|Native name||Иван Петровић|
1 January 1894
Újvidék, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary
|Died||18 October 1962
Munich, West Germany
He was the first actor of Yugoslav origin to have a successful international movie career, preceding Ita Rina and Zvonimir Rogoz. Petrovich mainly worked in German cinema, but also collaborated with established directors in some 100 Hungarian, French, Spanish, Czechoslovakian and Hollywood movies.
He was born Svetislav Petrović (Serbian Cyrillic: Светислав Петровић) on 1 January 1894 in Újvidék, Austria-Hungary, today Novi Sad in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. His father Mladen was a taylor. After finishing the primary education in his hometown, he moved to Budapest, where he graduated from the Polytechnic academy.
In Vienna he met a film director Mihály Kertész, who fled Hungary after the war, and who will later make a major Hollywood career as Michael Curtiz. Kertész directed Petrovich in three movies: The Sunflower Woman in 1918 on the play by Ivo Vojnović, The Lady with the Black Gloves in 1919 and, the most successful, The Star of Damascus in 1920. Kertész thought that Petrovich’s name Svetislav is too hard to remember, so he chose Iván for him. He later worked with a prominent Hungarian directors Paul Czinner (Homo immanis, 1918) and Béla Balogh (Under the Mountains, 1920), before moving to France.
In the mid 1920s he became an international star with a string of French movies, styled “the most cherished lover of the French cinema”. He marked the period, mostly being typecast as a latin lover, in the movies of Léonce Perret (Koenigsmark, 1923; The Nude Woman, 1926; Morgane, the Enchantress, 1928), Germaine Dulac (Heart of an Actress, 1924) or Marco de Gastyne (The Lady of Lebanon, 1926). He was partnered on screen with the most popular French actresses of the day like Louise Lagrange, Nita Naldi and Arlette Marchal.
Petrovich was noticed by Hollywood director Rex Ingram who at the time lived and worked in Southern France, where he established a studio in Nice. Ingram directed Petrovich in three films, all co-starring Ingram’s wife, Alice Terry: The Magician in 1926, and The Garden of Allah and The Three Passions, both in 1927. At one point, Petrovich was considered as one of the potential successors of Rudolf Valentino, who died prematurely in 1926.
Transition to sound
With the advent of sound, Petrovich’s career didn’t seem to be hampered. Tall, handsome and good looking, with a sonorous voice, he even prospered, expanding his acting range to the more character roles, like the aristocrats, noblemen, officers and priests, in the “Slavic charm” manner. However, even though multilingual, his bad English accent turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle, so he had to scrap his Hollywood plans.
He made some 40 films in Germany before the outbreak of the war, under the direction of the best German directors and co-starring with the most popular actors of the period. As a good singer, he was frequently cast in filmed operettas.
He worked often with directorial couple Jacob and Luise Fleck (The Orlov in 1927, Doctor Schäfer in 1928, The Tsarevich in 1929) and Richard Oswald (Victoria and Her Hussar in 1931, The Flower of Hawaii in 1933, co-starring Marta Eggerth). Other movies from this period include 1928 Alraune by Henrik Galeen, co-starring Brigitte Helm and Paul Wegener, 1929 Latin Quarter by Augusto Genina, 1931 The Opera Ball by Max Neufeld, co-starring Liane Haid and Die Fledermaus by Karel Lamač, 1932 Grandstand for General Staff by Eugen Thiele, 1934 Paganini, in title role, by E. W. Emo, co-starring Theo Lingen, and The Last Waltz by Georg Jacoby, 1935 The Cossack and the Nightingale by Phil Jutzi, 1937 Unter Ausschluß der Öffentlichkeit by Paul Wegener and 1939 Zentrale Rio by Erich Engels, co-starring Ita Rina.
World War II
After the World War II began, Petrovich continued to act in mostly lightweight, fun movies. He stayed in touch with Serbian issues by visiting his friends, captured Serbian officers, in Nazi camps, which caused him problems with the Nazi Security Service. After being pressured to participate in propaganda flick Enemies, directed by Viktor Tourjansky, which tried to justify German occupation of Poland, Petrovich migrated to Hungary. He spent there the remainder of the war, acting in several movies along popular stars like Pál Jávor and Katalin Karády. Most notable was 1941 Géza von Radványi’s antimilitary Europe does not respond.
After the war ended and Communist government was set in Hungary, Petrovich moved back to Germany. In the next 15 years he continued mostly in the supporting roles, but was still sought actor in the German-speaking countries.
His notable roles from this period include films The Trial by G.W. Pabst, Beethoven’s biopic Eroica by Walter Kolm-Veltée and Sissi – The Young Empress by Ernst Marischka. Among Petrovich’s last movies were Louis Malle’s first feature film Elevator to the Gallows in 1958 and Anatole Litvak’s The Journey in 1959.
Petrovich made no Yugoslav movies, but did act in German-Yugoslav coproductions, The Coral Princess in 1937 directed by Victor Janson, co-starring Ita Rina, and Dalmatian Wedding in 1953, directed by Géza von Bolváry.
