Screenwriting came third on Thea von Harbou's list of successful careers, after actress and bestselling novelist, but it is her film writing for which she is remembered. Indeed, she is one of the most renowned and one of the most reviled figures in the history of German cinema, depending upon which decade of her film career one is talking about. Von Harbou was born in 1888 in Tauperlitz, to an aristocratic family. An avid reader of classics, drama, and philosophy, she wrote and sold her first piece of short fiction before she'd reached her teens. At 13, von Harbou published a volume of deeply philosophical poems and at 18, decided to become an actress.
She made her stage debut in Dusseldorf in 1906, and later worked in Weimar and Aachen. In 1910, at age 22, while still doing theatrical work in Weimar, she published her first book, a romance novel entitled Die Nach uns Kommen, which became a bestseller. She followed this up with short works such as Die Krieg und Die Frauen, which were also successful. She continued acting and, in the early teens at Aachen, crossed paths with the actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who became her mentor and, in 1917, her first husband. She'd followed up her first book with a string of short stories that covered all genres and seemed to possess a strong philosophical bent. Following the outbreak of the First World War, she also wrote works in a strongly nationalistic vein. When producer Joe May bought the film rights to one of her books , she was hired to pen the screenplay - as well as others. She soon met filmmaker Fritz Lang, who she would later marry.