Ernst Lubitsch

Ernst Lubitsch

Darsteller, Regie, Drehbuch, Schnitt, Produzent
*29.01.1892 Berlin; †30.11.1947 Los Angeles, Kalifornien, USA

Biography

Ernst Lubitsch was born January 29, 1892, in Berlin, as the son of master tailor Ssimcha (Simon) Lubitsch and his wife Anna, born Lindenstaedt. He went to preschool from 1899 to 1902 and then attended Sophien-Gymnasium. In 1908, he started an apprenticeship at Hoffmann & Co.'s mercer shop at Königsstraße. Later, Lubitsch became an accountant in his father's shop. After Lubitsch met actor Victor Arnold, he became his student and started to sporadically perform at cabarets and on minor arts stages. With Arnold's help, Lubitsch became an actor for small roles at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater. At first he worked as an extra and understudy but soon performed in premieres. From 1914 to 1918, Lubitsch mainly worked with Reinhardt and other directors.

In 1913, Lubitsch started his film career and probably played his first part in "Die ideale Gattin", a film by Deutsche Bioscop GmbH, a production company that signed him for a short time. In 1914, he played the clerk Moritz Abramowsky in Carl Wilhelm's film "Die Firma heiratet" ("The Firm Weds"). The film was produced by Projektions AG "Union" (PAGU), a production company that employed Lubitsch for the next couple of years. There, Lubitsch created a role type that became hugely popular with the audience: the cunning and cheeky apprentice who wins through with his freshness and slyness, who manages to make a rise and who becomes the "Der Stolz der Firma" ("The Pride of the Firm"), as Wilhelm's next film with the new star comedian was programmatically called.

In the autumn of 1914, Lubitsch finished his first film as leading actor and director at the same time: "Fräulein Seifenschaum" ("Miss Soapsuds"). In 1914/15, he set up the production company Malu-Film together with the actor Ernst Mátray and produced at least two films for the company. At this point in time, Lubitsch had already asserted himself as director, writer and actor of comedies. With his at times rude humor he met the tastes of contemporary movie goers. In 1915, Pagu started its "Lubitsch series". During the following years, Lubitsch also brought in two more writers, at first Erich Schönfelder, and later Hanns Kräly. Theodor Sparkuhl became his main cinematographer, and Kurt Richter his set designer. At that time, Lubitsch turned actors like Ossi Oswalda, Harry Liedtke, Victor Janson, and Margarete Kupfer into stars.

In 1916, Lubitsch finished "Schuhpalast Pinkus" ("The Shoe Palace"). In the film, he played Sally Pinkus, the apprentice and later owner of a shoe store: "In the moral sense, Sally Pinkus would be a flexible opportunist. But Lubitsch does not pass moral judgements that divide people into good or bad. His characters are both good and bad, and Lubitsch caused a stir with this diagnosis." (Witte, 1984).

In 1918, Lubitsch started a collaboration with Pola Negri and Emil Jannings with the film "Die Augen der Mumie Ma" ("The Eyes of the Mummy"), a "dramatic major production". In the same year, he also finished one of the first film versions of Prosper Merimee's "Carmen" with Negri. ""Die Austernprinzessin" ("The Oyster Princess") was my first comedy that suggested a definite style." (Lubitsch). The daughter of an Oyster King (Ossi Oswalda) wants to marry Prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke) because her husband has to be an aristocrat even if he is completely penniless. "The film catches one"s eye with innvations like the timing of the shots, the visualisation of the decors, and the choreography of the characters." (Prinzler, 1984).

For Argus-Film Berlin, Lubitsch made a film version of Strindberg's "Rausch" ("Intoxication") in 1919, starring Asta Nielsen. In the same year, he finished "Madame Dubarry" ("Passion"), his first major historical film. Extensively, Lubitsch used the resources that PAGU granted him. "Die Puppe" ("The Doll"), a small masterpiece, shows Lubitsch in the prologue, arranging a toy landscape and figures from a box: an homage to the power of the director with a wink. With "Sumurun" ("One Arabian Night"), "Anna Boleyn", and "Das Weib des Pharao", Lubitsch continued his series of historical films. The sale of a film to a European country alone amortized the enormously high spending for the films during the time of inflation. Furthermore, since the success of "Passion" (= "Madame Dubarry"), Lubitsch was able to export his films to the US market. This economic endeaveour was organisationally backed by the cooperation of Ernst Lubitsch Film GmbH with the newly-found E.F.A. (European Film Alliance).

In mid-December of 1921, Lubitsch and Paul Davidson, a director for Pagu/Ufa, went to America to negotiate Lubitsch's first US film that was supposed to be shot in the New York studios of Famous Players. But the plan fell through. After his return to Berlin, Lubitsch started to work on his last film in Germany, "Die Flamme", that premiered in Vienna and did not premiere in Berlin until the autumn of 1923.

