Legendary actor, Conrad Veidt, was born Hans Walter Conrad Weidt on Jan 22, 1893 in Potsdam, Germany. Veidt died at the age of 50 on Apr 3, 1943 in Hollywood, CA and was laid to rest in Golders Green Crematorium Cemetery in Golders Green, Greater London, England.
Conrad Veidt was born in Hans Walter Conrad Veidt on January 22, 1893 in Germany. Though there are varying accounts of his specific birth city, it's likely he was born in either Berlin or Potsdam. He spent much of his childhood in a working class neighborhood, attending Hollenzollern secondary school. During that time Veidt began taking a vested interest in acting. Although he kept his new passion hidden from his more traditionally minded father, Veidt's mother offered nothing but encouragement for her son's budding interests and would often fund his trips to the theatre. Although just an adolescent, Veidt would often trek two miles one way to Berlin's fame Deutches Theatre in order to watch the masters work.
After his formal education came to an end in 1912, Veidt ventured head first into acting under the tutelage of Albert Blumenreich. Soon after, he was somehow worked his way in appearing in a play at the Deutsches Theater.
World War One and Stage Career
In 1914 his acting career came to brief halt as he was conscripted into the German Army during World War One. Soon after, the young actor was shipped off to the Eastern Front and fought in the Battle of Warsaw. He eventually came down with pneumonia and jaundice, leading to his hospitalization. After Veidt's recovery the German army allowed him to return to acting, this time on stages of the "front theaters" in Tilsit and Libau as a means of entertaining the troops. The stressful wartime environment and sheer variety of roles he played while part on the front served as a crash course in the theater. By 1916 the German Army declared Veidt "unfit for active duty."
After his official discharge from the Army, Veidt return to Berlin. He resumed his position at the Deutsches Theater, ultimately studying under the great director Max Reinhardt. Over time Veidt built up his acting profile, steadily getting more prestigious roles and impressing the critics along the way. Thanks to the combination of his hard worked talent and unique stage presence, it did not take long before Veidt became one of Berlin's top stars of the theater. It was only a matter of time before the film producers came knocking at his door.
European Film Career
Although Veidt continued to perform on the stage, the cinema would soon dominate his professional life. He made his screen debut in the Der Weg des Todes. Much like in the theater, Veidt quickly built a reputation for himself as a dependable and professional actor. In 1917 he worked on four films, the next year he worked on eleven and in 1919 he worked on no less than fourteen films. In one of these films, Veidt portrayed one of the first explicitly gay characters ever written for the screen in Anders als die Andern (different from Others). The film was co-directed by pioneering sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and was a reaction to Germany's anti-homosexuality laws.
That same year Veidt would come to international attention with his role in the ground breaking German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In the film Veidt plays Cesare, a somnambulist under the influence of the murderous Dr. Caligari. The film was a huge international success and set the course for the Veidt's career. The character of Cesare was ghoulish, eerie and penetrating - allowing the actor to play up his uniquely gaunt features. After Caligari, Veidt continued to work in budding horror movie industry with films like Bride of Vengeance, Waxworks, The Hands of Orlac.
International Film Star
Veidt was eventually wooed to Hollywood by none other than John Barrymore to star opposite him as King Louis XI in The Beloved Rogue. In 1928 he starred in the big screen adaption Victor Hugo's novel The Man Who Laughs. For his role Gwynplaine, a circus clown with a permanently carved grin on his face, Veidt was forced on wear make up that created an unnaturally large smile, appearing to grin from ear to ear. This hideous look would go on to be the primary inspiration for the character of The Joker in the Batman comic books. Although it seemed like Veidt was on his way to becoming one of Hollywood's leading horror actors, complete with a contract from Universal Studios, a little something called "talkies" ruined that career trajectory. Although a terrific actor, his thick German accent proved unpalatable to U.S audiences and by 1929 left Hollywood.
During the early 1930s, the Nazi party began its ascent to power in Germany. Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, took over the German film industry. At this point, Goebbels saw the internationally renown Veidt as an asset to the Nazi party and tried to convince the actor to sign an Oath of Loyalty to the fascist government and act only in German propaganda films. In exchange, Goebbels would offer Veidt's Jewish wife, Lily Prager, an Aryan certificate, thus saving her from the wrath of the Nazi Party. Veidt, who has possessed leftist humanitarian views all of his life, declined the offer and was placed under house arrest. When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Veidt was forced to flee Germany. He returned to England and reportedly wrote the "Jew" on his emigration card to show solidarity for his wife and all the Jews forced to flee Germany at that time. He would never his home country again.
Veidt quickly reintegrated himself in the British film industry. In 1934 he starred in anti-Nazi film Power. Over the next couple years he would perfect his English with roles in films such as King of the Damned, Under the Red Robe, and Dark Journey opposite Vivien Leigh. In the late 1930s and 40s, Veidt worked with famed director Michael Powell in the films The Spy in Black, Contraband and The Thief of Bagdad. The latter of the three pictures would go on to win three Academy Awards including Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. By this time, London was under constant bombardment from German forced and Veidt was once again forced to flee, this time back to Hollywood.
Hollywood Career Take Two
Upon his return to Hollywood, Veidt appeared in the 1940 film Escape,portraying menacing Nazi officer opposite Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor. In a cruel twist of irony, Veidt, due to his heavy German accent, found himself solidly entrenched in portraying generic Nazi antagonists despite his absolute disgust for the Authoritarian Regime. However, in order to aid adopted country against the brutalities of his homeland, Veidt donated his salary from films like A Woman's Face and All Through the Night to the British war effort.
In 1942 Veidt appeared in two films. The first was a dual role in the Nazi Agent, in which Veidt played identical twins. One twin was a Nazi spy while the other was a German American in league with the Allied powers. The second was his most famous film, Casablanca. In the film he played the sinister Major Heinrich Strasser. Although only a supporting role, Veidt was highest paid in cast that included Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Clause Rains. The next year he would appear in his final film in the espionage thriller Above Suspicion.
Conrad Veidt died on April 3, 1943 of a sudden heart attack while playing golf at the Riviera Country Club. He was pronounced dead on the scene. He was only 50 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Veidt was never nominated for an Academy Award.
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Gwynplaine as a child: My name is Gwynplaine and I am cold and hungry.
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