By Barbara Gram
(Photo by Thomas Johannesen, m. fl.)
Published in Sondags-B.T., The Sunday Magazine of the
Danish Newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, 1986.

Translated from the original Danish by John Houman,
Oyster Bay, New York, 1998.
Transcribed and edited by Dennis Jensen,
Oyster Bay, New York. 1998.

[Dates and ages appearing in brackets have been interpolated from Eric Magnussen's known years of birth and death, 1884 - 1961 and should be taken as +/- 1. Other comments in brackets have been collected from other sources, including Esther Magnussen herself.]

SIDEBAR: Everything in life goes downhill when you turn 90 when you sit and you think about it, although...

Rarely have we at Sondags-B.T. met a lady that has lived her life so warmly and intensely as Esther Magnussen. A life filled with celebration, enjoyment and mistakes but not any regrets.

Somedays she thinks she is too wise for her age, muses Esther Magnussen, who has just turned 90. For she knows well enough that she has nothing to look forward to, everything is going to go downhill. Besides, it's not the best with her sight and with her legs.

But she makes a point of taking a walk once a day, of tidying up her apartment by herself for a couple of hours a week and she's also very inquisitive and interested in everything. To be not we'd lose ??????illegible word??????? and remember: you have to know everything about everything: "Ask Esther," says my relatives when they're in doubt about something.

A month ago she came home from the USA where she had travelled around alone for six weeks with her school English from 75 years ago visiting relatives and some young friends she had met a couple of years back in Rumania whom she had "helped a little" at the time, i.e., she played a role in getting them out of the country into the USA.

When you come to Esther Magnussen's apartment in Ordrup, you would be mistaken if you expected to find an old lady's flat filled with mementoes, photos and knickknacks from the past. She loves to clean up and throw out and that she has done since she was young. It's almost too much, she thinks because it sometimes happens that she walks around her apartment and wonders where one thing or another is and then realizes...she's thrown it out herself. Nevertheless, she has saved some things; for example, a couple of pictures from her youth as a dancer back then when she was called Esther Franck and danced on the great stages of Europe. The war put a stop to those travels -- World War I, of course [1914]. Back then she appeared at Scala and Casino in Copenhagen and also, on tour, performed in Norway and Sweden.

The pictures show an outgoing and -- for the time -- a very risque Miss Franck. But of course it was quite proper back then to be a dancer, she assures us. Her father, [Frederick Wilhelm Franck] who was a blacksmith [He made vaults and safes.], was strict. You had to be home at a proper time in the evening -- no going about to different places after the theater.

--- Back then young girls (I started when I was fifteen) [1911] were not allowed to go backstage alone. We would sit in the cloakroom and wait and when it was our turn they would come to pick us up and lead us down to the stage. We were not allowed to converse with or have any contact with the audience and we were not allowed to even speak with the other artists.

It was handled in a similarly proper fashion in the great world outside. Although the dance group had made a good name for itself and could get bookings anywhere in the world, nobody became spoiled or conceited. For example, no one was allowed to walk out of doors alone.

--- The missteps I've made in my life, they were not while I was dancing.


Esther Franck grew up "at" Dosseringen in Copenhagen, as she says; not on Dosseringen but at. The subtle distinction is apparently because she is and has always been snobbish. She says herself she believes it comes from her youth when she was mingling with officials and deslige people of status ???? -- and they are snobbish, of that she can assure us. It was contagious; at that time she was required to travel in first class. Although...it might go further back than that because she can clearly remember how much she suffered when she had to go to a public school when her two best friends and her two cousins went to the fine private school. But her father was very strict and that was that. But, as strict as her father may have been, her mother [Catherine Jensen] was as lovely, says Esther.

--- That I ever came to be a dancer was because of her. I actually started when I was a baby. My mother's brother, Hans Christian Jensen, was one of the first dance teachers here.

As a ten year old [1906] she was so good that she got the opportunity to dance at the Pantomime Theater in Tivoli. That continued for three years in a row [1906,07,08] and after that her international career started in a dance number with five barefoot dancers. They were very famous at that time. She was also in movies as a fill-in and that paid five Kroner for a day's work at the studios in Valby "and then you could afford to go to Bristol and drink a cup of coffee afterwards."

When Esther Franck was 17 [1913] she was walking down Stroget (a street name?) and fell in love with a photo-portrait of a gentleman that was on display. By coincidence the people who were walking with her knew the man and offered to introduce her to him at their convenience. The reality was true to the photograph. The gentleman was the well-known silversmith, Erik Magnussen, who was 29 years old. They grew very fond of each other.


But he was a conceited and well-known artist and I was nothing, she explained.....(text missing here.....)

As an adult Esther still lived with her mother, her father was dead. She continued to dance and her great extracurricular activity was horseback riding -- as often as she could afford it. She had to pay for the lessons herself, contrary to the many other Misses and Mistresses whose fathers and spouses paid for them. That is why she appreciated it so much more when she had the money for the lessons; that's her opinion today.

