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Life and career
Born in Nackenheim in Rhenish Hesse, he was the son of Amalie (née Goldschmidt) and Carl Zuckmayer. When he was four years old, his family moved to Mainz. With the outbreak of World War I, he (like many other high school students) finished school with a facilitated "emergency"-Abitur and volunteered for military service. During the war he served with the German Army's Field Artillery on the Western Front. In 1917, he published first poems in the pacifist journal Die Aktion. By the end of the war in 1918 Zuckmayer held the rank of a Leutnant der Reserve (Reserve Officer).
After the war, he took up studies at the University of Frankfurt, first in humanities, later in biology and botany. In 1920, he married his childhood friend Annemarie Ganz, but they were divorced just one year later, when Zuckmayer had an affair with actress Annemarie Seidel.
His first ventures into literature and theatre were complete failures. His first drama Kreuzweg (1921) fell flat and was delisted after only three performances, and when he was chosen as dramatic adviser at the theatre of Kiel, he lost his new job after his first, controversial staging of Terence's The Eunuch. In 1924 he became dramaturg at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, jointly with Bertolt Brecht. After another failure with his second drama Pankraz erwacht oder Die Hinterwäldler he finally had a great public success with the comedy Der fröhliche Weinberg ("The Merry Vineyard") in 1925, which won him the Kleist Prize.
Also in 1925, he married the Austrian actress Alice Herdan, and they bought a house in Henndorf near Salzburg in Austria. Zuckmayer's next play Der Schinderhannes was again successful. In 1929, he wrote the script for the movie Der blaue Engel (starring Marlene Dietrich) based on the novel Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann. That year, he was also awarded the Georg Büchner Prize, another prestigious German language literary award.
In 1931, his play Der Hauptmann von Köpenick premiered and became another success, but his plays were prohibited when the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 (Zuckmayer's maternal grandfather had been born Jewish and converted to Protestanism). Zuckmayer and his family moved to their house in Austria, where he published a few more works. After the Anschluss, he was expatriated by the Nazi government, and the Zuckmayers fled via Switzerland to the United States in 1939, where he first worked as a script writer in Hollywood before renting Backwoods Farm near Barnard, Vermont in 1941 and working there as a farmer until 1946. In 1943/44 he wrote "character portraits" of actors, writers and other artists in Germany for the Office of Strategic Services, evaluating their involvement with the Nazi regime. This became known only in 2002, when the approximately 150 reports where published in Germany under the title Geheimreport.
In January 1946, after World War II, Zuckmayer was granted the US citizenship he had applied for already in 1943. He returned to Germany and traveled the country for five months as a US cultural attaché. The resulting report to the War Department was first published in Germany in 2004 (Deutschlandbericht). His play Des Teufels General ("The Devil's General"; the main character is based on the biography of Ernst Udet), which he had written in Vermont, premiered in Zürich on December 14, 1946. The play became a major success in post-war Germany; one of the first post-war literary attempts to broach the issue of Nazism. It was filmed in 1955 starring Curd Jürgens.
Zuckmayer kept writing: Barbara Blomberg premiered in Konstanz in 1949 and Das kalte Licht in Hamburg in 1955. He also wrote the screenplay for Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach, the German-language version of Otto Preminger's 1953 film The Moon is Blue. Having shuttled back and forth between the U.S. and Europe for several years, the Zuckmayers left the U.S. in 1958 and settled in Saas Fee in the Valais in Switzerland. In 1966, he became a Swiss citizen, and he published his memoirs entitled Als wär's ein Stück von mir ("A part of myself"). His last play Der Rattenfänger (music by Friedrich Cerha) premiered in Zürich in 1975. Zuckmayer died 1977 in Visp and was interred on January 22, 1977 in Saas Fee.
Zuckmayer had been granted numerous awards, such as the Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt in 1952, the Bundesverdienstkreuz mit Stern in 1955, the Austrian Staatspreis für Literatur in 1960, Pour le Mérite in 1967, and the Austrian Verdienstkreuz am Band in 1968.
- The Moons Ride Over (New York, The Viking Press, 1937, Original title "Salwàre oder Die Magdalena von Bozen")
- His first volume of autobiography was Second Wind (London: George Harrap & Co., 1941) with an introduction by Dorothy Thompson. This book covered his youth, his experiences in World War I, and his flight from Austria to America after the Anschluss.
- A Part of Myself, Portrait of an Epoch (New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970, translated by Winston, Richard and Clara), originally Als wär's ein Stück von mir. Horen der Freundschaft, is an expanded memoir including his experiences in Vermont.
- Des Teufels General appeared in Block, Haskell M. and Shedd, Robert G. Masters of Modern Drama (New York, Random House, 1963) translated by Ingrid G. and William F. Gilbert, and is part of The German Library as well.
- The Captain of Köpenick appears in German Drama
- A Late Friendship: The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley)
- Die Fastnachtsbeichte (English: Carnival confession) was published first in English language, by John Geoffrey Gryles Mander and Necke Mander, in 1961 in London.
"The Moons Ride Over" is an adaptation and reenactment of the original novel in Facebook by artist Jeff Gabel, where multiple Facebook accounts serve as the actors and narrators. The adaptation was promoted by Spencer Brownstone Gallery in 2009 in conjunction with the group exhibition "Are You Sure You Are You?"
Honours and awards
- 1925: Kleist Prize
- 1929: Georg Büchner Prize
- 1952: Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt am Main
- 1952: Honorary Citizen of his birthplace, Nackenheim
- 1953: Medal of the city of Göttingen
- 1955: Grand Merit Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern)
- 1955: German wine culture prize
- 1957: Honorary doctorate from the University of Bonn
- 1960: Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature
- 1961: Honorary Citizen of Saas Fee
- 1962: Honorary Citizenship of Mainz
- 1967: Freeman of the Heidelberg University
- 1967: Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts
- 1968: Austrian Decoration for Science and Art
- 1971: Honorary Ring of Vienna
- 1972: Heinrich Heine Prize of the city of Düsseldorf
- 1975: Ring of Salzburg
- Schinderhannes (1927)
- Katharina Knie (1928)
- The Captain of Köpenick (1931)
- Des Teufels General (1946)
- Tabular biography (in German).
- Biography in English.
- German Carl-Zuckmayer-Society (in German; has a bibliography and filmography).