He was born to a Russian Jewish family in Königsberg, then in East Prussia. Due to the political situation at the time, he was stateless when born. In 1914 at the start of the war his family fled to the West. In 1928, with Erik Ode, he founded the cabaret Anti in Berlin. In the 1930s he fled again, this time to Paris. His parents died during World War II in concentration camps.
In 1950 he became an American citizen, but in 1958 he moved to Munich where he lived for the rest of his life. Among other writings, he wrote for the Münchner Lach- und Schießgesellschaft, a cabaret theatre founded by Sammy Drechsel and Dieter Hildebrandt. He had a lifelong friendship with Billy Wilder for whom he wrote five screenplays.
Selection of German lyrics
- "Allein in einer großen Stadt" (Music: Franz Wachsmann; Singers: Lale Andersen, Marlene Dietrich)
- "Bitte geh nicht fort" – "Ne me quitte pas", (Music: Jacques Brel)
- "Der Boss ist nicht hier" (Music: Lotar Olias; Singer: Freddy Quinn)
- "Hoppla, jetzt komm ich" (Music: Werner Richard Heymann; Singer: Hans Albers)
- "Kleine Treue Nachtigall" – "Message to Martha/Michael" (Music: Burt Bacharach; Singer: Marlene Dietrich)
- "Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind" – "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (Music: Pete Seeger; Singer: Marlene Dietrich)
- "Der ewige Soldat" – Donovan: "Universal Soldier"; (Music and Original lyrics: Buffy Sainte-Marie; Singer: Dominique, Juliane Werding)
- "Charley’s Tante" (Musical, based on Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas; Music: Ralph Maria Siegel)
- West Side Story (German lyrics of the musical by Leonard Bernstein [Music] and Stephen Sondheim [lyrics])
- Max Colpet: Sag mir, wo die Jahre sind. Erinnerungen eines unverbesserlichen Optimisten. (Where Have All the Years Gone? The Memoir of an Incorrigible Optimist) Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-548-22011-8. (in German)
- Literature by and about Max Colpet in the German National Library catalogue
- Max Colpet at the Internet Movie Database