August 2014 marks the 100th birthday of Finnish actress and beauty queen Ester Toivonen, who was crowned Miss Europe in 1934.
Ester Toivonen was one of Finland’s first bona fide film stars: her career as an actress started in the mid-1930s, a time when Finnish production companies were only beginning to manufacture stars. But Toivonen was already a celebrity before her film career; first of her kind during the era.
A fine comedienne, Ester Toivonen began her film career as the female lead in 1930s modern comedies. In the 1940s, she was seen in supporting roles in historical costume dramas.
My friend Elina Ortamo curated an Ester Toivonen exhibit at the Shopkeeper’s Museum in Hamina, the town where Toivonen was born in 1914. The centenary exhibit focuses on Ester Toivonen as an icon of style and beauty.
My friends and I drove to Hamina to attend the opening of the exhibit earlier this month, which was also attended by Ester Toivonen’s family and friends. Some of the highlights of the exhibit include the ivory gown Ester wore when she was crowed Miss Europe in 1934, her vanity table, fan letters, photographs, and various vintage pieces from the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve loaned my autograph booklet for the exhibit; it features autographs from Finnish film stars of the 1940s, including Ester.
I’m always very happy to see Finnish film history and its stars honoured, and it was done very beautifully here. I like that the focus is on Ester Toivonen’s public image, both as a beauty queen and as a film star. The exhibit was a real treat for me both as a cinephile and a vintage lady. The 19th century setting of the Shopkeeper’s Museum was equally apt.
The exhibit, titled Ester Toivonen – Kansakunnan kaunotar, runs until August 31, 2014. Be sure to catch it if you’re in town! In addition, there will be a film screening and a seminar at Kino Hamina on August 10, where yours truly will be talking about Ester Toivonen’s star image.
A tip for those in Helsinki: Orion will be screening Syntipukki (1935) on July 16. It is Ester’s first starring role and, in my humble opinion, her most interesting as well.