Silent movies

Silent

movies

Stunt riding can lead to many things. For Axel Mattson, his flamboyant appearances in the silent movies helped finance Denmark’s first equestrian club – complete with a futuristic manège by the famous designer, Arne Jacobsen.

 

By Camilla Alfthan

 

Horses were always a passion for Axel Mattson. The athletic Dane, who was born in 1887 in a family of seven children, already starting riding when he was six near his parents guesthouse in Copenhagen.

After finishing school, he followed his passion when he started as a groom at the royal stables of prince Valdemar and princesse Marie.

A talented rider, the royals would seek his advice on horsemanship throughout the rest of his life.

Young and adventurous, Axel Mattson left after three years to work as a dressage and stunt rider at the famous Circus Orlando in Stockholm. Later he toured his Denmark with Bech Olesen’s Circus while he perfected his equestrian appearances.

Axel Mattson soon made a name for himself and it was the horses that would propel him into his new career as a stunt rider in the silent movies.

From 1910-1916 he starred in as many as 41 films. Thanks to his daring ventures – such as jumping from one bascule of an opening bridge to the other – he was greatly credited with the international fame of the Danish actor, Valdemar Psilander.

 

Thanks to his daring ventures – such as jumping from one bascule of an opening bridge to the other – Mattson was greatly credited with the international fame of the Danish actor, Valdemar Psilander.

 

The villain who escaped on a horse

In most movies Mattson would play the villain who quickly had to escape his persecutors on a horse. Adding to the suspense he developed several daring stunts. His most frequent was falling over with the horse. A simple pull of a string that was attached to its front leg made it possible to  fall with exact precision.

As most horses didn’t understand that they had to play dead; Mattson developed a technique which consisted in throwing himself over the horse’s head so that even the best would lie dead still.

For each fall Mattson was paid a 100 kroners – an enormous sum of money at the time.

The best horse for these stunts was his black mare, Black Girl. Besides jumping over Copenhagen’s bascule bridge, Knippelsbro, she leaped across a cliff in Kullen in the South of Sweden as Mattson was hanging on to her neck.

In the suburban Hellerup Harbour the two of them jumped into the sea before swimming to a nearby ship.

 

A leap of faith

Axel Mattson’s most dangerous stunt was also the name of his most notorious movie; ’Death leap on a horse from the circus cupola’.  The scene took place in a circus where he and his two horses, Black Girl and Cocotte, were lifted several meters above the ground on a tilt underneath the cupola, from which they jumped down again. Both horses survived but Mattson’s stunts were not without risks.

After an accident he had a silver plate operated into the back of his head. He nonetheless carried on with his stunts, and even off the film set he remained a flamboyant character.

At one time, the newspapers reported about how he and his friend, Psilander rode through the palm gardens of the Phoenix hotel in the provinsial town, Nykøbing. A police officer threw them out but only a few hours later they were back again and this time Mattson mounted the stairs on his horse and entered his hotel room on the first floor. When a law suit followed, he simply asked which law he had broken. It turned out there were no laws prohibiting such actions and instead he received a disciplinary warning.

 

Off the film set Mattson remained a flamboyant character. At one point, he and Psilander rode through the palm gardens of the Phoenix Hotel. A police officer threw them out but a few hours later they were back again.

 

 
Apart from being a talented rider, Mattson also had entrepreneurial skills. In 1909, when he was 23, he had put aside enough money to invest in what would become Denmark’s first equestrian club situated in the suburbian Klampenborg north of Copenhagen.To begin with he only had two horses and a bicycle from which he would teach his pupils. His first stable was a small wooden house next to the entrance of the historic deer garden; Dyrehaven, which was originally the King’s private hunting grounds.Until he convinced people to ride out all year round to enjoy the changing seasons of the forest Mattson moved his horses to the royal stables in Copenhagen during the winters, where he organized various horse shows.

 

 

 

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