Conrad Veidt

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Conrad Veidt
Conrad Veidt 1941.jpg
in 1941
Born Hans Walter Konrad Weidt
(1893-01-22)22 January 1893
Berlin, Germany
Died 3 April 1943(1943-04-03) (aged 50)
Hollywood, California, United States
Cause of death Heart Attack
Occupation Actor
Years active 1917–1943
Spouse(s) Gussy Holl (1918–1922)
Felicitas Radke (1923–1932; 1 child)
Ilona Prager (1933–1943; his death)

Hans Walter Conrad Veidt (22 January 1893 – 3 April 1943) was a German actor best remembered for his roles in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Man Who Laughs (1928), and, after being forced to immigrate to Britain by the rise of Nazism in Germany, his English-speaking roles in The Thief of Bagdad (1940), and, in Hollywood, Casablanca (1942). After a successful career in German silent film, where he was one of the best-paid stars of Ufa, he left Germany in 1933 with his new Jewish wife after the Nazis came to power. They settled in Britain, where he participated in a number of films before immigrating to the United States around 1941.

Early life[edit]

Veidt was born in a bourgeois district of Berlin, Germany, the son of Amalie Marie (née Gohtz) and Phillip Heinrich Veidt.[1] (Some biographies wrongly state that he was born in Potsdam, probably on the basis of an early claim on his part.) His family was Lutheran.[1]

In 1914, Veidt met actress Lucie Mannheim, with whom he began a relationship. Later in the year Veidt was conscripted into the German Army during World War I. In 1915, Veidt was sent to the Eastern Front as a non-commissioned officer and took part in the Battle of Warsaw. He contracted jaundice and pneumonia, and had to be evacuated to a hospital on the Baltic Sea. While recuperating, he received a letter from Mannheim telling him that she had found work at a theatre in Libau. Intrigued, Veidt applied for the theatre as well. As his condition had not improved, the army allowed him to join the theatre so that he could entertain the troops. While performing at the theatre, he ended his relationship with Mannheim. In late 1916, he was reexamined by the Army and deemed unfit for service; he was given a full discharge in January 1917. Veidt returned to Berlin to pursue his acting career.[2][3][4]


From 1916 until his death, Veidt appeared in more than 100 films. One of his earliest performances was as the murderous somnambulist Cesare in director Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), a classic of German Expressionist cinema, with Werner Krauss and Lil Dagover. Of his role as a disfigured circus performer in The Man Who Laughs (1928) the Los Angeles Times critic wrote: "Conrad Veidt starred in this semi-silent film based on Victor Hugo's novel in which the son of a lord is punished for his father's disrespect to the king by having his face carved into a permanent grin." It was this film that provided the inspiration for Batman's villain The Joker, created in 1940 by Bill Finger. Veidt also starred in other silent horror films such as The Hands of Orlac (1924), another film directed by Robert Wiene, The Student of Prague (1926) and Waxworks (1924) where he played Ivan the Terrible.

Veidt also appeared in Magnus Hirschfeld's film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others, 1919).[5] He had a leading role in Germany's first talking picture, Das Land ohne Frauen (Land Without Women, 1929).

He moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s and made a few films, but the advent of talking pictures and his difficulty with speaking English led him to return to Germany.[6] During this period he lent his expertise to tutor aspiring performers, one of whom was the later American character actress Lisa Golm.


Conrad Veidt in The Spy in Black (1939)

Veidt fervently opposed the Nazi regime and donated a major portion of his personal fortune to Britain to assist in the war effort. Soon after the Nazi Party took power in Germany, by March of 1933 Joseph Goebbels purged the film industry of liberals and Jews. In 1933, a week after Veidt's marriage to Illona Prager, a Jewish woman, the couple emigrated to Britain before any action could be taken against either of them. There he perfected his English and starred in the title role of the original anti-Nazi version of Lion Feuchtwanger's novel, Jew Süss (1934) directed by German-born US director Lothar Mendes and produced by Sir Alexander Korda for Sir Michael Balcon's Denham Studio. He became a British citizen by 1938. By this point multi-lingual, Veidt made films in both French with expatriate French directors and in English, including three of his best-known roles for British director Michael Powell inThe Spy in Black (1939), Contraband (1940) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

Later career in the US[edit]

By 1941, he and Ilona had moved to Hollywood, California to assist in the British effort in making American films that might persuade the then-neutral and still isolationist US to come to Britain's aid against the Nazis, who had conquered all of continental Europe and were bombing England at the time. Before leaving the United Kingdom, Veidt gave his life savings to the British government to help finance the war effort.[5] Realizing that Hollywood would most likely typecast him in Nazi roles, he had his contract mandate that they must always be villains.[5]

He starred in a few films, such as George Cukor's A Woman's Face (1941) where he received billing just under Joan Crawford's and Nazi Agent (1942), in which he had a dual role as both an aristocratic German Nazi spy and as the man's twin brother, an anti-Nazi American. His best-known Hollywood role was as Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca (1942), a film which was written and began pre-production before the United States entered the war.

In 1943, at the age of fifty, he died of a massive heart attack while playing golf at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.[5][7] In 1998, his ashes were placed in a niche of the columbarium at the Golders Green Crematorium in north London.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Conrad Veidt married three times: he first married Augusta Holl, a cabaret entertainer known as "Gussy", on 18 June 1918. They divorced the following autumn. Gussy later married German actor Emil Jannings.

Veidt's second wife Felicitas Radke was from an aristocratic German family; they married in 1923. Their daughter, Vera Viola Maria, called Viola, was born 10 August 1925.

He last married Ilona Prager, a Hungarian Jew called Lily, in 1933; they were together until his death.[9]

He loaned his considerable fortune to the British Government, and donated large amounts of his film salaries to help with the British war effort.[6]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b Allen, Jarry. Conrad Veidt: from Caligari to Casablanca. boxwood. p. 5. ISBN 978-0940168046. 
  2. ^ "Conrad Veidt: The Cinema's Master". The Conrad Veidt Society. 
  3. ^ "Conrad Veidt". A History of Horror. 
  4. ^ "Conrad Veidt: Cinema’s Dark Prince, 1893-1943". Monster Zine. October–December 2000. Archived from the original on February 7, 2005. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Meet Conrad Veidt, Badass". Badass Digest. July 9, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Turner Classic Movies Conrad Veidt
  7. ^ "Conrad Veidt Obituary," Los Angeles Times, 1943
  8. ^ Conrad Veidt on
  9. ^ Lily Veidt on

External links[edit]