Monday, October 1, 2012

Fritz Kortner : The Jewish Actor Who Would Not Be Intimidated

The Jewish Daily Forward has a good article on Fritz Kortner, the acclaimed Austrian-born Jewish actor who starred as Dr. Schön opposite Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box. The article can be found here.

Louise Brooks and the back of Fritz Kortner in
a scene from Pandora's Box (1929).

The article outlines Kortner's rather remarkable career. According to Wikipedia: "Kortner was born in Vienna as Fritz Nathan Kohn. He studied at the Vienna Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After graduating, he joined Max Reinhardt in Berlin in 1911, and then Leopold Jessner in 1916. Also in that year he made his first appearance in a silent film. He became one of Germany's best known character actors. His specialty was playing sinister and threatening roles, though he also appeared in the title role of 1930's Dreyfus.

With the coming to power of the Nazis, Kortner, being Jewish, chose to flee Germany in 1933. He emigrated to the United States, where he found work as a character actor and theatre director for a time before returning to Germany in 1949. Upon his return, he became noted for his innovative staging and direction, particularly of classics such as his Richard III (1964) in which the king crawls over piles of corpses at the end."

Below is a German-language video clip of Kortner sharing his memories of Gustav Gründgens, the German actor who collaborated with the Nazi regime, inspiring Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel Mephisto and its 1981 screen adaptation.

While writing this blog, I learned that there is a book on the actor, From Shakespeare to Frisch: The Provocative Fritz Kortner, by Richard D. Critchfield. It was published in 2008 by Synchron Publishers. I will have to try and track down a copy to see if there is anything in it about Pandora's Box or Louise Brooks. In closing, here is  swell vintage postcard of Kortner as Beethoven in Das Leben des Beethoven (1927).

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