Dear friends and Conrad Veidt fans around the world,
I invite you to leave at this section your comments on Connie’s 120th birth anniversary.
In case you want to bring him a lengthy tribute, just write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will put here all your tributes on your behalf and, of course, I will credit you for them.
Together we can FIGHT FOR CONRAD VEIDT!
A superb drawing made by Conrad fan Ninona (Vanessa Trueba)
A nice article shared with us by Conrad fan Kelly Brown
Conrad Veidt: Caligari’s Cesare and Uncrowned King of Horror
Lesser known actor of the Horror silents and beyond, the great Conrad Veidt sadly remains anything but a household name.
on Jul 18, 2010
Watching a silent film, especially a silent horror film, is like being transported into another realm. It’s the genre in it’s purest form. No dialogue, along with no fancy modern technology, makes the movie watching experience a more organic and intelligent one. For some, it’s an acquired taste. For others, those with vivid imaginations and an appreciation for the process of art, they can be something of an addiction. Without a doubt, Lon Chaney remains the most recognizable character and crowned king of silent horror; of all horror.
However, while our beloved Lon was up to his ol’ “bag of tricks” here in the States, Germany was steadily producing some of the earliest and greatest horror films ever made; along with it’s own master of the macabre. In recent years, and with delight, more and more fans of horror are discovering the incomporable Conrad Veidt. Like Chaney, Veidt wasn’t strictly a horror actor and left behind a large and varied body of work. Also, like Chaney, horror fans have claimed him as one of their own.
Unfortunately, and sometimes arguably between fans, Chaney died before ever making a “talkie.” Whereas the talents of Veidt stretched from the classic silents and well beyond film’s early years. He was once quoted as saying, “In the middle of my third Hollywood picture, ‘The Magician,’ the earthquake hit Hollywood. Not the real earthquake. Just the Talkies.”
From Birth to Bela Lugosi
Hans Walter Conrad Veidt was born in Berlin, Germany on January 22, 1893. It has often been rumoured that he changed the spelling of his last name. That the V had originally been spelled with the letter W. The reason for the change was simply so that his English-speaking fans would pronounce his name correctly. A kindhearted soul, he was a lover of animals, film and the outdoors; he especially loved golfing. In 1916, Veidt made his acting debut in ‘The Road of Death’ (Der Weg des Todes), and approximately one year later appeared in ‘The Spy’ (Der Spion). However, it was his role as the great Robert Wiene’s somnambulist, “Cesare”, in the expressionist, horror masterpiece ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,’ that would make him a virtual overnight sensation. His creepy performance would gain the actor international attention and acclaim. For decades, images of Conrad Veidt’s 6’3″, pencil thin, black clad figure, stalking and carrying away the film’s leading lady, Lil Dagover, has been used in various forms of art, as well as book and musical recording covers, posters, and a variety of other products.
Perhaps the most recognizable and memorable,for most, being a single version of legendary goth band Bauhaus’ most famous track, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Interestingly, in 1920 Veidt starred as Dr. Warren/Mr. O’Connor in the lost FW Murnau film, ‘The Head of Janus’ (Der Januskopf). The story was adapted from the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’ In the film, Bela Lugosi actually played the butler of Dr. Warren.
The same year that Bela was fetching Conrad’s slippers (or, “Connie” as his closest friends would often refer to him), the now, world-famous German went on to form his own production company–something rather unheard of in those days. This not only allowed him to star in his films, but also the occasional opportunity to direct as well.
In 1924, Veidt once again teamed-up with Robert Wiene and starred as concert pianist, Paul Orlac in ‘The Hands of Orlac.’ After losing his hands in a train accident, they are replaced with those of a cadaver, who in life just happened to be a murderer. Orlac’s frankenstein-esque hands take on a life of their own, as well as inspired a slew of other films with the same concept. Not only has this film become a horror classic, but it also spawned two other remakes, which also included two other kings of horror. In 1935, Peter Lorre stepped into the role and the title was changed to ‘Mad Love.’ In 1960, the original film title was kept and with Christopher Lee cast as the evil, Nero the Magician. Alongside Lee, Mel Ferrer stepped into the role of the melancholy pianist with the out-of-control hands.
Gwynplaine and Universal Studios
In 1926, and at the insistence of John Barrymore, Veidt left Germany and went to Hollywood where he would co-star with Barrymore in ‘The Beloved Rogue.’ Conrad would remain in Hollywood for two more years under contract to Universal studios. In 1928, he returned to Germany, but not before being directed by the famous, Universal Studios German expressionist director ( and one of Laemmle’s favorites), Paul Leni. ‘The Man Who Laughs’, is sometimes referred to as a romantic melodrama. However, with Gwynplaine’s permanent smile as well as a number of other creepy visuals, one can see why it’s also considered a horror classic. This big-budget film also starred two of horror’s favorite leading ladies. Mary Philbin, who co-starred alongside Lon Chaney in ‘The Phantom of The Opera,’ and Russian bombshell Olga Baclanova, who later went on to star as Tod Browning’s “Chickenlady” in 1932’s ‘Freaks.’
Fleeing From the Nazis
Even though not of Jewish descent, Conrad Veidt, like any other decent human being, was a staunch anti-Nazi. So much so that he donated a large portion of his salary to the British War Effort. It has been rumoured that a decision by the Gestapo to have him assassinated, due to his public ridicule of the Nazis, is what led him to flee from Germany with his third, and Jewish, wife Lily Prager. Beginning a new life and becoming a British citizen in 1938, Veidt continued with his acting career. Given his German accent, many of his roles were, strangely enough, that of Nazis. However, due to the war in London, Veidt’s current film ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ finished it’s filming back in Hollywood. This film cast him in the role of the Grand Vizier. Veidt remained in Hollywood where in 1942 he was cast alongside the great Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as the Nazi, Major Strausser, in the classic ‘Casablanca.’
April 3, 1943
On this day, while playing golf at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, the world lost Hans Walter Conrad Veidt to a massive heart attack at the eighth hole. His remains were sent back to England where his ashes were scattered at the Golders Green Crematorium. He was survived by his third wife Ilona “Lily” Prager. As well as his daughter Vera Viola Maria, from his second marriage to wife Felicitas Radke.
Recommended Reading: ‘Conrad Veidt On Screen’ by John T. Soister. Published by McFarland and Company 2002. Details each of the actor’s films and contains an extensive bibliography as well.
Copyright Kelly Brown
Read more at Suite101: Conrad Veidt: Caligari’s Cesare and Uncrowned King of Horror | Suite101 http://suite101.com/article/conrad-veidt-a-short-biography-part1-a250840#ixzz2IhBm7zI3
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Conrad Veidt is an actor unmatched, his commitment to his performance has never been matched, and will never be matched. – Rosalind Hulse
Two photos by Francy van Lierop