In December 1922, Lubitsch went from Bremerhaven to New York. Mary Pickford had invited him to Hollywood to shoot a film. He was never going to work in Germany again. During the shooting, tensions developed between Lubitsch and his leading actress and producer. Although the film was a success with critics and movie goers alike, Lubitsch's contract was cancelled.

Lubitsch then was employed by Warner Bros., and worked there for three years. During this time, he finished five films: "The Marriage Circle", "Three Women", "Kiss Me Again", "Lady Windermere"s Fan", and "Kiss Me In Paris". "The films have a material and stylistic connection. They are no historical pomp movies (...), but society comedies; Americans call them "sex-comedies"". (Prinzler, 1984). Lubitsch developed a special refinement of omissions and allusions, staged an erotic game that pleased the audience and at the same time deceived the censors.

Gradually, the "Lubitsch touch" developed. "Actually, it is not at all about telling a story, but rather to find a way to not tell the story at all. (...) The key factor is that the subject is never treated directly. When we are standing in front of room doors, while the action is inside, when we are with the servants, while the action is happening in the salon, and in the salon, when the action is on the staircase, and in the telephone booth, when the action is in the basement, it only happens because Lubitsch, humble as ever, has racked his brain for six weeks and in the end grants the audience to simultaneously construct a screen play with him, while the film is playing on the movie screen." (F. Truffaut, Cahiers du cinema, February 1968).

Lubitsch soon ranked among Hollywood's most sought-after directors. In 1926, he cancelled his contract with Warner and directed "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" for M-G-M. In 1928, he started his collaboration with Paramount. His first film for Paramount, "The Patriot", starred his old star Emil Jannings in the leading role. Jannings even won the first Academy award for an actor for his performance. The mountain melodrama "Eternal Love" became Lubitsch's last silent film.

He then started a series of movie operettas: "The Love Parade", "Monte Carlo", "The Smiling Lieutenant". Once again, Lubitsch's films were innovative and shaped the style of future movies. "Trouble In Paradise" is a classic comedy film: "This movie seemed to have everything: the grace and elegance of the 20s, the egalitarian conscience of the 30s, the visual wit of the silent cinema and the verbal wit of the talkies." (Sarris, 1980). In 1934, he made another film for M-G-M, "The Merry Widow", based on a screen play by Ernest Vajda and Samuel Raphaelson, who wrote most of his films of the 1930s. In February 1935, Lubitsch, who was stripped of his German citizenship by the Nazis on January 28, 1935, became head of production of Paramount but only stayed in this position for one year.

Instead, Lubitsch became the head of his own production group in May 1936. He finished "Angel", with Marlene Dietrich in the leading role, "Bluebeard"s Eighth Wife", starring Claudette Colbert, and "Ninotchka", starring Greta Garbo, for M-G-M. Billy Wilder collaborated on the screen play of the two last films, thus bringing a satirical edge into the comedies. "Garbo's 'Ninotchka' is one of the sprightliest comedies of the year, a gay and impertinent and malicious show which never pulls its punch lines (no matter how far below the belt they may land) and finds the screen's austere first lady of drama playing a dead-pan comedy role with the assurance of a Buster Keaton." (F. S. Nugent, The New York Times, November 10, 1939).

In 1942, Lubitsch finished "To Be Or Not To Be", an exposing satire about a group of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Attacked by critics, Lubitsch responded: "The American audiences don't laugh at those Nazis because they under-estimate their menace, but they are happy to see this new order and its ideology being ridiculed." (The New York Times, March 29, 1942).

Still in 1942, he went to Twentieth Century Fox and directed "Heaven Can Wait". Furthermiore, he was in charge of Otto Preminger's film "The Royal Scandal" and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film "Dragonwyck" as a producer. And although he was still suffering from a heart attack, Lubitsch directed his next film, "Cluny Brown", in 1946. On March 13, 1947, he was awarded a special Academy award "for his distinguished contributions to the art of motion picture". But Lubitsch was not able to complete his last film "That Lady In Ermine". Instead, Otto Preminger finished the film.

"Lubitsch's films are made like fashion and they work like fashion. They are seductive. They arouse desire and lust. He demonstrates our liability to contagion from the inside, with the resources of the cinema. He bluntly shows that that is what cinema thrives on." (F. Grafe, Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 22, 1979).

On August 23, 1922, Lubitsch married the actress Leni (Helene) Kraus, the marriage was divorced in 1930. On July 27, 1935, he married Sania Bezencenet, an artist agent who named herself Vivian Gaye; in 1938, there daughter Nicola was born; and in 1943, the couple separated.

Ernst Lubitsch died from a heart attack on November 30, 1947, in Hollywood and was buried on December 4 at the Forrest Lawn cemetery.

