Conrad Veidt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Conrad Veidt
Conrad Veidt 1941.jpg
Conrad Veidt in 1941
Hans Walter Conrad Veidt

(1893-01-22)22 January 1893
Died3 April 1943(1943-04-03) (aged 50)
Resting placeGolders Green Crematorium, north London
Years active1917–1943
(m. 1918; div. 1922)

Felicitas Radke
(m. 1923; div. 1932)

Ilona Prager
(m. 1933)

Hans Walter Conrad Veidt (/ft/; 22 January 1893 – 3 April 1943) was a German actor best remembered for his roles in films such as Different from the Others (1919), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and The Man who Laughs (1928). After a successful career in German silent films, where he was one of the best-paid stars of UFA, he and his new Jewish wife Ilona Prager were forced to leave Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. The couple settled in Britain, where he took British citizenship in 1939. He appeared in many British films, including The Thief of Bagdad (1940), before emigrating to the United States around 1941, which led to him being cast as Major Strasser in Casablanca (1942).

Early life[edit]

Veidt was born in a bourgeois district of Berlin, in what was then the German Empire, to 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, he 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 re-examined 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]


Veidt, c. 1920

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. His starring role in The Man Who Laughs (1928), as a disfigured circus performer whose face is cut into a permanent grin, provided the (visual) inspiration for the Batman villain the Joker. Veidt starred in other silent horror films such as The Hands of Orlac (1924), also directed by Robert Wiene, The Student of Prague (1926) and Waxworks (1924), in which he played Ivan the Terrible. Veidt also appeared in Magnus Hirschfeld's film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others, 1919), one of the earliest films to sympathetically portray homosexuality, although the characters in it do not end up happily.[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 there, 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 tutoring aspiring performers, one of whom was the later American character actress Lisa Golm.


Veidt fervently opposed the Nazi regime and later 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 1933, Joseph Goebbels was purging the film industry of anti-Nazi sympathizers and Jews, and so in 1933, a week after Veidt's marriage to Ilona Prager, a Jewish woman, the couple emigrated to Britain before any action could be taken against either of them.

Goebbels had imposed a "racial questionnaire" in which everyone employed in the German film industry had to declare their "race" to continue to work. When Veidt was filling in the questionnaire, he answered the question about what his Rasse (race) was by writing that he was a Jude (Jew).[7] Veidt was not Jewish, but his wife was Jewish, and Veidt would not renounce the woman he loved.[7] Additionally, Veidt, who was opposed to antisemitism, wanted to show solidarity with the German Jewish community, who were in the process of being stripped of their rights as German citizens in the spring of 1933. As one of Germany's most prominent actors, Veidt had been informed that if he were prepared to divorce his wife and declare his support for the new regime, he could continue to act in Germany. Several other leading actors who had been opposed to the Nazis before 1933 switched allegiances. In answering the questionnaire by stating he was a Jew, Veidt rendered himself unemployable in Germany, but stated this sacrifice was worth it as there was nothing in the world that would compel him to break with his wife.[7] Upon hearing about what Veidt had done, Goebbels remarked that he would never act in Germany again.

Conrad Veidt in The Spy in Black (1939)

After arriving in Britain, Veidt perfected his English and starred in the title roles of the original anti-Nazi versions of The Wandering Jew (1933) and Jew Süss (1934), the latter film was directed by the exiled German-born director Lothar Mendes and produced by Michael Balcon for Gaumont-British. He naturalised as a British subject on 25 February 1939.[8] By this point multi-lingual, Veidt made films both in French with expatriate French directors and in English, including three of his best-known roles for British director Michael Powell in The Spy in Black (1939), Contraband (1940) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

Later career in the US[edit]

By 1941, he and Ilona had settled in Hollywood to assist in the British effort in making American films that might persuade the then-neutral and still isolationist US to join the war against the Nazis, who at that time controlled all of continental Europe and were bombing the United Kingdom. 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 under Joan Crawford's and Nazi Agent (1942), in which he had a dual role as both an aristocratic German Nazi spy and the man's twin brother, an anti-Nazi American. His best-known Hollywood role was as the sinister Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca (1942), a film which began pre-production before the United States entered World War II. Commenting about this well-received role, Veidt noted that it was an ironical twist of that that he was praised "for portraying the kind of character who had forced him to leave his homeland".[9]

