March 2, 1892
|Died||March 17, 1949 (aged 57)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Frieda Lehner (1925-1949, his death)|
Felix Bressart (March 2, 1892 - March 17, 1949) was a German-American actor of stage and screen.
Bressart (pronounced "BRESS-ert") was born in East Prussia, Germany (now part of Russia). His acting debut came in 1914, and he went on to act in Austria, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. He was an experienced stage actor when he had his film debut in 1927. 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 portrayed by Greta Garbo, to Paris. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, the studio signed Bressart as a contract player. Most of his MGM work consisted of featured roles in major films like Edison, the Man and Comrade X, both released in 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 an RKO "B" musical comedy Ding Dong Williams, in 1945. Bressart, billed third, played the bemused supervisor of a movie studio's music department, and appeared in formal wear to conduct an orchestral version of Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu.
After almost 40 Hollywood pictures, Felix Bressart suddenly died of leukemia at the age of 57. His last film was to be My Friend Irma (1949), the movie version of a popular radio show. Bressart died during production, forcing the studio to re-shoot his completed scenes with Hans Conried. In the finished film, Bressart is still seen in the long shots.