Von Haartman in Korkein Voitto (1929), the film he directed and starred in once back in Finland. SUR
A Finnish soldier, actor and entrepreneur on the Costa del Sol
In the frame

A Finnish soldier, actor and entrepreneur on the Costa del Sol

Von Haartman fought against the USSR and also in the Spanish Civil War; he acted alongside Gary Cooper, made his own films and founded a garden centre in Alhaurín

José Rodríguez Cámara


Friday, 7 June 2024, 14:16

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Carl Magnus Gunnar Von Haartman, known as Goggi to those closest to him, lived his last days in Alhaurín de la Torre, where he died in 1980. It was no more than a village then that bore no resemblance to the municipality of almost 50,000 inhabitants it is now, where he found peace and business success. Von Haartman's life was anything but dull. He was born in Finland, Helsinki, in 1897 into a family with Swedish roots. By the age of 40 he had already fought in four wars, including the Spanish Civil War, where he won 12 medals on the rebel side.

His real baptism of fire in the military was in the Finnish Army in that nation's War of Independence, which pitted two Finnish factions against each other. He also fought in the Winter War (1939-1940), when the USSR invaded his country, and in the Continuation War (1941-1944), a follow-on war from the previous one. His military career, which included training as a pilot, was extraordinary, as historian Cristóbal Villalobos explains, enabling him to be sent to the Finnish embassy in Rome in the 1920s while still a young man. That military career continued and he was placed, years later, in command of the 24th Fighter Regiment, among other merits.

Plenty has been written already about this man, but there is more to tell about Goggi. He has actively lived through one of the most disruptive periods of history, the interwar period, making him an even more interesting figure to follow. In fact, this has made him worthy of quite a lot of academic literature and even the topic of some conferences, such as the one last month that filled the María Moliner hall at the Antonio Garrido Moraga municipal library in Alhaurín de la Torre, organised by Villalobos.

Some of Von Haartman's descendants attended, such as his daughter Cristina and his grandchildren, among them the renowned art restorer Estrella Arcos Von Haartman, associate professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Malaga and part of the San Telmo Academy.

Cristóbal Villalobos has delved into a period of Von Haartman's career that may seem unusual: his time in Hollywood. Paramount hired him in 1927 to play a WW1 German officer in Wings, a two-million-dollar silent blockbuster of the time, with 3,500 extras as soldiers, 165 planes and a young Gary Cooper. He also starred in Very Confidential (1927) and The Wedding March (1928). But his most important role came under the direction of Victor Fleming in The Awakening (1928), in which he played Lieutenant Franz Greyer.

The experience he gained in the mecca of cinema helped him to make films in which he was director, scriptwriter and leading actor once back in his home country. He released two films in rapid succession: Korkein Voitto (1929) and Kajastus (1930), which featured a young actress named Elsa Segerberg. He married her shortly afterwards and had his only daughter, Christina. In 1930 he returned to Hollywood and secured a part in Hell's Angels directed by the legendary Howard Hughes. That character would later inspire Martin Scorsese's film The Aviator (2004), starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Von Haartman, in a photo provided by his granddaughter Estrella.
Von Haartman, in a photo provided by his granddaughter Estrella. SUR

So, amid filming and his involvement in war after war, in 1942 he was promoted to the rank of colonel and sent to Madrid as military attaché to the Finnish diplomatic delegation. There he met and married his second wife, Marie Eugenie Zichy Pallavicini, who worked for the Hungarian Embassy. Friends knew her as Ifi, recalls Estrella Arcos, who explains that her grandfather and his wife also had time to set up an import-export company, Nordico, which he ran until his retirement. He then moved to Alhaurín de la Torre where he purchased El Alamillo estate. "He liked to welcome a lot of people and cook for them, he did it very well. Among other guests, on numerous occasions he had King Leka of Albania and his mother Geraldine, Marie Louise of Prussia, Charles Bernadotte (uncle of the current King of Sweden), the Duchess of Infantado, Otto of Habsburg, Maria Larish and the Peralta family. This is how he promoted Alhaurín de la Torre," said his granddaughter.

Business success

He created a lot of jobs locally and had a reputation for paying well, said Arcos. He also established a new custom: instead of working until Saturday, he required, and paid for, everyone to work an extra fifteen minutes per day from Monday to Friday, thus avoiding weekend and late working. Estrella Arcos mentions that in 1956, together with Ifi, he founded Viveros El Alamillo, which made them pioneers of the nursery trade on the Costa del Sol.

"The type of cultivation, the variety of plants and the care taken, right from the seed, which today would be considered to be of such ecological and sustainable value, led this company to achieve a solid reputation and to be widely accepted by individuals and professionals alike." Another aspect of Von Haartman's business activities was the design and maintenance of gardens in Marbella, such as those of the Rothschilds' house and some of the first hotels along the coast. He was also one of the driving forces behind the Fuenseca irrigation community, which is still active today.

Another personal experience links him to one of the most established and deep local traditions. Instead of joining the brotherhood of Los Verdes or Los Morados, he decided to pay the fees to belong to both brotherhoods.

"He was one of the few residents of Alhaurín de la Torre who had a car, and there were many sick and pregnant women he took to hospital. As for his family life, the house was a veritable tower of Babel: he spoke Finnish with his relatives, Swedish with his daughter, French with his son-in-law, and English and Spanish with his grandchildren," said Arcos Von Haartman in tribute to her Finnish grandfather.

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