Filmography

2015/2016 Frantz
based on
 
1976/1977 Hitler - Eine Karriere
Participation
 
1957/1958 Das gab's nur einmal
Participation
 
1948 That Lady in Ermine
Director, Producer
 
1946 Cluny Brown
Director, Producer
 
1946 Dragonwyck
Producer
 
1944/1945 A Royal Scandal
Director, Producer
 
1943 Heaven Can Wait
Director, Producer
 
1941/1942 To Be or Not to Be
Director, Story, Producer
 
1941 That Uncertain Feeling
Director, Producer
 
1939/1940 The Shop Around the Corner
Cast, Director, Producer
 
1939 Ninotchka
Director, Executive producer
 
1937/1938 Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
Director, Producer
 
1937 Angel
Director, Producer
 
1936 Desire
Producer
 
1934/1935 La veuve joyeuse
Director
 
1934 The Merry Widow
Director, Producer
 
1933 Design for Living
Director, Producer
 
1932 If I Had a Million
Director, Screenplay, Producer
 
1932 Trouble in Paradise
Director, Screenplay, Producer
 
1932 Une heure près de toi
Director
 
1931/1932 One Hour with You
Director, Producer
 
1931/1932 Broken Lullaby
Director, Producer
 
1931 The Smiling Lieutenant
Director, Screenplay, Producer
 
1930 Kohlhiesels Töchter
based on
 
1930 Galas de la Paramount
Director
 
1930 Monte Carlo
Director, Producer
 
1929/1930 Paramount on Parade
Director
 
1929/1930 The Vagabond King
Director
 
1929 The Love Parade
Director
 
1929 Eternal Love
Director
 
1928 The Patriot
Director, Editing, Producer
 
1927 The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
Director, Producer
 
1926 The Honeymoon Express
Director
 
1926 So This Is Paris
Director
 
1925 Lady Windermere's Fan
Director, Editing, Producer
 
1925 Kiss Me Again
Director
 
1924 Forbidden Paradise
Director
 
1924 Three Women
Director
 
1923/1924 The Marriage Circle
Director, Producer
 
1923 Rosita
Director
 
1922 Die Flamme
Director, Producer
 
1921 (?) Salome, die Blume des Morgenlands
Director
 
1921 Das Weib des Pharao
Director, Producer
 
1921 Die Bergkatze
Director, Screenplay
 
1920 Anna Boleyn
Director
 
1920 Sumurun
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1920 Mephistophela
Director
 
1919/1920 Kohlhiesels Töchter
Director, Screenplay
 
1919/1920 Die Wohnungsnot
Director, Screenplay
 
1919/1920 Romeo und Julia im Schnee
Director, Screenplay
 
1919 Madame Dubarry
Director
 
1919 Die Austernprinzessin
Director, Screenplay
 
1919 Rausch
Director
 
1919 Die Puppe
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1919 Der lustige Ehemann
Screenplay
 
1918/1919 Meine Frau, die Filmschauspielerin
Director, Screenplay
 
1918 Die Augen der Mumie Ma
Director
 
1918 Ich möchte kein Mann sein
Director, Screenplay
 
1918 Meyer aus Berlin
Cast, Director
 
1918 Carmen
Director
 
1918 Der Fall Rosentopf
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1918 Das Mädel vom Ballett
Director
 
1918 Der Rodelkavalier
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1917 Wenn vier dasselbe tun
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1917 Das fidele Gefängnis
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1917 Der Blusenkönig
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1917 Hans Trutz im Schlaraffenland
Cast
 
1917 Käsekönig Holländer
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1917 Ossi's Tagebuch
Director, Screenplay
 
1917 Prinz Sami
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1916 Die neue Nase
Cast, Director
 
1916 Keiner von beiden
Director
 
1916 Der G.m.b.H.-Tenor
Cast, Director
 
1916 Das schönste Geschenk
Cast, Director
 
1916 Schuhpalast Pinkus
Cast, Director
 
1916 Dr. Satansohn. Phantastisches Schauspiel
Cast
 
1916 Leutnant auf Befehl
Cast
 
1915 Der schwarze Moritz
Cast
 
1915 Der letzte Anzug
Cast, Director
 
1915 Der Kraftmeyer
Director
 
1915 Sein einziger Patient
Cast, Director
 
1915 Blindekuh
Cast, Director
 
1915 Aufs Eis geführt
Cast, Director, Producer
 
1915 Zucker und Zimt
Cast, Director, Screenplay, Producer
 
1915 Der gemischte Frauenchor
Cast, Director
 
1915 Als ich tot war
Cast, Director, Screenplay
 
1915 Robert und Bertram. Die lustigen Vagabunden
Cast
 
1915 Arme Maria
Cast
 
1915 Wie ich ermordet wurde
Cast
 
1914/1915 Fräulein Piccolo
Cast
 
1914/1915 Fräulein Seifenschaum
Cast, Director
 
1914/1915 Ein verliebter Racker
Cast
 
1914 Der Stolz der Firma
Cast
 
1914 Bedingung - kein Anhang!
Cast
 
1913 Die ideale Gattin
Cast
 
1913 Die Firma heiratet
Cast
 

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