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How Heidi made sports history in the USA

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Marlies Seifert

Published

09.12.2021

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The most famous little Swiss girl even managed to make headlines on the other side of the pond. We will tell you all about this as well as four other unknown Heidi facts that will leave you amazed.

Heidi is one of the best-known literary characters in the world. The children's books written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri have been translated into 55 languages and have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. A wide range of film adaptations and series have also been developed from the source material. Did you know... Here are five Heidi facts that you probably did not know:

1. The first Heidi film was a silent movie

The first Heidi novel «Heidi, Her Years of Wandering and Learning» enjoyed international success shortly after being published in 1880. The story of the orphan girl from the Alps was read around the world. Before the Swiss production company Praesens-Film shot the now legendary black and white movie, two Heidi films had already been shot in the USA. The first adaptation was a relatively unknown silent film shot in 1920. The Hollywood version of Heidi followed in 1937, featuring Shirley Temple, the most famous child star of the time. 

2. No filming ever took place in Maienfeld

Work began on the Swiss Heidi films in 1951. Director Luigi Comencini (half-Italian, half-Glarus) wanted to use amateur actors and looked for his versions of Heidi and Peter in schools up and down the country. Following screen tests with more than 3,000 children, he finally opted for Elsbeth Sigmund and Thomas Klameth. The two youngsters, however, never stood in front of the cameras in Maienfeld – the original setting of the Heidi story. The town had already been modernised too much. The film was shot instead in Latsch above Bergün and on the Falein mountain in Bergün Filisur. The exterior scenes, which were set in Frankfurt am Main, were mainly filmed in Basel. The reason for this was that the German city was still in ruins from the Second World War. Only the Cathedral could be filmed.

Stream Heidi now

Just in time for the Advent season, the filmo Swiss film initiative has made the two Heidi films «Heidi» and «Heidi and Peter» available online for the very first time. The two films can now be streamed on various Swiss platforms with the latest image and sound quality. Together with The Magic Lantern film club and with the support of the Migros Pioneer Fund, a total of nine classic Swiss children's films have been restored. In addition to Heidi, other children's heroes such as Globi, Titeuf and Max & Co. can now be viewed. With «Children's Faces», even a masterpiece of a silent movie is available for viewing. Titles such as «How the Toys Saved Christmas», «Anna annA» and «Azzuro» on the other hand will take children back to the 1990s. This means that the Christmas holidays will not be boring, even if we cannot go outside because of bad weather. Information on the whole series of films is available at filmo.ch.

3. Heidi only became a cartoon star by accident

«Heidi, Heidi – deine Welt sind die Berge» («Heidi, Heidi – the mountains are your world») – the title song of the Japanese cartoon series is probably known by every Swiss child. What most people do not know is that our Heidi nearly did not get transformed into a cartoon hero. The people who made the show actually wanted to make a cartoon series about Pippi Longstocking; however, the author of Pippi Longstocking Astrid Lindgren vetoed this. As Heidi – or as she is known in Japanese «Haiji» – came to Japan in the 1920s as a children's book and was very popular, the director Isao Takahata immediately decided to focus on the Swiss story instead. He was familiar with the story from his own childhood. In the first designs, Heidi wore pigtails, much like Pippi. These were soon cut off though, the reason being that a girl from the Alps needs to have a practical haircut.

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4. Even Austria tried its hand at filming Heidi

In 1965, an Austrian production company tried shooting a remake at the same locations as where Praesens Film had shot its film in the 1950s. The Heidi colour film from Austria, however, was unable to build on the success of its Swiss black-and-white predecessor. Luigi Comencini's film adaptation is still the undisputed number one to this very day. It was awarded the prize of the best film for young people at the Venice Biennale in 1952, has been shown in more than 4,300 American movie theatres and has even delighted audiences in South America and the former USSR. More than 100 million people around the world have seen the film. The sequel «Heidi and Peter» was not as popular, but went down in the annals as the first Swiss colour film.

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5. Heidi made sports history 

The date was 17 November 1968. US television was broadcasting the game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets in the Super Bowl. Even back then, the finals of the professional American football league were the biggest TV event in the country. Shortly before the referee blew his final whistle, the Jets held a narrow lead with a score of 32:29. All of a sudden the broadcast was ended right on the stroke of 7 p.m. Instead of showing the game through to the end, the broadcaster NBC switched to the premiere of the new Hollywood film «Heidi» on its networks on the east coast of the USA. There was a huge outcry. The Los Angeles Times ran the headline «Swiss Alps vs. Super Bowl» the very next day. The leading actress Jennifer Edwards even received death threats from irate American football fans. The game has gone down in history as the «Heidi game». Ever since this incident, sports broadcasts always have to be shown until the very end in the United States. 

You can learn more about these historic Heidi facts and many more in the film featurette from filmo:

Photo/stage: © Preasens-Film AG. Sammlung Cinémathèque suisse. All rights reserved.

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