Personal life[edit]

Conrad Veidt married three times: he first married Gussy Holl, a cabaret entertainer, on 18 June 1918.[10] They divorced four years later. Gussy later married German actor Emil Jannings. Some sources say Veidt had a daughter named Ruth-Maria with Holl.[11]

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 on 10 August 1925. He last married Ilona Prager, a Hungarian Jew called Lily, in 1933; they remained together until his death.[citation needed]


Conrad Veidt died on 3 April 1943 of a massive heart attack while playing golf at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles with singer Arthur Fields and his personal physician, Dr. Bergman, who pronounced him dead on the scene.[5][12] Veidt was 50 years old. In 1998, his ashes were placed in a niche of the columbarium at the Golders Green Crematorium in north London.[13][14]

Complete filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1917 When the Dead Speak Richard von Worth
1917 Fear Indian Priest
1917 The Sea Battle
1917 The Spy Steinau
1918 The Mystery of Bangalore Dinja
1918 The Serenyi
1918 The Path of Death Rolf
1918 The Mexican
1918 The House of Three Girls Baron Schober
1918 Diary of a Lost Woman Dr. Julius
1918 Jettchen Gebert's Story Doctor Friedrich Köstling
1918 Colomba Henrik van Rhyn
1918 Let There Be Light Herr Kramer
1918 The Story of Dida Ibsen Erik Norrensen
1918 Henriette Jacoby Doctor Friedrich Köstling
1918 Victim of Society Prosecutor Chrysander
1918 Not of the Woman Born Satan
1919 Opium Dr. Richard Armstrong Jr.
1919 Nocturne of Love Frederic Chopin
1919 The Japanese Woman The Secretary
1919 Prostitution Alfred Werner
1919 Around the World in Eighty Days Phineas Fogg
1919 Peer Gynt (2 parts) Ein fremder Passagier
1919 Different from the Others Paul Körner
1919 The Ocarina Jaap
1919 Prince Cuckoo Karl Kraker
1919 Madness Bankier Lorenzen
1919 Unheimliche Geschichten Death (framing story) / The stranger (ep.1) / The assassin (ep.2) / Traveller (ep.3) / Club president (ep.4) / Husband (ep.5)
1919 The Mexican
1920 The Count of Cagliostro The Minister
1920 Figures of the Night Clown
1920 Satan Lucifer / Hermit / Gubetta / Grodski
1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Cesare
1920 The Merry-Go-Round Petre Karvan
1920 Patience Sir Percy Parker
1920 The Night at Goldenhall Lord Reginald Golden / Harald Golden
1920 The Eyes of the World Johannes Kay, Julianne's Lover
1920 Kurfürstendamm Satan
1920 The Head of Janus Dr. Warren / Mr. O'Connor
1920 Moriturus Wilmos
1920 The Clan
1920 Evening – Night – Morning Brilburn - Maud's brother
1920 Manolescu's Memoirs Manolescu
1920-1921 Christian Wahnschaffe (2 parts) Christian Wahnschaffe
1921 People in Ecstasy Professor Munk, Komponist
1921 The Secret of Bombay Dichter Tossi
1921 Journey into the Night Der Maler
1921 Love and Passion Jalenko, the Gypsy
1921 The Love Affairs of Hector Dalmore Hektor Dalmore
1921 Desire Ivan - a young Russian dancer
1921 Country Roads and the Big City Raphael, der Geiger
1921 Danton
1921 Lady Hamilton Lord Nelson
1921 The Indian Tomb (2 parts) Ayan III / Prince von Eschnapur / The Majarajah of Bengal
1921 The Passion of Inge Krafft Hendryck Overland
1922 Lucrezia Borgia Cesare Borgia
1923 Paganini Niccolò Paganini
1923 William Tell Hermann Gessler
1923 Gold and Luck The Count
1923 Bride of Vengeance Cesare Borgia
1924 Carlos and Elisabeth Don Carlos
1924 Temperamental Artist Arpad Czaslo
1924 The Hands of Orlac Paul Orlac
