Internet Photo Sensation Super Grandma to the Rescue

Frederika Goldberger felt old and depressed. Then her grandson tried to cheer her up by taking photos of her holding a dildo as a phone or pickles as nail files, and finally turning her into a superheroine. Now 'Super-Mamika' is famous and Hollywood wants to make a film about her. It's an Internet fairytale.

Sacha Goldberger


Frederika Goldberger had run out of steam after an adventurous life. During World War II, she helped hide fellow Jews in Hungary, then set up her own textile firm after the war. Shortly thereafter, she fled the communists and emigrated to France. She had lived life to the full and had gone through four men in the process. But by the time she had reached her late eighties, she was bored and lonely, and a pale shadow of her former self.

Four years on, Frederika Goldberger, now 91, has undergone a dramatic change. Glossy magazines from all over the world are desperately trying to arrange interviews with her, and she has been a guest on TV talk shows. Two Hollywood studios have approached her with a view to making a movie about her story. Her depression has evaporated and she has become a star: Frederika Goldberger is Super-Mamika, or Super Granny.

She owes her fame to the Internet. And to her grandson Sacha Goldberger, a French commercial photographer. "I saw how she was feeling worse day by day," he said, recalling the time when his grandmother's lust for life was ebbing away. "She often looked after me when I was a child. She was always funny, active, optimistic."

Goldberger wanted to repay his grandmother and thought hard about how he could spend more time with her while still keeping up his high-stress job. In the end he suggested taking pictures of her. Her initial reaction was one of listless indifference. "She didn't seem to care about it. She only went along with it because she thought: 'OK, I'm lonely, I get to spend time with Sacha, what the hell, let's do it.'"

Dildo Telephone

The first shots were an effort. "At first she just did what I said during the shoots. She was like a marionette." The unusual props might have had something to do with it. Goldberger had his granny pretend to be on the telephone -- with a dildo as a receiver. "We went on using funny props. In one photo she used a pickle as a nail file, in another she ironed her dog," says Goldberger.

And then the miracle happened. Goldberg posted the photos on his website. And because the feedback was so enthusiastic, he built a page on the social networking site MySpace for him and his Mamika. That's when things really took off. Sacha and Frederika Goldberger started getting messages every day. "People were cheering her and saying they wished they had such a great granny."

The applause was like an elixir of life. Suddenly, granny became enthralled by the project and couldn't wait for the next photo session with her grandson. She started making her own suggestions, although these didn't always meet with his approval. "One day she desperately wanted to do a photo with a motorbike. I thought the idea was pretty boring to be honest, but thought 'What the hell, if it makes her happy.' And started shooting." When his granny saw the first test photos she suggested sitting the wrong way round on the bike "and suddenly it was a super subject," Goldberger recalls.

Sacha's and Frederika's lives have become more intertwined. The old lady used to live 10 minutes' walk away from her grandson. But he has now relocated his office into her house, and his assistant has also moved in. When she isn't meeting friends, she spends her time in the studio, reading newspapers or checking the Internet to read what her fans are writing. "She always reads the messages with us. Then she dictates what she wants us to reply in her name because she can no longer write so well," says Goldberger.

Superhero Costume Resolved Fashion Disagreements

The second breakthrough came when Goldberger turned his Mamika into Super-Mamika. Before that, her fame had been largely confined to France, but when Goldberger put her in a superhero costume and photographed her in bizarrely aesthetic surroundings, all hell broke loose. Blogs all over the world told the story of Super-Mamika, showed Goldberger's photos and linked to his web pages.

"The birth of the Super-Mamika idea was a coincidence," the photographer admits. Before that, he had mainly used his granny for fashion shoots. She had to change for every photo, which caused problems at times, because Frederika was growing steadily more self-confident and demanding a say in what she wore. "The point came when I could no longer stand the constant arguing. She found half the clothes ugly and refused to put them on. The superhero costume was ideal -- she put it on in the morning and only took it off in the evening after the shoots."

That also resolved another area of conflict: "My grandmother doesn't like my hair stylist," says Goldberger. There were regular rows because Frederika wouldn't let the stylist near her. "I will never forget the day when we did our first Super-Mamika shoot. I could see my grandmother suspiciously eyeing the hair stylist. It was sheer bliss to be able to tell her: 'Mamika, don't worry -- you're wearing a helmet today.'"

Mission Accomplished -- Grandma Happy

Since then, Goldberger has been photographing his granny in her heroine costume: Super-Mamika devouring an outsized sandwich containing a dachshund, Super-Mamika rescuing a little dog by lifting a car, or Super-Mamika in a hairdressing salon under the hairdryer -- wearing her helmet.

The Internet fan community is growing with every new Super-Mamika picture Goldberger posts online. The Facebook page he opened for his granny now has 7,500 fans, up from 6,000 at the end of November. "Sometimes she has real difficulties understanding what's happening," says Goldberger. She stares at the screen in disbelief and says: "How can it be that so many people see that? Why are so many people saying such nice things about me?"

Goldberger himself is sanguine about all the attention. "My grandmother and I may be world-famous now, but it won't make us rich," he says. He still earns his money from advertising work, and the hype surrounding his granny hasn't brought in new photo contracts. Even the interest shown by Hollywood hasn't fazed him. "I'm flattered of course but skeptical at the same time -- I don't what them to make a rubbish movie." Goldberger remains vague about why he hasn't signed a lucrative film contract yet.

Listening to him talk about his grandmother, it becomes clear that Goldberger was never in this for fame or wealth. "I just wanted to make my granny happy. And it looks like I've achieved that."

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