That wasn’t an obstacle for the exceptional popularity in his homeland and legions of fans, though. In 1928 he visited Belgrade, causing unprecedented hysteria. Filmmaker Marko Babac in his 2009 book Boško Tokin – novinar i pisac, prvi srpski estetičar, publicista i kritičar filma published an excerpt from the Novosti newspapers’ account on Petrovich’s visit: “From all corners of Belgrade, like torrents, girls of Belgrade rushed to see Svetislav Petrović with a secret hope in their souls that at least one of his fiery glances will fall on them, their lipsticked lips and loving eyes. Journalists, waiting in a lounge, waited for Svetislav Petrović to step out of his quarters, where he spent time in the bathroom doing swimming, massaging and gymnastics. Upon seeing him, the crowd swung and stirred, the girls’ hearts stroke hard and throaths turned dry because of the souls’ sensations. They all commented how gorgeous and perfect he is. Delighted mass almost smothered him as they advanced towards him. It seemed as if, in an effort to show him love, they wanted to lynch him.“
In contrast to that period, Petrovich is largely forgotten in Serbia today. One of the reasons is thought to be his work in Radio Free Europe, which was strongly disliked by the post-war Communist authorities of Yugoslavia. In an effort to change that, Serbian national film library, Jugoslovenska kinoteka, dedicated year 2017 to him, with prepared programs for showing his movies throughout the whole year.
Petrovich married German singer and actress Friedel Schuster.
- The Sunflower Woman (1918)
- The Lady with the Black Gloves (1919)
- Homo immanis (1919)
- The Star of Damascus (1920)
- Under the Mountains (1920)
- Veszélyben a pokol (1921)
- Galathea (1921)
- Navarro the Dancer (1922)
- Certificates of Death (1923)
- Koenigsmark (1923)
- Un coquin (1923)
- Heart of an Actress (1924)
- The Magician (1926)
- The Nude Woman (1926)
- Milady of Liban (1926)
- The Lady of Lebanon (1926)
- The Garden of Allah (1927)
- The Orlov (1927)
- Prince or Clown (1928)
- Alraune (1928)
- Morgane, the Enchantress (1928)
- Doctor Schäfer (1928)
- Secrets of the Orient (1928)
- The Three Passions (1928)
- The Favourite of Schonbrunn (1929)
- Latin Quarter (1929)
- The Tsarevich (1929)
- His Majesty's Lieutenant (1929)
- There Is a Woman Who Never Forgets You (1930)
- Love and Champagne (1930)
- The King of Paris (1930, German)
- The King of Paris (1930, French)
- Boudoir diplomatique (1931)
- The Opera Ball (1931)
- Victoria and Her Hussar (1931)
- Die Fledermaus (1931)
- La Chauve-souris (1931)
- Holzapfel Knows Everything (1932)
- Der Feldherrnhügel (1932)
- Der Diamant des Zaren (1932)
- Manolescu, der Fürst der Diebe (1933)
- The Flower of Hawaii (1933)
- Muß man sich gleich scheiden lassen (1933)
- Das Glück von Grinzing (1933)
- Paganini (1934)
- Polish Blood (1934)
- The Last Waltz (1934)
- Der Rote Reiter (1935)
- The Cossack and the Nightingale (1935)
- Königstiger (1935)
- Ungeküsst soll man nicht schlafen gehn (1936)
- Three Girls Around Schubert (1936)
- Mädchen in Weiß (1936)
- Women's Paradise (1936)
- Woman's Love—Woman's Suffering (1937)
- Die Kronzeugin (1937)
- Unter Ausschluß der Öffentlichkeit (1937)
- Die Korallenprinzessin (1937)
- Monika (1938)
- Stronger Than Love (1938)
- Die Nacht der Entscheidung (1938)
- Parkstrasse 13 (1939)
- Zentrale Rio (1939)
- Dein Leben gehört mir (1939)
- Enemies (1940)
- Életre ítéltek! (1941)
- Einmal der liebe Herrgott sein (1942)
- Magyar kívánsághangverseny (1944)
- The Trial (1948)
- Arlberg-Express (1948)
- Verlorenes Rennen (1948)
- Eroica (1949)
- Wer bist du, den ich liebe? (1949)
- Bonus on Death (1950)
- Maharadscha wider Willen (1950)
- Czardas der Herzen (1951)
- Vienna as It Was (1951)
- Desires (1952)
- The Forester's Daughter (1952)
- The Devil Makes Three (1952)
- Fritz and Friederike (1952)
- Man nennt es Liebe (1953)
- Once I Will Return (1953)
- The Little Czar (1954)
- Sissi – The Young Empress (1956)
- Widower with 5 Daughters (1957)
- Frühling in Berlin (1957)
- Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) (1958)
- The Journey (1959)
- Forever my love (1962) (uncredited)
- "Filmkünstler: wir über uns selbst, 1928".
- Filmska enciklopedija, Vol. II, page 316. Jugoslavenski leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža. 1990.
- Ko je ko u Nedićevoj Srbiji 1941-44, page 469-470. Prosveta. 2009. ISBN 978-86-07-01889-5.
- "Svetislav Ivan Petrović – zaboravljeni srpski Rudolf Valentino".