Leni Riefenstahl

Name ID 1467

See also

Herne, Brian White Hunters: The golden age of African Safaris
Page Number: 216
Extract Date: 1956

Leni Riefenstahl

Although George Six had long ago given up his urban existence in favor of a wanderer's life of adventure, he maintained excellent contacts in Europe, especially in the French and German movie communities. Although George was of mixed English-French parentage, he spoke the King's English, as well as fluent French, Spanish, Swahili, and German.

One of George Six's numerous international acquaintances was the controversial German flimmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Leni had been one of the women admired by Adolf Hitler, and she was also Germany's most famous movie actress, having won acclaim for performances in The Blue Light and The Holy Mountain. Riefenstahl made the admired Olympia about the 1936 Berlin Olympics for Hitler, and that is where she first met George Six. In his varied career, George had participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a member of the British swimming team. During subsequent travels Six had taken up photography, first as a hobby, later as a profession. While on assignment as a Life magazine photographer in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, he worked with pioneer underwater photographer Hans Haas.

In 1956 George became reacquainted with Leni Riefenstahl when she asked him to help her make a full-length documentary film about the slave trade in East Africa. George invited me to join him on the Riefenstahl safari, which lasted over seven months and traveled through Kenya, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. Leni's movie was called Schwarz Fracht, or Black Cargo.

For some reason during a preliminary survey of Kenya before filming was to begin, Riefenstahl was driving George's specially built, woodenbodied, shooting-brake Willys Jeep. The heavy car went into a fast skid on a rough stretch of graveled road leading to the Tana River near Garissa Bridge, rolled down an embankment, and came to rest upside down. Luckily for Leni, George was aboard, because in the accident she suffered a concussion and a deep gash to the head. She was also badly bruised and had sprained her neck. George suffered a broken kneecap and a broken wrist. From his medicine chest in the car, George washed and stitched Leni's head wound. In those days safaris did not have radio telephones. Instead, a Nairobi radio station would broadcast messages to white hunters listening out in the bush after the regular BBC world news broadcast each evening. In an emergency it was necessary to find an administrative outpost and hope that it had radio contact with Nairobi.

On the remote Tana River road traffic was scarce, but fortunately for Leni a police Land Rover happened to be passing George's crashed Jeep, and the police inspector drove Six and Riefenstahl into the Somali township of Garissa. At that time there was no flying doctor service, but the police radioed headquarters in Nairobi. My uncle, Norris Kirkham, of the Kenya Police Air Wing, was sent to rescue Leni and George. After a stay at Nairobi Hospital Leni returned to Germany before resuming her safari with us. She came back wearing a neck brace, accompanied by a number of German cameramen and technicians, along with her assistant, the gracious Hanni (Isle) Lanske.

* Leni Riefenstahl's film Black Cargo contained excellent wildlife footage, but it was generally regarded as a flop at the box office.

Extract ID: 3836