1924 Waxworks Ivan the Terrible
1924 Husbands or Lovers Der Liebhaber, ein Dichter
1925 Count Kostia Count Kostia
1925 Destiny Count L. M. Vranna
1925 Ingmar's Inheritance Hellgum
1926 The Fiddler of Florence Renées Vater
1926 The Brothers Schellenberg Wenzel Schellenberg / Michael Schellenberg
1926 Love is Blind Dr. Lamare
1926 Should We Be Silent? Paul Hartwig, Maler
1926 The Woman's Crusade Prosecutor
1926 The Student of Prague Balduin, a student
1926 The Flight in the Night Heinrich IV
1927 The Beloved Rogue King Louis XI
1927 A Man's Past Paul La Roche
1928 Gesetze der Liebe
1928 The Man who Laughs Gwynplaine / Lord Clancharlie
1929 Land Without Women Dick Ashton, telegrapher
1929 The Last Performance Erik the Great
1930 The Last Company Hauptmann Burk
1930 Menschen im Käfig (People in the Cage) Kingsley
1930 The Great Longing Himself
1931 The Man who Murdered Marquis de Sévigné
1931 The Night of Decision General Gregori Platoff
1931 The Congress Dances Prince Metternich
1931 The Other Side Hauptmann Stanhope
1932 Rasputin, Demon with Women Grigori Rasputin
1932 Congress Dances Prince Metternich
1932 The Black Hussar Rittmeister Hansgeorg von Hochberg
1932 Rome Express Zurta
1933 The Empress and I Marquis de Pontignac
1933 F.P.1 Maj. Ellissen
1933 I Was a Spy Commandant Oberaertz
1933 The Wandering Jew Matathias
1934 William Tell Gessler (both German- and English-language versions)
1934 Jew Süss Josef Süss Oppenheimer
1934 Bella Donna Mahmoud Baroudi
1935 The Passing of the Third Floor Back The Stranger
1935 King of the Damned Convict 83
1937 Dark Journey Baron Karl Von Marwitz
1937 Under the Red Robe Gil de Berault
1938 Storm Over Asia Erich Keith
1938 The Chess Player Baron Kempelen
1939 The Spy in Black Captain Hardt
1940 Contraband Capt. Andersen
1940 The Thief of Bagdad Jaffar
1940 Escape General Kurt von Kolb
1941 A Woman's Face Torsten Barring
1941 Whistling in the Dark Joseph Jones
1941 The Men in Her Life Stanislas Rosing
1942 All Through the Night Ebbing
1942 Nazi Agent Otto Becker / Baron Hugo Von Detner
1942 Casablanca Major Heinrich Strasser
1943 Above Suspicion Hassert Seidel Released Posthumously, (final film role)


  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. Archived from the original on 9 March 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  4. ^ "Conrad Veidt: Cinema's Dark Prince, 1893–1943". Monster Zine. October–December 2000. Archived from the original on 7 February 2005.
  5. ^ a b c d "Meet Conrad Veidt, Badass". Badass Digest. 9 July 2013.
  6. ^ Turner Classic Movies Conrad Veidt
  7. ^ a b c Hull, David Stewart Film in the Third Reich, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973 page 90.
  8. ^ "No. 34605". The London Gazette. 7 March 1939. p. 1546.
  9. ^ Roth, Michael S. (17 April 2017). "Here's Looking at You, 'Casablanca'". Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  10. ^ Allen, Jerry C. (January 1987). Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca. ISBN 9780940168046.
  11. ^ "Motion Picture". February 1928.
  12. ^ "Conrad Veidt Obituary," Los Angeles Times, 1943
  13. ^ "Newspaper reports of reinterrment". Conrad Veidt Society. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  14. ^ Conrad Veidt on Screen

Further reading[edit]

  • Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Conrad Veidt". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 244–248. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.

External links[edit]