Born Knut Gunnar Johanson in Stockholm on 13 November 1909, the son of Oscar Johanson, a well-known singer and leading actor at Svenska Teatern (a theatre which in the early 20th century easily outshone the Royal Dramatic Theatre), and Ella Mauléon.
Gunnar grew up in an upper-middle-class home in Stockholm’s well-to-do Östermalm district. When as a teenager he told his parents that he wanted to be an actor, they were opposed to the idea. Instead he took a number of menial jobs prior to buying the name Björnstrand for 40 Swedish kronor before his first engagement at the Lilla theatre on Vattugatan. His performance led to studies with the acting coach Julia Håkansson, but after only one term with his teacher, Björnstrand was offered work by Gösta Ekman (the father of Hasse Ekman). Ekman however, who knew Gunnar’s father from Svenska Teatern, refused to address Gunnar by his adopted name ‘Björnstrand’, referring to him instead simply as ‘Johanson’.
In autumn 1933 Björnstrand… read more