The Conrad Veidt Society

Then I made a film called "The Indian Memorial" which had a far wider, popular appeal.  This brought me a much larger public, was the beginning of fan mail.  In many early films with me played a remarkable young actress.  But she rang the bells for herself with joy and sorrow. Perhaps she never had the success she felt her talent and beauty entitled her to. To be with her was a perpetual surprise and often an embarrassment.  I remember one evening when I was taking her out to dinner.  We were both dressed, for we were to dine en fete.  It was a gala night at some hotel and many friends were to be present.  Down the staircase we walked together, myself in opera hat and cloak, she looking lovely in an ermine cape which she held tightly around her.  The place was crowded, the scene lively.  Suddenly, as she walked down the stairs together, she calmly released her cape.  She hadn't a stitch on.... Everybody gasped.  I pretended I wasn't there.  I walked ahead trying to look dignified.  Then, having created the sensation she wanted, she calmly picked up her cape again, clutched it around her, and walked on smiling as if nothing had happened.  She was a flame consuming herself.  I heard she died, under thirty, alone, poor and ill. Poor little girl.  Life was not enough for her.  She had to die to have her last sensation

I was still unhappy.  The people I met seemed to give me no answer to my search.  My mother's memory was always to me very sacred and very dear.  I related all my everyday actions to what I thought she would wish me to do.  But I grew resentful against the entire domination of this mother-ideal.  I determined to purge my mind and my spirit of the thing which was dominating me.  Perhaps, I thought, if I have a child of my own I will lose this mother complex.  And I was longing for a child, for I have always loved other people's children.  So, egotistically, I set out to discover the most beautiful woman in the world.  With her, I thought, there will be the chance of having a beautiful child.  Well.... I found her.  We were married in 1922, and I found that after all this time of loneliness life could be almost perfect.  For the first time I had my own home, my own furniture; I was making plenty of money, everything was good and grand.

    I played in one film which was called "The Hands of Orlac".  It was a very macabre story, about a great pianist whose hands were mutilated in a railway smash.  A specialist grafted a pair of hands on to him, the hands of a man about to be executed for murder.  As the story unfolded you saw that these hands began to have a life of, their own and do things utterly alien to the character of the pianist.  I was in the theatre on the opening night, and I have never seen such an astonishing scene.  All over the theatre there were shouts and cries;  women fainted; men shouted, "It is terrible to show a film like this".  It was hissed and whistled at.  And in Germany the whistle means what you call here the bird.  I sat there thinking, "Well, this is a flop."  I went in front of the curtain. The house quieted down.  I spoke a few words, telling them about the making of the picture, my own feelings.  I tried to smooth them down.  And, to my own surprise, l,succeeded.  The atmosphere changed. The audience who had been whistling and hissing now applauded...... Two other important pictures followed, in both of which I had the privilege of playing with a young Austrian girl who has since set the world alight with the flame of her genius.  What is there in this curious little piece of womanhood, plain almost, if you can be plain with beautiful eyes and an exquisite expression.  Of course you cannot.  And of course she is not plain.  At times she can make you think her beautiful.  Here is a woman who is almost not a woman, her quality is so fire.  Spirituelle describes her;  her feet are never on the ground.  You simply do not regard her as an ordinary human being.  She is an angel, or a choir boy singing in his shrill sweet treble that is, to me, one of the loveliest sounds in the world.  

At least that is what you think - and then you get a shock, for she can persuade you, by her acting, that she is no angel, but a little devil, or a flesh and blood woman who can break your heart and tear up your emotions.  She reminds you of a lovely little phrase in music that once heard, has a permanent place in your imagination. Yet, though haunting, it is elusive.  You are never quite sure if you have every note perfect.  The most enthralling side of her personality is her humour. She has plenty, of the sweetest kind, and like every rare artist, stimulates your mind into imagination. It is impossible not to like her, even when she is most remote, most critical.  Again, like a rare artist she looks always for perfection.  In nearly everybody she sees some fault, and she is nearly always right.  It is a pleasure and a lesson to watch her getting exactly what she wants out of every situation.  She will not only win, but you will believe she is in the right, and she will believe she is in the right.  Suppose I am shown a dressing-room which I don't like.  I am not so particular about dressing-rooms, but sometimes one feels it is good to assert oneself.  So I look around and say, rather loudly, "I don't like this room.  It's lousy.  Give me a better room, please."  There follows talk, arguments, recriminations.  Maybe I get a better dressing-room, perhaps I don't.  It is possible that in that studio or that theatre I will have the reputation for being difficult and temperamental.  She works in a different way.  She is shown to the dressing-room, takes one look around, sits down in the armchair suddenly still keeping on her coat and hat.  She looks helpless, a little bird, forlorn.  She is crumpled, as if life has given her a nasty kick. The studio officials say, "What is the matter?" She says, in the softest, most far-away little voice, "Nothing".  And looks away, sweetly helpless and pathetic.  Already the officials begin to feel they are brutally cruel, though they don't know why. "What is it?" they persist.  "Oh... nothing.  It's just... somehow I don't feel happy in this room... the walls.. so cold.  But please do not bother.. it is nothing all.  No doubt I shall be used to it.  Please, I do not wish you to be troubled.... " Yes, you are right. They rush around in circles to make her feel happy and at home. They feel privileged to be allowed to do it..

The Story of Conrad Veidt



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