After a riding accident when she was in her late twenties, she had to give up dancing and take an office position.

--- That was a big change. An office was something totally different in those days. You might remember that you were not allowed to go outside during lunch to catch some sun rays, that you had to stay at your station in the office. It was in the Employers Casualty Insurance Company or whatever it was called. It was insane work. There you could very easily pack your brain away. The vase of silver after the forty years is over there. She casually points to the vase.

--- If I were to live my life over, I would still be dancing; otherwise I wouldn't change very much. But that office, I don't really know about that.

When her mother died Esther was forty [1936] and she was still not married, one should understand (but here she was very discreet). She can still talk about her sorrows in her love life and how she fell in love with the wrong man. As she says, "You always seem to want those you can't have." For example, the one who wanted to marry a rich girl and she wasn't quite that. Oh God, with men she hasn't quite been lucky.

--- But all those idylls with couples who have stayed together for eternity, never arguing and everything so beautiful -- that can be too much, don't you think? I'd much rather cry once in a while and then experience something.

She and her mother had been living in a beautiful apartment in Torbek but at that time it was not proper (for a woman) to live alone, not even a forty year old (woman), so when her mother died she moved to a pensionat.


One afternoon right before World War II [1941, age 45] Esther was drinking tea with a friend in Angleterre. It has been a habit her whole life to have her social life in the afternoon. It started at the time that she was riding in the morning and dancing in the evening. Esther sat and drank tea and the conversation turned to Erik Magnussen, her youth's love who had an exhibition at Ole Haslund's House and they decided to go and take a look at it. And there he was as she remembered him (minsandten selv). They embraced each other and from that time on they were always together [1941-1961]. They were married and moved into an apartment where Mrs. Magnussen lives today. They later found out that they must have passed each other many years ago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on one occasion when he was on his way to Denmark and she was on her way to the US on one of her trips.

--- He was a lovely person, she says and fumbles with the earrings with the aquamarine and alexandrite that he had made for her. He had a cultivated manner and was from a very fine family on his mother's side. Yes, there we are with the snobbery again. His mother's father was a general and I have that photograph hanging there so you can see all his medals. I also have a very nice ring which he (Eric Magnussen) made from one of his father's medals. Of course we had a nice relationship and we traveled often together. He had a little bit of the homemaker in him, which I have never been. I have always worked.

Esther Magnussen was in her mid-forties [45] when she was married and she never had children and she never wanted any.

--- That I don't have patience for. But I like animals. I never stop at a baby carriage to look down but I never pass a dog outside a store without talking to it. But sometimes I wish I had a little girl that could inherit some of the jewelry that my husband made for me.


Esther Magnussen has been a widow for 25 years [1961-1986, age 65- 90] and she thinks she is good at being alone.

--- Of course you are lonely but I'm one of those people who can take it. I also know that I am a little bit different from most 90-year-olds. I smoke two cigarettes a day and take a little glass every night before I go to bed. Food is a tricky question because I don't eat much. Yes, chocolate... and my neighbor is nice to take care of me, and my niece. Around two o'clock we have a cheese sandwich and a piece of cake and a cup of coffee and then I don't need much else that day. And I don't like vegetables. Steak my teeth can't chew anymore. (Text missing.)

The doctor says I am very lucky but it is not nice to have a bad knee and poor eyesight. Since I was very young I always thought that you should have a couple of pills that you could take if you didn't want to live anymore and I still mean that. Of course I would never take them but just the awareness that you had that opportunity would make your life so much happier. I have asked the doctor about it but he of course will not have anything to do with it. "Do you still think I'm lucky when I am complaining about my ailments?" I ask. "No, I don't dare say that anymore." he answers...

I take one day at a time and I'm not afraid of dying, just afraid of ending up in a home. I don't think I want to be 100 years old.


They asked me at my 90th birthday [1986] what I would want for my birthday. But there is no more to wish for. Yes, I wish my horse was back, the horse that died thirty years ago, my life's love! Miss Grey, a beautiful horse, although it threw me off once in a while. At that it died all too young. I love my husband and my mother very much but when I wipe the dust off their pictures, I don't look at them anymore. But the picture of my horse -- that I look at.

I doubt that I will ever travel again but I also said that the last time, says the rest of the family. I came home from the US broke. I didn't have any more money than other people but I've spent my entire life using the money I had to travel. And I don't really need anything anymore. Clothes I don't need, and food I don't really eat that much of.

They promised me over in the US that the next time I come over there'll be a bannister on the stairway that I had such trouble getting up and down. But let's see, I think I'm at the end.

I have had many big travel experiences but the greatest -- yes, just laugh -- were Niagara Falls and Napoleon's grave. Things like that make an impression but I'm not very impressionable. Otherwise I wouldn't have made it through my life.

[NOTE: Napoleon Bonapart, 1769-1821, is interred at Les Invalides in Paris, as is N.B. II.]

BACK ...... HOME