Tuesday, April 03, 2007

50th anniversary of the death of Conrad Veidt

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of actor Conrad Veidt, on April 3, 1943. He died of a heart attack on a golf course in Los Angeles... having unfortunately smoked heavily all his life...

Depending on your point of view, Veidt is most famous as Cesare the sleepwalker in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), or as Major Strasser in Casablanca, which co-starred that Bogart guy. He is also much beloved as the hero - yes, the hero!, the ambitious and love lorn Jaffar in Thief of Bagdad. Veidt made over a hundred films, lots of silents of course including The Student of Prague. Two classics from England are Spy in Black and Contraband, both with Valerie Hobson.

A popular actor in Germany, Veidt - who was not Jewish - married his third wife, a Jewish woman named Illona Prager, and brought her with him when he emigrated in 1933 after Hitler's rise to power - first to England and then to the US, where, ironically, he would be typecast in Nazi roles during the war. Had he lived during the post-year Wars, his star would be so much higher now...

But it is not his many movies that I find so admirable about the man, but what he did in the first few years in England. He starred in two movies with sympathetic Jewish characters, The Wandering Jew and then Jew Suss. Goebbels was so enraged that Veidt would do this that he banned all of Veidt's films from Germany and declared him persona non grata - as Veidt knew he would. That took a lot of courage.

My own website dedicated to Conrad Veidt, The Conrad Veidt Society, is in the re-design stage, nevertheless there's lots of good info there..including a clip from The Man Who Laughed (with make up that inspired The Joker of Batman fame). Follow the links on the links page for other sites devoted to Veidt.

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