March 2, 1892|
Eydtkuhnen, East Prussia, Germany
|Died||March 17, 1949
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Frieda Lehner (?–1949, his death)|
Her Sisters Secret 1946
Felix Bressart (March 2, 1892 – March 17, 1949) was a German-American actor of stage and screen.
Life and career
Felix Bressart (pronounced "BRESS-ert") was born in East Prussia, Germany (now part of Russia) and was an experienced stage actor when he had his film debut in 1928. He began as a supporting actor, for example as the Bailiff in the box-office hit Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930), but soon established himself in leading roles of minor movies. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, the Jewish Bressart left Germany and continued his career in German-speaking movies in Austria, where Jewish artists were still relatively safe. After no fewer than 30 films in eight years, he immigrated to the United States.
One of Bressart's former European colleagues was Joe Pasternak, who had become a Hollywood producer. Bressart's first American film was Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), a vehicle for the Universal Pictures' star, Deanna Durbin. Pasternak chose Bressart to perform in a screen test opposite Pasternak's newest discovery, Gloria Jean. The German community in Hollywood helped to establish Bressart in America, as his earliest American movies were directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Henry Koster, and Wilhelm Thiele, director of The Three from the Filling Station (originally Die Drei von der Tankstelle, 1930), a film which features Bressart in a small role.
Bressart scored a great success in Lubitsch's Ninotchka (1939), as one of the Russian emissaries following the lead character (played by Greta Garbo) to Paris. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, the studio signed Bressart to a studio contract. Most of his MGM work consisted of featured roles in major films like Edison, the Man (1940).
He combined his mildly inflected East European accent with a soft-spoken delivery to create kindly, friendly characters, as in Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942), in which he sensitively recites Shylock's famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech from The Merchant of Venice. Lubitsch also directed Bressart to similar effect in The Shop Around the Corner (1940).
Bressart soon became a popular character actor in films like Blossoms in the Dust (1941), The Seventh Cross (1944), and Without Love (1945). Perhaps his largest role was in RKO' "B" musical comedy Ding Dong Williams, filmed in 1945. Bressart, billed third, played the bemused supervisor of a movie studio's music department, and appeared in formal wear to conduct Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu."
After almost 40 Hollywood pictures, Felix Bressart suddenly died of leukemia at the age of 57. His last film was My Friend Irma (1949), the movie version of a popular radio show. Bressart died during production, forcing the producers to finish the film with Hans Conried. In the final film, Conried speaks throughout, but Bressart is still seen in the long shots.
- The Son of the White Mountain (1930)
- The Old Song (1930)
- The Tender Relatives (1930)
- There Is a Woman Who Never Forgets You (1930)
- Josef the Chaste (1930)
- The Three from the Filling Station (1930)
- Three Days Confined to Barracks (1930)
- The Private Secretary (1931)
- No More Love (1931)
- The Office Manager (1931)
- Terror of the Garrison (1931)
- The Magic Top Hat (1932)
- Holzapfel Knows Everything (1932)
- And Who Is Kissing Me? (1933)
- Peter (1934)
- Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)
- Ninotchka (1939)
- Swanee River (1940)
- The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
- It All Came True (1940)
- Edison, the Man (1940)
- Third Finger, Left Hand (1940)
- Escape (1940)
- Comrade X (1940)
- Bitter Sweet (1940)
- Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
- Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
- Kathleen (1941)
- To Be or Not to Be (1942)
- Crossroads (1942)
- Iceland (1942)
- Above Suspicion (1943)
- Song of Russia (1944)
- The Seventh Cross (1944)
- Without Love (1945)
- A Song Is Born (1948)
- Portrait of Jennie (1948)
- Illegal Entry (1949)
- My Friend Irma (1949)
- Take One False Step (1949)