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Erich von Stroheim

Erich von Stroheim

Although it is inaccurate to say he is actually a character in Peter Handke's "anti-play," "The Ride Across Lake Constance," his name is used as a designation of a character, as are the names of other celebrated actors of the German cinema, Elisabeth Bergner, Heinrich George, Emil Jannings, Henny Porten and the twins Alice Kessler and Ellen Kessler.

Althugh von Stroheim claimed to have broken two ribs when he fell from a roof in The Birth of a Nation (1915), there is some question as to whether he actually worked on that film at all, and Joseph Henabery, one of the picture's assistant directors, says that von Stroheim didn't work for director D.W. Griffith until more than a year after this film was shot.

As the butler in Sunset Blvd. (1950) he is in the projection room when Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis are watching one of Norma's old films. The film is actually Queen Kelly (1929), which von Stroehim directed and which starred Gloria Swanson, who is playing Norma Desmond.

Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 1069-1079. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.

Brother-in-law of Louis Germonprez.



Despite their strong professional relationship, Von Stroheim was never as a close a confidante of D.W. Griffith's, never making it into Griffith's "inner circle."

He fabricated an elaborate back-story for himself as an Austrian aristocrat and imperial officer, while in fact he was the son of a lower-middle-class Jewish hat maker and never served in any military.

His longtime business manager was Elmer Cox, father of actor Dick Sargent.

Immigrated to the United States at the port of New York aboard the S.S. Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm on 25 November 1909.

In 1936 he left for France, leaving behind third wife, actress Valerie Germonprez, and sons Erich von Stroheim Jr. and Josef von Stroheim, The rest of his career was spent writing two novels, touring in a production of "Arsenic and Old Lace," and appearing in small roles in Europe and the U.S.

May 1924: A $10,000 bonus was offered to him by MGM chief Louis B. Mayer if he finished The Merry Widow (1925) in less than six weeks.

Not very well documented is von Stroheim's second marriage to Mae Jones, a seamstress and dressmaker. The marriage was brief, but produced one son, Erich von Stroheim Jr..

Profiled in "From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse: Highbrow and Lowbrow Transgression in Cinema's First Century" by John Cline and Robert G. [2010]

While appearing in French films, Stroheim met actress Denise Vernac who became his secretary and companion for the rest of his life. He never divorced estranged third wife Valerie Germonprez. Denise also appeared in several films with him over the years.

While working at the tavern he met his first wife, Margaret Knox, and in a daring move for 1912 moved in with her. Knox acted as a sort of mentor to von Stroheim, teaching him language and literature and encouraging him to write. Under Knox's tutelage he wrote a novella entitled "In the Morning," with themes that anticipated his films: corrupt aristocracy and innocence debased. The couple married February 19, 1913, but money woes drove von Stroheim to deep depressions and terrible temper tantrums, which he took out on Knox. Not long after Margaret left him, and in May of 1914 filed for divorce.


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