendent – when Hertel died in 1955, he was followed by Harald Grut – handled all negotiations with the distributors about revenue rates, and Dreyer subsequently received and signed the final agreements. Also affiliated with Dagmar were Leo Fischer, an attorney, and Poul Jarnes, an accountant who did two or three financial statements a year.


Dreyer was acutely aware when a staff member was sick or not doing well, and in such situations he was happy to help out financially. Staff members also received a Christmas bonus. He knew the names of all his cinema’s employees, but otherwise he did not have much to do with them. Mrs Jørgensen dealt with the staff. One time, when the ticket ladies noticed that the staff at other cinemas in Copenhagen wore identical uniforms, they wanted some too. Mrs Jørgensen presented the matter to Dreyer, who replied, "All right, but then they have to be buried in them, too!" The ticket ladies never got new uniforms.

Get that mad woman out of here!

Mrs Jørgensen always kept handy a pile of envelopes addressed to everyone on the premiere list, so that she could send out the invitations as soon as they came back from the printer. There was a premiere with invited guests practically every time a new film opened at Dagmar. In some periods, there was a premiere every month, depending on how well the films were doing.

After he took over, Dreyer saw to it that special programmes, called Dagmar-kronikker, were printed for his cinema’s films. Different writers, professors and artists wrote about the films’ topics, not about the films themselves. The programmes had eight pages and were illustrated.

Dreyer also came up with the idea of giving a small gift (paid for by the cinema) to all ladies attending gala or sneak premieres. For the premiere of The Solid Gold Cadillac (13 May 1958) they received a small, gilded Cadillac and for the premiere of The Seven Year Itch (10 June 1958) they got a backscratcher. The gifts were a big hit. Mrs Ebba Dreyer always attended these premieres.

Among the stars that visited Dagmar was Sophia Loren (in 1958). Dreyer only had this to say about her, "Get that mad woman out of here!"

Flowers from Carl Th.

Dreyer gave his handwritten letters to Mrs Jørgensen and she then typed them up. One summer vacation she helped out by typing Dreyer’s script for his Jesus film. She spent that summer with the Dreyer family in Frederiksberg, which gave her a rare look at Dreyer’s home life in the apartment on Dalgas Boulevard. Mrs Dreyer was gracious, sweet and considerate. She brought coffee and cake for Mrs Jørgensen and made sure there was a good atmosphere. Sparks would sometimes fly between husband and wife. But Dreyer would quickly feel guilty about his temper and bad behaviour, and then he would ask Mrs Jørgensen to have a big bouquet of flowers delivered to Ebba.

Father, mother, Gunni and Erik

The Dreyers’ daughter, Gunni (called Gutte), was mentally ill and sometimes behaved oddly. She lived with her parents until the mid-1950s. Their son, Erik Dreyer, was occasionally helped out by his father with contacts and jobs (including at the B.T. newspaper), but he drank too much and spent long periods abroad. Mrs Jørgensen was convinced that all members of the members suffered from mental illnesses to various degrees. None of them had an easy or particularly happy life. Friends never visited Dreyer when he was at his office at Dagmar, and Mrs Jørgensen did not get the impression that the family received very many visitors. Their apartment was small with no room for big dinner parties. Mrs Dreyer and Gunni stopped in at Jernbanegade once in a blue moon, if they happened to be in the centre of town, and a few times Ebba brought her sister, Ingeborg Ervø.

Few Danish films

Dreyer had an eye for quality films and was happy to give them a premiere, even if he could predict that they wouldn’t sell a lot of tickets. Still, Dagmar did well financially while Dreyer was running it. Apart from The Word (1954) and Gertrud (1964), very few Danish films were shown at Dagmar in Dreyer’s years. Dreyer never talked about his own films.

One got the impression that Dreyer was only interested in his job as manager, however conscientiously and well he performed, insofar as it allowed him to finance his own film projects. He was all but absent from Dagmar when he was making his own films. However, it was okay to contact him with any pressing questions, which happened once or twice a week. The cinema’s programme was always so well prepared that he could leave for a film shoot even on short notice, when that was required.

The last gift

When Dreyer had to find a gift for Ebba – which happened often – he would have five fur coats, for instance, delivered to Dagmar Teatret and Ebba would come in and pick the one she liked. When Dreyer was in Frederiksberg Hospital dying, Mrs Jørgensen visited him almost daily. At one point he asked her to help him out, because he so wanted to give Ebba a real pearl necklace. Mrs Jørgensen went to Georg Jensen jewellers and introduced herself, mentioning Dreyer and Leo Fischer’s names, and was given four or five necklaces for Dreyer to choose from. He did so on his sickbed and Ebba got her last gift from him.

When Dreyer died in 1968, the cinema was taken over by Henning Carlsen, who had an entirely different management style than Dreyer. Mrs Jørgensen left Dagmar shortly after and was hired by Nygade Teatret.

By Claus Kjær & Birgit Granhøj | 11. August