Erich von Stroheim

From Academic Kids

Erich Von Stroheim (September 22, 1885 - May 12, 1957) was a filmmaker and actor, noted for his arrogant Teutonic character parts. As an actor, he became known as "The Man You Love to Hate" because of the many villain roles he took.

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Erich von Stroheim

A myth-maker extraordinaire, mystery surrounds his origins. His most recent biographers have written that Stroheim was born in Vienna in 1885, the son of a hat-maker. Stroheim himself claimed to be the son of Austrian nobility like the characters he played in his films. However Jean Renoir writes in his memoirs: “Stroheim spoke hardly any German. He had to study his lines like a schoolboy learning a foreign language.” Later if life, while living in Europe, in published remarks Stroheim claimed to have "forgotten" his native tongue.

Whatever the truth, by 1914 he was working in Hollywood.

He began working in movies in bit parts and as a consultant on German culture and fashion. His first film was The Country Boy, in which he was uncredited, in 1915. His first credited role was Old Heidelberg.

He began working with D. W. Griffith, with uncredited roles in Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. But his sneering Germanic demeanor began to show in such films as Sylvia of the Secret Service and The Hun Within. In The Heart of Humanity, he threw a baby out a window.

Following the war, he turned to writing and directing, first directing his own script for Blind Husbands in 1919. Perhaps his most famous directing job was on Greed. But his dictatorial and extreme attention to detail (including requiring that his actors wear period underwear in order to know how their characters would feel) caused him to go to war with the studios, and he received fewer directing opportunities. Other directorial efforts included The Devil's Passkey, Foolish Wives, The Merry-Go-Round, The Merry Widow, and The Wedding March.

His film Queen Kelly brought down the curtain on his own career as a director and may have shortened Gloria Swanson's as well. He was fired from the director's chair halfway through filming, and directed only two more films ever again.

Instead, he returned to acting. He is perhaps best known for Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion and Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, co-starring with Swanson. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Max von Mayerling in the latter movie.

Stroheim spent the last part of his life in France where his silent film work was much admired by artists in the French film industry. In France he acted in films, wrote several novels that were published in French, and worked on various unrealized film projects. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor shortly before his death on May 12, 1957 in Maurepas, France.

External Links

All about Erich ( Eve Bercovy's website provides a much needed appreciation of this under-appreciated and misunderstood filmmaker.

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