This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (July 2016)
Gustaf Gründgens as Hamlet (1936)
Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens
22 December 1899
|Died||7 October 1963 (aged 63)|
|Erika Mann (1926-1929)|
Marianne Hoppe (1936-1946)
Gustaf Gründgens (22 December 1899 - 7 October 1963), born Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens, was one of Germany's most famous and influential actors of the 20th century, and artistic director of theatres in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. His career continued unimpeded through the years of the Nazi regime; the extent to which this can be considered as deliberate collaboration with the Nazis is hotly disputed.
His best known roles were that of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust in 1960, and as "Der Schränker" (The Safecracker) who is the chief judge of the kangaroo court presiding over Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's M.
In 1923, he joined the Kammerspiele in Hamburg, where he also appeared as a director for the first time, collaborating with the author Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, and his sister Erika. Bisexual Gründgens, who meanwhile had changed his first name to Gustaf, married Erika Mann in 1926; they divorced three years later.
In 1928, he moved back to Berlin to join the renowned ensemble of the Deutsches Theater under the director Max Reinhardt. Apart from spoken theatre, Gründgens also worked with Otto Klemperer at the Kroll Opera, as a cabaret artist and as a screen actor, most notably in Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, which significantly increased his popularity. From 1932 he was a member of the Prussian State Theatre ensemble, in which he first stood out as Mephistopheles.
Gründgens' career continued after the Nazi party came to power: in 1934 he became the Intendant, or artistic director, of the Prussian State Theatre and was later appointed a member of the Prussian state council by the Prussian Minister-President Hermann Göring. He also became a member of the Presidential Council of the Reichstheaterkammer (Theatre Chamber of the Reich), which was an institution of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). In 1941, Gründgens starred (against his will and unpaid) in the propaganda film Ohm Krüger and also in Friedemann Bach, a film he also produced. After Goebbels's total war speech on 18 February 1943, Gründgens volunteered for the Wehrmacht but was again recalled by Göring, who had his name added to the Gottbegnadeten list (Important Artist Exempt List).
Imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD for 9 months in 1945 - 1946, Gründgens was released thanks to the intercession of the Communist actor Ernst Busch, whom Gründgens himself had saved from execution by the Nazis in 1943. During the denazification process his statements helped to exonerate acting colleagues, including Göring's widow Emmy and Veit Harlan, director of the film Jud Süß. Gründgens returned to the Deutsches Theater, later became Intendant of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, and from 1955 directed the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He again performed as Mephistopheles; the 1960 film Faust by Peter Gorski was made with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus ensemble.
On 7 October 1963, while traveling around the world, Gründgens died in Manila of an internal hemorrhage. It has never been ascertained whether or not he committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. His last words, written on an envelope, were, "I believe I have taken too many sleeping pills; I feel a bit weird, let me sleep ." He is buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.
Posthumously, Gründgens was involved in one of the more famous literary cases in 20th-century Germany as the subject of the novel Mephisto by his former brother-in-law Klaus Mann, who had died in 1949. The novel, a thinly veiled account of Gründgens's life, portrayed its main character Hendrik Höfgen as having shady connections with the Nazi regime. Gründgens's adopted son and heir Peter Gorski, who had directed Faust, successfully sued the publisher on his late father's behalf in 1966. The judgment was upheld by the Federal Court of Justice in 1968.
In the time-consuming lawsuit, the controversy over libel and the freedom of fiction from censorship was finally decided by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1971. It ruled that Gründgens's post-mortem personality rights prevailed and upheld the prohibition imposed on the publisher. However, the novel met with no further protests when it was published again in 1981 by Rowohlt.
In 1981, the novel was made into the film Mephisto, directed by István Szabó, with Klaus Maria Brandauer in the role of Hendrik Höfgen. The film was a huge commercial and critical success, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981.